After a bumpy first issue, Secret Wars #2 managed the re-deem itself with an intriguing premise and strong characterisation as the aftermath of the incursion began to reveal itself. The revelations continue in Secret Wars #3.
For those of you out of the loop, here is a quick recap. Everything died. The old multiverse; everything that ever was and ever would be died as the heroes of two worlds fought for survival. Doctor Doom, through a power play with the Beyonders, gained Godly powered and created a new Battleworld; a composite planet created from what remained of the dead universes. Doctor Strange acts as his right-hand; the Sheriff of Agamotto and through the Thor Corps, Doom’s will is enforced. There had been some level of confusion as to whether characters remember their past lives and whether the versions we saw were wholly new characters or stragglers from older universes. Thankfully this issue has done much to resolve that problem, making it clear that besides God Emperor Doom (it still sounds silly), and a select few confidants, this is all anyone present on Battleworld has ever known.
Issue 3 acts very much as a character study of our two good doctors. Strange has engaged in a unlikely alliance with Doom and it is clear that the two men have grown to respect each other over the course of their collaboration. As the universe collapsed around them at the end of Secret Wars #1, the two men came to an understanding. A final gambit to save the universe, one that came with a cost and one that forced them to play unlikely roles in a drama of their creation. Structurally, the book gives us a number of chapters which each focus on a different aspect of the lives of Doom and Strange.
It is apparent that Godhood has changed Doom. The man who was once a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur has become a loving deity. Doom truly cares about those under his charge and does what he feels is necessary in order to maintain the delicate peace he has created. He sometimes questions whether he should have excluded himself from the new universe and operated in the background. Doom often wonders if he is the only flawed thing left in “perfect” world he has created. The readers are left with a fascinating insight into the man behind the iron mask. Its also worth noting that we get a literal look behind the mask, in what to my knowledge is the first time that Doom’s face has been revealed to the reader. The issue takes Doom to a very interesting place which is compounded by the fact that though Doom has arguably achieved Godhood before, this is the first time he used it for something positive; creation. In a sense, he is the hero of the piece as he did what two universes worth of heroes could not: save the world. His conversation with Susan Storm is perhaps the highlight of the series thus far, demonstrating that fragility of a human who is given the burden of Godhood. This is a Doom, we haven’t seen before and needless to say, I like where Hickman is taking him.
(On a side-note, it is rather bizarre that Marvel have made Doom the central character of the series given their recent hostility towards the Fantastic Four franchise. Maybe Secret Wars represents a detenté of sorts for Marvel’s prodigal son.)
In a similar vein, Strange, in collaborating with Doom, has taken an interesting turn. He comes off as a weary soul who will do anything to maintain the peace that came at such high a cost. The issue portrays Strange as quite the Machiavellian. His relationship with Doom is fascinating, revealing what appears to be true fealty as opposed to the forced subservience the reader may have assumed to be the case. Strange believes that supporting Doom was the best course of action and though he keeps certain things from his master, that belief has not faltered. When surviving heroes from the old universe confront him about his alliance with the former-dictator, Strange remains largely un-phased noting “[Doom] is very good at playing God”. This is all sure to have a long-lasting impact on his relationship with the other heroes post- Secret Wars.
Ribic’s art is still quite brilliant, and the environments have an energy to them that perfectly encapsulates the science-fantasy setting. It perfectly complements the world-building that Hickman has engaged in when designing Battleworld and the feel of its central kingdom. That being said, problems remain in the facial expression department. For whatever reason, every now and then Ribic inexplicably draws a face akin to something out of an early 3D video game. In particular, he seems to have trouble drawing the female characters that approach uncanny valley levels of discomfort. Ribic is best when he is dealing with characteristically inhuman features (pun not intended) or masked characters. While this may sound negative, I do like Ribic (his steam-punk take on Galactus still astounds me), but the off-putting facial expressions can sometimes take me out of the story and when the story is this good that can be pretty fatal. Alex Ross’ cover art remains what all artists should aspire to, would that he could paint the entire book ala Kingdom Come.
Secret Wars #3 is a fantastic issue with the central conflict slowly building in the background. It does what many an event has failed to do (DC’s Convergence, I’m looking at you), it focuses on characterisation and how the event impacts those who experience it. It gives us reasons to care for characters you might not have ever seen yourself caring for. Most series would have rushed to give us the “war”, but Secret Wars has instead opted to give us reasons to give a damn. The “bad guys” may have begun to consolidate their position, but their actions in the preceding issues have been motivated by survival, not malice. It is a series that lives in the grey areas of morality. Doom may have originally sought out the Beyonders for selfish reasons, but his use of their powers is seemingly selfless. So what do our characters do? Do they seek to overthrow Doom; the man who saved reality? Do they destroy the balance that has been created? We are approaching the tipping point. I, for one, can’t wait to see where the rest of the series goes and where it leaves the Marvel Universe.