Secret Wars is the culmination of Johnathan Hickman’s grandiose plotline that he began in the pages of New Avengers and which has popped up in other Marvel books. This first issue shows that this event really will deliver a massive change to Marvel Comics the likes of which haven’t been seen before for the company.
This issue dumps the reader in without much explanation. We know that the main Marvel Universe (the 616 Universe) and the Ultimate Universe are colliding due to the “incursion event” and when the worlds collide, both of their respective universes will die. Every other universe in the multiverse have been eradicated due to this event and these last two worlds fight for their very survival. The Ultimate Universe launches a preemptive strike on the 616 Universe which sets up the majority of the conflict of this issue. However, this ultimately proves to be futile.
For months, Marvel has been telling us that this event signals the end of the Marvel 616 and Ultimate Universes and it actually delivers on that. By the end of this initial issue, both of these worlds are gone, setting up the stage for the new world to arise. We know about Battleworld thanks to the various announcements which Marvel has made but we don’t see any of that here (save for a tease at the end). If you were to come into this without knowledge of what is to come, you would believe that this really is the end and the book does a great job of making you experience a sense of hopelessness and finality.
In many ways, this issue was very reminiscent of an event by the other big company: DC Comics. Back in the mid-80’s, DC wanted to reinvigorate itself by resetting things. How did they accomplish that? By destroying the DC multiverse. This is the exact same thing Marvel is doing with Secret Wars, which is why this issue in particular was similar to Crisis. Unlike Crisis however, which took 12 issues to destroy the universe, Wars manages to do it in one. Nonetheless, it still has that same vibe but in a distinctly Marvel-like fashion.
The art of the book is a somewhat of a mixed bag. While artist Esad Ribic’s actual drawings are incredibly detailed and well defined, it seemed as if he struggled to capture the massive scale of the war between universes and their impending doom in a consistent manner. While there were several splash page shots which perfectly crystallized the larger than life nature of events, there were an equal amount of panels which seemed truncated. You had to fill in the gaps with your imagination which was disappointing. It may be nitpicking on my part since most reviewers have been blown away by the scale of the book, but comparing this to the aforementioned Crisis makes it feel underwhelming.
Another minor complaint on the art front, and this is a personal one, is that there is no dedicated inker. While Ribic’s pencils are top notch, some of his lines aren’t clearly defined which makes the book seem a bit “light” (for the lack of a better term) at points. An inker would have served to make the already amazing looking drawings stand out that much better. Again, this is a minor complaint, but it’s something that will continue to be glaring moving forward.
Though the issue accomplishes its goal of destroying the two remaining Marvel Universes, it can only be fully enjoyed by those who have been keeping up with Hickman’s storyline for the last three years. Someone like me who hasn’t read a Marvel book since Secret Invasion will feel as if they were tossed into the middle of the ocean without a life raft. The issue does absolutely nothing to set things up for new or former fans. Even a one page breakdown of the events leading up to this issue would have been appreciated but we’re not even given that. If you’ve been keeping up with Marvel then you’ll be fine but everyone else will have to scour the internet for a crash course of events leading up to this.
Despite not being new/returning reader friendly and some of the art not being able to capture the massive scale of the worlds’ end, this was an exciting start to Marvel’s latest event. With only a handful of heroes from the 616 Universe remaining, this really feels important and dire. Though this issue doesn’t touch on it, we know that the surviving heroes are now on Battleworld and must face off against heroes and villains from various timelines for some mysterious purpose. We have to commend Marvel for literally killing off its universes and taking readers into the unknown.
The next four months promise to be very interesting indeed.