Arc in Review: Rick Remender’s Secret Avengers #21.1-25

Secret Avengers 21.1

C+

Marvel’s Secret Avengers has taken on its fourth regular writer in under two years, and it’s one that perhaps fans would not have instantly associated with the property. As of issue #21.1 Rick Remender (Fear Agent, Punisher) has taken the reigns of Marvel’s covert ops superhero team. Now, four months later (with issue #25), his first proper story arc has come to a close. How he’d do?

Before we critique the books, let’s briefly summarize: after a standalone point-one issue (in which Captain America recruits Hawkeye to take the reigns of this team), our heroes face off against a secret society of robots who live in a giant city underneath the Earth’s surface. These robots are made up of lots of classic synthetic Marvel life, including Doombots, Sentinels, and Reavers. Their leader, Father, has big plans for his robotic progeny, but before he can carry them out he has to locate 20 so-called “high breeds,” the first synthetic life created on Earth besides the original Human Torch. When Father’s path crosses with the Avengers, though, Earth’s Covertest Heroes (shouldn’t that be their slogan?) are determined not to let him have his way.

The Good:
-The Art: Regular series penciler Gabriel Hardman does a tremendous job on his four issues. Together with colorist Bettie Breitweiser, he turns in pencil-heavy, natural-looking pages that complement the covert tone of this book well. His work reminds me of 1980s British comics, and I mean that in a good way (for a more modern comparison, check out the art on Grant Morrison’s BOOM! series Steed and Mrs. Peel). One-shot artist Patrick Zircher (#21.1) does a solid job as well, with work closer to a more traditional superhero vein.

-The Characters: Remender shakes up the Avengers team a bit when he takes over the book (possibly due to editorial mandate), and the choices he makes are welcome. Putting Hawkeye in the lead maybe isn’t the greatest move (he’s kind of an annoying character; see below) but one can see where it’d be necessary given Cap’s schedule. But the other new additions — “Agent” Venom, the original Human Torch, and especially Captain Britain — are absolutely welcome and bring a nice dynamic and power set to the group. Captain Britain looks on track to be the breakout character of this run; his otherworldly, magical abilities set him apart from everyone else on the team (even the Asgardian Valkyrie, who at the end of the day is more of a brawler), and I look forward to seeing what Remender has in store for him. It’s also nice that Remender brought back the Eric O’Grady Ant Man, one of the things I missed most about Warren Ellis’ run on the title, although that return may not be so permanent.

The Bad:
-Soap Opera: By far the most annoying thing about this run of comics is Remender’s tendency to throw a magnifying glass on the most annoying aspects of his characters. Not an issue goes by, for instance, that Hawkeye doesn’t yell at somebody. Even the scene in which Beast points this out is painful, full of dialog that’s supposed to be snarky but is really just annoying and distracting. Almost all of Remender’s characters are on edge all the time, and it’s really frustrating. He’s embracing the very worst common ground between soap operas and superhero comics, and I hope that he stops soon. Issue #21.1 is an especially egregious example, as Captain America and Hawkeye get into a bitch-fight (including some really facile psychoanalysis on Cap’s part) while the two leap around a hostile city in an attempt to save their life. It reads as fairly amateurish.

-Vague Plotting: The main villain of this piece, Father, keeps referring to his master plan as “The Event.” Either he intends to bring back a failed NBC show, or again Remender’s embracing the worst aspects of superhero comics — vague long-term plotting — in an attempt to seem cool and shadowy. Either way, it’s just bad.

What I’d Like to See More Of:
-The Avengers actually being Secret: No writer besides Warren Ellis has actually embraced Secret Avengers’ potential. This book is tailor-made to feature a genre mishmash of James Bond and superheroes, something that hasn’t really been seen before, at least not with characters as prominent as these. Why does no writer actually pay attention to this? Instead, every conflict in Remender’s run is a giant action setpiece. Ellis deployed those much more subtly, letting them build naturally from an espionage mission instead of having the Avengers charge in all guns blazing. This is probably an intentional change on Remender’s part, but it’s a real shame that the writer on a book with so much conceptual potential would choose to ignore almost all of it.

So although I’m enjoying Remender’s Secret Avengers enough — and a lot of the credit for that goes to Gabriel Hardman — I can’t help but put this book on pull list probation. I do look forward to the next arc, but the no-doubt forced AvX tie-ins are really going to test me, especially since the cover of the next one features Thor flying the group through outer-space to strike at some mutant outpost. What the hell is secret about that?

tags: gabriel hardman, patrick zircher, rick remender, secret avengers

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