Looking Back on Secret Wars

secretwars-ThorsThe 9th, and final issue of Marvel’s Secret Wars has finally come out. Why is this a big deal? Well, it depends on who you ask. Opinions on projects of this scale vary widely, which is great because it gets people talking. Regardless of how you felt about it, the fact that it happened at all is a big deal. That’s the very nature of these major cross-over, all hands on deck type epic events. Generally when Marvel finishes such a behemoth of an endeavor, the landscape we’d been accustomed to will have shifted drastically. Fan boys and girls will look back for generations to come and discuss the magnitude of the event, and how things were never the same after. These events can be massive triumphs, as proven by Civil War and A vs X, but sometimes they fall short…

Comic retailers are likely to tell you they’ll be happy to see the spike in sales which are typically a result from reboots, especially following the dip in sales through Secret Wars. With the closing of Secret Wars, and the slate more or less wiped clean, Marvel can start pumping out those delightfully enticing issue #1’s. First issues typically outsell all the issues afterwards for obvious reasons. They’re easily more valuable down the line, for one. There’s also the mystery of an issue #1. It could, after all, be the beginning of your new favorite comic. This last point also explains why sales dip afterwards, because in all likelihood, it won’t end up being your new favorite, and maybe you don’t stick with it, as was the case with Secret Wars. The sales started fantastically strong, and promising. Those sales steadily declined with every issue. So when Marvel puts out a whole array of reboots, all starting at issue #1, well that’s likely to sit well with retailers. This is precisely what’s happening now, with reboots of pretty much the entire Marvel pantheon. Iron Man, X-men, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ms. Marvel, Spider Man, even Howard the Duck are all getting a fresh start, and the list goes on.

From the consumer point of view, I felt the series was a flop, thus I’m glad it’s over so things can hopefully get back to normal.
Secret Wars didn’t hit it out of the park the way I’m sure Marvel was hoping it would. There were several problems. First, it was just way…way…WAY too much material. There were literally almost 70 Secret Wars titles coming out throughout this event. Some of them were one shot single issues, but most of them were mini-series. In other words, this was a mind boggling amount of books. It meant that many collectors had to question their commitment. Frankly, I can’t think of too many people with the time, space, money, and inclination necessary to fully embrace this kind of roll out. Especially knowing those new issue #1’s would be coming out so soon, it seemed far easier to just skip this whole event, and start fresh when Marvel returned to releasing a reasonable amount of issues every week.

I felt the series also suffered from a lack of cohesiveness. The project was lead up by the much accomplished and talented Jonathan Hickman, a comic writer whose work I genuinely enjoy quite a lot. His books tend to be pretty serious, though, and that didn’t seem to mesh with Marvel’s typically flashy, fun approach. I dare say it felt a little bit more like a DC book, even more so after seeing the legendary Alex Ross’ insanely gorgeous covers.  Many of the cross over titles felt drastically different, which makes total sense considering the vast variety of talented creators working on all of these books, but the inconsistency was jarring. The big picture idea was to essentially boil down what had become a very expansive Marvel Universe into one streamlined, cooperative universe. That was a great idea,  in & of itself, but the execution was confusing, and the result was baffling.

The new issue #1’s have started coming out, and I don’t think I’m the only one scratching my head at them. I’ll warn you of spoilers now, even though I don’t really know what’s going on myself. Cyclops is dead? Old Man Logan is alive, but what happened to the Wolverine cast in Adamantium we left behind? Terrigen mist kills mutants now? Why does Doctor Doom have a healed face? Oh, and also, probably most importantly, can ANYBODY please explain to me what happened between the Illuminati and Dr. Doom? I have the issues. I’ve re-read them. I still don’t get it. It felt like a highlight reel with no substance in between, no explanation.

Lastly, there was the timing. In a perfect world, this chapter would have ended, and the new one would have begun, but that’s not what happened. Secret Wars not only got pushed back, but added on more issues than originally planned, such that the new books which were ready to go had to wait for the event to end. That would mean that Marvel would have had to sit on finished books waiting for this limping giant to fall, and that is something that Marvel does not do. Instead, they started releasing new material BEFORE the end of Secret Wars, so that readers could essentially see how things panned out before they even happened. It was Marvel spoiling its own series, and it basically made finishing Secret Wars obsolete.

Now that it’s all said and done, the Marvel Universe doesn’t really look all that different, so I’m left wondering how to measure the success of this ambitious undertaking. I have to point out that there were a couple stand out tie in stories. Jason Aaron’s Thors was a gritty police mystery and worth picking up. Garth Ennis’ Where Monsters Dwell was a lot of fun. It was about a sky ace of the old school constantly tripping over his own machismo, only to find himself on an island of warrior women. An entertaining read, to be sure, though seemingly unrelated to Secret Wars in almost everything but the stamp on the cover.

All things considered I give this series as a whole, meaning not just the proper nine issue Secret Wars, but the entire event with all of the cross overs and tie ins, two out of five Infinity Gems. There was some great art, and some great story telling, but you had to be willing to dig for it, and at great cost. Beyond that, considering the mediocre long lasting effects, I have to wonder if it wouldn’t have been better just to skip it altogether.




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