(Jonathan Hickman; Esad Ribic; Ive Svorcina; Marvel)
Shawn Hill: The regular cover is a problem of Too Many Thors, and that’s an accurate reflection of the contents. It’s also a key to understanding Hickman’s approach to Marvel.
Each distinctive Marvel creator brings his own take to the toybox. Morrison retold the timeless tales but with more angst and spookiness than ever before when he had X-Men, finally giving them some Doom Patrol kinks. Bendis finds everyone’s feet of clay, and shows how heroic gifts could as easily be vicious curses and crippling burdens. Ellis knows all the pulp origins and noir stylings, and Ennis knows how nasty fights sometimes need to get.
Hickman, however, looks at the Marvel Universe and sees patterns. Geniuses on one side, and brutes on the others. Were-creatures in alliance, all fish-people in obscure communication, and councils of kings and queens vying for their adjacent territories. Here after last issue’s collision of worlds (where mirror images fought to their deaths), we find a Doom-verse where the absolute despot has organized everyone along feudal lines. Avalon beset by Braddocks, Doomgard full of weather-wielders each earning their own hammers (and acting as a sort of Nordic Nova Corps), and on the fringes are shield-wall territories where all the reavers, zombies, vampires and infectious robot hordes dwell.
It’s a fantasy kingdom, a child’s map of magical lands, as weird and faux-logical as it is ornate and vari-colored. Ribic does an excellent job giving us familiar yet extra-grandiose versions of Sinister, James and Brian and Meggan, and a dessicated, ghostly white Doom. He recalls the lost Rohan King Theoden, only whispering in his ear rather than Wormtongue is Sue Storm, while Dr. Strange and Valeria head his two approved schools of knowledge, Magic and Science. Familiar faces in surprising new combinations, ones that almost make sense if your organizing principle is RPG tourneys, are what Hickman offers.
Jamil Scalese: That’s an accurate assessment of Jonathan Hickman, he’s most certainly a big picture guy. The story in his head is a flavorful tapestry, an “idea-sphere” which he only rotates slightly to give the reader a sliver of the whole plot. The assemblage has been tedious, even frustrating and this issue is big payoff for those following his Marvel work for the past half decade. This is how you do an event comic! Grandiose, brutal, sphinx-like but peppered with familiarity. This is the most cohesive, layered and polished crossover issue I’ve ever read. Lots of answers, even more questions, and we’ve only seen a fraction of the players and locales so far.
Hickman and Ribic manage to show us a lot in this issue without making it feel too overwhelming. The choice of centering the issue around the newest member of the Thor Corps really helps ease in the exposition and info drops and elevates my interest in Jason Aaron’s Thors from very to abso-friggin-lutely. In fact the comic gets me hyped for a lot of books coming out in June and July. Normally, these mega crossovers fell burdensome with the abundant tie-ins, I think I’m feeling the inverse of that right now.
There are a lot of wondrous moments and bits in this issue and my favorite is the switcheroo at the Liferaft at the end. Where I thought we were going to see Mr. Fantastic, Black Panther, Captain Marvel and the other survivors we instead got the Cabal in all their sinister glory. So much got me excited about Secret Wars #2 but when Thanos showed his bumpy face I got EXTRA giddy. You know the Mad Titan ain’t having none of what “Emperor God” Doom is serving up.
Shawn: All I could think about is what a fun space-ride THAT ship must have been: Thanos, Terrax, Proxima Midnight, Ultimate Reed, Black Swan — talk about a house party! Poor All-Father Thor had no clue what he was facing.
Jamil: No doubt. That kind of mishmash of personalities is the overall sell of the series. We’ve covered just about every single Marvel event, now a biannual occurrence, since Avengers vs. X-Men, and it’s undeniable how technically flawed they are. The maneuvering, plot wrinkles and forced actions mar otherwise good concepts. This gorgeous reset by Marvel creates an atmosphere of possibility that comics hasn’t had for a good while.
Shawn: It’s certainly involving a very thorough look at everything that’s gone before. This isn’t the first time they’ve revisited Secret Wars, or that Cosmic Marvel has dealt with Beyonders and gladiatorial wars, but it’s seldom been on such a grand scale and with the so many stakes hanging in the balance. Hickman can be inscrutable in the abstract way he envisions aspects of Marvel lore, but in these first two issues there’s been an emotional range and a focus on drama that preserves human motivations amidst the epic scale. While I’m enjoying the kind of plotting short-hand that Ribic is making so transparently riveting in the main series, I’m really looking forward to the associated mini-series by a wide display of Marvel talent past and present.
Jamil: Ribic really is unleashing some of his best work and in doing so is giving a free lesson in how to evolve and progress one’s method in the medium. I first knowingly exposed myself to his talent during the second arc of Uncanny X-Force, the storyline that firmly hooked me, and shortly after I was reminded he provided art for that neat Loki miniseries from 2001, the work that first got me interested in the Lord of Lies. Glancing at his bibliography I see he also contributed to the first three issues of The Brotherhood, the book that infamously listed its writer as “X”, an identity that’s never been revealed. Ribic has certainly progressed his style and the culmination is something to behold.
As is this the setting’s figurehead. Who else but Doom? Seriously, what a legendary character. On another note it’s extremely awesome to see the First Family heavily integrated into the story. There’s been a lot of worry about the crew’s future, and it appears that while Marvel isn’t interested in publishing the FF brand they are still invested in the characters that built their empire.
Shawn: Sue and Valeria at least maintain prominent roles, though how they’ll interact with various Reeds and wherever Namor is has yet to be revealed. I’m curious about what has made Doom so ghostly and dessicated, for sure.
Jamil: He might be wearing his Future Foundation digs. That’s what Sue is wearing and she was in her SHIELD uniform in the last ish. Whatever the hell happened to Victor is firmly at the center of the series and I’m digging his position as top monarch in a story about kings and kingdoms. Dr. Doom has always been one of the best but he’s reaching a new stratosphere here. Also, kudos to Marvel for generally keeping that whole angle under wraps. That’s a rarity nowadays.
Secret Wars #2 is one of my favorite reads of the year. It’s a glorious stage-setter, a single issue comic that shines. With sixty-ish comics dedicated to the concept we’ll be talking lots about this event over the summer but so far the core comic has impressed in scope and focus.
Battleworld Tie Up!
Jamil: When Shawn and I get together for these Marvel crossovers we normally try to do a little wrap-up on the auxiliary titles of the given event. The thing with this even is that the tie-ins are the basically the main attraction, and while it’d be my dream to do so I’m just unable to afford every comic book underneath the Secret Wars banner.
We’ll attempt to keep on what’s going on with Battleworld as the event progresses. Even in Secret Wars #2 we receive some hints on future plot lines, like the possible status of the 616 heroes, and a giant petrified corpse in the land of Utopolis. The first battalion of series drop this Wednesday, a range of stuff like the high-concept Plant Hulk, the fem-powered A-Force, the run-ending Loki: Agent of Asgard and the anthology Secret Wars: Battleworld. So there will be much more to report on next time.
The only Secret Wars tie-in to release is the Toys R Us promo Armor Wars #1/2 by James Robinson and Mark Bagley. A co-worker gifted me this out of nowhere and it was a decent read that introduces the concepts (like Barons and multiple Thors) and introduces the series’ main characters (like Arno Stark and Spyder-Man). Bagley’s art is strong as usual, but he’s not the regular artist on the book (he’s working on Ultimate End, also coming out this Hump Day). Though Stark is a player in many of the series this might be the only dedicated Iron Man book, but if I’m real with you, I’ll probably pass.