Book of the Week 05/06/2015: Secret Wars #1

The summer season barrels down on us and drags with it, oh, so many traditions: barbeques, beaches, sunglass tan lines, and the mixing of beer, flip-flops and ball based sports. They are the clichés with which we paint our ideal summers.

But the comic book fan knows something vestigial hangs from the underside of these warm, orange shaded images. Tis the season of the event book.

Queue the sinister sound effect.

The custom of presenting readers with a high concept story idea kitted out with promises of status quo shattering events and lasting impactful change has proven to be nothing more than annual marketing masturbation. Any comic book fan that possess the ability to recognize simple patterns can see any event book can be summed up by filling in of certain blanks. Who dies? Who comes back to life? Who gets a new costume? What is supposed to be a grand epic ends up feeling like a mad lib.

And here comes Secret Wars, a book that has been sold to us with the acknowledgement of past broken promises, yet swears that this time it’s for real. This time the changes will be massive and impactful. They will be long lasting and this time the Marvel universe with finally be freed from the norm it has been orbiting for fifty-four years…like, seriously we mean it this time.

My angst is not subtle, but it is earned. Reaching all the way back to Civil War, a book that ran almost a decade ago, Marvel has repeatedly half delivered on hyperbolic marketing. Promising explosive change but delivering minor shifts. It’s frustrating, because actions that are meant to sell a book end up manipulating a reader into resenting it.

Civil War, as a story, was awesome, but the brave new world that was supposed materialize in its wake never came. The quality of the story was neutered because the reader ended up feeling lied to.

The legacy of Civil War and pretty much every similar event book is laced into the launch of Secret Wars. When read in a vacuum, it is great. While this first issue suffers from an over-caffeinated pace and weight of having to manage literally every moving piece in two universes, it is packed with huge action, dire stakes, fist pumping fan service moments and it attacks its big shocking moments without fear.

However, all of the character deaths and plots twists are poisoned by the sour history of this exercise. A seasoned reader like myself feels moments of enjoyment but reflex pulls us back. We fight the urge to enjoy ourselves because we do not want to be made a sucker again.

As cynical and jaded as this mindset is, Secret Wars does so much right that it can almost be believed. In its first issue, the series has delivered on its biggest promise and it seems to be genuine in doing so.

Marvel has destroyed both the Ultimate and 616 universe. The worlds collid during an incursion and all that is left is a small group of heroes floating in an ark through the void between worlds.

What could be more shocking and impactful than that?

Nothing. It was super impactful and shocking…when it happened last year in Uncanny Avengers….only to be undone a few issues later.

Secret Wars #1 is good. It really is. But I cannot enjoy it. As a Marvel fan and a fan of the ridiculous and cyclical nature of comic book storytelling, I want so badly to be pumped for this. I want to be having a good time.

But it’s like a cheating girlfriend asking to get back together with you. This time will be different. This time they have changed and all the plans you two have made for the future are going to become tangible this time.

Maybe they will be. Maybe this time really is different but you know what? I don’t feel like getting burned again. I don’t feel like giving over to my enthusiasm all the while being distracted by a dangling, promised endgame that never comes. I don’t feel like doing this again.

But what I want to do doesn’t matter. Secret Wars is happening and it appears to be plowing into places that have no road back, which is something that should be celebrated.

Whether it’s fair or not, Secret Wars must carry history with it. All event books have the potential to rewrite this tired trend and until now all have chosen the safety of staying in low orbit. Will it really be different this time? As always Marvel is promising yes, it will be.

But it’s time to stop with the promises. Stop with the canned hype and excited rhetoric.

If you mean it, sack up and do it.

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