In the late 1950’s Nick Fury formed a team of special covert operatives whom he called the Avengers, whose initial exploits were revealed in a story arc in 2011’s New Avengers. This previously-unseen team proved sufficiently popular that their co-creator Howard Chaykin, who had run the New Avengers arc with Brian Michael Bendis, produced this sequel, providing both script and art.

Chaykin reshuffled some of the players; the original Ulysses Bloodstone and Silver Sable were dropped, making way for new recruit the Blonde Phantom, whom, it is revealed, is spending much of her time “honeytrapping” enemy operatives to gain intel. Given the emphasis in the dialogue on Blonde Phantom being a married mother-of-two, her initial narrative function as a hooker for the Greater Good… well, it’s disappointing, to say the least. No doubt that, and worse, happens in real-life espionage, but in fiction it’s become such a cliché. Just for a change, it’d be interesting to have one of these spymasters announce “Oh, by the way, this guy likes his vice versa, so it’s Captain America’s/Hercules’/Luke Cage’s turn to take one up the Putney Towpath for God and Country, okay?”, just to see how they’d deal.

Be that as it may: Namora, Sabretooth, Kraven, Dominic Fortune, Fury and the Blonde Phantom find themselves embroiled in a mystical firefight, as misguided zealots seek to invoke a demonic entity to protect the USA from the spectre of Communism. To combat this, the Avengers acquire their own eldritch ally in the form of sorcerer Powell McTeague – a delightful homage to another, non-comic, version of the Avengers – and the battle lines are drawn.

Setting aside the unsavoriness of Blonde Phantom’s initial involvement – and it’s Howard Chaykin, so you know there’s got to be some sleaze – it’s a brisk and breezy read, conspiracies within conspiracies, Nazis, Commies, Demons, Zombies, Super-Villains, Vampires, Gorillas, all presented in a wisecracking pulpy style, and featuring a gleefully-pillaged travelogue of settings from the Marvel Universe – a pre-Doom Latveria, Wakanda, Madripoor – as we’ve never seen them before. Chaykin is obviously having great fun, and, despite misgivings, so are we. New gal Blonde Phantom, although low man on the power-rating totem pole, acquits herself with distinction, and there are nice character moments for all of the cast – including future bad guys Sabretooth and Kraven, who, at this point in their long careers, don’t seem quite that bad.

Chaykin’s art, while shaky and sketchy compared to his earlier works, is appropriate to the cheap, fast-paced tone. Skilful colouring helps disguise some of the anatomical weak spots that the reproduction of some pages in black and white at the back, in an ill-advised ‘extra’, make all too apparent.

Despite reservations, ultimately a diverting if inconsequential read, with a group of protagonists one wouldn’t mind seeing again.