Page 45 Review by Stephen
It's all about trust and former friendships torn apart.
A single page of silence followed by a double page of silence, then:
"Oh my God... What -- what does this mean?"
Post-CIVIL WAR, each member of this now very different, covert cell of hounded individuals who still consider themselves Avengers stands stock still in mute disbelief, trying to process the ramifications of their discovery, and way back then, I was right there with them.
It was enormous, paving the way for what follows this huge repacking of NEW AVENGERS vols 6, 7 and the ILLUMINATI mini-series.
This was phase three of Bendis' reinvention and reinvigoration of the Avengers team and, with Yu on board for the dirtier pencils, it felt very different indeed.
First Bendis tore it apart from the inside in NEW AVENGERS COMPLETE VOL 1, then he built it up again in reaction to a conspiracy involving high-level corruption at S.H.I.E.L.D..
So far they've been too distracted to follow that through, and with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the legally sanctioned Mighty Avengers now led by Tony Stark himself, what's left of the dissident group is joined by others who've fallen foul of the Superhero Registration Act and refused to sign up to a more military approach under direct orders from the very organisation that's compromised. All that and the SECRET WAR (singular) now converge very satisfyingly as Luke Cage leads Spider-Man, Wolverine, Spider-Woman, Iron Fist, Dr. Strange and a second, unidentified Ronin to rescue the original Ronin, who's been left stranded on her undercover mission in Japan by the fall-out of the original CIVIL WAR:
"Who are my friends now? Who do I go to when I'm ready? Captain America recruited me, but Iron Man offered to stake me. Who do I go to? What side am I on?"
Very clever, that, for now Echo truly is a Ronin - a masterless samurai - and she's about to fall victim to The Hand. But it's also a question everyone is going to be asking, of themselves and each other for some time to come.
As I say, it's now a very different dynamic. For a start, their new base of operations couldn't really be anywhere else but Doctor Strange's sanctum sanctorum, now necessarily disguised by a cloaking spell as derelict, abandoned, and about to be turned into yet another bloody Starbucks. Otherwise Stark's almost limitless technology would be able to trace them. And try he does, after luring our lot into a trap with rumours that Captain America is alive.
Already they are constantly having to watch their backs, and protect Jessica Jones and her baby. But now, following the discovery of a certain substitution which I quoted above, internal issues of loyalty are necessarily examined with no small degree of paranoia, especially when it comes to new Ronin - though you will very much love who that is!
It's also structured very differently, shifting backwards and forwards with astoundingly disciplined timing, as our renegades find themselves threatened on all sides with no time to analyse or to think their way forward.
So we come to the ILLUMINATI mini-series pencilled with panache and much glossy sheen by Jimmy Cheung, and it is not unrelated.
Years ago, we now learn, Iron Man led his covert cohorts - Reed Richards, Charles Xavier, Black Bolt, Namor and Doctor Strange - on a provocative counter-strike against the shape-shifting Skrulls following the KREE / SKRULL WAR which saw the two alien races bring their violent animosity to Earth.
The Illuminati's message: don't fuck with Earth again. Their messenger: the traditionally tight-lipped Black Bolt.
It's also a huge act of hubris for which they each pay the price right there and then, and for which Earth may be billed as well once their lost property has been rummaged through thoroughly.
They've left more than their footprints behind.
Please don't click on this link if you want to keep the spoiler-free nature of this review intact.
To be continued in SECRET INVASION