Marvel, 22 pages, $ 3.99
I don’t usually read Secret Avengers, but #16 is the first of six issues written by Warren Ellis, each of which containing a full story illustrated by a different artist.
So, in essence, these six issues of Secret Avengers are going to be a superhero version of Mr. Ellis’ Global Frequency series from 2002 through 2004. After Jamie McKelvie (Phonogram and Suburban Glamour), the remaining five are drawn by Kev Walker, David Aja, Michael Lark/Stefano Gaudiano, Alex Maleev and Stuart Immonen—a pretty good line-up of solid, very distinctive storytellers.
Generally, four dollars is too much for a 22-page comic book, where I’m concerned, but for this type of project, with a full story and a complete creative concept for each individual issue, I’ll gladly pay the cover price.
In Mr. Ellis and Mr. McKelvie’s story, the stealth Avengers team consists of Steve Rogers (the once and future Captain America), Moon Knight, the Black Widow and the X-Men’s Beast. As often in Ellis’ stories, the dialogue is a little too curt and stylized for its own good at times. But overall, the characters are recognizable and well-developed. It’s fun to watch how they interact—not least thanks to McKelvie’s art, which places more emphasis on facial expressions and body language than you usually find in superhero comics.
The story itself is the type of thing superhero comics used to be very good at, but which has somehow become the exception: a complete, fast-paced 22-page high-concept adventure with epic stakes. In a secret, improbably large city beneath the city of Cincinnati, the Secret Empire—one of those awesome super-terrorist organizations of the Marvel Universe—has created a doomsday machine that’s about to destroy Cincinnati. Avengers Assemble!
Well, not quite.
Whereas the Avengers’ usual shtick involves bravado, battle cries and lots of splendor, the operating word here is “secret,” obviously—secret city, Secret Empire, Secret Avengers. And despite the intentionally impossible set-up and archetypal megalomaniacal super-villain plot, the creators sell the notion that this is a serious, no-nonsense stealth mission.
The creators aren’t reinventing the wheel here, but I imagine this approach requires a lot more planning and storytelling skill than you’d think. I’m sure Ellis could just as easily have spread the same story over all six issues with minimal extra effort, and be done with it. This is a fun superhero book.