Everything comes back to Nick Fury. He's one of Marvel's oldest characters, and despite the fact that he's one of the few characters in the Marvel Universe who has no superpowers, he remains one of the most mysterious and resilient figures intertwined with Marvel's history. He has more body doubles than Dr. Doom, and he can probably take down any superhero you can name, in one way or another. Even Wolverine looks up to him. In short, he's Marvel's ultimate badass.
Last Ride of the Howling Commandos is an excellent standalone story, requiring almost no knowledge of any previous collections or events that sweep across the grand Marvel narrative. It's all spelled out in very simple terms: A group of mercenaries decides to take out a terrorist cell in the interest of preserving the safety of the United States, and where the U.S. is unable to operate effectively by itself, and this lands them in international hot water. This action is interspersed with a touching memorial to those lost in the attack, as well as scenes from the inquisition that follows, shifting between all three events with a marvelously effective flow. As someone who is rarely a fan of war stories or any comic that involves too many scenes sitting in a courtroom, I can assure you that Jonathan Hickman lends enough personality to his characters to carry just about any scene.
Alessandro Vitti's art is great for the slightly over-the-top war heroes and the deep creases that line their faces. He redefines the lovable, gruff, mustachioed Dum Dum Dugan into a volatile walrus of a man, keeping everyone vibrant and age-worn at the same time. Sepia tones throughout the pages remove the whole story from any one place or time, which is appropriate as it addresses so many time periods at once, and shows an appreciation for characters who age and grow. There are a lot of weirdo, covert, morally ambiguous teams that Marvel and DC have been using lately, but the Secret Warriors have quickly become my favorite.
If nothing else, this is a story arc that will endear everyone in it to the reader, and includes a guest appearance or two by Captain America that humanizes him in a refreshing way. Marvel rates this book as T+, which indicates an older teen audience. There's blood, smoking, drinking, and a silhouette of a decapitation-by-sword, but it's not easy to find a modern comic story that doesn't involve someone's head falling off. The heroism, of course, is the most important story element, made even more poignant by the fact that it's coming from a group of people, in a world populated by superheroes, who are only human.
Reviewed by Collin David