Please be aware that this review does contain spoilers. While it is nearly impossible to discuss the developments of Secret Wars #2 without spoiling some of the surprise, I am attempting to keep the eyebrow-raising details out of this review. You have been warned.
Secret Wars. Not really much of a secret, nor is it overly war-filled, but there is no denying the concentrated amount of information and drama that writer Jonathan Hickman has packed into Secret Wars #2.
Less dependent on the accumulation of developments from Hickman’s other writing assignments during his Marvel career, Secret Wars #2 is more inviting than the first issue (or even Secret Wars #0) as it presents the reader with a whole new world. Hickman saves the identity of the world for the end of the issue, but deductive readers will almost certainly identify where the drama and adventure occur given Marvel’s rather intense marketing campaign for this series.
Secret Wars #2 opens with a coming of age and a bestowment of worthiness as two young lads appeal to their creator to be deemed worthy of joining the ranks of the Thors and meting out justice alongside other hammer-wielders. The splendor and majesty of the grand hall and the throngs of Thors witnessing the event give substance to this event and, more precisely, to the importance of the Thors in this new world that Hickman and artist Esad Ribic slowly reveal throughout Secret Wars #2.
Ribic’s art, like the story itself, is more welcoming and self-sustaining in Secret Wars #2 than it was in the previous issue. Given forty-one pages to strut his stuff, Ribic fills every single panel with stunning detail. In some instances, he has to cut back and present a floating, talking head, so as to give the reader a chance to visually digest the spectacle to that point and to prepare for more spectacle to come. Those borderless panels pack plenty of punch and nicely punctuate the tale.
In every panel and drawing that Ribic commits to the page, colorist Iva Svorcina brings shape, depth, texture, temperature and emotion. Readers are treated to a planetary origin and Svorcina makes the infinite depths of space as cold as the bursting of life and energy are warm. The castle where the Thors dwell floats in misty clouds far above the rest of the world and the Deadlands beyond the great wall of the Shield are damp and spooky, not unlike the cave Luke Skywalker enters in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” Similar to that scene, Svorcina sets the reader on edge as Jamie Braddock ignites his sword, ready to fight for his life.
With an entire planet to shape, Ribic simply unleashes his creativity in Secret Wars #2 and gives readers everything they want to see. The setting is a touch more medieval than readers may be expecting, but given the nature of the “God Emperor” ruling this world, Ribic is completely on-target. As for that ruler, Ribic re-defines the character with emotive linework and finessed detail. The cloth cloaking the character’s body is layered with folds and wrinkles, capably detailing real fabric on a real body as the ruler makes declarations from his throne. Ribic grounds every image in reality, but, like Frank Frazetta or Salvador Dali, pushes reality out of the way, finding it too limiting and restrictive. It makes a fine template, sure, but it is simply a starting block.
Ironically, the ruler of the world at the heart of Secret Wars #2 has an achingly similar disposition. He has crafted the world and rules it by decree. His favor is sought by all residents of the planet and his decisions determine the course of history. Unfortunately, there are forces beyond his sight, preparing to fill out these pages as the tale continues.
Secret Wars is an event worthy of the label rather than a glorified team-up. Recently, Marvel’s events have been very narrowly focused, but the shifting landscape within this comic requires more characters, more imagination and more interesting options. This is not simply another variation of X-Men fighting Avengers fighting New Mutants fighting the Fantastic Four. This is a world re-imagined to explore character and story, to percolate conflict and drama, to give readers something unpredictable to look forward to. With Secret Wars #2, Hickman, Ribic, Svorcina, and unsung hero, letterer Chris Eliopoulos deliver an epic that feels like an epic. This is an event story for 2015 that is on the scale Crisis on Infinite Earths provided as a template in 1985. I have no idea what’s going to happen next, but I’m more than ready to spend the money to find out.