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From A Library: Secret War

Secret War #1–5 by Brian Michael Bendis and Gabriele Dell-otto

In an attempt at journalistic integrity, I should mention that the trade also collects Secret Files, not written by Bendis, but based on the Bendis-written info-pieces at the end of each individual issue. It doesn’t really count as part of the story, and is really only for the super hardcore fan who loves Marvel handbooks and other such paraphernalia. The Fury analyses of various characters and interview transcripts were a nice touch in the individual books, but it’s a total waste for an entire issue and a bit of a rip-off.

There is also a silly ‘anonymous’ preface to the book, a real spy talking about how he told Bendis about his work and then Bendis used it as the basis for the story, but this is just laughable and takes away from the book – it doesn’t set you up for a ‘serious’ story.

Luke Cage is attacked in his home and is now in a coma. Fury goes to see him because of the events of one year previously … SHIELD agents are interrogating Killer Shrike about where he gets the money for his ridiculously expensive hi-tech supervillain gadgetry, which is the starting point for the story. They get him to try and set up the Tinkerer, the man who provides the gear but isn’t the money man behind it, but the Tinkerer kills him and escapes to Latveria, specifically to the location of the new Latverian prime minister, Lucia von Bardas. Now, von Bardas has been given millions in aid by the US government, so Fury wants to do something about this; however, he is told not to do anything by the President himself. So Fury decides to do something on his own. He gets together Captain America, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Spider-Man and Wolverine (plus a young girl who looks exactly like Angelina Jolie, only with black hair), and sends them to Latveria. There, they meet the Black Widow, who takes them to Fury to explain why they are there.

Back in the present, Daredevil and Spidey are attacked by two tech-based criminals; they repel them, then head to the hospital where Cage is. They meet up with Captain America, who has given Fury a slapping because of his anger with what Fury did to them, and they are all attacked by a huge group of tech-based criminals. There is a big fight scene at the hospital – the Fantastic Four are called in – and the villain is revealed: a zombie-like von Bardas, powered by hi-tech, who is making a bomb from the tech of the other criminals, without their consent, and had been using them to wreak terror on American soil.

Flash forward to Daisy Johnson (the Angelina Jolie-alike) being interviewed by the new head of SHIELD, Maria Hill, just so we can see how bad ass she is – returning to the hospital fight scene, she used her earthquake powers to stop Bardas. The X-Men arrive, and Fury explains that he used the group from last year in a secret war against Bardas (resulting in Daisy bringing down the Latverian castle capital ‘as a message’) and then had them mind-wiped. They argue and then Logan guts Fury, who turns out to be a Life Model Decoy – he has disappeared because he knew he couldn’t come back after what he did.

The build-up of the story is good but the finale fizzles out. As ever, Bendis’ dialogue is first rate, natural yet stylised, and he has constructed a story based on a good idea about tech-based super criminals. But it doesn’t come across as a completely enjoyable or satisfactory narrative; perhaps the choice of cutting back and forth in time didn’t help. Not from a confusion perspective, just in a storytelling way.

Dell’otto is good with the painted art – a lot of painters can be very static, but the art is quite dynamic (with the exception of big team poses, which look very staged). The faces are expressive and the bodies have an appealing lithe quality, and he does a good blend of the spandex/muscles underneath (always tricky in painted artwork). A downside is the ‘darkness disease’ that painted artwork suffers from occasionally; the moody night shots and scenes get lost in too much dark paint on the printed page, even if they looked okay when first created. The use of Jolie as a model for Daisy is a little distracting, especially when the main heroes aren’t referenced, as the lips are very distinctive; it is even more distracting when he reuses a couple of face panels in the interviews in different issues.

The story uses a familiar name in Marvel history to tell a very different tale from usual (but a genre that Bendis is a fan of) and explains why Fury is no longer head of SHIELD, and where Maria Hill came from (I always wondered that when reading New Avengers and the like). But the story doesn’t feel big enough for the removal of Fury from the Marvel universe – I hope there is a good reason for keeping him off the playing field for the present. And has Daisy Johnson been used again in the Marvel universe? But it is apparent that Bendis was using this as part of his grander plan at Marvel, setting up pieces and players for future stories, something which he does well, even if the results aren’t always as good. An enjoyable enough story, but not one for the collection. But what is the connection to Secret Invasion?

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