Squadron Sinister #2

A microcosm of characters and concepts from the history of the Marvel Universe, Marc Guggenheim and Carlos Pacheo's "Squadron Sinister" #2 includes the Squadron Sinister, Mister Sinister, the Frightful Four, Starbrand, Sergeant Fury, his Howling Commandos and so much more. Inked by Mariano Taibo, colored by Frank Martin and lettered by Joe Caramagna, this comic feels like a freestanding, brand new adventure filled with fresh developments.

In that manner, Guggenheim skillfully mines Marvel's history and character catalogue while maximizing the potential of the central story conceit presented by Battleworld in "Secret Wars." As with any new world, a quest for territory -- a land grab -- leads to conflict and, when those doing the grabbing are super-powered, the resulting conflicts are spectacular. Guggenheim makes it quite plain for readers to pick up on: no one in the Squadron Sinister is a character to look up to or even respect. Each of those five characters has his or her own agenda, and, more likely than not, those agendas involve tearing the others down or to pieces.

There's plenty of soap opera and tragic conflict built into that notion, but Guggenheim digs deeper into the toybox, bringing out the Frightful Four with Wizard, Titania, Paste Pot Pete and Sandman. He throws in many of the New Universe characters, including Spitfire, Starbrand, Marc Hazzard: Merc and Jack Magniconte of Kickers, Inc. The last quartet inhabits the province of Nutopia and seeks to serve as resistance to Hyperion's rule. Guggenheim adds more players to the party, expanding the cast and growing the consequences of the mystery of the fallen Thor, and I wouldn't put it past him to find a way to include SuperPro or Ulysses Archer. The story is thick with conflict of all sorts and, even if Guggenheim doesn't pay out every single thread, the journey is entertaining and fun. The heart of "Squadron Sinister" #2, however, is Hyperion trying his damndest to be the Superman he is an analogue of. He's fighting to defend his nation and wishes to keep expanding it, Doom or no Doom.

No stranger to constantly expanding casts, Carlos Pacheco takes everything Guggenheim digs out of the toybox and renders it into a stunning vision. As he did with "Avengers Forever," Pacheco spins every character just the right way to augment their power, beauty or unique appearance. Even out of costumes, every character looks remarkable and begs Pacheco to draw a solo adventure. With dour, determined characters piling up in "Squadron Sinister" #2, there isn't a whole lot of emotional range for Pacheco to draw, but he gives every character individuality and personality unlike their panel-mates. Taibo's inks sharpen up Pacheco's work nicely, frequently adding texture and snapping in spot blacks for depth and dimension.

Every scene shift starts off with a quick map check, attributable to Pacheco, Taibo, Martin and Caramagna, which serves as just another example of how "Squadron Sinister" #2 finds new ways to make the most of everything required of a crossover. Immediately after each scene, Caramagna discreetly tags all of the characters for readers to identify, making this issue both a guidebook and a rolling exploration of a brave new world. Caramagna pins the word balloons in the smartest places per panel and brings a nice array of comic book sound effects.

Martin's color palette is critical to the success of "Squadron Sinister" #2, bringing a mix of bold, brash comic book colors and subtle, shady emotional earth tones and natural hues. The colorist isn't afraid to cast a shade on the scene, like the opening scene where Whizzer and Nighthawk are on patrol, nor does Martin shy away from bright pinks in the scene immediately following as readers visit the crystal lands of Bar Sinister.

"Secret Wars" has presented readers with ample opportunities to explore the Marvel Universe, its characters, its history and, as is most prevalent in "Squadron Sinister" #2, its potential. Guggenheim has a masterful collaborator in Pacheco, who is nicely augmented by the talents of Taibo, Martin and Caramagna, making this book and this creative team a must follow. Yes, there are a lot of "Secret Wars" spinoff titles available, but "Squadron Sinister" is one of the most enjoyable and immersive.

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