There’s so much going on in Secret Avengers behind so many veils of secrecy featuring so many characters the concern is that no-one can make sense of it all. Aleš Kot began writing during How to MA.I.M. a Mockingbird, and, incredibly, added even more complications. Even though that volume in theory ended a series, it bears stepping back to assess.

For starters, although sold under the Avengers banner, the focus is more on S.H.I.E.L.D. and their covert attempts to protect the world. Only a few Avengers participate, officially Black Widow and Spider-Woman, and Hawkeye unofficially. Nick Fury and Phil Coulson feature, but Maria Hill is running the show, and without telling anyone else, she’s now employing M.O.D.O.K., former leader of terrorist organisation A.I.M., and genius level brain. Except part of his acronym name is ‘Designed Only for Killing’. Will Hill regret supplying him with a lab?

Despite the complex backstory Kot begins by injecting the ‘wow’ factor with an action headrush over two idea-packed chapters, and then sets about simplifying matters, forgetting about the hypnosis and revised memories. It’s the right thing to do. He also injects a sardonic tone, with dry dialogue accompanying what’s often good old fashioned slapstick. If the tongue in cheek approach needed underlining, one mission here concerns a terrorist who’s also a poet spitting out literary references accompanied by a talking bomb having an existential crisis. It’s a wacky mix, and Michael Walsh delivers it all in a neat form of loose cartooning as if it’s entirely feasible that a mushroom gun is everyday technology, and Hill and Modok could be sharing a cup of coffee hanging in a bubble over a mountain. He’s at his best when having the cast move, generally extremely fast to avoid something incoming.

In addition to collecting five serialised issues of Secret Avengers, an extra story supplies more background information. It’s an awkward fudge in print, as it was originally designed to be read as semi-animation online, one panel building on another, and this presentation looks crowded. It’s designed to be confusing as Kot and Ryan Kelly introduce a programmer capable of messing with reality, so the anomalous aspects and fracturing look good, but Kot’s pompous narrative irritates, and the story doesn’t match the remaining content.

A debt by both creators to Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye work should be acknowledged, as this has the same comedic tone while supplying solid superhero action, and much the same look. The main story engages and thrills well enough that the bonus content can be ignored, so you’ll be following Kot and Walsh into The Labyrinth.