by Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Deodato (art), Rain Beredo (colors), and Dave Lanphear (letters)

The Story: Steve Rogers and co. look to halt the resurrection of Shang-Chi’s father.

What’s Good: I’m happy to report that the sudden upsurge in quality with last month’s issue continues in a big way this month, with this new story-arc really playing to Ed Brubaker’s strengths.  Finally, Secret Avengers truly feels like a Brubaker comic.  Were the series to have started out like this, I never would have felt disappointed by it.

Secret Avengers #6, and this whole arc by the looks of it, is Ed Brubaker through and through, doing what he does best.  There’s that wacky pulp element that’s present in all of his work; the ninjas, kung fu, and major presence of Shang-Chi and his father, Fu Manchu, make sure of this.  This is that wonderful sort of retro comic goodness that Brubaker does so well.

Moreover, Secret Avengers finally lives up to its mission statement.  The book actually is starting to feel like a real black-ops superhero team, something which all the Mars stuff didn’t allow for.  There’s a wonderful sequence where Steve narrates by outlining a plan, while said plan plays out on the page.  Better still, this plan features breaking into a museum exhibit in a skyscraper, including the mandatory elevator shaft rappelling scene.  It’s incredibly slick and feels like a superhero heist film.

Then there’s the involvement of the Shadow Council, the masked bad guy, the sudden ambushes, the scheming bad guys, and the digging for mysterious artifacts.  All of it leads to an excellent cloak and dagger feel.  The comic ends up being a blend of modern superhero, 70s pulp, and Indiana Jones styled adventure.  There’s just so much to like here.  It’s a beautiful mix of enjoyable elements, all of which Brubaker excels at.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Mike Deodato continues to truck out excellent work.  Things are dark, as they should be, and the bad guys are foreboding but pulpy.

Brubaker has slowly crafted a world for this series, thanks in no small part to his carrying over the Shadow Council from the last arc.  There’s a great sense of unique continuity as a result that distinguishes the series, while making the bad guys feeling menacing and mysterious.

What’s Not So Good: The early action scene featuring Shang-Chi battling Hai-Dai goons is a bit muddled.  It feels as though Shang-Chi is moving so fast in Brubaker’s script, that Deodato is struggling to depict it.  The result is several panels that are a little difficult to fully comprehend.

The other problem is that as good as this issue is, I’m not feeling a strong team dynamic out of the Secret Avengers yet.  Beast shows up momentarily in a research support role, but for the most part, this feels like Steve, Widow, and Shang Chi just hanging out.  There’s no sense of a formal team or real team chemistry.  Sure there’s chemistry between Rogers, Widow, and Carter, but those were things already present in Brubaker’s Captain America run.  It’s unfortunate that the rest of the team didn’t play a larger, more consequential role.  Ultimately, this feels less like a team book and more like a Steve Rogers comic, or “Steve Rogers and friends” at best.

Conclusion: If you gave up on this comic, come back!  It’s really starting to deliver on those expectations.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans