I’ve not spent a lot of time with Secret Avengers, and thus I have a different relationship with the series than most of its readers. In the broader context, this is a series meant to explore the (somewhat) seedy underbelly of the superhero game—some things are just too touchy for the Avengers proper. In my, more finite, case, Secret Avengers is a series pushing against it’s own boundaries at every turn. Rick Remender already has a lot of experience writing about a team tasked with handling situations too controversial for the general public with Uncanny X-Force, so it comes as no surprise that he was a good pick to helm Secret Avengers.
Secret Avengers #31 continues the story of the Max Fury (a self-aware “life model decoy” of Nicky Fury), the Abyss (the amorphous, tentacle-y menace that’s already infected team members Hawkeye and Valkyrie) and their plans to take complete control of the entire world. It’s not a terribly inventive or original line of narrative, but Remender’s clever style definitely helps this “lowest common denominator”–type story. I don’t want to sound like alien mind-control stories are all bad because in reality, it can be done very, very well. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that stands out about the Abyss that makes it any more or less menacing than any other alien mind-control threat. And then there’s “shadow council” of enforcers (who ensure the spread of the Abyss) known as…the Shadow Council. Again, nothing original or different; just another chord of the same song.
The main point of different between this and most tales of brain invasion comes down to the details. Instead of doing zombie-like infection, Remender has the Abyss become proactive in their destiny. In order to spread its influence, the Abyss infects three commercial airliners—in the “Red Light” nation of Bagalia, full of civilians—bound for the various corners of the globe, thereby beginning the grand infection. It just so happens that an infected Hawkeye is aboard one of those planes, so when the remaining uninfected Secret Avengers—Venom and Ant-Man—try to stop the planes from taking off, they get a whole lot of trouble from the chiseled sharpshooter. Venom manages to ground two of the jets while the third (the one with Hawkeye aboard) is able to take off.
The whole of Secret Avengers feels like a spy movie that got too out of hand. In some instances, the outrageousness adds to the story, like when Hawkeye shoots a focus blast arrow (I’m just making up names for his arrows as I go), and instantly disintegrates the entirety of Ant-Man’s insect army. In other cases, the action points out how much of a spy series this is not. While Remender is excellent at showing how situations can get out of hand, the whole idea behind the Secret Avengers is to nip those problems in the butt before they can get out of hand. In that respect, Secret Avengers #31 doesn’t necessarily live up to it’s potential. There are many ways to tell a spy story, and Remender is picking and choosing the most action-oriented of those elements. While that sounds good in theory, it takes the ‘secret’ out of Secret Avengers and turns the story into a high-octane race against the clock. Again, nothing wrong with that, but for a title that’s supposedly about fighting the hidden battles, this issue does not deliver.