This week I thought I’d do something a little special. Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe just took home its first Oscar gold this past Sunday, I think that we ought to celebrate the Marvel universe as a whole … by watching it get destroyed. Strap in gang: We’re talking about “Secret Wars” by Jonathan Hickman (2015).
“Secret Wars” is the product of a several-year-long story arc that ran between the two Avengers titles that Jonathan Hickman had been writing: “Avengers” and Vol. of “New Avengers.” The former focused on the traditional band of Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man — you know, all the favorites. “New Avengers” focused on characters like Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Namor and other powerful characters banding together against “incursions,” threats to earth from other dimensions. Ultimately decisions in both books came to a head with all but the main Marvel universe being destroyed. Which brings us to the intro of “Secret Wars,” with the end of the Marvel universe as we know it (cue R.E.M.).
Thankfully, the book doesn’t end there, as a new world has been forged from the remains of the dead universe to form “Battleworld.” There are a few survivors who escaped the world’s end in a life raft including Mr. Fantastic, Black Panther and the Spider-men (Peter Parker and Miles Morales). Opposing them is “The Cabal,” a villainous group established earlier in Hickman’s Avengers run whose members include Thanos and a now-belligerent Namor.
Other heroes and villains do exist in the world, but they’ve been scattered across the new world, which is divided by massive walls to keep each universe contained. Watching over the various kingdoms is the Thor Corps, cosmically powered cops each wielding their own version of Mjolnir. But who watches “The Watchmen?” Who created Battleworld and who’s pulling the strings? None other than Mr. Fantastic’s old nemesis, Doctor Doom, now known simply as “God-King Doom.”
It’s a stranger-in-a-strange-land story where Mr. Fantastic and Black Panther may be one step ahead, but always inches away from certain demise. “Secret Wars” has what I would consider perfect pacing, and there is both a sense of great urgency while also allowing for more quiet or reflective moments. This kind of pacing perfectly sets up the climatic final battle in the book’s last chapter, and whoo boy, is it a battle. The final chapter is filled with moments that will make any Marvel fan squeal with excitement. Not to give too much away, but I think I can sum it up best in six words: Black Panther wielding the Infinity Gauntlet. As the late, great Stan Lee would say, “Nuff said.” “Secret Wars” is an epic, plain and simple. If someone came to me and asked me what Marvel’s “Lord of the Rings” look like, I’d hand them a copy and tell them to prepare themselves for an action-packed tribute to one of the greatest comic companies in history that will leave them chanting “Encore!”