Creators don’t really need an excuse to tell stories like this, but “Secret Wars” gives them a good one, and Jason Aaron and Mike Del Mundo seize that opportunity to cut loose in “Weirdworld” #1. Marvel Comics’ current event gives writers and artists a largely blank canvas for worldbuilding, with Aaron and Del Mundo taking full advantage to build a captivatingly weird one indeed. Just as Battleworld itself is a reimagined clustering of bits and pieces of the Marvel multiverse, Weirdworld — as it is actually called within the context of the story — is a fusion of all things fantastic from the remnants of Marvel’s universe that don’t fit anywhere else. Both creators take elements that are barely remembered, totally forgotten and maybe didn’t even exist until now to patch together a beautifully mysterious and dangerous environment that never stops delivering surprises.
The concept only borrows the name of Doug Moench and Mike Ploog’s 1970s fantasy adventure. The intro page describes this incarnation of Weirdworld as “where lost things go,” and this is clearly true in terms of both Marvel’s fictional and publishing history, as witnessed by the return of Arkon. Arkon, of course, was once a warlord on a planet called Polemachus, who now finds himself lost as he drifts aimlessly across this strange world, having lost his own reputation as a meaningful character since his first appearance decades ago. He is now the bloodied and battle weary protagonist of this issue as he fights to survive another day on the hostile yet strangely attractive planet, whose landscape is simultaneously dazzling and deadly.
Aaron’s strangely compelling four-word description of Weirdworld on the first page gives away to Del Mundo’s stunning interpretation of it on the next. The introductory splash has a distorted, hallucinogenic flavor that foreshadows the colorful mindtrip he delivers, although not in that mind-altering kind of way. If readers don’t immediately recognize the barbarian-esque warrior on that first page, Aaron doesn’t keep them guessing; Arkon’s identity is clearly stated before the page is turned and, when it is, readers also discover that Del Mundo’s visuals aren’t any kind of mirage experienced by the lead character; Arkon really is battling for his life against a creature that’s not unlike a tentacled shark envisioned by Pablo Picasso.
As Arkon introduces himself through his first-person narrative, Aaron interjects a little bit of self-deprecating humor at the warrior’s expense. Ironically, Aaron manages to keep the mood lighter than the gravity of the situation might indicate with some dark humor throughout, generally in the form of dialogue between those behind Arkon’s pursuit. Using mostly brighter colors and pastels, Del Mundo plays an even larger part in keeping the darkness at bay; Weirdworld, for all its constant threats and unforeseen dangers, is a very lush and inviting place, at least from a safe distance. An early double page spread, in fact, makes it appear downright alluring, at least if one doesn’t scrutinize it too closely.
A couple of pages later, Del Mundo provides a so-called map of Weirdworld, or at least Arkon’s crudely scribbled understanding of it. Full of cryptic drawings and vague but intriguing descriptions, this map serves as more of a tease than a travel aid, hinting as much at what might be coming in future issues as it does clarifying the present. Clearly, Arkon has no future in cartology or even cave drawings but, with this page, Aaron and Del Mundo sell the remainder of the series to those who weren’t already hooked; there aren’t many answers yet, but the creators promise readers that the fun will be just finding out what all the questions are. Nonetheless, Aaron saves one more surprise for the issue’s cliffhanger for those who remain unconvinced.
Aaron and Del Mundo conspire to make this issue nothing less than a fantasy lover’s dream, with its clearing house of creatures, concepts and clashes that’s rife with the rich kind of adventure that fans demand. “Weirdworld” #1 is one of the most fertile and opulent “Secret Wars” tie-ins thus far and a stand out among an already strong line of related miniseries.