Since the first story arc of “Secret Warriors,” it’s been increasingly difficult to focus on the individual issue as a work that exists by itself apart from the larger story, since Jonathan Hickman seems intent on structuring the series in a manner where issues present a series of scenes that build upon one another, pushing toward some unknown destination that will be reached at some point in the future. Lacking a central character or even a true central cast, “Secret Warriors” spans four organizations and numerous sub-groups within each; characters who were vital last issue may not appear for months, and previously unseen characters take center stage. It’s a more novelistic approach that is entrancing and intriguing for those that keep up, but does make each new issue less satisfying than it will ultimately prove.
Beginning with a resolution to the conflict between the Gorgon and Leviathan’s forces that began last issue, this issue carries on with a conceptual focus on the previously unheard of Leviathan organization, including something of an explanation of their origins. The opening confrontation with the Gorgon as Leviathan raids a Hydra base showcases how effective and dangerous Leviathan is. The Gorgon has been set up as a premier fighter, able to take on the entire Caterpillar team that Daisy Johnson leads without breaking a sweat, so seeing him struggle here puts over this ‘new’ force quite a bit.
The origins of Leviathan most likely extend further back than post-World War II as Nick Fury suggests here since it seems all of the organization spotlighted in “Secret Warriors” have their roots in groups from centuries ago, but the idea that Leviathan comes out of the Soviet Union’s covert ops/spying arm fills a gap in the battle between these forces. With S.H.I.E.L.D. coming out of the United States and Hydra springing from the ashes of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, the omission of a Soviet-based group is glaring in retrospect.
This issue also delivers the origins of the Leviathan, the mysterious squid-faced member of the Hydra ruling council in a somewhat comedic sequence that’s an unexpected beginning for the character. Hickman also picks the thread of Stonewall and Yo-Yo’s relationship as we finally learn the identity of his father and it makes a lot of sense. Somehow, Hickman manages to find a place for both of these sequences in a packed issue.
Colorist Sunny Gho remaining on board after his work over Alessandro Vitti’s art is a breath of fresh air to Stefano Caselli’s art. In the opening arc, Caselli was colored by Daniele Rudoni, a talented colorist, but one whose work was too bright and shiny for the book. It stood out a little then, but even more so now when compared to Gho’s darker colors that complement the messy, sketchy elements of Caselli’s art not highlighted before. His work looks less polished and it’s better for it. Since the story of “Secret Warriors” exist in the messy, dark places of the Marvel universe, it’s only fitting that the art does as well.
Despite the many positives of this issue, it’s hard to view it as a singular cohesive whole when it’s so informed by what came before and the scenes included lack the drama and entertainment value they possess for someone who’s read every issue. The focus of this series shifts so easily that which characters are shown seems random until the eventual payoff, which may not be for some time. It’s a great series to read, but not necessarily one issue at a time.