Marvel Comics’ summer-long-plus comic book cross-over mega-event, ‘Secret Wars,’ shouldn’t work. Cross-overs are typically the comic-book world’s version of blockbuster entertainment – lots of bombast, huge expectations, but ultimate letdown. Heady ‘big-idea epic’ writer Jonathan Hickman has been building to this ultimate breakdown of the MCU as we know it since he started writing for the House of Ideas. Coupling his unique chapter-breakdown writing style with the gorgeous pencil work of Esad Ribic and painterly color palette of Ive Svorcina has so far resulted in one of the most highly engrossing, creatively unique, and beautifully rendered ‘big event’ comic maxi-series in the history of the Big Two (Marvel & DC). Even the spin-offs from the main event, which actually replaced all other monthly offerings from the publisher, have been for the most part successful in interesting ways.
Hickman’s ‘Avengers’ and particularly his ‘New Avengers’ runs laid the painstaking groundwork for this series. He introduced new, and re-introduced old, cosmic threats to a global Avengers force, with a revolving cast dealing with various crises suited to their particular talents. Over in ‘New,’ Hickman focused on the Illuminati members of the MCU (a concept introduced by Brian Michael Bendis where a group of high powered intellectual heroes (Reed Richards, Namor, Black Bolt, Black Panther, Beast, Tony Stark, Dr. Strange) consistently save the planet and universe from major threats in secret and hold the whereabouts to the Infinity stones in the process) and their attempts to thwart ‘incursions’ of parallel earths. Early on in the series, initial efforts to save the 616-Earth (MCU), like having the incorruptible Captain America wield the Infinity Gauntlet, resulted in failure and a mind wipe of Cap by his allies to avoid his ethical challenge of their decision to destroy the impending parallel universe. The main ‘Secret Wars’ story begins with the end of the two remaining universes (616 MCU and 1610-Ultimate Universe), colliding into each other with a memory restored Captain America battling a megalomaniacal Tony Stark/Iron Man.
The resulting BattleWorld, formed by reasons too good to spoil here, is a patchwork universe made up of portions of warped versions of the Marvel Universe inspired by classic past storylines (‘Old Man Logan’, ‘Inferno’, ‘Planet Hulk’, ‘Future Imperfect’, ‘Armor Wars’, etc.) and strange mash-ups of characters and concepts (‘Weirdworld’, ‘Thors’, ‘A-Force’, etc.) Each of these ‘domains’ has a corresponding mini-series, of varying quality, by the various creators working with Marvel today. These minis, while not necessary to follow the main storyline, add to the enjoyment as they each have their individual tone and feel. They pay enough homage to Marvel past but are accessible enough on their own to appeal to both old and new fans alike.
The success of this series is pivotal for Marvel, as it is leading into the first real MCU ‘reboot’ where it is assumed the universe will look and feel somewhat different. Preliminary artwork and creative teams have been announced and many titles and new status quos seem promising (the retention of ‘Old Man Logan’ Wolverine, Bendis tackling Iron Man as the flagship (parallels to the movie universe definitely intended), Jason Aaron / Chris Bachalo on ‘Dr. Strange’, a Warren Ellis Korvac book (??!)) Unlike Marvel’s main competition DC, it is apparent that the creators and editors spent time and creativity in crafting this challenging event – the end result so far has been unbelievably solid, both critically and financially. If these talented men and women are able to stick the landing, keeping a foothold on the excitement leading into this ‘All-New, All-Different’ Marvel Comics Universe, fans new and old alike are in for a wild, invigorating ride . . .