As someone who has quite happily been using fanfic to cut through the Gordian Knot of Marvel comics canon for years, I found Secret Avengers #1 very easy to understand because it basically is Avengers fanfic. Clint and Natasha are bros, a reasonably Clark Gregg-looking Coulson shows up, and the story focuses on the mysterious Budapest incident Joss Whedon namedropped in last year's Avengers movie. There's even an explanation as to why Clint and Natasha might remember the incident in different ways, but that doesn't necessarily mean this comic locks in perfectly with movie canon. For one thing, Nick Fury is a field agent.
|Images from Secret Avengers #1, which can be bought here.|
Anyhow, this issue was a promising prologue to what seems like a vaguely Dollhouse-esque storyline. Coulson recruits Hawkeye and Black Widow to join a taskforce that requires them to have their memories wiped after every mission, which sounds to me like a great way for SHIELD to avoid paying them. As for connections to the movie universe, it's kind of difficult to see how much characterisation carries through. Coulson was satisfyingly Coulson-y, but the focal character in this issue was Hawkeye, who for obvious reasons had very little character development in the Avengers movie.
Mostly I'm interested to see how the movie and comicbook canons converge and divide. You can do so much more with a comic than a film, mostly because it's way easier to suspend disbelief when you're looking at a cartoon instead of a real human person with split ends and mud on their shoes. While Marvel's Hollywood adaptations restrain themselves to relatively realistic robots and supersoldiers, in one 22-page comic we've already had Jason Bourne-style amnesia, a presidential assassination attempt, magical portals, a Hungarian wizard arms dealer, and Hawkeye being kidnapped and tied up in a room with a giant, unexplained Cthulhu statue in the corner. You couldn't get away with that shit on the big screen.
The only real problem I had with Secret Avengers was Natasha's painted-on suit. I haven't read superhero comics since I was in highschool, and I'd kind of forgotten how Hawkeye Initiative the costumes can get -- even when the characters are just standing around talking. Like, have you met boobs? Boobs don't just stand around like two separate water balloons duct-taped to your chest, not unless you've specifically tailored your catsuit to encase each breast separately in its own boob-pod. Which would be kind of an unusual choice, tactically speaking, for someone who has to scale walls and kick people in the face on a regular basis. I know that there's an Uncanny Valley of superhero comic realism, but at the same time I find it kind of implausible for Black Widow to be infiltrating Eastern European terrorist cells with her suit unzipped to her sternum. Especially since we've all seen Scarlett Johansson's equally skin-tight but way more practical Black Widow costume in "real" life.
Final note on the tangled web of alternate canons: I'm curious to see what relation, if any, this comic will have to the SHIELD TV series. At this point I'm not hugely optimistic about a Black Widow or Hawkeye/Widow movie ever happening (IF ONLY), but Coulson has only shown up in a couple of comics so far. I say it's entirely possible that they'll graft his comicbook backstory onto the TV show's own canon.
Previously: The costumes and characters of The Avengers: Black Widow and Hawkeye.