One year ago, Nick Fury led a group of hand selected superheroes into Latveria on a secret war. The US government didn't sanction the action, the heroes in question don't remember going, and after four issues we the readers don't know what happened. Fury believed that Latveria and their prime minister Lucia von Bardas (Dr Doom was trapped in Hell back then) were supporting terrorism by equipping B-List super villains with high-tech equipment. Whatever happened during the secret war was bad, it was shameful, and Fury has hidden the truth ever since. Now it's the present and the secret war has returned to bite him. Spidey, Daredevil, Captain America, SHIELD and the Fantastic Four are facing a horde of augmented villains. And then Lucia von Bardas turned up, ripe for revenge, and detonated all her soldiers in an explosion that would destroy New York city.
The issue opens with files from the SHIELD archives on agents Nick Fury and Daisy Johnson. Johnson is the SHIELD-agent with seismic powers who accompanied the heroes on the secret war. We haven't seen her in the present-day portion of the story.
It is six hours since the explosion on the waterfront. Daisy Johnson is being interviewed by two agents of SHIELD, one of is the future Director Maria Hill. Hill demands answers regarding what happened. Was Johnson complicit with a black ops mission masterminded by Nick Fury? How does an eighteen-year-old get level 10 security clearance? But Johnson isn't saying anything to make Hill's life easier. Her loyalties evidently lie elsewhere.
Six hours earlier we see the climax of the explosion. There seems to be nothing the heroes can do to stop it. Von Bardas continues to mock Fury. Ben Grimm destroys the entire pier, dumping the villains into the water, but that fails to stop the explosion building. Suddenly, Von Bardas is in mid-gloat when she begins to scream. Now it is Fury's turn to look smug as the technology that is keeping Von Bardas alive begins to vibrate and her armour is ripped from her body.
Von Bardas was the catalyst for the whole explosion. With her taken out of the picture the danger is over. The heroes and the villains are thrown to the ground. Everyone is alive, but only barely - Daredevil seems in a particularly bad way. But their wounds are nothing compared to the bad guys. The Scorcher is going into shock. All of his companions: they're all dead! No-one seems to know what happened. No-one but Nick Fury. He is helped to his feet by Daisy Johnson who apologises for cutting it so fine.
Back in her interview, Johnson admits to super powers. She doesn't have the mutant gene, her powers come from genetic damage she sustained. She used those powers to take out Von Bardas. Why was she at the pier? Well, she was following Fury's orders of course.
Previously at the docks Captain America confronts Fury. It is time for him to tell the truth. They are about to come to blows when the X-Men (Astonishing flavour) arrive at the scene. Wolverine is furious at Fury. Seems that things happened to him that he can't remember, and he has a thing about people messing with his head.
Finally, Fury comes clean. He says that the attack this evening was terrorist retribution for when Nick Fury, Spidey, Wolverine, the Black Widow, Luke Cage, Daisy Johnson, Daredevil and Captain America overthrew the Latverian government and assassinated Lucia von Bardas.
He explains the conspiracy he revealed to the America government; he tells the assembled heroes the government chose to do nothing and therefore left Fury with no choice but to act on his own. Taking out the Latverian government was Fury's own act of international terrorism. That's why he had to use superheroes and not his own men from SHIELD.
They relive the final confrontation with Von Bardas. One year ago the heroes fought their way into her private chambers. All apart from Fury were completely in the dark, they didn't know the government hadn't sanctioned their presence. Fury said that he had to make an example of Von Bardas and orders Agent Johnson to bring the place down. Before Cap can stop her the entire castle is levelled and everyone is wiped out. Everyone killed apart from the heroes.
Fury is unrepentant. He says that after the explosion he was overwhelmed by the self-righteous indignation of the heroes. He drugged them. They lost two days of memories. If Von Bardas hadn't returned it wouldn't have mattered. He says he is fighting a war. He says that actions such as this buys the United States time, discourages other terrorists just a little bit. In the end, innocents were saved. It was worth losing his job over. It was worth killing over.
Wolverine can't believe he is hearing this. Of all the heroes, he would have gone and done this without the brain-washing. Fury knows what Logan has suffered in the past. "Don't mess with my head!" he yells, and stabs Fury dead. Daisy Johnson acts almost as fast and takes Logan out by exploding his heart. The other heroes turn on Daisy, and it looks as though a fight is about to break out.
The fight is stopped by Fury's voice, emanating from his corpse. Fury is not dead. This is not Fury. It is one of SHIELD's life model decoys (a particularly realistic one). Fury was present for the fight, but sneaked off when it was over. Fury says that this is the end for him. He can no longer lead SHIELD, not after what has happened, and so he is going to ground. He hopes the heroes eventually understand that he did the right thing. Then the life model decoy expires.
Back to the interview between Hill and Johnson. Hill is furious. Despite all the scanners and psychics at her disposal she can't find the truth from Johnson, and she doesn't believe it when the agent says she doesn't know where Nick Fury is now. Hill says that Fury is a war criminal and will be hunted down like one. She doesn't understand how he could mastermind all of this. And she doesn't know where Daisy Johnson came from - she had never even heard of her before the evening's events.
As Hill storms off to see if the Black Widow can give her any more information, Daisy heads outside onto the SHIELD helicarrier. Then she receives a message from Nick Fury. He's still out there.
The book ends with the transcript of an interview between the Scorcher and SHIELD. The Scorcher wants to join the good guys, he wants to help. In a second transcript we are privy to an interview between Director Hill and the American president. It is revealed that she has been appointed to the role of director because she is not a Fury loyalist. The president says that Fury wasn't court- marshalled a year ago because cause too much of a stink. The American government had hoped to blackmail von Bardas before Fury ruined it. The president also adds that he doesn't like costumed super heroes, and the hint is given that he might do something about it.
So ends the secret war, and it was an end that was long in coming. The lengthy delays on a title that was already scheduled to ship quarterly had a significant impact on the story. Not only did it lose its impetus, but we also found the time in which it was set sliding toward the present. This has created a major headache for anyone trying to untangle Nick Fury's continuity, but I'll get to that in a moment.
Is the issue any good? Well, if you have the patience and the time to sit down and read all five issues together then the answer is a definite "sort of". The series started extremely well. I can't remember reading a mini-series that had such a strong premise from the get-go, but the more you read the more the story seems to lose its way.
Bendis is not the most concise of writers, and five issues was simply insufficient for him to tell this story. The tale is effectively one evening in the lives of a selection of superheroes, one big fight and a host of flashbacks. The problem is that the flashbacks are more interesting than the events in the present. Bendis might touch base with all the relevant plot points, but he doesn't do much more than sketch them. As a result we have the bones of a story, but no meat. That's why Von Bardas is a caricature of a villain, and that's why the book is left with so many loose ends.
What happened to all those villains who were wired together? Are they all dead? Really dead? Seeing as the Constrictor has turned up in recent issues of The Thing and the Grim Reaper was in Civil War #2 I somehow doubt it. Why did Peter Parker start to remember events of the secret war when Daredevil, or Cage didn't? And what are the ramifications of this story to the characters? Are there any?
Looking at this from Spider-Man's point of view, this should surely be a big deal. He has been complicit in the deaths of hundreds of people in Latveria. Not all of them were terrorists - not by some considerable margin. This is the sort of thing that would torture Peter Parker for the rest of his life, but it hasn't even been mentioned. Even if the other spider-writers weren't prepared to take this up, Bendis writes New Avengers I would expect something in there. But no, the lasting effect on the character has been swept under the carpet - just like the ramifications of Spidey losing his family in House of M.
And I have to say that I don't like Daisy Johnson. As a character I can get behind her, as a Fury's protege she has potential, but Bendis has made her far too powerful. It is often a fault of writers that they create their own pet character and beef up the character's abilities to make them seem more impressive than they actually are. Bendis is in danger of doing that here. Here's someone who can destroy an entire castle in seconds, take out a foe that the combined forces of our heroes and the FF couldn't touch and has psychic shields than Emma Frost can't penetrate. If she can take out Wolverine that easily, why didn't Fury call her in during the Enemy of the State arc over in Wolverine for crying out loud?
And then there is the continuity nightmare that is now Nick Fury. The present- day portion of Secret War was supposed to have been set before the events of New Avengers #1. That means it was supposed to take place before House of M. The delays brought the story closer to the present calling all of Fury's appearances in Incredible Hulk, Captain America and umpteen other books into question. Then Fury appeared as SHIELD director in Cable & Deadpool #24. That comic is unquestionably set after the events of House of M, so now Secret War must also be set after House of M - but how can it be? For one thing, Logan got all his memories back after House of M, so why didn't he also remember the secret war?
Frankly, this is all too complicated for me. There have been explanations - that many of the Nick Fury appearance aren't really him, but Life Model Decoys - but none of it really holds water. The point is that the whole thing was ill- thought out by Marvel. The major delays on this book meant all the other Marvel writers didn't know what the status of Nick Fury was and decided to use him anyway. Not very organised. Marvel must do better next time.
Finally, I think I need to say word about the art. I really liked Dell'Otto's work on the first few issues, but I like it less as time has worn on. The artist is truly accomplished, and I'd be happy to hang his work on my wall, but the action scenes don't ring true. Admittedly, it isn't helped by everything either being dark or rendered in black and white. I'd like to see what he'd do with an issue set in daylight.
How can a series that takes two years to come out still feel rushed? The intriguing premise never lived up to its potential. Three webs.