Written by: John Hickman
Art by: Esad Ribic
If there’s one thing you can rely on from John Hickman, it’s a story that’s absolutely epic in scope. His Fantastic Four run is one of the biggest and most beloved in the series history, and his 2012 event Infinity was one of the strongest Marvel event in years in my opinion. Secret Wars is in a whole different league to that however, this is one of the hugest Marvel events in a long time, it certainly feels like the biggest in all my time reading comics. The stakes have never been higher, the feeling of victory never so far away, and the consequences never so painstakingly real. There’s a real feeling of desperation and hopelessness to this debut, it’s quite unlike anything I’ve read from Marvel, feeling a lot like one of DC’s crisis series. Despite this however, it is distinctly Marvel, and as a lifelong fan, it has everything I ever could have wanted from a Marvel event, making me feel 12 again.
A lot of prep work has gone into this event, most people will probably think back to the beginning of Hickman’s Avengers run in 2013, but there are elements stretching back all the way to his Ultimates run and beyond. There’s a lot going on and a lot of characters from those series that don’t really get an explanation (I imagine a lot of people will be confused by Ultimate Reed Richards) but they’ll still be able to follow the main story, which Hickman manages to boil down into a pretty simple concept; it’s Ultimate Marvel vs. 616 Marvel with the fate of both universes hanging in the balance. It’s a simple enough concept that any fan of Marvel can enjoy and get an emotional response from it, but the experience is made so much richer if you’ve been following Hickman’s run so far. After watching him spend years meticulously place dominos it’s incredibly satisfying to see them all come crashing down.
I mean that literally too, this issue features the action of a disaster movie, all perfectly rendered in a glorious scale by Esad Ribic. Ribic is one of my absolute favourite artists working in comics as he brings a suitably epic feel to whatever he works on. He brought it big time during “The God Killer” storyline in Thor, and now he’s turned his attention to the wider Marvel Universe. His art is spectacular to behold and he portrays the raw emotion of the events as well as the satisfying action beats. I find it fitting he reteam with Hickman, given how much of what’s happening here began in their Ultimates run. While I would usually find so much action boring and overplayed, Ribic’s art raises it and makes it so impactful, combined with the tension Hickman provides, which makes it truly feel like the end for the Marvel Universe. The tone feels so desperate that it truly feels like the end of days, for once I actually feel concerned about the characters as it feels not everyone may make it out alive. Marvel have been so clear about this being the end of the marvel universe that there’s a real feeling of the unknown to the events, after finishing the issue I was floored. I have absolutely no idea where the story goes from here, but it’s certainly an unforgettable intro to a Marvel event.
Despite this heavy atmosphere however, the series still remains distinctly Marvel at its core and feels like a celebration of the universe and all it means. There are cameos from almost every major Marvel team in this issue to truly make it feel like an event, rather than a big crossover like recent events that have focused exclusively on the Avengers. Seeing all my favourite heroes come together to fight an impossible battle resonated on an emotional level with me and made the events all the more dramatic as they swung selflessly into action for possibly the last time. There’s even some traditional Marvel humour in this issue, nothing that derails the story or feels out of place, quite the opposite, there’s a brilliant scene involving what the villains do at the end of the world that leads to my favourite scene but one that I absolutely don’t want to spoil, but it had me in stitches. The only thing I’d say doesn’t work about the large cast is that some feel like they’re only there because of certain popular movies. Sorry Guardians of the Galaxy, I love you guys like everyone else, but you really serve no purpose in the story other than you’re popular right now.
Regardless of this, this issue really does feel like a celebration of all things Marvel, any fans who have ever been affected by or grown up with Marvel as part of their lives owe it to themselves to check out this event. It’s a superb beginning that actually feels event sized and serves not only as incredible payoff for those following Hickman’s Avengers run but also as an incredible end for anyone who’s ever loved Marvel. I have no idea where we go from here, but wherever it is it’s sure to be epic. Don’t be put off by the onslaught of event comics in recent years, this comic is worthy of the title and is worth all the hype.