May 29, 2014
Secret Avengers is what Agents of SHIELD should have been
The first two issues of Secret Avengers (volume 3) tell a two-part story. I want you to realize how big a deal this is. In the era we’re in now, the one we’ve been in for quite a while actually, where all comic books seemingly have to tell five- or six-part epics because it’s easier to make a collected edition out of them that way (hello, everything Geoff Johns has ever written), starting your brand new, well, relaunched series with a two-part story feels oddly… noble. Heroic. It’s one of the many signs we’re given that this thing isn’t going to follow the established order right down to the letter.
Marvel doesn’t currently publish another comic like Secret Avengers. There’s stuff in a similar vein—chatting to a friend recently, I said how it felt almost like a companion piece to Hawkeye, Marvel’s other admirably offbeat main line book; she simply texted back, “YES”—but even there, the titles are only comparable on the surface. Both have writers that clearly love superhero fiction, and all the tropes that come with it, but aren’t above giving it a friendly (yet occasionally rather firm) elbow to the ribs. Both also feature Hawkeye, but that goes so much without saying that I had a joke all worked out for this bit and decided against it the second I got to the word “Hawkeye”.
Secret Avengers is written by Ales Kot, one of the relative newcomers currently spearheading Marvel’s “NOW!” rebranding/renumbering initiative. Remember this name. I got the same feeling reading this series that I had with Brian Michael Bendis’ first issue of Daredevil, Ed Brubaker’s first Captain America, or the first time I tore through a Flash story with Mark Waid’s name on it. It feels distinctly like the beginning; that one day, the name Ales Kot will be associated with something huge and fantastic, and we’ll look back at early issues of Secret Avengers and recall how we knew he was destined for greatness all along.
It wasn’t this book that tipped me off to how good Kot is, though. That honor belongs to Iron Patriot, the other ongoing title he’s attached to.
I’ve never been a huge fan of War Machine/Iron Patriot, and the main idea behind the series didn’t grab me; it moved at a glacial pace, and it just felt a bit there, really. And yet, Kot managed, somehow, to draw me in. Only slightly, but still. Especially through Jim Rhodes’ relationship with his precocious niece, and his awkward exchanges with his old-school, concerned father. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like Ales found a way to brute force me into caring about War Machine more than I would have otherwise. Four pages in, I was telling myself this was the only issue I was picking up; by the end, I decided to give it one more shot before I made up my mind.
That wasn’t the case with Secret Avengers. By page three, I’d already decided this was my favorite book I’d picked up that day, in a stash that included the latest Daredevil relaunch (hello again, Mark Waid) and Silver Surfer featuring Mike Allred’s lush line work and the best story Dan Slott has put his name to in years. So it had stiff competition. And it saw them both off.
As we learn from the inside cover of issue #1, Maria Hill, Director of SHIELD, has assembled a black ops squad known as the Secret Avengers to take on the missions that are too “murky” for the regular Avengers to handle themselves. This team consists of Black Widow, Spider-Woman, SHIELD agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson, and Hawkeye inevitably also works his way into the team.
There are elements of parody here. Black Widow, Spider-Woman, and Hawkeye fight AIM goons in the nude, before heading off to space in a flying car. MODOK, covertly creating weapons for SHIELD (that’s right, he’s a literal Secret Avenger), refers to his laboratory unironically as “THE LAIR OF MAD SCIENCE.” The descriptive captions read like they’ve shown up for their job a bit drunk and don’t really care what you think of them, they’re just going to keep it real, man.
But it’s not a one-trick pony book, because Ales Kot clearly isn’t a one-trick pony writer. There’s real suspense, too: a lone gunman stalks the halls of SHIELD, seeking vengeance for something we’re never quite made privy to. Coulson and Fury have some wonderful moments in the second issue that beautifully paint a picture of their friendship. Black Widow has some heartfelt words of encouragement for a hilariously out-of-her-depth Spider-Woman. There’s heart on display, which used to be what Marvel was good at. Their books felt warm, like an old friend throwing his arm around you and asking if you fancied a pint.
Screw it, let’s run with the comic-as-person thing: if this book were an actual human being, it would be someone intelligent, attractive (the art, by Michael Walsh, with Matthew Wilson on color, is also lovely) and witty, yet with an awareness of their own ridiculousness and a sly, irresistible charm. Basically, it’s someone you really hope will someday message you on PlentyOfFish.
Yes, I just worked an internet dating site into a comic book opinion piece, and turned the actual comic into someone I’d happily date. Ten guesses where my brain is lately.
Like a lot of people who come to this site, I’ve been watching Agents of SHIELD. I’ve only been tuning in once in a while, because that seems like the only way I can watch it: I’ll catch an episode, be mildly interested, watch the following week, not be that interested in it at all, forget it’s even on for a couple of weeks, then end up watching it again. It’s an okay show, but it’s nowhere near as compelling as I wanted it to be. I wanted every episode to have me on the edge of my seat and give me characters I loved. Instead, I’m mildly amused and wouldn’t be too sad if half the cast was written out.
I was thinking about Agents of SHIELD as I read Secret Avengers #1. At first, I thought it was just because it had Coulson in it, but by the time the second issue was done, I understood: Secret Avengers is what I wanted Agents of SHIELD to be. It’s what I still hope it’ll become, in all honestly. Maybe we can smuggle Ales Kot into the writer’s room before season two kicks off. Under cover of darkness, obviously, like any good Secret Avenger.