The 28 issue run of “Secret Warriors” wrapped up this week. Short review: read the Steranko run if you don’t already know who Nick Fury, Dum Dum Dugan, Contessa Vallentina Allegra de la Fontaine, Jasper Sitwell and Baron Strucker are. If those names are familiar to you, read this run.

General Information

Title: Secret Warriors

Author: Jonathan Hickman (with early help from Brian Michael Bendis)

Illustrator(s): Alessandro Vitti and Stefano Caselli did most of the interior pencils and inks, with Daniele Rudoni doing most of the colour work.

Cover Dates: Range from April 2009 to September 2011

Cover Price: $2.99 each

Collected as Vol. 1: Nick Fury: Agent of Nothing (currently with 10 copies in Amazon’s stock on sale at $6.80 each, which is a fantastic price; buy it NOW), Vol. 2: God of Fear, God of War (which includes the “Dark Reign: The List – Secret Warriors” one shot), Vol. 3: Wake the Beast, Vol. 4: Last Ride of the Howling Commandos (which includes the “Siege: Secret Warriors” one shot), Vol. 5: Night and Vol. 6: Wheels Within Wheels (which can be preordered now, but which doesn’t come out until September.) Do yourself a favor: do not read these out of order. This is really one complete story begging for the deluxe hardcover omnibus edition treatment.

Premise

At the end of Secret Invasion, Nick Fury was back in the world, but Norman Osborn had his old job. This worked out for the best, as Nick had something very big to deal with. You see, he’s learned something new about S.H.I.E.L.D.

The first issue ends with a panel I will never forget: according to information that Nick Fury has obtained from an old Hydra installation, S.H.I.E.L.D. is (and always has been) the intelligence gathering arm of Hydra.

In the background, this was Hickman’s first job for Marvel. Brian Michael Bendis had the basic concept for the series worked out, but didn’t have time to write everything he wanted to write, so he convinced editorial to allow indie comics writer Jonathan Hickman cowrite this series with him. According to Bendis, the only contribution he made to the series was the “S.H.I.E.L.D. is Hydra” revelation. The rest is pure Hickman, with his famous attention to detail and volumes of notebooks detailing every possible minute detail needed to tell an intricate story. I’m very glad the reigns were passed, as I consider this to be the best Nick Fury story Marvel has put out in the character’s 48+ year history.

High Point

Unlike attempts to work with Fury in the previous decade, Hickman didn’t try to redefine the character. This is a great character who has been very well defined since Tony Stark recommended him as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. back in Strange Tales #135. Hickman revels in the character, with note perfect dialogue in exchanges like this one from issue 19:

Captain America (Steve Rogers): I don’t know what you’re up to Nick… I honestly have no idea, and I am not one to judge. Especially someone like you.

Nick Fury: Someone like me…

Cap: Yeah, someone like you. A person who sees a problem that no one else is willing to deal with and will do just that, and for no other reason than it needs doing… A person who understands that this never ends. That there will always be bad guys that need to be put down and is willing to pay the price — any price — to make sure that very thing happens. A man that understands that this is simply what he does until the day he dies.

I also quite enjoyed this exchange from issue 4:

Nick Fury: Remember what that Roxxon subsidiary — Enron — went out of business? Everyone was all pissed at the management — you couldn’t turn on the news without hearin’ some sob story about employees who lost their jobs. Like they were all oblivious to the fact that their entire company was built on screwin’ people over. Like because they weren’t in charge they didn’t have any responsibility for doin’ the right thing… Our guys at H.A.M.M.E.R… they’re in the position they are in because they chose to be. They’re takin’ a check with their eyes closed— there’s a price for that. It sure ain’t sympathy.

Gabe Jones: Oh, that’s $@^#%$, Nick. The world’s not that simple. Hard choices have to be made… people make compromises. Like I said, our guys did what they had to do for their families! Tell me the truth… What are you going to feel when you put a bullet in one of those men, Nick?

Nick Fury: Recoil.

Low Point

They call Dugan “Thaddeus” twice. For the first few years the character was around, we only knew his first initial was T. In the Steranko run, it was established that his full name was “Timothy Alloysius Cadwallader Dugan,” which is how it reads in his personnel file at the end of issue #3. In the 1990s relaunch, the writer called him Thaddeus in the second issue, only to revert to calling him Timothy four issues later. (That whole run struck me as unresearched, and I’ve long suspected he thought he was establishing the name, not realizing it had been established previously by the then-best Nick Fury creator, only to change his mind when angry letters pointed out the error.) It is a minor irritation for me, but it’s also the only negative comment I can come up with for the entire 28 issue run, plus the two one shots listed in the collections above.

The Scores

This is the most original Nick Fury story I’ve read, and to the best of my knowledge, I’ve read them all. I’ve never seen so many issues that end with a page that turns my perception of the Marvel Universe on its ear so frequently, and yet does so in what is clearly a plan that had been established before a single issue was printed. I give it 6 out of 6.

The artwork is excellent from the regular creators, though it does stumble a bit with some of the fill-in artists, at times coming in at merely “good” instead. I give it 5 out of 6.

The story is one of the most intricately plotted I’ve ever read. After that first issue, every subsequent issue became the first issue I read when I took that week’s stack of comics home. It was my favorite title in a monthly read, and it gets even better when read in a single sitting. Early on, I had some concerns about how this would reconcile with the S.H.I.E.L.D. series Hickman is also writing, but it truly in consistent by the time it’s all said and done. (I’ll review that series when it reaches its planned ending in five more issues.) I give it 6 out of 6.

The characterization is excellent. The caterpillar team created by Bendis is fleshed out here quite thoroughly, while Fury himself, Dugan, the Contessa, Jasper, Rebel Ralston, Baron Strucker, Kraken and others are handled perfectly. If you don’t already know who a few of the key players are it might be tricky getting up to speed, but even if you haven’t, you’ll get to know them in short order. I give it 6 out of 6.

The emotional response is fantastic. Usually promotions saying “things will never be the same again!” are hyperbole. This series never actually made that claim, but could have on at least 12 occasions that I can count. Even without the revelations, this was a damned entertaining ride. I give it 6 out of 6.

The flow is very smooth, particularly in a single sitting. This is clearly designed as one giant story, and it works very well that way. As a reader, I constantly encountered information that cast previous scenes in an entirely different light, but couldn’t stop reading ahead, resisting the urge to go back and reread the earlier stuff right now! like I wanted to, because I was more curious about what came next. Instead, I just read the whole series in a sitting when I had them all, and I’m sure I’ll be doing that again in the future. Marvel, if you’re listening, OMNIBUS! I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, this is one of the best runs of any title I’ve ever seen in comics. The fact that Hickman was able to tell his complete story from start to finish goes a long way to establishing that. Superhero fans will like it, and people who don’t much care for superheroes but like a good spy story will also enjoy it. In case you hadn’t already guessed, I can’t recommend this enough, and give it 6 out of 6.

In total, Secret Warriors receives 41 out of 42.