How do you like your superhero comics? Clever and stylish or fighty fighty fighty?

Published On April 7, 2012 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

Secret Avengers Volume 3: Run The Mission, Don’t Get Seen, Save The World

Written by Warren Ellis

Art by Jamie McKelvie, Kev Walker, David Aja, Michael Lark, Alex Maleev, Stuart Immonen

Avengers Vs X-Men Issue 1

Story by Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction. Script by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by John Romita Jr.

I read issues 16 and 17 of Secret Avengers last year, but didn’t get around to reading the rest of Ellis’ 6-issue run until this weekend, and happened to read it just after reading a copy of Avengers Vs X-Men, or AvX as I think Marvel are calling it.

It seemed a perfect little opportunity to compare and contrast, as in theory they’re both examples of the modern way of doing comics; decompressed, fast, smart, clever dialogue, that sort of thing….

The thing is… only one of these comics does that sort of thing well.

Can you guess which it is? I bet you can.

In fact, I’d warrant that the numbers have got something to do with it …
Secret Avengers: 6 issues, 1 writer, 6 artists.
AvX Issue 1: 5 writers, 1 artist.

Writing by committee vs a single author’s vision. Is it any surprise that AvX reads so poorly?

I’ve already talked a little of Warren Ellis’ 6-issue run on Marvel’s Secret Avengers title. I Loved the very first issue (#16) with artwork by Jamie McKelvie to knock your socks off, wasn’t quite as keen on issue 17:

On Issue 16:

I do enjoy a Warren Ellis comic. I enjoy all the clipped, snarky dialogue, the weird science references, the fact he’d always rather have his characters having a conversation than actually doing anything. And if he can’t have that, then a conversation whilst they’re doing stuff, even superhero-y action stuff will do just fine.”

And on issue 17; with Kev Walker on art:

“Last issue may have been all about the thrill of a short hit sugar rush, doing it a second time just doesn’t work. Last issue had some really good Ellis dialogued setpieces, a great cast who seemed to bounce right off each other. Here we have four strangers beating on haulage vehicles whilst not saying much. The thing is, Ellis has signed up for 6 issues, maybe more. That first issue was great, vintage Ellis superhero fun, all hi-tech and silly. This, not so much. I’ll be around next issue to see which way the streaks headed.”

Ellis is a master of this sort of thing. And this sort of single issue series, decompressed, outside the main bit of the Marvel Universe, using the edgier characters, the interesting characters, really does allow him to do the whole Ellis thing to his heart’s content.

(Secret Avengers Issue 18, art by David Aja)

(Secret Avengers Issue 20, art by Alex Maleev)

So in Secret Avengers Volume 3, with that brilliantly Ellis title of “Run the mission, don’t get seen, save the world” that perfectly summarises pretty much everything you need to know about the book, we have 6 self contained issues, and although just as with the two I’d already see, they’re not all great, there’s still enough greatness, enough Ellis being Ellis going on, to make this a damn good read.

Although there’s a lot of decompressed, fast storytelling in here, Ellis does provide an extraordinary amount of depth and dialogue at times, with a couple of stories dropping decompression altogether for densely plotted, dialogue heavy stuff.

And the artwork is pretty uniformally wonderful. McKelvie I’ve talked about, but David Aja, Michael Lark, Alex Maleev, and Stuart Immonen all excel themselves here, with Aja in particular doing breathtaking stuff.

We have all the wonder of seeing Shang Chi, Master Of Kung Fu step up to become a sort of Avenger in Aja’s beautifully done issue, underground secret bases, Eastern European bio-mech trucking, a transmatter threat, broken mini universes, Von Doom radiation, magic drug addict super-soldiers. 6-issues of Ellis doing a great Warren Ellis impression. I rather loved it, flaws and all.

By far the best is issue 20 where Ellis has a blast with Black Widow spending all issue plotting, planning, and time travelling to save the Secret Avengers team she saw die at the start of the issue. It’s so neatly done, clever heaped on clever, wrapped up in clever. Maleev even gets to do a classic comic strip homage in one of the time jump sequences. Perfect stuff.

To be honest the whole thing ends on a whimper rather than a bang in issue 21. But even with that hmmmm at the end, this is still a thrill ride, really smart, clever and fast, packed with ideas, loads of great dialogue, ideas over action every time. Yeah, it’s not perfect, but it’s a damn fine read and looks great.

So… ideas over action in Secret Avengers. Which brings me to Avengers Vs X-Men. Action over ideas….

I’m old enough to remember Contest Of Champions. It came out when I was a kid, and as such the idea of superheroes being forced to beat each other up was just mind-blowingly cool. And if I were a kid again, I’d probably enjoy AvX just as much. But if I was a kid, I’d probably save the £3 plus and read the thing in 5 minutes in the comic shop.

Because I know I sound like a broken, old record with this, but I went through AvX#1 in what felt like seconds. 34 story pages, 4 double spreads, each page rarely topping 4 panels. It’s just not enough. Back in my day (oh God, shoot me now for that line) Chris Claremont would have done this in the first half of a 22-page issue of his X-Men. And he’d have done it so much better.

The sheer lack of innovation on show in AvX is just depressing. It puts all the same characters into all the same positions and basically shouts FIGHT as loud as it can. It’s The Phoenix again, coming to Earth again, and The Avengers are facing off against The X-Men to see who gets custody of this most predictably destructive of children. Yes, there’s more to it than that, and thanks to the quick summary over at The Comics Beat, I at least was saved the trouble of trying to work out the ridiculously complex continuity leading up to this point.

If you don’t know; The Avengers and The X-Men get word that The Phoenix force is coming back to Earth. The X-Men, particularly Scott Summer/Cyclops is more hopeful that it will inhabit the body of young student Hope and save the mutant race.

That’s right, Summers starts believing that this hitherto nothing but destructive force, responsible for countless acts of genocide across the years, might just be the thing to save the mutant race. Why? Ask the five different writers, they might know. Although I imagine the answer will truthfully be “because we needed some excuse to make them get all fighty“.

The Avengers, having worked out that The Phoenix is coming decide the  best thing to do would be to take Hope into protective custody. Because that’s bound to work.

This issue ends with Captain America and Cyclops doing the inevitable on the beach:

Cue the fighting.

With John Romita Jr on art it should at least look good, but all the way through it all seemed a bit lacking in detail, a bit rushed.

No, let’s face it, 5 writers, Marvel’s event over story focus, and years of continuity means I can’t even begin to enjoy this comic.

It might be something the kids are enjoying, but not me, no thanks. I’ll take my superheroing a little more stylish and clever thanks. Give me Secret Avengers, standalone, clever storytelling and artists really doing great work anyday over big event nonsense that flits by so quickly.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton

– Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he’s written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard’s day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children’s graphic novel library in the country.

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