Secret Avengers #16

Secret Avengers #16

B+

I’m always a little nervous when I see Warren Ellis’ name on a superhero title. It’s not that the guy isn’t a fantastic writer — clearly he is, as books like Planetary and The Authority show — but he has a famously shaky relationship with the superhero genre that’s led to some less-than-stellar books, including a fairly weak run on JLA Classified (which, incidentally, was the first thing I ever read by him).

Silly me, I forgot that Secret Avengers, properly done, isn’t really a superhero book. It belongs at least as much to the espionage/spy genre that claims James Bond and that other, more British Avengers… at least, it should. I felt that the series’ previous longterm writer, Ed Brubaker, set up some great ideas but then never really executed, delving too much into superheroics and mysticism and ignoring the fact that a black ops team of super-powered individuals is a cool-ass concept on its own.

That’s a concept Ellis seems ready to embrace head-on, but not without his own twists. Secret Avengers #16 is a nice little mash-up of covert ops, science-fiction and superheroics that feels really fresh and energetic. That’s helped immensely by artist Jamie McKelvie, whose biggest credit to this point seems to be Image’s indie series Phonogram. These interiors are straight-up awesome. I love this artwork and I want to see more of it right away. It’s a little quirky, but full of motion and appealing in its simplicity. Action scenes are incredibly well-choreographed and demand attention, and McKelvie’s towering backgrounds here give his characters a great setting in which to play.

So what’s happening here? Steve Rogers and his secretive group have caught wind of a giant city constructed by the Secret Empire buried a mile beneath Cincinnati. It’s thought to be abandoned, though Rogers suspects his enemies in the Shadow Council may be planning to use weapons buried there to attack the citizens above. So he and his select crew, this time made up of Beast, Black Widow and Moon Knight, move in to investigate. Their job, as the excellent John Cassaday cover trumpets: “Run the mission. Don’t get seen. Save the world.”

I love that Ellis picks only a team of four here, which allows him to spotlight characters underutilized by Brubaker, notably Beast and Moon Knight, maybe the two most interesting characters on the team (along with Ant-Man). It lets the book get cool moments out of each team member, instead of inevitably shifting some to the background — although I feel that Moon Knight is clearly the coolest dude here. It also gives the book a more mission-based atmosphere… certain characters are chosen for their specialties, with Beast falling into the role of James Bond’s Q. That’s a sharp idea that lets readers in on the logic of why these characters work so well together.

Unless this book is just an introduction to Ellis’ take on the characters, it seems like he and McKelvie are going for a done-in-one style series where each issue features our heroes completing one mission. It’s a nice touch that makes it feel as though you’re reading one complete adventure every month, and Ellis packs enough story in these pages to make the book feel weighty. Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case with those types of stories, it also feels like it ends too soon — I got to the last panel and found myself wishing for an extra page or two of comic.

Still, Secret Avengers #16 is very, very good. Its blend of weird science, spy tricks and superhero action makes it the book I’ve known this title could be since the beginning. When I heard about the change in creative team, I thought this might be a book I’d end up dropping to save money, but it seems like I’ll be looking forward to the future installments for awhile. Next issue teases Steve Rogers getting run over by a demonic truck. Yep, that’s a winner.

tags: jamie mckelvie, secret avengers, warren ellis

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