Best Shots Reviews: SECRET WARS #2, THOR #8

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

Secret Wars #2
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

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

After months of teasing - not to mention the Marvel 616 universe staring down the barrel at its Ultimate counterparts - the first issue of Jonathan Hickman's Secret Wars ended with a flash of light and an ominous set of dates.

The Marvel Universe is dead. Now it's time to visit Battleworld.

With Hickman's sophomore issue of Secret Wars, this 40-page behemoth is a first look at an altogether changed playing field built with the remnants of the Marvel Multiverse. For those who were jonesing on Hickman's first issue, which featured every Marvel superhero you could think of, you might be a little disappointed here, but while there's a lot of intrigue to cut through, die-hard Marvel fans will be sure to love Hickman's twists on some of the House of Ideas' biggest characters and storylines.

Of course, that assumes you not only have a strong working knowledge of Marvel's history, but have been keeping up with Hickman's runs on Avengers and New Avengers. If you have, though, your patience may be rewarded. Hickman's script reminds me of a more grandiose version of Judd Winick's late Exiles series, in that while some things are mutable in the Marvel Universe, there are still constants that appear no matter how much you change the world. It's taking the familiar and trying to make it new, as Hickman spins up a world where Doctor Doom reigns supreme, with an army of Thors to maintain order and a one-time Sorcerer Supreme to mete out justice. Similar to Game of Thrones, there's a hierarchy that Hickman begins presenting in the form of the different realms of Battleworld, with barons like Jamie Braddock, Mister Sinister and Madelyne Pryor each vying for dominance.

It's complicated - if you don't know about the old X-Men storyline Inferno, for example, the scantily-clad demoness Pryor might not ring any bells for younger readers - but it definitely reads as a love letter to the deep, sometimes convoluted mythos of the Marvel Universe. There's some fun nods here and there - for example, I love how sassy Hickman's Mister Sinister is as he challenges Brian Braddock to a duel, and in another Game of Thrones-style sequence, I think it's fitting that a Captain Britain falls during this upheaval of the Multiverse - but it occasionally moves slow to the point of self-indulgence, with some of Hickman's lines coming off as more analytical than emotional. That said, it's sometimes hard to fault him for some of those tendencies, as a plot point from his New Avengers run ends this issue in a big way.

The real surprising success story from Secret Wars, however, has to be Esad Ribic. While he's been doing covers and the occasional interior for more than a decade, it's only been a few years since Ribic really hit the mainstream with Ultimate Comics Ultimates. Man, has he grown with his sequentials since then. His painterly style reminds me a lot of Richard Isanove, as there's this real ethereal nature to his colors and his sense of design. One panel featuring a redesigned Galactus is absolutely breathtaking, and I love even little beats like Mister Sinister draping his legs over his throne, or the sinister hordes of the Deadlands. (Letterer Chris Eliopoulos really draws out the tension for the reveal in that sequence, let me tell you.)

If there's anything that seems amiss when reading this book, it might just be the sense of whiplash you get after the abrupt termination of the Marvel Universe, now replaced by this patchwork realm from different crossovers. And with his penchant for lengthy, convoluted plotting, Hickman, out of all of Marvel's creators, can sometimes focus on the exterior threat rather than serving the real hook of these crossover stories, which is putting everyone in the Marvel Universe together and seeing what sparks fly. Right now, though, this feels like a sweeping, epic remix of some of the biggest, craziest and best stories from across Marvel's history. No shots have been fired during this sophomore issue of Secret Wars, but as both a celebration and a memorial of the Marvel Universe, this is some solid work.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Thor #8
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Well... I guess I was wrong about something, wasn't I?

Last month, I raved about the last issue of Thor, talking about how happy I was with the presumed choice for the new Goddess of Thunder - Roz Solomon, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Well, unfortunately, the taste of crow is pretty bitter, as writer Jason Aaron and artist Russell Dauterman have pulled a hell of a bait and switch with the real secret identity of the new Thor...

…Spoilers on…

Jane Foster.

I’ll admit, this twist sticks in my craw, and not just because I’m disappointed that Marvel’s new premiere heroine isn’t an ass-kicking super-spy demigoddess. But while the numbers don’t quite add up for the finale of this first arc, this is a big, flashy conclusion with a ton of guest stars that acts as a nice setup to Jane’s future stories.

If not for the impending Secret Wars storyline, in many ways, Thor #8 could serve as a backdoor pilot to Marvel’s upcoming A-Force, as the new Thor teams up with the Odinson as well as a crowd of superheroines ranging from the Scarlet Witch to Sif to Spider-Woman. It’s a nice way to conclude this book, as Aaron knows very well that whether he likes it or not, people are going to view the new Thor as a standard-bearer for superheroines everywhere - indeed, the Odinson’s mother, Freyja, tells her that “you stand for more than yourself now” - so why not have her lead the crowd?

In so doing, Aaron and Dauterman just pack as many characters in as possible, and it’s a fun jam band kind of scenario, even if it detracts a bit from Thor’s story in particular. For example, Thor herself doesn’t actually wind up beating the Destroyer herself - Aaron winds up ending the fight early, allowing Freyja’s history with her husband Odin to stop his rampage. It’s a bit of a wonky narrative choice, at the same time, that’s not really what this story is about. It’s all about who is Thor, and that’s where I’d argue that the story might feel a little off. Part of it is because Aaron already did a great job of ruling out Jane as a potential candidate - and while he gives the new Thor a great wrinkle by giving her a ticking clock, it still stretches the realm of credulity to suggest that Jane can somehow sneak off between chemotherapy treatments to fight crime as the new Goddess of Thunder.

Artwise, Russell Dauterman continues to impress, particularly as he’s able to strut his stuff with so many different designs across the Marvel Universe. His hyper-clean linework and his evocative compositions remind me of a cross between Steve McNiven and Frank Quitely, and the colors by Matthew Wilson are just electrifying and bright. While Dauterman’s use of energy and action looks superb, it’s his storytelling that’s really amazing - in particular, his reveal of Jane as the new Thor is beautiful, haunting and evocative.

Ultimately, while it stings to have gotten the new Thor’s identity so wrong, it’s impossible to deny that there’s a ton of potential for Jane Foster. Similar to Donald Blake before her, she’s a healer and a human as well as a demigod and a destroyer. It’s a time-honored dichotomy for the Thor mythos, and Aaron ends his arc with a pretty shocking twist. Jane Foster is the hero Asgard needs, and she’s definitely the Thor we deserve right now.

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