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‘Secret Warps’ review — somehow both ridiculous and compelling

Let’s do it again.

Let’s face it, last year’s Infinity Wars, as obvious a commercial enterprise as it was, didn’t really live up to expectations. Sure, it could have been seen as a cash grab meant to take advantage of a certain film release, but the publishing division of Marvel still threw some heavy-hitting talent at the project, which, to its credit, significantly distinguished itself from previous Infinity-monikered stories.  Alas, the event still lacked cohesion, took some head-scratching turns, and did nothing to make us sympathize with the included characters.

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But hey, at least we got Loki and Wolverine chasing an escaped convict through space on a magical longboat with a beer fridge!

And we got the wonderful Infinity Warps out of the deal, too. When Infinity Wars‘ head baddie folded the universe in on itself, it created a “warp world” inside the soul gem, one in which each person was a combination of two people from the “higher world.” Split apart again at the climax to restore order, the warped characters proved strong enough to have their universe recreated, and to have spin-offs of their own.

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Image credit: Marvel Comics

The last of which stretches (or scrunches?) the concept to its limits, in five sequential annuals of series that don’t exist, penned by Al Ewing and released even with combined branding — the Secret Warps! Ewing struggled early in his Marvel tenure to find a niche, churning out fan-favorite books that failed to ignite sales bonanzas, like USAvengers and Loki:  Agent of Asgard, before smashing all doubters with the unstoppable monster that is The Immortal Hulk. All of those books have some things in common, in that they display Ewing’s frighteningly vast knowledge of Marvel continuity and his willingness to highlight it for effect.

So Secret Warps, even as a silly and potentially “throwaway” concept, ends up being a perfect project for him. Not because his skills are unworthy of wider exposure, but because the lack of rigidity the thing provides allows Ewing to explore the combined continuities of the Soldier Supreme, the Iron Hammer, Ghost Panther, Weapon Hex and Arachnight, nearly without restraint.

And that leads to some of the most hilarious and satisfying “warps” only he could imagine, enough to make anyone pine for a whole line, a la the ’90s company crossover between Marvel and DC Comics, Amalgam. Honestly, I could have put the book down after seeing Herbert Blackheart Wyndham, the “High Devil’s Missionary,” and Ulysses Klorb, a Klaw/Orb mashup with an ear for a head.

I’m glad I didn’t, though, because things only get crazier when the Squadron Supreme drop in, mixed with New Universe characters, as they try to destroy the Earth to avoid multiversal collapse, turning the tables on the Illuminati from the run-up to Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars. When they fail, the world is further condensed, and we’re left with Spider Supreme and Ghost Hammer, whose new backstory is so nuts, you have to see it yourself.

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Image credit: Marvel Comics

Oh, and they’re all confronted by the ultimate evil of Doomactego, the Stranger Planet!

That’s all well and delightfully batsh*t, but some cute gags and member berries don’t necessarily a good story make. The astonishing, implausible truth is, though, Secret Warps is actually a gripping narrative on top of all that. Will time be restored? Can the Martian invasion of Wakanda be staved off? How do Arachknight’s four personalities get along???

The Soldier Supreme, Ghost Panther and Iron Hammer issues are drawn by Carlos Gomez, and the Weapon Hex and Arachknight issues are drawn by Carlos Villa. All five are colored by Carlos Lopez. The combined styles are bright and evocative of classic comics, while still having the detail and fluidity of motion of the modern day.

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Image credit: Marvel Comics

Secret Warps is topped off with five separate 10-page stories, each devoted to one of the original warps. Mark Waid, Alex Lins and Erick Arciniega handle Symbol of Liberty; Tim Seeley, Bob Quinn and Rachelle Rosenburg introduce Wentigra in Weapon Hex’s Late Dinner; Daniel Kibblesmith, Ig Guara and Matt Milla bring Ghost Panther face-to-face with Knightblade in Midnight Mass; Jim Zub, Carlo Barberi and Ruth Redmond pit Arachknight against the Terrific Two in A Terrific Tangle; and Tini Howard, Ario Anindito and Israel Silva put together the least of the collection on Iron Hammer’s Fenris in a Bottle, which sadly is a great concept not realized.

Secret Warps is a ton of fun on the expected surface level, but also a cracking good story to boot. The 10-pagers at the end are, to no surprise, of varying quality, but this volume will leave you wanting more of the crazy combinations, as long as Ewing is the one leading the soul gem denizens.

Secret Warps
Is it good?
It's satisfying on both surficial and deeper levels. Was always going to be fun, but Ewing somehow makes it engaging, too.
Insane character combinations mined from deep continuity
A gripping story to boot
Vibrant art
Some of the bonus stories don't land
Might be the last we see of these characters 🙁

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