Whatever one thinks of Jonathan Hickman’s storytelling, there is no arguing the fact that his storylines are grand in concept and wide sweeping. Secret Warriors has built up some pretty hefty Marvel Universe mythology, and S.H.I.E.L.D. regularly stars none other than the likes of Nikola Tesla, Leonardo Da Vinci, Issac Newton, and Michelangelo as immortal members of an organization that protects mankind from all sorts of dangers while serving as battling metaphors for modes of existence and philosophies. Yeah, it’s a heady work. These series both take a rather hefty investment themselves in time spent reading and, in some cases, researching the characters involved, but this time invested and outside reading is completely worth the work. Hickman has created a vast underground secret society-like story that draws from Marvel Universe history, real world history, real world scientific western occultism and secret societal (or conspiratorial) mythology and blends them all together to create something unique and hitherto unseen. I worry about S.H.I.E.L.D. as an ongoing though. It is really, really dense and leaves much unexplained. These aren’t detractions from the series, mind you. They do though require patience and, again, time invested in reading and thinking. Unfortunately, not many young comic book readers possess these all important qualities these days. For the more intelligent reader though, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a dream of a read.
This is a look at Secret Warriors #25 though, not S.H.I.E.L.D., but a little knowledge of what Hickman has going on over in his other esoteric series will help with understanding Secret Warriors #25 (remember what I said about time invested in reading?) Unfortunately, Secret Warriors is doomed to end shortly with “Wheels Within Wheels” being the series’ last story arc. While Hickman had a plan for his tale of Nick Fury and his Secret Warriors to have a defined beginning, middle, and end, it was to take place over the course of 60 or so issues. Cut down to a little under half of that length is both a blessing and a curse for Secret Warriors though. A blessing because it makes the series much more marketable and quicker moving that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been thus far, but it most likely deprives its more discerning readers of some great Hickman goodness that is going to be left out. Maybe he’ll find a place for it over in S.H.I.E.L.D.? Either way, Secret Warriors #25 in many ways is the payoff issue for fans of the Marvel Universe’s secret societies and organizations, Nick Fury, Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. series, and Hickman’s writing itself.
The story in Secret Warriors #25 takes place in 1961 and finally reveals the secret of the Great Wheel, which is a collection of major secret and superspy players of the Marvel Universe that has exerted secret control of many events in the Marvel Universe. They are basically a group that consists of twelve members who each represent a sign of the Zodiac. Nick Fury is Gemini, Jake Fury is Scorpio, Baron Strucker is Sagittarius, and Aries is a character directly out of S.H.I.E.L.D. who is at once the founder of the group and its de facto leader or sorts. The Great Wheel is an assembly of the world’s most powerful and mortal enemies. As Aries describes them, “You—all of you—represent the various governments, factions, and secret societies that mathematically pose the greatest chance for world domination.” Aries has assembled them in order to divide them into groups and send them on missions to retrieve various alien weapons and technology that is scattered all over the globe. It’s a mission he describes as “a game.” As mentioned though, these are mortal enemies prone to double cross and murder. Things don’t go according to plan and some of the Great Wheel’s members’ people are killed and others are maimed…including a certain currently one eyed superspy.
Other than laying storytelling claim to one of the most defining characteristics of one of the Marvel Universe’s most defining characters, he manages to yet again craft another story that hints at some very interesting greater themes. When the dust has settled by the end of the issue, Fury tells Aries that he has to “clean this mess up.” A mess that Aries has created by bringing together the characters that he did to form the Great Wheel which in turn has served as the impetus for the creation of Leviathan and Hydra (two mirror images of Fury’s SHIELD bent on world domination). Fury tells Aries that “it’s time you stopped playin’ games” to which Aries responds “we call it a game because that makes us think that there are rules…when the truth is there are none…no man control’s the world’s chaos. It is not a game. It never was…” Aries seems to be saying that the world is in a constant state of chaos and that he is just pitting it against itself in a more defined way. Much like God in Milton’s Paradise Lost carved the defined universe out of Chaos and Old Night, thus forming a semblance of order over the top of the overwhelming, all powerful, and constantly present, underlying chaos of creation. Hydra, Leviathan and Fury’s SHIELD will simply define these aspects of chaos so that chaos will battle itself thus preserving a semblance of order and direction, which is much better than total anarchy and chaos. Like I said, Hickman is a heady kind of writer…and that’s what makes his stories so great. Basically, Aries crafts some semblance of order out of chaos and uses its players to acquire items and goods necessary to continue his S.H.I.E.L.D. organization’s mission: the greater protection and preservation of life itself on Earth.
Bringing this heady and brilliant story to life is artist Alessandro Vitti. He does a great job with panel layout, especially while introducing the Great Wheel’s members. He also captures the various military uniforms and period dress very well. Once the globetrotting starts and the action begins to crackle, he crafts some great, detail filled, and kinetic panels. Facial expressions and body language are all top notch, and the crazy sci-fi concepts that Hickman comes up with come to vivid life. All in all Vitti is an artist perfectly suited to this tale. I feel like I’m glossing over Vitti’s excellent work, but I’m not. It’s nearly flawless and fits Hickman’s style of storytelling excellently.
Hickman’s Secret Warriors and S.H.I.E.L.D. are both interesting and esoteric works that have finally begun to weave together with Secret Warriors #25. Where Hickman is going to go with Nick Fury and his gang after the end of Secret Warriors is anyone’s guess, but now that he’s established the link between the two titles, it really wouldn’t be difficult imagining Fury taking up residence in S.H.I.E.L.D. as a regular. This suggestion makes sense since SHIELD and Fury have been nearly synonymous within the Marvel Universe for decades, and for S.H.I.E.L.D. to commercially survive for any serious length of time, someone like Fury is going to have to eventually show up and take the reigns as a protagonist. In the meantime we can enjoy both series independently and concurrently at the same time thematically.