I said I was out, but fuck it. I dunno if I’ll do this for every issue (actually, I already did it for #2…), but I think this one warrants it.
Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s Secret Wars is the conclusion not only of Hickman’s expansive run on both Avengers and New Avengers, but his entire tenure at Marvel Comics—and, for that matter, both the Marvel and Ultimate Universes as we know them. The first issue is almost more of a prelude, setting up the destruction of those two universes and leading into the new status quo for the rest of the event. It’s a pretty dark issue, where like 99% of each universe dies and the lightest moment belongs to the Punisher, but it’s gorgeous and layered and…oh hell, let’s just get into it.
Page 1: I’m unclear on whether the narration here is by Reed or Doom; it matches the caption style from the issue’s end, but it also matches what’s going on with Doom’s crew here. As to the crew itself, a little bit of explanation is in order: During the events of New Avengers, the Illuminati (Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Black Bolt, Iron Man, Namor, and Beast) got caught up in this crazy-ass game theory exercise where two alternate Earths would start occupying the same space. This is called an Incursion, and would last for eight hours. By the end of those eight hours, one of three things would happen:
1. Earth A would blow up Earth B and survive.
2. Earth B would blow up Earth A and survive.
3. Earths A and B would collide, destroying not only both Earths, but also both surrounding universes.
Now, obviously option 3 is the complete shitshow scenario, so this leads to a whole lot of moral justification for options 1 or 2, both of which are unquestionably genocide. Over the course of the run, Black Panther is the first to pull the trigger on an antimatter bomb on an uninhabited planet, while Namor is the first Certified Asshole(TM) to blow up an inhabited one, this one with an incredibly well-written group of Justice League analogues. Anyway, it turned out all this shit is an unintended consequence of Doom going on this fucked-up crusade on behalf of Earth-616’s Molecule Man. Molecule Man has tasked Doom with killing every Molecule Man across the Multiverse, since each one is basically a time bomb created by the Beyonders to blow up that universe. Seems that the Beyonders, for some reason we’ll likely discover in Secret Wars proper, got tired of existence and decided to clear the table and start fresh.
Anyway, Doctor Strange ends up selling his soul for a big tentacle Cthulhu monster he uses to kill the ersatz Justice League, and then joins a group of “field surgeons of the Multiverse” known as the Black Priests who would blow up dying Earths to save the two surrounding universes. He eventually makes a deal to go after Rabum Alal, the mysterious figure thought to be behind the Incursions and the early death of the Multiverse, and finds…Doctor Doom, who traveled back in time with Molecule Man on a time platform to set all this crazy shit in motion. I know, it’s complicated.
Anyway, this is Doom, Strange, and the Molecule Man going back to the very beginning of the Incursions, when the Beyonders killed all the gods of the Multiverse, and getting the living shit handed to them after Doom basically sacrificed the majority of the remaining universes to try to take the omnipotent Beyonders down.
Now, one thing worth noting is how the closer Doom’s posse gets to destruction, the less definition there is to the lines and art. This is, as far as I can tell, a trick that’s continued through the series to show something’s proximity to the Beyond and/or the Beyonders, and I’ll be pointing it out as I see it. Obviously, it’s not the only places where Ribic uses pencil shading to add definition to figures, but there’s a difference between that and the seeming breakdown of reality on the bottom.
Page 2: That’s the crack in reality the Beyonders came through to fuck up every Celestial, abstract deity, and the Living Tribunal, as seen back in New Avengers #30. These three dudes are chilling on Doom’s time platform, a big part of Doom’s character ever since his first appearance in Fantastic Four #5, when—no shit—he got the Fantastic Four to go back in time to get Blackbeard’s treasure, except Ben Grimm ended up really enjoying being a pirate and, in a time paradox, ended up being the actual Blackbeard. Now Doom’s using it to give a middle finger to God. Comics, man.
Page 3: The crack in space also made its first appearance back in Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #1, from 1984, when the Beyonder first appeared and proclaimed: “I am from Beyond! Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours! Nothing you dream of is impossible for me to accomplish!” which somewhat mirrors the Beyonders’ speech here. Back during Time Runs Out, Hank Pym described the Beyonder of the original Secret Wars as a “probe” for the full gamut, a sort of test-drive child having some playtime with the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe. The original Beyonder ended up getting pranked by Doom, who took all of his power before getting re-pranked by the heroes of the Marvel Universe.
Note how on this page, the crack in reality is made up (since there’s less CG glow than on the previous page) basically of Manga Studio/Photoshop eraser marks. Ribic could have drawn the outline of the crack and filled it in, but he didn’t; it looks almost rubbed in, which matches the aesthetic of the close-to-the-Beyond bits in the series. Again, if I’m being vague, hopefully pointing them out as we go will make it clearer what I mean.
Page 4: It’s so brutal that this is all the recap you get without ol’ Uzi here.
Page 5: Here we’re on Earth-1610, one of the two remaining Earths left in reality; this is the Ultimate Universe, and the main Marvel Universe is the other one—Earth-616. Hickman and Ribic last visited here together back on their Ultimates run, which also centered around Fury, Hawkeye, and a certain character we’ll meet again on the next page. Note how Fury speaks in proper-case font while everyone else speaks in all-caps—this is a nod to the fact that when most Marvel books went back to all-caps in the mid to late ’00s, while the Ultimate books stayed with the proper-case that was adopted in the early part of the decade. This got solidified as the convention for portraying dialogue across both universes back in Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli’s Spider-Men miniseries, the first official Ultimate/Marvel crossover.
Page 6: Meet the Maker, the Reed Richards of Earth-1610. Fury gives a pretty decent breakdown of his deal on this page; unlike the magnanimous family man of Earth-616, this guy is just a complete fuckin’ douchebag, a Silicon Valley technocrat taken to extreme levels who started a gigantic Google campus in accelerated time before the Ultimates took him down. Of course, he’s the only dude on this Earth who figured out the Incursions and how they work, so Fury’s giving him carte blanche anyway despite his being a genocidal maniac.
Page 7: Chilling with Ultimate Reed here are three members of the Cabal—Earth-616′s Thanos, Black Swan (an apostate follower of Rabum Alal who’s misinterpreted his message of murdering Molecule Men and is instead just down with blowing up Earths), and an alternate-universe Terrax. These dudes all hitched a ride with Namor during a double Incursion to the Ultimate Universe after Black Panther straight-up shanked Namor in the chest. Black Bolt shouted him off a platform onto an exploding Earth in retribution for Namor basically completely destroying his country. Ultimate Reed took them in because he’s an asshole, and now they’re his Murder Squad.
Pages 8-9: Ah, such a relief to see Hickman with a “writer & designer” credit again. I know the dude gets shit for his white pages and reuse of visual motifs, but it’s distinctive self-branding and, shit, at least it looks different. The last year and a half or so of his New/Avengers run had been missing this sort of personal touch.
Page 10: There are a lot of people in this comic, even though most of them are just there to die in the background.
Page 11: The dude flying up to Hulk’s right looks to be Hyperion, who actually died in recent issues of New Avengers written by Hickman, so I’m blaming Esad Ribic and/or the editorial team for this book-breaking error. Zero stars now, everybody.
Anyway, note that in the MU they told basically the whole world they were about to die, while in the more cynical Ultimate Universe not only did the world leaders try to keep it from the populace, but on top of that the Maker is keeping how hopeless the situation is from the world leaders, for an extra dose of Being a Dick.
Page 12: I put 50/50 odds on, if this life raft had survived, Johnny just growing weed in the hydroponic system because he got bored out of his mind. Flame On indeed.
Page 13: It’s important to mention here that Manifold’s power has some interesting quirks:
1. How exactly they’re related was touched on pretty superficially in New Avengers #33, but the Manifold is somehow created by the Molecule Man in each universe. We’ve seen a few cross-universal Manifolds get murked by Black Swans (or others) as their universes explode, and their powers only work in their native universe, other than one Manifold genetically engineered by the Builders who got killed along with all of them in the Beyonders’ initial purge on reality.
2. Much like the Hickman-introduced Inhuman Eldrac, who is a big door that takes people places, Manifold’s powers operate based off of need. Now, whose need I have no idea, but while he can send people where he wants them to go, there also seems to be a sort of autopilot function with which he sends people where they need to be, based on some weird metaphysical definition of such. This’ll be important later.
Page 14: This Iron Man is Ultimate Iron Man, as you can tell from his word balloon case. Iron Man Six was actually introduced in the finale of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates 2, in that it’s basically a big fuck-off aerial Iron Man. You may wonder where the Marvel U’s Iron Man is, and perhaps where that Steve Rogers is, as well, and the answer is that a helicarrier dropped on them while they were beating the shit out of each other in Manhattan as the world died around them. This happened in the last issue of Hickman’s Avengers, #44.
Page 15: Obligatory Power Man & Iron Fist appearance! The Guardians are here too! And Storm, and the new Thor (Jane Foster), and the new Captain America (Sam Wilson, formerly the Falcon) and Iceman, and a bunch of Sentinels from Nation X, which has not been introduced yet in the X-books and apparently may not be until October (in Uncanny X-Men #600), if ever.
Page 16: Anyway, for reasons yet unrevealed, Cyclops has a Phoenix Egg. I presume Rocket is shitting on old comics so we don’t feel bad when he dies later.
Page 17: Pod here is a character from Avengers, Aikku Jokinen, a Norwegian girl who got hit by an “origin bomb” and turned into Earth’s self-defense system early in Hickman’s run. They thought she was just a robot so she got sent into the Beyond for a while, but A.I.M. (after Sunspot bought them) pulled her back, and now she’s chilling with the Avengers. It’s been a wild ride.
Hulk’s got a rad mohawk since he’s been operating under the “Doc Green” persona, Extremis-enhanced to be a smart Hulk now, but the side effect is that he can be a patronizing dick.
Page 19: The dudes in the lower-right are the All-New Ultimates. This is the entirety of their appearance.
Page 20: So what’s under the dome here is the Maker and the Cabal’s crib—the Dome’s actually transportation as well as evil Starcraft supervillain lair, but it just chills in Manhattan for the purposes of this story.
Page 21: So yeah, this is Miles Morales happening to be up there to see the world-killing bombs launch—except, as we all know from this issue’s subtext and next issue’s text, they’re almost definitely a feint for the life raft they plan on launching, with the plans stolen from the one the Marvel Universe’s heroes made. We know Miles Morales plays a big role in Secret Wars based on solicitation text, cover art, etc., so it seems likely that he’ll be hitching a ride on the villain life raft and, at some point, joining up with the people who aren’t murderous psychopaths and/or Death-worshipping cosmic space gods.
Page 22: Shit blows up, but I can only conclude that dude getting owned by a death machine on the upper left is Banshee, who was last seen as one of the Apocalypse Twins’ Four Horsemen of Death in Uncanny Avengers, and who last died by having a plane run into him. It just doesn’t look all that dignified, is all I’m saying.
Page 23: This doesn’t need much explanation, other than that it’s likely utterly superfluous and also so action-movie perfect I can’t imagine the issue without it. One day, may we all benefit from a Jonathan Hickman Punisher story.
Page 24: See what I mean about Manifold’s power being based on need? This is where it comes in. It looks like he’s just gonna be a really big Eldrac.
Page 25: Scott goes Phoenix again, Rocket dies, Star “Chris Pratt” Lord is the first dude needed on the life raft, apparently.
Page 26: Thor! Spider-Man! Captain Marvel! All your favorite characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe film franchises!
Page 27: This is our first in-comic look at the life raft, and it sure bears an eerie similarity to the ships the Beyonder placed the heroes and villains on in the original 1984 Secret Wars, eh? The original series had the Beyonder placing the heroes on one ship and the villains on another and crashing them into the original Battleworld; here, we get one from the Marvel Universe filled with relatively chill people, and one from the Ultimate Universe filled with dickbags (and Miles Morales likely as a stowaway).
Page 28: It looks like Manifold uses the last of his power here sending Phoenixclops to the 616 Life Raft, and then burns out.
Page 31: Again, note the pencil effects increasing as Reed approaches the white-hot nothingness of Wild Space.
Page 32: And here, too, in the final panel, as the life raft begins to break apart and Sue is broken down to pencil form.
Page 33: We see Reed lose some of his fingertips…
Page 34: And there they are, floating in the nothingness of wild space, perhaps plot points to come up later since this seems way too conspicuous—especially since all signs point to Doom rescuing the seemingly-lost members of the Fantastic Four from their fate and making them parts of his ruling order on Battleworld.
Page 35: Note the now-black version of that pencil crosshatching pattern in the last panel here.
Well, that was pretty apocalyptic, right? Join us next time for the notes on Secret Wars #2, as Battleworld is introduced and the entire publishing history of Marvel Comics concludes for Game of Thrones: Marvel Edition as we’re introduced to the rule of Emperor Doom!