With writer Jonathan Hickman saying in interviews that he plans for “Secret Warriors” to last around 30 issues, the beginning of “The Last Ride of the Howling Commandos” marks the beginning of the second half of the series, upping the ante a little by finally showing us what happens when Nick Fury sends Dum Dum and company into battle against Hydra. Hickman teases that story out somewhat by using a framing device to tell the story with Dum Dum and Sitwell answering questions to the UN Security Council, a technique that automatically raises numerous questions, few of which Hickman answers here.
Beginning with the UN Security Council questioning Dum Dum and Sitwell is a bold way to start things since we’re left wondering how they’ve even been compelled to appear before these five people and what the agendas of each representative is. Hickman has both Dum Dum and Sitwell play coy in an amusing manner, especially when asked about China and Sitwell responds by discussing the socioeconomic conditions of the country instead of the attack on a Hydra base situated there as intended. You get the sense that they’re answering in a flippant manner to tease out what the Security Council wants, giving straight answers at the right times and for specific reasons. It’s a well-written back and forth by Hickman.
The issue also tells the story of a meeting of the surviving members of the Howling Commandos, something that Hickman set up in “Siege: Secret Warriors” #1 when Fury extended an invitation to Steve Rogers to attend the next get together. Since the Commandos are at the center of this arc, setting up the tradition and legacy of the group at the start is a smart move and allows us to see them both as humans and as legends. It’s also a rare chance to see Nick Fury enjoying himself.
Alessandro Vitti rejoins the book to provide the art in this arc, which works well since his line work is messier and darker than Stefano Caselli’s. However, both artists have a similar look to their art, giving the book a visual consistency when the two trade off arcs. Vitti plays with the dark, behind-the-scenes aspect of the questioning of Dum Dum and Sitwell, using heavy shadows to highlight Hickman’s dialogue or provide visual cues to the banter. He also shifts his art somewhat between scenes. The line work in the get together scenes is much tighter than some of the scenes at the end that begin the siege on the Hydra base. The contrast works well.
While most of the regular cast (if there is such a thing) doesn’t appear in this issue, this arc looks like it will focus on Fury and the Howling Commandos more than anything, and that’s established clearly. It’s not entirely clear what’s happened, but Hickman and Vitti set up an intriguing situation, providing a good mix of lightness and dark, often shifting from one to the other to great effect. Despite the lack of knowing where things are headed, the execution is strong on a single issue level, balancing the needs of the larger story and the immediate serialization.