Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Gabriele Dell’Otto
This title’s shipping schedule has meant an extra-long wait for this issue, but it certainly feels worth it. The pacing of Bendis’ take on what a S.H.I.E.L.D. “Secret War” would mean opts to give us a separate bit of the story each issue rather than trying to have us follow a linear narrative once every three months. As a result, the mystery of the Secret War feels more like it’s being pieced together gradually, allowing us to empathise far more with the confused characters and leaving a suspenseful question mark hanging over the events of a year ago even after we’ve caught up with our heroes in the present. This issue sees the aftermath of an attack on Power Man and Captain America in their civilian identities, as well as giving us a glimpse of Spider-Man’s nightmares about just what happened during the heroes’ mission in Latveria, and encouraging us to wonder just why a load of tech-themed villains are starting to crawl out of the woodwork…
Bendis’ writing of the Marvel Universe is up to its usual high standards here. Whilst we’d naturally expect his grasp of Spidey’s quips contrasting with Daredevil’s seriousness about his status as King of Hell’s Kitchen to be well above-par, his take on Captain America and Nick Fury also shine with the kind of gruff militaristic reality we’ve seen the writer employ in the characters’ guest-appearances elsewhere – only here, they are given far more chance to live and breathe, and offer up some interesting political and moral questions to consider. Cap is far more than the obedient soldier and Fury is a far less black-and-white hero than some incarnations have suggested, and in this way the book feels very close to an “Ultimate” miniseries. However, the grounding in the regular Marvel Universe allows for a far greater diversity of locales and foes – becoming particularly important as the issue draws to a close.
On the art side of things, I’m still in love with Gabriele Dell’Otto’s painted art, and can happily wait the extra month if it means getting a finished product as classy as this. Whilst such a grounded approach always risks showing up the silliness of spandex costumes and flying goblins, Dell’Otto manages to tread the fine line between fantastical and realistic with aplomb, making his splendid splashpage of a horde of tech-villains at the book’s close look more like a futuristically cinematic dirty dozen than a group of ne’er-do-wells in silly outfits. Even the more kinetic action sequences don’t lose the sense of motion that you often find lacking with painted art, and have convinced me that the technique is useful for more than just still pictures that look beautiful but can’t capture the excitement of line drawings.
In addition to all this, a fine gallery at the back of the issue gives us some added-value material including a “transcript” of a conversation that is glossed over within the issue, the stunning costume redesigns for the secret war characters, and a preview (read: plug) of the Secret War tie-in in Bendis’ “The Pulse”. I love stuff like this, and even if it’s a bit like watching a making-of before you’ve seen the end of a film, it’s worth it to see the craftsmanship which has gone into the series. With two more issues to go, I’m looking forward to seeing some resolution to this story as it’s reached the stage where answers should be forthcoming pretty soon. It’ll be a treat to discover the story behind this failed mission, and with this creative team readers are sure to be in good hands for the closing instalments.
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