While the Event of Secret Wars is winding down, the story itself is just picking up steam. After a far-too-long gap between installments, writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Esad Ribic waste no time steering a wandering audience back to the center attraction with bold interactions and one of the saga’s biggest laughs. Packing it in at twenty-five pages, it’s all roving cam, all the time on the push to what the solicits refer to as “The Final War”!
Even though there’s more pages, don’t expect them to be filled with the beginnings of an epic knockdown-dragout. Not in any truly visceral sense, anyway. Instead, Hickman utilizes the space to take an in-depth tour of what the major players have been up to since their Strange dispersal during the fatal showdown with God Emperor Doom. However, the pacing is still super-tight, making almost total use of the considerable cast page and allowing for as many as ten setting shifts.
What’s most noticeable through the constant change-ups is the unlikely and potentially deadly pairings that have cropped-up during the in-story “three week” gap. While several (okay, most) rightfully induce the heebie-jeebies with potential for lethal backstabbing and snitchery, there’s also a plot thread that veers the other direction into the heart-warming and humanizing.
Making the most of the “strange bedfellows” of it all, Spider-Men Peter Parker and Miles Morales venture forth as perpetual goodwill ambassadors into a world actively hunting them. It’s classic unswerving Spidey light-heartedness in the face of disaster and something of a secret weapon Hickman’s been keeping in the proverbial back-pocket.
Comedic Spider-moments may’ve been a modicum during his Avengers years but it’s something the writer deftly made use of during FF and Fantastic Four and this is a very welcome reminder. Jokingly poking holes at the logic and physics of super-hero trappings (particularly costuming), the entire affair briefly pulls over to the side for some of the greatest tension-breaking ever to be caught on panel. It’s not gaining the symbiote costume or teaching the Beyonder to poop but Peter’s big moment this time around is definitely just as memorable and not without its element of next-gen torch-passing.
The art department also makes the most of the additional real estate, maintaining a consistent level of excellency from previous issues but doesn’t exactly up their collective game, either. As mentioned, there’s a lot of variety in setting and set pieces but a sparing amount of high-impact visual dynamics. In fairness, it’s mostly a(nother) “talking head” issue but Ribic’s facial inconsistencies repeatedly distract.
Even factoring for age differences, the two Reeds don’t readily look all that much like each other in side-by-side comparison. And, even for a kid purposefully making a screwed-up, puerile face, Bentley’s features stray far more into Atlantean or Vulcan/Romulan territory. However, this same “looseness” is indeed an asset in perpetuating a guessing game about the identity of new mystery player, “The Prophet”. Through it all, Ive Svorcina’s colors continue to function as the “mood glue”, impeccably tying the entire piece together with vibrant energy crackles and cool, slightly fuzzy holograms.
Entitled “We Raise Them Up… Just So We Can Pull Them Down”, the sixth issue establishes the game board for the big finale but opens with the pieces in very interesting positions few could have guessed. There’s been a degree of hemming and hawing about the delay-ridden herky-jerky distribution of the entire publishing line but complaint easily turns to illuminating appeasement as it all synchronizes on these story beats. To which, there’s also a “no brainer” soft-sell plug for the final installment of Kieron Gillen and company’s Siege as it nestles perfectly within the closing segment. Proof that even with an extended page (and issue!) count, there’s still more story to tell. Maybe there’s some way Marvel can keep Hickman and Ribic on this forever?