We’re back for the fifth 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 Cabal threw down with a bunch of Thors, prompting the Earth-616 life raft crew to show up with Sheriff Strange and take it to the streets of Utopia. One of the Thors prayed to God Doom to intervene because the fight was becoming a shitshow, and—after being convinced of the gravity of the situation by Valeria—Doom showed up and proceeded to freak Right The Fuck Out after realizing that a Reed Richards survived the collapse of the multiverse. Doom wanted everyone to surrender, everyone said hell no, Strange teleported everyone all across Battleworld (leading into a number of the tie-ins) and then Doom murdered his best friend in cold blood.
Page 1: This is, what, the second issue to kick off with Doom’s bullshit creation myth? Big ups to the amazing Final Fantasy armor Susan’s rocking, though. I’m not sure where the old Thor comes from; I think he’s a new creation for this issue.
Doom’s entire creation myth is also weird since it never explains where Doom and Strange themselves came from, and nobody ever seems to question that.
Page 2: So now Strange has a statue next to Owen Reece—who, we find out later this issue, isn’t actually dead. It’s weird that Doom’s memorialized him even though nobody would have ever remembered he existed — as far as people know, Doom’s always had all of the Beyonders’ power himself, and Strange hung out with him. They have no idea about the third guy, and Doom doesn’t mention him in any of his creation stories — so why the statue, especially since there’s nothing to memorialize and he’s, you know, still alive?
Also, how come all the Thors look the same? They’re so diverse over in the tie-ins, hell, even earlier in this series.
Page 3: I’m interested to find out if Franklin is actually Doom’s biological kid here, or if he’s related to one of the Reeds from the Council who got murked by the Mad Celestials back in Hickman’s Fantastic Four. Either way, this seems to be pretty clear foreshadowing that he’s going to beat the shit out of Doom before this is over. To be honest, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if the series ended with Franklin sacrificing himself and using the Beyonders’ power to remake the multiverse.
Page 4: I really dig the panel transition from page 3 here, with the credits in the middle. I know people love to shit on his white pages but I really love the way Hickman uses them to create a sense of time elapsing—it’s cinematic while still using the language of comic books, with the pre-credits pages being a kind of cold open.
Pages 5-6: Doom is really bad at lying to his daughter and really good at self-denial.
Page 7: And now, finally, we get to find out exactly what happened between the end of New Avengers #33 and the beginning of Secret Wars #2. The lack of pencil shading in Owen’s crib kind of puts the lie to my theory about that representing the Beyonders’ power, though.
Page 8: So, it looks like Owen’s still around, holding Battleworld together while Doom uses the Beyonders’ power to rule it. I’m not clear on if Owen has the Beyonders’ power too, or if he’s just using his own natural, considerable power set to keep Battleworld in place.
Page 9: I realize Hickman had to get the exposition in here somewhere, but Doom and Molecule Man just standing around having a conversation recapping a bunch of shit they both already know to each other is kind of weird.
Page 10: Note that the speech Victor starts giving about the high cost of living is lifted directly from him justifying himself to Valeria a few pages ago. The dude’s memorized his own denial so he can spout it out at people, and Owen’s just telling him to shut the fuck up here. I’ve always enjoyed how much Doom just stays out of the Molecule Man’s way out of this weird mixture of fear and respect even though Owen’s traditionally a pretty weak-willed guy.
The idea that the Beyonder created Molecule Man actually isn’t new to this series; Jim Shooter first revealed it back in the utterly bizarre Secret Wars II, which also featured the Beyonder curing a bunch of working girls’ STIs for a mob employer.
Pages 11-13: And now, we finally find out what was in the bomb that Doom tossed at the Beyonders: a whole bunch of Molecule Men, which explains why a whole ton of universes died at once in that last issue of New Avengers, as well as why the Black Swan in the Cabal right now went apostate from Doom’s original religion. The Black Swans were supposed to murder Molecule Men, but eventually found out Doom was keeping a bunch of them alive; as a result, they ended up just going full-in on destroying planets rather than killing Molecule Men to save them. Meanwhile, they sent all the Molecule Men at the Beyonders, which destroyed them but also blew up every universe that those Molecule Men came from.
Page 14: I feel like there’s probably something in Doom forgetting to bring him food—Doom’s holding things together, but he’s not nurturing them. The problem with Doom’s plan on Battleworld is that there’s no next step; he’s planning on just running this patchwork planet forever at status quo, but he’s omnipotent, not omniscient.
Page 15: Always great to see some of the crowd from Hickman and Dustin Weaver’s long-delayed S.H.I.E.L.D. series, such as the Night Machine (Nikola Tesla) and Nostradamus here. (Speaking of refugees from that book, a Vitruvian Man version of Leonardo da Vinci is hanging out in Kieron Gillen, Filipe Andrade and crew’s excellent Siege miniseries about defending the Shield right now.) It’s always weird to see this Doom-mandated funhouse mirror of Reed Richards’s Future Foundation, dedicated to hiding rather than unearthing the truths about the universe.
Pages 16-17: This, of course, is where the Foundation figures out that Strange was getting his power from something that wasn’t Doom, and therefore that Doom isn’t, as he claims to be, the font of all things.
Page 18: We finally check in on our scattered life raft protagonists: Jane Foster chilling with the other Thors in Doomgard; Black Panther and Namor teleported, together, because Doctor Strange is a hilarious asshole, to Egyptia, which should be a pretty entertaining throwdown next issue; Captain Marvel’s stuck in Bar Sinister where literally everyone seems to be Mr. Sinister, and Black Swan somehow ended up near Doomstadt—which means she’s near the Molecule Man, the dude she’s supposed to be dedicated to killing, and who Doom was just musing about the possible demise of.
Pages 19-20: And, of course, Thanos is at the Shield (which we now know for sure from the Siege series is in fact Ben Grimm), ready to bust it open, which we’ll likely see both in this series and in the Siege title.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next month—the series seems to have settled into a monthly release cycle, and with the addition of December’s oversized #9 it looks like we’re going to be reading it for a few months into the new Marvel Universe debuting in October. As long as it keeps Ribic on every page, I’m certainly game.