Review: SECRET WARS #2

A God Emperor with an army of thunder gods wielding hammers forged from the stars, a hodge-podge world torn apart by the ravages of political warfare, a horde of undead snapping at the gates, and a heretical group of interlopers. Secret Wars is finally here in full, and it’s so much more than I hoped it would be.

After last week’s Secret Wars #1, there seemed to be a bit of a collective head scratching going around – at least as far as people expecting the beginning of a story were concerned. I loved Secret Wars, but I understand most of the frustration. If something’s got a big, red #1 stamped on the cover you kind of expect it to be the start of something. Had it been called “Avengers: Finale” or something like that, I doubt many people would have been as perturbed by the enormous scope of the thing. Here’s the thing: If you didn’t like the first issue, I’m almost pleading with you to give this one a shot. You can even cross out the 2 and put a 1 in its place if you want. This is it. This is the new world. This is the beginning of Secret Wars.

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Look, there’s a lot of Game of Thrones in here. I mean, a lot. There’s a series of kingdoms all sporting different rulers all ruled by one guy. There’s a wall separating the kingdoms from a horde of undead monsters and god knows what else. Political machinations are to be found around every turn. Religion and faith play as major role on Battleworld as they do in Westeros. Usually, skewing that close to a mega-popular phenomenon would be a strike against something, but if we’re going to do something massively different for a few months, at least it’s actually massively different.

Usually, that’d be a strike against something, but if we’re going to do something massively different for a few months, at least it’s actually massively different. Of course Doom’s perfect dream world has him as a revered god-king. Of course there’s a sickening punishment awaiting those who oppose him. Of course there ARE people who oppose him because how boring would it be for Doom if there were none to oppose his great intellect. It’s an interesting set-up with surprisingly satisfying stakes and it’s full of wonderfully big ideas.

The legwork that Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic put into this book is astounding. It could have just been a giant exposition dump (and essentially is, but done with a wonderful amount of flair) but Ribic’s stellar draftsmanship and uncanny knack for adding gravitas and scale to everything he puts on a page is in full force in this issue.

Yes, the first issue had the entirety of reality collapsing in on itself and whole universes of heroes clashing as the world falls apart around them, but here, Ribic is still able to instill a small initiation ritual or a man on trial for treason with the weight of all those world-ending catastrophes. A young woman may just be leaking a tidbit of information to a sheriff, but it feels like she may just be signing his death warrant. It’s almost overstuffed with portents of doom (no pun intended.) There’s a certain menace to every panel. Strip away the word balloons jam-packed with veiled threats and ominous news and it’s still eminently clear that there will be hell to pay for at least one person involved in each scene.

Each character feels fully fleshed out. Under a less talented creative team, a lot what happens in this issue could feel like just another winking nod to some weird bit of continuity. Sometimes when you get these alternate world stories, you can almost hear the creators patting themselves on the back for how dang clever they’re being with new versions of familiar things. Here, it never gets in the way. While Secret Wars is mostly taking itself deathly seriously, there are slight moments of levity baked in. I mean, someone says “Goddoom,” and that’s now in the running for Best Comic Moment of 2015.

It’s hard to nail down just what Ribic does differently than some of his contemporaries. It can’t just be the painterly quality to his work. It can’t just be the wonderful colors ofIveSvorcina, though they do add another indescribable layer of something special to the precedings. There’s something magical at work when Ribic does his thing. The way each character carries themselves and the small changes in their expressions go a long way into making this new earth feel lived-in and real. Battleworld is going to be an interesting place to spend the next few months.

Ribic is so good that a bit of violence near the end of the issue actually took me back a bit. Not because the violent act was extra disturbing or over the line, but because Ribic so expertly draws a thrown spear that the motion almost carried itself off the page and into my body. It’s a nice touch. A bit of intimate danger in a story filled with universe shattering consequences all leading to a twist that I would have never guessed at, that happens to amplify my interest in this series by an inordinate magnitude.

This is the event you were looking for, even if you didn’t know it.

Now how do I go about getting me one of those hammers?

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