Rick Remender’s first non-Point One issue of Secret Avengers is a melting pot. It’s crammed full of ideas, concepts and characters which don’t all work. The narrative hits the ground running and the pace is something to be admired, but it does leave the reader with a sense of being overwhelmed.
Now there is nothing wrong with filling your book with content. But if you do, it’s best that you manage to juggle everything well. It is in this juggling that Remender fails. We have terrorists, fire swallowing women, the Queen, a giant made of people, the Omniverse and The Descendants in only the first six pages. Granted most of it is set-up (of both the threat and Captain Britain), but it is perhaps a little too fast especially for new readers who aren’t familiar with the concepts. Although you must tip your hat to Remender, for casually dropping in the Omniverse with very little explanation.
But some of Remender’s ideas do work. The whole idea of Captain America stepping down due to other commitments and the addition of Captain Britain does work. Although Britain’s introduction is a little too English (Class rivalries, The Queen, someone says prat), he is perhaps the only character who doesn’t come across bad. The leadership misunderstanding is funny, if familiar, and his dislike of Hawkeye might have a lot of potential. However the whole arrow with sticky substance in the mouth gag is so bizarre it nearly derails the whole scene. The only other aspect that works is the concept of having the Descendants as the antagonists. Essentially, they seem akin to DC’s Amazo, with their ability to adapt to any threat, but they are also interestingly different. Mainly due to the fact one of them uses magic to deal with Valkyrie. Also the ending panel brings new intrigue as a council of robot/cyborgs seems like a good idea (even if half of them aren’t familiar to this writer). In fact the whole fight between the Avengers and Descendants works well, but it is perhaps over familiar as it yet again showcases that narrative cliché of “our team hasn’t trained, oh crap we got our asses kicked”. But then that isn’t the most blatantly ripped off idea of the book. That goes to the shrunken hidden HQ, but if it’s good enough for Ray Palmer why not Hank Pym.
However the miniature space station isn’t the biggest culprit when dealing with the books problems. The whole terrorist angle is over worn and banal. Kidnapping the Descendant fire-eater to use as a weapon doesn’t really enthrall. On top of this some of the cast just seem off. Valkyrie and Black Widow get nothing in the way of characterization and there is a moment between them at the beginning, which doesn’t seem right. It isn’t that both women wouldn’t be annoyed at the testosterone flying around, it’s just the dialogue is trying so hard to be funny it comes off as a little sad. Hawkeye is Hawkeye and much like Captain Britain, it’s hard to not get joy out of his failure. His attempts at humiliating Captain Britain do seem a little harsh, even if they are meant to be playful. These are just odd moments, which don’t work. Whereas Beast just doesn’t work, on the whole. Even if you imagine the voice actor of the 90s X-Men cartoon saying his dialogue, he still comes across as annoying. As the forced comic relief, Beast has lost a lot of his charm. Granted he is in the hands of a new writer and we must take this into account, but it is a jarring transition at best for both the character and the reader.
Now, onto Gabriel Hardman’s art. Inconsistent is the tone he strikes here as his work goes from clear and expressive to jumbled and messy. It’s far to sketchy in places, namely the fight scene, and he even has problems with continuity (Beast wearing clothes one panel and then not in the next). But it has its fantastic moments. Hardman’s depiction of the Descendant eating fire, Captain Britain fighting against Riot, the interiors of the Secret Avengers HQ and the ending panel are all striking images. But then we have panels with Valkyrie being attacked by evil spirits, the Avengers turning up at the cave and most of Beast’s appearances. This is where the sketchy style doesn’t work. Beast’s design is too busy and doesn’t look good in action. Some of the character’s poses seem uncomfortable and the proportions are wrong (Ant Man in the cave panel). And when there is too much going on it just looks a mess.
So, it’s a mixed bag this time around. Not as succinct as before and possibly drowning under the weight of it’s own ideas, Secret Avengers is definitely a different beast in Remender’s hands. Although faith remains as the threat is interesting and some aspects do work. But as both the writing and the art seem inconsistent it is hard to get enthused with the books future. Especially when it contains an ugly looking Beast serving as the teams “comic” relief.