Comics : Secret War #1

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This review was first published on: 2004.

Background...

Nick Fury heads up the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate. As the name suggests, S.H.I.E.L.D. deals very much in the spy business, but the organization remains thoroughly equipped to handle any number of super-powered threats to world security.

Or are they?

In Detail...

Secret War #1
Apr 2004 : SM Cover
Summary: Spider-Man Cover & Pinup
Editor:  Andy Schmidt
Writer:  Brian Michael Bendis
Painter:  Gabriele Dell'Otto
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 Partially Reprinted In: Ultimate Alliance (Promo Mini-Comic)
 Reprinted In: Secret War #1 Commemorative Edition

Luke Cage, the Harlem-based Hero for Hire with the unbreakable skin, walks back to his apartment with his girlfriend, Jessica Jones. After interrogating some local kids outside his doorstep about a dealer, the couple walks into the apartment, only to find a woman has already broken in. Suddenly, some kind of explosion rocks the entire apartment.

At the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, the flying fortress that serves as S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters, Nick Fury sits through a briefing. The news of Luke Cage's hospitalization immediately grabs Fury's attention. The attack left Cage comatose.

In Cage's hospital room, his longtime partner Danny Rand, a.k.a. Iron Fist, reads the sports page to Cage when Fury walks in. Fury explains to Rand that he knows Cage a little. Rand explains that Cage's unbreakable skin makes surgery impossible. As such, the doctors attached Cage to all kinds of tubes to treat his internal injuries. Jessica speaks up, arm in cast and sling, asking Fury if he knows who did this to him, in tears.

Flashback to one year ago: S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Stilwell and Woo interrogate Killer Shrike, who is forced to watch his capture at the hands of the super-hero Iron Man. They ask Shrike, whose real name is Simon Maddicks, how he could possibly afford to maintain all the expensive equipment and hardware that give him his powers when he himself is broke. Bottom line: they already know that Phineas Mason, the Tinkerer, is footing the bill. The threat of jailtime looming, Shrike agrees to help take the Tinkerer down as well.

So Shrike, under S.H.I.E.L.D. surveillance, goes to the Mason's place. But Mason already knew that Shrike was arrested, so he electrocutes the door handle, killing Shrike and sending a dozen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents scurrying to try an salavage the mission. Later on, Fury visits the abandoned facility, full of super-villain equipment but no computer records whatsoever. Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow, then contacts Fury. She's in Latveria, and she sees the Tinkerer get into a car with government license plates.

Fury takes these findings to the President. The S.H.I.E.L.D. director explains this as part of a larger project, codename: CIRCUIT. It seems that Jason Macendale, a.k.a. Jack O'Lantern (wasn't he the Hobgoblin at some point, and, for that matter, isn't he DEAD?), let out that someone, in turn, was funding the Tinkerer's operation. Why are all these super-villans using multi-million dollar equipment to make, at best, thousands? The answer astonishes: since someone is bankrolling these criminals via The Tinkerer, they are no longer criminals: they're terrorists. Fury continues that the Tinkerer, upon arriving in Latveria, met with the new Prime Minister of Latveria, Lucia von Bardas. At that point, the President, citing a fortune in aid to Latveria and their investment in Bardas, cuts Fury short, and says that the situation will be handled diplomatically.

Agent Valentina asks how the meeting went. Fury says that it's happening again. Fury responds with angry sentiment at the government's naïve reliance on diplomacy and the rules that no one plays by.

Present day: Fury finds himself staring down at Luke Cage's battered body, asking himself: "What have I done?"

In General...

Obviously, this isn't your father's Secret War. Well, the $4.00 price could have told you that.

This story features the slow pacing that's become Brian Bendis's trademark. This proves cumbersome to some, but encouraging to others, since it usually means Bendis has something great planned. What's more, he's sowed the seeds for a great story here. We see strong appearances from his stock characters like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, plus his first treatment of the 616 (regular Marvel) version of Nick Fury.

What's more, I've always wondered how these villans with expensive high-tech equipment could break even robbing grocery stores. Instead of using that as part of the usual "suspension of disbelief," Bendis makes it the basis for a tale of international intrigue. The idea that the enemies of America are funding super-powered criminals startles, to say the least. Even more startling is the government's refusal to act, which stands in stark contrast to criticisms that the real world U.S. government acted too hastily. Of course, now that Fury knows the problem, what's he going to do about it?

No review of this issue would be complete without mentioning the impressive painted artwork of Gabriele Dell'Otto. While shadows abound, they seem to fit the "secret" tone of the book. What's more, the entire book is jewel to behold, particularly Dell'Otto's rendition of Jessica Jones, formerly of Alias. You couldn't ask for a stronger Marvel debut.

The extras help to soften the blow to your wallet. We get a transcript of Macendale's interrogation by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents (a good read), as well as a gallery of Dell'Otto's treatment of various heroes that seem unrelated to the story. (or ARE they?) Plus, we get an Introduction from Bendis himself, hyping what's to come. Nonetheless, you're only getting 2 more pages of story in exchange for 15 pages of extra content "usually reserved for expensive hardbacks." Here, however, it's used for expensive single issues.

Overall Rating...

For all my grumbling at the price, it's an intriguing concept and phenomenal art. It's a strong start, though you might be well served to wait for the trade all the same.