Review: Secret Wars #1

“Let’s be honest: Secret Wars is going to make a mint because, regardless of how inaccessible the individual chapters are, folks are going to keep coming back to witness what’s being touted as an end of era. I just hope that Hickman and company do a better job of making readers know why they should care.”

Secret Wars #1

Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writers: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Esad Ribic
Release Date: Wed, May 6, 2015

Marvel has long prided itself on the accessibility of its comic book series, insofar as any serialized comic book story can truly be said to be accessible. That said, it’s a baffling move that the company would start its big summer crossover miniseries that truly is supposed to be the game-changer that these events always purport to be with such a baffling, convoluted first issue. But that’s exactly what writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Esad Ribic’s Secret Wars #1 boils down to: one of the most inaccessible, dense beginnings to a company-wide crossover event I’ve read in my 24 years of reading comic books, and that’s saying something.

What is Secret Wars #1 about? The incredibly short, condensed, Reader’s Digest, Cliff’s Notes version is that the Marvel Universe with which most folks are familiar—the one with Peter Parker as Spider-Man and a whole mess of X-Men and Avengers that, mostly, look like the ones we see in Fox and Marvel Studios’ films—and the Ultimate Universe—the one with the Nick Fury who looks like Samuel L. Jackson and Miles Morales as Spidey—are the last two universes left in all the multiverse. The rest of the reality’s universes are victims of events called incursions in which two different Earths collide, destroying both realities, unless the people of one Earth vanquish the other Earth first. With only the Marvel and Ultimate Universes left, it becomes a race against time as each reality scrambles to survive. The Ultimate Universe’s Nick Fury strikes first at the behest of that reality’s warped Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, sending a team of heroes to strike at the Marvel Earth. What Reed hasn’t told Nick is that saving either Earth is futile, something the Marvel Universe’s Reed seems to know, as he is saving everyone he can to restart the human race once reality blips out of existence.

Got all of that? Really? Because I barely do, and I read the comic. That synopsis is leaving out so many details, of Black Swans and Beyonders and Mapmakers, information that is peppered throughout the first issue. And that’s the main point of contention I have with the tale: its presumption of knowledge. Look, I know that Marvel’s stories tend to build on one another to the effect that any crossover event like this is going to come with its own back history and baggage. A little info about the main players going into the story will always be a plus. However, with a crossover such as this which has been hyped for months and claims to end the Marvel Universe as we know it, a universe of comics and stories we’ve known for 50 years, the logical thing to me is to make the damn yarn a bit easier to read. Unless you’ve read all of Hickman’s work on his Avengers titles, you’re pretty much fucked. I’ve read some of his work on New Avengers, but not all of it, and I was confused. This is coming from someone who has a fairly extensive knowledge of Marvel’s stable of characters, to the point that I know some of their stories better than I do those of actual family members. Granted, the series gives you the idea that these two universes are colliding and it’s Bad with a capital B, but none of the allusions in the book will make fuck-all sense to a reader who doesn’t know any of that and who’s picking up the title after being brought in by Marvel’s hype machine. From a business standpoint, it’s truly baffling. As much as I hate expositional info-dumping, this issue could have used a page or two of explanation for the novice reader.

Beyond that, the art is phenomenal. Ribic, best known for his work with writer Jason Aaron on Thor: God of Thunder, renders action scenes with a gravitas that this type of tale necessarily calls for. Ribic also has a clear knack for facial expressions and pulling true emotion from his characters, something that an apocalyptic tale like this one has to have to sell that THIS IS THE END. (Probably. Maybe.) And credit where credit’s due to Hickman: He gives Ribic plenty to work with, as he doesn’t waste time plopping readers in the middle of the action. While I still contend that more explanation would have helped novice readers, writers don’t usually start with the explosions and violence right out of the gate like Secret Wars #1 does, so I tip my hat to the man for mixing it up.

And it’s not that I hate the book, per se. As I said, Hickman does a good job of inserting the chaos that would naturally accompany an event like this. The grandeur is there, as are the smaller moments. Watching Spider-Man and Luke Cage and Iron Fist tending to the civilians while Cyclops uses Sentinel robots to fight off the invading horde of heroes and ships from the Ultimate Universe shows the scope of what we’re dealing with. Buildings crumbling and helicarriers falling from the sky and existence literally fading away: All of these moments do ring THE END. If readers just had a bit more back story of how we got to the high stakes we see in issue 1, it would have gone a long way to selling the whole shebang and conceit of the tale.

Let’s be honest: Secret Wars is going to make a mint because, regardless of how inaccessible the individual chapters are, folks are going to keep coming back to witness what’s being touted as an end of era. I just hope that Hickman and company do a better job of making readers know why they should care.

War Journal:

  • Looks like the Punisher is going to get to do one last bit of punishing before the world comes a’tumbling down. He looks like a kid on Christmas morning.
  • I’ve been reading most of the X-books, but when the Hell did Cyclops get a Phoenix egg and control another nation? Love me some Cyclops, so I’m hoping we get to see more redemptive qualities in this tale that Brian Michael Bendis has been exploring in Uncanny X-Men.
  • While I guess that technically the Red Skull could be considered the first of Marvel’s supervillains, Doctor Doom debuted as the first baddie of Marvel’s modern age in the pages of Fantastic Four. It’s fitting that he’s there for the end of all things.

Secret Wars #1 is now on sale in comic book shops near you. Issue 2 hits shelves on Wednesday.

Review: SECRET WARS #1
If there had been a page or two of exposition explaining the events leading up to issue 1, the score would have jumped by 3 points. The grandeur of the action and Ribic's fabulous art saves the book from a lower score.
6Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)