Since the series’ first issue, I’ve thought that Marvel could get the most traction out of Secret Avengers if it treated the book as a mash-up between James Bond-style espionage and straight superheroics. And while I’d never claim that current series writer Warren Ellis has been reading my reviews (or my mind), I feel like he enjoys the same thing about the idea behind this series as I do, because never has there been more of a James Bond vibe to Secret Avengers than in this issue.
In Secret Avengers #19, a covert team made up of Steve Rogers, Sharon Carter, Black Widow and Moon Knight infiltrate a swanky Symkarian nightclub that’s a front for (clearly) prostitution and also (supposedly) drugs. Rogers has received intel that club boss Voydanoi has some kind of Super Soldier-style narcotic to sell to the Shadow Council, the evil group bent on world domination who’s plagued the Secret Avengers for quite awhile. It’s up to the ex-Captain America and his team to stop the deal with minimum ostentatiousness, or, as this book’s letterhead proclaims: “Run the mission. Don’t get seen. Save the world.”
From the word “go” this issue’s in heavy James Bond territory. Sharon and Natasha, in revealing civilian clothes, attempt to gain access to the main bad guy through their feminine wiles, but they also serve to distract from the Avengers’ main weapon — Moon Knight, posing as millionaire jetsetter Steven Grant, who comes to the club dressed to the nines and looking for a lady. Meanwhile, Steve takes another, slightly more direct approach as he works to take down the club’s security by hand. This kind of multi-angled operation, especially Moon Knight’s role, feels very much like the elaborate plans you’d be likely to spy in a Bond film, and besides that is a lot of fun to see unfold.
The similarities to the long-running film franchise don’t stop there. For one, we get a “Bond Girl”-type woman in the prostitute Agnyeta, who Moon Knight saves from her dangerous life. One might even argue that Agnyeta’s a more sympathetic, even more realistic character than most Bond babes. Also, it occurred to me reading this issue that the Shadow Council is a lot like the wicked SPECTRE that antagonized Bond throughout his earliest films — to the point where, even if the Shadow Council’s not the enemy (as they turn out not to be in this issue), it’s suspicion of their actions that drives the plot. The actual antagonist here brings in the more fantastical side of the Secret Avengers’ world, to nice effect; it’s a bit of Lovecraft with some superhuman designer drugs thrown in the mix.
Complementing that well is the artistic team of Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano and Brian Thies. Lark’s not always my favorite artist; in fact, when he co-penciled the fifth issue of this series last year I didn’t much care for it. But that was when the title lived more in the realm of superheroics; in this covert ops milieu, Lark’s gritty pencils work wonders. You will absolutely believe that Symkaria’s an ugly place, and you wouldn’t want to spend any more time there than you have to. I also love the way the artistic team chose to convey the true nature of the drugs the Avengers are after — it’s just Lovecraftian enough to get you in that frame of mind (check the two-page spread where we first see their effects — looks to me like we see some tentacles) but vague enough to keep the mystery in-check until the end of the story. It’s very, very well done. One final bit of props must go to colorist Jose Villarrubia, whose work I absolutely love in Vertigo’s Sweet Tooth. He’s probably my favorite colorist in the comic industry (and only one of a handful that I could name).
All told, despite some artistic hiccups in issue #17, Warren Ellis’ Secret Avengers has been fantastic. His blend of spy and superhero action shows off exactly why this title’s so special, and his spotlighting of less-used characters (Moon Knight’s one of my favorites) and highly talented artists makes each issue a treat. While only two issues remain on Ellis’ run, Marvel has built up a lot of good will with me when it comes to this title — enough that I’ll certainly be sticking around for Rick Remender’s first issue in January.
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more