For a team initially sold as some kind of underground, shadowy team of Avengers, it's rather strange to see the first storyline take its entire cast to Mars to fight over the Serpent Crown -- and yet, despite this, it undeniably works. Brubaker has somehow managed to combine the espionage-tinged superheroics of his Captain America run with the grandiose adventuring of an Avengers team, lending a sci-fi infused tone to the story that makes it feel unique amongst the Avengers books.
Although Brubaker has a colorful and unusual cast to work with, it's unsurprisingly Steve Rogers who gets the most character out of Brubaker's pen, almost to the detriment of the rest of the team, who feel almost sidelined by Rogers' strong presence. Brubaker had similar weaknesses during his "Uncanny X-Men" run, so there's still room for improvement, but on the plus side the pacing issues which plagued his X-Men stories are a distant memory, with the plot developments coming thick and fast, and the set pieces turning up in just the right place.
The sub-plots are also bubbling under nicely, from character-based conflict between Ant-Man and his new team-mates, to the apparent involvement of Nick Fury in the Secret Avengers affairs. Nova's fate seems like a particularly compelling mystery, and this early on, with the book still finding its niche, we're not yet at the point where we can be sure how any character will end up when the story concludes. There's more than enough here to keep you interested between issues, as well as during it.
Mike Deodato demonstrates particular brilliance in this issue, fully-rendering the Martian base and spacesuits for each character without resorting to generic designs. Every panel looks like it could be a still from a movie, but unlike the worst of the photoreferencers, it never forgets its duty to the story in an attempt to look realistic, more than justifying Deodato's position on the title. His "Dark Avengers" work, while good, was occasionally too gritty and shadowy. On "Secret Avengers", he's stripped things down a bit and his art looks better than ever as a result.
Certainly, "Secret Avengers" feels like a shot in the arm for the franchise after a long period under Bendis' hand. Although I do generally enjoy his work, it's hard to deny that we weren't long overdue for a new voice and new characters. Brubaker provides both, a perfect alternative to the core Avengers books for those who want something a bit different but still Avengers-esque. The line's relaunch has been strong overall, but two issues in, it's clear to me that if you only buy one Avengers title, "Secret Avengers" is the one to go for.