When it was announced in August that Marvel’s current crossover event was going to be extended, it seemed inevitable that the already sluggish “Secret Wars” story would drag on even more. Considering that Marvel are already selling comics which take place after the unpublished finale of this event, it would behoove the creative team of this event (writer Jonathan Hickman, artist Esad Ribic, and colorist Ive Svorcina) to produce something which offers such amazing quality that the journey is worth more than the outcome. After all, readers by now know full well that the omnipotent Doctor Doom will be defeated and lose control of Battleworld; one could argue that was obvious by the second issue. They also know that the “all new, all different” Marvel Universe that takes place after this is at least 90% similar to the one that came before it, with the exception of some alternate reality refugees such as Miles Morales or Old Man Logan. Unfortunately, the end result has turned out to be composed of more random and tedious elements than “Axe Cop”, which is co-written by a five year old.
Doctor Doom may have usurped the omnipotent power of the Beyonders and used it to fuse together the entire Multiverse into one “Battleworld”, but things are steadily turning against him. Two squads of interlopers from the previous universe (“The Cabal” led by Thanos and a band of heroes led by Mr. Fantastic) have been scattered throughout his realm and are seeking hid defeat for various reasons. Doom could use his omnipotent power to root them out, but he doesn’t for two reasons: he frets that he would lose control of his temper, and because doing so would cause him to win and this farce of a story would end. Jonathan Hickman at least pulls off one clever twist, revealing Maximus the Mad as the “Prophet” leading the masses into revolt; it is a shame that such a reveal reduces the effort to a quick three page gag. Captain Marvel has teamed up with Mister Sinister, which seems bizarre since as a longtime ally of the X-Men, Carol Danvers should be the least willing to unite with the team’s longtime nemesis. But the random elements don’t stop there, as Black Panther and Namor use some plundered MacGuffin devices to mobilize an army of zombies while an entire army of Hulks arise from nowhere. Hickman may drop a lot of names of both figures and objects as treats for longtime Marvel fans, but in the end it seems that rather than edit his own chaos of ideas into a cohesive story, the extension of this series has allowed him to use all of them, cohesiveness be damned. A band of toddlers playing out a superhero opera with a box of toys during a sugar high might accidentally construct a finale which makes more sense than what Hickman is slowly organizing. “And then Captain Marvel leads in an army of Mr. Sinister clones while Namor and Black Panther bring in the zombies, and ooh ooh, an army of Hulks, and then an army of Cowboy Ninja Alien Pirate Mushrooms and then an army of cyborg Spider-Men and then an army of Werewolf ballerinas,” and on and on the madness goes.
The artwork by Ribic and Svorcina always delivers, at the very least. While Invisible Woman and Valeria look too similar in close up (which is a shame since a woman in her thirties should not look identical to a toddler in any shot), aside for that every issue is a feast for the eyes. Unfortunately, Hickman’s story has collapsed under his own excesses. His emotional detachment prevents most characters from feeling genuine. And his zeal to shove every element of Marvel Comics lore into one story is ambitious, but ultimately comes off as chaotic and haphazard. Because Marvel Comics are already onto the next sell, this story (or what passes for one) has become an overpriced afterthought.
The best thing to come out of this crossover has been a Marvel handbook. The fact that there will be another two issues of this insanity would be appalling if it weren’t so desperately extravagant. We all know Doctor Doom will lose, Mr. Fantastic will perform some big sacrifice, there will be some big explosion, and then everything will be put back together so “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” can reboot. Must such a simple climax be prefaced with every action figure in the Marvel toy chest? Is there no quality control at the “house of ideas”? If half as much editorial energy were put into producing quality products as there are in producing variant cover schemes to hoodwink retailers into order-ordering them, Marvel Comics would be much better off. This may be an elegant looking mess, but it is a mess nevertheless.
If one has already read this far, one will likely read it until it finishes. That’s the most shameful part of it all, and Marvel Comics knows it. The end cannot come soon enough.