It’s worth prefacing any recommendation of Secret Wars #1 by branding it as exactly what it is: the climactic chapter in Jonathan Hickman’s three-year long Avengers saga. Events from that opus tie so closely to this miniseries, that Avengers #45 would have been a more appropriate title than Secret Wars #1. This isn’t a knock against the comic, but a warning. If you are looking for a point to jump into the Marvel Universe or catch up, make sure to pick up Secret Wars #0 from Free Comic Book Day first. Without that recap of everything Hickman has written in Avengers and New Avengers, Secret Wars #1 could feel like an indecipherable mashup of plot points. If you are versed in general Marvel Comics history however, this opener is a pretty fun read.
In spite of a massive cast of characters (57 are pictured at the start), Hickman maintains a sense of focus and momentum. He has excised any story beats that are not absolutely necessary, and leanly summarizes the conflict in only a few key scenes. Secret Wars #1 is still scattered in its attempts to conclude the main and Ultimate Marvel Universes, but it at least feels like a single story.
All of the issue's fireworks establish a cliffhanger that, unfortunately, is completely unsurprising. This isn’t Hickman’s fault; months of hype surrounding Battleworld make the fallout of Secret Wars #1 an inevitability. As a result, the issue reads as both a prologue and a conclusion to Hickman’s Avengers. It fills an odd middle ground between years of set up and the promised payoff. The issue is never boring though and fills the final moments before the start of Battleworld with plenty of spectacle.
That spectacle, drawn lovingly by Esad Ribic, is the best part of Secret Wars #1. Ribic established himself as an artist capable of delivering epic stories in Thor: God of Thunder and he does not disappoint here with some of his best work to date. Almost every significant superhero in the Marvel universe plays a role as two worlds literally collide - Secret Wars #1 needs to look like a bombastic summer blockbuster, and it does.
Ribic alternates between high and low angles, helping readers focus on the size of every scene. Whether it comes in the form of a bird’s eye view of New York City or a fleet of helicarriers flying high over head, Ribic’s art encompasses the story on a vertical axis. There’s a distinct lack of spreads in comparison to other recent event comics, and their exclusion is a wise choice. Instead of using large set-pieces to communicate a scene's importance, Ribic packs raw action and power into each panel. The fury and fun stuffed into a third of a single page from Secret Wars #1 rivals some of the most impressive two-page spreads of comics like Original Sin and Age of Ultron. This dense composition makes for a more effective reading experience and helps pack Hickman’s enormous set of story elements into 36 pages.
Ive Svorcina provides a lush palette for Ribic’s art, infusing explosions and cosmic effects with depth. The ultimate effect is that of a carefully crafted painting, but without the stiffness of Alex Ross’s art. Svorcina takes an already decadent issue of superhero comics and adds extra layers to create a truly great dessert for Marvel fandom.
Like the opening to chapter to many other Marvel events, Secret Wars #1 is off to a promising start. But, this latest epic genuinely feels like it may succeed in fulfilling a promise where so many others have failed. Hickman’s plot has three years of dedicated planning to support itself, and Ribic and Svorcina are without peers when it comes to designing larger-than-life stories. If Secret Wars #1 is a fair indication, then Secret Wars will be the first great superhero event in a very long time.