Steve Rogers Trade Post: Secret Avengers Volume 1 & Fallen Son

Secret Avengers Volume 1: Mission To Mars (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Mike Deodato, Will Conrad, David Aja, Michael Lark & Stefano Gaudiano
Collects Secret Avengers #1-5

After getting a good deal on the second volume of Secret Avengers from Thwipster, I was pretty excited to check out the first volume. So, right after finishing, I went on Sequential Swap and set up a trade for the book. When it came in the mail on Saturday, I read it pretty much immediately. This is basically the perfect team book for Ed Brubaker to write because it’s perfectly set in his wheelhouse. Not only does it star Steve Rogers, the character he revolutionized over in the excellent Captain America, but it’s all about the black ops side of the Marvel Universe and includes characters that fit in that world either obviously like Moon Knight, Sharon Jones, Black Widow and Ant-Man (the most recent one) in ways that make a lot of sense even if you didn’t think about it like Beast, War Machine, Valkyrie and Nova. The idea is for the team to be more pro-active, a buzz concept in comics that always sounds good on paper, but doesn’t always deliver because, how do you stop crime before it happens?

So, with that team and that idea in mind, Brubaker kicks the first adventure off with a trip to Mars! It’s the kind of story that might not seem he’s suited for, but it still deals with evil corporations, brainwashed henchmen, a secret organization and heroes fighting other brainwashed heroes. Here’s the actual story: Roxxon has a mining operation on Mars, but all the workers disappeared and Rogers thinks something’s up. He sends his space guy–Nova–to check it out and he finds a crown very similar to the Serpent Crown that instantly takes over Nova and results in the rest of the team–minus Sharon Jones who is back on earth getting ambushed–heading into space. It turns out that Roxxon made a deal with a Hydra-like organization called The Shadow Council to mine there, but they accidentally stumbled upon a prophecy or something that will lead to the end of the universe. So, it’s up to Commander Rogers (don’t think I’ll ever get used to that, not that I need to), Moon Knight, Valkyrie, Ant-Man, War Machine and Beast–all in pretty awesome looking space suits, by the way–to stop Nova and save the universe, which includes seeing Steve put on Nova’s helmet and get a Nova-based costume, which I dug. It sounds like a straight forward superhero story and it is, but it’s also got a lot of those awesome espionage flavored moments that signify a great Bru comic. That really gets focused on in the fifth issue that explains who the Nick Fury lookalike that’s working for the Shadow Council is. Really fun stuff.

I talked about Deodato’s art in the last post and I feel the same way with this earlier volume. I think he’s a great choice for this book if you want to get away from the Steve Epting style set up in Captain America, or the Michael Lark/David Aja look that is actually used in the fifth issue. He’s doing great on the big superhero stuff, but also–and this might be thanks to the inking or coloring–things look shadowy, which fits the theme of the book perfectly. At first it was a little distracting, but once I started thinking that way, I was in it all the way. It’s not noir by any means, but shadows are impotant for a black ops team.

Fallen Son: The Dead Of Captain America (Marvel)
Written by Jeph Loeb, drawn by John Cassaday, David Finch, Ed McGuinness, John Romita Jr. & Leinil Francis Yu
Collects Fallen Son: Wolverine, Avengers, Captain America, Spider-Man & Iron Man

I am a very big fan of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. If you’re into espionage super hero comics, I don’t think you can find a better one than that. I was disappointed when Steve Rogers got killed off a few years back, but, I mean, it’s comics, so you know he’s going to come back, it’s just a matter of when and how. Plus, Bru did an excellent job making me care about Bucky Barnes just as much, so I was okay. But, when I heard that someone else was going to be writing a series of one-shots showing what Cap’s death meant to a variety of heroes in the Marvel U, I wasn’t super excited. I think I read the issues when they came out and I was working at Wizard, but didn’t remember much about them, so I was curious to see how they played out a few years later and with Steve Rogers back in the land of the living.

I gotta say, it’s a pretty melodramatic thing to read which feels somewhat unnecessary, especially considering the fact that Steve Rogers is back. I get the idea behind it, putting together one of the best selling writers in comics with a series of big time artists on the subject of the death of a popular characters. And, as a story, it’s interesting how the issues tie into one another (something I didn’t remember from the first read), and there are some cool moments and ideas like Hawkeye thinking about becoming the new Cap at Iron Man’s request and Spider-Man remembering how Cap helped him out, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t seem to carry any weight now. It also features at least one character issue actually saying “The death of Captain America,” out loud which just never sounds right.

However, if you are an art fan, this is a pretty fantastic book. I love Leinil Francis Yu, David Finch and Ed McGuinness and seeing them tackle a wide variety of characters is a lot of fun, especially since they’re one-shots and you don’t have to worry about them missing a future issue. I’m not the biggest John Romita Jr. or John Cassaday fan, but they turn it on full blast too.

KEEP OR DUMP? So, the big question every time I read a trade is: will I keep this book and I’m split on these two. I will definitely save both Secret Avengers trades because I think they’re great continuations of Brubaker’s run on Cap with a lot of fun other elements thrown in. On the other hand, cool art just isn’t enough to keep a book in my collection, with very few exceptions.

Trade Post: Secret Avengers Volume 2 Eyes Of The Dragon

Secret Avengers Volume 2: Eyes Of The Dragon (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Mike Deodato & Will Conrad
Collects Secret Avengers #6-12

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.