"Secret Warriors" was the sort of book that at first seemed slightly inexplicable. Why this group of characters? What was the hook? Why should I want to read this title? Once it was published, though, the answer became pretty clear: Jonathan Hickman's pitch was clearly just that strong and well thought out. What could have just been another S.H.I.E.L.D. title is instead a surprisingly tense and engrossing black-ops story.
This issue is a perfect example of why "Secret Warriors" works. A lot of the focus this month is on Hydra, an organization that up until now I've had no real interest in. For all the "Hail Hydra!" cries and the seemingly endless numbers of shock troops at their disposable, there's been no hook to make me think they were anything special. Hickman's been working on a complete revamp of the group, though. Characters, organizations, and locations like Gorgon, Kraken, Leviathan, and Gehenna are going a long way towards making Hydra from the slightly silly group it once was to something that feels creepy. Stefano Caselli makes them look visually interesting and dangerous, and their bases and rituals make them feel more like a cult than just another group that wants to take over the world. If Hickman was the sole person to write Hydra from now on, I'd be delighted.
Likewise, the Secret Warriors, themselves, come across well in an issue where they're barely even appearing. Their slight banter during their downtime is fun, but as assignments are handed out their snapping into action mode comes across as natural. Most interesting is watching Daisy Johnson square off against Nick Fury over the attempted dismissal of Sebastian Druid from the team; she makes strong points, and Fury's reaction is interesting as well. Heck, even watching the differences in how characters are sent out into the field independently of one another is fun reading.
Caselli's art in "Secret Warriors" is a great match for Hickman's scripts. I like the solid, muscular look that he gives Baron Strucker, a look that fits well with the script. It's a strong counterpoint to the flashback with his wiry-framed children Andrea and Andreas, or the average build of people like Eden and Phobos. Best of all, Leviathan, Gorgon, and Lady Hydra all have strong visual appeal, with elaborately drawn headdresses, robes, and more. Caselli's art works well with Sunny Gho's colors, too; the dull snowy exterior of the Long Winter base manages to look dark and foreboding despite white snow being everywhere, and even little details like the green of the engines on Hydra's ship makes it look anything but glamorous.
"Secret Warriors" is a fun series that gets surprisingly little attention. Between this and the over the top fun of "Fantastic Four," Hickman's been proving himself to be an excellent addition to Marvel's series. He's definitely someone to check out if you haven't already.