Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra #1
Written by: David Mandel
Art by: Michael Walsh, Matthew Wilson
Peter Parker has his job at the Daily Bugle and his on again off again romance with Mary Jane. Matt Murdoch alternates between his career as a defense attorney and vigorously denying that he is Daredevil. Marc Spector whiles away his free time going cuckoo banana pants crazy. But what does a henchman do while he’s not protecting the secret volcano lair of a megalomaniac? “Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra” gives us some insight into that world and how depressing a career in international hero aggression can really be.
Meet Hank Johnson, a faithful agent of Hydra on the low end of the totem pole. He starts the issue guarding a broom closet—a broom closet that Nick Fury sneaks his way out of and promptly kicks Hank in the face while shooting his co-worker. I’ve gotta say this sequence immediately had me in stitches. Following the faceless guy who got thrashed by the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is amazing. And then we go to his house and we see this guy, Hank, as an actual guy. He just watched his friend die in the line of duty and he’s telling his wife about the funeral as they’re getting their three children ready for a day at Hydra Elementary School. It’s absurd and hilarious and real… and goes on for way too long.
Okay look, I love when comics—or anyone for that matter takes a moment to highlight how silly the superhero life can be. That’s why one of my all-time favorite comic books is “Nextwave”. That’s why my absolute favorite part of “Iron Man 3” is when the AIM henchman drops his gun and calls them a bunch of weirdos. That’s why my favorite show is “Venture Bros.”
But the thing about all of them is that they all focus on the absurdity of life in the super hero careers. “Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra” dabbles in Hank’s work life but spends way too much time at home with his family. It’s still funny to be sure but it doesn’t cast the primary cast in the best light. Hank’s wife is the worst case of this. She is constantly on his case to get a nanny even though it’s out of their budget. I can understand doing it once as a joke but it pops up a few times. She even takes the time to say she doesn’t want to sound like a nag—while she’s nagging! She’s nagging him constantly which is really unflattering to her as a character. I don’t even think she’s named, she’s just Hank’s wife. The random Hydra agent that got killed is named Gerry and yet I don’t know her name. Which I suppose isn’t that terrible in the grand scheme of things considering Hank Johnson is a one note character who will be forgotten before the week is out. It’s funny though. Why Hank Johnson when Marvel already has Bob from Hydra?
There are a lot of great jokes in this book. My particular favorites involve anything with M.O.D.O.K. Him singing Amazing Grace is hilarious and the interactions between him and Madame Hydra are brief but unforgettable. But the thing is why Hank? He is such a one dimensional character and I could not have cared less about his family. Bob, a cult favorite from the Deadpool fandom exists in much the same capacity and even if there was continuity conflict it wouldn’t matter because this is Secret Wars which is its own bubble of continuity. Honestly, the best, funniest material all happened with Hank’s work place. Everything else was sad and demeaning like the plot to every Noah Baumbach movie. It would have been fine if the book had shown a brief flicker of family life while focusing on the weird work environment. Instead it just feels like somebody wanted to complain about things at home.
There are much better ways to show the home life of somebody involved in the super hero community. Right now “Invincible” is killing it with Mark Grayson’s family life. He’s moved to another planet at the other end of the galaxy to raise his new daughter and his family is having a hard time of it. Mark is constantly painted as a man out of his element in an exaggerated environment that symbolizes the actual life change of fatherhood. Changing a diaper hardly looks alien to us. You know what looks alien? An alien bird with two heads, one that eats and screams and the other that poops acidic hairballs. Yeah, that’s a hard thing to get used to.