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Waiting for the Trade - Secret Avengers

Waiting for the Trade


Secret Avengers vol. 2
By Rick Remender
Collects Secret Avengers #26-32

Why I Bought This: As part of the AvX crossover (which I did not bother to read) Thor leads a team of some of the strongest Avengers (including Ms. Marvel) to battle the Phoenix Force in space. It sounded like a fun fight, particularly the idea of Binary vs. Phoenix not to mention seeing Thor lead the team for once, so I grabbed it off Amazon.

The Plot: Two separate stories in this trade. First: Thor, in a rare leadership role, takes a team into space to fight the Phoenix Force; and then when the crossover ends Hawkeye, Venom v3.0 and Ant Man infiltrate an underground city of super villains.
spoilers after the break


Chapter 1 – Thor’s team includes Ms. Marvel, Beast, Protector (that Kree character Bendis loves who was Captain Marvel v6.0 for awhile), War Machine, Valkyrie, Vision and Captain Britain--which is quite the collection of powerhouses. Beast has a flashback to the original Dark Phoenix Saga and how he built a device to short out Jean’s powers. Now he has modified that device into a “cage” (it looks like a backpack) that he believes can contain the raw Phoenix Force. Personally, I am highly dubious of this plan. Meanwhile some Kree have gathered a sliver of the M’Kraan Crystal and the Nega Bands. Meanwhile the Phoenix casually destroys a planet before our heroes catch up with it. Thor unleashes his hammer’s mystic power on the Phoenix and stuns it. War Machine then flies into position with Beast’s cage. However the Phoenix recovers and roasts Thor with flame breath, the fringe of which also damages War Machine’s armor. It then casually wipes out all the other heroes except Captain Britain. He dons the cage-backpack to implement the plan but Beast on radio warns him the device is not calibrated to run on magic, which is what powers Britain’s armor. Britain ignores him and the cage siphons some Phoenix power but then overloads and explodes, taking out Britain too. The Phoenix is about to kill the heroes when we cut back to the Kree, who have the original Captain Marvel’s body bedecked in the Nega Bands and hooked up to a Frankenstein style machine with the crystal fragment. The crystal is used to summon the Phoenix (inadvertently sparing the heroes) and while the Kree moon base this is occurring on blows up when the Phoenix arrives it successfully energizes Marvel’s corpse in the process. The Avengers meanwhile limp off to Hala (the Kree home world) to lick their wounds as Thor and especially Rhodes are severely injured. Enroot Beast calls Britain an idiot. On Hala Protector and Ms. Marvel reminisce about their Kree heritage when the resurrected Captain Marvel finds them and asks them to help him kill the Avengers.
Chapter 2 – Marvell flashes back to his death and notes he was at peace in death. He then makes out with Carol. Meanwhile Rhodes has flat-lined and Beast has to defib him. Britain has also lost his powers in the space episode and as Thor attempts to give him a pep talk the three Kree heroes burst in and attack, defeating the Avengers in a short battle. Half the team is imprisoned, while Vision, Beast and Thor are somehow free. Vision detects a signal being broadcast to mind control the Kree on Hala so they will accept death at the hands of the Phoenix Force. Vision manages to disrupt the signal but there is only an hour left to evacuate the planet. Marvel arrives and takes down Vision and starts in on Thor but even injured Thor refuses to fall. Thor also refuses to believe this is the real Marvel since he is about to commit genocide and tries to decapitate him but Marvel takes his best shot and then uses the Nega Bands to redirect Thor’s lightening against him for the KO. Then Marvel sees Kree soldiers executing the fleeing civilians and begins to have second thoughts.

Chapter 3 – The Avengers are about to be executed but Vision disrupts the signal on the three Kree heroes just as the Phoenix enters the atmosphere. The Kree heroes stop the execution. Vision traces the signal back to its source, revealing relatives of Mar-vell are responsible: one of whom is a high priest of some cult and his son who has telepathic powers. The priest kills his son and reveals he brought the Phoenix to Hala to burn away the shame Mar-vell brought on the family name when he betrayed the Kree for the people of Earth back in his Silver Age solo title. Then the priest kills himself. The Kree are trying to evacuate but there’s no time so Ms. Marvel takes the desperate step of flying into space to try to absorb the Phoenix into herself. This causes her to become Binary again and she opens a white hole which Thor amplifies with his hammer’s dimensional portal power and it seems like they will suck the Phoenix in but then it blasts both heroes and takes them down. Marvel saves Carol (who is now back in her Ms. Marvel form) while Captain Britain regains his powers. He flies into the heart of the Phoenix and then starts expanding his magic force field. He is hurting it but it is still advancing on Hala and Mar-vell realizes it will not stop until it reclaims the portion of the Phoenix Force that resurrected him. And so he pulls Britain aside and lets the Phoenix claim him and thus he dies again. Carol so impressed by what she has witnessed she ponders taking the Captain Marvel name herself in tribute to his heroism (which of course she does in her new solo title that launched shortly after this).

Chapter 4 – a recap page fills us in that John Steele is yet another pre-Cap super soldier gone bad controlled by a shadowy government group who recently came to his senses; and the titular heroes have been fighting some robot conspiracy as well lately. Max Fury (a Nick Fury LMD gone bad) catches up with Steele alongside his gigantic Masters of Evil that includes at least 20 super villains (Constrictor, Brothers Grimm, Diablo, Princess Python, Crossfire, Griffin, Carrion, Whiplash, the female Stiltman, The Grapplers, Madcap, Vengeance and a bunch I don’t recognize) and they pummel Steele with ease. Venom (Flash Thompson) is fighting a villain named Abyss who tries to mind control him but the symbiote is immune and Flash shoots him in the head. Next we learn Ant Man v3.0 is a mole for the Shadow Council as he buys into some time traveler’s tale that whatever the Council is up to will create a utopian future. Hawkeye assembles the Secret Avengers with intel that Fury’s Masters has “hundreds of members” and they have asylum in some fictional country so taking them down has to be top secret. In addition Max has the Serpent Crowns and some other mystic crown so it’s all bad news. The team for the mission is Hawkeye, Black Widow, Venom, Valkyrie and Ant Man. The Circus of Crime are torturing Steele for fun but he breaks free, takes them down and then rendezvous with Hawkeye’s team. Steele dies and makes Hawkeye promise to stop Fury from getting a third crown. Venom gets Clown to talk and he reveals the super villains have an underground city. Flash then morphs to look like the classic Brock-Venom in hopes he can impersonate him and infiltrate the city but almost as soon as he arrives he ends up in a bar fight with Taskmaster.

 Chapter 5 – Taskmaster kicks the crap out of Venom until Ant Man interferes by crawling into his ear (with the onlookers assuming it is the symbiote doing something so the Avengers’ presence is still secret). Taskmaster retreats and throws a $1 million bounty out as he goes leading to the Wrecking Crew and a bunch of other villains in the bar attacking Venom. Meanwhile Hawkeye and Valkyrie pursue Taskmaster in a motorcycle chase. Vengeance shows up and takes Valkyrie down hard then doubles back to intercept Clint. Hawkeye manages to beat him but Taskmaster makes good his escape. He turns the Wolf Crown over to Max Fury who shoots him for his trouble. Fury then combines the three crowns and dons them just as Hawkeye and Valkyrie arrive. Fury gets a big disappointment as he learns that because he’s not a real boy the crowns don’t work for him. In the fight that follows Fury loses the crown and the bleeding Taskmaster puts it on becoming the Abyss in the process. Abyss then possesses all the super villains in the city.

Chapter 6 – We learn Hawkeye and Valkyrie are also possessed. Only Venom and Ant Man are free. Venom because of the symbiote while Ant Man claims it is due to his helmet that lets him talk to ants but it is implied because he is already on the bad guy’s side willingly. Meanwhile back at HQ Black Widow is aware of how bad things are going. She tries to call in Pym and Captain Britain for help but they’re busy in Malaysia while the main Avengers team is missing. Meanwhile Max Fury throws himself on the mercy of Abyss promising to use the Shadow Council to serve them but the Abyss does not care. Meanwhile the possessed are climbing into airplanes that when they land will spread the possession infection across the globe. Venom and Ant Man start destroying planes on the runway until Hawkeye kills all of Ant Man’s bugs and Vengeance beats up Venom. Ant Man is forced to shrink Venom and retreat. Widow teleports onto Hawkeye’s plane and they have a fight pretty reminiscent of the movie (right down to Hawkeye black pupil-less eyes) although this time Hawkeye battles her to a stalemate and the plane continues on its way. Meanwhile Venom and Ant Man sneak up on Taskmaster only to be intercepted by Valkyrie.

Chapter 7 – Black Widow gets possessed by the Abyss. While Valkyrie and Venom fight Ant Man grabs the triple crown but is hit with a psionic blast before he can get it off Taskmaster’s head. And then the super villain army join the fight and the heroes are overrun. Fury shoots Scarecrow and pulls a bleeding Ant Man out of the fray, but more villains intercept them (and apparently Ant Man is also an LMD). The military forces Hawkeye’s plane to land. Meanwhile the Wrecking Crew and U-Foes take down Venom and bring him to Taskmaster to kill. Then in a hail-Mary play Flash sends the symbiote to Taskmaster. Once the symbiote covers Taskmaster it rejects the crowns breaking the spell. Of course even without being possessed the super villain army still wants to kill Venom, Ant Man and Fury but Widow teleports them all out of there. In the epilogue Pym shrinks the crowns into the Microverse to hide them. Pym also notes there is no way an Ant Man helmet can block possession, at which point Widow outs him as an LMD claiming the real Ant Man died in a prior trade and then a robot took his place. Venom refuses to believe it since Ant Man fought by his side to the very end so Widow quits the team. Hawkeye is too tired to deal with it and says it can wait until morning. Val and Flash end up in bed together. In the cliffhanger Ant Man changes costumes to Black Ant to begin his own evil plan.

Critical Thoughts: Overall I found this to be an decent read but it is by no means a great comic. There was stuff I liked mixed with some uneven plotting. I’ll look at each story in turn.

The space story is typical crossover fare. It doesn’t really have much depth and the fight scenes don’t seem to have any impact. I will say the final space battle is well drawn with Binary vs. Pheonix and Marvel’s sacrifice.

The best part of the space story is the return of Captain Marvel and how it affects Carol. I think the idea of using the Nega Bands to harness the Pheonix Force to resurrect someone is fairly inspired yet totally fits with what we know of those two cosmic forces. This also gives Mar-vell more of a heroic death than dying of cancer yet his return was so brief it doesn’t undercut the original death story either. On the flip-side those villains as alleged relatives of Mar-vell are particularly shallow characters and their connection to Mar-vell feels forced.

I also think the Beast-Captain Britain scene is unnecessarily harsh. I freely admit to not reading many X-men spin-off books, and what little I saw of Excalibur in the 80s/90s was universally terrible. But nevertheless Britain led that team for like 75 issues and no doubt saved the day/England/the Earth/the Universe a bunch of times during that run. So for Beast to rip into him and tell him it is because he is an impulsive idiot that he never gets called on to help in the big crisis is overkill and it’s explaining something that doesn’t need to be explained. He doesn’t get called on in most of the big crises (i.e. crossovers) because he’s Captain Britain and all the crises take place in Manhattan.

Onto the Abyss story. My first thought on meeting John Steele is ‘dear God, enough with the long lost super soldiers.’ Fortunately they kill him off but seriously this needs to stop being a thing because this trope is going to hit Clone Saga territory soon. Here’s a partial list of villainous Caps out there: Red Skull’s mind is in a clone of Steve’s body, Brubaker had the 1950s Cap emerge as a right wing fanatic affiliated with the Watchdogs, US Agent famously replaced Cap and then had a nervous breakdown in the role, Dan Jurgens created a failed Super Soldier called Protocide that was thawed out by AIM, the Nazi’s had their own Super Soldier during World War II called Master Man that is still active as a Cap villain today and the Russians have Red Guardian who even uses a shield. And that’s off the top of my head. Furthermore that’s just direct evil super solider rip offs of Cap and doesn’t count the various other replacement heroic Caps and sidekicks (like Free Spirit, Patriot, Nomad) with the super soldier serum nor does it count other villains who duplicate Cap without the Serum like Super Adaptoid, Task Master, some Hydra assassin named Death Shield, one of the Hate Mongers, the Tumbler. It just goes on and on. Every A-list hero needs a dark reflection of himself in their rogues’ gallery (see Venom, the Abomination, Sabretooth, etc) but they don’t need a dozen of them. Just stop. End of side rant.

Speaking of too much of a good thing. A 100 villains, really? Because that’s just ridiculous overkill for any hero including Thor and Hulk to fight let alone for Flash Thompson and not-even-a-scientist Ant Man to face. If you want to use 100 villains then the heroes need to be dead at the end of the story because if 100 villains can’t beat four heroes (most of whom are C-list at best) then we just need to not have super villains anymore because there’s no threat level. Let me also quibble that I think Diablo is an arch villain in his own right, unlikely to think of himself as a common criminal and just should not be present as just another background member of this mob scene.

Back to 90’s characters I don’t know much about. What’s up with Vengeance? Now I’ve only seen him in all of one comic I grabbed in a 25-cent bin but he seemed to be a cop who was trying to use his powers as an anti-hero. From what I could gather back in the 90s I assumed he was the Ghost Rider version of Venom: conflicted villain with the hero’s powers whose popularity made him an anti-hero. In this book he is full on villain but also he is like this hardcore threat when the other villains are not. Vengeance wins three fights in this and makes the heroes worry whenever he shows up. Like Venom sees Vengeance, and notes this a Ghost Rider variant so I’m way out of my league. No, Ghost Rider is exactly in your league. Brock’s Venom fought him a bunch of times and was even immune to the Penance Stare. Yet Flash here wilts under Vengeance’s stare. This makes no sense for two reasons: 1) if a stare that causes guilt was going to affect someone it would be serious Catholic Eddie Brock and not over confident jock/war hero Flash Thompson, and 2) how can the symbiote protect Flash from the Serpent Crown--which in some old school Avengers stories has been shown to be strong enough to mind control the population of the entire planet--but the symbiote can’t protect him from a glorified Care Bear Stare? Also the motorcycle chase seemed so contrived just to get Vengeance involved. Like when have we ever seen Hawkeye or Taskmaster ride a motorcycle before? I’m not say they can’t (after all Hawkeye rides a sky cycle and Taskmaster’s power means he can duplicate any physical skill) but why are they doing it other than to have a chase scene with Vengeance?

I did like the plot twist where the Serpent crown does not work for Max Fury because he’s not really alive. And Fury’s despair at learning all his planning was for nothing was a good scene. I also wonder if this is the same Abyss who appeared in DNA’s Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy—I mean the powers seem to be the same but the character was literally exiled from the universe in that arc. Also why is this character connected to the Serpent Crown which has always been shown to have been created by the serpent demon Set in order to bring him back to Earth?

I will say the stakes in the airplane scenes are the best in the book. The desperation of Venom and Ant Man to stop the planes from taking off is a good scene. And the Hawkeye-Black Widow fight is a high point.

Hawkeye is also presented as an exceptionally capable hero throughout this story and I am always on-board with that. It’s nice to see Hawkeye in a leadership role again since I love the early issues of West Coast Avengers.

In a general series sense I will say I don’t like the JLA rip off HQ. I mean they are in a satellite with teleport technology. Besides being a rip off it’s too much. Why even have Quinjets anymore if you have a teleporting tower? Why aren’t we teleporting the heroes out of Maylasia if we need their help? Why aren’t any of the 200 reserve Avengers being called in to help? It just makes it hard to suspend disbelief that the heroes would ever be on their own in a serious situation if they have access to casual global teleportation.

Finally WTF is with the team not believing the Black Widow? Has she ever been wrong about anything spy related? In the modern era she seems to be second only to Fury in spying so if she says schmuck Ant Man is an LMD you think at least Hawkeye would believe her on the spot—especially since Pym is right there calling b*llsh*t on the ant helmet protected him story. Also as cliffhangers go evil Ant Man does not inspire me to give a crap about your next trade. We just saw these guys fight 100 villains and a mystical artifact with global possession power; am I really supposed to think the lamest superhero of all time gone bad is a threat compared to that?

Grade C+. I know I just ripped this thing apart logically for most of my critical thoughts, but as you are reading it there is decent dramatic tension. Plus I like Hawkeye and he’s portrayed very well here. I’m not in any rush to buy another trade from this series but I also wouldn’t rule out buying another one at a discount price if I came across it.