There is a scene in the second issue of Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars, not at the beginning but near the beginning. Alex Power and Dragon Man arrive at the scene of what looks like an archaeological dig. Something has been discovered, something big, something important. As the new arrivals descend into the pit, an unseen Moloid shouts a warning.
“Be careful, Minister. Once you go through, the gravity reverses.”
And it does. What’s up is down. What’s down is up. Once you go through.
So Marvel is trying something big. They’re shaking things up. This Secret Wars is not like that Secret Wars of days gone by, the one that was all about making it simple for the kids, about selling toys and keeping the company afloat. It’s not 1984. Marvel’s already making money. They’re already selling toys.
That Secret Wars was written out of weakness. This one, it seems, comes from strength.
This summer series from Marvel is meant to be important, unlike DC’s look-a-like series, Convergence, which seems to be meant as just something to keep the fans happy while the offices relocate from New York to Los Angeles.
Jonathan Hickman has been building to this story for years. It is supposed to shake things up, change directions, make a difference. That is a risky thing for a publisher whose Thor, Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, Silk and Ant-Man, to name just a few of the best, are all powerfully good books telling powerfully good stories. Maybe not big stories, mind you, but important in their own way. Shaking things up, reversing gravity, is a big deal for a company already on top.
The first issue of Secret Wars had me a bit worried. Hickman was tying up a lot of plot details, he was wrapping things up instead of getting things started. It was big and noisy, but not very important. Not very different from all the big and noisy that has gone on before.
Issue #2 is another matter, however, another matter altogether.
Right from the start of Secret Wars #2, it feels like gravity is reversed. Like up is down and down is up. And though I didn’t get my bearings as quickly as Alex Power and Dragon Man, I did get them.
This feels big. This feels important. This feels new.
Hickman has built a world: Doom’s World. Latverion. God’s Kingdom. Battle World. And in this world, gravity is reversed.
Hickman borrows a bit from Frank Herbert’s Dune. He borrows a lot from George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. The result is a world that already feels fully realized, a world with gods and priests, with rulers and soldiers, with intrigue and mystery. I have no confidence that this world is going to be the new status quo for the Marvel Universe, that new status quo will certainly look more like our world than this world does. But this issue does give me confidence that where we finally end up will be equally well conceived and equally well realized.
And, the wonder of it all, is that Hickman and Ribic manage something in this issue that is almost unheard of for one of these big world-changing summer cosmic crossovers. They do something that is almost as daring as destroying the world in the first place, something that the first issue made me doubt could be, would be done.
They tell a good story; a story about youth coming of age, about naiveté and experience; a story about the power of god and the danger of discovery, about faith and doubt; a story about loyalty and betrayal, about crime and punishment.
The God Emperor Doom lords it over Battleworld. The army of Mjolnir carries out his justice. Walls keep the evil out, and the evil in. Characters we know play new roles making the familiar strange and the strange uncannily familiar.
And on that world, as on this, curiosity kills the cat, opens the box, springs the lock.
Marvel Comics has something pretty good going on right now. Their heroes dominate the box office and fill the toy stores. Their stories, after all these years, have managed something of a renaissance, they again seem new and fresh.
And now, of all times, to take this risk.
“Lots of interesting stuff here,” the Moloid says. “Hard to keep my hands off it.”
Pandora’s words. The words of Adam and Eve.
“Be careful,” I want to say. “Once you go through, the gravity reverses.”
“I think I’ll manage,” Alex Power/Jonathan Hickman says. And then jumps right in.