"Secret Warriors" is certainly a good addition to the Marvel line, and I'm all in favor of seeing more work from Jonathan Hickman, but the Devil's Due house style look of this series doesn't play to Hickman's strengths at all. It's not that Stefano Caselli is a bad artist, because he's a superior storyteller who can make the bad guys look sinister and the good guys look heroic while still adding distinct personalities to all the characters, it's just that Daniele Rudoni's overbearing coloring makes the comic look like a video game spin-off series.
Rudoni makes a noble attempt to differentiate the parallel plot lines by giving each sequence a different color palette, but the monochromatic nature of most of the sequences softens the art to ridiculous extremes. It even leads to sequences in which former Howling Commando Gabe Jones has the same skin tone as Nick Fury, and while that's an improvement over the ashen gray coloring of the character during his original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby appearances, it's not much of an improvement. Colors can be used to help distinguish characters and to evoke an appropriate mood. Rudoni's golden-glow airbrush style tends to make everything look blandly bronze. Except for the newly-introduced Aboriginal characters, who appear to have been dipped in pea soup.
So the art -- the coloring, really -- is a problem.
But the story's a good one, and it does feel like a true Bendis/Hickman collaboration even if both Bendis and Hickman have stated in interviews that this is all-Hickman, all the time. But it's Hickman channeling Bendis, then, with a heavy dose of dialogue that does nothing to propel the plot and with the old Bendis "superhero boardroom" trope used within the Hydra HQ. The Bendis-like dialogue, as Nick Fury meets up with his old pals from the Howling Commando/S.H.I.E.L.D. days, focuses on the men recalling their past exploits -- mostly of the female variety. And over at the hidden Hydra base, the assembled Hydra super-executives discuss the revision of their mission statement. To grossly oversimplify: Old Mission Statement: "Be Evil, Mostly Behind the Scenes;" New Mission Statement: "Be Evil, and Go After Nick Fury. Hard."
The small-talk scenes and superhero boardroom moments work well here, because this is a calm-before-the-storm issue. The first three issues re-established the Secret Warriors (after they were introduced in "Secret Invasion" last year), and set the Hydra wheels in motion. This issue is the one where Nick Fury plays both Hannibal Smith and B.A. Baracus as he gets his plan together and raids the armory. Next issue: shooting and explosion (one presumes).
Hickman has plenty of other stuff going on here as well, all of which spinning out of the main plot, and all of which will inevitably weave back together shortly. The most interesting subplot is the search for Eden Fesi, Aboriginal superhuman with the power to shape reality. Fesi is under the tutelage of Gateway, who you may remember as the guy from the outback who acted as the X-Men's personal teleportation manager for a time. Fury wants to enlist Fesi in the Secret Warriors, and Fesi seems to want nothing more than to be a rock and roll god in leather pants. But he'll take the Secret Warriors, it seems.
The Fesi scene also presents a new mystery as Gateway alludes to another Fury team that the Secret Warriors don't know about. Is Fury assembling a Double Secret Warriors team as well? What exactly does Hickman have up his sleeve?
I'm sure we'll find out, but for now, we know one thing: Nick Fury is the same old tough bastard he's always been. "It's the world that's changed -- I Haven't," he says. "Not one bit."
Hickman's doing a lot of nice things on this series, and it's an excellent look at the secret side of the Marvel Universe. The look of the comic will just take some getting used to.