With the months and months of teaser images, spin-off announcements, and everything else in between, it seems like Marvel’s Secret Wars has been a thing for so long that I forgot it was actually a comic, and one that just now happens to be coming out. I’m not going to lie, because of all the hype going into it, I was sick of Secret Wars long before it ever came out. Well, this proves that I’m a very silly person, because Secret Wars #1 just knocked it out of the park.
The basic set up for Secret Wars is this: The Marvel Multiverse is dying, and we are now down to just two universes, the classic “616” Marvel Universe (a designation given by Alan Moore, although I’m sure he doesn’t want to be reminded of any of his Marvel contributions) and Earth-1610, better known to fans as the Ultimate Universe. All of this action actually started happening in Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers titles, so if you haven’t been reading those, then this issue pretty much starts out in media res, with the end of things already in motion. Dr. Doom, Dr. Strange, and Molecule Man are bearing witness to the end, and Doom even seems to have a religious moment during all of it. The opening issue is really a chronicle of the final moments of these worlds, as the two Earths came crashing into each other. Although the idea is that if one Earth destroys the other it’ll be safe (providing fans with the “Ultimate vs. Classic” Marvel battle of which they’ve been dreaming), there really is nothing either of these Earths can do to save themselves. This is the end.
Most of the major players of the Marvel universe are here, including the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, hopefully silencing those rumors that are saying that Marvel is downplaying those characters because of film rights issues with Fox. In fact, I’d say Reed Richards gets the most powerful moment in the whole book, as he tries to save someone he cares for, only to realize that this is a battle that he can’t use his intellect to figure his way out of, for the first time in his life. It also has a great moment that showcases how awesome and powerful the Invisible Woman is, on top of everything else. None of this feels like it’s coming from a company that’s trying to punish the characters in question.
Amidst all the chaos and reality-ending destruction, Jonathan Hickman provides real human moments for all the characters. And it’s a LOT of characters we’re talking about here, pretty much the entire Marvel Universe. As reality begins to crumble, Namor gets to be a dick one last time, the Punisher gets to kill some scum before it’s all over (his version of “one last beer”), and Thanos gets to say maybe my favorite line in the whole book: “There is no honor in running from death. People should just know when their time is up.” I do wish Nightcrawler had a moment where he was just like, “Great, I came back to life only to see the whole world end. Mein Gott,” or something like that. But I can’t have everything, I guess. If it feels like I’ve spoiled too much don’t worry, there are still a ton of major moments tied to big iconic parts of Marvel lore I haven’t even hinted at. This issue is dense.
And just as good as Hickman’s writing is, Croatian artist Esad Ribic’s artwork is a truly gorgeous complement to it all. Secret Wars #1 contians the best pencils of his that I’ve ever seen, even outdoing his excellent work on the recent Thor: God of Thunder series. If Secret Wars is as huge and game-changing to the Marvel Universe as Marvel keeps saying that it will be, then Ribic is definitely giving this book the love and attention that it deserves, and it shows.
Despite sharing a name with a classic 1980s Marvel series, the first issue of Secret Wars actually doesn’t really remind me of the original comic at all; it is far more reminiscent of DC’s counterpart from the same era, Crisis on Infinite Earths. The first issue of that seminal book featured a world already in the process of being destroyed, and we see the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3 try to fight a wave of entropy as it engulfs their world, ultimately losing, watching as their reality get destroyed. The entire first issue of Secret Wars is very much like that classic first issue of Crisis (even the Alex Ross cover is very similar to George Perez’s cover for that book) as the heroes of both the classic Earth-616 Marvel universe and the Ultimate universe try their hardest to keep their worlds from colliding and ultimately destroying each other.
Now to address the elephant in the room: How does this compare to DC’s Convergence, their very, very similar event, going on at the same time? I’m a DC fanboy, so it kills me to say this, but based on their first issues, Secret Wars slaps Convergence around and leaves it crying for mommy on the playground. While the first issue of Convergence had decent art, the writing was sloppy and filled with clunky exposition. Comparatively, Secret Wars feels like a labor of love from everyone involved. Sure, these characters will all be back, but Hickman and Ribic truly produced this issue as if it were the last stand of the Marvel heroes, and they all were going out doing what they do best: fighting the good fight and trying to save innocent lives. Not a bad way to go. While the question remains if the rest of the series can live up to the first installment, based on this issue they’re off to a great start.