The summer comic book event has become the big tentpole picture of comic books. We’re all anticipating what it has to offer and how it might change things for our characters. There have been plenty of previews and tidbits thrown at us for the last few months, but it’s finally here. Is it good?
Secret Wars #1 (Marvel Comics)
This 40 page extravaganza (actually it’s more like 32 pages since the book uses full pages to express a couple of words on a black or white page) kicks off the event we’ve all been waiting for. I for one haven’t been reading a lot of the titles, expecting to be able to jump right in and enjoy what Marvel has to offer without having to read all the lead in titles. This reviewer is going in with only the information that some kind of Battleworld is created with whole continents (or is it countries?) housing different alternate world versions of our favorite Marvel characters. It has been said readers going in completely blind like myself should have no problem, but is that the case?
That’s cold Reed!
Not really. But lets delve into what this comic is anyway. Writer Jonathan Hickman opens his book on Dr. Doom and two others as they witness a white light coming at them. It’s a fantastic way to open the series as we see the fear in Doom’s eyes as the white envelops him. A booming voice coming out of purple lightning calls itself The Beyond and thus the intro is complete. From there Hickman sticks us into the 1610 and 616 universes. These are the main universe we know and love and the Ultimate universe. Thankfully I read a few of Hickman’s incursion comics and know whole universes are colliding. It appears we’re down to these two and they are smashing into one another. Most of this issue focuses on their worlds colliding and the heroes of each trying to take out the other.
The Ultimate universe seems to be run by Mr. Fantastic and his evil looking robot, The City. They are in cahoots with the Cabal who has a member we all know and love called Thanos. Hickman does a good job weaving in details that will obviously come back later, such as Mr. Fantastic holding some cards close to the chest here. Over on the 616 universe Eden, the newer teleporting Avenger has also got something going on, but besides a bit of a hint at something coming down the line from him there isn’t much more said.
Nice point Rocket!
Basically this issue is an armageddon movie. The characters are packing up and getting ready to ship out preparing for the worst. And when I say characters, I mean many characters. This book follows many of them, which in effect makes them cogs in the machine of this plot more than anything. There were a few times I had to go back and look at the cast list page to make sure who was fighting for who, which was a bit annoying (and they forgot to put mohawk Hulk on there I might add) and that brings up the ultimate issue I had with this book. Nearly every page I was trying to catch up and figure out what was going on. Why for instance, was Cyclops carrying some kind of egg that turned him into the Phoenix? More importantly I had no idea why he had to go into Phoenix mode nor what that even accomplished. Similarly the Fantastic Four are on some kind of Noah’s Ark mission, but where they are going or what they could possibly be preparing for is anyone’s guess. I assume the world as we know it is going to be obliterated, but nobody goes out and just says it.
Mr. Fantastic is looking villainous.
There simply are no fun moments in this title. There are no epic splash pages or fantastical moments to make you go “wow.” Instead it’s characters running around doing stuff for stuff’s sake. Unfortunately all the characters are disbanded and in separate groups, but for what reasons I have no idea. Hickman has things exploding and characters doing “things” but why or for what I couldn’t care less. The ultimate end of the title is huge, probably the biggest event in Marvel history, but it’s told in such an esoteric way I can’t seem to care what is happening. Is this an event of epic proportions? Yes. Is it fun to read? No.
I’m a huge fan of Esad Ribic, who does the art here, but I found myself confused as to what was going on in certain panels. He’s clearly a bigger fan of drawing people over backgrounds and more than once I wasn’t sure how characters were related spatially as I read. This created big problems as far as anticipation and drama because I wasn’t sure if, for instance, Hulk was knocking over a tower that Ultimate Nick Fury was in or not. Once it was confirmed that was happening it was too late and once again I was playing catch up. All that said, his moments drawing Dr. Doom, funnily enough the most simple of panels in the entire book, were fantastic and steeped in drama.
It’s safe to say what happens to both Earths by issue’s end, but since Battleworld is not established here it’s unclear what is happening in the climactic last few pages. At least we aren’t left hanging, wondering what happened to them. Mr. Fantastic loses touch with Invisible Woman, but because I have no idea if she’s dying or just teleporting somewhere you’ll be hard pressed to feel anything. Without knowing the stakes there’s no dramatic tension.
I understand Hickman loves to use full pages of black or white with a few words to create a dramatic moment, but it just doesn’t work here. The last few pages contain an entire page of two words, another with five words, and finally with one solid image of a spacecraft. It feels like more of a giant middle finger of a tease more than anything. Sure the implications of both worlds dying off is huge, but I have no idea what I’m seeing on the last page and thus no feeling either positive or negative.
What this comic gets right is cordoning off the heroes into sections we know will be banded as the event progresses. This is the hero group, and meanwhile we have Dr. Doom doing his thing elsewhere. That makes it safe to say there is going to be some kind of core to this Battleworld and that’s a positive.
The end is nigh!
Is It Good?
In a lot of ways this event starts with a whimper rather than the bang it so desperately wants to accomplish. It feels like it simply exists and is one of the flattest opens to an event I’ve ever read. Unfortunately there’s no dramatic tension nor any semblance of drama to speak of and instead focuses more on preparing the pieces for the remaining seven issues. Ultimately summer comic book events should be fun, but this feels like work.