by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic
There is no way to make you understand this book in a simple review. It’s too complex, detailed, enthralling and emotional to describe in this space. All I’ll say is this, Secret Wars is a jaw dropping and complicated step into uncharted territory that turns the entire notion of what a corporate, shared universe, event comic should be, on it’s head. Event books are supposed to be easy to read, the most successful ones are usually the most accessible. Think Civil War or Infinity Gauntlet, clear lines of distinction on good guys vs bad guys, a reason for conflict, an end point, a large scale and all the irregularities of the Marvel universe are explained directly to the reader via exposition or thought boxes. This is what makes events popular, they are easy to get into and they are designed to gather the largest possible audience, but with there ubiquity, they’ve created a sense of repetition and because of that they are often pretty dumb in consequence. And while the aforementioned series above are a good example of Marvel doing the event right, there is plenty of evidence over the last few years that the publisher has lost the thread on that type of story telling, series like Axis, Black Vortex, Spider-Verse, Original Sin, Ultimate Cataclysm, Battle Of The Atom, Age Of Ultron & Avengers vs X-Men have often left audiences disappointed for a variety of reasons; the stories are fractured, they feel like the concept was thought up in a board room, other ongoings end up crossing over and disrupting their individual style, the ending rarely pays off, they lack substance and as of late, they’ve been needlessly convoluted in the worst ways. Think Axis with it’s “because mind control” plot twist midway into the series, Original Sin and the murder mystery with no ending or Age Of Ultron’s time travel deus ex machine that renders everything in the story into a moot point. Events are great for people in the business of comics, there is a huge audience for them as people consistently follow the stories in spite of past disappointments but if your a fan that just wants to following a book for a creator, specific character or because you like it’s individual story, they suck.
In many ways, Secret Wars is either an extreme version or nothing at all like events in the recent past. It’s crossing over with the vast majority of Marvel’s publishing line and it’s going for the big blockbuster scope with an initial book that features a cast of over fifty characters spanning across Marvel’s 616 & Ultimate universe but Secret Wars is clearly different in one key aspect, it’s not easy in anyway, it’s not dumbed down, it isn’t trying to capture as wide an audience as possible and for all that, it’s debut issue is a stunningly complex piece of comics storytelling that is equal parts thoughtful and emotional. The basic synopsis is that Marvel’s 616 universe is crashing into the Ultimate universe and opposing groups of hero’s, both led by the Reed Richards of their reality, are playing a kind of game theory war chess against one another for their own survival. Also Dr. Doom steps to god like he’s Bullet Tooth Tony staring at replica’s but that’s for another day. But what makes Secret Wars so thrilling is the unknown, you may think you’ve seen this all before, but what happens is never less then surprising & Hickman adds a level of gravitas to it’s characters that helps you feel the loss they’re experiencing. The monologue from 616 Reed Richards in the books final pages is one of the best things the writer has ever done. The unexpected, the ideas and the emotional all hit in equal measure and the story doesn’t miss a beat. Esad Ribbic is the perfect illustrator for this type of work, he excels at epic otherworldly, which is a constant here, but his strength is capturing the human element in that. When you see the hero’s clashing in the air, the panels are looking upwards as the perspective would be had the reader been a spectator. Ribbic is a master at capturing the terrifying wonder of supernatural destruction because he understands what the story needs intuitively to pull the reader into it’s world. Secret Wars is a great script, but it’s elevated to excellent from Ribic’s dynamic visual storytelling.
It’s amazing how fast Hickman & Ribic have grown since they last worked together on The Ultimates almost five years ago. The book was a commercial flop that was built on cool ideas but lacked sophistication in its execution. Five years later and with plenty of hit books under their belt, the duo’s first issue of Secret Wars trumps almost anything the two did together on their past collaboration. It’s only the debut issue of the series, these things do tend to fall apart over time and it’s a thin line between complex and convoluted. I can’t tell you how this is going to go and I can’t fully explain what makes the book excellent but I can say this; Secret Wars is an unflinching, unrelenting and unafraid science fiction disaster epic from two creators at the top of their craft, given free reign to tell their story, pushing the fictional universe to it’s limits with little to no regard for consequence. It’s not a book you read once, mildly enjoy and then go onto the next issue in your stack. You need to read closely, you need to take in the art, you need to think about what your reading, you need to consider it, you can’t treat it as disposable; there it too much thought and craft in this. In it’s debut, Secret Wars is an event unlike any other, mostly because all those things add up to it being excellent.