For its second story arc, "Secret Avengers" is continuing the action-based storytelling of the first while also ramping up the mysteries involving the Shadow Council. Over the past year or so, Ed Brubaker has been building a swath of stories that all feed into the larger story of the Shadow Council, from "The Marvels Project" to "Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier" and his current ongoings, "Captain America" and "Secret Avengers." What makes the hints given of the elusive Shadow Council so intriguing is that Brubaker keeps the group in the background to a large degree, not allowing the group to overpower the main plot beyond their role in it. With Steve Rogers operating his own black ops Avengers group, the Shadow Council is looking like his team's opposite number, something that becomes even more apparent in "Secret Avengers" #7.
The strongest part of the comic is Steve Rogers. It's no surprise that, of all the characters in the title, Brubaker has the best handle on Rogers after his run on "Captain America," but that doesn't make his ability to write the character any less impressive. In one scene, the entire plan goes bad for the group and Rogers' response is basically "Okay, I have a back-up plan. Let's go with that." No pausing to complain or whine, Rogers just moves forward, either with a back-up plan or with a new one created on the fly. In another scene, Rogers shows an acute understanding of his image, using it to intimidate a Shadow Council grunt that they captured. It's a scene that shows off Rogers' edge well, reminding us that he isn't the neat and clean boy scout that some portray him as, but he also has lines he won't cross.
Mike Deodato's art plays a big role in moving the story forward in this issue since so much of what happens is visually-based. He executes the fights in a dynamic, energetic manner. One of the pages that lingers is his execution of "Giant Ant-Man" as Ant-Man uses his powers in a way that no one would expect and looks both clumsy and kind of cool. A later scene involving Prince of Orphans has Deodato and Rain Beredo showing off with his intangible appearance, partly visible and partly invisible. There's a clear understanding of light and shadows in Deodato's art that makes him a great fit with an action-based superhero comic that takes place at night often.
Despite the strong execution of the action, this issue feels a little light and lacking. That's been a problem for "Secret Avengers" since the beginning: it's a little too much of a 'fun, action-based superhero comic' when Brubaker has shown that he can balance that with more plot and character development in his other writing. That's a minor complaint, but it is a consistent one with the title.
Even with that small problem, "Secret Avengers" #7 continues to be an entertaining comic with lots of action and mysteries. Brubaker builds the title around Steve Rogers and the mysterious Shadow Council with a final page that suggests that a confrontation between the two is coming sooner rather than later. I, for one, can't wait.