Everyone's got an opinion about Julian Assange and the Wikileaks mission statement to uncover the truth about how the world's powers operate by making thousands of classified documents freely available to the world at large regardless of the potential consequences. The debate between whether that methodology makes him a hero or a traitor takes center stage in Secret Avengers #12.1, a stand-alone issue where that question is taken from the headlines and dropped into the lap of Steve Rogers, the former Captain America and current head of U.S. national security.
Writer Nick Spencer's version of Wikileaks is a bit different, though. There's no Assange, but rather a guy dressed as U.S. Agent who obtains secret documents detailing the U.S. government's dealings with their various informants in all sorts of criminal and terrorist organizations and publicizes them to the world. 419 people who have given up names and helped save lives, whether it be through conscience or, more likely, personal profit and unsavory self-serving prison evasion. All of whom are instantly marked for death now that their respective nefarious groups are aware that they've ratted them out. The Secret Avengers only have time to save one of them, so they choose an A.I.M. turncoat who they believe prevented a bio-weapon attack in Boston because it was the right thing to do.
The resulting op showcases each member of the team, as a good Point One issue should, including some great banter between the ever-more redeemable Ant-Man and War Machine, who could easily become the next Atom and Hawkman pair. We also get some smooth Black Widow skullduggery, some badass Valkyrie action and a lot of very solid art from Scot Eaton in the process. It's daring for a jump-on issue like this to see that our heroes don't quite manage to get the job done, and it feels like a kick in the teeth. Upon hearing the news, there's a small but strong panel from Eaton of Steve's reaction which shows us just how old he must feel sometimes.
This sets up the later confrontation between the leaker and Commander Rogers that proves to be quick, but fascinating. It turns out the guy isn't dressed as US Agent, but rather as The Captain – i.e. the name Rogers took up when America demanded he work directly for them and he quit the job of Captain America rather than serve a corrupt government. Now that Steve Rogers is running a black-ops Avengers squad and is publicly an employee of a government no less corrupt than it was way back when, this new Captain views the original as a hypocrite who sold his principles for power, and his exposure of America being "in bed with a bunch of terrorists, murderers and despots" is meant to destroy that hypocrisy. Which earns him an ass-beating.
And an admission from Steve that the guy might even be right, save for one thing. "We'd never let people die just to prove our damn point."
It's always a risk when you embroil an above-it-all kind of guy like Steve Rogers in actual political issues, but that sounds like the stand he'd take with Assange – essentially "you've got a completely valid point, but don't be so damn reckless about it." A lot of comic fans think guys like Captain America and Superman are boring, because they're always going to do the right thing, but it's issues like this that illustrate just how complicated that is to actually do. Secret Avengers 12.1 goes hand in hand with the fantastic David S. Goyer story in Action Comics #900 about Superman standing with the nonviolent Iranian resistance against Ahmedinejad in showing us that the grim-and-gritty guys have it easy. The true heroes, the ubiquitous symbols who strive to achieve idealism in a world that so often derides even the aspiration to a higher standard as condescension, betrayal and elitism – they are the ones who face the greatest challenges. They are the ones who are the most goddamned necessary in this day and age.
Maybe they don't hack or slash or snikt or strike fear into the hearts of men, but if you think they're boring, maybe you've got some growing up to do.