As much as Stefano Caselli's art defines the look of "Secret Warriors," Alessandro Vitti's work in this issue seems a stronger fit, darker and moodier to match the underground espionage feel of this issue as Norman Osborn contends with a captured Nick Fury who, as he almost always does, has a trick up his sleeve to turn Osborn's plans on their head. It's a comic of dark shadows and a gritty atmosphere that the book's first arc lacked.
The series continues its quasi-crossover with "Thunderbolts" with Norman Osborn apparently ready to kill Nick Fury after capturing the legendary spy in his attempt to rescue the Black Widow and Songbird. Hickman begins the issue with a fantastic monologue by Osborn on what his role as director of HAMMER is, why he will succeed at it, and why he's better than Fury. It begins with Osborn asking the rhetorical question "How does that happen?" referring to him being in and Fury being out, and continues in the best Osborn monologue since his infamous naked monologue in Warren Ellis's "Thunderbolts." Hickman's past work on "The Nightly News" and "Pax Romana" showed that he has a talent for rhetoric, but this speech really shows it off.
From there, things get even messier as Alex, Ares' son joins the fray and shows off in front of his father. Where this scene fits in with "Dark Avengers" #9 is anyone's guess, but it's a great scene with Alex demonstrating his powers to Osborn. Hickman's portrayal of Ares is amusing and true to the god's character as he does something unexpected for the situation. Meanwhile, another of Fury's plans is set in motion with some great back and forth dialogue. While previous issues showed off Hickman's plotting and character-building abilities, this one showcases his dialogue skills -- and they are impressive.
Vitti's art is a perfect fit, darker and more realistic than Caselli's, matching the tone of this story. There are no glorious, bombastic fights with Hydra here, it's just seedy people in warehouses with guns. One problem that Vitti has is the jarring use of different 'camera' angles in his panels. In some of the dialogue scenes, he jumps around from angle to angle, distorting our perceptions, when simple, direct angles would be more appropriate. In other spots, the use of repeated perspectives creates a strong effect and payoff, so he clearly understands the power that perspective brings to art, he just needs to settle down.
As always, "Secret Warriors" surprises and builds to a cliffhanger conclusion that doesn't feel forced but makes you want to come back next issue to see what happens. With "Dark Reign - The List: Secret Warriors" shipping next week, the wait won't be long, thankfully.