One year ago Nick Fury discovered that the Latverian government was using the Tinkerer to equip B-List villains with high-tech tomfoolery that would otherwise be beyond their means. The US Government wasn't interested in stopping this, so Fury went it alone. He recruited Captain America, Wolverine, Daredevil, the Black Widow, Luke Cage and Spidey for a covert mission to bring down the Latverian government. Back in the present most of the heroes who took part in the mission don't remember it and now, on the first anniversary, a whole host of these high-tech villains are out to kill them. Cage has already been hospitalised and if the mass of enemies outside have anything to say about it, our heroes will not be long in joining him.
Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Wolverine is enjoying a quiet moment to himself when he is attacked by two flying assassins in high-tech armour. He doesn't have the first clue why they are attacking him. The same thought occurs to Daredevil, as he Spider-Man, Captain America and Nick Fury continue to battle a whole host of nasties outside the burning hospital. Things are going badly.
The Trapster, Lady Octopus, Goldbug, the Scorcher, Boomerang, the Eel, the Wizard, a Spider Slayer, Hobgoblin, Crossfire, the Grim Reaper, Mentallo, King Cobra, Scorpion, Crimson Dynamo, Shocker, Mister Fear, the Constrictor... Alone none of them would be too much of a threat. Together they are overwhelming.
As Spidey tussles with a Hobgoblin (no, not the Hobgoblin) Fury and Cap try to summon reinforcements and calls go out to SHIELD, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four. Meanwhile Daredevil is still trying to make sense of all this. Why are they being attacked in the first place? Their assailants don't seen very forthcoming with an explanation - other than that they want the heroes dead, of course.
The fight moves to the near-by water front. Daredevil seizes the initiative, grabs the Scorcher and tackles him into the water. His flame doused, Daredevil interrogates his foe under a handy pier. The Scorcher says that he never would have got involved in "any of this" if he knew how bad things would get. He says that he has signed his life away just to get his suit.
Meanwhile, back at the battle, Spider-Man is thrown into an abandoned warehouse by Lady Octopus (who really is Carolyn Trainer by-the-by). As he is struggling to his feet the Fantastic Four arrive and quickly leap to the aid of Fury and the others. However, after a few moments Daredevil returns with dire news. He tells them that they have to take their fight out of a populated area immediately.
Suddenly all the high-tech gizmos (including the armour) of the bad guys shut down, immobilising them. Any thoughts of victory are soon cast aside by the arrival of a woman who says she is supposed to be dead, a woman wearing her own advanced armour. Without hesitating Fury orders everyone to take her out, but she has a force-field and Cap's shield, DD's billy-club and Spidey's webbing are harmlessly deflected.
Beams of electrical energy shoot out from the woman to all of her helpless costumed lackeys. They have been expecting this, and they fear it. Reed realises what is happening: all the high-tech armour together makes an enormous bomb! He instructs Sue to sever the connection between the suits with her powers, but she cannot.
As the heroes frantically try and save the situation the woman reveals her purpose. She wants revenge on them all. She wants them to pay for what they did to her, and what they did to her country during their secret war. She wants Nick Fury to realise that millions of people will die when this bomb goes off, and that it is all his fault.
Sue raises her force-field to try and contain the energy but it is too much for her. Captain America commands them all to pick a foe and try to break a link in the chain of destruction. Then the bomb goes off and everyone is caught in the blast. To be continued!
After three issues of character interaction, conspiracies and plots Bendis gives us wall to wall action and the story suffers for it. Bendis is good at dialogue, his characterisation is masterful but his skill at sustaining an action sequence through a book is not as polished. Just as in Avengers Disassembled, Bendis feels the need to continually remind us how Very Important the unfolding events are to the heroes and the world, but he never really shows it and consequently the reader never really feels it.
He isn't aided by Gabrielle Dell'otto's art in this issue. Don't get me wrong, the painting is beautiful, but it just isn't dynamic enough to convey the adrenaline and the desperation of Spidey and the others in these pages. There is an element missing, and between the writing and the art, the fight scene falls rather flat.
Comics have a tradition of terminally silly plot devices, and the "villains all wired together into one big bomb" plot is no exception. Normally, I would say that such things should be overlooked out of affection for the genre, but I think this particular twist, as well as the emphasis of the issue in general, raises some worrying questions about Secret War.
The limited series opened with a complicated and very interesting spin on the where B-List villains got enough cash for all their high-tech wizardry. In the second and third issues it evolved into a compelling conspiracy theory. But what happens now?
After spending an entire issue on a big fight, Bendis has left himself with just twenty-two pages to finish this story, and personally I don't think that's enough. What did actually happen in Latveria? Why can't most of the heroes remember what happened while they were there? Why is Spidey the only one having nightmares about it? Who was the dark-haired girl on the plane in issue two?
Now the issues in this series have been filled with extra material, there's even been a Secret War: From the Files of Nick Fury special that has been nothing but extras - and you could argue that many of these answers can be found there. We know, for example, that the dark-haired girl is SHIELD agent Daisy Johnson, we know that the female mastermind from this issue is almost certainly Lucia von Bardas... but we don't know these things from the comic.
And we should know them from the comic. It's not enough to put a major plot point in an appendix at the back of an issue - it needs to be addressed on panel. I thought that the alleged tie-in in The Pulse would shed some light on a few things but it was a five-issue exercise in naval-gazing.
I can't judge this issue on the strength of what might not be in the next one. But the more I read Secret War the more I think that a very good idea has headed off in the wrong direction. I agree with the previous reviewer. The mission in Latveria would have made a much more interesting series that this story of vengeance set in the present day. Would Spider-Man really get involved in trying to bring down an elected government? Well he might (he's done something similar back in Web-Spinners #17-18), but it would have been very interesting to see how Nick Fury persuaded him into it.
More interesting than twenty pages of solid fighting anyway.
Secret War remains an impressive piece of writing and utterly beautiful to look at. Its true success can only really be measured once the final issue is released in October. However, this instalment is not living up to the standard of the previous issues. It just wasn't compelling. Three and a half webs.