SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Secret Avengers #21.1

A comic review article by: Chris Kiser, Danny Djeljosevic, Ray Tate












Chris: Hey Marvel fans! Looks like it's time for the semiannual changing of the guard on Secret Avengers, with covert super team expert Rick Remender -- writer of Secret X-Men, er, I mean, Uncanny X-Force -- taking command of the book. As good as the recent slew of Warren Ellis one-and-dones was, I'm curious to see if this series can find a writer capable of telling an interesting longform story over the course of multiple issues. While he started strong, I felt that Ed Brubaker's initial 12 issues mostly spun their wheels, and the short-lived Nick Spencer run was a disappointing confluence of Fear Itself tie-ins and the writer himself likely being overworked. Is Remender, who already has a wildly successful run on a similar book under his belt, the guy to do it? After reading #21.1, my answer to that question is: I think. 

Danny: I'm kind of surprised Marvel's still doing Point One issues, but that's a conversation for another day (or maybe the end of this review). In this case, Secret Avengers is using its Point One interlude as a transition issue between Ellis' razor-sharp run and whatever Remender's got up his sleeves. So, it's another self-contained mission written with the intention of establishing Hawkeye as Captain America's successor on the team rather than conveying a wicked high-concept mission. So, it sets the stage for the upcoming run, but -- like most Point One issues -- feels a tad superfluous. I'm glad they kept the "Run the mission. Don't get seen. Save the world." tagline, though.

Chris: Hey, this is the third Point One issue Remender has written for Marvel, and I think he's got one or more coming up later this year in Venom. He's like the Bendis of Point Ones!

Ray: Captain America and Hawkeye infiltrate the made-up land of Bagalia because Madripoor isn't good enough, I suppose. The reason? Ostensibly to save the life of a U.S. Senator. In reality, Captain America has an ulterior motive.

Right there! That's when you should know that something has gone horribly wrong with Rick Remender's story. Captain America never has ulterior motives. Cap is above board. That's just part of his nature, and the thing that I loved the most about the Captain America movie was that Chris Evans, the writers and all involved got him right. Cap isn't edgy. Cap isn't arrogant. Cap is a guy who volunteered to undertake a dangerous experiment because he thought it was the right thing to do. He thought that the Nazis had to be stopped, and he wanted to contribute. That guy is not this guy. 

Chris: Interesting to hear you say that, Ray, because I had similar qualms with the characterization in this issue, although mine were more directed at Hawkeye. My take on Remender's Cap is that he's playing the Bobby Knight role, the old military-minded coach who's just tossing a few chairs around to get Clint Barton's attention. It's Clint's chip-on-his-shoulder disrespect for Cap that rings most untrue for me, especially given the way the latter was hallowed during his absence throughout the "Dark Reign" period. It's like Hawkeye instantly forgets that he's fought alongside this guy -- the patriarch of the Marvel heroes -- for years.

But I'm more than willing to grant Remender his own slant on their dynamic. In fact, the snappy banter between the two at the beginning of the story really helped to draw me in.

Danny: "Ulterior motives" is putting it a bit too strongly as far as Captain America goes. Taking a colleague on a mission to test out if he's fit to lead his world-saving espionage team seems totally sound to me, especially when the bad guys are still bad guys. Cap even tells him "Hey, maybe don't bust down the door to deal with this situation," which Hawkeye brazenly ignores. Cap's a soldier and a leader, and wants someone who can carry out missions efficiently according to the team's basic directive. Basically, Hawkeye's being a dick. Possibly to match what Jeremy Renner will inevitably play in the Avengers movie, and possibly because there's more tension that way.

The friction between him and Cap worked for me in the moment, partially because I'm not too invested in the interpersonal histories of these two decades-old characters. Not to offend those that do, but that kind of thing always evolves and often varies by writer. (After all, Batman and Superman used to be the best of friends back in the day.) History aside, just going by character types -- unwavering boy scout and a reformed villain who's a little rough around the edges? I can see that not being conducive to a healthy superheroic partnership.

Ray: This is unacceptable characterization, Danny. Hawkeye is an Avengers leader. He led Avengers West Coast for years. He was also the head of Cross Technology Security. Furthermore, he most recently led the Thunderbolts. What the passing of the reins should amount to is a phone call. "Clint? It's Steve. How you doing, buddy. Listen, I'm leaving the Secret Avengers. How would you like to take over? No, no. It's long-term. Yes, you can put Mockingbird on the team. Though, Clint, I'm thinking that Mockingbird has flown. Ha-ha, no, I haven't known you to give up. Well, I'll see you at what oh-nine-hunderd? All, right, all right, 'nine o'clock.' Civilians." 

Danny: For a sporting goods enthusiast, Hawkeye really gets around, huh? Anyway, Ray, that scenario seems more fit for a (Pre-Crisis? Definitely pre-Flashpoint) DCU where all the superheroes are buddies and you can just give your broseph a job because you know he probably won't turn evil and kill the Green Lantern Corps or whatever. Besides, Hawkeye is circus folk. At least you know where you stand with carnies.

If you're going to entrust anyone to lead a team of espionage superheroes, the process should be a little more intensive than the act of hiring a writer to script the adventures of a team of espionage superheroes (take that dialogue and change "Clint" to "Rick" and "Steve" to "Warren" and you'll see what I mean). Then again, I grew up reading X-Men and the idea of people in the Marvel Universe getting along swimmingly and being well-liked by their peers is completely foreign to me.

Either way, Captain America is a dick for not promoting from within. You telling me ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter isn't good enough to run point on spy missions?

Ray: Good point, she headed S.H.I.E.L.D. once. She would look better in the part as well. Hawkeye looks horrible. I get that Marvel are trying to make him look kind of like Jeremy Renner, but he always turns out looking like Ryan Seacrest.

While we're at it, how does Whiplash go from this:

To this nightmare:

The movie Whiplash looked like this

Marvel's got to either go all the way with their visual similarities or stick to the classic molds.

Danny: The version of Whiplash that shows up in this comic isn't the ponytail S&M Zorro from the pages of Iron Man, but an unrelated adaptation of Anton Vanko as he appears in the movie (and, confusingly, unrelated to the Crimson Dynamo who bears the same name).

Chris: I guess it comes down to where you fall on the spectrum between wanting to give a writer total creative freedom and having him bound completely to the shackles of continuity of his predecessors, which isn't a new debate in the least amongst comic readers. My earlier comments about Hawkeye, aside, I actually wish I'd seen Remender stray a little further from his allegiance to carrying on a narrative beholden to previous Secret Avengers issues. There's an early description of Bagalia as a "Red-light nation" run entirely by criminals, but we don't really get to see that potentially interesting idea fleshed out much because of how much time Remender has to dedicate to the passing of the torch Danny alluded to earlier. Likewise, I groaned a bit upon seeing the Shadow Council return as the book's antagonists. They worked fine as a generic malevolent force in the Ellis stories a la Cobra or SPECTRE, but I can't say I'm excited to see another several months of ongoing plotlines revolving around them.

Danny: Spot-on about the Ellis riff happening here, which I chalk up to the writer trying to transition between runs. It is #21.1 and not #22, after all. Either way, I wanted to see more happening with Bagalia as a criminal-run nation, but since it seems like Remender might follow up on the new Masters of Evil, so I can't imagine this is the last we've seen of the only country that would entertain sheltering such an organization. I found the Shadow Council stuff tiring in the original Ed Brubaker run and delightfully unobtrusive in Ellis' issues, but as far as I can tell Remender is going to address that dangling thread but also venture into his trademark gonzo territory. Check out the cover for #24, where the Secret Avengers fight an entire city of androids.

That's a comic I can get behind. I would spoon it for warmth in the winter. I would cook it breakfast even though it has no mouth.

Ray: I thought the villains were woeful. Max Fury, is too obscure a character number one, and number two, I thought he was one of the good guys? Doesn't matter. All I want to know is where's his beard? 

Danny: Max Fury is actually a major villain in the Ed Brubaker run of Secret Avengers.

Ray: Vengeance I'm guessing is a bad Ghost Rider, and I've already discussed Whiplash. The one exception is Princess Python, and she's the exception because she didn't get an update. She's in her regular costume. Her abilities are still the same. Okay, new haircut and giant snake. I can deal with that. 

The other thing that troubled me overall is that Bagalia isn't clearly defined. Is it Russian? Because sometimes the antagonists sound like Boris Badanov on a bad day. It can't be Fundamentalist given the way women can earn a buck, and, just for the record, why do you need a place like this? I mean, Amsterdam exists. It's got the original Red Light District, which Cap should approve of since it represents the ultimate of freedoms -- sex and marijuana. Why make up a place when you could shoot Cap and Hawkeye into Thailand to break up a child molesting group of vacationers?

The atmosphere of the place is definitely atrocious. What the hell's up with all the green? I mean, there's green glow when the book opens. During the confrontation, the background goes red then green again, yet the skin tones in that scene bear a greenish tinge no matter the backdrop shades. Sure, I get Vengeance must be green, but it's hardly a change is it? Should call Bangalia the Green Light District. Bleah! I say, Bleah! 

Oh, and the cover is misleading as well. I mean, what's with the Cleavage Card? What does this represent? The blonde waitress? I mean, seriously. What the hell is all of this? 

Anyhow, one star. Repeat. One Star. Rick Remender is the man who gave us the glory of Franken-Castle. He's capable of so much more than Secret Avengers.

Chris: Bagalia is so crooked that comic book covers there aren't even required to depict literal representations of the story inside! When I saw the busty lady on the playing card, I figured we were about to see the debut of the New 52 Royal Flush Gang. How dare they give the Queen of Diamonds the Harley Quinn treatment! I dunno, maybe I'm getting a little confused.

I thought Patrick Zircher's art was serviceable, and I was more concerned with the complete lack of backgrounds during the fight scenes altogether than what color they were. Like Remender himself, Zircher has a job to do, and he gets in and does it without causing any commotion. But a little commotion in comics is a good thing, you know? And I was really hoping this issue was going to give us something -- like that android city Danny's crushing on or the wicked looking Beast on the cover of #22 -- that would get us excited about where Secret Avengers is heading.

Hmmm. I guess those old-fashioned ads and previews are doing a better job of pimping this book than a full-length Point One issue. Maybe that's why it only cost $2.99 instead of the normal four bucks?

Ray: Four Bucks! Only if Tigra's in it. Otherwise, I'm setting phasers to ignore.

Danny: Oh brother. If nothing else, this reveals the failure of the Point One initiative. I've picked up a bunch of them for books I already liked, but save maybe Herc I don't think I've read one that didn't feel kinda slight and throwaway, making me wonder why a casual reader would even be enticed by them. Previews of future issues reveal a distinct Remender flavor to them that this one doesn't quite have, so if all this issue does is put off potential readers like Ray. I guarantee Secret Avengers #22 will prove an impressive debut, but I wonder if #21.1 proved a little counterproductive to that effort.

That said, as someone who's been following the book for a while, I still thought it was pretty decent.

Chris: Which means we'll just have to Slugfest #22, then. Ray, you're in, right? 

Danny: Ray? Are you there, buddy?

...uh oh.



Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found at @Chris_Kiser!



Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery.



Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups, where he reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.

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