Nick Spencer (Writer), Butch Guice, Steve Epting, Brian Theis, Rick Magyar (Artists), Matthew Wilson (Colorist)

The Story: Maria Hill needs to take control of an operation that has gone too far, one that had been ordained by Daisy Johnson herself.

The Review: Back in the days, I only had a single thought when it came to S.H.I.E.L.D. as an agency in the Marvel universe: pity. When an antagonist needed to be shown as a big menace, S.H.I.E.L.D. was always there to provide token ”good guys” being beaten badly in order to set up a scope for the story itself. Rarely had I seen a series that took that agency as being particularly effective or being the actual source that is able to solve a problem.* Secret Invasion, Civil War, Marvel Boy, Captain America by Brubaker and so forth all portray S.H.I.E.L.D. as either being antagonistic or just plain ineffectual, which does not bode well for an organisation that is supposed to be the prime spy agency and the thing that binds the metahuman community together.

It’s a good thing then that some authors like Jonathan Hickman, Mark Waid and Nick Spencer came along to go a bit further in showing the prime spy agency as being actually useful or at least active in several parts. While the discovery of S.H.I.E.L.D. thanks to the marvel cinematic universe has been a boon to the credibility of the agency, in the comics format, Secret Avengers has been another huge bonus thanks to its direction mixing espionage, politics and super heroics.

This issue, in many ways, is a great example of just why this series can work, even though it has still some rough spots here and there. One of the best aspect, though, is the fact that they show how ”the spying game” is played, which makes for a pretty effective comparison to other superheroes book on the market and those made by Marvel itself. It’s a fun thing to see that despite the high action, the jokes, the big hero moments and all, there are other scenes which shows that they clearly cannot remain the supposed ”good guys” in the eyes of the world if they go en masse and attack a whole island without any backing from the U.N of the government. It was a very neat way that allow the readers to differentiates just how an agency like S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to work if they can get several important backing and so forth.

The ”game” aspect is shown in scenes featuring Maria Hill and Daisy Johnson as they show the severe actions and how this affect Daisy Johnson and her position as S.H.I.E.L.D. director. The way the scenes varies from the big action pieces with the agents and the politically charged one with Maria and Daisy is aptly put, as each of their dialogue not only show the great characterization, but also continuously enhance the tension as the two very different style of presentation and action complement each other quite nicely. The colder, darker moments contrast very well with the big bombastic ones as Spencer shows he can write and mix multiples genres.

His plotting is pretty good too, as the story move along at a brisk pace, yet never so much that it rushes through certain details or disallow the readers to absorb what is going on and what it entails. The dialogue is fast-paced and to the point, yet it shows distinction for most characters, enough for their personalities to comes through what they say. There isn’t that much dialogue here considering the large amount of action scenes, yet it’s well done anyway.

There are some spots were thing could have been handled better, though, with Taskmaster being one of them. The character, with the bare number of times where he’s been shown, was used mostly as comedy or in very, very small doses, which makes his inclusion in the book so far seem kind of pointless. Still, it’s a pretty minor thing in an otherwise good issue.

The art would pretty much amount to that praise as well, as it is very good in quite a lot of places, yet there are some small hiccups here and there as well. Butch Guice and Steve Epting doe collaborate pretty well tonally, as the two of them are quite able to show dark scenes without cutting the action or the other subtexts in the panels, yet there is a small visual disparity between the two that break the cohesion a bit. Epting is a tad smoother in its roughness, while Guice’s lines are more straightforward without letting go of the roughness himself. This makes for lightly unrefined character faces and expressions that are visually distinctive from Epting, which does tend to distract a bit. Still, it’s minor as the action, the poses, the tone and the emotions are very well rendered on the pages.

This effect should also be attributed to Matthew Wilson, who really bring out the warmth and explosiveness of the action scenes in contrast with the colder and much more somber scenes with Maria Hill and Daisy Johnson. He is able to bring out the weirder colors of the cast and mesh them well with the rest without making them seem out of place. Wilson does a lot toward the visual cohesion and the contrast effect, which is commendable.

The Conclusion
: Nick Spencer gives us a very good story with a mix of espionage and action that is smartly drawn by Butch Guice and Steve Epting with the help of Matthew Wilson that allow the readers to see the kind of difficulties of the spy world as well as giving us a good perspective on how S.H.I.E.L.D. has its own problem. Recommended.

Grade: B+

-Hugo Robberts Larivière

*I am, of course, speaking in general terms. Not all series featured the agency as being ineffectual, yet it has become a well-known imagery to see a helicarrier crashing down after a big attack, with said helicarrier always being S.H.I.E.L.D. property.