WARREN ELLIS' "SECRET AVENGERS: RUN THE MISSION, DON'T GET SEEN, SAVE THE WORLD"
This is the kind of superhero work Warren Ellis does best. Each story is a short blast of pop action. Each revolves around a single concept, usually of a futuristic bent. It's a science fiction story wrapped up in the trappings of superhero comics. Get in, run the characters through the obstacle course, look cool doing it, then get out. "Global Frequency" may be the most recognizable instance of this. "Planetary" fits the description. "NextWave" would fit under the umbrella, albeit with a more humorous twist.
And now we have "Secret Avengers" #16-21, collected under the direct title of "Run the Mission, Don't Get Seen, Save the World." It has all of the same cool, quick quips that you'd want from such a work, with no shortage of action. And it gives you, the reader, the feeling of being dropped unknowingly into the middle of a dangerous, fantastic, or downright crazy scheme in much the same way as the characters are. Do try to keep up.
I'm a bit lost in the continuity of it all, but this one places Steve Rogers -- newly reborn, as I recall -- as the leader of a secret team of Avengers doing the dirty work around the globe in the Marvel Universe. His support team varies from story to story, as needed, but they keep coming up against another secretive group called The Shadow Council.
The book opens up with an issue devoted to the small team of Beast, Captain America, Black Widow, and Moon Knight dropping miles below the ground to a hidden underground terrorist city. They think they know what they're getting into, but things of course take a turn for the worse and the team has to blast their way out. Jamie McKelvie gets some impressive sets to build with his art, including a glorious two-page spread of Moon Knight flying over the cityscape. While some of McKelvie's action beats are a little less than perfectly clear, the gist of it is always there. Car chases can be hard to draw, and only get harder when the action takes place simultaneously in front of and above the car. Did I mention the helicopter, too?
That's followed by Kev Walker's issue, which is even more run and gun. You get a large quincarrier, helicopters, a flying horse (Valkyrie, naturally), a flying man in an iron suit (War Machine), and lots of explosions. There's a lot going on here -- all in the rain, of course! -- but Walker's art is the weakest chapter of the book. From ugly characters to stingy backgrounds to occasionally confusing storytelling pieces, it's not up to par with the rest of the collection of artists. All the blast clouds and speed lines can't save it for me. Even a two-page spread of a Quincarrier separating in two fails to be exciting to me.
Issue #18 gives you the playful experimentation of David Aja, drawing what can best be described as superheroes trapped in an M.C. Escher-designed set, with stairs leading everywhere and fights happening in three dimensions. This one, despite the crazy dimensions of the stage, has the clearest storytelling. Aja knows how to lead a reader through a book deliberately, without hand-holding. He just puts the action in front of you, and you instantly know what's going on. He knows when to lock down the "camera" and he knows when to pick it up and change the distance it is to the action. His close-ups aren't cheats to save from drawing too many lines. They're to highlight something happening that's important.
Issue #19 brings Michael Lark and Stefan Gaudiano to do what they do best: street level action. Most of the issue is even done in a standard nine-panel grid, emphasizing the storytelling over the spectacle, though there's plenty of that, too. It seems almost quaint and calm by comparison to previous issues, but there's still a fair amount of gunplay, running around, and hand to hand fighting in the issue. As a nice bonus to Marvel Universe geeks, the whole story is set in Symkaria, even without Silver Sable showing up. Ellis' dialogue in this one is especially terse and pointed, with lots of little one-liners sprinkled throughout that will give you giggles.
Issue #20 brings Alex Maleev on board to tell a time travel story with Black Widow that will take me another couple of reads to wrap my head around. This is large scale time travel with a long time period involved, as Black Widow jumps around to arrange for the safety of the Avengers after a mission goes bad and she's the last one left living. She's a patient sort, but also a mastermind of spy craft and time travel thinking.
Issue #21 wraps things up, sort of, with Stuart Immonen handling art duties. It splits the story into two parts: Captain America interrogating the bad guy ("bad gal"?) while the rest of the team battles some larger than life creatures deep in the heart of the same building. It's a nice juxtaposition between a shadowy cramped room with two tense characters verbally going at it and a larger action piece set in a larger area with bigger action. That controlled scene versus the frantic kinetic scene is a great study in contrast to tell an exciting story. If it was all one or the other, it wouldn't hold up as well.
The story also does a nice job of wrapping up the series of stories Ellis told from the beginning of his run, neatly blending five standalone stories into one big one at the end. It's the final piece in the puzzle that makes this such a great book. It has variety, but also a consistency throughout. It's about the darker side of the "Secret Avengers," telling stories with high concepts with punchy action and dialogue. Ellis throws in faux comic strips, widescreen action, ridiculous action, street level action, and everything else can in this book. There's something for almost everyone in there.
The Marvel Premiere Edition hardcover version of the collection is available at a $24.99 cover price. Even if you haven't read a single Avengers comic in years, it's easy to jump into the book and enjoy it.
PIPELINKS AND QUICK THOUGHTS
- $25 for a six-issue collection? That's more than $4 per issue. I know hardcovers are going to be more expensive to produce and that their audience is more limited than trade paperbacks for that reason and so economies of scale kick in a bit and all, but -- $25? That's the kind of thing that kills comic shops, because these books aren't affordable without an Amazon-sized discount.
- Counting down now to my first "Why do you hate comic shops so much?" email...
- Diamond is going to sell a digital "Previews" catalog for a whopping fifty-one cents less than the print edition. It'll only cost you $3.99 instead of $4.50. Or, you can get the combo pack for $5.49. Diamond saves a ridiculous amount of costs in printing, paper, shipping, storing, etc. In exchange for all that, you get to keep two quarters and a penny. Yes, there are costs to distributing a large file on the internet. But four dollars' worth? No. Not really. This reeks of the typical protectionist pricing you see from dead tree publishers all the time. They claim to offer their books digitally, but make them as difficult as possible for the consumer to justify buying. Protect the print edition by making the digital edition a bad deal.
As someone who doesn't get to the comics shop every Wednesday, I would buy a digital "Previews" just to better keep up with what's going on. Sure, I can get most of the big companies' publication schedules right here on CBR in the days before "Previews" hits store shelves, but there are always hidden gems in the back of the catalog. But $4.00? No, not worth it. A digital "Previews" should be half that price.
- Diamond isn't alone with this silly pricing scheme, though. I buy a lot of technical books, as a computer programmer by trade. Some publishers in that market -- which is often as small and profit-averse as comics -- offer eBooks at a digital discount so small that it's almost cheaper to just buy the dead tree book at Amazon. It shouldn't be like that. But that's the phase we're still in. Given enough time, I hope such habits and protectionist policies will change.
- There's another parallel. Technical book writers don't make their money from publishing the books, but rather from the increased exposure the book gets them for consulting or speaking gigs. Comic creators all too often make their money from selling the rights.
- As a series, "Saga" never gets mentioned for its great book design and lettering. So kudos to Fonografiks for producing an original looking book. Everything from the mixed case font in the book to the sans-serif letters column and the spare cover copy looks great. My appreciation for them was doubled in "Saga" #10 for the best use of a font in comics in a long time. When a letter writer takes Brian K. Vaughan to task for improper use of italics, he has Fonografiks reproduce the original email in Comic Sans. Remember, folks: The author gets the final revenge. Every time. Beautiful. (And, yes, it's another great issue, as well. Plus, it doesn't need a New York City newspaper to spoil the final page a couple of days in advance to make it so.)
- One of Disney's legendary animators, Floyd Norman, spent some time working on Disney Comics 20 years ago when Disney took the publishing in house. He wasn't impressed. (Nor were most readers, to be honest.) Norman describes that experience on his blog.
Last month, I reviewed "Witch Doctor: Mal Practice" #3 for CBR Reviews. I won't be doing the same write-up for the fourth issue, but I have read it and enjoyed it. While I still (unbelievably) haven't found the time to catch up on the whole series, I was able to pick right back up with the next issue and continue to follow it without a problem. Brandon Seifert's script is packed with interesting things happening, both from a character standpoint and overall plot. And Lucas Ketner's art is a lot of fun to look at, from those scratchy lines and shading to the animated character expressions. He might just be the best artistic find in comics in the last couple of years. Definitely one to watch.
- Bleeding Cool buried this nugget in a recent story:
Dale Keown's legendary 30 issue run on The Pitt has never been collected - so Top Cow is in now the process of collecting them, it was announced, although apparently getting the material out of outdated DAT files has been a "pain in the ass"...
The Pitt reprint story is something I've been following since Top Cow announced they had bought the property and were planning reprints at San Diego back in 2010. It's the new "Art of Todd McFarlane" story. The good news is, that book did see print a couple of months ago. There's still hope for Keown's project.
- And, finally, the best thing Rob Liefeld has drawn in recent memory: a Deadpool Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. That thing is awesome.