I’m a big fan of Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America. I’m way behind on what he’s doing on that book, but I’m always excited about the chance to catch up. I was also excited when it was announced that he would be writing Secret Avengers which would star Steve Rogers–no longer Captain America for the moment–as well as a ton of sorta random Marvel characters banded together under the auspices of being the “black ops” Avengers team. You’ve got Steve, his girl Sharon Carter, Beast, Black Widow, Moon Knight, the newest Ant-Man, Valkyrie, War Machine and whoever else Steve happens to call on to complete the mission. That last part is not only the beauty of the book as a general concept, but also finds itself as the basis of this arc’s plot and made the book a little bit difficult to get into.
Allow me to explain. Ever since I read the early issues of Justice League Task Force, I’ve been a big big fan of the idea of a superhero team that hand picks appropriate superheroes to take on specific threats. If you don’t need Aquaman, don’t call Aquaman, but if Black Manta’s on the lose, call him up on the fish phone! Considering Steve’s decades’ long history and the respect he’s built up with, well, every good guy and even some bad guys in the Marvel U, it makes perfect sense to have him lead this team. Need to call up Dog Brother Number One (from Bru’s run co-writing The Immortal Iron Fist) or convince Shang-Chi of a looming threat? Steve’s got it covered.
That lends itself to this story because it turns out that some group is trying to bring Shang-Chi’s dad back from that dead. Who is Shang’s dad? Well, Fu Manchu of course, but you won’t know that from reading the comic. See, Marvel licensed Fu back in the day, but wound up building their own character Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu around the mythos. They still own Shang, but not Fu, so you get all this dancing around of who his dad is aside from the fact that he’s one bad dude.
The problem with the basic concept of this book at least how Bru handled this particular volume and especially if you haven’t read the first arc (which I haven’t, this one just came up for sale on Thwipster and I bought it), is that you’re left pretty much in the dark as to how the team actually works or even who is on the team. Don’t really know who Dog Brother Number 1 is? Tough luck, that doesn’t get explained. Heck they call him by his civilian name of John for most of the book. Don’t know that War Machine or Moon Knight are on the team? Well, I guess you will when they each briefly pop up a few issues into this collection. Now, it’s very possible that Marvel had recap pages before each issue or something along those lines and I just checked and there is a “Previously” page in the beginning of this book, but shouldn’t there be something in the story itself that tells readers what’s going on? It didn’t throw me a lot and I could keep up with the story (again, Steve can call on anyone, so it makes sense that anyone will be in the book), but there wasn’t a real sense of a team dynamic found in the book. Though, maybe that is the dynamic of a team that the former Captain America leads: do what Cap asks because you trust him. Hmm, that’s something to ponder.
Okay, even with the above complaint, I actually really dug this book. Like many of Bru’s Cap arcs, this one doesn’t just focus on one story–though there aren’t Busiek-level back stories going on by any means–as the Shang-Chi story directly moves into one from Steve’s past with another fellow super soldier. I like that flow and overall, I like this book. I know Brubaker didn’t stay on the book for long, but I’d gladly pick up the first volume and then whatever comes out after this one. Oh, also, I was worried about Mike Deodato Jr.’s artwork because I haven’t been much of a fan of his lately. I dug him back in the Wonder Woman days even if it was very Image-y, but he seemed to have gotten really sketchy lately. Well, this was definitely a step up for him, though I’ll be honest, I’m not exactly sure what was him and what was Will Conrad as they jammed on all these issues. Again, overall, this was a pretty fun little comic that I’ll be keeping on my shelf at least for the foreseeable future assuming the series stays solid.