Overview

Secret Avengers #16

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Secret Avengers #16

Credits

  • Words: Warren Ellis
  • Art: Jamie McKelvie
  • Colors: Matthew Wilson
  • Story Title: Subland Empire
  • Publisher: Marvel Comics
  • Price: $3.99
  • Release Date: Aug 31, 2011

Run the mission. Don't get seen. Save the world. This is the motto that Steve Rogers' Secret Avengers live by. Doing the missions that the regular and New Avengers can't be caught involved in, this black-ops team has a new leader but the same mission: stop evil before it becomes known, and be proactive. When a secret city under Chicago is discovered to be one of the biggest threats to American security, it's up to the once and future Captain America to lead a team of the best, brightest, and possibly craziest heroes to save the day.

The plot is, almost, absurdly simple for Ellis, but serves more as a backdrop for how the characters interact. With a Dr. Doom time-platform established under the city of Chicago threatening to destroy it, a small team of Secret Avengers is tasked with destroying the machinations behind it. On their journey, Beast proves that he's the conscience of the team, while Captain America is the leadership, Natasha is the spirit, and Moon Knight is the crazy uncle that is almost played a little too much like Deadpool. They all have their lines, their nice little jabs or character moments, and the mission actually avoids any and all dialogue interaction with the enemies. It's a (literally) faceless enemy that the team faces, and in the absence of banter with the threat, they get to show themselves more. If Ellis' goal with this issue was to have fun with these four characters but still have them save the day, he's succeeded.

Warren Ellis, in his first issue of the series beyond the Point One, decides to mix things up a little bit from the previous year plus helmed by Ed Brubaker. In the previous year, Brubaker mixed and matched members for each story; adding Shang-Chi for one, Nova for another, and effectively calling in extras whenever the plot warranted. It's unknown if Ellis kept a small batch for this issue purely for pacing or if he couldn't find a use for them, but fans of Ant-Man, Agent 13, Valkyrie, and War Machine will sorely miss their characters. It works, especially since the issue is a much-needed done-in-one in a sea of written-for-the-trade six-part storylines. Keeping the crew down to Steve Rogers, Beast, Black Widow, and Moon Knight allows for tighter interaction and better characterization.

McKelvie's art has its strong points and weak points. There are certain panels that have great cinematography; Steve firing the gun at the reader is straight out of a movie, while the final reflective panel of the issue is rendered great with major shadows. In comparison, much of the pacing and framing just isn't there; characters refer to how beautiful or grotesque a certain plot device is pages before we actually get to see it in full view. At times, backgrounds just don't exist, and while the plot takes place in a nearly abandoned city, there are too many generic building lines and colors to give it a sense of scale or location. A two-page spread of the city shows nothing more than a generic mass of blocks and streets with windows all within a few shades of each other. If Matthew Wilson's job was to make the characters the only things standing out in this world, he's done his part, but a generic gray and brown don't make for an interesting skyline. With the cast being in primarily black, white, and Navy blue uniforms, the only thing sticking out amidst the sea of drab are Black Widow's hair and the red Cadillac.

Secret Avengers seems to be in good hands with Warren Ellis taking over, but Jamie McKelvie's art leaves much to be desired. While, thematically, the heroes are in a void with themselves, that shouldn't be expressed with absent backgrounds and blandly repetitive city designs. Give this one a read, but don't stare at it too long.

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