Secret Avengers #22

Start a bold new direction of an Avengers title and I'll stop by to check it out. Throw Art Adams on the cover and/or Gabe Hardman on the interior art and the chances of me buying it double. Do both and it's a guaranteed purchase. Once purchased, though, how does "Secret Avengers" stack up?

Aside from minimizing Adams' cover art with a countdown trade dress for the "Avengers vs X-Men" event, the main story doesn't cater to outside influence. Rick Remender opens the issue with a threat, balances that threat out with a zippy introduction to Captain Britain, and then pulls the team together. Once together, Remender portrays the full-blown bluster of Captain Britain, the cockiness of Hawkeye, and the energetic enthusiasm of Beast. Remender's Beast, especially, fits right in with what I want to see in my Avengers books. If Beast even gets a fraction of this treatment going forward, it'll be enough for me to keep coming back.

Gabriel Hardman does what he does best in this issue: he draws great art. My mind held onto a sliver of hope that seeing Hardman's name on a Marvel title would mean a return of the Agents of Atlas, but that's not meant to be at this time. Instead I'll just have to follow Hardman's gorilla drawings (with other apes, naturally) in the "Planet of the Apes" work he is doing elsewhere. Here, Hardman gives us the closest to classic-ape-looking Beast I've seen yet. Captain Britain, as much a metaphor for fans as a character in this book, laments Beast's "big house cat" stage. Hardman fills the world around Britain and Beast with lush detail, strong characters, and fascinating tech. Hardman's style is pitch-perfect for a grittier Avengers tale, and you don't get much grittier than throwing this team into a tech-based conflict in Pakistan.

Hardman is joined (and his work suitably enhanced) by colorist Bettie Breitweiser. The duo worked well together on "Atlas" and "Hulk" and their collaboration here is every bit as wonderful as it has been in the past. Breitweiser plays around with some patterns and textures throughout the issue to great effect. Her willingness to go beyond simple color holds and fills makes her one of the best colorists in comics today.

Unfortunately, this is the first issue of a new story and suffers from a case of the first issue hiccups. Although the cover boasts #22, this is more like a #1 issue in spirit and theory. The creative team seems to be finding its way to assimilate in a most metaphorical manner parallel to the way the team of heroes brought together in this issue is trying to cooperate and learn how best to work jointly. There are a few panels where Captain Britain's gloves are black, and there is a tricky action sequence that plays strongly against the story told in the dialog. It appears that Hawkeye is shooting Captain Britain, but in truth there is an Adaptoid involved. Size-shifting and perspective skew that scene a titch, but on further review the sequence clears up.

Further review is exactly what this book implores. Remender writes an action-packed story that has deep roots in Avengers history, and he puts Avengers characters all around the core of this issue's tale. I enjoyed this book greatly the first time through. The second time offered some more revelations. I'm sure I'll dip back between these covers in my anxiety to get my hands on the next issue of "Secret Avengers." Good stuff.

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