Warning: This review may contain spoilers for Secret Wars #2, so read at your own peril.
The first issue of Marvel’s Secret Wars was something of a minor miracle: a big crossover event series from one of the Big Two publishers that didn’t feel like it was just a gimmick? When was the last time that happened? But as good as issue #1 of Secret Wars was, in a way it was almost like a zero issue, despite all the momentous things that occurred in it (and when say momentous, I mean the Marvel and Ultimate Universes came to an end in that one issue — that’s how momentous). The real meat of the story begins in issue #2, and it’s really this part of the story about which I was the most worried. Because this is where we are introduced to the hodgepodge, crazy patchwork planet of Battleworld. More importantly, we are introduced to Battleworld’s “God Emperor” Victor Von Doom. Yep, somehow during the first issue, Doom seemed to gain the power of the Beyonder, and remade the world in his own image, with him being worshiped as the God he’s always thought he was.
I really shouldn’t have worried if this issue could live up to the first, because issue #2 is almost as good as and sometimes even better than issue #1. The second issue opens on a twisted version of Asgard, called (of course) Doomgard, and we see a young boy pick out his hammer to become a Thor, one of many Thors, a defender of the realm below known as Battleworld. The Highfather explains to the new younger Thor about his role in this new world as a keeper of the peace and an arbiter of Doom’s will. He also asks him to explain the creation myth of this world, and it becomes clear that, to the citizens of Battleworld, Dr. Doom created the world and that’s all there is to it.
As you probably already know from all the advance hype Marvel has been building for months, Battleworld is made of different “kingdoms” that are slices of previous Marvel history. The classic Marvel Universe Manhattan is one of them, as is the Ultimate universe’s, but so are pieces of other Marvel Comics history like the X-Men’s “Inferno” storyline, the “Age of Apocalypse” story, and the England of Captain Britain — here called the “Kingdom of Higher Avalon”.
What all the pre-release hype didn’t tell us is how much like Game of Thrones this whole set-up was going to be. Each kingdom is ruled by a Baron, and that Baron has to pay tribute to their God, Doom. Dr. Strange, for example, is there as “Baron of Agamotto”, and I swear he’s drawn to look like the character of Littlefinger from Game of Thrones. Heck, there’s even a giant wall separating the more civilized Kingdoms from the wild wastelands ruled by the Marvel Zombies or Ultron A.I. run amok. Sound familiar? Based on everything I knew going into this series, I can’t say I was expecting this book to remind me in any way of George R.R. Martin’s world, so this was a welcome surprise.
It’s explained throughout this issue that the Kingdoms of Battleworld are kept strictly separate from each other, and any alliances or attacks made on other kingdoms are forbidden. If you break the laws, you are brought before the high court of Doom where you must stand trial. In this issue, the Thors are tasked with going into the Kingdom of Mr. Sinister (called “Bar Sinister” because of course it is) to apprehend Sinister, who has been charged with forming an illegal alliance with the Kingdom of Utopolis (the Squadron Supreme world) in an attempt to invade Higher Avalon.
Doom’s Sheriff, Baron Stephen Strange, forces Sinister to pay restitution to the House of Braddock, but Sinister choose for the trial by combat option, which leads to Captain Britain and him getting into the Arena to fight it out like Kirk and Spock do in that episode of Star Trek called “Amok Time”. It’s a pretty awesome and intense fight scene, even if I did keep hearing that Star Trek fight music in my head while I read it. Towards the end of the second issue, we find out that a remnant of the old universe is discovered, and I won’t spoil who or what it is, but I can say it’s going to be nothing but major trouble.
All of these scenes are basically just exposition, created to explain the rules of this new topsy turvy world, but writer Jonathan Hickman finds a way to make it all fun and actually kind of make sense. It flows like an actual story would, rather than feeling like we’re having the rules explained to us in a manual. Well, I should say most of it makes sense; I won’t lie, there are still a few things that are pretty big head scratchers here. Like if Doom is essentially God in this world, why would he still be scarred and wear that iron mask? Shoot, I know it would be the first thing I’d get rid of. And why make a world of worshippers that are made up of versions of people who constantly have tried to bring you down for five decades? You would think that you would want a clean slate, to never see “that damned Richards” or his family ever again. But right now, I’m having so much fun reading this series I don’t really care, although I do hope it’s eventually all explained down the line.
As good of a job as Hickman does taking this crazy premise and making it into something more or less coherent, the real secret weapon of this title is artist Esad Ribic, who I can safely say is doing the best work of his career on this book. His style for this book is super reminiscent of fantasy art found in old issues of Heavy Metal magazine (part of that is the coloring done by Ive Svorcina), which is perfect for this series, especially for a second issue that is more fantasy epic than superhero story. Each page is lovingly rendered and even if the story wasn’t so much wacky fun, I’d have to recommend this book for the art alone.
Marvel has been trying to sell us the idea that Secret Wars’ Battleworld is the new future of the Marvel Universe, and after reading this issue, I can officially say that’s gotta be a load of hogwash. The premise is just way too weird to be sustainable for the long term. But for now, especially if you’re a longtime Marvel fan, it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and well worth the ride.