Since the launch of "Avengers" #1 with Marvel NOW!, Jonathan Hickman has been building to this point, and there is no denying "Secret Wars" #1 is a payoff of sorts to the work he poured into his Avengers run. Joined by Esad Ribic, Ive Svorcina and Chris Eliopoulos, Hickman takes on the chore of destroying not one, but two comic book universes.
The issue begins and ends with Doctor Doom looking into the overwhelming nothingness as the Incursion advances. In between, Hickman reaches across both the main Marvel Universe (616) and the Ultimate Marvel Universe (1610) to check in with characters and sketch out the scope of this ambitious saga. While that description of the action might seem lackluster, Hickman focuses on the impending, violent end of two worlds to make "Secret Wars" feel epic.
In keeping with the epic nature of things, some characters don't make it out of this first issue alive, and at least one of those is quite surprising and almost easy to overlook, as the panel it occurs in barely fits one-eighth of the page. Other characters are gathered together -- collected -- to leap into the abyss, but that gap tightens up as the two Earths barrel into one another.
This is where Hickman's story threatens to become impenetrable. Readers of "Avengers" and "New Avengers" undoubtedly know what the Incursions are, but how many of them are familiar with the Ultimate Universe and how many Ultimate-exclusive fans are going to grasp the Incursion or recognize the characters scattered throughout the pages of "Secret Wars" #1? Thankfully, Hickman balances that with little moments for characters to interact or introduce themselves, like She-Hulk and Hulk talking to Colossus and Nightcrawler or the Punisher going to "that place where we met that time for the thing," as Wilson Fisk puts it. Little moments like that, or Spider-Man trying to sound confident as he stares down oblivion, ensure "Secret Wars" #1 has a strong grasp of humanity.
Ribic draws some very pretty pictures for this end of the worlds, including dramatic reveals of fan-favorite pairings, like Power Man and Iron Fist or Rocket Raccoon and Groot. The battles are mostly booming helicarriers and lots of other explosions, saving the character appearances for dynamic poses and extreme reactions. Ribic keeps every character clean and sharp, each with their own personalities, but he struggles a bit with some characters. The Thing looks a little to smooth and Rocket looks more like a coyote than a raccoon. Other characters find their way into Ribic's style and beg for more time under his pencil: Doctor Doom and Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Reed Richards, just to name a few.
The sound effects of the issue are more of a hindrance than a benefit, as "FFOOOOM" and "KROOOOOOMM" carry the same weight and Nightcrawler has forsaken "BAMF" for "POP." Chris Eliopoulos locks in the rest of the dialogue, keeping the artwork clean and sharp, and does a great job of providing the readership with distinct differences in word balloons for the Ultimate and main Marvel Universes.
Ive Svorcina packs plenty of explosive orange into "Secret Wars" #1 and does a fine job preserving the appearances of the myriad of characters present in this comic. Collaborating quite tightly with Ribic, Svorcina provides a nice coat to the issue and amplifies the anxiety of this tale through the color choices and vibrancy. This comic opens with images composed of raw vitality, and the final panel has that same underscored urgency. Overall, this book looks beautiful, but Ribic's work really wants to have a little more space in which to expand.
"Secret Wars" #1 is filled with characters and suspense. With fifty-seven characters identified on the cast page near the front of this issue, readers are in for a whirlwind tour of the Incursion site. Earths have been smashing together for years, but Hickman and Ribic make this story feel new and fresh, urgent and exciting. At no point is "Secret Wars" #1 predictable, which is unsettling to the readers, but -- on the other side of that coin -- isn't that exactly what readers claim to want more of? This is a decent first offering, but the rubber really hits the road from here on out and I'm looking forward to what Hickman, Ribic, Svorcina and Eliopoulos do from here.