Written by: John Hickman
Art by: Esad Ribic
After a completely shocking turn of events last issue, I was left wondering where exactly Secret Wars would go following the utter destruction of the Marvel Universe. As it turns out the answer is exactly where you wouldn’t expect. This follow up issue offers us an impressive view at a radically different Marvel universe that is full of surprises and shocks. If you’ve been following Hickman’s stuff so far then this issue will also answer quite a few questions about the conclusion of his Avengers run, but not everything is spelled out, leading to a great sense of discovery and reward for those who have been keeping up.
The new landscape presented in this issue is full of bizarre twists and features Marvel characters in entirely new and unexpected positions. Much like last issue, this feels like a real celebration of all corners of the Marvel universe, however this time it’s completely turned on its head. It feels a little like events such as House of M or Flashpoint, but with much more permanent feeling consequences. There’s a distinctly “Hickman” feel to this issue, full of power struggles, cosmic being and moments of sheer epic awe. It almost feels like an episode of Game of Thrones set in the Marvel universe, with talk of different Barons, borders and kingdoms. There’s lots of monarchic and religious language and subtext which gives this issue a very grandiose feel much larger than your standard superhero event comic. I’d rather not say too much about the make-up of the world as learning the rules, structures and the people in power is the main highlight of this issue, as someone so familiar with the Marvel universe and how it works this issue really threw me for a loop by twisting the characters and worlds I’ve known and loved in strange new ways. My only complaint would be that at times the pacing can get pretty slow, a section in the middle of the book for example over a disagreement in the law goes on for quite a long time and features heavy text. It’s still highly interesting, it just makes this issue feel like a very long read.
Ribic is really challenged this issue in crafting the new look of the marvel univierse, and outside of one panel with a very odd and old looking Valeria his art is on top form. He blends so many different genre styles into one issue that gives the issue an oddly disorientating feel, but in a good way. He juggles so many massive cosmic entities and crams them into situations that should not fit, yet he somehow makes is all work as a cohesive package. It’s like a child arranging his action figures into bizarre crossovers, yet it all somehow holds together despite the strange feeling of displacement and weirdness long-time fans will feel. From grand sights such as a hall full of Thors to the horrors that exist outside the walls of society, there’s a lot going on and a lot for Ribic to depict, which he pulls off perfectly. I hope we get to see more of the world on display here in later issues, and not too much gets relegated to tie ins.
While those who have been keeping up will have a much better grasp on what’s happening and be able to predict both what has happened and what will happen, I imagine newcomers will be completely lost this time round. While they’ll probably spend most of the issue confused and wondering what the relevance is, if they stick to the end they will be rewarded with a better grasp of what’s going on. There’s also quite a shock at the end which ties the issue in well with the events of the previous issue, but while I imagine the very end was intended as a shock, readers who have been paying attention or even looked at the marketing for the series will probably have guessed it in advance. That said, Hickman does a great job of not spelling everything out, there are a lot of loose ends tied up and things that are explained, but he leaves it to the reader to make the connections which made me feel very rewarded for paying close attention and engaging with the story. I will say that I commend Hickman for this approach to event storytelling, I get that publishers want to keep events like this as accessible as possible because they’re such big sellers, but I really do love how much of this event feels like a reward for those who have stuck with Hickman all this time, including nice nods to his Avengers and Fantastic Four runs. This is a comic event for comic fans, and the scope and level of pay off lead to a highly satisfying and accomplished reading experience. This series comes highly recommended, and with a bit of a clearer focus on where the story is going next, it looks like it’s going to be a blast.