There's been some debate about the idea of Ed Brubaker writing another team book after his work on "The Authority" and "Uncanny X-Men" received negative reactions for the most part, while his work on "Captain America" and "Gotham Central" demonstrate that he can clearly work with ensemble casts. Thankfully, "Secret Avengers" #1 is very much in the vein of his "Captain America" work, reading almost as a companion title to that book instead of another Avengers title.
With Steve Rogers running a black ops team, Brubaker is continuing to write the character he handled for over two years and, then, recently brought back to the Marvel universe. As such, "Secret Avengers" #1 has a familiar feel to it right from the beginning with Rogers, Sharon Carter, and the Black Widow all part of the cast. Brubaker knows those characters well and uses them to drive the issue somewhat. Thankfully, his use of the other members of the group is also intriguing and entertaining.
The issue begins with the story already in motion as Black Widow and Valkyrie go undercover to obtain an object for Rogers. Thought to be the Serpent Crown, it's something related and yet different that the Roxxon corporation apparently found while digging on Mars. The group discovers this through the brains of the Beast and some covert ops work by Moon Knight and Ant-Man, both of whom didn't seem like perfect fits for the team but work well here. They're also the only two characters whose recruitment scenes we're shown, which is refreshing for a first issue. Brubaker doesn't waste much time putting the team together, he has it already formed and goes from there, spotlighting the two characters that don't fit in at a first glance.
What really impresses me about this issue is how Brubaker balances the dark espionage focus of the story with the lighter "Heroic Age" banner under which the book is launched. Those two goals seem to be conflicting, but he manages to tie into Marvel history with the Serpent Crown, give a big superhero type of story in space, while having it stem from shadowy corporate intrigue and including a secret organization stalking the team. Brubaker hits the right notes for each purpose.
Mike Deodato on art gives the book an unofficial successor to "Dark Avengers" label, but the books are rather distinct. His final issues on that title were rushed with colorist Rain Beredo picking up the slack and overpowering the art as a result, but, here, the two are working together far more harmoniously. Deodato and Brubaker aren't immediately matches, though. Deodato's style, while dark, is also very exaggerated and bombastic at times, while Brubaker's writing isn't. Despite some action scenes, Brubaker focuses on dialogue and the interplay of characters, leaving Deodato to use some odd angles to liven things up beyond having overly muscular characters standing around. His choice of angles and compositions are baffling in places, working against the story.
Some disparities between writing and art aside, "Secret Avengers" #1 hits the ground running and never slows down. A great mix of action and intrigue, fans of Brubaker's "Captain America" will no doubt find this comic a great companion book, especially with the plot twist he introduces at the end of the issue.