Today, Mark and Drew are discussing Secret Wars 2, originally released May 13th, 2015.
Mark: This summer finds both DC and Marvel presenting readers with big crossover events where their heroes fight for survival, but the approaches couldn’t be more different. For all of the problems DC’s Convergence has (and the list is not brief), one advantage is that DC has a long, storied history of multiverses, continuities, and characters to choose from. It does my nerd heart good to see characters like pre-Flashpoint Superman once again, characters to which I have a lot of attachment. Maybe it’s a cheap thrill, but there’s something to seeing these heroes from different times and universes coming together. Marvel does not have the luxury of history. They’ve always employed a rolling continuity that keeps their characters’ histories current without having to do a hard reboot like the New 52. Outside of Earth-616, the Ultimate universe has been a depressing mess for such a long time that Miles Morales was the only reason to keep it limping along at all. So in order for Marvel to create an interesting clash of heroes, they had to basically build one from the ground up.
Enter Battleworld. I admit to having Jonathan Hickman fatigue after his sometimes messy, always talky Avengers/New Avengers run, and I honestly found Secret Wars 1 to be rather boring, but I appreciated the mash up of sci-fi and fantasy tropes with the Marvel Universe found in Secret Wars 2.
There’s a lot to take in, and it requires some time for us to orient ourselves to the world God Emperor Doom built. Hickman tells three major stories throughout the issue. First, a new initiate to Battleworld’s law enforcers, the Thors, acts as an audience surrogate and allows Hickman an exposition dump on the who, what, and where of Battleworld. Second, the trial of Baron Sinister and subsequent downfall of Jamie Braddock is the dense political intrigue that feels most Hickman-y. And finally, Alex Powers finds definitive proof that the legend of creation built up around God Doom is not all that it purports to be.
The main strength of this issue lies in the many reveals and tantalizing glimpses of Battleworld Hickman builds into the narrative combined with the art of Esad Ribic. Ribic delivers gorgeous compositions page after page, such as the Thors kneeling before the image of their God Doom.
Or Jamie Braddock’s glowing sword slicing through Marvel Zombies in the dark mists of the Deadlands.
Hickman’s wordy style works here in the genre trappings of high fantasy in a way that sometimes fails to click in action heavy issues like Secret Wars 1. The final pages of the issue lay out the geography of Battleworld and tease potentially exciting tie-ins yet to come. There’s a lot to look forward to with Secret Wars, but my biggest concern is that nothing will be able to live up to the promise inherent in the name “Spider-Island.”
What’d you think, Drew?
Drew: Oh, man, Mark, your tease about Spider-Island made me realize just how similar Secret Wars is to Convergence. I don’t necessarily want to turn this into a detailed comparison of the two events, but I think Grant Morrison’s Multiversity Guidebook asserted that all of DC’s various reboots and retcons are still part of one continuity. Things may have been reset and undone by events within that continuity, but they only happened because of what came before. The New 52 can only exist because of Flashpoint, which can only exist because of Final Crisis, which can only exist because of Infinite Crisis and so on. Kind of like how Marty McFly remembers his dad working for Biff, even though Biff works for his dad when he returns to 1985.
THE POINT IS: DC’s event is made up of both elseworld universes AND different times within the same universe, which actually very much resembles what Marvel is doing. Marvel Zombies obviously represents a different universe, but regions like “Civil War” and “Spider-Island” represent different times within the 616 Universe. We don’t yet know what, if any, similarities there will be to those original stories, but it’s fair to say that Secret Wars is very much intended as a celebration of Marvel’s long history. Which I suppose runs the risk of alienating anyone not fully immersed in that history. I actually found this to be incredibly effective as an introduction to a world that seems impenetrably large and dense.
How long has Battleworld existed? There are many hints that it has been around for generations: the new Thor recruit has memories of growing up on Battleworld, nobody remembers its origins, and myths abound about Doom building impossibly large walls single-handedly. At the same time, we recognize characters from the Marvel universe, including a still adolescent Valeria Richards and, perhaps more importantly, the entire Cabal, fresh off of the ship Ultimate Reed Richards stowed them on. I suppose that means the other liferaft of survivors from Earth-616 must also be somewhere.
Actually, now that I think about it a little more, the only 616ers we see prior to the Cabal’s arrival wasn’t on the life raft. Doom and Captain Britain were never on the manifest, and Sue and Valeria Richards (and the rest of the Freedom Foundation kids) were so pointedly lost at the end of the previous issue. There’s some weird afterlife something going on here, which among other things gives me some idea of how the world as we know it might be resurrected at the end of this event.
However long its been in place, I love everything we learn about Battleworld, from the bizarre Doom warship to the army of Thors policing the planet. Both Hickman and Ribic have a touch for epicness, and you can feel the massive scope of this story on every single page. Every scene seems to pull out the camera just a little bit further, both literally and figuratively, implying a whole world that we haven’t even begun to imagine. Landscapes are littered with massive statues, establishing shots are canted sickeningly to capture the full size of the castles of Battleworld — heck, even Galactus looks small compared to all of this massiveness.
Ribic is knocking it out of the park here, but Hickman is absolutely holding up his end of the bargain. I mean, what better way to make your exposition sound epic than by putting it in the mouth of King Thor? “A world-eating sentinel stands guard over Castle Doom” sounds infinitely cooler than “look at Galactus!”
All that biggness is kind of daunting, but I trust the impending avalanche of tie-in issues to more than flesh out this world. For now, though, I’m excited and intrigued. This issue really just needed to hint at what the world is, and pump me up for it, and it did both beautifully. I mean, come on, an Army of Thors? That’s too stupid to not love.
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