Winding down assignments from the publisher, writer Kieron Gillen creates an unlikely yet compelling ensemble of cherry-picked Marvel properties from his personal catalog. Instead of resting on well-earned laurels and churning out a self-congratulatory novelty book, Gillen smartly positions his “Greatest Hits” as one of the most integral Secret Wars spin-offs.
This is particularly welcome during increasingly lengthy gaps between installments of the main event book and a strategy that is not wholly unfamiliar to the writer. Long-game readers will note that Gillen really stakes his House of Ideas claim by masterminding Loki’s secretive back-door exploits during the original Siege and Fear Itself events. Those “side-stories” prove to be just as impactful as the tentpoles from which they derive and if history teaches us anything, it’s clear that’s holding true here as well.
It’s also worth mentioning that although this title bears the same name as the 2010 mini-series transitioning between Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign and a renewed Heroic Age, the similarities pretty much stop there. Sure, W. Scott Forbes’s exterior art emulates the recognizable half-cover trade dress but that’s really it. In fact, it’s not even the same sense of the word. Brian Michael Bendis’s source material is decidedly more “noun-oriented” (“The Siege of Asgard”) while the current offering is all verb. The scariest part is that it’s loaded for the future-tense. And by the end of this first issue, the emphasis really is on “tense, loaded future”.
In addition to Forbes’s cover, the book itself features three different artists on interiors. Filipe Andrade and color artist Rachelle Rosenberg handle a majority of the pages. There’s also a couple of double-page cut-aways supplied James Stokoe and Jorge Coelho, respectively. The quick artistic change-ups interject a much-needed albeit fleeting air of light-hearted “fun” into the otherwise dire proceedings. Stokoe’s passage in particular also lends subtle context to the Age of Ultron vs. Marvel Zombies series, if not a mild spoiler. (It’s either that or ALL the Hank Pyms get the same bad idea when they’re banished…)
Although this initial salvo strikes a commanding presence, it does take a minute to find its legs with a disorienting opening sequence. Between the abrupt funneling of some headscratching math defying ascribed parameters of Jonathan Hickman’s Battleworld “creation myth” and Andrade’s jaggedly hyperkinetic art perhaps erring too much on the cartoonishly abstract, it’s a rough establishment taking a page or two to fully adjust. Andrade may ultimately be more of an acquired taste but the key all around is flexibility of perspective. It’s actually something of an unspoken mantra as Gillen’s script goes on to yield a few rewarding surprises in its malleability. Even some quite literally.
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As a set piece, The Shield locale is already a familiar touchstone throughout the line. Seemingly without effort, Gillen and company have nudged this superficial commonality into an essential hub of interconnectivity. It’s by no means an oasis but in terms of getting into the next-level nitty-gritty of Secret Wars, it can’t miss!
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