We’re back for the second installment of annotations/commentaries on Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s Secret Wars, the climax not only of Hickman’s expansive New/Avengers run but also his entire career at Marvel Comics as a narrative universe architect. Last issue, the worlds in which a solid 99% of every single published Marvel comic takes place exploded in a fiery conflagration, and now existence is a patchwork planet of “domains” built from alternate universes. This world is ruled by the original Marvel Universe’s Doctor (Victor von) Doom, and Hickman and Ribic are having an absolute blast with this.
Also, life rafts exited each of the last two universes, the regular Marvel Universe and the Ultimate one. Those will come up later.
Jonathan Hickman is a bit of a Dune fan, if the title doesn’t make that immediately clear.
From here on out, it’s less specific references granulated by page and more by scene, since Battleworld is a setting I’m discovering at the same time as you guys, even though I’ve read like every Jonathan Hickman Marvel comic ever. There are bits and pieces of previous Marvel stories sprinkled like ephemera throughout, but for the most part this is a new reality—albeit not without some things to point out.
Pages 1-4: Thors are the cops of Battleworld, except rather than having precincts and divisions and statutes and regulations and ethnic prejudices, they just worship Doom. Doom has, completely off-panel, taken the remainder of the multiverse and turned it into this new construct we’ll find more about soon.
Pages 5-6: Jonathan Hickman with the Adobe InDesign, everyone.
Page 7: “God Emperor Doom,” in case the Frank Herbert references weren’t sufficiently giving the game away.
Page 8: “The Hammer of the Gods will drive our ships to new lands,” sing Led Zeppelin in their fourth album’s “Immigrant Song”—perhaps the thematic accompaniment to, like, almost every Thor comic ever. Higher Avalon is the Captain Britain territory, seemingly (as we’ll see later) trading more off of Hickman and Ribic’s Captain Britain from their Ultimates run than the classic take by Alan Moore and Alan Davis, which introduced the term “Earth-616”
Page 9: First off—the “nothing” has the little bits of white trying to burst through due to the pencil crosshatching, an inverted manifestation of the Beyonder effect we’ve seen before. It would have been easy to simply make this panel pure black, but they didn’t; the specific texture must serve a purpose.
Otherwise, this effectively mimics the “Previously on” page in the first issue of Hickman’s Avengers, in panel structure and content: it’s an origin story, minus important changes surrounding the fabric of the cosmos: In Avengers, “we ran towards the” light, while in Secret Wars, God Doom “created” the light.
Page 11: Here we’ve got Alex Power (not Powers), formerly of the Power Pack and currently of the Future Foundation, as well as Bentley-23 (a clone of supervillain the Wizard) and the robotic Dragon Man, and the Moloids basically as lab interns. This is Reed Richards’s entire hope for the future—his legacy—from the original Marvel Universe co-opted and perverted by Doom from a force of discovery into a force allied with subjugation and reinforcement of the status quo, albeit not entirely betraying their original goals, as we’ll later see.
Page 12: So, while the sky on the same side of the planet on which most people reside is (as the Thors explained) somewhat starless, the interior of the planet looks far more star-inhabited—but why would there be stars inside the planet?
Page 13: Were I to guess, I’d venture that the gigantic statues here in disrepair were formerly the statues of the founding Avengers outside Avengers Mansion, although I have no idea how they’d survive multiversal collapse and end up on the other side of Utopolis.
Page 14: The “fabricated exotic matter” Dragon Man is referring to here is the modified skin of the Living Tribunal harvested by the Avengers near the end of the “Time Runs Out” storyline—the Living Tribunal being the ultimate authority in the Multiverse, existing across all realities. The Living Tribunal got the living shit beaten out of him by the Beyonders when they decided to fuck up every Celestial, god, and abstract entity in all of creation.
Page 16: Interestingly, the Captain Britain Corps of Secret Wars aren’t the full multiversal Captain Britain Corps of the previous Marvel multiverse, but seem far more based on Hickman’s interpretation from Ultimates, including a not-batshit-insane Jamie Braddock as head Captain Britain (and Baron of Higher Avalon).
Page 17: Old Thor’s discussion here ties into Doom’s sentiments about the value of aristocracy from New Avengers (and, like, his entire existence)—it fits that the world he’d create would reflect the values he’s always lived by, although it’s more than somewhat ironic considering Doom himself was actually quite the social climber.
On a side note, I love how hilariously louche Sinister is here.
Page 18: Fehu-Nautiz-Uruz, or, roughly, Wealth-Need-Labor—a fitting explanation for the role the Thors play in Doom’s world. (The runes Li’l Thor is writing aren’t the actual runes that correspond, though.)
Page 19: Now we see Doom’s court for the first time—he’s wearing all white, like he did when he was a member of the Future Foundation, and has both Susan and Valeria Richards by his side, likely because he saved them after their seeming death at the end of last issue. (Which, of course, asks the question: where the hell are Ben and Johnny?)
It’s interesting that Yggdrasil, the world tree, still exists. I’d be very curious to know whether or not the other realms do as well, or if they all perished alongside Midgard.
Page 20: It’s fitting that Doctor Strange is by Doom’s side, considering he was with him when they confronted the Beyonder (although I do wonder where Molecule Man got off to). The next few pages are pretty much full-on Game of Thrones with the Marvel Multiverse.
Page 21: Upper and Lower Egyptia seem represented here by Khonshu (patron god/dess? of Moon Knight) and the Panther God, patron of Black Panther, who as far as I know is still in Earth-616’s life raft. Everyone else on this top row is from Limbo, a domain where the X-Men crossover Inferno apparently never ended. The big guy behind Sad Apocalypse is Holocaust; I think the dude just to his right with the white mohawk is Abyss, and next to him is the Age of Apocalypse Mikhail Rasputin (Colossus’s brother).
Page 24: The big Hulk dude is Maestro from the Peter David/George Pérez classic Hulk: Future Imperfect (and the Peter David/Greg Land Secret Wars tie-in of the same name). I confess I can’t recognize the excited woman right next to him.
Page 26: Remember what I said about the criss-crossing pencil pattern marking the power of the Beyonders? Look at Doom’s mask here.
Page 27: The “Silent Chambers” could be named thus due to Battleworld’s Black Bolt, who has been teased as being a sort of resistance leader in the Inhumans: Attilan Rising tie-in series.
Page 28: So yeah, it’s pretty ambiguous what the fuck is going on here with Doom and Susan. Valeria later calls Doom “father,” but there could be a ton of reasons for that—are Doom and Sue lovers here? Is she just a trusted advisor, his conscience? It certainly seems like there’s more there than that by the way Doom is touching her hand, but having Doom straight-up mindwipe Sue Richards into being with him is…a little too Game of Thrones for this, and for Hickman as a writer.
Page 29: I’m a li’l bit disappointed we didn’t get to see Sinister publicly whipped, I’m not gonna lie.
Page 30: The Sorkin walk-and-talk at the end of the world.
Valeria calls Doom “her father” here, and it’s unclear if that means she’s actually his biological daughter here, or has had her memories changed to think that, or if that’s just what she calls him now since he saved all their asses from certain destruction. Additionally, it’s worth pointing out (although it’s been clear from previous pages) that Battleworld has been around for a while. Valeria and Strange have had disagreements, there’ve been a bunch of Thors, the new Thor remembers seeing Baron Braddock as a little boy—and as we see later, it’s carbon dating that threatens the religion of Doom due to the Cabal’s life raft. This means that, somehow (likely Beyonder powers), everyone important from the old universes is staying young. I mean, Valeria doesn’t look a day over six here.
Page 31: It’s appropriate that Franklin is here with his herald, Galactus, who’s inexplicably on fire, perhaps as a power source. Near the end of Hickman’s FF run, they’d even had a heart-to-heart where Franklin promised they’d be hanging out together at the end of that universe and the beginning of a new one. (I doubt this is exactly what he was referring to, however.)
Page 32: If the Shield is around the southern part of Battleworld and it’s 16,000 miles, that’d line up Battleworld to be roughly the size of the actual Earth.
Page 36: These three factions are from the Marvel Zombies series of miniseries, the Negative Zone (as seen in the in-continuity Annihilation and in Hickman’s own Fantastic Four and Avengers runs) and, finally, the alternate future of 2013’s Age of Ultron event.
Page 38: I like how Strange’s seal is kind of the Eye of Agamotto, but green to represent Doom’s rule.
Page 43: Surprise! It’s not the heroes, it’s the Maker and the Cabal. Which certainly brings up the question of where the hell the other life raft with the heroes of Earth-616 is…
Page 44: …since here we see that the villains, at least, have been kept in stasis for however long Battleworld has been going on, and we know their life raft is functionally the same as the heroes’.
(As a side note, can you imagine the awful shitshow that would have happened if the only people on 616’s life raft were a bunch of geneticists and physicists and scientists and how utterly useless they’d be on Battleworld? It’s probably for the best that they all got blown up and replaced with A-list superheroes instead.)
Thanks again for reading. It was a bigger issue than the first in terms of page count, and bigger in impact and what it introduced, but it was mostly introductions, so there was actually less to discuss and annotate. Unless #3 proves to be a rehash of previous issues from a setup perspective, I’ll see you guys when—hopefully—the Illuminati and the Cabal finally meet here on the ruins of 75 years of Marvel/Atlas/Timely publishing history.