Warren Ellis is currently writing Avengers comics. That's something for which we can be happy.
Sure, we're all excited that Rick Remender will be taking over Secret Avengers with #21.1, and we were all excited when Ed Brubaker started this title, but this is Warren Goddamned Ellis handling the interim. He's no mere "fill-in." That much is evidenced by the fact that he opens Secret Avengers #20 by killing Steve Rogers, Sharon Carter and James Rhodes.
Cue Ellis unspooling a really cool stand-alone time-travel tale that also reminds us that, oh yeah, the Black Widow is the world's greatest secret agent. And once again making it more frustrating that Marvel can't seem to sustain any books led by female characters.
I know, the notion of a "cool time-travel tale" might seem like an oxymoron these days, when the concept gives people more headaches than it does good times. It's certainly no thrill for Natasha Romanova, as she has to jump back in time not only to escape death at the hands of the Shadow Council (the one through-line connecting Ellis' stand-alone adventures), but to go through a huge, elaborate, nearly five-month-long rigamarole to erase the deaths of her teammates without flouting the maxim: "The flow of time must be preserved."
Ellis' intricately constructed time-travel plot is still as brain-breaking as any – part of Natasha's task in the past is to finance the man who built the time-travel device in the first place, "Count" Oscar Khronus, to actually build it so she can use it to make him build it. Head already hurts. Then there's the bit where she has to go to a terrorist named Death-Ray Evans to reverse engineer a defense for the Shadow Council's high-tech guns – only to have it play out that Evans is the man who sold the designs for the gun to the Shadow Council after she provided him a sample to reverse-engineer. But Ellis makes this not only palatable but actively cool by creating such interesting characters where most others would plug in some non-descript throw-away people instead. Khronus and his simpleton husband Kongo are a strangely endearing pair with no greater joy in life beyond doing what Natasha asks of them, while Death-Ray is an amusing kablam-ophile, helpful and dangerous at the same time. There's even a guest appearance by Dr. Druid, although sporting a lot more hair than I've ever seen on him.
Then there's Alex Maleev's artwork, which looks pretty cool – even moreso when Natasha travels 44 years into the past, and suddenly the layout and coloring reflects that era by turning into serialized adventure comic strips. That's just a slick stylistic choice that raises the fun level up several notches. At some points, his characters' faces could stand to be a bit more expressive, but then again, part of the focus of this story is how Natasha is all-business, so it still works.
While the adventure she's on is cool to read, it's the very end where Natasha proves why she's the best there is at what she does. She started this mission not knowing a thing about time travel, and when she ends it eighteen weeks later, she does it without telling anybody what happened. Because she's a secret agent and that means she can keep a goddamned secret.
Always read Warren Ellis. He makes great comics and he makes comics great.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 9/10