By Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic & Ive Svorcina
Sometimes you need to simply go with your gut. There were a lot of strong comics this week. What made the selection of Finest especially difficult was the wide variety of ground they covered. Secret Wars, The Violent, Scarlet Witch, Twilight Children–these are all comics using different methods of storytelling coupled with striking art. To be honest, picking just one seems a little arbitrary. Yet, those are the rules of the game. As I narrowed down my choices, I thought to myself which comic grabbed me and most thoroughly pulled me into its pages? Which made me stop multiple times and mutter “damn” to myself? (Not too loudly by the way, so that co-workers and fellow commuters did not consider me odder than usual). Well, in that case the answer is Secret Wars #8 the latest chapter in Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s epic reimagining of the Marvel Universe.
Several months ago, I picked Secret Wars #2 as my Finest, highlighting Hickman and Ribic’s meticulous world-building. Together they had fashioned a reality readers could and wished to get lost within. Then, they slowly started taking it apart brick by brick until the steady chipping away at the fortifications cascaded into a storming of the fortress. In #7 the barbarians (yes, I include you Sinister) reached the gates. Old rivalries were revisited, while new alliances shifted. As today’s penultimate installment opens, the area surrounding Castle Doom is complete chaos. Only a madman would willing plunge into it. Or more precisely, one madman (The Maker), a hotshot pilot (Peter Quill) and a hero (Reed Richards).
#7 and #8 were originally conceived of as a single issue until the contents proved too sprawling for 22 pages. As a result, #8 starts at the already exhilarated pace at which #7 closed. This issue is almost non-stop action, all of it thrilling. Highlights include giant Ben Grimm taking down The Maestro’s ship followed by Ben’s fateful confrontation with Franklin Richards. Also, Thanos riding into battle with the Annihilation Horde needs to be seen to be believed. This is not a neat, pretty comic book battlefield either. The ground is littered with broken bodies (hi again Sinister). The reader is keenly aware of the high stakes throughout, which makes the action even more visceral.
Despite this rollicking pace, Hickman is still able to slip in some great character beats. One good example of this is Peter Quill. Readers will be forgiven if they had forgotten that Quill had much to do with this series, as he had pretty much faded into the background after the initial opening of the heroes’ Raft. Some fans assumed that he was only there out of editorial prodding, a theory that Hickman himself has confirmed. After all, Quill is not really a Hickman type, not at all the rational genius Reed Richards or the cold-hearted conspirators dwelling East of West. Yet, he hits the right balance with the character capturing his smart-alecky confidence without turning him into a bore. This is illustrated well in his meeting with Black Swan, an encounter that ends with a twist so brilliant that the reader never sees it coming yet seems obvious in retrospect. Whatever motivation Hickman may have had for including Star-Lord, he makes great use of him.
Thanos on the other hand has long been a player in Hickman’s plots. I have not cared much for Hickman’s use of Thanos in the past, especially in Infinity where the character felt shoe-horned into his Builders narrative. His writing for Thanos in Secret Wars has been much better. When he and Doom finally come face to face this week it is a brief though memorable encounter. Even for a long time Thanos fan such as myself Doom’s (and by extension Hickman’s?) rebuttal to The Mad Titan’s delusions of grandeur is perfect. It also reinforces just how mighty God Doom’s power is when he deigns himself to exercise it. In this one sequence, Hickman combines action and character work, while raising the stakes of the conflict even higher. And then the zombie cavalry charges into the fray.
All of this is stunningly rendered by Esad Ribic. All it takes is gazing at one page of #8 to realize that all the delays were worth it. Ribic continues to outdo himself every issue with his dynamic, detailed line work. The same sweeping scope he gave Battleworld in the early issues, he employs for its final days. The flow of action, despite a multitude of players, always remains clear. Ribic is also a master of facial expressions, from the somber to the gloating to the befuddled. The deadpan reaction of a pair of Sinsters (one with his arm caught in the mouth of Hulk) is one of the funniest images of the week. (There is a fair amount of gags in this issue which demonstrate Hickman does indeed have a keen sense of humor). Most importantly, Ribic displays a fabulous imagination. His pages are full of exquisite small touches and inventions. His work is highlighted by the muted palette of Ive Svorcina’s coloring. This is a truly beautiful comic book.
#8 ends with a dramatic flourish that leaves the reader eager to read the final chapter. Earlier this week, Marvel announced that #9 would be pushed back another week. Annoying yes, yet, so it goes. If the conclusion is equal to the preceding chapters it will be justified. Hickman and Ribic have created not only one of the best series of the year, but arguably the best Event series ever. It is a major accomplishment. Hickman and Ribic are working at the height of their stellar talents and that is very much on display in Secret Wars #8, This Week’s Finest.