REVIEW: Secret Avengers #20

Secret Avengers #20Written by WARREN ELLIS
Art by ALEX MALEEV

Colors by NICK FILARDI / Letters by DAVE LANPHEAR

Black Widow takes center stage as Warren Ellis decides time travel is this month’s drug of choice. But time travel is a tricky thing and although Ellis continues to deliver fun capers. This one seems to be lacking something the previous adventures had. This may not be squarely Ellis’ fault as Maleev delivers an only marginally interesting look book, which doesn’t quite sell the concept.

Ellis provides a scenario which anyone who has ever watched anything with time travel in it (mainly Dr. Who) will be familiar with. Dead teammates, a temporal doohickey, homosexual villains and the Soviet super spy on top form populate this narrative. The actual narrative isn’t bad at all and Ellis does inject it with some great humor, which is in keeping with the rest of his Secret Avengers work. A light tone it may have, but it also delivers a touching moment, which is actually quite a surprise. A surprise due to the fact that Kongo and Count Khronus could manage to warrant an emotional response. This is the joy of Ellis’ script this time around. He manages to make relatively obscure villains seem engaging. Natasha’s interaction with them has a genuine emotional undercurrent to them. She has given a man what he most desires and although she does end up doing what she does, she clearly regrets it. Kongo’s little moment at the Count’s grave is the most memorable moment of the book and helps solidify the character building Ellis does with Widow.

It’s nice to see Natasha dealt with in this way. There is a playful charm to her, which is undercut by an almost emotionless ruthlessness to her actions. The ends justify the means to her and at the end of the book you knows she’s not one to be trifled with. However the tone is a bit too light in places, which makes it feel a little shallow. Even with the deep emotional flashes, the book suffers from a lack of real tension. The journey maybe more fun than the outcome, but something seems to be missing here because nothing really matters. Also, the actual ending is a bit too “cute” as Natasha playfully deceives her fellow Avengers.

But it isn’t just Ellis’ script, which seems a little off. Maleev doesn’t seem to be bringing his usual flair to the title. He seems like a divisive artist here, as you can see some fans loving his work and others detesting it. It isn’t all-bad but it seems almost sketchy in place. Some moments he excels in; the little black and sepia moment is great. His style really suits it and it may have been a good idea to do the entire book like this. Maleev also draws a solid Beast, but on the whole the character work is inconsistent. It goes from detailed and emotive to bizarre at a drop of the hat. The panels depicting a squinty eyed Natasha are distracting at best. The opening and closing moments that include the other avengers are somewhat ugly in places, but on the other hand the gravestone scene is well rendered. The art is a mixed bag but if you are a fan of Maleev it will probably impress.

But on the whole this is the first time that the art doesn’t convince on this title. It could be due to the stellar work the book has received previously. But the actual narrative doesn’t help either. Although the general playfulness of the title so far has entertained, there is something missing here that you can’t quite put your finger on. It could be the overly familiar rules of time travel or the transient nature of the threat to the team. But the issue is punctuated with some solid emotional beats and Black Window gets some definition and attention, which is needed. As Warren Ellis wraps up his time on the book with the next issue, we can only hope this was a mere blip on an otherwise fantastic run.

 WRITING: 3.5/5
ART: 2.5/5
OVERALL: 3/5

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