Jonathan Hickman’s run on the Marvel series Secret Warriors conceived a super-powered spy-thriller full of betrayals, intrigue, sleeper agents and twist after twist in its plot. While the Secret Warriors were originally the brainchild of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev for a storyline in Secret Invasion, under the capable hands of Hickman and his artistic team it would span six books while creating a behind the scenes look at the agencies who know you have to get your hands very dirty to really keep the world safe. Secret Warriors – The Complete Collection Volume 1 gathers the first three books of the series.

Nick Fury, Agent of Nothing sets the scene and introduces the team in greater detail. There’s a strong human element present in the characters, equally so whether they are hero or villain. Having said that, the clandestine manoeuvring of Fury and his compatriots is more a blurry shade of grey than straight out black and white. Fury is waging a war against Hydra but also needs to keep Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers busy. Stefano Caselli uses simple backgrounds of black and other colours to keep the focus on the characters, also ensuring the violent and chaotic battle scenes are in check with the book’s rating.

God of Fear, God of War revolves around father figures and unwanted family legacies. A new player is entering the scene and Fury wants to flush them out from the deepest recesses of government, but Hydra and Osborne’s H.A.M.M.E.R are taking “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” view of things. Alessandro Vitti uses big frames to render crisp scenes with nice flourishes, some of it unfortunately lost in the central gutter.

The theme of leaving behind painful family legacies is explored further in Wake The Beast with road trips and reality checks. Terror group Leviathan has emerged from a deep sleep, Fury playing chess on three fronts as all the organisations go to war with each other in a struggle for dominance. Matters lag a little here, but that’s not uncommon in long complex stories when pieces are moved into place for the build up to the finale. Hickman handles the subject matter well, although the sheer number of players and sub-plots bogs things down. Caselli returns to nail the emotional context with Gianluca Gugliotta taking a grimier approach to help build atmosphere, the styles clashing a little at the transfer of artists.

The remaining three volumes of the series are collected in The Complete Collection Volume 2. The entire series is also collected in the Secret Warrior Omnibus.