In Review: Secret Wars #4

Worth reading, but not outstanding on its own.

The covers: Nine covers for all the Marvel Zombies to track down. The Main cover by Alex Ross is good enough for me! Sitting in the center, resplendent in white is Doctor Doom, whose face is unseen with his cowl up. To his right is Sheriff Stephen Strange. To his left is Susan Storm and Valeria. All look subservient to their god. A strong cover, but what else would you expect from Ross? The first Variant is by Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi is another of the connecting covers and it features a ton of characters: Magneto, Cyclops, Psylocke, Iceman, White Queen, Phoenix, Wolverine, Storm, Beast, Professor X, Thanos, and the partially bloody body of Captain America. Wow! Even if you didn’t get the previous covers, this would be one to find! The next Variant is another action figure cover by John Tyler Christopher, this time showcasing Captain America. I’ve got to admit that I really like this. Tomm Coker does a Variant that features a snarling face of an old man shredding to reveal Doom on the right and on the left several views of a man with glowing eyes. I couldn’t tell you who this is. It looks good, but the content has lost me. A very stylized Ms. Marvel is soaring up, holding a circular object that looks to be part of the massive geometrical pattern around her. This borders on looking like stained glass. Erica Henderson did this Variant and it’s very sharp. Icon Jim Starlin with Andy Smith & Chris Sotomayor do the next Variant which is how I like my villains. Against a starfield, Thanos has his hands around the glowing Battleworld, as Maximus, Terrax, Proxima Midnight, and Namor come swooping in to make a grab for it. Excellent images and perfect coloring. The Chris Samnee & Matthew Wilson Variant made me laugh out loud when I saw it because it shows what happens when marketing overtakes storytelling. It’s an image of the Gwenvengers — seven members of the Avengers are Gwen Stacy, and it’s funny. Gwen Hulk is the best. There’s a Wolverine centric cover, featuring four different versions of the mutant favorite, drawn by Mike Choi for an exclusive Midtown Comics Variant. It’s nice, but it’s way too much Logan for me. Esad Ribic does a Variant as well, and this has Cyclops/Phoenix looked at up high with a gigantic flaming phoenix around him/it. This is a really bold cover because of the strong colors: white, orange, and black. Overall grades: Main A, Variant Bianchi A, Variant Christopher A+, Variant Coker D, Variant Henderson B-, Variant Starlin A+, Variant Samnee A, Variant Choi D+, and Variant Ribic B+

The story: “The Second Offense” by Jonathan Hickman begins the Cabal (Thanos, Black Swan, Terrax, Namor, Proxima Midnight, Maximus, Corvus Glaive, and the Maker) being beaten down by Doom’s enforcers of Justice, the Thor Corps. Meanwhile, on the hidden Isle of Agamotto, the Sanctum of Sheriff Strange, Stephen is bringing the recently discovered life raft survivors (Mr. Fantastic, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Star-Lord, Cyclops/Phoenix, Spider-Man 616, Spider-Man 1610, and Thor) up to speed with what happened to their worlds and the creation of Battleworld under Doom. The heroes are stunned that Strange serves him. “Now…He is God. Doubt him if you want. Defy him. Curse his very existence…It doesn’t matter. He reigns.” Only one from the life raft refuses to yield — Cyclops/Phoenix. Thor’s hammer begins to glow, stopping the conversation, and Strange says they are wanted somewhere. Doom is alerted to the Cabal’s existence, but is not concerned with them until the life boat survivors appear, with one member sparking his immediate involvement. The first ten pages of this book play pickup for first time readers, but the final half of the book is where things get interesting, with Doom facing the revived heroes and someone testing the newly made God. I’ve only been reading this since last issue, but I was bored with the first ten pages. The second half — that was good. This issue establishes that Doom is aware of the new survivors and now he’ll have to do something about them. Overall grade: B-

The art: Esad Ribic continues to impress with the visuals on this book. Every page is a work of art — fine art. The opening two page battle with the Cabal is pretty nice, though it’s only four panels long. The most emotive of the characters continues to be Strange, who can create a story with an upraised eyebrow or his pouty lips. Cyclops/Phoenix’s entrance is very impressive, as one would expect of an uber-being. The Thor that conveys a message to Doom made me giggle. It — He looks fine, but it’s too Island of Doctor Moreau for me. The bottom panel on Page 10 is great, but I wish it had been much larger to strengthen its impact on the readers and on Doom, because this panel will change the course of the series, though the arrival at the top of 13 is the right counter for it. Page 16’s middle panel probably has the most startling image of the book, and it’s amazing. The final page of the book will leave readers asking if they saw what they think they saw. All three panels on that page are strong, with a glorious image of no regret in the final one. This is a beautiful book. Overall grade: A

The colors: There are times when the coloring on this book is too dark or muddy, and it left me wondering what I was supposed to be seeing. This doesn’t occur often, but enough for me to bring it up. Ive Svorcina does a fine job on the opening page, bathed in blues to emphasize the night, but the first panel on Page 2 is so darkly colored that I’m straining to see what’s in the right of that panel. Things improve when the focus goes to Strange and friends, but once in the Kingdom of Utopolis, the dark colors and fade effects to create distance loses some of the artwork. The first panel at Castle Doom is a waste of space. It’s so dark as to make the image worthless. Reality can be sacrificed in comic books, it happens all the time, and Svoricina should have done that more often. The arrivals on Pages 10 and 13 are terrific, but once they occur the darkness returns and consume a lot of the art to create the mood. This is a shame, because the art is already strong enough to carry the mood. I expect better on a super crossover event series. Overall grade: C

The letters: Dialogue, fantastic scene settings, Earth 1610 speak, Cyclops/Phoenix dialogue, and Thor talk are created by Chris Eliopoulos. I like the dialogue on certain characters being different from others to show that they’re not even close to being human. There are some sounds in this book, but they look like they were done by Ribic, since they don’t stand out from the artwork like most sound effects do. Overall grade: A  

The final line: Half is recap, half is new, with pretty art. Worth reading, but not outstanding on its own. Overall grade: B

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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