Split into two tales, "The Arrowhead" and "We Worship What We Don't Understand," "Secret Wars Journal" #1 devotes ten pages to each story and gives the creative teams the opportunity to mash up some properties and reimagine them all at the same time. Write Pru Shen and artist Ramon Bachs take on "The Arrowhead," while writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Luca Pizzari handle the latter tale.
Bachs' choppy storytelling takes some odd leaps in the first story, as it isn't quite clear how characters get from point A to point B. There are clues and inferences, sure, but -- later on -- Bachs shows Billy (a reimagined Wiccan from Young Avengers) levitate the final leap onto the roof after bellyaching about scaling the building and climbing a rope to that point. It winds up being incongruous with Shen's tale, which attempts to deliver a linear adventure about secret missions and the old cliche of taking from the rich to give to the poor.
There's a nice analog for Robin Hood in the first tale, but ten pages just doesn't give enough space to properly exhibit a cast of characters, a plot or a setting. Instead, the story directs readers to "Siege" #1 to follow the cliffhanger starring Lady Bishop.
However, ten pages is just enough for Matthew Rosenberg and Luca Pizzari to deliver a fast-paced, hard-hitting story. Like its predecessor, however, "We Worship What We Don't Understand" suffers from some sloppy choices. An aggressor calls out, "Did you three slaves . . ." when four characters are clearly being addressed in the foreground of the panel and in the action that results. Those four characters are reimaginings of Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Wolverine. In a world dubbed Egyptia, mutants are the slaves of Khonshu, goddess of the night and protector of travelers.
Artist Luca Pizzari gives readers plenty of recognizable faces despite the filter of reimagination, and the battles that ensue bring in not only X-Men variations, but also Moon Knight and Werewolf by Night. This is a full story, like the first tale in "Secret Wars Journal" #1, but its heavier focus on action makes it less impenetrable.
The first tale presents the Punisher reimagined as a sheriff in the medieval setting of King James' England. Pitched against a trio of Young Avengers, there is no clear victor before letterer Cory Petit points readers off to another forthcoming "Secret Wars" title. The second tale, however, doesn't send readers anywhere, leaving them to witness an all-out battle between the worshippers of Khonshu and those who choose not to fall in line. Honestly, I'd rather read more of Egyptia, Khonshu and her Moon Knights, but no further adventures are highlighted.
As so often happens with anthology tales spiraling out from a big crossover event, "Secret Wars Journal" #1 is a solid concept but falters in execution. With two seemingly unrelated stories shoehorned into the same title, this feels like leftovers or excess. These are tales that were deemed worthy of being told, but they just never congeal enough to be effective or purposeful.