Nick Spencer (Writer), Butch Guice, Rick Magyar (Artists), Matthew Wilson (Colorist)
The Story: James Rhodes gain access to an army, several agents tries to compromise A.I.M as some directorial tension sets in at S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Review: Characters can be everything for a successful comic. If you don’t have some fan-favourites on your title, it can mean an early demise as people might not be interested in the adventures of a C or D-lister. However, having an A-lister on a book can also be some kind of curse, as these characters cannot necessarily evolve in any way, mostly due to the heavy editorial handling they surely have, which can be somewhat problematic for some writers.
Secret Avengers does not seem to have that problem, despite the fact that it possesses big players like Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow, due to the fact that it mixes these characters with other fan-favourites like James Rhodes, Taskmaster, Mockingbird among others. With a cast as diverse as this one, Spencer manage to make the most of it by juggling with several plot and sub-plots with ease, thanks to a switching of characters in some issues, with this one more dedicated to Taskmaster, Mockingbird, Maria Hill and James Rhodes.
Right out of the gate, Spencer goes back toward a character he knows very well, using him in a way that is quite smart, yet also feels true to the character: James Rhodes, who is also known as War Machine. Here, the writer makes a smart use of the military and armor-based history of the character to propel him forward in a new role that not only suits the character, but also connect him to the story in a way that feels natural and exciting. He is perhaps one of the most interesting character of the issue, although he is not the only one.
Another character that is genuinely interesting, which always come as a surprise to me on a personal level, is Maria Hill. No doubt, many were like me in my initial dislike of the character when she first appeared in the Marvel universe, being the bossy new kid on the block who seemed like a cold-hearted women ready to do anything in order to be efficient at her job. I hated her for these characteristic, yet much to my dismay, I find myself liking her exactly because of these character traits. The reason for that is mainly due to the fact that due to the espionage and political aspect of the title, the character feels much more at home in such an environment, making use of these traits in order to serve the story, not just to set her as being the bossy woman. Serving as a connection to what happens in most of the issue, it is through the internal situation in S.H.I.E.L.D where she shines the most. There is a scene where she deals with a new addition to the agency with some troubling ideas where she shows how she actually fits in such a context. It is an uneasy, yet very tense scene that this issue shows that Maria Hill will become an even better character through this series.
Not all characters benefited very much in this issue, though, as the Taskmaster and Mockingbird scenes weren’t as particularly effective as the other. Their scenes either feature good emphasis on action or silent progression in the A.I.M situation, yet none of them have the kind of importance or surprising factor that the other scenes have. Perhaps some of their scene will have repercussions later, yet in this issue, it falls a little bit flat.
It’s a tad disappointing, as a lot of the progression plot-wise are quite engaging, with some situations being built up that have a lot of potential in the long run. Spencer is really using some of what he has constructed earlier in the series in an effective way, giving us an element of unpredictability mixed with tension that does a lot of good toward the espionage/political aspect of the book.
What does a lot of good, however, would be the artist on this issue: Butch Guice. Being a veteran of the spy book due to his tenure on Winter Soldier with Ed Brubaker, he gives this book a good sense of stress, action and some interactions that are deceivingly normal, yet are quite tense. In an ironic twist, he seems much more at ease with the Mockingbird and Taskmaster scenes, as he is allowed to speak more freely with his panels and his willingness to play with the scenery and characters, playing without the dialogue of Spencer in order to advance the story. Art wise, these scenes are gorgeous on their own thanks to Guice and Magyar.
As for the colorization, Matthew Wilson is just a perfect fit for the book. Using a contrast of lighter and darker colors with a sober palette, he does create a lot of the spy mood the book needs. The shadows and lack of light, the low sunlight and some of the more technological aspects are colorized in such a way to make each of them play against each other in a competition that bring the best out of each elements.
The Conclusion: Even though there are some parts that are clearly more interesting than some in both plot and character terms, the whole package is still very engaging thanks to the spy mood, some of the character work and the visual treat brought by Guice, Magyar and Wilson.
Hugo Robberts Larivière