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    Pick of the Week: “Secret Wars” #1 Takes No Prisoners [Review/Recap]

    By | May 7th, 2015
    Posted in Reviews | 11 Comments

    Sometimes, the universe aligns in strange ways. Sometimes, you have consecutive Pick of Weeks that are Big Two events about the destruction of the multiverse. Sometimes, the person writing Pick of the Week is also the one writing the recap column about said event. Other times, your Earth collides into another one where your best friend looks like Samuel Jackson and everyone you know dies.

    We’re going to be tackling this series as we did Axistential Crisis and Confession Booth. So expect a fairly objective review of the issue’s strength and weaknesses followed by a fun little recap of the series. Look for our spoiler-free review followed by a spoiler-filled recap for “Secret Wars” #1 below!


    Written by Jonathan Hickman
    Illustrated by Esad Ribic


    I talked about this last week with our review of “Avengers” #44 and “New Avengers” #33 but this crossover has gotten me excited for some admittedly personal reasons. Mostly because it’s one of the first comics I really latched onto as a weekly series. I’m pretty sure it’s run longer than my time writing for this site. Seeing this run come together is thrilling to me and as a result, I am a definite mark for everything regarding the Incursions, Beyonders, and all the righteously nihilist going ons of Hickman’s run on “Avengers.”

    For everyone else, just joining in, holy shit I am so sorry. This book was seriously not written with you in mind. You don’t need to know every single thing about Marvel’s history to understand “Secret Wars” but you do need a pretty thorough grasp on what Hickman and company has been doing for the past two and a half years. If you want a recap of just that, we’ll be throwing one up in the next section.

    “Secret Wars” #1 wastes zero time in establishing its plot. The 616 Marvel Universe is being invaded via incursion by the Ultimate Universe, with the two fighting it out to see who can be the one universe left standing. Neither side gets much chance in this issue to really introduce their motives and plenty of characters just jump in left and right to join the now legally required Manhattan Brawl™. However, that overwhelming confusion on both sides really plays into the massive and chaotic threat the incursions are. Reality doesn’t end in a wonderfully choreographed fight sequence. It ends in confusion, death, and tons of lasers.

    Unfortunately, that chaos does little to help the usually wonderful Esad Ribic. The artist, well-acclaimed for his recent run on “God of Thunder” among other titles, loses the flow of this issue’s central fight for most of it. One particular scene, involving a cannonball special and the Hulk, loses just enough of the specificity in the move’s physics to make me question where and how Banner landed. Plus, characters will often find themselves in that weird backgroundless fight area that superheroes find themselves in during fights. Though the action is supposed to be chaotic, the loss of some details interrupts the book’s flow.

    That said, aside from the details I just mentioned, Ribic is incredible on “Secret Wars”, especially during the more emotional or cathartic scenes. Although I mentioned getting lost in some of his details, Ribic’s depiction of the Ultimate-616 War is nothing less than epic. And even though there’s a noticeable overuse of O-faces, Ribic never loses the humanity of his characters in the face of multiple robot explosions.

    And it’s a good thing Ribic’s able to maintain some characters’ humanity because Hickman does tend to skimp on them quite a bit. A large part of that is the narrative-heavy focus of his “Avengers” run and how much of the “Secret Wars” story was earned there. If you want to know why Doom and Dr. Strange were hanging out and what’s causing any of this, you’ll have to wade through around a hundred issues of backstory. That’s lame for people who are – be it because of Age of Ultron or Free Comic Book Day – making this their first foray into the Marvel Universe. For those following along, the wait has been worth it as the full consequences promised back in “New Avengers” #1 are finally coming full circle.

    Continued below

    Final Verdict: 7.9 – Among some messy details and a lack of catch-up for new readers, “Secret Wars” #1 has earned what the whole Incurson Saga has built for it. With some dire consequences (and amazing graphic design from Ribic and Hickman), “Secret Wars” is an event comic that can actually sell the magnitude of what its selling.

    Now let’s talk spoilers.

    Catch Up

    For new readers, here’s a recap of everything from “Avengers” #1 to now, told from the top of my head at 11PM on a Wednesday night, broken into digestible little segments.

    The Avengers Machine – At the end of Bendis’s run on “Avengers”, Iron Man suggested that he and Captain America expand the Avengers because there are bound to be worse things coming to the universe. Pretty weird reason to just suddenly expand the team but we’ll get to that. As part of this expansion, the Avengers brought in everyone from mainstays Thor and Black Widow to fan favorites like Captain Marvel and Shang-Chi. The new roster also brought in updated legacy characters like a new Smasher and a Hyperion from yet another alternate universe. For a while, they fought Ex Nihilo and Abyss, servants of the Builders, the multiversal race that created life. Yeah, creation myths are going to be a huge part of this.

    Everything Dies – As are destruction myths! In “New Avengers”, the Illuminati, Marvel’s best, brightest, and not always morally great group of heroes, discovered a phenomenon known as an Incursion. Universes are beginning to collide into each other, with every universe’s Earth serving as the impact point. The Illuminati learn more about them by capturing Black Swan, a servant to Rabum Alal, a deity who did something to the multiverse to cause it to start imploding. The results of an incursion are as follows: either both Earths collide and both universes die or one Earth is destroyed and the other universe is saved. The Illuminati discuss the possibilities of actually going through with other universes. Steve Rogers, an honorary member, is like “What? That’s crazy.” so they wipe his mind. After he’s been properly Identity Crisised, Tony asks Steve if they can expand the Avengers for a “hypothetical accelerated threat to the universe NBD!”

    The Builder War – The Builders, the creators of Ex Nihilo and Abyss, as well as all life, decide to invade the universe. The Avengers decide to go fight them because that’s in their job description. While they’re gone, Thanos sees the empty Earth and his eyes light up with cartoon dollar signs. He conquers Earth with minions like Corvus Glaive who is actually named that. After the Avengers defeat the Builders, who are merely the pawns to some greater force, they come back and kick Thanos’s teeth in. Thanos is frozen by his son Thane (don’t ask) and kept by the Illuminati.

    Rise the Cabal – Everything goes pretty smooth until the next crossover, “Original Sin”, when Steve finds out that Tony brainwashed him over the Incursions. As a result, the Avengers turn on Tony and have marked all members of the Illuminati (Hulk, Iron Man, Beast, Black Bolt, Dr. Strange, Namor, and Black Panther) as fugitives. Around this same time, the Illuminati have flaked out on destroying other worlds so Namor takes matters into his own hands by blowing up a world that a fake Justice League came from, freeing Thanos, and forming his own Cabal to save his planet while slaughtering hundreds others. At this point, “New Avengers” became less about the Illuminati and more about how Namor’s the most basdass character in Marvel. Also around this time, Dr. Strange sold his soul and joined a group of priests who live between realities and Black Panther’s ghost dad kept telling him to just fucking stab Namor already.

    Time Runs Out – With SHIELD after the Illuminati and Incursions becoming more rapid, Black Panther just stabs Namor off a building and onto an exploding world with the rest of the Cabal. They’re saved by the Ultimate Universe version of Reed Richards who is a cackling mad scientist who should be in “The Manhattan Projects.” Ultimate Reed has also been destroying other planets and shows the data to Ultimate Nick Fury to convince him to attack the 616. Around this time, an expedition of several Avengers including Thor and a bunch of red shirts investigates deep space to find the source of the incursions. They fail when they come across The Beyonders, adult deities who are far more powerful than the child Jheri-curled Beyonder from the original “Secret Wars.” Things don’t go well for the Avengers team.

    Continued below

    Where Gods Fear to Tread – Meanwhile, a damned Dr. Strange has been searching for Rabum Alal and finds his fortress. He finds Alal, who turns out to be Victor Von Fucking Doom who has just been twiddling his thumbs and going “Rabum Al What?” for this entire story line. According to Doom, the Molecule Man revealed to him that Owen Mercer is a multiversal bomb created by the Beyonders to destroy all reality. In every reality exists a Molecule Man, all of whom will detonate simultaneously and wipe out everything. Doom, pissed that he won’t be the one killing everything, spends years hopping from reality to reality killing different Owen Mercers and building the legend of Rabum Alal along the way. Since Molecule Man is meant to be a constant, this causes the sickness in the multiverse and the incursions. Dr. Doom then goes to meet the Beyonders with 616 Molecule Man and Dr. Strange, so he may flip them off before being wiped out himself.

    Civil War 2: The Search for Tony’s Gold – With only two universes left in the Multiverse, Mr. Fantastic and everyone else is trying to find a way to escape the death of everything. Except for Captain America who decides now’s as good a time as any to fuck up Tony. They get into a downright vicious fight that culminates with a helicarrier from the Ultimate Universe crashing right into them. And that’s where “Secret Wars” #1 begins. Feel free to take a water break, you’ve earned it.


    “Secret Wars” #1 starts off with Dr. Doom AKA Rabum Alal getting wiped out by the Beyonders. At first, I thought it was pretty ridiculous to just have Dr. Doom be behind the Incursions but the back story with Molecule Man justifies it from a character standpoint. If Dr. Doom found out reality was going to be destroyed, of course he would do what he could to accelerate it out of spite and claim it was his doing. If Hickman does anything right, it’s Doom’s sense of righteous stubbornness. That said, I truly have no idea what’s really going on with Molecule Man. You can’t just say you’re a multiversal constant and then have everyone go “Ah, yes! Of course!” Of course, all of Doom’s spite doesn’t prevent him from getting annihilated by the Beyonders. Nice try, Vic.

    Smash cut to Ultimate Manhattan where Samuel L. Fury and Hawkeye in an Awful Costume are preparing for their invasion of the 616. If you want to know how far the Ultimate Universe has fallen, consider that their last viable Ultimate is Red Hawkeye. The Avengers Trio isn’t even present in this issue and at least the 616 has the Guardians of the Galaxy. Anyway, Fury contacts Ultimate Reed who acts like he’s very reliable despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Fury doubles down on taking out the 616 because how else can he protect the Ultimate Universe? How else can he protect the storied legacy of Ron Zimmerman’s “Ultimate Adventures?”

    Back at the City, Richards turns around to the Cabal who were kind of just standing out of sight of Fury’s Skype call. Richards is pitting the two Earths against each other so he can focus on his own nefarious plans. Thanos is like “Why?” since there’s no point to anything. Richards tells him to go hump a Smiths LP and think about Death again.

    Back at the Manhattan Incursion point, where Ultimate Fury is unleashing his ultimate fury on the 616, the Fantastic Four are prepping an evacuation shuttle for Earth’s greatest scientists. Well they were but the boring scientists who were just really good at physics and chemistry decided to bail out and NOT join the Avengers. So now, Black Panther has hooked former mid-carder Manifold to a machine to teleport all the relevant character to the shuttle.

    Ultimate Iron Man, the other Ultimate who’s left and not the best comic book character of the last ten years, shows up and just begins shooting at Manhattan. Captain Marvel, War Machine, and the Heroes for Hire show up to stop him and save innocents, as do the Guardians of the Galaxy because Feige be damned if last summer’s hottest blockbuster doesn’t make an appearance here. Also, Thor (the new one, not the one-armed Odinson) and Storm team up to lightning the hell out of Fury’s fleet. “A-Force” is going to be so sweet, you guys. Also arriving to the scene are Cyclops’s army of Sentinels which are just proof that I am not caught up with anything in “X-Men.” With all these heroes fighting, including the Hulk who Colossus fastball specialed through the Triskelion(?), the Ultimate forces are pretty much failed. At least until Ultimate Reeds launches a straight up Akira bomb on the 616.

    Continued below

    Also, Miles Morales pops up to remind everyone he’s going to be in this story.

    Over at The Best Scene in This Comic, Kingpin has e-mailed his villain buddies to hang out and watch the end of reality. There’s a lot to love here, like The Lizard setting up an e-mail account at coldblooded.com just to fit his motif and Wilson Fisk treating a multidimensional invasion like a better MayPac fight. The hands down best part of this entire issue, however, is when this tall glass of water strolls in.

    One thing I’m seriously digging about this issue is just how final everything feels. Namely in how people are just pulling out all the stops since this is, more or less, the end times. To be specific, I’m talking about when Cyclops straight up pulls a Phoenix Egg out of nowhere and lets it take over. He goes full Falcon Punch and takes out the Ultimate fleet before Manifold teleports him and other characters to the evac shuttle. The biggest takeaway from this is that “Secret Wars” is going to have Hickman’s Phoenix Cyclops which “AvX” proved is the best Cyclops. Negative points for Phoenix Cyclops not having a red thong as part of his costume.

    Manifold also picks up scientists like Peter Parker, soldiers like Carol Danvers, and people like Peter Quill who can do a really good Chris Pratt impersonation. Richards knew this would be a long shuttle ride and he wanted to make sure no one got bored. That said, it’s pretty odd for him to have Cyclops on board since the last issue of “Avengers” was all about how they couldn’t Tony on board for being too unstable. Cyclops, meanwhile, has the Phoenix Force. I give everyone involved an hour.

    The energy of the colliding Earths breaks open the shuttle which causes all the FF members who aren’t Reed to fly into space. Richards insists that he can tether Sue and the kids back to safety. In a defiance that’s only matched in this issue by Doom’s, Reed reaches out and… they’re gone.

    That may be a weird grave marking since the Marvel Universe technically started with Human Torch and Sub-Mariner, but Marvel as we know it began with the Fantastic Four in 1961. And now, they’re all gone, crushed in the endless void that took the world they built with them. And as Reed soliloquizes on losing the hope he once had, a mask of Doom’s floats by and Reed gives into utter despair.

    I don’t even have a joke for that. This is just sad all over.

    Join us next week when the philosophizing and constant death is replaced with 80’s nostalgia with Battleworld! I hope Spider-Man gets a new costume!

    //TAGS | Pick of the Week | Secret Wars Service

    James Johnston

    James Johnston is a grizzled post-millenial. Follow him on Twitter to challenge him to a fight.


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