Secret Wars (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Esad Ribic
For those who haven’t been keeping up, the world ended. At least for a very short moment, until it was remade into Battleworld by God Doom. Then a bunch of other stuff happened and we all find ourselves in issue 9 of an 8 part mini-series. And no, that’s not a typo. Secret Wars #9 is the final chapter of an eight issue summer event (the term applies rather loosely at this point). Needless to say this was a fitting, if odd, ending to Marvel’s most recent universe reshaping.
To be fair, I’m a pretty massive Jonathan Hickman fanboy. I love just about everything he has ever written, especially his run on Avengers and New Avengers. Since this was basically the ending event of that run, I had expected something rather different from the series. This was Secret Wars, so it was fitting that Doom end up as one of the central figures, since it was, after all, Doom who won the original Secret Wars. And it’s not unheard of for Doom to go up against the Avengers either. Hickman had a different approach, however, and took a bit of a step back. Instead of Doom eventually falling to Cap or Iron Man, or any of the other standard Avengers, the final showdown was against Reed Richards. This, of course, heralds back to Hickman’s celebrated run on Fantastic Four, which preceded his tenure on Avengers.
As it stands, I have some mixed feelings about this ending. It’s fairly public knowledge that Hickman didn’t actually know how to end this series, which is much of why it extended an issue and was well behind schedule. (Hell, they even made fun of that fact in a one-shot comic called Secret Wars Too.) As a result, the ending of what was an otherwise surprisingly excellent series falls somewhat flat. Hickman’s writing is excellent, and he never once loses the voice of each of the characters, a fact that can’t be understated. The problem is that there was no long game in mind here. What made his previous runs on Avengers and Fantastic Four so amazing is that from the first issue, Hickman was already setup up stuff that wouldn’t be revealed until the very end of the run. Go back and read either of those runs and really focus on the details. Scattered throughout each of them are little hints and clues of what will happen, but they are so subtle and carefully laid out that the reader won’t even notice them on the first and maybe even second reading. Despite his own opinions of his work, Hickman is one of the absolute masters of the long game, and for some reason, in an eight issue event, that foresight was missing.
As I said earlier, in spite of this issue’s failings, it is still one hell of a well written comic. Every character and their actions are absolutely spot on. For what it was worth, I was fully engaged in the story and was excited to see how things panned out. And while this issue may have had some problems, there were some pretty amazing moments as well. I absolutely loved the ending sequence with Reed, Sue and the kids. While Johnny and Ben may have been missing, the Fantastic Four are all about family and this scene game me a warm fuzzy all over. For eight and a half issues we got what the universe would be like if Doom were running it, and for these last couple pages we instead saw what Reed, with all his drive and ambition and hope could do. I also really enjoyed the fact that the ending picks up almost exactly where New Avengers started. It was an unusual choice, but one that I feel really brings the whole thing full circle. And while we may be picking up there, it’s obvious that things are going to be different in this new universe.
Even though I am absolutely crazy about Hickman’s writing, what made this series really stand out was the incredible art by Esad Ribic. After absorbing his run on Thor: God of Thunder, I couldn’t wait for the next thing Ribic was doing, and I was thrilled that this was it. The unfortunate history of art in Marvel event books usually means that there will be at least a half dozen artists on any given issue and the book will feel like some cobbled together Frankenstein’s Monster. While there are some notable exceptions to this, other offenders more than make up for the innocent ones. Needless to say, now that Secret Wars is done, I am over the moon that Ribic was able to lend his gifted hands to the entire series. Ribic has such a delicate touch, adding grace and detail that I hadn’t realized was possible in comics, let alone super hero comics. It’s also helpful that Ribic does his own inks and colors, allowing him to control the entire process, resulting in an astonishing final product. One panel in particular stands out in my head. It is a composite of Reed and Doom, both images meshed using a small grid, alternating squares between the two faces. At first glance it’s a jumbled mess, and that seems to be the point. It’s only as the reader spends time on each square that they see this was done to show how much alike Reed and Doom are in this moment. They are different men, with different ideas, but in the end they want the same thing. It is only in the details that they differentiate themselves, just like the image.
Marvel isn’t exactly known for sticking the landing when it comes to the end of summer events. Secret Wars may not be getting a perfect score from the judges, but despite its failings, it does manage to at least stay on its feet. The success of the ending is owed more to the undeniable skill of the creative team than to planning and foresight. 4/5 Death Stars.