Secret Avengers #1

Course Correction: Marvel's new Top Cop, the former Captain America Steve Rogers, shares a broader vision of how the villainous Norman Osborn crippled global security.

With the new values of the Heroic Age espoused as a rebirth of The Avengers, Writer Ed Brubaker tackles the damage done by the "Dark Reign".

Secret Avengers #1

Contributor: Mike Deodato (artist)
Publisher: Marvel
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2010-06

There has been almost too much build-up to Marvel's new "Heroic Age". "Civil War" decimated Marvel's fictional Earth-616 (the publisher's go-to universe for its mainstay superheroes and mutants). The following year's "Secret Invasion", which saw the inner battles of Marvel heroes attempting to ascertain whether or not they themselves were invading aliens, did little to mend fences. And "Dark Reign", which had villains posing as heroes, was a last shot at redemption for some, but also, in many senses, the crippling coup de grace to the heroic ideals of the superheroes of Earth-616.

After "Siege" then, after the dismantling of Norman Osborn's H.A.M.M.E.R. and the elaborate, Byzantine power structure he built, after the righting of ways and the reestablishment of the superheroes in their proper position, The Avengers, Marvel's linchpin superhero team, once again becomes a focal point the publisher.

Over the next few months, Marvel will be putting out more than one Avengers title. But despite the multiple titles, the ghosts of the past (and the deep schism within Earth-616 that produced a 'Mighty', and 'New' and 'Dark' Avengers) have been successfully exorcised. There is something very reaffirming about reading 'The' Avengers, Avengers Prime (both penned by Brian Bendis), Avengers Academy (penned by Christos Gage) and Secret Avengers (penned by Ed Brubaker). While there are different teams, there definitely is one sense of purpose again. Marvel seems to have turned a corner, and things are finally looking up.

Except of course.

Despite the obvious and very necessary shine of the Marvel universe, dangers still lurk. Rogue elements attempt trafficking in weapons of mass destruction, renegade corporations attempt to buy up mineral rights to Mars. With Osborn's mismanagement of critical resources and assets, global security has been crippled. But Steve Rogers, former Captain America and current Head of Intelligence, has setup an Avengers team to directly interdict these situations before they become threats. Enter the Secret Avengers.

Writer Ed Brubaker seems a natural fit for this kind of book. Since taking over regular scripting duties on Captain America in the early part of this decade, and later regular writing duties for Daredevil Brubaker has been evolving a view on how international crime can easily become international terror. But this is also Brubaker in rare form, Brubaker has his audience has barely seen him. Gone is the somber brooding of Brubaker's Captain America, gone is the debilitating, pensive melancholy of his Daredevil. While both of these muted characterizations worked perfectly for their single-character books, Secret Avengers is an altogether different animal. Think John Woo's sprawling epic Red Cliff, rather than Tony Hopkins in the slow, meaningfully-paced Remains of the Day.

Secret Avengers is just rollicking. Fast-paced and awash in a world of danger, the Secret Avengers themselves are the true object of Brubaker's meticulous writing. And the focus of the story is characterization, above the ample action-sequences. There is a wariness to Marc Spector's Moon Knight, and a weariness too. Rhodey's War Machine stands up to authority just as he always does, and Dr. Henry McCoy's Beast withdraws into a reticence brought about by a flood of scientific information. And despite the character-driven nature of the book, it feels like the old familiar strangeness that makes Brubaker such a darkly beloved fan-favorite. After all, the book opens with Black Widow and Valkyrie posing as escorts to bypass a high-level executive's security.

The core of Brubaker's storytelling, the artistic core, seems to be a meditation on characterization by way of action. This project is elegantly carried by the artwork of Mike Deodato. There is a looseness to Deodato's pencils, a willful untidiness, and sudden, rapid-fire shifts in POV. This murkiness, blended with the almost Eisner-like approach to paneling makes for a visually interesting read, but also an apt visual metaphor for Brubaker's project.

With the old values being reaffirmed throughout the Marvel universe, and superheroes once again in their rightful place, Brubaker and Dedato's hard, non-jaundiced look at the damage done by "Dark Reign" seems redemptive of the values espoused by the new Heroic Age, by a far darker path. With as solid a team as Brubaker and Deodato finding and evolving each others' strengths, Secret Avengers easily gets full marks.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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