We all knew Mar-Vell wasn't sticking around. The upcoming Carol-Danvers-fronted Captain Marvel series is old news by now, so when Mar-Vell returned in Secret Avengers along with Carol a few issues back, it wasn't a huge leap to figure out that he'd be there only long enough to inspire her to take on the mantle. But just as the careful writing and outstanding artwork has made all of this Secret Avengers AvX tie-in story stand out and up without any assistance from the event itself, in the finale they come together to make even the most classic and predictable of superhero sacrifices a great and moving piece of graphic storytelling.
I've been saying it for months now and it's still true: Renato Guedes kicks ass on this book. The Minister's murder of his son and subsequent suicide were unforgivingly sudden and brutal. They were also very grounded, the Minister most of all, which added to their strength in the midst of, mostly, large-scale cosmic scenes. In either, though, Guedes has a way of making his drawings seem calm, or anyway they have the effect of calming me, perhaps especially in the more bombastic scenes. The brief return of Danvers as Binary, Mar-Vell's final moments with the Phoenix, and Captain Britain's noble attempt at battling the fire bird are all moments of massive power, but the artwork invites you to linger over them, to let them engulf you. And if you give in, it's strangely comforting.
More than any of this violence, however, the strongest art is on the final page. It's a gorgeous and majestic setting for Mar-Vell's resting place, and not only Guedes' work but the carefully-selected greens and browns from Matthew Wilson and Jeremy Mohler make it a page worth studying. As do the mysterious plants which slowly emerge at the very end.
For his part, Rick Remender handles Mar-Vell's departure by having Carol Danvers narrate the issue, and it's an effective tactic. Her love and admiration for him, as well as her obvious understanding of his psychology, make her the perfect person to tell his newest tale. But my favorite part of the story was actually the tying off of Captain Britain's self-pity thread. Britain was one of the permanent cast members Remender added to this title when he came aboard, and at the time I admit I was a little baffled by the decision. But despite a tendency to bitch and moan, the character has grown on me under Remender's pen. He is a man struggling with his own self worth, and since his superpowers are based in his confidence, this makes for an interesting dilemma. So watching him finally quit the bellyaching and man up against the Phoenix was excellent. Even though I knew it was impossible, for a minute or so I wanted to believe he might actually win.
But, like Mar-Vell's death, the Phoenix's escape from this team of space-faring Avengers was never in question, because it's on its way not only to another planet but numerous other titles, too. What's so impressive and unusual is that, by the time we got to that moment within Secret Avengers, the story was so complete and so completely satisfying that the event-based conclusion didn't even matter.