One the best aspects of Warren Ellis’s six-issue stint on "Secret Avengers" were the string of artists he was paired with. It’s nice to see the book continue with gorgeous art under new writer Rick Remender. Gabriel Hardman first impressed on "Atlas" and again on "Hulk." Paired with colorist Bettie Breitweiser, Hardman's art has never looked better. She brings the same pale, washed out look that’s made "Captain America" and "Winter Soldier" so distinctive here, almost making her style of coloring the official espionage-influenced color style at Marvel right now. It makes “Secret Avengers” a comic worth buying even if you don’t read the words.
Last issue, the Secret Avengers fought against a group of Adaptoids intent on kidnapping a woman and her child after she was revealed to have the ability to swallow fire and redirect it in greater force. The fight did not go well for the group with the Adaptoids escaping and Ant-Man hitching a ride. In "Secret Avengers" #23, he arrives in the Adaptoids’ underground city and does his best to protect the woman and child from being used as part of some sinister plan by Father, the Adaptoids’ leader. Ant-Man’s personal struggle to accomplish this goal is what drives much of the issue. It’s an engaging way into the story, focusing a character that’s been part of the team since the first issue but rarely seen.
Back at the Lighthouse, the team seemingly waits around for some indication that Ant-Man is alive or some lead to following the Adaptoids. Remender’s take on Hawkeye is a somewhat off-putting one, glossing over the other teams he’s led over the years and his growth as a character in favor of a depiction that seems decades out of date. It provides inner conflict and tension for the group but feels forced. Considering the characters involved, the possibility for conflict is bursting; last issue provided a better use of Hawkeye as a leader in conflict when Captain Britain arrived, assuming he was in charge. The possible introduction of Venom to the team offers some possibilities here as well.
What really impresses is the art. Hardman’s high-contrast style doesn’t use a lot of shading and lends itself to Breitweiser’s colors. There’s a sense of bright lights even when it’s dark. The way Hardman approaches his pages is relatively simple, yet effective: he uses grid layouts until he tilts things, throwing the action askew to a degree. On the final page, this really works, making that startling last image stand out even more. Both the writing and art come together at the end quite well, making the next issue a hard one to miss.