The complexity of Nick Spencer and Ales Kot's "How to MA.I.M. a Mockingbird" continues in "Secret Avengers" #13, carrying on with the secret ops/espionage vibe of the series. Familiar acronymic entities like A.I.M., M.O.D.O.K., and of course S.H.I.E.L.D. all interweave in both expected and unexpected ways, and familiar artists Butch Guice, Joe Rubinstein and Tom Palmer add some touches, both familiar and unfamiliar.
Both the familiar and unfamiliar touches are welcome. One plot thread of this series has been the formation of A.I.M. Island, an actual and seemingly legitimate nation state that has other well-known characters such Taskmaster and Mentallo acting as dignitaries. With this interesting development, though, it's good to still see the grunts of A.I.M. dressed in their traditional beekeeper uniforms. M.O.D.O.K. is still a giant ugly and creepy head, without the bad haircut but with the addition of spider-like appendages that now provide his mobility. Guice keeps everything that's been tweaked recognizable, and Rubinstein and Palmer don't overpower the pencils too much, making it still instantly identifiable as being laid out by Guice.
It's largely unrecognizable as a traditional Avengers comic, but despite its title, its intent all along has been to essentially serve as a S.H.I.E.L.D. title that features the Avengers. The covert nature of the book gives it a feel more like that of an espionage thriller than an outright superhero story, which is definitely appealing with the glut of Avengers comics already on the shelves. For those unhappy with the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." television series, this issue delivers the kind of story that many viewers wish they got with the show; S.H.I.E.L.D. is clearly at the forefront, and the Avengers appear but mostly in the background or in supporting roles. While this comic is on the fringes of the Avengers universe, it remains firmly entrenched in the Marvel U.
Some surprising revelations in this issue add to the intrigue. Spencer and Kos keep readers guessing as to who's really on which side, and even question who the good guys might actually be. After all, one has to at least question the ethics of an organization that routinely wipes the memories of its operatives, a notion that led to the scenario for the current story arc, where an amnesiac Mockingbird was abandoned behind enemy lines. The ramifications of this start to unfold in brutal fashion in this issue.
"Secret Avengers" #13 isn't the easiest comic to grasp without having seen past issues, although the first page recap largely brings readers up to date. Nonetheless, it is most definitely a more down-to-earth Avengers comic for those who might be getting tired of all of the space-faring, epic-scope event stories that have dominated other Avengers comics.