I Want My Marvel NOW: Uncanny X-Men #1, Secret Avengers #1, and Fearless Defenders #1

Uncanny! Secret! Fearless! That's a lot of leading adjectives; some carry more weight than others. Uncanny is, of course, the X-Men legacy title (not to be confused with the title X-Men Legacy). Secret Avengers is a book that's been riding the brakes since its inception, switching writers several times and suffering the burden of being a "sidebar"  for multiple cross-overs. Fearless Defenders is yet another revival of the Defenders team, hot on the heels of Matt Fraction's version (which was a sales non-starter - but this brand is pretty much always a sales non-starter).

 Cover to Uncanny X-Men #1, art by Chris Bachalo. Marvel Comics.

Cover to Uncanny X-Men #1, art by Chris Bachalo. Marvel Comics.

Uncanny X-Men #1 is more or less a spin-off from All-New X-Men, the other X-book by writer Brian Michael Bendis, and the more satisfying one, to be honest. We're still dealing with the aftermath of AVX, which saw Cyclops committing an act so heinous, he's been ostracized by (most) of his fellow X-Men. Bendis is casting him as a reckless mutant revolutionary leader, snapping up mutants as quick as they appear for the greater good of...something.

Scott's vision of what it means to be an X-Men isn't exactly clear to me. He seems defined by not wanting to be either Professor X nor Magneto, but what does that mean? What's the middle ground? Bendis lets us know (in All-New, not here) that Scott's building of a small army is an attempt to redeem himself, and the first issue reveals a major stumbling block in that plan.

WILL I BE BACK FOR MORE? Too many X-Men books! Right now, this is my third favorite after Wolverine and the X-Men and All-New, so I can't guarantee that I'll stay with this one. To be honest, though not a bad book, I'm not terribly interested in Cyclops or the band of angry mutants he's surrounded by (Emma Frost, Magneto, Magik).

 Cover to  Secret Avengers  #1, art by Tom Coker. Marvel Comics.

Cover to Secret Avengers #1, art by Tom Coker. Marvel Comics.

I think writer Nick Spencer may be on the cusp of being a Next Big Thing, but Secret Avengers #1 shares some of the problems I have with his creator-owned book Bedlam, and it's clarity of storytelling. Reading Bedlam, I thought it was just my comprehension skills being called into question. Now I suspect that Spencer isn't always a crystal-clear communicator. He's good with characters and his books feel dense, but the finer points of the plot get muddled in my head. If you caught me right after a Spencer book and quizzed me on what I just read, I would probably fail.

Secret Avengers #1 returns the title to being a full-on espionage book, in which various Avengers are recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. to handle missions so precarious that they have to have their memories wiped upon successful completion. The first issue throws Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Nick Fury Jr. (as I'll be referring to the Samuel Jacksonized Fury from here on out) into a case involving a mystic cult.

It's funny - I read this month's Avengers Assemble the same night as Secret Avengers, and both books had Hawkeye and Black Widow going on secret missions away from the Avengers team. Assemble's story was quick and basic; Secret's felt edgier and more convoluted. Immediately after, I thought Secret was the superior of the two, but if you asked me right now, I could tell you exactly, beat-for-beat, what happens in Assemble. I can't do that from memory for Secret. Take that as you will.

WILL I BE BACK FOR MORE? Ehh, no. It has its audience, though, and it's nice to see the book swing back into a distinct spy flavor of Avengers that's different from the flagship book.

 Covert art for  Fearless Defenders  #1, art by Mark Brooks. Marvel Comics.

Covert art for Fearless Defenders #1, art by Mark Brooks. Marvel Comics.

We love B-movies, but is there such a thing as a B-comic? One you feel a little guilty for enjoying? Fearless Defenders #1 is a an action ride that really exemplifies how comics aren't just the writing or just the art, but an overall package of all that plus storytelling plus concept that add up to one unique experience. Cullen Bunn and William Sliney have turned the deadest property of the Marvel NOW line into a scrappy underdog of a book.

I don't know much about Misty Knight, but she's appealingly tough and she has a golden cybernetic arm. Valkyrie is a Defenders mainstay from way, way back, and has had a little more exposure over the past few years during Fear Itself and its extended epilogue The Fearless. The two ladies team up here to fight re-animated Viking corpses brought back to life by the song from a mysterious artifact.

It ain't Maus, but it's thrilling in its own slam-bang way. Bunn's work feels refreshingly pressure-free, not trying to stand out as the Most Important Marvel U Must-Read, and Sliney's thick linework and mastery of action sequences display a foundation in simple cartooning that's a welcome change from Marvel's typical well-rendered talking heads.

WILL I BE BACK FOR MORE? Lord help me, yes. This is my new guilty pleasure book - the one I will recommend while sheepishly dragging my toes on the ground. I hope it doesn't let me down.