Carol Danvers’ past is explored in this good graphic novel maintaining Brian Reed’s admirable policy of varying the tone of the series. It is, however, rather schizophrenic artistically, featuring five artists over six chapters.

At around a chapter and a half each Adriana Melo, artist of the previous Secret Invasion, and Paulo Siqueira (sample page) are a contrast in styles, Melo’s pages curvy and open, Siqueira’s cramped, but both fine in conveying the story. Mark A. Robinson combines angular figures and scratchy backgrounds. His best pages feature a giant junkyard robot, imaginatively constructed and detailed, but he’s not working with Reed at his most inspired for the opening story, although that has a later relevance which is good. Marcos Marz is a talented artist with a photo-realist style, but he’s one idle bastard. His chapter is a photoshopper’s delight, with image after image repeated, occasionally on the same page. While there can be some leeway accorded for storytelling choices, Marz accelerates well beyond this allowance. Giuseppe Camoncoli’s pages are the halfway stage between Robinson and Siqueira.

If the opening tale is the book’s weakest, it’s certainly nice to see Gavin return. Introduced in Operation Lightning Storm, he has reality warping powers, fear of which is compounded by their being hosted by the mind of an as yet not completely developed teenage boy. He lacks the emotional maturity to understand the consequences of what he’s doing, particularly to a friend, and Reed employs this as the centrepiece of the story. Gavin’s very reminiscent of Molecule Man, a villain seemingly forgotten when this story was published.

After the two opening chapters Ms. Marvel the superhero is entirely absent, and it’s Carol Danvers who sees out the book. Until this point Reed’s characterisation of Carol hasn’t seemed complete, but this collection goes a long way to filling her in. One story features a visit to her family, but there’s a good complication introduced based on Carol’s past experiences. We see more of those, dipping back to a time when she was an air force officer shot down over Afghanistan and tortured for information. It’s as heart-rending as the opener, but this delivered via physical violence rather than emotional complexity. That Afghanistan chapter begins the title story, which is three parts featuring the long forgotten Rick Mason, secret agent. Unfortunately a fundamental aspect has sunk into time. Fundamental to events is Carol avoiding use of her super powers. It’s that she’s being tracked by Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers, but this isn’t explicit, and it’ll leave many readers wondering.

Compared with the preceding Secret Invasion this is a much improved selection of material, and the series continues with Dark Reign, in which Osborn’s rage and machinations take centre stage.