Hey Marvel, make 'Secret Love,' not 'Secret Wars'

Every Wednesday evening for the past few months, I'd visit my local comic shop, scan the little piles of Secret Wars tie-ins stacked on the counter and flip through many of the more appealing-looking ones before ultimately setting them down, knowing I'll get to them eventually, when they're collected. Due to the price of almost all of Marvel's comics, I've given up on reading them as they're released, and instead wait to read them in trade.

Now I have read a handful of Secret Wars comics that I found at my friend's apartment -- the first issues of A-Force, The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, Secret Wars Journal, X-Men '92 – so I understand the general premise of the tie-ins, if not what's going on in the main book. The downside of reading trades instead of single issues is that you're always one event series behind everyone else. (How about that Axis, huh?)

I mention my own buying habits here only because this week I encountered a Secret Wars tie-in that looked so good, and looked even better the more I flipped through it, that I simply couldn't resist buying it, despite its fairly substantial $4.99 price: Secret Wars: Secret Love #1, a one-shot anthology featuring five romantic stories set in various corners of the "patchwork world" of Secret Wars. And the fact that I did break down and buy it is kind of a review in and of itself.

Admittedly, part of my rationale for buying the single issue was because I wasn't sure whether it would be collected into a trade ... or if I'd want to read what it would be collected with. It's easy to imagine some of the stories finding their ways into trades featuring particular characters. For example, maybe the Ghost Rider/Ms. Marvel short would end up in the back of a Secret Wars: Ghost Racers collection, or the back of a future Ms. Marvel trade, but what about the Danny Rand/Misty Knight story? Did I want to take the chance of maybe never reading a Heroes For Hire story drawn by Gurihiru?

Likewise, there's a chance the whole comic will end up collected along with other one-shot Secret Wars tie-ins (like this week's Howard the Human) or other tonally similar comics, but what if I didn't want to read those comics?

No, there was nothing for it but to kiss my five-dollar bill goodbye and take home my very first Secret Wars tie-in, featuring an unlikely assortment of creators. Let's take a look at the stories one by one:

"Guilty Pleasure" by Michel Fiffe and Clayton Cowles

This seven-page Daredevil story was actually one of the reasons I was most interested in the story. Not because I was so terribly interested in the character, but because it was a Marvel superhero comic that was being not only written by Michel Fiffe but also drawn by Michel Fiffe.

Fiffe is the creator behind the John Ostrander Suicide Squad homage/parody/commentary Copra, and while he had previously written for Marvel (the short-lived All-New Ultimates series), he had never drawn for Marvel.

Perhaps one of the best things about Secret Wars, at least from a casual reader's point of view, is that it has allowed Marvel to essentially go nuts for a few months, letting writers and editors try out their wildest ideas knowing they were somewhat exempt from normal market pressures (the Secret Wars brand, and the fact that the "regular" Marvel books wouldn't be published at the same time, would compensate for potentially low sales, and if any book did tank, it was only going to be around a short time anyway). And the best part of Secret Love, and similar books? They allow Marvel to go a little bit more nuts.

It's hard to imagine the publisher releasing a monthly Fiffe Daredevil, for example, but a few pages? Sure, why not?

The story stands out from the others in that it is the most serious of them, containing no real jokes. It is also the wordiest, and the most tied-to the unusual settings of "Battleworld."

Set in the Hell's Kitchen of "Inferno NYC," the story is narrated by Daredevil's girlfriend Karen Page, as she watches her boyfriend fight Typhoid Mary ... who here has a surprising second personality. When they describe their New York City, it sounds like the over-boiled narration and dialogue of late-1980s Frank Miller, but it is apparently literal. And as crazy as aspects of the setting may seem, Fife's paragraph introduction as to who Murdock/Daredevil is makes it sound no crazier than any other phase of the character's life.

It's a tightly wound, tightly told story, but is most remarkable for Fiffe's art, which has an almost homemade-looking quality compared to the more polished art in the rest of Marvel's line.

"Fan of a Fan" by Felipe Smith, Val Staples and Cowles

The cover story is a Ms. Marvel/Ghost Rider team-up, pairing two of Marvel's newer, younger legacy characters of diverse backgrounds. And I mean "diverse" not only in the fact that they are not your standard-issue white characters, but that they are very different from one another, with little in common beyond the fact that they're both still in high school.

This story is both written and drawn by Felipe Smith, who penned the short-lived ongoing starring this new Robbie Reyes version of Ghost Rider (and drew a little bit of it). Based on the looks of this, Smith could and maybe should draw his next Marvel ongoing (and he definitely should get a next one, if he wants one, even if it doesn't star his Ghost Rider). He has a very animated, very glossy style that is heavily manga influenced, and actually seems to be a better fit for Ms. Marvel than it is for Ghost Rider.

In "Battleworld," Kamala Khan and her dad work with Bruno at a Circle Q concession stand located in the "Killasieum" where Robbie and the other Ghost Racers compete. When the pair share a few panels of action against a rogue monster, they look deep into one another's eyes and publicly display their feelings for one another, something that keeps both Bruno and Robbie's girlfriend in a state of high anxiety.

Ms. Marvel and Ghost Rider were two of my favorite recent Marvel ongoings, so it was a treat to see the two characters meet – and a bit of a relief to see them do so in a story that seemed true of both characters (regardless of how warped reality may be around them).

"Misty and Danny Forever" by Jeremy Whitley, Gurihiru and Cowles

In this reality, Iron Fist Danny Rand and Misty Knight are married and raising a daughter, but they're a little anxious about the state of their relationship. To help rectify that, they go on a date, each having serious conversations with their respective besties first: Misty visits Colleen Wing, while Danny drops their child Lucy off with Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.

Seeing the street-level, often grittily drawn heroes all appearing in the super-cute, animated movie-style artwork of Gurihiru was as unusual as it was refreshing, as was Whitley's portrayal of real people with real problems in a short story with hardly any superheroics at all (T-rex fighting aside).

"Squirrel Girl Wins a Date with Thor" by Marguerite Bennett, Kris Anka and Cowles

At just three pages, this is by far the shortest story in the book ... but what three pages! Writer Marguerite Bennett writes a title that functions as a synopsis of her story. Squirrel Girl wins a date with Thor, who takes her to a party in Asgard, where Kris Anka gets to draw, like, all the couples in the Marvel universe dancing.

Be sure to scour every panel for details, like this:

It's a really fun story, and pretty good evidence that as charming as The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl creative team's work may be, their particular take on the character is transferable to other talented creators as well.

"Happy Ant-Iversary" by Katie Cook

The final story in the comic is by Katie Cook, another creator one wouldn't normally expect to see a whole lot of in a Marvel comic.

Set on "Earth 0.616" aka "Bug World," it's about Ant-Man, an actual ant who wears an Ant-Man costume, celebrating his anniversary with The Wasp, an actual wasp, with a little help from their friends like Black Widow, Captain Ameri-Bug, Moth-Eye and so on. It's adorable, which is something you don't hear people say about many Marvel comics.

It was $5 – $5.34 with tax! reluctantly spent, but it was well spent.

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