After it became apparent that DC’s Convergence is one of the most phoned in “events” in comic book history I became a bit apprehensive for the start of Secret Wars. Thankfully I should learn not to doubt the talent of Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic and Co. who have blown me away with the opening issue of Secret Wars.
Secret Wars is something builds on what has been happening with Marvel’s line of characters over the past few years. It is also an event that respects its readers and their knowledge of the Marvel Universe’s history. It is not just an excuse to throw character at each other to try and make drama. There is depth and complexity to the big explosions and endless fighting.
But first, a warning before we go any further: THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!
Within this first issue we see the end point of Hickman’s time on The Avengers and New Avengers. Everything: the Avengers World, the mission, The Illuminati and the Incursions. All of it has been preparing the reader for this first issue of Secret Wars. One I could easily sum it up with just two words: The End.
This issue is the story of the Final Incursion and the last stands of both the Marvel Universe and Ultimate Universe. You can look at it from a meta perspective and see this as the end of the grand experiment that is Marvel Comics for the past few decades. That this is the last desperate struggle of the characters within it fighting for survival at any cost. To reach the Beyond and be included in whatever happens next. Or you can just see it as a fun way to shift and change things with one grand sweeping motion rather than Marvel’s usual approach a slow incremental change. It does the job though and you get the sense that whatever happens from this point on is fair game. The rules have been broken, obliterated even, in an action that is very Un-Marvel and that is just great to see.
Secret Wars #1 is a series of perfectly timed punches to the gut. Punches that hit hard but crucially leave you wanting more. Two universes collide, fight and are destroyed. Lots of people die horribly and at the end of the issue everything seems lost. There are however two small glimmers of hope: The Lifeboat making it to wherever it is now and Doom’s confrontation with the Beyonders indicating that he somehow makes it through to the other side. There is also the Ultimate Universe’s Reed Richards, The City and The Cabal to consider who are seen scheming right up until the implosion of all that is known.
There is a grandness to it all which only Esad Ribic’s art can pull off. He crams so much detail and drama into each panel and page. It fits perfectly the overall epic tone of the book. Much like Hickman’s last event book, Infinity (which I absolutely loved) you get a great sense of the stakes being so god damn high that every action and every bit of dialogue is important and that serves the story both in terms of telling it and adding depth to it. It is not just mere shock value (or rumoured publisher mandate) as the reason why all of the Fantastic Four barring Reed Richards are horribly and dramatically killed in the dying moments of the 616 Universe. They are Marvel’s First Family and there is a dark poetry to their demise at the end of the known Universe. The image of a horrified Reed helplessly looking on as T’Challa pilots the Lifeboat into the beyond chilled me to the very bone.
When I finished reading the issue a weird sense of sadness filled me. The mainline 616 universe is something I know the ins and outs of. It is a thing that has grown and changed around me and with the times since I stumbled upon it with my first Spider-Man comic back in the day. (Nearing 20 years ago at this point!) The last page that confirms the absolute end of all things gave me flash backs to all the stories and characters I have experience during my time reading their hijinks. I feel sad but in a good way. I am ready and willing to see what happens next. Rather than being angry or fearful of the impending change (if any!) I am happy to tread into somewhat familiar territory but with a nice new modern twist to it. The Multiversal Collapse Event done the Marvel Way.
It was also good to see so many character moments appear in such a tightly packed issue. Each character or groups of characters gets their moment in the spotlight despite the sheer chaos being displayed on each page. The best of which being the way that The Punisher (despite my general dislike for the character) decides to spend his last moments on Earth. There is a lot to take in and digest in just this singular issue. There is a lot of imagery and incidental dialogue that will only grow in importance and pay off in a big way as the rest of the event plays out. For now though this is pretty much a near perfect first issue that a comic book event story can have. It ends with everything being destroyed and we have seven more issues (and countless tie-ins) to go. I cannot wait to see Battleworld and what has happened to the former survivors of the old Marvel Multiverse.
The only major downside that this issue and I am guessing Secret Wars as a whole will have is that it is horribly unfriendly to new and lapsed readers coming into it after hearing/reading all the buzz around it. You need a good general knowledge of both the mainline Marvel Universe and Ultimate Universe’s history and characters. You also need to have read Hickman’s complete Avengers and New Avengers runs including Infinity that lead directly into this (also to a lesser extent his Fantastic Four work). Secret Wars picks things up directly after the endings of Avengers and New Avengers with little to no explanation for how things have gotten to this point. A brief recap page would have done wonders to clarify things instead of a one sentence explanation in the book’s opening and some clunky exposition as Ultimate Reed brings Nick Fury up to speed on the collapse of the Multiverse before all hell breaks loose.
Still I can sort of forgive it for its obtuseness for the uninformed. This is the big last hurrah before things get pared back and simplified with the relaunch of Marvel’s entire line of books after Secret Wars is over and done with. It should be full of detail, nods and meta musing on the nature of the Marvel Universe and its history. The Beyonders have decided to end it all and Doctor Doom has been slowly shaping himself into a god in order to stop them. The convoluted backstory needs to be there, that is the only way this book works.
Basically, you need to read this book if you are a long time Marvel fan and reader. If you are a newer or incredibly lapsed reader you will still enjoy it but you will probably be very, very confused until you google a few things.
Can I have Issue #2 now please?!