Today, Ryan and Patrick are discussing Secret Wars 1, originally released May 6th, 2015.
“Oh, best war ever…”
-General Nick Fury, Secret Wars 1
Ryan: Secret Wars grabs the baton from Jon Hickman’s Avengers/New Avengers beloved/despised/confusing “Time Runs Out” saga chronicling the futile struggle of Earth-616 against the collapse of the multiverse. Hickman dives in by tipping his hat to the concluding plot thread of Doom vs. The Beyonders, the significance of which — aside from helping to shrink the amount of surviving universes down to a baker’s dozen minus a bunch — is still a bit lost on me. The narration of the issue is provided by Reed Richards, and the first installment of this event belongs to him.
Both of him. The Earth-1610 (Ultimate Universe) version of Papa Fantastic goes by the moniker of The Maker, who shares only brilliance with his Earth-616 (the vanilla Marvel Universe) counterpart. As the Ultimate U launches all of its S.H.I.E.L.D. assets in a hopeless assault of self-preservation, Reed sets in motion his worst-case scenario contingency: a “life raft” space craft designed to transport him, his loved ones, some heroes, and the scientific personnel needed to ensure the survival of the human race. By the end of this flashy engagement, however, we learn that the struggles thus far have been rendered impotent due to the actual Incursion between both worlds and the machinations of the Maker. Now the question is: who is left to wage this ballyhoo-ed Surreptitious War? And can it live up to Ultimate General Fury’s assessment of its greatness?
The original Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars of 1984 came about from Mattel’s bid to compete with Kenner Toys, who had previously licensed DC’s Universe for action figures. According to Jim Shooter, Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief during the original mega-crossover, the title even comes from Mattel’s focus group tests which “indicated that kids reacted positively to the words “wars” and “secret.”” The character of The Beyonder, a “child unit” to our contemporary glowing-hole-in-the-cosmos Beyonders, directly abducted a collection of heroes and villains to a planet he created called “Battleworld” to watch them beat each other up. Hypothetically, our current version will make it to that point, while allowing for Marvel to consolidate their best characters and locales from across the multiverse and offer a fresh landscape wherein other, more recent cross-over events can be redone (Civil War, Secret Wars, Planet Hulk, Age of Ultron Vs. Marvel Zombies, Years of Future Past, and Armor Wars to name a few).
So, what’s working well thus far? I love Hickman’s use of Reed Richards; he had great success finding that character’s voice back in FF, and hearing this seminal character’s spirit crushed by events terrifyingly out of his control makes for a gripping through-line for this issue. Also, the expansive Marvel U, even when it has been shorn and consolidated, offers a vast number of cameos and character inclusions which are guilty pleasures to read. One such example of this is the teamwork between two who have scrapped several times in the past:
Fine, call me a mark for the Fastball Special, because I am. I also love the small touch of Colossus’s Russian dialect coming off the page with that sentence structure. And if that was not enough fan service for you, than how about a little Frank Castle cameo?
As silly and fun as those scenes are, I believe they are integral to the comic. Hickman’s tendency to get a little hyper-intellectual and abstruse hamstrung the accessibility of some very interesting storytelling and dialogue in “Time Runs Out”, and moments like this ground the title to the Marvel Universe which belongs to everyone long-time reader.
Also working for the series is the art by Esad Ribic. Each character looks fresh yet distinctive, the lines and shading are gorgeous, he uses lighting dramatically, and brings the necessary feeling of scale and scope to this huge event. Ribic is quickly becoming my favorite cross-over artist since Yeinil Yu.
My complaints are not huge, as I feel like the larger judgments need another issue or two to develop. That being said, I wish Ultimate Hawkeye served a larger purpose than playing as Fury’s aid. The Earth-1610 Hawkeye I know and love from the Ultimates exuded badassery from head to fingers as seen here in Ultimates 1:
My second worry will surely be addressed soon, but I wonder: who is 100% dead? And will it be for good, or are these deaths merely a plot device to cheaply raise the stakes, as in the X-Men: Days of Future Past film? I feel like I cannot be fully invested in characters meeting their demise here until I know what exactly is going on, or until I forget every death that ever occurred in main-stream comics, ever. With the large number of big-name fatalities, I truly do find myself confused as to who will be fighting who, as the big names pulled aboard Reed’s LifeRaft do not seem enough to drive this series forward.
Patrick! I know you have been counting down the months to this from your awesome Avengers 42 review. How successful of a stand-alone mega cross-over issue of an event do you find this comic? And do you ever think it will be safe to jump back on the Hickman bandwagon again? Lastly, am I the only one who had Powerman 5000 stuck in their head for the entirety of reading the issue?
Patrick: I have indeed been waiting for this moment for many months. That’s an interesting word: “waiting.” It doesn’t put any value on the event being waited upon. I think that’s the most appropriate verb for what I experienced leading up to the release of this issue. I wasn’t “eagerly anticipating” Secret Wars, nor was I dreading it. (Well, okay, maybe I was dreading it just a little bit, but I’m a notorious curmudgeon.) This issue succeeds at meaningfully dramatizing the end of the world, and in that way, it’s a significant departure from what I was raving about in my assessment of issue 42. Instead of zipping around the multiverse, or even around the world, Hickman’s script holds steady to his enormous cast of characters, which features everyone from the Guardians of the Galaxy to the X-Men to the Avengers to everyone else from the Marvel Universe.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such an energetic expression of hopelessness — perhaps because it’s laced with so much fucking hope. I absolutely love how many contingency plans the Illuminati and Avengers have in place to save at least some sliver of the population, and I love how many of those plans come within inches of working. I know we were told that this was going to be the end of Earth-616, but like, we also inherently expect our heroes to save the day. My heart was in my throat as Black Widow’s final call to the Richards is cut short by an explosion. And the last-ditch efforts just get more desperate from there: Manifold implodes teleporting a meager five people to the life raft; Cyclops re-releases the Phoenix; and (most heart-breakingly) Reed attempts to pull his ship back together with his bare hands. Nothing works.
I feel like there’s another metaphor here about the limited power of optimism. It’s interesting to me that every single thing these heroes resort to is totally within their wheelhouse, simply on a grander (and in some cases, more brazen) scale. That amazing scene that Ryan shared of Punisher spending is last minutes on Earth mowing dudes down in a dive bar is so quintessentially in-character for Frank that it falls into the category of “business as usual.” The lesson is that “business as usual” fails. That’s an absolutely vital lesson, and one that the stewards of any work of art that’s been in existence for as long as the Marvel Universe has should be forced to engage in from time to time.
Ribic renders that emotionally trying lesson with such anthemic beauty as to welcome all readers, old and new. You could argue that the made-up physics of what’s happening in this story would be lost on someone that hadn’t plunked down the over $300 it’d cost to read Hickman’s epic, but there’s no denying the simple, iconic acts of heroism depicted here. Ryan posted a couple great pages, but here’s another show-stopper.
Just like the Hulk/Colossus Fastball Special Ryan showcased, this page doesn’t waste time with images that don’t immediately scream HERO. Check out Luke Cage and Iron Fist rescuing a kid from the rubble, or the Guardians arriving on the scene or Thor and Storm teaming up to take on a Trikelion helicarrier. The panels leading in to this page show Spider-Man swooping in to save a civvy from some falling debris for crying out loud!
Ribic makes all these moments look good. It’s almost as though he’s the optimistic yin to Hickman’s pesemistic yang. Now, I understand that the incident of these panels was probably dictated by Hickman, and I also understand that Ribic draws his fair share of explosions in this issue, so neither creative force should really be labeled as ultimately positive or ultimately negative. But it is worth pointing out just how the world ends: exclusively with text. That’s Hickman at his most singular, his most controlling, with nothing but the written word to tell his story. That story? “I hope… I believe… in nothing.”
I thought this issue was great, and I imagine there are different specific beats of panicked desperation for all readers. It’d be fun to take a random sampling of readers and see which they responded to most strongly. For me, one of the most potent “holy shit, we’re not fucking around here” moments was Scott allowing the Phoenix Force to take control of him (even going so far as to identify it as “love”).
I started reading Marvel comics because of the Marvel NOW! initiative, which came right on the heels of A vs. X, wherein a Phoenixed Cyclops murdered Professor Xavier. That’s a cloud that’s hung over all Scott Summers as long as I’ve been reading about him. There’s so much happening in this issue, and Hickman so deftly understands the central conflicts of these characters, that he successfully writes a finale-palooza here.
Naturally, there will be a Secret Wars #2 and that’s got to have Marvel characters in it somewhere, so these endings aren’t really real endings. The mechanics of that, and of Battleworld, are still totally mysterious, so let’s take some time to hypothesize like idiots. Maybe our six surviving Life Rafters (Reed, Thor, Spider-Man, Star-Lord, Cyclops, and Captain Marvel) survived the collapse of reality and discovered a wormhole through time and space? Maybe destruction-by-incursion is nothing more than a ticket into Battleworld? Or maybe that child-version of a Beyonder from OG Secret Wars has been squirreling away his favorite toys every time an Earth was destroyed? Or maybe all of reality going forward exists inside the virtual-reality-tricked-out mind of Ultimate Reed Richards? Guys! It could be anything!
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?