Monday, May 18, 2015

Comic Review: Marvel's Secret Wars (#1 & #2)

This year is really flying by.  It's already the middle of May, Free Comic Book Day has come and gone, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a living, breathing thing, and now -- finally -- we're into Marvel's annual summer comic Event, Secret Wars, 2015's version of the story-that-changes-everything.  This year Marvel is not only destroying the Marvel Universe as we know it, they're also desrtroying the Ultimate Universe as well -- by smashing the two universes together.  And that's not all!  DC comics is also destroying its multiverse... in a spectacularly similar way.  This has let both companies run a series of greatest hits one-shots and mini-series, either as a way to give creators a chance to tie up loose ends in an emotionally satisfying manner, or because they just can't come up with enough new ideas, so they're recycling some of the old ones.  Until I read issue #2 of this new version of Secret Wars, I was kind of inclined towards the latter view.  Now, though, I'm not so sure.
It's a great cover, but this is totally not what Secret Wars has been about.
So.  It's Marvel Comics' Secret Wars, but really, it's Jonathan Hickman's Secret Wars.  The dude at my local comic shop tells me that Hickman has been setting this story up for years now, that really, it starts all the way back with his run on Fantastic Four.  I only picked up the Hickman-verse when he moved from Fantastic Four to Avengers / New Avengers, but his run on the Avengers books has been cosmically terrific, as was his last summer blockbuster Event, Infinity.  Bottom line, he turned the Avengers into a kind of space opera for a while, and it really, really worked.  Now it's become something else entirely, and if I've been a little skeptical about it -- more than a little, really -- it's also true that he's earned some goodwill.

Susan Storm may prove to be our protagonist.
Under Hickman, the Marvel Comics Universe (MCU) has become a multiverse like the DC Universe (DCU), save that the various universes in the MCU have been slowly contracting and colliding, leading to the inevitable destruction of all that is.  In both 616 and the Ultimate Universe, Reed Richards created a way to protect his homeworld from destruction -- by destroying whatever alternate reality was about to slam into his -- but in 616, Captain America took exception.  This led to a kind of Civil War redux, with Tony Stark and the rest of the Illuminati (the de facto New Avengers) on one side and Steve Rogers, SHIELD, and the more moralistic, non-genius heroes on the other.  However, the issue is never resolved.  As the two sides head for the final showdown, the 616 universe and the Ultimate universe, the last two universes in existence, collide instead.

This is where our story opens.

The most surprising thing about Hickman's Secret Wars is the way that it hits some of the same notes that the original, 1980's era Secret Wars hit.  In the original Secret Wars, a godlike being called the Beyonder drew all the heroes and all the villains from around the MCU together to a battleworld that he created by merging bits of lots of different planets together.  The heroes and villains were then supposed to fight it out for ultimate power because, well, the Beyonder was kind of an MCU fanboy.  Seriously.  And it really worked.  It captured the imaginations of all of my friends in 6th grade, cementing our enthusiasm for comics for the rest of our lives.  But in the end, the original Secret Wars was kind of a bait-and-switch.  In the opening issue, Galactus attacks the Beyonder and is repulsed, and unbeknownst to anyone, Dr. Doom is flying in his wake taking scientific readings.  The heroes and villains then fight for the next seven or eight issues, and there are some very cool spots, but that's all a warm-up for when Dr. Doom figures out how to steal the Beyonder's power.  Doom becomes God, and from there, the story is classic cosmic Marvel.  Hickman's Secret Wars, then, starts in essentially the same way that the original Secret Wars ended.  Doom, Dr. Strange, and Molecule Man are sitting on some kind of platform, headed towards the Beyonder -- at least, I think it's supposed to be the Beyonder -- and then the 616 and Ultimate universes fight, and then reality is destroyed, and when the dust settles, Dr. Doom is God.

Gobin Queen Madeline Pryor & Mr. Sinister.
This story predates Marvel's attempts to woo
female fans by a good 20 years.
Given the success of the various Avengers movies and the fact that Marvel seems highly pissed off at Sony's insistence on retaining the movie rights to the Fantastic Four franchise despite the fact that they've yet to actually do anything worthwhile with them, I'd expected Secret Wars to be an Avengers story.  It's not.  Instead, it is most definitely a Fantastic Four story.  Doom is our God/Emperor/antagonist, Dr. Strange is his Prime Minister/Minister of Magic & Religion, and Valeria Richards (Sue and Reed's daughter) is his Minister of Technology.  Meanwhile, Sue herself is his loving (?) wife, seemingly the only one who keeps his rage in check, and the rest of the MCU is scattered around a new Battleworld, in baronies that are each an homage to some of the classic stories of the last thirty years.  In fact, issue #2 is also arguably a Sony issue in that it's primarily populated by characters out of the X-Men, X-Factor, and Excaliber franchises, circa 1985 to 1991.  We see Mr. Sinister, Captain Britain and Megan (last time I saw them together was the initial run of Excalibur, the ostensibly British version of the X-Men from the early 90s), alongside Apocalypse and the Four Horseman and Goblin Queen Madeline Pryor.

Where are the Avengers?  I have no idea.  Presumably they've got their own corner of Battleworld, but as of issue #2 Secret Wars, we've neither seen them nor seen how the Iron Man vs. Captain America fight that ended Hickman's run on Avengers actually ended.

The art in this book is great, and the story has me 1000% more interested than I'd expected to be.  This is not just a retelling of the classic Secret Wars story, but it does hit some of the same highlights -- in a very satisfying way.  I tend to hate Event comics, but I really liked Infinity, and I'm really liking Secret Wars as well. I can't say that I'll like -- or even read -- all of the ancillary titles, but the core title is terrific.


  1. I'm glad you like Secret Wars (so far), but most of the Hickman stuff I've read (especially Infinity) on Avengers (and New Avengers) has left me a little cold. I've tried to get into Cosmic stuff more (ever since the Guardians of the Galaxy movie was announced), but it's not really my thing, and I felt like Hickman was eschewing a lot of the established Marvel mythology for his own stuff (Builders, Ex Nihilo as opposed to Galactus and the Phoenix force at the beginning of the universe, the Celestials). If that stuff has been building to this coming event, that's a good thing, I guess, especially because where I'm at in the comics right now makes it look like he will reconcile with the older continuity and cosmic figures. I guess my other problem with this incarnation of Secret Wars is that Marvel never did the Crisis-type continuity reboot, and I always liked that about them.

    1. That's an interesting critique. I can tell you pretty easily why Hickman didn't use the Phoenix Force--Bendis has been using it since the AvX Event (which I HATED)--but I don't know about the rest. Certainly there's whole chunks of the cosmic continuity that are missing, i.e. Galactus, the Celestials, the Silver Surfer, etc. But other parts have certainly shown up. For example, Thanos (lots of Thanos), the Kree, Gladiator and the Shi'iar, Terax, the Brood... It's a selective usage, sure, but there was a lot there from days gone by. Besides, I think the point was that the Builders, etc, were supposed to be invaders from another realm that no one had ever heard of. If my reading of Secret Wars #1 was correct, then those guys were related to the Beyonder from the original Secret Wars, but y'know, it's all kind of fluid. Besides, Galactus shows up in Secret Wars #2.

      I don't know that they're actually resetting the continuity. I think they're trying to figure out how to fold the Ultimate Universe in such a way that they can keep the parts that really work and/or are obvious improvements on the original 616 versions of the characters. For example, they want to make Nick Fury black, and they want to keep Miles Morales. But no one's talking about keeping the Ultimate version of the Vision, for example.

      Comics and characters need to evolve. In the long run, this is just one of those things. It's a story. Everyone knows that the big "property" characters are going t continue to exist, but in the meantime, the whole line is committed for a few months to this weird, Elseworlds-style experiment, and if some parts of it are awesome, they may well stick. That's not a bad thing.