Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Secret Warriors - Wake The Beast - Review


This week’s issue of Secret Warriors saw the conclusion to the Wake The Beast arc, and most likely pushed us to a bit of a halfway point in the series, as Jonathan Hickman has declared it will probably end by issue #28. So what are we up to and has it been any good? Hit the jump to find out.


Secret Warriors: Wake The Beast
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Stefano Caselli and Gianluca Gugliotta
Colours by Sunny Gho of IFS
Comprised of issues #11-#16

The first arc, Nick Fury: Agent of Nothing (#1-#6), was pretty awesome in that it completely flipped the tables on what people were expecting of a comic that spun out of a mega-event and didn’t even have the creative team that launched the characters (Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev brought the team to life in Mighty Avengers #13 and yet we were being given a series by Jonathan Hickman and Stefano Caselli). No one was sure what to make of the return of Nick Fury behind a team of new kids that no one knew about.

Then the first issue hit stands and Hickman dropped a bomb that S.H.I.E.L.D. has always actually been an arm of HYDRA, their most enduring enemy. This pulled a few heads out of the sand and then the rest of the arc was spent defining who the enemies were and who the goods guys might just be, and the grey area in the middle made for some fascinating interplay. By the end of the arc Fury has a new army at his control and we knew where he was going to aim it, directly at HYDRA’s heart, if it indeed had one.

It also didn’t hurt that Caselli came out of the box firing with the greatest work of his career so far. I didn’t mind his pages in Avengers: The Initiative with Dan Slott but his rendering of Nick Fury and his espionage world was a step up in almost every way. The splash pages became epic and the faces had a reason to be etched.

The second arc, God of Fear, God of War (#7-#11), was a more subdued affair because it was Hickman putting his plan on hold for a beat while he tied into the greater Marvel U. The story was not too bad but a complete step down from our introductory arc. We dealt with the son of Ares coming to grips with his place in the world and it was all obviously just set up for when Ares would eventually be torn apart like a dinner roll by the Sentry in Siege.

Then, with issue #11, we returned to our regular scheduled programming; Wake The Beast. If the first arc was about Fury discovering who he needed to fight and what he needed to best fight them, then this arc has been about truly discovering what makes up his enemies and how drastic the battlefield just might be. It’s been a storyline that has cracked open the strange world of S.H.I.E.L.D. and super-powered children and added elements of myth and fantasy to make for a vista of epic and amazing characters and ideas.

The arc opened up strongly by showing back story to a one of the more interesting bad guys, Gorgon. We see what a sadistic and powerful individual he is and this gives us an idea of the enemy we are dealing with. Then Fury unveils his other two project squads and we realise so much more is happening behind the scenes than we at first imagined (which is why I am going to theorise that it is the real Fury in Secret Avengers, but that’s a tangent for another day). This is the view and scope of the world and the battle expanding. And it is most impressively achieved.

The second issue is easily one of my favourite issues of the whole year as we are given the identity of the father of one of the Secret Warriors, we watch Gorgon fight for naught as one of his HYDRA allies is captured, Fury schools us in how the powers split after the second world war and we get an idea of the scope of Leviathan as an enemy to rival HYDRA. We also got one of my favourite sequences of the year which was the creation of the Hive, a very cool villain that Hickman has introduced through the series. The one issue had enough moments to make me stop and savour it all that I appreciated the $2.99 I dropped on it.

By the end of the arc, everyone is completely powerful but we slowly realise that no one is to be trusted. Every person is out for themselves and every agency that they work for is just as bad. To step foot into this world almost necessitates that you only truly work on your own and expect to benefit yourself. There are a few people trusting in others, but mostly there are only backs so that knives have somewhere to live.

The final issue shows us HYDRA and Leviathan coming together and instead of teaming up to get rid of S.H.I.E.L.D., or at least Nick Fury, they quickly descend back into the abyss and turn on each other, with Fury hoping to run into the fray to turn it all to his advantage. He’s not noble, he won’t wait, he’s as smart and sly as everyone else he’s locked in battle with and he’d not expect any sort of graces from either enemy. It’s a harsh reality and one that is clearly affecting the young charges that Fury has placed onto this team.

Sometimes I find myself forgetting about the eponymous heroes as I’m too caught up in trying to work out who exactly the Contessa is working for, or loving the dialogue of Baron Von Strucker, or just wanting to see Fury give bad ass motivation speeches to massive legions of soldiers willing to kill or die for their leader and their cause. Then we come back to the little ones and you can see them already starting to crack. One has lost her arms, another has just been kicked off the team. Two are hooking up and one had his father torn apart on live news coverage. It’s all pretty messed up and I get the feeling that all of these tensions are going to explode in a very big way in one of the coming arcs.

It’s been a very cool storyline and it ends with HYDRA and Leviathan tangling on the ropes as Fury hopes to climb the corner post and leap in with a People’s Elbow before the ref looks. But, just when the battlefield seems clearly delineated, a short jab is given to knock the wind out of our guts. There is a rat on the team, and this may just give HYDRA the upper hand.

It’s interesting to note that this arc and the story of the first meld together so well as to make one larger, continually flowing, arc. We’re 16 issues in and the one major war is being waged and we’re watching it slowly play out and getting to know the soldiers on the field in a very effective way through a mixture of interaction and flashback. It’s all very interesting and extremely well put together. I have no doubts that it will continue to be for at least another year as the war gets bloodier and more personal.

The next arc is the Last Ride of the Howling Commandos and it looks to have Fury put the old band back together, alongside Steve Rogers, and I get the feeling it will be just as good as the rest of the series has been so far. We’ve already seen spy espionage, teenage dramatics, mythological heroics, and science fiction creativity abound, why wouldn’t we tackle a bit of the old two fisted war time grit as well?

Verdict – Must Read This series has barely had a missed step for me. It’s dipping a hand into a glut of genres to paint a tapestry of storytelling that is making a tale completely epic and very dense and I really dig that. I don’t mind only getting a little part of the tale each month as I know that this sort of long form story that Hickman likes to immerse himself in is a ride that I enjoy for the breaks, not despite of them. Count me in to ride with the Howling Commandos, and I hope plenty of people have enjoyed the issues of Wake The Beast, or are planning on getting the trade as soon as it hits shelves. Are you reading Secret Warriors at home? What have you thought so far about Hickman’s little tangential Marvel epic? Let us know your views in the comments below.


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18 comments:

Brandon Whaley said...

I've been trade waiting this series, but it has completely caught me off guard. I remember when I found the first HC in a used bookstore earlier this year and I thought "Eh, why not?" As I lay in my hotel room reading it that night, I remember the fanboy excitement I felt as I learned the truth behind SHIELD. I was completely taken aback, and in a good way. I can't wait to add the third HC to my collection.

Nathan Aaron said...

The artwork on this final issue COMPLETELY blew, in my opinion. I was all ready for the regular artist, and got THIS instead. Ugh. A pale, pale comparison that literally made me put the issue down, to "read another day."

Anonymous said...

I need to read the whole series again from start to finish. I'm trade waiting on the (supposedly) last two volumes though.

Kirk Warren said...

@Nathan Aaron - I didn't think the art was that bad on the final issue. It looked like a studio mate or apprentice did finishes on Caselli's break downs. It wasn't perfect or in the sameleague as Caselli's art, but was serviceable and maintained similar style for consistency to me.

Anonymous said...

The faces were the main problem.

Patrick Hulman said...

For the most part i like what Hickman is doing, however, I'm not happy with what is happening with the Contessa. Making her a double agent just doesn't ring true to her character from Steranko times.

forrest said...

Secret Warriors has consistently been my favorite marvel series since issue one (second favorite series to The Unwritten..... and Scalped, so third). I love everything Hickman does.

Anonymous said...

Where is Marvel taking those great writers from? I mean Hickman, Aaron, Brubacker?

Ryan K Lindsay said...

In the order that you state; Image, DC, and DC. How DC didn't snap Aaron up after The Other Side I'll never know. And he's got Scalped there. Ball was dropped, but I won't complain.

Anonymous said...

THose are terrific writers, it is a shame that DC was not smart enough to keep them. I hope they do not let go Gail Simone nor Bedard too, they are not really appreciated in Dc as morrison or Johns are.

spockfran said...

Hoping they dont kill Hellfire or Daisy off is pretty much the only reason this is still on my pull list. Im thinkin about just waiting for the trades.

Ivan said...

Great review, thanks for not spoling everything. Around here Fury has just met the group of mercs that spun-off the Howling Commandos and SHIELD.

Anonymous said...

Hickman is no doubt a talented writer i enjoy each and every issue. My only problem is it is a slow burn,i never get enough of it and it will be best read in trades. I cant wait to see what is next

Skeight said...

Probably one of the best marvel ongoing series, every last page is a shocker... I love it...

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