Written by: Johnathan Hickman
Art by: Esad Ribic
The first two issues of Secret Wars came sprinting out of the door with massive sweeping changes and a shocking look at the new universe of Battleworld. It’s been an explosive start and I’ve repeatedly praised the massive scope to this event for living up to the hype and feeling truly event worthy. This third issue slows things down a bit with a much smaller cast and focuses on Doom’s reign over this new world. Given Hickman’s knack for dramatic dialogue, this makes for a fantastic issue that despite having a much smaller, more intimate feel, still feels like a huge and powerful discussion of the nature of gods and men pretending to be gods.
Doctor Doom has been the real breakout star of this series, his new role as essentially god of the Marvel universe is such as simple concept that fits with the character’s nature and opens the door for an incredible amount of potential. This issue though casts him in a completely different light, one much more humble than we’ve ever seen him before. Purists may scoff at this, but the conversations between Doom and his councilors Doctor Strange and Susan about the nature of being a god and living up to expectations is fascinating. For years Doom has considered himself the greatest of all men, so actually putting him a position above them and seeing him try to live up to it is a great position to put the character in and actually makes him slightly sympathetic due to his flaws. He isn’t necessarily a total “woe is me” character though, some of his actions are still pretty twisted and evil, making Doom hard to pin down. He isn’t what I would classify as the series villain however, his portrayal actually seems in line with the whole philosophy of the Marvel Universe, flawed people attempting to be gods. This is therefore a very interesting road to go down and the slower pace and focus on character allows this to be truly explored in a way that feels grand and epic, fitting with the tone of the event so far.
Of course, this isn’t the only major Doom-centric thing that happens in this issue, Hickman also offers us a glimpse behind his mask, showing what he really looks like. It’s a huge task to undertake and Ribic certainly rises to the challenge. There are many potential avenues he could have gone down as it’s been a major point of contention throughout the character’s history, but without spoiling it I will say that it completely fits within the context of the story and works as a beautifully poignant moment. It’s shocking yet not gratuitous, making Doom look quite sad and sympathetic. Again, I’m sure there’ll be fans incredibly angry at this for “missing the point” or something, angrily hurling words like continuity around, however I’m totally fine with this reveal. It works excellently within the context of the story and is a huge stand-out moment of the issue. Hickman has consistently written Doom excellently in recent years, so if anyone were to handle this moment I’m glad it’s him.
Ribic’s talents are on display elsewhere in the issue outside this sure-to-be-controversial moment. As stated, this a very dialogue heavy issue and given that Ribic’s strength so far has been in grand, sweeping environments and huge action beats you’d be forgiven for thinking this issue will somehow be less impressive. Ribic’s art however has never been more important, as he has to render so many complex emotions in these quieter moments to fully translate the emotional weight of the script, and he pulls it off perfectly. Ribic has a really good eye for layout during these scenes, despite not much happening during these conversations, their full power is brought forward in the art and manages to fully engage the reader. There is a definite event quality even to this more low-key issue which I definitely feel should be commended.
Overall, Secret Wars is moving along at a perfect pace. The main story has remained excellently self-contained and is bringing a fantastic story about the nature of gods and men working against the backdrop of the Marvel universe. There are some more key elements introduced in this issue ensuring that this excellent pace and intrigue is sure to continue through halfway point of the series. It really seems that Hickman and Ribic are delivering an event worthy of the title. Everything on show feels like a natural continuation of Hickman’s work and there hasn’t been a single misstep so far. If you’re a Marvel fan who hasn’t been reading this series you should rectify this immediately. Secret Wars is managing to capture both the epic cosmic spectacle of an event comic while simultaneously delivering strong character moments that give the series so much weight and depth. If this continues, it’ll not only be the best Marvel event in years, but a modern classic for years to come.