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

The Story: The Secret Avengers try to defend Hong Kong against Shang-Chi’s father and his rampaging hordes while Max Fury and John Steele set up an ambush.

What’s Good: While it’s  not quite as awesome as the past few issues, rest assured that Secret Avengers remains a very good title in this, its second arc.  Essentially, some of the pulpy kung-fu goodness gets toned down a bit this month, but that only makes it an issue that’s clearly an easy one for Brubaker to write; it feels quite a bit like his Captain America in tone, at times.

Part of the reason for this is the Shadow Council.  Since the comic returned to Earth, Brubaker has done a fantastic job with these guys.  They’re a pulpy secret society, but this month they also come across as the kind of covert commando operation that Brubaker writes so well.  It makes them fun to read and ominous, yet highly capable bad guys.  Steele and Max Fury also make for compelling and very dangerous adversaries.  Their presence and their actions make this month’s issue into something of a spy book, and I quite enjoyed it.  This makes for a book that’s fast, but also one involving scheming, planning, ambushes, and diversions.

The real star this month though is Mike Deodato, who puts out excellent work this month as Brubaker allows him to go wild.  The action scenes are nothing short of incredible and the layouts and splashes are expertly done.  Everything is fluid and dynamic, and really, really cool.  Put in Deodato’s always polished look, and you’ve got a very nice looking comic.

Oh, and for those wondering, Brubaker has officially re-named Fu Manchu and retconned that awful name out of existence.  Marvel Universe, meet Zheng Zu.

What’s Not So Good: There’s a lot less of that kung-fu retro wackiness this month, as Shang-Chi and Zheng Zu take a backseat to Max Fury and John Steele.  As a result, while the book is still good, it’s not as much pure fun and feels a little blander as a result.  Of course, it’s still nowhere near as bland as the first arc, but it nonetheless doesn’t have quite the amount of character as the past couple of issues possessed.  In an arc based around it, I guess I could’ve done with a bit more of Zheng/kung-fu goodness in general.

I also have to mention that while I thought the book looked good, Sharon Carter looked a little anatomically weird at times.  There are a couple panels where she looked like a Barbie doll with bolt-on water balloons.

Conclusion: Not quite at the same level as the last couple of outstanding issues, but still quite a bit better than that disappointing first arc.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans