Secret Avengers #13
Writer: Nick Spencer
Pencils: Scot Eaton
Inks: Jaime Mendoza & Rick Ketcham
Colors: Frank D’Armata
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Cover artists: Adi Granov (regular)/Lee Weeks (variant)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US
After reading this comic book, at first I couldn’t quite decide if I’d read one of the smartest Marvel publications so far this year or one of the corniest, most ham-fisted ones of 2011. There are a lot of things I enjoyed about Nick Spencer’s plot and script. The political elements, the over-the-top notion that saves the day, a couple of sharp turns of phrase and a believable connection between two characters despite the fact that one of them had only just been introduced all made me smile. But for every strength that Spencer’s writing brought to the book, there’s a flaw that detracted from the reading experience and took me out of the story. I was only planning on writing a capsule review (one of my Quick Critiques) of this comic book, but I found that as I got going, I had a lot more to say about it than I expected. As I sorted through the pros and cons that I perceived, I ultimately realized that no, this wasn’t one of Marvel’s strongest offerings of the year, but rather a strong foundation upon which a rickety house was built.
Sin, the daughter of the Red Skull, finds herself empowered by a magic Norse hammer that enabled her to unleash the Serpent upon the world, and her nihilistic contribution to the ancient evil god’s plan of cosmic revenge is an all-out assault on Washington, D.C. Steve Rogers, commander of S.H.I.E.L.D. and leader of the Avengers, dispatches members from his covert Avengers team — the Beast, War Machine, Ant-Man and Agent 13 — to join conventional forces in defending the capitol. The Beast soon learns there’s more going on than an invasion by villains in Nazi armored war suits. An old friend is taking a stand on the floor of the House on principle, placing himself in jeopardy.
Scot Eaton is a comic artist who’s always offered up some standard, capable super-hero genre artwork for the projects on which he’s worked, but his style is just so indistinct. There’s little about his work that strikes me as particularly unique, but to be fair, he always delivers solid, clear storytelling. Here, his stuff reminded me of the styles of such artists as Dale (Alpha Flight) Eaglesham and Salvador (Invincible Iron Man) Larroca. He does a great job of capturing the iconic landscape and sights of Washington; there’s a strong sense of place here. I found his apparent use of Charles S. Dutton as the model for Congressman Lenny Gary. Of course, the likeness was rather distracting. Instead of appreciating the character, I kept thinking about how the artist decided to use a real-world model for the figure.
As for the cover art, the Adi Granov image on the regular edition says little about the story within. All it says is something about a character that doesn’t even appear in this story. It says that the Black Widow likes to keep her top unzipped (too hot?!) and that she doesn’t wear a bra. She looks ready for intercourse, not action. While I’m on the subject of the cover, this is the first full review I’ve written of any regular Marvel comic linked to the publisher’s Fear Itself event, and I have to say, the masthead design it’s developed just doesn’t work. The uniform font and color dominating the top quarter of the page makes all of these tie-ins run together. At first glance, this looks like a separate spinoff limited series, not an issue of the ongoing title. Of course, the crossover event has interrupted the regular series, which left off, I believe, promising a potential reformation for John Steele. That plotline is ignored here, abandoned so an inconsequential tangent to Fear Itself can unfold.
One of the problems with the story was the overt way these particular Avengers joined the battle. The cover still proclaims this series to be about “Secret Avengers.” I thought this particular team was Rogers’ covert squad of heroes. There’s nothing covert here. Of course, there’s little about this particular issue that makes it an Avengers story. It’s really a solo Beast story. This could’ve easily been an X-Men comic or a Beast one-shot. Well, to be fair, that’s not true. It’s really Lenny Gary’s story, and he’s an intriguing character. The principled, stubborn congressman is well realized, and his idealism and dedication to the letter of the law and parliamentary procedure all make him an admirable figure. Still, I found myself questioning his adherence to principle in the face of a more immediate threat. His recitation of the Gettysburg Address is inspiring, but for some reason, he’s abandoned his more important message just to prove a point.
Mind you, I found the political aspects and idealism to be appealing. Nick Spencer is shaping up to be Marvel’s Law & Order-esque writer — you know, “ripped from the headlines” kind of stories. He touched upon Wikileaks in the Point One issue of this series, and terrorism played a big part in the first arc of his Iron Man 2.0. Here, the plot evokes memories of the recent 9/11 workers health-care legislation and Wisconsin Democrats’ use of proper process to delay controversial budget/union-busting legislation at the state level. I appreciate the topical parallels that Spencer uses in his super-hero stories, but the execution isn’t always there. For example, in this issue, the plot about a bill to help a dying group of miners is cast aside as the story shifts to a Night at the Museum-esque plot device that’s fun at first but ultimately doesn’t quite make sense in the larger context of the Marvel Universe. 5/10
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