Best Shots Review: SECRET WARS #1

Marvel May 2015 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Secret Wars #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The end of the Marvel Universe is at hand… and we all have reason to be afraid. Not about the longevity of the House of Ideas — I think a little movie called Avengers puts a pin in that — but in the execution when it comes to their big event books. As somebody who’s been around the block for a few years, Marvel’s had some critical disappointments with their big books. Siege. Fear Itself. Original Sin. Even writer Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity felt more bloated than satisfying.

Maybe it takes the end of the world for Marvel to trap lightning in a bottle once more, to channel the kind of runaway success of events like Civil War, House of M or The Infinity Gauntlet? Or maybe it’s just hope during the Marvel Universe’s last hours. Because with some massive stakes, some beautiful artwork, and a veritable who’s who of superheroes, Hickman’s first issue of Secret Wars starts off strong and promises some big things for the Marvel Universe.

Some of this book’s appeal just happens to be simple. Just from the concept, this is a book designed to play to diehard Marvel fans, as the mainstream 616 universe gears up for war against their counterparts from the Ultimate Universe. And what’s surprising is that for a writer as defined for his decompressed storytelling, Jonathan Hickman packs a ton in here. Almost every big Marvel superhero (from two universes) at least makes an appearance here, with beats like Captain Marvel squaring off against Ultimate Iron Man or the combined forces of the 616’s biggest bruisers knocking over the entire damn Triskelion.

In many ways, the action is actually ultra-compressed here, as Hickman jumps around from hero to hero — but when you see everyone from Spider-Man to Nightcrawler to the Punisher to the Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s hard to be that upset about it. Hickman also throws some great curveballs to some other characters he hasn’t gotten a chance to play with before — I absolutely love what he’s done with Cyclops here, as not only does he bring out some crazy new weaponry, but the killer of Charles Xavier might just get a chance to redeem himself after the events of Avengers vs. X-Men. Additionally, Hickman goes back to his Marvel roots with some great beats featuring the Fantastic Four, a team that’s sorely needed some spotlight after way too many anemic stories.

That said, while there’s a lot of fun fan-service moments to this comic, the biggest downside is that the pacing bounces around so quickly — even with 34 pages of story — that it’s easy for a lot of the big moments not to really hit you unless you’ve read the book a second or third time. This also has a lot to do with the artwork by Esad Ribic, who continues to evolve as an artist. In the past, Ribic’s had some shakiness with his compositions, but here, he’s really cramming a lot onto every page — sometimes, though, that means its tough to tell which characters are beating on what, especially when the targets are often geometric shapes like the Helicarrier or the Triskelion.

Something else that really interested me about Ribic’s work here is that he’s getting a lot more angular with his linework, reminding me a bit of Kev Walker, particularly when he draws the bearded Reed Richards. Still, this is some very strong work from Ribic, as he shows off some pretty impressive range drawing just about every Marvel superhero you could think of. Also impressive is colorist Ive Scorvina, who gives this book a cool, painterly vibe in the style of a Richard Isanove. It plays nicely with the otherworldly nature of Secret Wars, even if there seems to be a missed opportunity with the lack of red skies or a noticeable shift between the 616 and Ultimate arenas.

That all said, even with the end of the world upon us, I come into Secret Wars with a surprising sense of hope. I’ve been more than critical of Jonathan Hickman’s plodding, even self-indulgent pacing with his twin Avengers books, but here he steers away from the navel-gazing and gives Marvel fans what they want — every superhero they can think of, united against a common threat. Still, I can’t help but be reminded of other Marvel event books that had a decent first issue, and fizzled out a chapter or two later. But if this issue is any indication, this might be the most fun superhero book I’ve seen Hickman do yet.

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