Nick Spencer and Butch Guice's "Secret Avengers" #9 is a solid book with a small but cool story inside: two women pull out all the stops for what they believe in and come up against one another when those goals don't align.
Spencer's great story sees Daisy Johnson racing to "back up" her memories so that when she gets inevitably mind-wiped by Hill, she'll be able to maybe get them back. It's paced well and it's cool to see these two similar (but ultimately very different) women face off without ever throwing a punch. It's a rather quiet story, but there's nothing wrong with that.
Reading both Spencer's "Secret Avengers" and Brian Michael Bendis' "Uncanny X-Men" #12, it's impossible not to be struck by the different way that they write Maria Hill. Spencer's Hill is a serious, not-to-be-messed-with government agent with a ruthless streak a mile wide, while Bendis' Hill humorously makes cracks about her dreams involving the X-Men blowing up the moon. This disconnection might bother some readers, and admittedly, it's certainly hard to view these two depictions as definitively the same woman, but it's a good difference. Certainly each version of the character fits tonally into each book, and characters -- like people -- have many layers. Read without the larger Marvel Universe context/continuity -- something I'm learning to let go of as a fan (so that books like Matt Fraction's "Hawkeye" can continue to exist) -- it works.
Guice does a great job with what he's given, even though it's a story low on action and high on talking heads. Guice's style fits this darker story with more of a spy/government bent, instead of broad superheroes nicely. His body language and the way he moves his "camera" is subtle and smart, his character acting is strong and the few times he gets a shot at some action, he nails it. Guice also excels despite the fact that Director Maria Hill and Former Director Daisy Johnson look quite a bit alike with similar body types, coloring and short dark hair. He does a great job of emphasizing their different hairstyles, as it's one of the only physical differences between the two women. Matthew Wilson on colors does a good job on this front as well (except in a final page) to clearly detail the difference between each woman's eye color. Wilson's colors overall are a fantastic muted palette that feel perfect for the serious tone of the story and covert vibe. Daisy being 19 came as somewhat of a shock -- both because it's shocking to realize the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is 19 and because she doesn't look her age the way she's drawn. But it's a small blip in an otherwise lovingly illustrated issue.
There are so many Avengers-branded books that I haven't been reading "Secret Avengers" regularly, but after this issue I'm going to have to come back next month. If they're this good even for quieter issues like this one, maybe I've been missing out.