Secret Wars #1
Writer & Designer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Esad Ribic
Color Artist: Ive Svorcina
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Review by Joey Braccino
I BELIEVED IN TOMORROW.
I HID THAT BELIEF IN MY HEART—A STRONGHOLD AGAINST A WORLD THAT DEVOURS HOPE.
BUT NOW THE WALLS HAVE FALLEN.
I HAVE BEEN OVERRUN.
AND I HOPE… I BELIEVE…
Time has run out. Everything dies. The Secret Wars have arrived and the Multiverse has been destroyed.
Secret Wars #1 is without a doubt the biggest, most complex, most “earth-shattering” Marvel event I have ever read. These mega-comic events have been churning out of the House of Ideas on a regular basis since Millar blew up modern superhero comics with 2006’s Civil War (which actually followed Bendis’ events Secret War and House of M in 2004 and 2005). It seems like each summer (or more), Marvel in particular launches some new crossover event that encompasses every book on the stands: Civil War was followed up with World War Hulk and then Secret Invasion, which segued later into to Siege and Fear Itself, which ultimately reached its climax in Avengers vs. X-Men. That sequence of events (literally) told a larger story in which our merry band of Marvel heroes were essentially disassembled, put through the ringer, and had to claw their way back up to heroism.
That was when Bendis was running the Avengers-show, and AvX served as the end of that era and the ushering in of Marvel NOW! The core of the last 3 years of Marvel publishing has been split between Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers storyline and Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers/New Avengers storyline. Remender’s work culminated in the, frankly, lackluster Avengers & X-Men: AXIS event from last Fall; Hickman’s work, however, has grown through Infinity (2013) and across over 75 issues of Avengers and New Avengers titles.
And it is Hickman’s work on those titles—the introduction of Incursion events, the destruction of the universe, the rapid expansion of the Avengers roster, the Illuminati’s secret machinations wars—that Marvel has decided to use as the springboard into finally, once and for all, destroying both the main Marvel Universe (Earth-616) and the Ultimate Universe, Crisis-style.
And make no mistake about it, Secret Wars #1 destroys everything. This is not a spoiler—anyone who has read anything about what Secret Wars is doing to the Marvel Universe or looked ahead at solicits or looks at the damn cover knows that “EVERYTHING DIES” really means that everything dies.
For those readers who have been following Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers runs, Secret Wars is the natural continuation (culmination?) of those stories. We open where the final issue of New Avengers left off, with Doom, Dr. Strange, and the Molecule Man confronting the Beyonders, which, in more ways than one, throws back to the kitschy, best-selling original Secret Wars from 1984. But this is simply a moody, philosophical prologue, as the rest of the book picks up where the last issue of Avengers left off: non-stop, brutal, frenetic action as the Ultimate Universe “heroes” wage unadulterated war on the Marvel Universe heroes. Yes, the displaced Cabal and evil Ultimate Reed Richards have hatched a plan and Ultimate Nick Fury, Ultimate Iron Man, and a fleet of Ultimate helicarriers reign fire down onto 616 Manhattan. Meanwhile, 616 Reed Richards and 616 T’Challa finish work on the “Life Raft” that will take a select few of survivors out into the void left from the Incursion event between the two universes while the 616 Avengers and pretty much ever other 616 hero try to save lives and fight back the inevitable.
If that set-up makes little to no sense, you probably haven’t been following Hickman’s Avengers books, have you? Honestly, Hickman’s been building to this pretty much his entire run at Marvel, so it’s truly surprising that Secret Wars #1 can still appeal to new readers. The first issue is filled from cover-to-cover with all most of your favorite heroes at their most desperate (conspicuously absent: 616 Steve Rogers and 616 Tony Stark, Captain Universe, Ms. Marvel). Hickman throws so many characters into this issue—we’ve got Guardians, we’ve got X-Men, we’ve got Heroes for Hire—it’s absolutely insane. And regardless of whether you’re up-to-date on Incursions and the destruction of the multiverse and all of that, the desperation, the pain, and the weight of the events of Secret Wars hits like a ton of bricks. Hickman is able to effectively convey the despair and tribulations of nearly 3 years worth of stories through the action of this first issue.
And there are character deaths, all of which are handled carefully and feel like they matter (despite the overwhelming hopelessness of the story itself). Like, so many deaths. I was shocked by the sheer audacity of it all.
And really, would we want anything less from the story that (supposedly) kills our favorite Marvel Universe? The whole “two Earths converge and both are destroyed” Incursion concept could very easily have been an “out with a whimper” situation, but Hickman uses this first issue as an all-out, explosive, guns-blazing exit for our favorite characters in our favorite world. It’s insane.
Esad Ribic is one of those artists that can merge the expected cinematic scope of these events with a unique, recognizable, distinct style. The mix of dynamic realism with robust, scratchy figurework makes for an engaging, enthralling visual experience, and Ribic’s ability to choreograph action results in some of the most visceral moments I’ve ever seen on the page. Ribic also plays with his panels here, shattering the standard gutters and overlapping panels, perhaps paralleling the incursion itself. Ribic’s regular colorist, Ive Svorcina focuses on reds and blues this issue, hearkening back to the Red and Blue Incursions from New Avengers.
Attention must be paid to Chris Eliopoulos on letters. The man is the absolute best in the business. Period. One of the things I love about Secret Wars (and the last few issues of New Avengers) is the use of both the capitalized, mainstream lettering for the 616 scenes as well as the mixed-case lettering style for the Ultimate scenes. Here, character from both interact, so Eliopoulos has to use both styles in a single panel. It’s insane.
BUY. You have to. Not because it’s the end of the Marvel we’ve loved for over 50 years and not because it’s the next big comics event of the season, but because Hickman and Company deliver finally deliver a comic book story that justifies phrases like “Earth-Shattering!” and “World-Changing!” The stakes are high, the desperation is palpable, and the reality of the story itself is that it is, quite literally, the end. The finality is real and the fisticuffs signify nothing, people, but Secret Wars #1 delivers the sound and fury regardless.
Yeah, I just dropped some Macbeth on you. Ish is real life.
One last thought: Hickman wisely reserves all of issue #1 for this last-ditch, hopeless confrontation at the Incursion. There is no discussion of Battleworlds or War Zones or any of the other whackadoodle craziness that is inevitably coming as Marvel launches it’s dozens of tie-ins (how anyone is supposed to manage their pulllist for the next few months, only Uatu knows…). Quite frankly, I don’t think the total-reboot theory is entirely correct given some of the subtle storybeats in this first issue (and where I believe the rest of the story will go moving forward). Regardless, Hickman came into Secret Wars with the stakes set at the absolute highest they could be (EVERYTHING DIES!!!) and he totally delivered. Kudos. Check it!
PS – When I purchased Secret Wars #1 today at my LCS, I received a slew of promotional and preview materials that really and truly helped me make sense of the whacky publishing schedule for all the tie-ins. Some of the Secret Wars mini-series look awesome (1602 is my jam), so be sure to check the schedule carefully and pre-order what you want!