by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Alessandro Vitti (art), IFS (colors), and Dave Lanphear (letters)

The Story: Trapped in each other’s company and facing certain death, Nick Fury and Baron Strucker have an important conversation, one that leads to a few very big surprises.

The Review: The biggest problem I have with this issue of Secret Warriors sort of has more to do with how Hickman’s brand of storytelling in some ways makes the single-issue format into an obstacle.  With so many bits of information and important scenes having been haphazardly spread across two years worth of issues, it can be difficult to fully appreciate an issue like this one, one that draws upon moments spread across the series’ run.  Frankly, it can be hard to fully remember everything that this issue recollects, which in all honest does rob the major reveals of some of their impact.  I almost feel like once this series ends, I need to re-read the entire thing to get the full effect of Hickman’s work.

That said, the reveal this month is substantial enough to pack a mighty wallop nonetheless.  It comes right out of left field and it changes the ball-game entirely as the series heads to its conclusion.  It also shows just how damn good a spy Nick Fury actually is and seeing Strucker gasping in disbelief is so, so awesome.  Many of Hickman’s best moments in Secret Warriors have involved showing Nick Fury for the cunning badass that he is, and certainly, this is one of those moments.

It’s also hard to have a bad issue when the entirety involves Fury and Strucker locked in a room together, attempting one up each other while throwing the occasional verbal barb.  These are two great characters and scenes like these allow them to cement that fact.  The character dynamic and the conflict of personalities here is a treat to watch.  Certainly, Strucker’s quick and vaguely slimy attempt at cooperation and Fury’s steadfast and grizzled, stubborn resolve makes the conversation all the more appealing.  Of course, having a story play out with such a small cast and environment also forces Hickman to sharpen his narrative focus, which is also a good thing.

Art-wise, Alessandro Vitti’s art is appealing as ever.  Of course, with two characters in a room for most of the comic, Vitti’s is forced to rely on his facial work, which thankfully holds up, particularly whenever Strucker looks stunned.  That said, I do think Vitti went a little too  far in his effort to make these two men look like hardened veterans; they’re faces at times look ludicrously craggy to the point where it became a bit of a distraction.

Regardless, this issue sets a very interesting and dramatically altered stage for the series finale and the sharp focus caused Hickman to really work on the twist-and-turn espionage narrative style that has always been Secret Warriors at its best.

Conclusion: A better issue and one that has me looking forward to, rather than dreading, to see how Hickman wraps this thing up.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans