Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Esad Ribic
Marvel has been building up to this event for months, and I have done my best to read the last several issues of New Avengers, Avengers, and Avengers World multiple times to know enough to be prepared for this book. But can we ever truly be prepared? Will we look back in a few years, deep in the throes of another Decimation or Civil War, and wonder what we gained? Probably no more than I do now with Convergence, after every last crisis of infinite proportions.
For those waiting for the prelude or “Time Runs Out” trade paperbacks (a smart choice, for ultimate pre-mysterious battle knowledge), here’s where we’re at: the multiverse is meeting an untimely and unfortunate end, for reasons unknown. Various parties have been working to preserve their personal Earths, either destroying encroaching planets with glee (the Cabal, with the very willing Thanos and more conflicted Namor) or out of protective obligation (our Sorcerer Supreme). Dr. Doom is involved. There’s a pretty amazing fight with the Beyonders, who are maybe destroying things too? And left standing at the literal end of all things are Dr. Doom, Molecule Man, and Doctor Strange, in addition to two remaining universes, which are about to collide.
Here’s the thing: Secret Wars is certainly not a new concept, and neither is super-galaxy Hunger Games. The question is, then, is the book good? Whatever the purpose — clearing house, offering an opportunity to revisit popular older franchises, or just generating press — does it mean anything, and will it make you care?
To tell you the truth, as of issue #1, it’s hard to say. Spoiler alert: your faves are dead. Just about all of them, depending on who your favorites are. The issue closes at the end of everything with maybe a half-dozen people left alive, and it’s hard to say exactly who they are. There are some heartening moments scattered between the grim misery of the apocalypse; a villainous farewell party busted up by the Punisher looking to go out with a bang, Ultimate Tony Stark making a pass at someone even if there will be no bars left to drink at.
Hickman’s writing is excellent, full of appropriate gravitas and capturing the essence of what exactly Peter Parker or Drax or Danny Rand would do in the face of the impossible. The art is beautiful, as is the color work. And if you come out of this feeling a little hopeless and a lot despondent, I believe that’s the intent. It’s readily apparent to most parties involved that there is truly nothing to accomplish in this final battle between Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe, and there’s a certain existential hopelessness that threads itself all the way through both in the text and the imagery. This is not a light book, and there is no happy ending in sight.
Most frustrating is that it’s hard to know what exactly is going on, and it doesn’t seem to matter much if you know or don’t. But this is what makes it somewhat welcoming to newcomers — if you have any passing familiarity with bigger-name characters, you’ll know enough to connect, even if you’re not sure who’s “Ultimate” or vanilla Marvel. (Helpful tip from fellow GWW’er Tyler Pollock that I missed at first glance: the lettering is different between the two universes.)
As someone who read the lead up books, there’s only one real ‘twist’ I learned about in earlier “Time Runs Out” issues that would have otherwise seemed out of place. If you read Secret Wars without reading Avengers/New Avengers first, you’ll at worst be spoiling yourself for their future trades. It is a confusing event, and you won’t be alone if the overarching plot here seems murky and unclear.
Hardcore fans of Marvel should absolutely pick up Secret Wars, and newer fans coming in from recent film franchises may want to give it a try as well if they want to dip their toes into their first big comic-exclusive event. There are a number of great tie-in titles coming to us soon (A*Force, a Runaways reboot, and Ghost Racers, among others) and it will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out — this review may seem ambivalent so far, but I truly believe Secret Wars has the potential to be a great event overall. This introduction is quality work, but I can’t quite call it fun: there’s no hopeful note to end on, other than hoping Dr. Doom isn’t the only one left alive.
TL;DR: +7.5 for quality and relative accessibility, -2.5 for being accessible because new and old readers alike will undoubtedly feel like they’ve missed something, somewhere. The quality makes it worth checking out next month.