“Secret Wars: Secret Love” #1 is an anthology of romance tales set within the “Secret Wars” event. It’s a clever idea with a fun title, and the five stories eagerly take opportunity of the possibilities, either to use the Marvel Multiverse to revisit couples from other continuities or timelines or to pair up newer characters without worrying about long-term consequences.
“Guilty Pleasure” by Michel Fiffe brings back Karen Page, Daredevil’s longest-running love interest. Both the art and story have a retro vibe but, even allowing for that intent, Fiffe leans too heavily on textbook voiceovers. Over half of the story is heavily expository; Karen tells the reader about her love for Matt and her suspicions and there’s also an information dump about Typhoid Mary. The dialogue works well, but some panels are cluttered and the space looks off when he fails to nail the perspective. There’s an excellent plot twist in the middle of the action, though. The ending is surprisingly bittersweet, and the final panel is both poignant and beautiful.
“Fan of a Fan” by Felipe Smith puts Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) and Robbie Reyes (the new Ghost Rider) together. Judging by internet buzz, this is the most heavily anticipated story in the anthology, and that’s probably a testament to Kamala’s popularity. The setup is brilliant. Smith gives Kamala a job at a concession stand and shenanigans ensue. His facial expressions and dialogue are hilarious. The action scenes are energetic and the comic timing is superb. Val Staples’ detailed colors make Kamala’s proffered hot dog look delicious, enhancing the ridiculous humor. His choice of pale yellow for Ghost Rider’s head makes the flames look diaphanous and hot while still preserving all of Smith’s fine linework. “Fan of a Fan” is very thin on plot and the final twist is nothing new, but it’s still a wonderful read because the humor and pacing are perfect and the characters come to life so quickly.
With the exception of one T-Rex attack, “Misty and Danny Forever” by Jeremy Whitley and Gurihiru is about the normal, day-to-day parts of a relationship. The story has a leisurely pace, and the couple’s doubts and problems are neither serious nor difficult to resolve. Despite the predictable ending, there’s a pleasant slice-of-life feel to Misty and Danny’s date night. Whitley’s dialogue feels natural, and Gurihiru’s facial expressions are strong.
“Squirrel Girl Wins a Date with Thor” is more a sketch comedy vignette than a short story, but Marguerite Bennett and Kris Anka make maximum use of every panel. The result is hilarious and visually stunning. The title handily telegraphs both the plot and the tone in a nutshell. As such, no exposition is needed and the reader just gets to enjoy Bennett’s funny dialogue. Anka has a controlled but expressive line and gorgeous, masterful color work. The pairing of lush, saturated hues like orange and dark teal give the setting a fairy-tale glamour and dramatic intensity. Cowles’ lettering also deserves special mention here too for how he conveys emphasis in dialogue by varying the text size. The script for Thor’s dialogue is Gothic-looking and legible, and I really like how he adds extra space between letters to give Thor’s words a considered, regal feel. Bennett writes a very cute dance scene that also shows Anka’s impressive chops with movement and rhythm. Squirrel Girl’s fangirl feelings are contagious and the climax of the story is squee-worthy. The ending caps off a perfect evening.
In style and color palette, “Happy Ant-iversary” by Katie Cook reads like a children’s book full of bug jokes, populated by insect versions of Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk and others. There isn’t a real plot. Your mileage will vary depending how sweet and cute you like your stories and jokes. The sound effects and captions like “awkward blush” can feel like they are trying too hard, even though there’s a self-consciousness to them that is meant for adults.
Kudos to the editor Emily Shaw, too, because she curated a collection in which all the creative teams were into the concept. All the enthusiasm and effort has paid off with an unusually strong and enjoyable anthology. It’s one of the best extras to come out of the “Secret Wars” event.