By James Robinson, Marcio Takara, and Esther Sanz
Secret Wars is the latest Marvel comics event that has gone on far too long due to delays and been seriously overexposed thanks to the inordinate amount of mini-series and spin-offs it spawned; spin-offs like Armor Wars. The plot of Secret Wars is that for incredibly contrived but in no way interesting reasons, Dr. Doom is now God of the universe and reality has been rebuilt as a patchwork quilt of various Marvel parallel realities and altered timelines. This new nation is known as Battleworld and while there’s essentially no reason for it to be a gestalt landmass formed from various realities other than to facilitate the inordinate amount of spin-offs that were alluded to earlier in this review.
For their part the spin-offs have honestly been pretty decent, one of the stronger aspects of Secret Wars more unobtrusive narrative is that we’re saved from seeing repeating scenes play out in every individual comic like we had to suffer through in World War Hulk. On the downside, the multitude of these mini-series have been completely superfluous and unengaging, only serving to highlight how many of these realities didn’t warrant further inspection.
Armor Wars has so far been an exception to that rule, but all good things must end in time and this finale is very firmly in “didn’t need to be seen” territory. The Armor Wars reality is one where, due to a mysterious virus, everyone in the land must wear Stark built suits of power armor. It’s an interesting premise that’s been more or less wasted outside of setting up the very dull cyber-thriller main plot. The inherently interesting angle of all these alternate tales is seeing how familiar character might be reimagined with a unique focus, but aside from a few interesting revisions that fairly simplistic fundamental is completely absent from Armor Wars.
We see armored Spider-Man and armored Thor but otherwise nothing. It’s a real shame too, as the techno aesthetics of Armor Wars would’ve provided fertile ground for reimaginings of group characters like the X-Men or magic users like Dr. Strange. What’s more, it’s very disappointing how much the mini limits its scope of technology. Aside from the standard Iron Man armor suits and a weird cameo by Machine Man, the book doesn’t draw anything else from the visual and creative fields of technology. It easily could’ve done all kind of great stuff with Cyborgs, cybiotes, living programs, and robots, but instead it’s just all generic, samey looking armor all the time.
The plot has been a high point so far, a murder mystery hinting at bigger revelations about the nature of the city, the armor, and Tony Stark but the revelations in this issue are a serious let down. The whole issue is framed as a big climactic fight scene but the battle is essentially just so much filler while Tony Stark exposits the entire plot to the audience. It’s a massive failure of basic storytelling that falls flat on its face and undercuts any kind of tension or engagement. We’re basically just watching someone explain the comic to us while very boringly designed mechas fight. The artwork is a real problem for the comic. Marcio Takara seems terrified of going beyond “palette swapped Iron Man” in terms of character designs and colorist Esther Sanz is stuck in the dirt spectrum. Everything looks faded out and grimy and blends together far too easily.
The worst thing about Armor Wars is how perfunctory it feels. No one in any part of the creative process seems to have been genuinely involved or inspired by the material they chose to produce and it just drains the energy out of the whole proceedings. “Marvel Heroes but Cyber” is not a bad idea for a comic book and should’ve at least produced something as good as Iron Man: Hypervelocity, but Armor Wars is just so much autopilot, with the occasional flourish of purposeful writing whenever the story needs to play set-up.
That’s the other majorly disappointing and honestly pretty infuriating thing about Armor Wars, how much it’s a transparent stab at universe management. Basically all the character decisions and revisions present here are soulless calculations in order to force the Marvel Universe in line with the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. This is the same bad decision making that informed last week’s Quake one-shot and the upcoming X-Men comic where the Inhuman gas kills off the oppressed mutant minority in order to leave only the genetically pure as survivors. They’re all just painfully forced developments designed solely to turn the Marvel comics into the extended universe of the Marvel Movies instead of their own unique entity. That’s what Armor Wars feels like more than anything else; tired, cynical, uninspired brand management; don’t buy it.