By Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Deodato and Will Conrad (artists), Rain Beredo (colorist)

The Story: The Secret Avengers search Mars for Nova and answers as to why Roxxon Corporation was in possession of a Serpent Crown.

The Good: Brubaker has done a rare, wonderful thing with this book: he’s taken everything we’ve come to expect from an Avengers Comic and, with a generous dose of espionage intrigue, turned it into something different, but no less exciting. For a title with as rich a heritage as the Avengers, this is a rare feat, but Brubaker is pulling it of nicely and making this a priority comic for me to read each month. Reading Secret Avengers, I can’t help but feel like this is what it must have been like to read Steranko’s run on Nick Fury back in the 60s; it has that same, suave aesthetic to it. I like that Marvel has this kind of covert team out there in the field now. Incredibly powerful for a black ops unit, these Avengers are nonetheless a highly surgical strikeforce, and it’s immensely satisfying to watch Steve Rogers take command of these unique personalities and their abilities. Speaking of unique personalities, Brubaker has done a great job this issue of defining who these people are and how well they work together. I loved (and realized how much I have missed) the calm, assured confidence Rogers displays when going into battle, as well as the unspoken trust, forged through years of fighting together, between Rogers, Beast, and Black Widow. Add to that Moon Knight’s desire to be a good soldier and please his commanding officer, War Machine’s refusal to go easy on Ant-Man, and Ant-Man’s quest to get a little respect from his comrades, and I can’t help but see potential in the stories that can be told about these characters.

The Not So Good: Deodato’s art wasn’t doing it for me this month, which is strange considering how strong and refined his art was becoming towards the end of his run on Dark Avengers. That was some of the finest work I’d seen from him, but his art on Secret Avengers has more in common with, say, his run on Thunderbolts; it’s saturated in shadows and the characters this month looked stiff and uncomfortable like posed action figures. It’s not bad art by any means, but I’ve seen him do better and I’m left wondering why his art on this comic hasn’t quite been reaching that level of quality. Also, this issue was something of a potboiler, with most of the page count being committed to extended scenes of the team breaking up into smaller units to investigate Roxxon’s Martian mining base and search for Nova’s whereabouts. Some inconsequential fights along the way provided worthwhile distractions, and that final splash page definitely makes me want to come back next month, but overall I got the impression that if I hadn’t bought this issue, I could have picked up next month’s and been able to follow along without missing a beat.

Conclusion: I think that as the plot thickens and we come to understand why Roxxon was searching for the Serpent Crown, this story is going to really take off. I didn’t quite pick up on that this month, but still found enough to like about this issue that I can recommend buying it.

Grade: B-

-Tony Rakittke