Secret Wars #2 – Are You Still Confused?

Secret Wars #1 confused a lot of people and understandably so. The entire issue was predicated on the happenings of Hickman’s Avengers run and arguably his Ultimates run too. The short version was the Marvel universe as we knew it ending as the heroes of two worlds fought each other and various villains made power plays in the background. Something is wrong when both the core Marvel universe and the Ultimate line which originally got me into comics can be destroyed and have little impact on me. This issue sets the stage for the rest of the mini-series and if reports are to be believed, the entire Marvel line going forward.

Issue two opens with a young man being tested, as many have before him, to lift Mjolnir; the Hammer of Thor. Having proven himself worthy the boy joins the ranks of the Thor Corp, the enforcers of the will of God Emperor Doom (Marvel’s name not mine). In a clear call-back to the original Secret Wars series, Doctor Doom has become an all-powerful deity and created a world in which Doom’s word is law. This is Battleworld; an Earth created from the remains of universes that had been destroyed throughout Hickman’s run (it had something to do with the Infinity and Age of Ultron events). If you want an explanation of why or how Doom became a god then you’ll have to track down some back issues because other than an implied battle with the Beyonders last issue, it is uncertain as to how he claimed his godhood.

A veteran member of the Thor Corp provides the narration and exposition for most of the issue, using the newly christened Thor as our point of view character to explain the inner-workings of Battleworld. At this point the book becomes Westeros: the Marvel Years. The bulk of the issue revolves around a legal dispute between House Braddock (aka Captain Britain and Friends) and House Sinister (that one X-men villain who always freaks you out) with Doctor Strange acting as judge. It is here that we get glimpses into the political workings of Battleworld under Doom’s regime with Strange acting as his King’s hand and Susan Storm as his queen. There are genuinely poignant moments which demonstrate that Doom, despite his omnipotence, is still human. We get hints at a rebellious movement rising in the Manhattan area of Battleworld which relates to tie-in material that probably won’t pay off until a few issues down the line (see Ultimate End #1 for more information).

Those who violate Doom’s laws are sentenced to the Shield a wall which surrounds the kingdoms of Battleworld. Prisoners are sent out to deliver justice to the hordes that lay beyond the wall and fight them until their last breath. If that sounds familiar, it should because it’s a mix of the Night’s Watch from Game of Thrones and the Cursed Earth from Judge Dredd. It is here we are given even more tie-in fodder as those hordes are revealed to be the Marvel Zombies, the Annihilation Wave army and Ultron drones which all feature in upcoming Secret Wars related mini-series.

The comic ends as Strange sends the Thors to investigate a mysterious object which could sow doubt as to Doom’s godhood. This object turns out to be a life-raft containing Ultimate Reed Richards’ Cabal of Bad Guys. With the villains having entered the scene, Battleworld is about to live up to its name.
Story wise, the issue is head and shoulders above its competitors, with imagery and language which reminds the reader of Game of Thrones. Hickman creates an interesting world with new approaches to characters which would work well as an Elseworlds story independent of the event itself. I’d much rather read a Marvel version of Westeros than the confusing continuity mess that we are sure to get back to next issue.

The artwork from Esad Ribic is impressive for the most part presenting the tale as if it was a painting which fits the medieval setting. There is the occasional odd facial expression which doesn’t match the tone of the dialogue, but Ribic acquits himself well. He does an excellent job of portraying the composite nature of Battleworld and the mixture of characters from different corners of the Marvel Universe. They all blend together to create a unique fantasy-punk feel.

While Secret Wars #2 is a noted improvement in terms of accessibility when compared to its predecessor, there is still a lot of confusing aspects that only exist to frustrate readers and set-up tie-in issues for Marvel. The over-arching story is still confusing and is likely to turn people off. If Secret Wars is to define the landscape of the Marvel universe in the future, then there is little chance of new readers being able to get invested. If you are two issues in and still wondering what the hell is going on then you are not alone. Marvel will need to up their game if they are to recover from the lackluster start to one of their most important events in recent years.

Gary Moloney
Gary Moloney
Some would say that he is a mine of information, too bad most of it is useless. You can read his own comic work over on Follow him on Twitter @m_gearoid.