With "Secret Avengers" #18, Warren Ellis has brought me another comic book that I'm too stupid to fully comprehend but find myself loving anyway.
I tend to mentally check out when a comic book folds into itself with things like "malformed multiverses called bad continua" as the center of their plot. I don't know if that makes me stupid, or a bad nerd, or just someone that doesn't have the time to look at my comic with a physics book also propped open, but it's what happens. And perhaps I should demand more of Ellis and be less trusting that he knows exactly what he's doing and getting it right, but at the end of the day, all the "bad continua" that I don't necessarily understand aside, this is a great superhero comic book.
Ellis, David Aja, and Raul Allen work in lovely understated synch as they tell us a story that at times is as confusing as your average M.C. Escher print (literally) and at times is perfectly simple. And I think that's probably the point. Ellis fills some of his pages to the brim with words, explaining "bad continua", letting Beast show off, touching on the relationship between Steve and Sharon, and giving Shang-Chi room to be the badass that he is. Other times Ellis just lets Aja and Allen go nuts in pages of silent gorgeous superhero action. And it's awesome.
Ellis' story focuses primarily on Steve Rogers "the world's greatest soldier," Sharon Carter "the world's greatest secret agent," and Shang-Chi "the world's greatest martial artist," with some Beast ("the world's greatest furry blue scientist?") thrown in for good measure. And like the Ellis "Secret Avengers" standalone stories before this one, he's well served by limiting the cast and focusing on one devastating mission. The end result is a satisfying read in which we get to see our characters be amazing and save the day with a few laughs along the way. It's good solid comics reading.
David Aja and Raul Allen are fantastic here, especially in their work turning this story --literally at times -- into an Escher print, while still holding onto the narrative flow and character work. Some of their choices are deceptively simple, but the overall effect is fantastic. Shang-Chi in particular gets most of the great scenes (including a brutally cool opening) and in the hands of Ellis, Aja, and Allen you want to read all the Shang-Chi stories that could ever been written (and drawn). It's truly great and subtle character work that can turn a reader into a fan in such a short time.
We now have three of the six planned standalone Ellis stories, and I have to say that as a reader they are a welcome change from many of the superhero comics I read. Whenever I read one-shots, I tend to lower my expectations quite a bit thanks to the limitations of 22 pages, but these issues go a long way toward proving that a great standalone comic is entirely doable. I will take as many of these as I can get. Keep 'em coming Marvel.