There’s something to be said about losing mystique once insight is gained into a process. Let’s face it- upon seeing the man behind the curtain pull his levers, the show is basically over. Here, it’s the public foreknowledge that this issue and its immediate predecessor were once intended as one giant forty-something-page monster offering. Although the current installment’s got the “monster” part down no problem, it just doesn’t stack up the same.
If last issue has a distinct “Lord of the Rings” flavor, this issue undoubtedly falls in line as mostly “extended-cut bonus features”. Sure, there’s visual spectacle galore- such as the cover-advertised rock ‘em, sock’em throwdown- but it’s also a near non-stop montage of characters on their way to doing big, important stuff without accomplishing much in the here and now (save for Peter Quill). It’s a bit late in the game for this sort of perpetual ramping-up and protracted bridge-building. Last issue made great inroads to pulling triggers and as a follow-up, this feels if not like an outright step back, then certainly a step off-balance and not landing as firmly as it should (or could).
However, it’s not all an abrupt fiery left-turn crash into the wall as humor and heart shine through. Almost as an unspoken one-upping of last issue’s dispatching of Maximus, Terrax has perhaps an even more Monty Python-esque battlefield encounter. There’s even some good snicker-inducing disses in Doom and Thanos’s latest exchange. Although again brief, it’s also not without its dramatic flair. Let’s just say cinematic framing would place it somewhere between the “Episode IV” Obi-Wan/ Vader fight and Indy versus the “Raiders” swordsman…
Also not without its certain “If you should strike me down, Darth” quality of an altogether different vein is writer Jonathan Hickman’s handling of Ben Grimm, The Thing. An iconic personification of the trait, Grimm is all about heart and Hickman has written the character expertly throughout the years. This is no exception as the pauses between Ben’s righteous rampage and his noble acquiesce make for a subtle yet memorable sequence.
If Hickman goes a little “soft focus”, nobody told the art department, charging ahead with bombast set to “11”! When the lead image is a larger-than-life Thing taking it to flame-headed Galactus on the grounds of Castle Doom, you know you’d better bring it. And, in this, artist Esad Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina do not disappoint. The center-ring attraction not only ties the entire affair together, its inherent kineticism even propels through the “talky” passages. Some finer details may get blurred-over in blowing out the scope but these are minor transgressions servicing Kirby creations mixing it up in a round robin that’d make Toho Studios proud- so, literally, pick your battles.
Getting past the eye candy, “Under Siege” is a frustrating yet necessary piece of the Secret Wars puzzle. Despite a few stand-out character moments, overall pacing suffers from its formerly-conjoined status with the previous issue. One can’t help but wonder if potentially assembling a “Director’s Cut” re-examination of the pair may yield a more even and enjoyable reading experience (hint, Marvel). Consequently, it’s just that many more eggs riding on the basket of next month’s conclusion.