Just as the success of the original “Iron Man” movie came to heavily influence the character’s depiction in comics at the time, so does “Secret Avengers” #1, an Avengers book by Nick Spencer and Luke Ross, seems to be almost directly riffing off Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers,” right down to calling its lead story “Budapest.” To be honest, it comes not a moment too soon. (If anything it’s even a bit late to the party — this probably would’ve been a really good book to have on shelves some 6-8 months ago.)
Timing aside, the debut series issue is pretty good. Better than pretty good. Pretty great. The cast for this issue is essentially the movie version of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Hawkeye, Black Widow, Nick Fury (Jr.), Maria Hill and Agent Coulson. Coulson has finally been turned into Clark Gregg, courtesy of Ross’ artwork, and even Black Widow gets a Scarlett Johannson-esque makeover — neither change is bad, serving to make the cast a more comfortable fit with one another.
The concept behind “Secret Avengers” makes the heroes on the team get their memories deleted after each mission to maintain deniability. Why they would agree to a memory-altering procedure is the subject of at least one mystery, and the logic of it is addressed within the opening scenes of the story. Whether it’s a good idea for Hawkeye and Black Widow to trust S.H.I.E.L.D. is tested in the closing scenes. It’s compelling stuff. The plot hangs on simple but effective mysteries.
The tone of the book is far more in line with Ed Brubaker’s original “Secret Avengers” than Rick Remender’s recent series-closing run. Between Spencer’s premise and Ross’ noir-esque use of shade, things go even further into espionage, while the focus on highly-skilled humans rather than super-powered individuals gives it a unique feel in the Marvel Universe.
That said, it isn’t all serious. Hawkeye is on rare wise-cracking form, while Fury has the deadpan cool of Samuel L. Jackson. The characters all have their own style and attitude nailed by Spencer and Ross, but you can see how they work as a team. Spencer’s plotting creates an interesting tension, in that sometimes readers more than the characters, and sometimes the characters know more than the readers — a device that prevents the secrecy that permeates the issue from becoming monotonous.
It’s safe to say this isn’t a hugely revolutionary story, but it’s very well constructed, and takes an unusual premise and makes it work. At the same time, readers are left with questions that demand answers. That said, the best thing about the book is that it successfully merges the movie Avengers with their comic counterparts in more than roster. If anything’s going to win “Secret Avengers” some new fans, it’s that.