Even though I knew Ales Kot was writing Secret Avengers, I never twigged that Michael Walsh was his co-conspirator. So when I decided to review this issue I suddenly noticed that I had reviewed this creative combination before: Zero #1. Clearly there is a good working relationship at hand and Walsh is suited to the ground based, arsenal attacks of a more traditional battleground. Add in a dash of colour and a touch of humour and you find the transformation of Zero into Secret Avengers. The first couple of issues were a solid action espionage arc with textured character rapports and a decent story. Issue three seems to provide the Kot Secret Avengers stamp in that it actually introduces the members and their roles. Ales is a writer that has actually read his research and his gradual passing over the reigns from Nick Spencer, has brought with him the current character profiles. When it comes to Coulson, Fury, Widow, Hawkeye and Spider-Woman, we all know what to expect but the development of Maria Hill and the introduction of M.O.D.O.K. have strengthened the cast. It is an interesting combination to say the least but each individual is distinct and brings their own skills and personality to the group. The opening shot is well drawn because not only do they pose according to their personas but their dialogue befits their expressions. Instantly you know that Fury is the no questions asked loyal soldier and Clint is the seemingly insolent buffoon jock.
Kot is not ambitious enough to carry out a plot line that involves all the characters simultaneously, and similarly to the initial issues he divides the Avengers. This does make the book more palatable and provide a specific flavour to the tale, instead of poorly utilising some characters in one giant fight scene. This issue features Natasha, Phil and Jessica heading to the Middle East to prevent a genocidal maniac activating a post-nuclear-reality-altering bomb. Clearly a battle ensues in the desert and each hero has a specific role to play. Widow does the heavy lifting with Coulson providing ballistic support, and Spider-Woman has to use her charm to disarm a talking bomb. A clever ploy given that she naturally gives off pheromones that attract the opposite sex, and her strategy is surprisingly clever and amusing. Meanwhile Natasha is busy defeating the armed guards and a clearly insane old man shouting, “you only live once” repeatedly. Coulson seems to undergo a crisis of confidence and almost leaves his colleagues at the mercy of a villainous poet. You can instantly appreciate the humorous plot that pervades the book whilst still covering serious issues such as fear, anxiety and lack of confidence. These are not feelings that emanate often in the heat of battle and all credit to Kot for not making our heroes all-powerful.
Whereas in Zero #1 Walsh took a gritty and ugly approach to the battle, this one is a little more alluring and picturesque. There are some fantastic kung fu poses and choreography interspersed with some solid gunplay. In fact Walsh brings out a spatial awareness not often depicted in many fights. There are wide-angle shots to keeps the characters intact and in continuity with one another. A blow-by-blow pictorial can be spaced using close up facials or progressive movements bringing an intense dynamic to the page. Most importantly these pages flow smoothly and almost follow a cinematic trajectory, providing fierce combat amongst emotional angst. The image of Coulson trembling with fear is genuinely traumatic and worrying. A lot of credit must be given to Wilson’s colouring because he provides valuable distinction in all environments. It is appreciable how he subtly shades the brightly coloured outfits in darker environments but allows them to shine in the light. It is impressive how he uses the shade to darken faces and provide emotional depth to their dialogue. He utilises a fantastic red and yellow colour scheme to emphasis the explosive noises of battle but also the intense moments of physical combat. It is really a well-constructed comic that excels on almost all levels, even the Tradd Moore covers bear a physical intensity mixed in with humour.
The secret Avengers ensemble has been developed over the past few years and has changed from its original inception in 2010. The introduction of Maria and Phil have bolstered the S.H.I.E.L.D. component and I can only assume this was because of their growing media popularity. Combine them with the Avengers trio and we have a lovely balance of straight-laced military types and jovial superhero friends. Ales Kot has brought the lighthearted element to the group when it has traditionally been very dark and serious in mood, such as the How to MA.I.M. a Mockingbird arc. I wonder whether Kot will continue Spencer’s theme of in house subterfuge and nefarious shenanigans of S.H.I.E.L.D. because it is obvious that, from these initial issues, he has taken a more personal touch with his cast. I like the ditsy nature of Spider-Woman, the “troubled” mature of Hawkeye, the anxiety of Coulson and the default solitary nature of Widow. A superhero group acting below the radar is not a novel concept but to have them seriously question their actions and morality would be a worthy venture. We have the cast for it, given that Fury and Widow have a dark past. This comic serves a fantastic entrée that is light in nature despite delivering a serious plot. There are hints at personal tribulations and we are beginning to see rapports develop between very unique characters. The art is thickly pencilled but lightly coloured and you can imagine Walsh and Wilson toning it down a notch as we really get to the crux of these characters as their adventures become more pressing. I am very excited to see where this book goes, especially considering that Ales Kot is a superb writer and is slowly developing his mainstream portfolio. I think that Hawkeye sums it up beautifully when asked what the Secret Avengers do, emphasising the blurred ethical lines on which they walk:
“We go and do the thing the Thunderbolts were doing when Norman Osborn was in charge. But we’re the good guys”