After over a decade obsessing with all things pop-culture; Marvel and DC in particular dominating my geek interests, I finally took the plunge and asked a good friend of mine if I could borrow my first comic book.
YEP, you heard that right. This was my very first one.
I had some knowledge of Secret Wars going in, the context filled in for me by my friend and various YouTube videos by ‘Comics Explained’. Written by Jonathan Hickman and with artwork from Esad Ribi?, how does this story hold up; five years later?
Firstly, the artwork in this is absolutely gorgeous. Even as a comic book virgin; popping his cherry, I could tell that my first time was something special. The visuals by Esad Ribi? are phenomenal, consistently using colour in gorgeous and character-defining ways. God Emperor Doom is angelic in shining white, horrifying in concept and a walking parody of everything a true deity should be; conveyed through just the visuals alone.
Secret Wars also features incredible imagery, from Black Panther wielding the Infinity Gauntlet, to the war of the dying worlds, the legions of Thors as Doom’s army and much, much more. This story thrives on taking recognisable elements from the Prime and Ultimate universes, then distorting them in the most disturbing and entertaining ways possible.
As for the writing itself, there is so much to love here. Secret Wars explores the collapse of the Marvel multiverse; engineered by the almost unstoppable ‘Beyonders’, a race of aliens whose aims nearly brought the entire realm of creation down to its knees. Yet, even they met their match at the hands of Doctor Doom; the one man whose plan would ensure that Marvel Comics stock share would not become worthless after this storyline.
Stealing their power, Doom became a god and the idea itself is endlessly intriguing. His replacing of Reed Richards; stealing his wife and children, yet giving them status and power within his new society: It all makes perfectly clear who he is. A narcissist; driven by shame and self-loathing, a visionary; tainted by madness and zealous belief in his own greatness. Even as a God-Emperor, he cannot heal his face; not truly for lack of power but for lack of will. Despite his very name screaming “EVIL!”, Victor is a man who sees himself as anything but and the omnipresent irony of that is on full display in Secret Wars.
T’Challa, Stephen Strange and several other heroes play important, enjoyable roles but this story; fundamentally, is an exploration of the nature of Doom and his relationship with Reed Richards. It is the endpoint; or Endgame one might say, (I’m sorry) of that obsession. When given godlike power, Doom is still the inferior man to Reed Richards; a fact he himself admits in the story’s climax. For this to be the final straw in his downfall as God is a wonderful twist of fate; as Molecule Man ends his reign, yet Hickman is a smarter writer than a simple good vs. evil victory.
Instead, Doom’s accomplishments in this story are acknowledged. For all his darkness, cruelties and vanities, he ensured the continued existence of life in this broken hodge-podge of universes and the story ends with a Doctor Doom; at peace, his face healed and ego shattered. Doom’s ideology has turned from the dread of entropy to the embracement of endurance. The story’s triumphant ending on the words: “Everything lives” is heartfelt and; remarkably, for all Doom’s sins, actually feels earned.
There are so many great character moments in this story; little details that convey them perfectly, that they deserve a list of their own. To name but a few:
- Miles Morales having an eight-year, three-week-old hamburger in his suit.
- The Punisher wiping out several villains at the world’s end; because he never ever stops.
- Groot becoming part of the world-tree and wrecking Castle Doom.
- Susan Storm; akin to a medieval queen, persuading Doom to show mercy in one of his ‘Divine judgments’.
- Johnny Storm is the sun as a punishment. That’s just perfect.
Overall, a terrific story full of heart, emotional complexity, brilliant artwork and fantastic details; both in the writing and visuals, Secret Wars remains one of Marvel Comics finest recent stories and a brilliant potential addition to any reader’s library.
Marvel: Secret Wars (2015) – Comic Book Review
Does this famous Marvel comics event still hold up; five years later?
Marley Eleven Bury is a twenty-one-year-old Film & TV writer who loves takeaway and the superhero genre far too much. His claims to fame are having listened to the entire 26-hour+ Fire and Blood audiobook multiple times and being able to sing the Periodic Table song from memory.