Nothing’s changed except everything
IT’S A TRAP - Jonty Cruz (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2016 - 9:00am

There’s a lot of criticism when it comes to mainstream superhero comics, and rightfully so. The most common gripe from critics and fans alike is that “nothing really changes.” Throughout the decades and despite any number of attempts, any number of writers, artists and editors, the ultimate goal of the comic industry is to keep things moving, to keep these characters going for the next generation and all the ones after. No actual beginnings and no actual endings. This is the norm, the status quo, and the problem for almost all comic book creators. But not for Jonathan Hickman, the writer and main architect of quite possibly the greatest event series ever in comics, Secret Wars.

Secret Wars begins with the utter collapse of the whole multiverse. All of the greatest superheroes band together to try and stop the inevitable end of everything and save as many lives as they can, however futile it may be. With no hope left to save the world, a handful of heroes (and villains) hop on to some entropy-proof life raft and unknowingly leave the fate of all reality to Doom. Victor Von Doom, that is. The classic Marvel villain then begins to save what little of the multiverse as he can, forming a patchwork reality composed of different realms from different universes as the surviving heroes and villains awake to an amalgamated world that is both familiar and foreign. That’s basically the opening salvo of Secret Wars. It’s a lot of take in, and the scope of this story is nothing if not ambitious. But it wouldn’t have worked if not for Jonathan Hickman.

Hickman arrived on the comic scene about 10 years ago. He immediately became known as a creator who meticulously crafted his stories — most of which are multiyear-long epics — to the most minute of details. His independent works such as East of West and The Manhattan Projects to his earlier Marvel comics like Secret Warriors were tightly told stories with multiple layers and plotlines. Those all pale in comparison to his most recent and — for the time being — final Marvel project, Secret Wars, a story that actually began almost seven years ago in the pages of another event series, Dark Reign: Fantastic Four. It’s a daunting read, to say the least, but with this month’s final chapter of Secret Wars, Hickman’s long game to tell the greatest superhero comic of this generation paid off. And it’s one hell of an epic.

Without spoiling too much, Secret Wars is all about endings and beginnings, of life and death and all the resurrections in between. It is a massive tale involving the entirety of existence and what it truly means to exist. Yes, it’s a superhero story featuring men in various shades of Spandex flying around and punching each other senseless, but the levity ends there. Hickman treats these characters as deities, modern-day Greek gods, giving these superheroes, these icons of popular culture, the gravitas they deserve. If the recent Marvel movies made superheroes rock stars, Hickman’s take on these characters turns them into the Beatles. And perhaps no group of characters benefited more from Secret Wars — and Hickman’s entire Marvel run — than the Fantastic Four. Yes, the same Fantastic Four Hollywood has failed time and again to sell to the mainstream masses. And it is this same Fantastic Four that has never been more deserving to be called Marvel’s First Family than in the pages of Hickman’s superhero saga. In Secret Wars, Mister Fantastic and Doctor Doom take center stage as Hickman goes to the very core of these two characters and reminds all of us why they are cornerstones of the Marvel Universe.

Of course this is a comic book, and however great its story is, it is nothing if the art can’t match it. Thankfully, artist Esad Ribic more than meets Hickman’s story and gives this grand superhero opera the wonder and spectacle it demands. There’s a lot of world-building and intense action in Secret Wars but at its heart, it is a deeply personal story about two men trying to fix everything that was lost. Only an artist like Ribic can design fantastical, mythical sets and illustrate real emotion in every panel can bring this story to life. Despite his delays, when all is said and done, Ribic deserves just as much praise for Secret Wars as writer Jonathan Hickman.

Perhaps the best compliment to give Secret Wars is that it’s nearly impossible to translate it to the screen. It only truly works as a comic (as it should be), where its scope and boundaries are infinite and the one limit is the creators’ own imagination. Which, in some ways, is what Secret Wars is all about.

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