The original Secret Wars, those with long memories or copies of Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story may remember, came about purely to promote a toyline created entirely as an attempt to compete with another toy manufacturer’s plans to release a line based on DC’s superheroes. It is easily a contender for the comic book with the most cynical origins ever — and yet, somehow, next year’s revival of the title has managed to feel even more corporate and unnecessary.
I am, of course, fascinated and frustrated by Marvel’s Secret Wars 2015 plans in equal measure. In many ways, it feels like the ultimate Everything You Were Worried About Modern Superhero Comics In One Handy Brand: it’s not just the comic book itself — which is as you’d expect an event that ties into not only every contemporary Marvel title being published, but also countless events and storylines from the past, while also closing out Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers storylines and his Fantastic Four, so good luck being up to speed with that mythology if you’ve not been reading Marvel for the last few years — but also the ancillary material, which includes a $500 multiple-hardcover-slipcase edition including material that isn’t available anywhere else other than the original back issues, a $25 reprint of a coloring book (I swear to God, that’s really not a joke) and additional “transmedia” tie-ins (which I suspect just means “merchandise”), that feels overwhelming, overkill and utterly exhausting months before the first issues have even been solicited.
The new Secret Wars will, we’ve been told in interviews and press releases so far, be the biggest thing Marvel has ever done to date, although what that actually means is difficult to parse; judging by the promo art and what little we know, the story looks to be a retread of the original storyline, mixed with DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Just like in 1985, worlds will live and worlds will die, and… it’ll be “big,” I guess?
The more I read about the event, whether it’s the hugely expensive reprints supporting it or the latest Tom Brevoort line about no-one being ready for how massive it’s going to be or whatever, the more desperate the whole thing seems. There doesn’t seem to be any legitimate momentum behind Secret Wars as anything — a story, an event, or even a brand in and of itself. It’s just this thing that’s happening and we keep being told we’re excited about without it actually feeling exciting at all; it’s the comic book equivalent of “fetch,” only there’s no-one around to tell Gretchen that it’s time to stop trying to make it happen.
Part of this is undoubtedly due to the talent behind it. You can say many things about Jonathan Hickman’s work — it’s intricate and well-planned, undoubtedly, and you can’t fault him for his long-term planning — but “fun” is unlikely to be a descriptor that comes to anyone’s mind. Infinity, last year, showed what Hickman can do when he takes on the event format, and while it can be both a surprising and engaging experience, it was more of an intellectual one than anything that really excited an emotional response. As I’ve said on the podcast, Hickman’s writing is easy to admire but difficult to love — and now it’s at the heart of Marvel’s corporate schedule for the next year. At least the powerpoint presentation will look nice.
(Esad Ribic’s art will make everything look pretty, at least. I’m actually very curious to see how he’ll handle the book, because while he had a great sense of scale, I imagine his classically-inspired aesthetic might jar with the numerous superhero costumes he’ll be forced to handle. We’ll see.)
In some way, I feel like Secret Wars will come to define 2015 even more than something like DC’s similar, but smaller — and, due to circumstances surrounding its creation, easier to ignore — event, Convergence. Marvel has, over the last few years, really been a publisher concerned with pushing the industry to see how far it can go: $4.99 books? Fine. Completely irregular shipping schedules? Go right ahead! Multiple crossover events per year? Sure! The more the merrier! The increased scope of Secret Wars — in terms of hype and promotion, never mind whatever impact the story is supposed to have to its characters and fictional universe (Hey, remember when 2012’s Age of Ultron “broke time” and nothing really happened to follow that up aside from Angela coming into the universe?) — feels like it’s Marvel reaching some kind of event horizon. Either the series will live up to the hype and everyone will lose their minds, or it won’t — and everyone will lose their minds.
One way or another, only a few things are certain. Firstly, unless Secret Wars tanks horrendously (extremely unlikely, considering the ways Marvel can game the system to avoid such an event), this won’t be the end of such things. Secondly, we’re all going to lose our minds for some reason, so enjoy it while you can, and thirdly — and most importantly — you might as well get used to hearing the words Secret Wars a lot for the next few months. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll get the Beyonder back to try and make it a little better.