By Don M. Ventura
Secret Avengers #15
I was starting to get the feeling that Nick Spencer’s work at Marvel was a bit restrained; especially so with his work on Iron Man 2.0, a book that hasn’t featured the strong characterization or layered storylines that we have already come to expect from the guy who introduced Morning Glories and The Infinite Vacation in 2010.
Things began to turn for me with Secret Avengers #13, which was an unusual tie-in to Fear Itself in that it was a quiet character piece with a message about staying strong in the face of adversity. Perhaps stronger was issue #14, which featured a doomed love story set against the backdrop of Fear Itself as well as tying into an origin story or sorts for the Valkyrie.
However, it’s Spencer’s post-modern take on comic book deaths in the amazing Secret Avengers #14 that the writer presents one of the best reads in comics this year. In it, the suffering (though you’d never know by looking at her) Black Widow infiltrates a “news” website office which has just run a story that Captain America isn’t dead—the “Bucky” Cap that she has been cavorting with the past few years.
The heroine claims to be on official Avengers business but the editor calls the Widow’s bluff. Natasha is holding out hope that her lover is still alive somehow after recently falling prey to the Red Skull. Unfortunately the website is just another yellow-journalism outlet that purports to spread the news, but is more focused on getting hits than uncovering the truth.
Then, a few pages in the book takes an interesting, self-referential twist. One of the writers acknowledges that the story is totally bogus, but what the hell—Bucky’s going to come back eventually anyway. Spencer deftly, and without the slightest tongue in cheek, begins a dialogue between the staff of the website and Black Widow in which she attempts to explain that death matters—whether the person comes back or not.
Another reporter comes in and mocks Black Widow. “Dead means dead for us,” she says. “We don’t get any exceptions.” The woman explains that her grandfather, a fan of Captain America and Bucky from World War II, passed away from cancer. There would be not resurrection for him. “He doesn’t get to come back,” she says. “He doesn’t get healed, or cloned, or have his consciousness moved someplace else. He’s just dead.”
This is a tricky peace of work because Spencer is essentially bringing a real world voice to these characters who do not exist in a real world. This can often be a sloppy mess, but Spencer is a gifted writer who understands the fine line he is walking here. The story never becomes sappily sentimental but there is genuine heart in these pages.
Black Widow argues that the cold hard fact is that death for heroes is traumatic and the people it affects is worse. If—or when—a hero is resurrected, he or she is forced to make a place to fit in again. Even if your place has been filled and the people you knew have moved on.
Spencer has proven again that he is one of the freshest voices in comics today. In this single issue, he’s done what I felt J. Michael Straczynski was unable to do in a half dozen of his Superman issues: he’s featured a story where a comic book character speaks and reacts to characters with real-world sensibilities and it works.
Sadly, the writer’s stay on the book was a brief one (this was the third of three stories). But he’s proven that comic books don’t have to tackle big topics to present big ideas.