Secret Wars is done.
A nine-issue series. Finitely planned. A beginning and an end. Points set in between. Originally cast as eight-issues, the story grew organically, requiring extra pages in more than one of the first eight issues then demanding an extra-sized beast of a book to contain the conclusion.
In between and orbiting around that main series were a finite number of series, but the concepts and ideas seeded into the spinoffs took on lives of their own. Which gave the main Secret Wars book all the more room to grow. And grow it did. Writer and story architect Jonathan Hickman found ways to make the cast seem infinite. The story seems sprawling. And he did it all by pouring heart and characterization into the beats of his passion project.
Readers can discuss and debate the relevance behind this statement, but at the core is a seed of truth: Hickman has been planning this all along. Everything he wrote in Fantastic Four and Avengers, every issue of Secret Wars and the countless ideas in between, every script he crafted clicked together in Lego-like fashion, empowering Hickman to build a story for generations.
Secret Wars started off as an example of how to build a crossover event. It ends in Secret Wars #9, in a tale titled “Beyond,” with a celebration of crossover events that should be beloved for years to come.
But let’s be honest here: people will hate it just to hate. People will love it without ever really knowing why. That’s what stories do, right? They evoke thought and spark controversy. Stories should inspire other stories, stoked emotions, and encourage creativity. And that is exactly what Jonathan Hickman does in Secret Wars #9.
At no point does Hickman ever dub a beginning or an end. He simply highlights pieces of the narrative for readers to latch onto. And, in Secret Wars #9, he narrows the cast considerably. After all, this has been the story of a universe crafted in the image of Doctor Victor Von Doom, warts and all. Hickman gives Doom space to bluster and combat his foes, but he also gives Doom a smart set of foes to face: two Reed Richardses, Namor, and Black Panther. A pair of Spider-Men also appears, but they don’t directly engage Doom. More on them later.
For the story between the covers of Secret Wars #9, Hickman crafts an adventure that could go anyway, at any time. Everything should be expected, but the unexpected manages to pop up throughout. This is the exact type of uncategorized adventure comic books should deliver. It’s a wild ride from cover to cover. Despite knowing that the All-New, All-Different Marvel is well under way (with some titles hitting a half-dozen already), readers are coaxed in closely. Hickman begins his magic trick.
And Esad Ribic is, at once, both Hickman’s lovely assistant as well as the smoke and mirrors that make the mysterious happen. Every image, as has been the case throughout the series, invites the reader to stay awhile. Study. Reflect. Every panel is iconic and poster-worthy. Ribic’s visuals are elevated by Ive Svorcina’s colors, which double as climate. Not only does Svorcina provide recognizable attire and locale, but when the call comes for unrecognizable and uneasy environs, the palette finds its mark.
Coated with a smooth, tight set of letters from Clayton Cowles under an Alex Ross cover (that really should have been a wraparound), Secret Wars #9 is just as gorgeous as any other issue of the series. Yes, there has been a significant delay in the production of this series, but the visuals hold up a fine standard, easily set to erase any notion of delay once this tale is properly collected for wider audiences.
Ribic isn’t the first to draw any of these characters, nor will he be the last, but he sure does make a very strong case to be considered one of the best. His Black Panther, in particular, hits the right notes of majesty and power, strength and agility.
T’Challa has crept into much of Hickman’s Marvel work, and while he isn’t assigned to any future work with the Wakandan king, he should seriously be in consideration should Ta-Nehisi Coates ever move on. Yes, we haven’t seen a single issue of Coates’ work yet, but Hickman has proven to readers that he understands T’Challa and is able to balance regal responsibility with superheroic adventures.
Spider-Men Miles Morales and Peter Parker have a trio of pages, including a gorgeous splash of the pair swinging into action. Ribic provides vitality to both characters, giving each a unique physique and range of motion that would be successful regardless of attached dialog or coloring. Hickman provides some dialog, however, smartly constructing bits of the foundation for the new Spider-Men status quo.
That said, Secret Wars #9 is more than just superheroes and kings. Hickman and crew make the issue a meta-message about what event stories should be. They remind readers that comic book universes should grow and ideas should be encouraged. There’s no shortage of possibility to be mined from what Hickman provides here, but on the final page of Secret Wars #9, he gives readers everything they need: a satisfying conclusion to a dynamic read.
Secret Wars is done. Long live Secret Wars.