So how do you pretend to do a crossover without seeming to do a crossover? How do you do a reboot without necessarily calling it one? Well DC seem to have removed their signature reboot new52 logo and just started either afresh (We are Robin, Bizarro, Bat-Mite) or promoted their best ones a little more (Grayson, Batgirl) which seems similar to how it was done in the good old days without the Multiversal, galaxy expanding, hero sacrificing, crossover fanfare. DC have learnt Marvel’s lesson (without the labelling), who in turn learnt from the failings of new52 with the launch of Marvel Now that had restarts of solid books whilst introducing new Now books. Obviously DC may have learnt from its own mistakes but given how prone these companies are to copying each other, the convoluted cyclical analogy is what I am proposing. Secret Wars is a clear classic reboot situation but very well prepared for, which is where the similarities to the Flashpoint storyline probably stop. I genuinely find it amusing that these two companies are so desperate to re-invent themselves as a whole that they miss the simplest marketing trick of all: Allow creators to create. If you give the artists space and freedom to express their work, they will produce their best and that book will sell on its own merits. Case in point is the relative popularity of titles such as Gotham Academy and Ms Marvel.
Kudos to Marvel though because that is exactly what they have done with Secret Wars and every tie in book have had their shackles released. The architect of such a grand occasion is Jonathon Hickman who not only is producing quality after quality with the main title, but has only one dictat to everyone else: Doom is the creator, the rest of the place is yours to do with as you please. If you look at the titles you may sigh with resignation at the seemingly nostalgic homage titles such as Future Imperfect, Civil War and Marvel Zombies. And there are many that are just average harks to days gone by, but there are some that are just a little bit better than that. As crossover fatigue hits and memories of classic solo books slowly fade, these are my top ten favourite Secret Wars books in that they are maintaining my enthusiasm over, yet another, superhero universe reboot.
(These are in reverse order of awesomeness)
Infinity Gauntlet by Gerry Duggan and Dustin Weaver
Well I guess there is an Infinity Gauntlet and Thanos is chasing after it, so the title shall be allowed to stand. Gerry Duggan has become one of the fall back guys to write any book for Marvel because of his success at writing Deadpool. He taken a very unique take on the gauntlet and brought a destitute family into a rather roughshod Nova Corps. I quite enjoy seeing the family fly around together, though Thanos is being very un-tyrannical as he maintains a subterfuge with the family in order to steal the gauntlet back for himself. It is a situation we have rarely come across and one that is quite exciting to see, especially as the young hero Anwen and her mother have no idea about the pure devilry of Thanos. Weaver has a beautifully light but detailed pencilling style and the scenes of derelict cities are wondrous to look at. The initial issue started off extremely bleak with an abandoned family losing hope but it was so compelling to read. It has somewhat changed tack but is still a very well written and stunningly to look at.
Mrs Deadpool and the Howling Commandos by Gerry Duggan and Salvador Espin
Whereas above Duggan is very serious and insidious, he is very much tongue in cheek and back to the humorous style of Deadpool. I don’t think anyone could have predicted what Wade’s wife would be like but Shiklah represents a perfect match for him. She is sexy but turns into a terrible monster, she is funny but also incredibly mean, and she is kind without sentimentality. The fact that Marvel allowed her to have a solo title, leading the petulant monsters brigade is testament to her popularity. Her Indiana Jones-esque adventure is so amusing because she has no fear of her ridiculous crew, one that features a centaur whose only weakness is diabetes. Frankenstein’s cluelessness is my favourite amusement. Espin captures the essence of the Deadpool books and maintains excellent cartoonish expressions of classic monsters we all know and love.
Thors by Jason Aaron and Chris Sprouse/Goran Sudzuka
The concept of a Thor corps is essentially a fan indulgence but that does not mean it cannot be thoroughly enjoyed. This book is more than just about Thor cosplay because Aaron plays it as a detective police drama with the death of Jane Foster being the lead case. That is insultingly simple because it is the murder of Jane Fosters across all universes. He successfully builds the story even further with some emotional investment as veteran Thor, Beta Ray is murdered in the first issue. And as a younger Thor plays the newbie fresh face detective, there are many classic cop themes to be explored. The confrontation between Odinson and Ultimate Thor was quite enjoyable and the pieces of the puzzle are yet to really fall together. Sprouse/Sudzuka carries quite a fine pencil and the designs look fantastic, but not too dark and dirty for essentially a cop drama. However the idea that the Thors lost one of their own is such a novel twist on a classic trope, that you are ready for more.
A-Force by Marguerite Bennett & G Willow Wilson and Jorge Molina
As always I was filled with dread to read about another all female team because, for the most, I find them heavy-handed token gestures to promote equality. That was before I looked at who was writing and suddenly became excited to read a book by two of the best young writers in comics. Both ladies are able to portray great stories and relatable characters and that is almost what they do here. The premise is a solid one and the female unity to protect their home in times of crisis is compelling enough. Despite the characters being well written there is a lack of coherence plot wise and it is lost to what it wants to do. The initial issue saw the loss of one of their own, the second saw Shulkie traverse a portal and the third saw another seeming double cross against some Thors. The inking and colouring is quite rich and heavy which befits the posturing and battling but less so the emotional turmoil. Despite the potential lack of an overarching story, the issues are very enjoyable to read and I eagerly anticipate the final issues.
Master of Kung Fu by Haden Blackman and Dalibor Talajic
I have dearly missed those kung fu movies where the immensely talented hero wastes his life away inebriated only to come back home to defend his family’s honour. This is unlike any Shang-Chi you have ever seen but the Kun-Lun tournament is as amazing as ever. Special tribute goes to the historical exposition artwork as Talajic almost weaves a very light tapestry of past events, and it looks fantastic. The battles are epic with great mid battle poses and you genuinely feel for our protagonist and his school of outcasts. The drunken master technique employed throughout the issues is a joy to watch. This book has now completed its story and was amusing yet emotionally heartfelt and Talajic is so suited to physical combat.
Little AvX Marvel by Skottie Young
It is a quandary how you can manage a short series of comics based on cutesy kid versions of heroes, but Young is an expert. His previous one shots have relied on key characteristics of the adult heroes to make them recognisable as toddlers, but it was more their actions and reactions that made them fun. An example is seeing Cap in a gym with no one wanting to play with him because he only wants to do press-ups or the fact that Wolverine has access to both the Avengers and X-Men’s treehouses. The danger room is the best playground ever but how does Young extend these nuances into a mini series? Well quite simply you bring in more characters, such as the Guardians in the last issue. But I must impress on how knowledgeable Young is with his heroes because there is an incredible amount of attention to detail. The subtle expressions and joke make for a book you will smile at from the first page to the last, issue after issue.
Marvel Zombies by Si Spurrier and Kev Walker
The title really has very little to do with the previous book of its name despite featuring them. Our tough female leader Elsa Bloodstone certainly has some Daddy daughter issues, but having flashbacks relate to how she interacts with her child companion makes for compelling reading. Her attitudes and responses echo Ulysses Bloodstone, the greatest monster hunter who ever lived, aka her father. Once again Kev Walker is superb at those moments of pure emotive expression as well as being able to draw some sickly looking zombies. It is no surprise that Spurrier is able to take a well-explored trope and find the high concept idea, which is why it is such an inventive book that has little, if not anything to do with Secret Wars at all.
Planet Hulk by Sam Humphries and Marc Laming
I never imagined Steve Rogers and the red Devil dinosaur on the hunt for Bucky, with Doc Green in tow would ever work as a story, but Humphries are really developed a great rapport between man and beast in the strangest of worlds. The Gammalands are so called because everything is gamma infested. Laming went to great effort to ensure every part of it looked like it had been hulked up, to the point where the plants look angry. The straightforward adventure explorer story is interesting by way of the environment and the novel set up to our beloved characters. The landscapes appear fantastic and the battles are vicious and very unforgiving. The name uttered around the lands is the Red King, which instantly conjured images of a tyrant General Ross. The latest issue brings an insidiously cruel twist and I very much look forward to the finale.
Weirdworld by Jason Aaron and Mike Del Mundo
It does surprise me how much enjoyment there is to be had in reading this book. I could quite easily place a photo of Warbow the crystal warrior and you would instantly be enthralled at the art. Del Mundo is similar to JH Williams III in that he refuses to acknowledge convention and every page is innovative and able to tell a story like no other before. His colours define the character and there is rarely any black ink on the page providing great depth and texture. Aaron writes a story purely for Del Mundo because as Arkon tries to escape this domain, he comes across the strangest places and people. There is as much sense to be had as the childishly drawn maps that our protagonist uses to try and leave this world. In fact those have become my favourite pages of all, amongst many that are simply to be adored.
Civil War by Charles Soule and Leinel Yu
His background as a lawyer makes Soule the perfect man to write a book about political and ideological division. I never imagined that the Red and Blue could be so well structured according to the ethos of Tony and Cap, but this book presents a completely novel confrontation. As both leaders fail to arrange a truce, they chase down an assassin who murdered the only liaison between both men. My cynicism for the nostalgia of Civil War disappeared after only a couple of pages of issue one and I thoroughly started to enjoy this book. Yu’s characters have that classic coarse face as he devoted a large amount of time making sure they depict shade and expression that come from the gut. As you can imagine this is the exact kind of artist you need to show the pure hatred of two very big superheroes. And that thirst for victory drives this book despite both Tony and Steve trying to chase the same killer showcasing a clever reflection of the original Civil War.
Special mentions must go out to a few books that were just edged out of the top ten. Years of Future Past has a classic 80’s feel to the artwork and has a very intriguing twist to the end of the mutant race. Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps is a beautiful book at night and in the air but lacks an overall storyline. The Red Skull book utilised their main character as an interesting anti-hero manipulating the ever so fiendish Magneto, inventive but not fully commiting. Finally Old Man Logan is just an incredibly great looking book as Sorrentino is wonderful in depicting all of these crazy patchwork environments. It is a damn shame that the story is completely lost and nothing happens. These crossover comics have been very well structured with the Secret Wars story but it is worth nothing that the regular books such as Loki, Spider-Woman, Black Widow, Punisher and Magneto are set prior to the destruction of the universe. They are remaining on Earth 616 and appeared to have changed the endings to their books but not always for the best. Both Widow and Punisher seemed to have extended longer than was intended and Loki became an existential crisis involving Gods of Gods. These follow in line with the usual unnecessary tie in books that most events spawn but it is not worth losing sight of the successful titles that have come out of Secret Wars.
You may notice that only Thors, A-Force and Planet Hulk bear any reference to Doom being the overseer. They make suitable references to his importance and keep the books grounded in their domain. The others throw caution to the wind and fully embrace he chance to either create a new world or imagine one based on a previous one. The complete lack of constraints have brought some excellent books, and it is almost insulting to call them tie-ins because they are very much stand alone. These ten books and more demonstrate the amazing wonders you can achieve when you let creator’s imaginations soar.