Secret War (Brian Michael Bendis & Gabriele Dell’Otto)
I have always thought Secret War was an odd event/mini series. A lot and I mean A LOT of important things happen over its five issue run that shaped the Marvel Universe for the foreseeable future. It introduces a host of new SHIELD characters that play huge roles further down the line and as a whole it is an entertaining spy story that just happens to have superheroes in it. Make no mistake though, this book has one purpose, take Nick Fury off the table. Moving Fury off the chess board allows things like Civil War, Secret Invasion and eventually Dark Reign to take place. This is because we all know that if Nick Fury got even a whiff of the Superhuman Registration Act happening he would stop it well before Cap and Iron Man started beating each other up.
It is also an odd book because due to its name you would think it would somehow be tied to the older and more cosmic Secret Wars and Secret Wars II books. Apparently the lack of an “s” makes all the difference. So if you are expecting gods, monsters and battles of cosmic proportions move along. Still apart from standing separately from pretty much everything Marvel was publishing at the time it is interesting because it is all apparently loosely based on the details of highly classified and top secret intelligence operations told to Brian Bendis, the writer, by a un-named high ranking officer during Brian’s childhood. So make of that what you will. Just swap Latveria providing super villains with enhanced technology with anti-American governments arming terrorists and you get the general idea.
It is worth saying before we go any further that Gabriele Dell’Otto’s art is a perfect match for the story being told here and I mean an absolutely perfect match! The realistic structure and the dark brooding colours make you feel like there could be a spy hiding in the shadows of every page. Everything looks suitably real, even more fantastical things like the heros and villains featured in the book have an edge of realism to them. The Thing actually looks like a monster, rather than a big orange fun loving smashing machine. Wolverine going ferral at the end is an actual scary sight and more. There is also quite a bit of real life reference at play with the buildings in the background and the characters featured on the panels. I can understand why many people are not fans of this particular technique but when it is done right it can work really well and here it helps make the story have a lot more impact than it would otherwise. Also I defy you to tell me Daisy “Quake” Johnson doesn’t look like a younger Angelina Jolie,
She is one of the additions to the Marvel Universe this book makes that I really like. Fury’s secret right hand, loyal only to him, who would do anything he says. Also earthquake powers are always cool! Still under utilised today in the comics whenever she pops up I have a smile on my face because she just oozes cool.
The other to cool for school female character heavily featured in the book is Maria Hill, perhaps Bendis’ most important creation for Marvel and one who is just simply amazing. (In my opinion anyway!) Secret War is part getting Fury off the table and part replacing him with the more US Government (read: Establishment) friendly Maria Hill as the head of SHIELD. She is a great character who starts off fairly simple and out of her depth here but in New Avengers and beyond she grows into her role and becomes a major player in the Marvel Universe. There is a reason she was in the Avengers movie. She has become that important in a relatively short time and this book is the starting point of that journey.
Kick ass female characters to one side, the story of Nick Fury’s fall from grace is a mixed bag. The super spy nature of the story means that a lot is left unanswered until the last possible moment. The constant jumping backwards and forward in time to tell the story can also lead to some confusion while you try to fill in the blanks. The basics of it are that Fury defied his orders and enacted a secret operation using the Avengers to invade Latvaria and take down Prime Minister, Lucia von Bardas because she is a huge potential threat to America. He then erases all knowledge of the events of the mission from the Avengers’ minds and returns them to the normal lives. In the present day it comes to bite him in ass as Lucia returns with a vendetta to take down all the Avengers involved in the mission and Nick Fury. All the secrets are revealed and Fury burns all his bridges with both the government and the superhero community in the process. He remains in that grey area of doing the wrong thing but for the right reasons and that is what causes him to be ousted as the head of SHIELD.
It all gets very messy and things like the included text pages of interrogation transcripts and character profiles really help fill in the gaps, so if you are reading it; DO NOT SKIP OVER THEM! It is worth reading because it is so different from your usual superhero comic and the thing it really does well is show the reader how SHIELD works. How tense things are for them all the time. How people can be thrown out and left in the cold for their infractions and how as an organisation it has to constantly adapt to a world filled with superheroes. This is SHIELD done seriously which is in stark contrast to the now more family friendly version we see in the Marvel movies. Despite being a much darker take you can see how it has influenced the movie version of the organisation. It is essential reading if you want to know the background goings on of Bendis’ starting point with the New Avengers but you can skip it if spies and intrigue do not suit your tastes.
To sum up: it really is the story of the secret conflicts that shaped the Marvel Universe.