–Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man of Earth-616
–Miles Morales, aka Spider-Man of Earth-1610
“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” Or at least I would be if I knew what in the name of Stan Lee was going on, and how this was going to affect our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the most confounding apocalypse since Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s Secret Wars.
“Secret Wars, Part 1: The End Times”
WRITER & DESIGNER: Jonathan Hickman
ARTIST: Esad Ribic
COLOR ARTIST: Ive Svorcina
LETTERER: Chris Eliopoulos
PRODUCTION: Idette Winecoor
COVER: Alex Ross
VARIANT COVERS: Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi; Jim Cheung & Justin Ponsor; John Tyler Christopher; Amanda Conner & Paul Mounts; Butch Guice & Andy Troy; Esad Ribic; Skottie Young; Chip Zdarsky
ASSISTANT EDITORS: Jon Moisan & Alanna Smith
EDITORS: Tom Brevoort with Wil Moss
THE STORY: We open with someone narrating how some believe the white light we see at the moment of our death is synaptic death, but it’s not; the “brilliant, blinding light is God and He has been with us all along.” This is being said over a scene showing Doctor Doom, Doctor Strange and the Molecule Man confronting the Beyonders as seen in New Avengers, Vol. 3 #33. We then go to the Manhattan of Earth-1610 (the Ultimate Universe) moments before the incursion with Earth-616 (the Marvel Universe) is about to happen. The Maker (the Ultimate Universe’s evil Reed Richards) explains to Ultimate Nick Fury that their universe and Earth-616 (the Marvel Universe) are the only two universes left in the multiverse, that this is the final incursion, and tells him that if they destroy Earth-616, they’ll be able to save both universes from being destroyed. Although Fury doesn’t trust the Maker, he believes they have no other choice, and orders all of S.H.I.E.L.D.s hellicarriers to invade Earth-616. The Maker, along with the Cabal from Earth-616 (comprised of Thanos, Namor, Black Swan, Terrax, Maximus, Proxima Midnight, and Corvisu Glaive) stay behind in The City. Thanos wants to know why the Maker lied to Fury, and the Maker explains he needed to buy a little more time before they can complete their real plan.
As the battle between Earth-616 and Earth-1610 commences, the Fantastic Four, along with Black Panther, are loading up a spaceship at the Baxter Building which will act as a life raft for the human race, while Black Widow, Spider-Woman, Beast, and Amadeus Cho are flying over scientists, trying to avoid attacking hellicarriers. Spider-Man, Luke Cage and Iron Fist protect civilians, while the Avengers, the X-Men, the Inhumans, and the Guardians of the Galaxy attack the hellicarriers, Ultimate Iron Man and his Iron Man Six cannon. Cyclops also arrives to the battle with his own Sentinels and a Phoenix Egg, while the joint efforts of Colossus, Hulk, She-Hulk, Nightcrawler and Pod bring down Earth-1610’s Triskelion. Knowing that the forces of Earth-1610 will lose the battle, Fury, just before the Triskelion is destroyed, radios the Maker and tells him to “finish the job,” but the Maker tells Fury his cause was always hopeless as “this was always how it was going to end” and says, “Let me show you what I’ll build upon your ruins.” The City then opens it’s dome and sends out the Children of Tomorrow. During the battle, Earth-616’s super-villains, having been invited by the Kingpin, watch “their enemies’ greatest failure” on live TV at a bar. However, into the bar walks the Punisher, who tells the super-villains since one can’t take what they have when they die “what exactly am I gonna do with all these bullets?”
The Children capture or kill most of the Earth-616 heroes and destroy the transport ship of scientists. This forces the Fantastic Four and Black Panther to carry out their “plan B,” where the teleporter, Manifold, will use a machine to amplify his powers to “find the survivors that [they] need.” Cyclops, meanwhile, also hatches the Phoenix Egg and absorbs the power of the Phoenix to destroy the Children, while Star-Lord, Thor, Spider-Man and Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, are teleported by Manifold into the life raft. However, instead of boarding the life raft, Manifold chooses to stay behind to retrieve as many lives as he can, and before he dies manages to teleport Cyclops into the raft at the last moment.
As the life raft heads towards the center of the Incursion, a hull breach sends the section in which Susan Richards, Thing, Human Torch, Franklin Richards and Valeria Richards were sitting into the white space. Susan creates a force field to protect them, while Reed orders Black Panther to move in closer to rescue them. Unfortunately, Susan loses control of her force field and Reed is too late to save them, losing the tips of his fingers as Black Panther is forced to put up the life raft’s protective shields. As the Earths are destroyed, we learn the opening narration was being delivered by Reed, distraught over the loss of his family, and that now, he “hopes and believes in nothing.” And just before the white void turns to black, we see in the whiteness the eyes of Doctor Doom.
THOUGHTS: I’m sure there are those of you who, after reading the introductory paragraph for this review, who thought I was being too flippant and hyperbolic by calling Marvel’s latest incarnation of Secret Wars as “confounding,” but trust me, I really wasn’t exaggerating all that much. This is a summer comic book event which will be juggling a literal cast of thousands, many of whom are alternate versions of each other, which also requires a literal map just to see where the various mini-series are taking place. There are literally about sixty different comic book series—which include all of Jonathan Hickman’s work on Avengers, New Avengers and Ultimate Comics Ultimates—to read just to have some level of understanding of the backstory behind what is happening in this series. Even someone such as myself who has been (somewhat) keeping up with everything involving Incursions (think When World’s Collide, only with Earths from parallel universes), the Ivory Kings (who were revealed to be the Beyonders), the Mapmakers (android cartographers who strip-mine an Earth about to be destroyed of its natural resources), Rabum Alal, the Great Destroyer (Doctor Doom who traveled back in time and aged 25 years) and the like are going to have difficulty wrapping their heads around just how dense Hickman’s magnum opus is, so I can only imagine how someone jumping in cold into Secret Wars #1 will feel.
But as near-impenetrable as this comic is, all you really need to take away is that the Marvel 616 and Ultimate universes are officially dead and gone. So are all the characters from both universes with the exception of a handful of survivors. That is until Secret Wars #2 where we will have the full reveal of the “All-New” Battleworld. And therein lies of this comic’s biggest drawbacks in that, aside from the level of accessibility for the average comic book reader, much of the high stakes over the literal end of the universe and various philosophical musings on life and death by the very premise of Secret Wars. We know no matter who we see die on panel in this issue that some of them are going be resurrected in the next; I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of either Rocket Racoon or Groot as The Guardians of the Galaxy as gained a new-found popularity thanks to last summer’s blockbuster film. It’s also these very characters which are also this issue’s strongest asset.
There is, after the prologue, a cast list showing us over fifty characters, and Hickman manages to make almost every one of them distinctive and give them with their own unique voice. This feat alone is enough to show us that Marvel made a very wise decision in having Hickman be the lead writer and architect behind this event since, as we saw in Dan Slott’s “Spider-Verse,” just how difficult a task this can be. It’s especially impressive when you consider two of the characters are different versions of Reed Richards and, through their dialogue, you can read the stark contrast yet subtle similarities between them. Both Reeds are intelligent but aloof pragmatists who are causally deciding the fates of trillions of lives. However, Mr. Fantastic isn’t just a husband and father, he is also a man of faith as much as he is a man of science. Thus, when he loses his faith with the loss of his family, there’s the real possibility he could potentially become like the Maker, someone who, without those tethers to humanity, has developed a god-complex and a callous disregard towards anything but amassing power for himself—very similar to his own nemesis Doctor Doom. If this first issue is any indication, then Secret Wars is really the story of these two Reeds.
Hickman’s knowledge of Marvel’s vast array of characters also allows for some wonderful defining moments. Some, such as Ultimate Iron Man shamelessly flirting with Carol Danvers during the battle, or Rocket Raccoon gripping about how comic books were only “a dollar’s worth of crap,” occur through dialogue. Other moments, such as Spidey, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist doing what he can to save civilians show that, even at the end, they’re still looking out for the average person. Then there are moments of just epic and iconic fan-service such as Doctor Doom, defiant to the end, literally staring down the all-powerful Beyonders; Colossus performing a fastball special with the Hulk; and especially, the Punisher getting ready to go out in a literal blaze of glory and take as many bad guys down with him. Even as we see people die and remind ourselves it will not last beyond this issue, images of Gamora cradling a dead Rocket Raccoon or Reed reaching out to his family in desperation as they explode before his eyes still carries an emotional wallop.
Even so, there are some significant and glaring plot holes which are rather noticeable if you’ve followed a particular comic book series. For instance, why does the Ultimate Universe have a still-active version of S.H.I.E.L.D. when the organization was immediately disbanded after Cataclysm? Where was the 616 version of S.H.I.E.L.D. which hasn’t been disbanded in that universe? When did the Guardians of the Galaxy show up on Earth? And how did Cyclops get a hold of a Phoenix Egg and get his own personal army of Sentinels, something which Brian Michael Bendis hasn’t even begun to touch upon in either Uncanny X-Men or All-New X-Men? If you haven’t read those comics, however, it won’t affect your enjoyment of the issue, though it will cause you to wonder if there was something that happened in other comics not written by Hickman that you somehow missed.
Not only is the quality of Hickman’s script for this first issue is mixed, so is Esad Ribic’s art. In many respects, his work is some of the most realistic and meticulously drawn penciling I have ever seen in a mainstream comic book; there is almost not a single panel in which there isn’t something occurring within the background, and there is as much attention to detail to buildings and spaceships as he does the costumes. Yet there are times where it becomes difficult to follow what is happening on the page visually as it is reading the text. For instance, it took me a few pages to realize Colossus had literally thrown Hulk from one Earth to another when they were performing their fastball special, that he also did the same thing with She-Hulk and Pod, and that Nightcrawler then teleported him over afterward. Also, for as consistent as he is with basic human anatomy, Ribic appears to only be capable of depicting two facial expressions; either he draws them wide-eyed and opened-mouthed as if they accidentally walked in on someone naked, or narrowed-eyed and frowning as if they caught a whiff of someone’s fart. Also, I didn’t particularly care for Ive Svorcina’s use of color as it gives scenes a faded appearance, though the lighting effects are excellent.
As we head into the second issue, there are still some unanswered questions as new ones are raised. Since we know Secret Wars is leading to the creation of Battleworld, how did it come to be and by whom? Based on what the Maker says, it appears he may have been the one who created the patchwork planet as means of saving the multiverse, but if take what happens towards the end of this issue at face value, it could have also been created by Doctor Doom. Also, why would Manifold choose certain heroes, including Spider-Man, over others, and why are they deemed important for the survival of the human race? If someone was killed before the Incursion happened, will they be brought back to life somehow in Battleworld? Is Secret Wars a reboot or isn’t it? And more importantly. will it eventually start to make any sense?
Even so, might as well, like the Cabal and the super-villains do in this issue, take the opportunity to sit back and watch what happens next. After all, it’s only going to affect every single one of Marvel’s comics, including Spider-Man.
- So in the twenty-five years Doom was hunting down and killing Molecule Men in other dimensions, starting his own religion and building a bomb to destroy the Beyonders, he attached a movable lower jaw to his mask? How undignified! Doom does not waste his time in pursuit of such trivial endeavors.
- So right when the S.H.I.E.L.D. forces from the Ultimate Universe attack, we see Spidey swinging up towards them with the rest of Earth-616’s heroes, but then on the very next page, he on the ground trying to do crowd control. Sure, Spidey’s fast but not that fast. Also, is one of those caped figures Hyperion? Because I thought he dies with Thor Odinson during their suicide mission to stop the Beyonders in “Time Runs Out?”
- “Thank God they were redundancies, so we should be okay…” You see, Reed Richards? It’s comments like those which make everyone think you’re an elitist, entitled, pompous asshole even among your friends.
- So sometime within a period of eight months, Jessica Drew goes back to wearing her classic costume and is an Avenger again? So much for wanting to put the craziness behind her. Though considering how this is the literal end of the world, it seems the craziness found her.
- “No large scale response to our fleet, but we’re pretty outnumbered on the metahuman front” And out of Ultimate Iron Man’s words comes one of the real reasons the Ultimate Universe is being put out to pasture—not enough superheroes. That and Miles Morales is the only one worth preserving.
- So despite being a half-man, half-reptile monster, the Lizard still has personal e-mail and his own domain name? Also, it’s nice to know what Norman Osborn really takes pride in with an e-mail address like firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Speaking of that bar scene, how the heck is Frank Castle planning to take out the likes of Sandman and the Absorbing Man with nothing but guns? Granted, I know her figures they’re all dead any way, but given the extent of their super-powers, those bad guys are more likely going to kill him before he can get the first shot off.
- While that was a great speech you gave, Cyclops, about how one can’t kill an idea, who exactly we’re you talking to? Or is a prerequisite of obtaining the power of the Phoenix Force that you just monologue out loud to no one in particular?
- For those of you who have read the original 1984 Secret Wars mini-series, check out the shape of the Illuminati’s Life Raft? Notice how it looks an awful lot like the ship the Beyonder used to kidnap the various Marvel superheroes and villains? Nice Easter Egg there, Hickman.
- Gee, Hickman sure loves his all-white and all-black pages, doesn’t he?