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Secret War

Secret War back

Brian Michael Bendis & Gabrielle Dell'Otto


Page 45 Review by Stephen

"I've been through 12 presidents in my time, and all I can say I've learned from it... is that the American people will elect just about anybody. And yeah, my job gets pretty complicated... but I made a promise to myself years ago that if I had to choose between a publicly elected millionaire's back-handed oil and technology dealings... and the safety of innocent people... there's no choice at all."

"This is going to come back at us, man."

A skilfully argued political debate on terrorism, what you would or would not be prepared to do in order to avert it... and not only whether the ends justify the means, but whether the means actually end it at all, or instead cause a critical escalation. Packaged as a fully painted, superhero knock-out brawl, of course!

As the sun sets over Harlem and the tenements glow in the early evening haze, Luke Cage and his pregnant girlfriend, Jessica Jones, walk home with a paper bag full of groceries. They're both looking forward to a quiet and relaxed dinner, but someone is waiting for them and their flat is blown apart. No one knows why, but when Colonel Nick Fury - head of international espionage agency SHIELD - walks into the hospital to visit the couple he barely knows, heads are turned. And when Captain America barges in and floors the Colonel, it looks like those suspicions were right.

One year earlier, and some figures aren't adding up. The Scorpion, the Constrictor, the Grim Reaper, the Hobgoblin... There are dozens of criminals in America employing some very, very expensive high-tech armour and weaponry, and yet the yield from their low-level activities - the actual amount of money they seize in their bank raids (if they're raiding banks at all) - doesn't match the funds they'd need to be able to afford such equipment. Who is supplying the equipment, who is funding its supply, and why would they do that, given that they're not even taking a cut of any illegal earnings? The breakthrough occurs when the Black Widow I.D.s the Tinkerer, the scientific genius they suspect is building the technology… in Latveria. But Latveria is no longer a dictatorship ruled by Dr. Victor Von Doom, it's a democracy with an elected leader, Lucia Von Bardas. It's to her castle that the Tinkerer is driven, and it's to the U.S. President that Fury takes the news:

"Well, Colonel, that is a -- that is quite a hard pill to swallow."
"I know, sir, that's why I made this special trip... to brief you in person."
"Fury, Lucia has bent over backwards to mend the ties between America and Latveria since the days of --"
"We got her elected."
"The U.S. government, just this year alone, has lent her country tens of millions in aid and..."
"72 million dollars in aid."
"Yes. Yes, sir. And it hurts to imagine what she has done with that money, knowing what we now know."
"Thank you, Colonel."
"I have a recommended response scenario for the --"
"That won't be necessary."
"I'm sorry?"
"That won't be necessary."
"Sir... If I may... We can only assume that the situation is going to escalate. The next phase will be an organised --"
"Fury, I appreciate your enthusiasm but we have this under control."
"Due respect, sir, I can't see how that could be."
"The Secretary of Defence has a pleasant relationship with Lucia. We'll handle things... diplomatically."
"Sir, personal relationships not withstanding, we have evidence here that clearly identifies a threat to --"
"Colonel... thank you for your report."

Having witnessed what happened the last time the President sat on information of an imminent terrorist attack (a direct reference, this, to Bush's failure to act on the 9/11 intelligence - see 9/11 REPORT), Fury refuses to allow history to repeat itself just because the threat comes from a democracy, America's supposed cure-all for world peace. So he takes matters into his own hands...

The story unravels in this parallel fashion, both in the events leading up to the present day, and the ensuing escalation as other specific heroes are targeted: Daredevil, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America. Their connection becomes clearer as we discover Fury's response to the previous, perceived threat (and that response is harsher than you can imagine) which involved a certain little covert expedition. And then it just gets worse.

It's a lavish presentation with incredibly detailed painting, a real sense of atmosphere and indeed confusion where there should be confusion - when everything goes monumentally pear-shaped - a solid backbone of contemporary issues, some pretty permanent relationship breakdowns, and a lot of heated debate. I think it's also fair to say that these events go on to inform the imminent CIVIL WAR, because by the time this is finished there are a lot of people questioning their relationship with authority and various figures embodying it.

However, it's not without its mild flaws. The first is that three of the key women look too similar in certain scenes, so it's not immediately obvious which is which, and that slows down the story while you go back and reread the bits you'd misread under the impression that they featured someone else. The second is the very occasional and highly unusual lapse in Bendis' dialogue back to the old-skool hokey ("Someone's gotta stop this, and I guess it's gonna be... sweet Aunt Petunia's favourite li'l nephew!"). The worst, however, is in the packaging: the inclusion - right in the middle of the narrative - of the sort of redundant "profile" pieces you find in the Marvel Handbooks. You don't know if they're necessary, so you read them anyway between chapters and then you wish you hadn't because you've just lost track of what's happening and have to rebuild the mood (the interrogation transcripts are great, though, you need to read those!). These could easily have been shoved in the back along with all the extra material that makes up the tedium of "From The Files of Nick Fury". Some of the extras, on the other hand - the design work that went into each original cover, some additional paintings and original Bendis layouts - are well worth a look, and I want to emphasise that the flaws are mild, and haven't stopped me buying a copy of my own. And I don't buy that many superhero books these days.
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