Spoilers abound in this latest portion of Jonathan Hickman’s ramp-up to Secret Wars. Well, it’s not so much spoilers– plural- as it is a single one that informs all of the action within this oversized issue. For those following since Hickman assumed control of the Avengers franchise back in late 2012, there is tremendous payoff regarding one of the major backbeats of the Illuminati-centric New Avengers portion of his story. Like, “Holy-insert-expletive-of your-choice, I can’t believe that actually happened!” amounts.
Having one of the sister title’s main plot points come to fruition here isn’t an erroneous placement. After last month’s head-to-head intersection involving no less than four distinct Avenger factions, there’s really no other option but to bulk-out the flagship title to twenty-six pages and take the action to its next logical place. Sure, Marvel could’ve easily called this the Avengers: Time Runs Out Special and it would work just as well on some levels; however, despite continued resistance from Old-Coot America, Steve Rogers, there are faint glimmers of camaraderies rekindling amidst all the apocalyptic doomsaying. As fragile as the Avengers’ interpersonal relationships have become, that is positively a moment needing to land in the core book. It’s a bit buried in the sub-text among all the angry finger-pointing but for every indictment, there’s a note of affirmation that maybe it’s not too late for the old gang. Mostly…
Things are far from “cool” and far from forgotten, in fact. This is maybe the prevailing theme of the issue. Wonderfully feeding into the “Shakespeare” of it all, it’s also the justifying element of the issue’s dollar-extra price-tag. Artist Stefano Caselli and color artist Frank Martin punctuate the main narrative with three chapter-setting flashback pages distinct in washed-out sepia.
Caselli’s slightly manga-slanted linework is a curious choice to deliver such an impactful issue but he handles the immense gathering of characters just as well as any of the classic large-scale Avengers masters (George Perez, Carlos Pacheco) and much of the tonal upswing is due to his creative energy. Juxtaposed against Martin’s subdued palette for the main story, though, it’s a weird yet not altogether unpleasant mash-up, with Martin getting the upper-hand. Let’s just say the word “ominous” has never really been associated with the color blue until now.
Coming into the home-stretch as the series conclude in April, it’s refreshing to start getting resolutions. Considering how densely-packed Hickman’s narrative is, this is no small feat. That being said, the writer has time and again demonstrated a penchant for revisiting scenes with an expanded context later on and in the case of the current set of panels, a great many of them should not be taken at face value. With scarce information about upcoming issues, cover art suggests that the spotlight may wander for a while, so answers might not be immediately forthcoming, either. Again, it does beg the question how this is all going to fit into one book and comfortably resolve. Then again, maybe the format of this very issue may prove the prototype. Qualitatively, if Secret Wars shoots for this or better every time, it’ll be worth it.