After months of speculation and teases, the new landscape of the Marvel Universe is revealed in "Secret Wars" #2, a story told through the eyes of a fresh recruit to the Thors, the policing unit of Battleworld. Jonathan Hickman's blueprint of what remains after the Incursions is a pastiche of what are most likely Incursion points from several different universes, culled together by the new God of Everything, Doom. The oversized story has themes reminiscent of "Game of Thrones" and Alan Moore's "Top 10," and features some of the most expressive and stunning character work of Esad Ribic's career.
Hickman knew there would be a lot of heavy lifting required of this second issue, and he delivers the landscape and exposition of the new reality in a compelling way. The tense proceedings unfold as the Thors must settle a dispute between kingdoms ruled by Baron Jamie Braddock of New Avalon and Baron Mister Sinister of Bar Sinister. Battleworld is carved into sections in the exact way Marvel's marketing materials indicate, and here, readers are given an introductory course on how they all work with one another. Each section is overseen by a Baron who, provided they work within the larger rules of Doom's making, is left to his or her own devices to rule that kingdom as he or she sees fit. Doom rules Ã¼ber alles in Doomgard, seated on his throne (The World Tree), his love Susan Storm and his trusted hands Stephen Strange and Valeria at his side.
Ribic delivers a Doom who is powerful and weary, his posture slumping on his throne, almost bored with the requirement of dealing with those beneath him. It makes sense that most everything on a world created by Doom would revolve around power and the possession thereof, disputes being settled via faceoff between rulers or champions of each kingdom. Ribic gives Sinister a smarmy, cocksure disposition with gorgeously animated facial reactions. This man is as brash as he is dangerous, and the showdown in which he finds himself is an exciting and dynamic battle. Ribic has a keen eye for the right action shot, a mix of fantasy influence and Marvel style. When readers are taken to the Shield, a concept those familiar with George R.R. Martin's work will recognize, the chilling showdown could be hung with pride next to the best of Jack Kirby or Frank Frazetta's work.
The subplot of the issue deals with the reveal of the life raft, crashed on the opposite side of the world and last seen on the final page of the previous issue. Longtime fans of Hickman's Marvel work will enjoy his use of Future Foundation characters throughout the book, particularly in these scenes. When the inhabitants of the life raft are revealed, they won't be who readers are expecting. Hickman throws a curve and introduces a new danger to this reality, a problem that went unsolved prior to the final Incursion.
"Secret Wars" #2 gives enough of an introduction to the new reality to allow readers to journey off to each kingdom in the rest of the publishing line throughout the summer. It's a maintenance issue, well told and well designed, and if Ribic keeps up the quality of work found here, he should be an early nominee for next year's Eisner Awards. Anyone curious about what Marvel's hype has been about, or simply looking for a fresh take on their old favorites, would do well to check out this issue.