We’re back for the fourth 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. 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.
Last issue, the discovery of the villainous Cabal’s life raft inspired Doctor Strange to inspect a similar life raft he’d found years ago, which turned out to contain the survivors of Earth-616/the Marvel Universe. Along with Miles Morales, who hitched a ride on the Cabal’s raft, they got filled in on the current status quo of Battleworld (much to their shock) and then, at the end, Thanos was about to fuck up a bunch of Thors.
“All the Angels Sing, All the Devils Dance” doesn’t seem to be a direct reference to any song or poem or anything, but is definitely discussing this issue’s clash between the Life Raft and the Cabal. In this issue, shit really starts to go down.
Pages 1-2: What’s interesting about this sequence (and I guess this ties into Doctor Strange being a man of magic and not science) is his insistence that the multiverse was built by a higher order—the “alien, ethereal other thing” he’s talking about here is, for all intents and purposes, God. In a way, the mercurial definition of a higher being is an ongoing theme of this book, and I suspect we won’t get any solid answers as to the new universe’s cosmology until next issue, which is supposed to finally be the real story of how Doom and Strange and Molecule Man created Battleworld.
Page 3: It’s interesting that Strange refers to Battleworld as a place of testing, because usually tests are proctored. What is everyone being tested for? Does Doom have an end-goal beyond just running Battleworld indefinitely? It certainly seems so.
Page 4: This is the short version of what we’ll presumably get next issue, which I imagine will have a lot more nuance to the full story, and perhaps tying up some of the cosmic threads left over from Hickman’s New/Avengers run. I’m also certainly curious to find out just how Doom managed to murk the entire race of Beyonders.
Page 5: “Well, we tried.” – Stephen Strange, 2023
Page 6: Here we get Cyclops in full mutant revolutionary/spitting hot fire mode, basically sounding like a fourteen-year-old from 1973 who listened to a couple of Sex Pistols albums. Note the extensive pencil crosshatching on Phoenix, which kind of backs up my Kirby-dots-of-Secret-Wars artistic-shorthand theory. We’ll see how that turns out later. Meanwhile, Rookie Thor’s walkie-talkie blows up because Thanos is committing a whole shit-ton of 187s on some not-so-undercover cops.
Pages 7-9: Boar Thor? Boor? Thboar? Anyway, one thing this posits is that even the biggest badasses on Battleworld aren’t as badass as their templates in the original Marvel multiverse. We know there’s a Thanos rolling around in the (very very good) Infinity Gauntlet tie-in series by Dustin Weaver and Gerry Duggan, but Valeria straight-up says here that 616 Thanos could end him. I also love how Doom completely fails to recognize that Ultimate Reed is a Reed; I can’t wait for them to actually finally interact, since they’ll probably end up being total asshole mask bros.
Pages 10-11: As far as I can tell, Doom’s issue here is that he just doesn’t even recognize the people who used to make up his Earth anymore. This has been commented on in a bunch of places, but I absolutely adore that T’Challa and Namor immediately broke off from everyone else to go at it. I love how much those two dudes just hate the shit out of each other.
Page 12: That look on Doom’s face in panel two is him having a Kevin-Smith’s-Batman-style “involuntary bladder spasm.” One thing that threw me off here is the “4” on Reed’s chest matching the ones Sue and Johnny (in flashback form) have—I went back and checked #1, and that’s the same logo style they had then, too. I guess for some reason they switched outfit designs between the end of their solo series and the start of Secret Wars, because there’s nothing like the end of the world for sartorial self-reflection.
Page 13: RICHAAAAAAAAAARDS!
Page 14: I love the interplay here between Reed’s absolute respect for what Doom’s accomplished and his total disgust for the way he’s managed it since. I also think that, from here on out, every Reed Richards moralistic soapboxing should have Spidey there as his hypeman. Also, is it me or are Doom’s eyes like … not as fucked up as they should be considering the shitshow that was his face we saw last month?
Page 15: Oh shit, here comes another goddamn Scott Summers Monologue about changing and evolving again.
Page 16: I seriously love how Hickman is writing this as like a joint parody of Phoenix cosmic jabbering and Cyclops’s mutant revolution schtick that Bendis basically outright said in a recent comic was just Scott Summers having a nervous breakdown in public.
Page 17: So yeah, what’s the nature of Strange’s spell here? Is he just teleporting Panther and the rest of the Life Raft crew away (as we see on the next page), or is he also making sure they remember the events of Battleworld in the at-this-point-hypothetical Marvel Universe to come? I also like how Doom switches up Cyclops’s “future” rant to being about a dream, since it gets us the deliciously meta panel on the next page.
Page 18: There’s a lot to unpack in that first panel, since obviously “the dream is over” is a double entendre for Xavier’s dream, and there’s a third meta-level here where this is basically the death knell of the X-franchise’s supremacy at Marvel Comics. (However, that’s thrown off somewhat by the fact that the death blow is being delivered by Doom, who’s similarly in Fuck-You-20th-Century-Fox Purgatory until corporate synergy aligns for the return of his IP. Strange scattering everyone else conveniently sets them up to pop into tie-in titles. I wonder if he sent them to specific or random places, and how he chose them? He’s not Eldrac or Manifold—and then finally grows a spine after eight damn years.
Page 19: Strange knows, same as Doom, just how fucked up everything got by Reed Richards even being there. There were no Reeds on Battleworld before (due to the fact that most of the multiversal Reeds died in Hickman’s Fantastic Four run) and now he’s got two to deal with, one of which he doesn’t even know about.
There’s a real resonating emotional reality to these scene for me, as someone who’s been stuck between one very good friend and another group he used to be part of but now hates. In an obviously less dramatic way, I’ve been where Strange has been here, having to make this kind of choice, and it totally sucks.
Page 20: I didn’t get vaporized for it, though, so that was a plus.
Thanks again for reading, and see you next month as we finally get to pull back the curtain on exactly what happened between New Avengers #33 and Secret Wars #2. What was in the big bomb that Doom threw at the Beyonders? What happened to the Molecule Man? How did Strange turn away from omnipotence? Where did Doom’s Fantastic Four come from? All will be answered in August! I hope.