SECRET WARS #4 Review: “Marvel’s All-Business, All-Plot Point!”

After last issue’s talk-heavy lull, writer Jonathan Hickman’s epic extravaganza snaps back into shape and plows ahead with renewed force (and then some). Featuring cover-to-cover intensity, “All the Angels Sing, All the Devils Dance” drops the hammer with seriously game-changing action.

Hard to tell through the mask but Spidey is shooting Quill some severe daggers for stealing all the good quips...
Hard to tell through the mask but Spidey is shooting Quill some severe daggers for stealing all the good quips…

Starting deceptively enough, the current installment pairs Sheriff Stephen Strange’s voice-over with images of the Thor police squad engaging the villainous Cabal in the desert of Utopolis. From first impressions, it seems Hickman is opting to keep a potentially meaty scene just at arm’s length. However, before frustration justifies, he packs the next few pages with discourse that cuts with near-equal amounts of adversity before conjoining the two aspects.

"Quiet, son, adults are talking..."
“Quiet, son, adults are talking…”

Hickman’s consistent execution of these tight segues drives the story forward with unswerving momentum. Not that certain beats need much help finding their place- the “Doom/Richards showdown” is a classic that writes itself. It doesn’t hurt that in this case, it also casts a palpably loaded shadow of anticipation.

Ships in the night no longer...
Ships in the night no longer…

While the current encounter will have to suffice as but a weighty teaser, there’s no shortage of “gravy” moments along the way. Double-check for historical accuracy, but this issue also marks what could possibly be the first exchange between Doctor Doom and Thanos. It’s brief but powerful stuff- notable not only for the historical and/or “action figure-y” value but for it’s quasi-“Ghostbusters” outcome.

Damn Jedi. Oh, wait...
Damn Jedi. Oh, wait…

There’s also a pair of major character deaths. Or what seem like “deaths”. Very much in keeping with other demises in this series, face value is something of a sliding scale. One in particular resonates with a bit of an Obi-Wan Kenobi “If you should strike me down…” flavor (you pick which). Either way, it’s unlikely those stories truly end here.

Penny for those thoughts, Thanos...
A penny for ’em, Thanos…

The bit parts and ancillary frills are where artist Esad Ribic excels as well. After some off-model rendering last issue, Ribic’s overly emotive facial expressions work in his favor. The bug-eyed and pissed Thanos keeping Thors at bay on page one’s splash endearingly paints a picture that defies all proper word balloons.

Great Odin's lunch meat!
Great Odin’s lunch meat!

Another instant scene-stealer is Ribic’s depiction of an unnamed boar-headed Thor, a captivating visual that vies for something of a brief supporting role. What’s maybe a little bit snickery about the character is that Bor is actually the name of Odin’s father. Perhaps this is Doom’s warped homage to the Norse mythology he’s co-opted…

L. Ron Summers
L. Ron Summers

The real treat for the eyeballs, though, is Cyclops. That’s not to say that he dominates the issue but Ribic and color artist Ive Svorcina make him positively riveting in every panel. A commanding presence awash in a fiery sea of radiant golden tones, there’s a cloud of roiling turmoil following the X-Man everywhere. One unflattering panel captures him out of his aura curiously resembling Guardian from Alpha Flight but other than that, Slim’s turn as some kind of ominous psychokinetic Pigpen from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts really works.

Marvel Super Heroes Awkward Silence
Marvel Super Heroes Awkward Silence

Considering Secret Wars unorthodox early progression, it’s hitting all of the traditional “Hero’s Journey” paces exactly on time. The “Fellowship of the Raft” may be scattered to who know’s where but the road to Act Three is certainly primed. It will be a maddening six week wait for the next installment. In the interim, the resultant “bug hunt” will no doubt spill into the other books and set off all sorts of wacky hijinks across Battleworld. Indeed, the Secret Wars are afoot now!

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