Jamil Scalese: The common, and sometimes fair, complaint of modern Marvel comics is also a telltale sign of decompression: characters standing around and talking. Wouldn’t you have it, that’s all that really happens in the third issue of Secret Wars…and by Doom, it is glorious.
Unleashing a barrage of micro-twists through tight dialogue and emotive, playful art Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic utilize every corner of this issue to deliver much needed exposition. Where to start? First we get the very interesting development that Sheriff Strange, Emperor God Doom’s second-in-command, is aware of the status quo pre-Battleworld and is pretty damn complicit in Victor’s rule. Tasked with concealing any traces of the old times he is alerted of the vessel that housed the Cabal and now only contains stowaway Miles Morales. This leads to Strange finally opening an identical vessel he found years previous which contains Mr. Fantastic, Black Panther and other holdovers from the 616.
The ultimate result of that reunion shares a theme with the issues other big set piece: Sue Richards’ candid conversation with God. In a raw, and somewhat shocking exchange Victor von Doom reveals to Invisible Woman his reluctance and doubt as a ruler by he expressing a need to distance himself from his worshipers so they can grow without him. He’s poignant, sincere and brashly frank, metaphorically, and then literally, taking off his harden mask to show us the damaged man inside.
Shawn Hill: Popping open that 2nd incursion survival ship (based on Wakandan tech, of course it kept everyone inside in healthy stasis no matter how long Strange waited to rescue them) about three years too late was the most sci-fi moment this series has yet captured. In typical Hickman fashion, it goes unexplained and un-emphasized, just one more moment in a field of mind-altering events. Hickman works on a big scale, and here he has one of his most ornate and complicated canvases yet. It’s the Marvel Universe(s) refracted through a prism, and each given their own limited new territory to command. That he keeps characters as disparate as T’Challa, Miles Morales and Star-Lord sounding just right is an achievement in itself.
Sheriff Strange is a bit altered, but he’s had more time than the rest to adjust. Though how you measure time on a world where the Sun is a satellite (and apparently continuously enacted by Johnny Storm in Nova-mode) I’m not quite sure. Doom has his usual air of arrogance, but tempered by regrets and doubts. He airs them only with Susan, and she too is transformed, somehow both bitter and confident. Maybe it’s the Alex Ross covers, but I’m getting a very Kingdom Come vibe from the epic scale of this one.
Jamil: I love the covers! Especially this one, though I’m trying to figure out who the redhead is on the Mr. Fantastic side. Widow? She ded.
I also got a bit stuck on why Doctor Strange didn’t immediately open the first Liferaft but I thought Hickman justified it well with the issue’s surprising theme: Doom is actually performing admirably as emperor and law maker.
All the years, all the power grabs and backstabs and evil deeds and in the end Doom was possibly right. He is meant to rule, and maybe the Marvel Universe would be better under his watch. There’s a tragic beauty in that thought. Doom, for all his flaws, is born to lead. He posses the steely fist, the sharp mind and the capability for compassion needed to be king of all.
I also can understand things from Strange’s perspective. He saw the multiverse end. We don’t know what happened when he, Doom and Molecule Man (immortalized as a statue in Doom’s garden) faced off against the Beyond but we do know it was the perceived finish of everything. Strange has been firmly a good guy for his many years of existence but he skirts the line of darkness too. While he knew the first ship held something of “great consequence” he also knows what the abyss looks like, and as he admits in this issue, he basically appointed Doom as ruler. I don’t think he’s under any spell, I think he’s pragmatic and he knows Battleworld is the best, or perhaps final, option. There’s no sense toppling it, the grass isn’t greener on the other side, in fact the grass doesn’t exist at all.
Shawn: Doom may be a good ruler, even a saviour, but it came about out of duress. Making the best of an apocalypse, where almost everything was lost. I’m sure Strange thought he had to make a deal with the devil in dire times, and now he has to live with it. As they both said in the issue, Steven could have become “God” instead, until he decided to become Machiavelli, keeping his eye eternally on the Prince.
Jamil: Hickman and Ribic have certainly built a peculiar world that operates differently from other narratives in the event genre. The story has made commendable progress in three issues, always a worry for these things, and I’m expecting the action embargo will end as the Thor Corps locates the Cabal at the end of the ish. That grouping of villains holds appetizing promise; what a nutty cornucopia of classic, underused and new antagonists! To balance, Reed’s group is a slick contingent of some of Marvel’s biggest present and future movie sensations…and Phoenix-imbued Scott Summers.
The writer is showing skill in his craft by introducing fuel and flame and the artist is executing the scope with the grace and gravity. There are a few holes here and there but I’m really impressed so far.
Battleworld Tie Up!
Jamil: If I had a gazillion dollars I would buy the first issue of every Secret Wars affiliated title. Yep, I’m a sucker, but I’m digging the concept and I appreciate the balance between business and art in the savvy way Marvel how to achieve a reset without doing a reboot. I used to have an affection for numbering but I’ve evolved with the industry. Bring on the #1s!
Shawn: Oh, Jamil, no. It’s not too late, buddy!
Jamil: I’m planning on getting a dozen or so of these and one of my late additions (and possible early cuts) ended up being one of the strongest. Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1 by Dan Slott and Adam Kubert marks my first Spidey purchase in about a decade and it satisfied a nostalgic thirst in an oddly specific way. I’ve stayed abreast to Slott’s run via library pulls and loaner trades from friends and I finally had to relent and give Marvel more of my money. The first issue sets up the premise — Peter Parker, now with the wife and kid famously ripped from him multiple times over the last three or so decade, is the only superhero alive in his region of Battleworld, a place ruled by the cartoonishly powerful Regent. Unfortunately, Spidey is firmly retired, realizing after a fatal battle with Venom he can’t protect his family while also making enemies of vicious villains. Kubert is strong as always, he’s a natural Spider-Man artist, and in a similar vein Slott has proven over and over he can distill Peter to his core elements and does so here. Spider-Man’s mythology appears all across the event in books like Spider-Verse and Spider-Island but this comic book is for the fan of the joe inside the mask, especially if you read him in the 80’s and 90’s.
Another strong debut is Planet Hulk #1, a book that strays from the 2006 crossover of the same name but still pays homage. The high-concept pitch of this idea, a gladiatorial Steve Rogers trapped in a land of Hulks, intrigued me from the start but the naming of Marc Laming as artist became the hook. I’ve been a fan of him for a few years, his semi-photo-realistic style can stretch to fit fantasy and sci-fi and that’s put to the test here with this very pulp mag version of the Marvel Universe. Like Renew Your Vows, the issue takes a while to warm up the engine but the last page reveal presents a cute team-up that gives the plot even more seasoning. There’s a backup story by Greg Pak (author of the original Planet Hulk) and Takeshi Miazawa that details the origin of this zone, Greenland. Apparently (a version of) Amadeus Cho reprogrammed a deadly bomb to “save” the world by turning them into Gamma beasts. It’s a nice story, I guess Greenland needed an origin.
Following a loose theme Where Monsters Dwell #1 had it’s moments but managed to be a bit of a false takeoff. I get that Ennis doesn’t like superheroes but the story thus far is void of any Marvel elements save the dashing, rude, though capable protagonist. I know you read it too. Thoughts?
Shawn: Russ Braun’s art was the lure there, but the story was a head scratcher thus far. I like the contrast of the rude pilot and the smarter than she seems heiress (it’s pretty much Han Solo and Princess Leia, come to think of it), and obviously they’ve lost themselves in the Savage Land by the end. So whether that means Sauron or Zaladane or any Mutates we’ll have to wait and see I guess. Let’s call it a shout-out to Marvel’s pulpy past at any rate, making it one of the more off-concept of the Secret Wars tie-ins.
I got a lot more mileage out of A-Force #1. Creating a kind of Paradise Island of all of Marvel’s distaff heroines might seem a little separatist and weird of Doom/Strange at first (as they admit to having carved this strangely feudal world out of the ether after the disaster this issue), but as I’ve had the Cheung/Martin cover as my computer background for the last month, I see it as a chance to showcase many of these powerful women. Jorge Molina’s art is bright and optimistic, there’s an impressive sort of Riviera and Mediterranean tone to the locations, and if the plot is a little lacking (mostly consisting of Ms. America and She-Hulk making some big mistakes), the camaraderie on display was refreshing.
In other news, Chris Yost’s having wicked fun letting M.O.D.O.K Assassin kill everyone he meets (yes, including Bullseye) and Cullen Bunn thinks Deadpool deserves his own Secret War, only not even part of the current one, but a 1984 coda no one has been clamoring for. Can you really go wrong with a guest cast that includes She-Man-Thing, Howard the Duck and Doop?
Jamil: Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars #1 follows right in line with Bunn’s now-prolific tenure on the character. I’m positively remiss in not reading more of his miniseries because I truly adore his voice for Wade, a great balance of snark, goof, pop culture and badassitude. I’ve never read the original Secret Wars, and don’t plan to, so some of the jokes went over my head, but the last page secured me for the second issue.
A-Force is one of those titles that just missed the brown bag for me. Marvel possesses some of my all-time favorite female fictional characters but the ones they chose to star in the book, at least according to the solicits, weren’t among them. Other books I thought about getting but ultimately declined where Armor Wars, which kind of co-opted a Spider-Man story, and Master of Kung-Fu, one of those throwback series whose existence is evocative of the modern diversity movement as a whole.
I’m interested in seeing how what tricks Ultimate End has up its sleeve, but I don’t think I’m going to buy it. As I typed in our review for the first issue, the Ultimate Universe greatly molded my comics experience. This recent piece from Vulture vindicated my memory of it: bold, cruically modern and so influential it eventually formed the blueprint of its own demise.
Shawn: The principal joy of Ultimate End, I think, is seeing the competing versions of the 1610 world meet 616 in their shared Battleworld Manhattan; how do the originals stack up to their younger, sexier (drunker, in the case of Tony Stark) counterparts? This means we get Peter Parker’s perspective rather than Miles Morales’ (he’s busy elsewhere) and hopefully Bendis will find a fun way to save what was best about the Universe that meant so much to you. With it’s title font and with Mark Bagley on board, it’s much more like any number of previous Bendis-written Ultimate mini-series, for one last time. And look at it this way if it cheers you up a little, J: it ain’t Ultimatum!
Jamil: Ultimatum could very well serve as the road map on how not to do a crossover, or any serialized comic, so that’s very good news.
The Secret Wars rollout is sorta bold and hella ambitious. We’re not even reading a fourth of what’s coming out! There are many corners of this temporary MU I’m not even looking it at, like the horde of X-Books (Inferno, Years of Future Past) or many of the comics that pay homage to crossovers and characters past (Secret Wars 2099, Runaways).
The only other titles I bought and haven’t mentioned are Secret Wars: Battleworld and Secret Wars Journal, anthologies differing only in editor. Battleworld #1 has a really enjoyable and fighty team-up between (some version of) Doctor Strange and (some version of) Frank Castle. Josh Williamson and Mike Henderson, the team behind my one of my fav indy books Nailbiter, lay down the ruckus and I’m ultra excited for Williamson’s Red Skull. Other notable stories are “We Worship What We Don’t Understand” (Matthew Rosenberg/Luca Pizzari) a dark, scratchy story about the X-Men of Egyptia meeting that realm’s Marc Spector and “Ross Against the Machine” (Donny Cates/Marco Turini) the story of “War Machine” Thaddeus Ross that very loosely ties into Planet Hulk. I am really a dope for these event-specific short comics, and the wealth Secret Wars can easily support two title’s worth.
It’s accurate to say we’re high on Secret Wars. It’s early but the main title and auxiliaries are neither too unwieldy nor too bereft. The rest of the summer should offer up some good readin’.