Secret Avengers by Rick Remender Volume One
– By Rick Remender (Writer), Patch Zircher (Artist Issue #21.1), Gabriel Hardman (Artist), Bettie Breitweiser (Colour Artist), & Chris Eliopoulos (Letterer); 2013
Relinquishing the reins of his covert Avengers squad, Captain America has handpicked Hawkeye to take over — as long as the world’s greatest marksman proves he can cut it in the spy game. And with a new leader comes a fresh lineup as Giant-Man, Captain Britain, and the Original Human Torch join Black Widow, Beast, Valkyrie, and Ant-Man in the ranks of Earth’s stealthiest heroes. But Hawkeye — determined, as ever, to do things his own way — draws the line at Cap’s final suggested recruit: the deadly and unpredictable Venom! Will the quickly assembled team of powerful personalities unite behind the brash bowman? Can the archer lead them safely through their first deadly mission — a baptism of fire against the human/synthezoid hybrids known as the Descendants and their mysterious “Father”? Or will an Avenger make the ultimate sacrifice on Hawkeye’s watch?
Volume one of Secret Avengers by Rick Remender collects issues #21.1 and #22-25 of the series, which were originally published in 2012. This incarnation of the Secret Avengers was formed by Steve Rogers after the events of Siege to deal with threats covertly before they become large, world-encompassing crises. This volume marks a turning point for the team with Captain America handing off command to Hawkeye, with some new heroes joining including Captain Britain, Giant-Man, the Original Human Torch, and Agent Venom.
A shift also exists in the creative team, marking the beginning of Rick Remender’s run on the title. While I read the series from issue #1 as it was coming it, Remender’s take on the series was easily my favourite, which is why I picked up the collected trade paperbacks.
The storyline for this volume is a little split, as it includes the small plotline in issue #21.1, which specifically deals with Cap’s test of Hawkeye to see if he’s capable of leading. Despite this story’s necessity, as it gives some context and helps people jump on, it was really weak to me. The dialogue felt too excessive and over the top, especially considering they’re supposed to be stealthy. The conflict itself also felt too basic. It is supposed to be a one-shot, meant to quickly give us a rundown of information, but it just felt too rushed and disposable.
Once the story actually gets going things get a lot more interesting. The ragtag band of heroes are all competent on their own but still learning to work as a unit, so there’s friction within the ranks, especially with accepting Hawkeye in a leadership role. Their first mission seems simple enough, responding to an unknown powered person unleashing energy in Pakistan. When they get there, however, a team of Adaptoids arrives as well — synthetic humans with unique abilities allowing them to adapt to any threat. They plan on taking the super powered mother and her child with them, leading the Secret Avengers down a rabbit hole, into an underground society of cyborgs and sentient machines calling themselves the Descendants, led by the enigmatic Father.
The more interesting aspects of the story are the villains themselves, which are sympathetic despite the sinister implications of their plans. For the most part they just want to be left alone and their hatred for Avengers stems from the fact that they treat them like they’re nothing more than machines, going so far as to use “lethal” force. There are Doom Bots, Sentinels, and Life-Model Decoys who have gone rogue, as well as Dethlok versions of heroes from another universe. It’s a fascinating facet of the world, these artificial beings having broken off from their creators, both heroic and villainous, trying to live on their own. Their reverence of the Original Human Torch is especially interesting, as it puts him at odds with his comrades and the mission.
I want to see the Secret Avengers succeed, especially knowing where the storyline will eventually develop, but I can’t help but sympathize with all the synthetic bystanders, who do seem to just want to live their synthetic lives unperturbed by the outside world.
The art has a muddy, watercolour appearance to it that uses a lot of rough edges and heavy shadow. The colours are rather muted as well, even the bright reds and blues of Captain Britain’s outfit appearing less bold than they could. It doesn’t look pretty, but it feels tonally appropriate, evoking some of the more dreary aspects of the story. It especially helps with the setting of the underground city of Descendants, which looks more like a slum despite its cybernetic inhabitants. You really get the feeling of the huddled desperation of their existence just from how the setting is drawn.
The style gives the characters a more grounded appearance as well, an approach which I’ve grown to appreciate more and more. Their iconic costumes are still present, but they look less like chiseled, marble statues with every muscle starkly defined.
Rick Remender’s first outing with Secret Avengers is short but sweet and the black ops nature of the title allows for darker stories. The action is also a lot tenser, the physical threats feeling more substantial. Only a few members of the team barely escape without severe injury, and some of them are in especially grave shape by the end. The plot line doesn’t get wrapped up either, only providing a primer for what is to come. They have a small victory, but at a cost they don’t fully realize. The team dynamics are strong, butting heads in interesting ways while still managing to cooperate competently. Though I didn’t enjoy it as much as I remember, it’s still a great story and a pocket of the Marvel Universe worth experiencing.