A black-ops Avengers squad with a slightly odd roster is formed by Maria Hill in Ales Kot and Michael Walsh’s “Secret Avengers” #1. An oddly “powerless” team of Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents makes up Hill’s Avengers team — one that finds itself already in a heap of trouble — in space.
“Secret Avengers” feels like it’s trying to be a whole lot of books to a whole lot of people — it has a light, humorous, high-octane action vibe that feels a bit like “The Avengers” film and it includes Black Widow, Hawkeye, Maria Hill and Nick Fury to further cement that influence; it features Agent Phil Coulson as one of the primary team members, obviously wedged in to appeal to the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” fans; and then its specific approach — a more realistic and cartoonish art style than most superhero comics, a very particular narrative voice, and the basic storytelling devices and style of the popular and critically acclaimed “Hawkeye” comic. I can appreciate why all of these elements seem like good ideas and like ways to create a book that appeals to a large audience, but by trying to be all these things at once, it stumbles and falls. Not hard, but just enough that it’s not as great as it could and should be.
Interestingly enough, the very best thing about “Secret Avengers” is the thing that that isn’t borrowed or aping some other already successful property — and that’s the presence of M.O.D.O.K. M.O.D.O.K. feels entirely unique to this title and Kot and Walsh make the most of him in his capacity as “Head of M.O.D.O.K.’s Mad Science Lair.” The jokes are funny, the visuals are perfect, and it feels like there are infinite opportunities for stories. Quite frankly, the other stuff in “Secret Avengers” works pretty well too, a credit to Kot and Walsh, but a reader can’t help but sometimes feel the seams where all the different aspects are stitched together.
Kot has a great handle on the narrative voice of all the characters, and the book is funny (even beyond all of M.O.D.O.K.’s scenes). Kot does need to exert some restraint as he sometimes stumbles over himself to get to all the jokes, which makes the book feel as if it’s trying too hard. However, some of the stuff with Hawkeye is particularly good once he crosses over with Spider-Woman and Black Widow and it stops feeling like readers just happened to stumble into a slightly-off version of “Hawkeye,” especially as they band together for a mission that would never happen in Clint’s solo book.
Walsh’s art is very fun, and fitting for the tone the book aims for, even if that tone is slightly schizophrenic. Walsh’s style along with Kot’s narrative voice is definitely one of the most “Hawkeye”-ish aspects of the book and it’s a credit to how good Walsh is that it even comes close to being as good as David Aja’s “Hawkeye.” Walsh has a style that naturally feels more human than super-human, fitting considering there’s only one person on the team with legitimate superpowers, and yet he embraces a cartoonish style at the same time that really benefits the book’s sense of humor and freewheeling fun. His expressions and character acting are very strong — a particular panel of Hawkeye apologizing is pitch perfect and takes Kot’s simple one word of dialogue in the panel and raises it up infinite notches just through the look on Clint’s face. As mentioned above, Walsh’s M.O.D.O.K. is sheer perfection.
The storytelling is clean and clear, with simple panel layouts and strong action sequences. If there’s a weakness it’s perhaps in the Phil Coulson design not looking a bit like actor Clark Gregg, but sort of trying to. By contrast, Walsh’s Natasha looks nothing like Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, but also doesn’t try to and is thus more successful. Matthew Wilson’s colors do a similarly impressive job of straddling the line between a more realistic book and one with a cartoonish style. His palette is restrained for the most part, until it shouldn’t be, and then he cuts loose — like when the characters are in space, or a panel with Widow and Spider-Woman blowing things to smithereens just for fun.
Not every book can (or should) be “Hawkeye” but when you aim for it and don’t quite stick the landing, it’s noticeable. What’s here is enjoyable and eminently promising and in the end it will be better served finding its own voice, rather than aping “Hawkeye’s.”