The first couple of issues of "Secret Avengers" were action-filled affairs with some excellent twists, so it's a surprise to see the series shift gear so dramatically for issue #3, which is still by the same team of Nick Spencer and Luke Ross.
Taken on their own, the issue's elements work fairly well: Nick Fury Jr. and Daisy Johnson swanning around an arms fair like it's a charity ball feels like a scene from the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series waiting to happen. Mockingbird using her holographic camouflage to play practical jokes on Hawkeye is straight out of the best Avengers comics. A fight against A.I.M. ticks the series' espionage box. While all the elements work, the issue feels disjointed. It's not really building to anything so much as progressing onward in the hope that it reaches a relatively satisfying break point.
Perhaps the reason the build-up doesn't pay off is that the final page twist doesn't really feel as threatening as it should. The Iron Patriot armor isn't set up as a particularly devastating weapon, and it was always the pilot (Norman Osborn) that made it scary. The characters talk a lot about its symbolism, but there's nothing visceral to connect with. It's possible that this is the point -- Spencer's trying to demonstrate that what makes the armor dangerous is what people will do to get it -- but that's pure speculation. I suspect readers are supposed to find the idea of the technology being in A.I.M.'s hands to be the particular worry.
Still, as a collection of solidly executed scenes, it's not bad at all. In a world where "Captain America's" superhero espionage era is over, issues like this make "Secret Avengers" look like it'll step into the role without much trouble. Certainly, between the cast and the Iron Patriot armor, it's a book that should engage fans of Marvel's movies without plunging them into too outrageous a world.
It helps the espionage vibe that former "Captain America" artist Luke Ross is on hand to draw, with a strong focus on characters' subtle movements and emotions befitting a book that requires you to pay attention to that sort of thing. Matt Wilson's colours augment the artwork brilliantly, playing with shadow and texture, keeping the palette muted. Between the two, this definitely feels like a darker, more human corner of the Marvel Universe.
"Secret Avengers" #3 is not a perfect issue, but it is good to see that the series has hit the ground running. It's already in its groove and clearly, Spencer has a tone in mind and is sticking to it. The strong character moments and fantastic artwork just about cover for a plot that struggles to hit its beats in time for the final page, and if this is as haphazard as it gets, that's something the team can be proud of.