The Secret Wars homage-and-mash-up parade continues in Marc Guggenheim and Carlos Pacheco’s Silver Age-inflected survey of the questionable thickness of thieves. The winks and nods to bygone Marvel imprints and alternate realities are firmly on the sleeve but in this tale of absolute power corrupting absolutely, such cameos often come with a deadly cost. It’s a brutal introduction filled with widely unlikable characters doing despicable things but the opening chapter tempers nicely with dense intrigue.
For a title centering on a gang of villains thugging around their Battleworld domain, some of the characterization is ho-hum predictable despite shocking “holy crap- that just happened!” moments. However, in twenty pages, wheels reveal inside wheels as the reader is privy to no less than two conspiracy subplots. For added measure, there’s also a central murder-mystery- a prevailing ingredient in all the books now… because.
Guggenheim employs a fair amount of sleight of hand and it works for him almost every time. On the macro level, the reader is so caught up on Hyperion being abrasively unlike the former Jonathan Hickman version and Nighthawk being so damn… Batman that subtle things delightfully take root. Overall, it looks like good news for any fan of Jim Shooter’s New Universe but “big and obvious” is also where the script clunks out. There’s more than a liberal amount of suspended disbelief needed to get over the ultra-hefty corpse just appearing in the Squadron’s occupied HQ without anyone knowing anything.
The most solid aspect of the issue is the stunning artwork of Pacheco, accompanied by inker Mariano Taibo and color artist Frank Martin. No stranger to everybody’s-kitchen-sink-and-their-grandmother-sized casts (Avengers Forever) as well as the Distinguished Competition, the veteran artist instills classic elegance within every panel. Layouts are balanced and pages even offer inadvertent symmetry in side-by-side-comparison. Even the more, er, graphic scenes are smoothed over with graceful lines. Pacheco is indeed at the top of a very short list of folks able to deliver full “retro” flavor without the cloying kitsch.
It’s been some time since Marvel last featured an earth-shaking villain ensemble- particularly one forecasting its inevitable come-uppance as early or as often. It will be fun to watch the bullies get pulled down from their pedestals and interesting to witness what multiple-choice form it takes. From there, add whatever “Marvel vs DC” meta-bias you may possess- this mix eagerly obliges as an equal-opportunity murder machine.
“No Honor Among Thieves” is more an acquired taste than a one-size-fits-all crowd-pleaser but it is a great pot-stirrer all the same. As a series, it seems more about the destination than the journey but it will have you coming back to see it all go down!