Graeme Wonders if The Other 75% of Secret Wars Is Where The Fun Is

May 20, 2015

Try as I might, I just don’t get Secret Wars so far.

It’s not that I can’t follow the events that are unfolding on the pages of the series, which is currently two issues into its run; I can do that just fine, despite both dialogue and art that tends towards the static and stately, preferring to reveal things less through action than outright exposition, as vague as it might be. (It’s a strange time when you long for the days of the original Secret Wars, wherein Mike Zeck would show a character do something and Jim Shooter would anxiously add dialogue wherein the character tells the audience that he’s doing it, just in case they didn’t get it already; and yet…!) It’s that I don’t get it.

We’re a quarter of a way into the series already, and I have no idea what the series is about from a narrative standpoint. The first two issues are intentionally disjointed and uneven; the first a frenetic disaster movie in which nothing is explained, and everything careens towards a disaster that relies entirely on the audience filling in the blanks and buying into the premise for it to work, while the second is a glacially slow introduction to Battleworld, the temporary replacement to Battleworld that relies on audience familiarity with traditional MU concepts for any real resonance. (Despite that, it’s kind of hilarious how unoriginal Battleworld is outside of the Marvel Universe elements; it’s Game of Thrones meets Judge Dredd, with Marvel characters plugged in to specific roles for cheap effect.)

By the end of the two issues, however, nothing but scene-setting has been achieved. There’s been no grand setting out of the series’ themes beyond implication (I’m assuming that we’re going to see Doctor Doom’s reach exceed his grasp, because that’s a familiar trope and we need the regular Marvel Universe to return by the fall), only one plot set in motion (The survivors from the previous Marvel Universe have landed on Battleworld: what will they do there?) and a whole heap of “so… what is going on here, exactly…?”

It’s a set-up that relies on a rejection of the hype in order to work, a cynical admission that things in superhero comics always return to the status quo. The tension that exists at the end of the second issue only exists if you assume that things are going to have to fall apart at some point; otherwise, you’ve just seen a travelogue through a rough area of town for little to no reason. “Look, this is what the Marvel Universe is now. It’s like a fantasy novel with superhero costumes.”

Part of what leaves me cold is that I find Battleworld to be particularly dull as a setting, especially when compared with the Marvel Universe that was; when everything is a fantasy element, the superheroic elements become flattened, somehow, and less outrageous and fun to me. Another part of it is that Secret Wars is, so far, entirely devoid of emotional engagement — not an uncommon occurrence with Jonathan Hickman stories, of course — which makes the whole thing an intellectual exercise that I don’t have enough passion to pursue; I like the Marvel characters enough, I guess, but the idea of “a police force made up entirely of Thors!” isn’t enough to make me do more than raise an eyebrow and think “Huh, cute,” in the same way that “It’s a mythical Britain ruled by Captain Britain’s family!” just makes me shake my head.

And the response from other people to the second issue in particular — the excitement over the new world, the feeling that this is mythical world building on a scale rarely seen and enjoyed — underscores, for me, that Secret Wars isn’t necessarily bad or a failure or whatever, but something that I clearly don’t get on some basic level. All I see are the seams and the familiarities and why it’s never going to last. I’m missing the basic wonder and suspension of cynicism and disbelief that something like this needs to work.


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8 comments on “Graeme Wonders if The Other 75% of Secret Wars Is Where The Fun Is

  1. Rob G May 21, 2015

    It should be crazy fun, but so far, it’s been a tedious slog.

  2. Rob G May 21, 2015

    It should be crazy fun, but so far, it’s been a tedious slog.

  3. Rob G May 21, 2015

    I meant to be repetitive in my replies, (I was going to submit several more identical replies but your site stopped me from repeating that reply over and over again). It was meant to be a commentary on the repetitiveness and tedium of Hickman’s approach toward storytelling. I’m not having any fun with Convergence either BTW.

  4. Graeme: “Ugggg, Secret Wars is just Game of Thrones with Marvel Characters”
    What I suspect most Marvel fans reaction to Secret Wars is: “Yay, Secret Wars is Game of Thrones with Marvel Characters”

  5. Martin May 21, 2015

    Graeme of Thrones.

    That’s all.

  6. I’ve really enjoyed it so far, but I have no idea what Game of Thrones is about, aside from sexual assault. Sorta like how I enjoyed that other comic that was apparently a ripoff of Hunger Games because I don’t know anything about Hunger Games. Or Battle Royale.

    Anyway, it’s totally cool to not dig Secret Wars, but I have two minor quibbles with the above:

    1.) “glacially slow introduction to Battleworld”
    I thought the second issue moved at a pretty decent clip! I don’t know what else to say because it seems so self-evident. I mean, I guess it could have covered more ground, but “glacial” seems a bit hyperbolic.

    2.) “entirely devoid of emotional engagement”
    Reed’s family got vaporized or something! Also, I feel pretty invested in Rookie Thor Cop. I’d be fine with Secret Wars just being SERPICO except with Thor Cops. Or maybe that’s what THORS will be. Fingers crossed!

    Bottom line: the first 25% of SECRET WARS has held plenty of fun for me. I also thought PLANET HULK was pretty good. If you are not interested in Barbarian Captain America hanging out with Devil Dinosaur (which is fine!), then it’s best to stay away.

  7. Yeah, I’m not getting it either, outside of an “I guess I can see where the sticky notes ended up on the whiteboard and why” sense. The Spider-Ham backup strip had some moments of life, but otherwise what most engages me is wondering what Battleworld means for the Manhattan housing market (Spider-Gwen mentions something about a halfway house; my headcanon is that residents know that suddenly all sorts of people were displaced), commutes, jobs, and general infrastructure. Which I don’t think is the kind of engagement Marvel was looking for.

    Micro-note. At some point, Captain Savage America says something like, “I want my T. Rex back.” Wouldn’t it scanned better as, “I want my dinosaur back”?

  8. Aha, I’m more Graeme than Jeff this week. I’m with you, I found this deadly dull, and the generally positive responses have me scratching my heid. I’m out.