When Marvel launched its massive 2015 Secret Wars crossover event, there was a raft of tie-in titles that were also released. These were books that were essentially published so readers could better understand the boundaries that Secret Wars operated within. As a casual comic book fan, I felt a little confused about the onslaught of new titles, but took a chance with Secret Wars Battleworld all the same. Four issues later, and I’m now wishing I had more of this book to look forward to.
Secret Wars Battleworld is a prime example of why I need to stop judging comics that I’ve never read or heard about, by their cover alone. Issue one didn’t leave me eager to return to the comic store to get the sequel, but there really wasn’t anything that I disliked about it. Maybe if I’d picked up issue 2 soon after, I would’ve understood that this was a mini series unlike anything else I was currently reading.
Some might argue that Battleworld isn’t essential reading for anyone who’s getting up to speed with the whole Secret Wars saga, and that’s fair enough. What I’ve come to see after reading all four issues, is that this title is something of a showcase, and presents readers with a lush landscape of stories, adventures, and surprises that don’t necessarily affect the action taking place in the core Secret Wars series.
The stories here are non-sequential, and can be read in any order. In retrospect, it seems that Marvel played it exceedingly well by presenting these stories in the order that they chose, saving fans from false hopes for the next issue. There’s also an aspect of balance throughout the series, with stories that centre on darker themes, paired with stories painted with a flavour of comedy that Marvel fans would most likely be familiar with.
A long laundry list of characters appears in Secret Wars Battleworld, including some classic heavyweights and fan favourites. But what really made me stop and take notice, was the engaging and inspired artwork found within the series. The level of talent here is colossal, particularly the efforts of James Stokoe and Daniel Valadez, who had a story apiece in the series’ finale.
The premiere issue opens with Soldier Supreme, by Joshua Williamson, presenting a story of an outnumbered criminal who refuses arrest and a sorcerer who ponders infinity before threatening an immortal warrior with hell. Mike Henderson’s bold illustrations played well with Jordan Boyd’s colours to create an interesting read. Meanwhile, in what has to be a forerunner for the ‘Most Appropriately Titled Comic Story’ award, M.O.D.O.K. Madness writer Ed Brisson weaves a tale of conspiracy and megalomania. The art of Scott Hepburn pairs with the colouring work of Matt Milla to present a story that demonstrates why older generations refer to comic books as ‘the funnies.’
Issue 2 kicks off with A Monster So Fowl, a superhero team-up where a pair of unlikely allies join forces to take out a vampiric duck. David F Walker‘s story is brought to life in comedic fashion by the work of J J Kirby, with Milla again on colours. Donny Cates’ Ross Against the Machine is a sterner tale and is conveyed accordingly by Marco Turini’s pencils, and the colours of Frank D’Armata. Harkening to a Ridley Scott historical epic, the story sees a gladiator defying protocol and challenging a god.
In issue 3, a monastic Wolverine takes centre stage in A Thousand Cuts. Ivan Brandon’s story features deep subject matter, which Aaron Conley and Ryan Browne playfully disguise with their respective pencilling and colour work. Interestingly, Conley brings some effective elements of legendary cartoonist Al Jaffee’s style into his contributions on this story. I was especially delighted to read Ryan Ferrier’s Fistful of ‘Changas. Illustrated beautifully, almost in the style of children’s book artwork by Logan Faerber, the story sees a mercenary hunt some big prey, but not for the most nefarious reason in the world. As a bonus, this issue ends with Ferrier’s encore World War Ant. Paul Pope and Jordie Bellaire adopt a classic approach to art and colour in a powerfully creative one-page story that lasts all of seven panels.
The closing issue deserves some sort of award for its artwork alone. Silver Surfer Vs Galactus sees wonderfully talented one-man show Stokoe taking on all art and writing duties, making time even for the story’s lettering needs. This begs the question of whether it was a perfectionist’s approach that made this story stand out. Closing out the book and the series is Silver Surfer Vs Maestro, penned by Peter David, with the phenomenal artwork of Valadez’ emboldened by David Curiel’s colours.
I wonder now how many other fans got it wrong, or didn’t quite get it when we saw an ensemble of characters in action on the cover of Battleworld 1. Were we supposed to automatically understand that this series was in the vein of the classic What If…? comics from the past? Had I known sooner, this would’ve probably been a book I’d be reading month after month. With that said, maybe making this a four-issue series was an ace move, with no future releases possibly tarnishing the well-earned reputation that the creative teams and the series deserve.