The Ultimate Universe fascinated me when it was first created because it felt like an easy entry point for new readers to jump in without the issues that the main marvel line are beholden to. You’ll be familiar with those issues if you’ve followed that line, I’m sure, but no bigger issue than 50 years’ worth of different series + takes on a character and all of that good stuff. The Ultimate Spider-Man story, for example, allowed me to jump on from the very get go in a far more modern tale than trying to hustle back to the origin tales of Amazing Spider-Man that occurred about 30 years pre-me. Eventually however, Marvel did what we all tend to do after untangling headphone cords, just re-tangling them all over again and so I sort of lost interest in that whole aspect of their world.
When first hearing about Secret Wars, this whole concept of Multiverses colliding instantly turned me off, it did not appeal to me, it added senseless confusion. It’s the one thing I love above all else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, all of those TV shows and movies have so far maintained an organized continuity (although there are signs of chaos at the hinges with things like Coulson being dead to the Avengers but alive to the rest of the former Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as that part where S.H.I.E.L.D. is dead but they have a show about S.H.I.E.L.D.), and that was the appeal of the Ultimate Universe. The same can be said for DC’s New 52, it very much appealed to me, but this talk of Convergence quickly spurned me, as a reader, whom felt that this new initiative would be a terrific way to finally get into that realm, now, not so much.
Secret Wars seems to aim to nullify this issue with new readers, the ultimate goal appears to be elimination of all these different universes and letting newcomers get a fresh take on it with the seemingly sole universe that shall emerge after all of this is said and done. In that sense, I decided to allow Secret Wars to be the first Marvel Event I genuinely follow, sure I’ve gone back and read events long after they’ve occurred but never have I followed it during its tenure.
If the Secret Wars line is also meant to be laid out as an entry for new readers, than Jonathan Hickman has failed. Even having read IGN’s lovely primer for Secret Wars, and having above average knowledge of the world of Marvel, it proved difficult to follow everything that was happening in this initial issue. This is perhaps because there are some Game of Thrones scale conflicts occurring here. Doctor Doom appears in the early goings, we have the Ultimate version of Mister Fantastic known as the Maker with an underlying plot, the Cabal (of which most readers whom haven’t followed this closely will only recognize Thanos) at his side, the Marvel version of Mister Fantastic attempting to allow the survival of at least a few of their people to start over. So in short, the scale of Secret Wars is grand, and extremely impressive. I certainly don’t envy Hickman having to weave all these strings for a coherent story. But a new reader will understand fuck all, and perhaps also not recognize half the characters throughout this issue.
Brushing the brick wall laid out for newcomers aside, this isn’t to say Secret Wars #1 is a bad issue. Hickman still manages to give all of the dozens of characters appearing throughout some personality, and even as the world is at the brink of doom, there’s nevertheless some humor spread throughout between the likes of Iron Man and Rocket Racoon. And on the flipside, he also manages to add some great deal of desperation to the situation with literally every major party brought to their last options, oft desperate options with dire consequences. Cyclops has his egg (and I have no clue the purpose of that egg), Ultimate Fury sends his entire force to annihilate Marvel earth, Reed builds a life raft for a few survivors, etc.
Ultimately, most of those solutions prove fruitless. The combined strength of Marvel’s Avengers is far too significant for Fury’s army to combat, Reed’s life raft sees a destructive fate, even Wilson Fisk whom only wanted to have a drink with all of his fellow ne’er-do-wells as they watched all of the heroes fail at their attempts for survival, could not get that satisfaction. The Punisher popped up just in time to give his final, shotgun laden, farewell. At least it seems his final desperate option will come out fruitful. The amount of stuff that is happening throughout this first issue is insane, and Hickman managing to have it all happen, efficiently so, is equally insane. The fact that he was able to have that little moment with Fisk and Punisher among all the apocalyptical chaos, Hickman’s got a very broad vision.
Once more, it is nevertheless confusing but I feel that’s inevitable considering the circumstances. There’s plenty of things I didn’t wholly understand, and I’m not exactly sure if I was supposed to understand it just yet or if it’s a mystery that’ll be answered eventually such as Eden’s plan or the purpose of the Phoenix egg. And of course, the extreme pace of the story meant we didn’t really see Star-Lord, Spider-Man, Cyclops reactions to being suddenly teleported away from everyone else into the life raft. They were just sort of, chilling there.
I might place that blame on the artist not really bringing everyone to life in all the panels. For example, on a last panel that sees Mister Fantastic suitably shocked as his life is turned to ashes, and Ms. Marvel appropriately showing the strain of keeping him afloat, also has Black Panther, Star-Lord and Thor without a hint of reaction to what they’d just witnessed. Thor’s sincerely in a Where’s Waldo position on the panel, looking stoically which sort of added an air of hilarity to the tragic moment. There’s plenty of other odd facial reactions throughout, seriously, if you’re reading it, just take a moment to take it all in and let the hilarity ensue.
Secret Wars is a confusing mess, but in truth, I’m not really jumping into this series for Secret Wars in particular. I’m jumping into it for all the other series that will inevitably spawn off out of Secret Wars. The concept behind this tale means that most of the writers are more or less open to writing whatever story they want to tell without much restriction for keeping line with the rest of the respective universe (because after all, the universe just ended). Oh and, you know I’m totally getting my hands on All-New, All-Different Avengers, that’s just too good to pass up. This is the sort of issue where I have to tell newcomers to pass up, or at least prepare to be absolutely confused, as for veterans, surely you love Marvel enough to not need my recommendation.