One year ago (as far as you can count the years in the Marvel Universe), Nick Fury co-opted a bunch of superheroes to bring down the Latverian government. This is not Doctor Doom we're talking about, the FF trapped him in another dimension a while back. No, this is the new elected government under Lucia von Bardas. Why did Fury do this? Well, seems von Bardas was bankrolling the Tinkerer to provide high tech equipment to all manner of loser super-villains. To Fury this had the whiff of terrorism, and he had to take a stand. So how did he go about it? How did he decide which superheroes to call upon? Ah, that's what this little book is all about...
To begin with this is not a comic book. It's text and pictures in the style of the recent Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe series, and even shares the format and price point. However, unlike the handbooks this does tell a story of sorts. We are given access to Nick Fury's secret files and personal notes as he muses over what has happened to bring him to this impasse, and which members of the Marvel superhero community should help bail him out.
It's a very hard book to precis, so on the whole I'm not going to bother. Like the interviews and added content at the end of each issue of Secret War this title helps to fill in the blanks of what is quite a complicated story. We begin with a recap of how Fury discovered the link between the Tinkerer and Latveria and then we move on to the candidates that Fury considers.
As Fury writes his personal notes about each hero, we are treated to a healthy insight into Fury's character. We discover what he thinks about numerous different characters and what they think of each other. We also become aware of how big and far-reaching an organisation S.H.I.E.L.D. has become, and that there is very little transpiring in the world that can be hidden from them.
Following the heroes we have profiles on a few background agents that have cropped up in the pages of the parent book, as well as a transcript of the interview with the Grizzly that blew the entire thing wide open. Throw in further pieces of information, and a chat with the Tinkerer himself, and you leave the issue significantly richer in your understanding of Nick Fury and his Secret War than you were when you started.
Well, I have to say that I liked this book. I own all the recent Marvel Universe handbooks, but this is the only one I have read from cover to cover. The prose is extremely well written. Mike Raicht is probably best known to Spider-readers as the scribe on the late Marvel Age Spider-Man, although he has written a couple of superior stories for the most recent incarnation of X-Men Unlimited. In any event he completely nails Fury's character in this book, achieving just the right balance of fractured integrity and world-weary cynicism.
I cannot fault Dell'Otto's art. The pages are beautiful to look at. And we get a chance to see the main cast in their alternative costumes that were supposed to feature in the main book. However, the art tells us something about this title.
None of the art in the title has been commissioned for this title. All of it is taken from the regular Secret War series, or is finished art that did not make the final cut. This is because Marvel never intended to release this book. The quarterly Secret War is running so late that Marvel felt obliged to put out this title to remind us that Secret War continues to exist and they will get around to finishing it eventually.
However, the recap and the extra information is still very handy. Which is good for this book, but bad for Secret War itself. You shouldn't have to read the appendix to understand the main story unless you're reading Lord of the Rings. And even Tolkien didn't introduce a character without explaining who they were. But I could be doing Bendis a disservice - he may get around to Daisy Johnson in the as yet unreleased fifth book of the series.
The need for this book raises some questions about Secret War itself, but that shouldn't detract from the rating. This is a very well written, well illustrated and compelling little book. An essential companion to the main event. Four a half webs.