NOTE: Discussion of this month’s book will include spoilers that readers may wish to avoid seeing. As the spoilers are a fundamental part of the story and the group’s reactions, it was deemed necessary to keep them in the article.
Bridge City Comics, in the Mississippi neighborhood, hosts a monthly Graphic Novel Reading Club where the public is invited to read and discuss the book chosen for the month. November 18th’s choice was Marvel’s Secret Warriors Vol. 1, written by Brian Michael Bendis (Scarlet, New Avengers) and Jonathan Hickman (Fantastic Four), and illustrated by Stefano Caselli (Runaways, Avengers: The Initiative).
Although the previous month’s book, Torso, was written by Bendis, the consensus was that Bendis’ participation in Secret Warriors was primarily concept-related. The indicia states that the “story” was from Bendis and Hickman, while the “script” came from Hickman alone. It was thought likely that Bendis and Hickman collaborated on the general story arc and Hickman was responsible for creating the details and dialogue. Being Hickman’s first project at Marvel, it seems possible that he was paired with a seasoned veteran both for guidance and for the marketing value of Bendis’ name.
Caselli’s artwork was well-liked by the group, though one scene with the young heroes had Daisy drawn as what was described as “a fifteen-year-old boy” as she ate. Caselli created realistic facial expressions and poses for his characters. The characters themselves were unique and identifiable, which is important when most of them are new to the reader.
Of all the aspects of the book, the one that had the most impact on the assembled readers was the ambivalent nature of right and wrong in the story. Nick Fury operates by his own code, doing what he feels to be right regardless of the “legality” of his actions. Despite SHIELD being dissolved by the US government, Fury continues to act as he sees fit, breaking into the Oval Office to confront President Obama and later destroying a former SHIELD installation. If we did not have faith that Fury was working for the common good, he would undeniably be labelled a terrorist.
And what makes Fury’s secret organization “good”? If SHIELD does good work despite being ultimately owned by HYDRA, does that diminish the results? It was pointed out that at higher and higher echelons of each team, the concepts of good and evil are less and less well-defined, which is troubling to readers who are used to seeing superheroes versus super-villains. In Secret Warriors, longtime Fury teammate Gabriel “Gabe” Jones voices the concerns of these readers, questioning the ethics of Fury’s underground militia. Fury’s attitude toward SHIELD agents who stayed on to work for HAMMER is indicative of the grey area of morality, as he likens them to the employees of Enron: “…like because they weren’t in charge they didn’t have any responsibility for doin’ the right thing.”
Several Reading Club members who were not well-versed in the concepts and history of Fury and SHIELD expressed some confusion about the Life Model Decoys and character The Contessa, presented in the book with little if any explanation. They were able to understand their actions, but knew that there was information missing. The scene where Fury infiltrates the Chicago SHIELD installation and destroys the LMD guards was particularly shocking for readers who didn’t identify them as non-living androids. Conversely, Contessa’s reveal as the new Madame Hydra was not as impactful without knowing her long history with SHIELD.
Even for those who were not acquainted with Fury, SHIELD and the Howling Commandos, Secret Warriors provided enough background to make the story interesting. The short recaps before each chapter kept the story elements fresh, and Fury’s dense data files fleshed out the scope of the events (while also thrilling longtime readers). One reader was inspired to seek out earlier stories in the characters’ history after reading this volume.
Although not everyone was impressed with the “big reveal,” Hickman’s characters kept interest alive. The Contessa’s scenes with Fury were satisfying in that she was not “wussified” and hanging on Fury’s every word, and became even more interesting after her reveal at the end of the book. Gabe Jones’ realistic role was mentioned above, providing a real-world viewpoint. Even the new group of young heroes, all too frequently left generic in other books, had a third dimension to them. As one attendee put it, “they’re superheroes, but they’re not always superheroes.” The book had several non-action moments where depth of writing held sway.
In all, people enjoyed the book, and agreed that the plot seemed well thought out, that Bendis and Hickman had an overarching plan for Secret Warriors.
Bridge City Comics’ Graphic Novel Book Club meets at 7pm on the second Thursday of each month at 3725 N. Mississippi Ave. The book selected for December 9 is Chester Brown’s biography Louis Riel, about the Canadian politican and resistance leader.