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

The Story: Steve Rogers and friends fight to protect Shang Chi while the Prince of Orphans and Valkyrie journey to Fu Manchu’s tomb.

What’s Good: With Secret Avengers #7, Ed Brubaker proves that Secret Avengers’ massive upshot in quality as of #5 is here to stay.  As I said with last month’s issue, this is what we were expecting from an Ed Brubaker covert ops Avengers book, not bland trips to Mars.  This sudden turn is nothing short of brilliant, particularly in that it brings together everything that Brubaker does so well.

First off, you’ve got your pulp, specifically the kung fu breed that’ll really wet the appetites of fans of Brubaker’s Iron Fist run.  From the bad guy (Fu Manchu) to the sheer amount of awesome kung fu fighting, parts of this issue feel like kooky fun from a bygone era, updated in 2010, and that’s exactly the sort of thing that we’ve been getting for years from quality Brubaker comics, particularly Iron Fist and Incognito.  All told, the martial arts base of this arc continues to be absolutely wonderful.

But it’s not just that; Brubaker also lives up to the conspiratorial, shadowy, covert ops part of the equation, something that was also somewhat lacking in the first arc.  This feels like a Steve Rogers spy book at times, with great mysterious enemies that can only just barely be fathomed.   The Shadow Council is as foreboding as ever, and seeing Thorndrake secretly worshipping some Cthulian statue was delicious.  Better still is the emphasis on Rogers’ keeping the teams activities a secret, something that hasn’t really been broached since the first issue.

I’ve complained last month about the continued lack of team dynamic.  Brubaker, on the one hand, is slowly making it clear that this isn’t a conventional Avengers team; really, it’s closer to “Steve Rogers and friends.”  Regardless, we still get subtle character moments this month of the sort we’ve been lacking for some time.  Ant-Man’s youthful eagerness and consequent sloppiness and Rogers’ tactful encouragement of him were high points, while the Prince of Orphans’ team-up with Valkyrie led to a really neat dynamic that was also all kinds of badass.

All told, this was just the sort of issue that, thematically, brought everything together.  Much like the team-up of Fu Manchu and the Shadow Countil, this issue was a wonderful balancing and mixing of retro pulpiness and shadowy conspiracies that led to the comic I’ve always hoped Secret Avengers would be.

What’s Not So Good: As enjoyable as this issue was, I can’t say that it made great strides in advancing the plot.  I don’t feel as though we learned much more than we knew last month, and our protagonists only made the slightest bit of progress beyond square one.  Perhaps it was because of all the fighting.  Either way, I can’t shake the feeling with this issue that Brubaker is a little guilty of writing for the trade, or the story-arc as a whole, rather than working to craft single-issues.

While this was fun, I hope Brubaker picks things up a bit next month.

Conclusion: To everyone who dropped Secret Avengers, disappointed by the first arc: come back!  This is the book you wanted!

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans