Review: Secret Wars #1

(Marvel Comics 2015)

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Esad Ribic

Begun the Secret Wars have. Sorry, I couldn’t resist, but hey it is true. I guess Marvel’s huge universe ending event actually began on FCBD with Secret Wars 0 issue in which Valeria Richards breaks it down and tells it like it is. “See this clock?” she asks her fellow Future Foundation members. “It says that in four days the world is ending. And the clock don’t lie.” She preaches on like a prophet of doom even striking a pose echoing a soulful Baptist preacher on Sunday morning mission; such big news from such a little child, it’s a great juxtaposition and it sets the tone for the terrible things to come.

Marvel has had an erratic track record when it comes to these big event books; the stakes are always high; the Watcher’s murder in Original Sin, a Skrull takeover in Secret Invasion and even the rights of our beloved heroes to hide their identities in Civil War and this is just to name a very few. These events are always handled by the best and brightest stars the House of Ideas has to offer; writers like Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron and Mark Millar with artists such as Mike Deodato, Leinil Yu and Steve McNiven bringing these complex narratives to life. This time around the fate of the Marvel Universe is resting in the more than capable hands of the brilliant Jonathan Hickman with stunning visuals provided by the equally amazing Esad Ribic. Hickman seems to have a natural propensity for these epic kinds of stories. If you have been reading his Avengers and New Avengers runs you are familiar with the sweeping scope and complex plots that are par for the course leading up to Secret Wars. With only one issue on the racks Secret Wars is already shaping up to be the most exciting read of the summer.

Throughout the entirety of Hickman’s run on both his Avengers’ titles he has been constructing a complex plot built upon the annihilation of Marvel’s multiverse and the Avengers’ inability to stop the impending incursion event and the ultimate destruction it is sure to bring. The issue opens with the 616 universe and the Ultimate universe in the midst of a collision that threatens to destroy every living being involved. The narrative spins directly out of Hickman’s recent “Time Runs Out” arc, in fact it begins exactly where the events of New Avengers #33 and Avengers #44 end, with Dr. Doom facing the Beyonders and the Ultimate Universe’s Nick Fury leading an attack on Manhattan. There is a dour tonality that only increases as events unfold, an underlying sense of futility and approaching destruction that touches every aspect of the story giving it an epic sense of melancholy. This being said there is still huge action sequences and tons of exciting moments that brings the entire story to a delicate balance and keeps the gloom from becoming oppressive and bleak. This issue delivers on every level including the over the top battles between the heroes of the 616 and the Ultimate Universe. The action is bombastic, kinetic and super-fast paced with a kind of cinematic sensibility to the staging and choreography of the fight scenes.

There is an emotionally charged element at work here as well, a sense of facing impossible odds and maintaining the ability to think things through, I would call it a kind of grace under pressure that Reed Richards displays as he works to complete an escape vehicle large enough to hold a significant enough number of passengers to represent humanity if they are fortunate enough to survive the coming catastrophe. Hickman dials the drama way up on this first issue and I don’t see him turning it down anytime soon. This is certainly one of the more somber event books Marvel has put out, almost complete devoid of any lighter moments, the narrative is dark but it is that inextinguishable hope that provides just enough light to keep us hanging on. These are characters that we have a vested interest in seeing survive, they are our heroes and we will not let them go quietly into that cold night, we want to see them come back from the brink even though we are almost sure that this time things don’t go as we want them to.

Esad Ribic does an incredible job of bringing Hickman’s dark imagery to life. Ribic is a master of rendering huge, epic images in meticulous detail. His characters are imbued with intense emotions that he brings out through attention to facial features and body language. There is a savage poetry at work in Ribic’s fight scenes; he is extremely adept at capturing the beauty and violence that exist at once in these brutal ballets. Ribic ranks among the most brilliant artists working in the medium today and that fact is more obvious than ever in this issue of Secret Wars.

This is the culmination of everything Hickman has been doing with these characters. Longtime readers of his Avengers’ titles are going to be extremely happy with this book; it is complex in the way that Hickman’s work usually is, it blends the genres of science fiction and the traditional super hero story in such a sublime way that it becomes its own sub-genre and it is viscerally emotional and dramatically poignant. Throughout his Avengers’ run, Hickman has used an ever-increasing cast and that remains so in Secret Wars, but he uses them in such an intelligent and well thought-out manner that it never seems like too much or overkill.

Hickman and Ribic have teamed up in the past to critical and fan acclaim, but this time it looks like they are going to top their previous endeavors. They have created an epic super hero tale, grand in scope and deeply emotional with no less than the entire Marvel Universe hanging in the balance, what more could we ask for True Believers? (5/5)

shawnwarner-bio-pic1-crop22Shawn is an aspiring writer/ artist who has been reading, collecting and living comic books for over 30 years. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, their son, lots of cats, dogs and other various finned and furry friends.

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