Secret Avengers, for the most part, has been all build-up and no payoff. We get these hints at what A.I.M. is doing, we get unclear definitions of the roles of the Secret Avengers themselves, and it was still uncertain as to what Forson’s team was there for, and what Taskmaster’s big role is. For the most part, some of these things are still unclear, but Kot (debuting here as a co-writer before the book relaunches under him solo) and Spencer clear things up while raising a few more questions. All of this, and it’s way more clear and concise than the previous eleven issues (although considering two of those were filler/Infinity tie-ins, it’s a little understandable as to why things would be unclear).
What amazes me is that a good chunk of the story avoids the wall of expository dialogue previous issues had and just lets the story speak for itself. As nice as a recap of previous events would have been (that’s not a one page blurb), this just moves things along quietly as if nothing confusing ever happened. It feels very much like a spy story should. Action, silence, and not walls of text. I know some writers love to do copious amounts of dialogue, but it only truthfully works half the time. The other half is just a pain to slog through.
What Kot brings to Secret Avengers is three things: his knack for spy fiction, long term plotting, and sense of humor. As much as I hate to stick writers into a niche, I really think Kot has found his (at least in mainstream comics) telling complex, long term spy stories that will eventually build into something mind-blowing. His sense of humor from Suicide Squad is also present, especially in the A.I.M. agents, Taskmaster, and the absolutely nutty (but makes completely perfect sense) reveal on the last page that was completely deadpan and shocking enough that it made me giggle pretty loudly.
The title of this arc, “How to M.A.I.M. a Mockingbird”, is fitting, because so far in the series Mockingbird has been put through the ringer in her infiltration of A.I.M. island. I suspect this may lead to the death of the character or at least a minor reinvention. Either works.
Guice’s art is adequate/serviceable if a little standard. Movement is conveyed with clarity and precision, and facial expressions are handled well enough but its standard Marvel-house style at best, and a book like Secret Avengers #12 should be treated with something a little more unique. It’s not to bash Guice (well not that much) but his work feels a little too standard, too easy to look at. I’d like something that challenges my visual perception of how comics can be made. Not everyone can be a Frank Quitely or a J.H. Williams III, but they can always push to be something like that.
Secret Avengers #12 is the best the series has been after a slogging, patient 11-issue run. Spencer and Kot build up A.I.M. as a credible threat in a world filled with Hydra’s and Hand’s that, while not as aggressive as the two listed, are smarter and far more twisted in their methods and motives than the other two. I look forward to the rest and then the relaunch.