It feels fitting to be writing this column so late since Secret Wars, Marvel’s 2015 event, only managed to wrap up this month with issue 9 finally being released, nearly three months later than intended. Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s conclusion to not only the nine issue series, but also Hickman’s time on Fantastic Four, FF, Avengers and New Avengers (not to mention his short Dark Reign miniseries, and his SHIELD comics) feels like it has a lot of weight behind it, and quite rightly so; in many ways, this is the end of Marvel comics, and it couldn’t have been pulled off more beautifully.
We pick up where we left off, the Reed Richard’s of the regular Marvel universe and the Ultimate universe attempt to convince Molecule Man (imbued with the power of the creator gods known as The Beyonders) to restore the world to how it was, whilst Namor and Black Panther (both of whom have strong ties to the Fantastic Four) confront Dr Doom, T’Challa wielding the Infinity Gauntlet. The only other characters to appear in the book (which is a double length issue) are the Future Foundation, Spider-Man, Sue Storm, and Reed’s children. If that surprises you having read an epic like Secret Wars, then it should also be your first clue that this isn’t just an ending for Hickman’s time at Marvel, but a swan-song for the greatest superhero family this side of The Incredibles. Indeed, if the ending of the series is anything to go by, this is a farewell to Reed and Sue – and what a farewell it is.
If it isn’t clear now, Secret Wars’ finale is an absolute masterpiece. Event comics are so rarely good, but Secret Wars isn’t just good, it’s wonderful, and the reason it works is the same reason so many event comics fail – it has an ending.
Go back and take a look at some event comics from the past decade or so; for the most part, none of them end. Civil War led straight into The Initiative which led straight into Secret Invasion which led straight into Dark Reign which lead straight into Siege which lead straight into…you get it. But Hickman manages (save one fairly charming scene involving Spider-Man and a burger) to avoid all of that, and keeps the focus on the characters that matter the most to this story: Marvel’s first family. More than that even, Hickman manages to give weight and depth to Dr Doom, who’s one flaw as the God of Battleworld was creating a universe in which he so desperately wanted to be Reed Richards. The fight between them in the climactic moments of the issue may look like a normal superhero fight (albeit beautifully illustrated by Esad Ribic), but it’s much more than that. This is a story about two people fighting over the power of gods – both of whom have the audacity to believe they can wield it. Hickman has always walked the thin line with Reed Richards, and this issue is no question; his Reed is an arrogant ball of contradictions, who nevertheless gets the ending he really always deserved.
One of the key problems with Hickman’s run on Avengers and New Avengers was the constant shift in artists – most of whom were lacklustre to say the least. Bad art can really harm a comic, no matter how well written it is. What a joy it has been to have Esad Ribic on the book for the whole run of Secret Wars. His bleached watercolours inject a much needed moodiness to the book, and his art has a timeless feel to it – like old masterworks. Yes, sometimes his faces can be a little odd-looking, but absolutely no-one can draw a fight like Ribic.
I said at the beginning of this review that this is the end of years of storytelling for Jonathan Hickman, but strangely it also feels like the end of a period of my own life, a period of reading Marvel books and perhaps superhero books in general. I don’t know if it’s the way Secret Wars ends, concluding the Marvel universe in a way that makes me feel satisfied, and I don’t know if it’s that there isn’t so much out there that I enjoy (Ms Marvel and Dr Strange are ticking on just fine, but they’re no classics), but it feels as though a book has been closed. I don’t know of any other comic that has given me the feeling that Secret Wars has, a kind of satisfying melancholy, but what I do know is that in decades to come, people will look back on this book and it will have marked the end of an era.