It’s difficult to eulogize a fictitious entity. It’s especially difficult when that “thing” serves as the backbone of modern mythology. However, despite being more popular now than ever, the Marvel Universe dies this week along with its last alternate, the “Ultimate Universe”. Delivering both bang and whimper, the opening salvo of writer Jonathan Hickman’s epic “final level boss battle” closes as many doors as it opens windows.
Without spoiling anything, bring a hanky. And if you have a favorite or a pre-existing soft-spot for anyone: do not get attached! That being said, as gut-wrenching as the many character deaths are, they should by no means be taken at face value. This is but the first of eight issues and upcoming solicits for the various spin-off titles already show a great number of the early casualties alive and well. Granted, their respective stories may not pick up exactly where they left off but it shows that they are not truly gone nor forgotten.
In terms of ground-floor accessibility, Hickman is fairly successful in making things as new reader-friendly as possible. Yes, there certainly is a distinct “missing a few reels” flavor as there’s literally volumes of backstory directly informing the mega-event but relatively speaking, he fares better here than last week’s baited double-cliffhanger close on the Avengers franchise. There’s an immediate callback to the finale of New Avengers but Hickman repurposes it as a framing device- clearly picking and choosing without getting bogged in the minutiae of “Previously…”.
Along those lines, the issue’s actual page count may be a little subjective. Making a thematic return from 2013’s Infinity, the “Hickman Event Book” blank white pages are inserted into the over-sized proceedings. Offering dramatic chapter-break pauses, they are refined and delivered far more effectively than in the past. Sparingly, one operates as the briefest of Star Wars-type crawls while the other punctates like a tombstone. Also, kudos for Jonathan Hickman finally being acknowledged as “Designer” for all the flourishes typically accompanying his books.
In its own right, the presentation of the issue’s artwork is also quite the thing to behold. From Alex Ross’s painted cover and its gloss-finished upgraded cardstock, to the interiors by art and color team Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina, the book itself is beautiful in spite of its brutal subject matter (and a faintly Dragon Man-esque Ben Grimm).
If there’s one hiccup, it’s in the actual delivery of the “head-to-head” plot point. On paper, the inherent logic as to why it has to happen is apparent. However, “in-story” it just doesn’t translate organically. The Ult U just look like aggressive thugs. It would have been a nice touch if somebody reached out before the breaking-loose of all hell. Instead, it goes down like a fight on an elementary school playground: two scared kids being pushed into something that neither of them really wants. One’s even clearly being manipulated by an older bully (The Maker- “Evil” Reed Richards plus Thanos’s Cabal).
Entitled “The End Times”, the inaugural chapter of Secret Wars deals it out as promised. No punches pulled, the months of foreshadowing hyperbole are indeed to be heeded! It’s been quite a while since Marvel’s had an event truly worthy of “capital-E” standing. Like it or loathe it for fear of the unknown, this is the new cornerstone all the same. On to Battleworld!