Early in this book Nick Fury explains “There is no end point to escalation” and escalated things certainly have. We meet a much harder edged team of Secret Warriors approximately six months after the events of Last Ride of the Howling Commandos. Fury plans to enter Gehenna (Hydra High Command) with a Mountain Breaker, an explosive that will do exactly what it says on the tin, ending the conflict once and for all. Traitors are everywhere and things go wrong, Alexander (Phobos) now facing a destiny he has forseen but tried to avoid, and Secret Warriors will be made or broken.

This is a very tense and gritty story from writer Jonathan Hickman, plot developments and twists we didn’t see coming surprising us while the ones we did play out satisfactorily (if a little predictably). The emotions are high here, and though you’ve seen the scenario of honour, bravery, redemption, and self-sacrifice played out many times before, Hickman still manages to encapsulate it all well. Mirko Colak is one of several artists here, employing a style that makes the most of dark shades and backgrounds to create a more battle-weary tone. Unlike any of the previous volumes, this is an action-heavy affair, the rush of chaotic conflict and sudden flashes of incendiaries making it hard to follow. Where Colak does well is to frame the tension, anguish, and even give Alexander’s predictions a more mystical quality.

The character that Colak, Alessandro Vitti, and Dave Marquez all present well is Nick Fury. The centrepiece of the series will do anything for his country or the safety of the world, and while we often see how he emotionlessly uses people like pawns, here we see the personal cost he has paid in this war with Hydra and Leviathan. Vitti’s work carries his usual excellence, occasionally employing some of Colak’s technique to maintain the edgy despair of conflict. Some of his best work on the series so far is arguably in tandem with Marquez. It’s worth a look as describing it verges on the point of being a spoiler. There are no words for a few frames but it packs a punch. Marquez joins Vitti for the last chapter to begin the build-up to Wheels Within Wheels, handling a flashback on how Team Gray was formed by Fury’s son, Mikel Fury and his best friend, Carlos Ayala. It’s sensitively rendered and, despite some of his team remaining anonymous, very moving. Secret Warriors is incredibly dense, every book inter-connecting with the other as little stories unfold within a big story. Fury is the major character but there are many others who have minor roles in comparison, yet are still key to events.

Ending on a cliff-hanger with many questions answered but others still hanging in the air, the narrative is turned to a slow-boil for the climatic conclusion of Secret Warriors in Wheels Within Wheels. Both are also available in a bulkier paperback The Complete Collection Volume 2, and with all other Secret Warriors material in an oversize Omnibus edition.