And thus, the Marvel Universe of old is no more. But before you can sing, “And who are you, the proud lord said, that I must bow so low?” an All-New Marvel Universe is reborn to take its place: Battleworld! Or as I like to call it, the All-New Westeros.
“Secret Wars Part 2, Doom Messiah”
WRITER & DESIGNER: Jonathan Hickman
ARTIST: Esad Ribic
COLOR ARTIST: Ive Svorcina
LETTERER: Chris Eliopoulos
PRODUCTION: Idette Winecoor
COVER: Alex Ross
VARIANT COVERS: Esad Ribic; Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi; John Tyler Christopher; Kevin Nowlan; Yasmine Putri
ASSISTANT EDITORS: Jon Moisan & Alanna Smith
EDITORS: Tom Brevoort with Wil Moss
THE STORY: We open with two young men attempting to lift a hammer resembling Mjolnir, and only one is able to lift it. A battle-scarred veteran Thor tells the young man he’s proven himself worthy, and reveals his hammer was forged by the All-Father from one of the stars, and though each hammer has a different name, they all stand for Justice. As the elder Thor and dozens of other Thors welcome the young man into their ranks, they bow before a visage of the All-Father and God Emperor…Victor Von Doom!
Through the conversation between the newly appointed Thor and the elder Thor, we learn Doom created the heavens and the Earth, and divided the world into kingdoms. Each kingdom is overseen by an appointed baron from a noble house, and travel between kingdoms is discouraged unless one has permission. The Thors police the kingdoms, enforcing and dispensing Doom’s divine law and order from atop their floating citadel in Doomgard. Meanwhile, we see how in one of those kingdoms called Utopolis, Future Foundation Ministers Alex Power, Dragon Man and Bentley-23 arrive at the site of a supposed earthquake, where Moloid geologists have uncovered something which had long since been buried. The Foundation tell the Moloids the earthquake was caused an escaped Hulk, and the object which is uncovered is the rusted and derelict Life Raft from Secret Wars (2015) #1.
We then cut to the two Thors flying past the young Thor’s home kingdom of Higher Avalon and head towards the kingdom of Bar Sinister. Once there, they arrest the baron of that kingdom, Mrister Sinister, and teleport him to Doom’s home kingdom of Doomstadt and Castle Doom where he will stand trial. Standing guard over Castle Doom (which Doom has built around and carved his throne into Yggdrasil, the World-Tree) is Galactus, and in attendance at the high court are the other barons, while at Doom’s side are the “Sheriff of Agamotto,” Doctor Strange; Doom’s consort, Susan Richards; and Doom’s adopted daughter and leader of the Foundation, Valeria Richards. Jamie Braddock, Baron of New Avalon, has brought charges Baron Sinister ranging from conspiring with Baron Hyperion of Utopolis against Higher Avalon, hiring the “Iron Pirates” as smugglers, and saying Brian Braddock’s pregnant wife, Meggan, looked like a cow. Sheriff Strange finds Baron Sinister guilty, but the baron demands to face his accuser in the arena, as is his privilege according to his rank under the law. However, he doesn’t wish to face James Braddock but his brother, Brian. Brian agrees, eager to defend his house’s honor. The two combatants fight with energy-bladed staffs, and Brian swings his hard enough to decapitate Sinister. But Sinister is still alive and, despite being headless, easily defeats Brian.
After reattaching his head, Sinister is about to execute Brian when Doom intervenes. Doom tells of a group of “heretics and thieves” called the Silent Chambers who seek to depose him, and through various interrogations, prisoners have confessed the group is aided by a member of House Braddock. Thus in return for sparing his life, Doom demands Brian to give up the location of the Silent Chamers’ citadel, except Brain doesn’t know; however, James steps forward and admits he was the Braddock the prisoners spoke of. Doom threatens to tear down Braddock House as punishment, but Susan pleads to her beloved for mercy, so he instead appoints Brian as the new baron, sentences Baron Sinister to be flogged, and banishes James to The Shield–a protective wall in the south two-hundred and fifty feet tall and sixteen thousand miles long. With the trial over, Valeria shares with Sheriff Strange what the Foundation found in Utopolis. Because the carbon dating places the Life Raft before the creation of the universe, Strange considers the findings to be a possible Schism and places the site under quarantine.
At the Shield, the two Thors escort James to a rampart where he puts on armor reminiscent of Captain Britain. Knowing he faces certain death, James then leaps off the Shield into the Deadlands where he faces a horde of zombies lead by Venom. We also learn the Shield not only protects the kingdoms from the undead but also the Annihilation Wave and the Ultron A.I. When the two Thors return to Castle Doom, Sheriff Strange send them to oversee the quarantine in Utopolis. Once there, one the Moloid diggers gets curious and breaks the seal. As the Life Raft opens, Odin is hit by one of Corvus Glaive’s spears. Gravely wounded, the elder Thor tells the young Thor to flee and warn Sheriff Strange what happened. The Elder Thor is slain by another of Glaive’s spears and Terrax’s Ax, and out of the ship steps The Cabal. Apparently right before the final Incursion, Maximus stole blueprints of the Illuminati’s Life Raft which allowed the Cabal to build their own. Running a diagnostic on the Life Raft, The Maker states they were in stasis, space-time has been compressed and distorted while they remained unaffected. Proxima Midnight then drags one the Moloids before Thanos for questioning. When asked where they are, the Moloid says, “The High Born call it Latverion. Believers call it God’s Kingdom. But everyone else…we call it…Battleworld.”
THOUGHTS: For those who have read Jim Shooter, Mike Zeck and Bob Layton’s original Secret Wars mini-series, you may recall how Doctor Doom, out of sheer defiance and willpower, defeated the Beyonder and stole his power. With his newly-acquired omnipotence, Doom made that series’ version of Battleworld into a utopia, but was eventually undone and tricked into giving up his power. But imagine if Doom had won. Then imagine Doom not only using his powers to remake the universe in his own image, but to also make everyone, heroes and villains alike, worship him as a god. Well, imagine no more, because in Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s Secret Wars, Doom has done exactly that.
I speculated in my review for Secret Wars (2015) #1 that the possible creator of this new version of Battleworld could either be the Ultimate Reed Richards, aka the Maker, or Doom. Having now read this second chapter, it makes perfect sense for Battleworld to have been the product of no one else but the ruler of Latveria and archenemy of the Fantastic Four. Because only someone as egotistical and vain as Doom would “save the universe” by recreating it into a world based around a theocratic monarchy with himself as its absolute ruler. Doom also having Susan as his queen and adopting her kids after saving their lives is also icing on his cake, and shows he still can’t help but stick it to Reed out of pure jealous spite, even though he also has to assume Reed is also dead. Along with having Dr. Strange and whole army of alternate-versions of Thor under his command and willing to follow his orders without question, and Doom has achieved all but total victory from the outset. And I couldn’t me more pleased with the results.
Recently, Hickman stated he intended Secret Wars #2 to be the original first issue of the series, and it’s easy to see why. Just like Marvel Comic’s earlier events such as Age of Apocalypse and House of M, we are being introduced to an different comic book universe than the one we are used to. It’s an issue heavy on the exposition, yet Hickman manages to do this without coming across as the least bit obtrusive or dull. This is due to Hickman well-chosen decision to have the newest inductee to the Thors act as a reader’s surrogate, while another Thor acts as his and thus our tour guide. It’s a classic and tried-and-true storytelling device ideal for such fantastic and imaginary settings such as this.
It also helps that what little we’ve seen of Battleworld thus far is fascinating place with a clearly defined political structure. No doubt readers will see clear parallels between this and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (or A Song of Ice and Fire for you book lovers out there) and the story appears to wear those influence on its sleeves. Battleworld, like Westeros, is a confederation of sovereign nations governed by feudal lords and ladies who answer to a absolute monarch, along with their own political intrigues and schemes. Dr. Strange and Valeria are described as “the Hands of Doom,” implying a similar function as “the Hand of the King.” There is a wall protecting the realms of men from the armies of the undead and other monsters, along with a Night’s Watch of sorts in the form of the Thors. Even the locales are rooted in Medieval European architecture and proceedings, although the technology seems far closer to that of Star Wars than of the Middle Ages. There are also elements of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, and not just that the science fiction series also revolved around “at least a hundred major and minor houses;” this also has a mortal man hailed as “God Emperor,” the chapter title evokes the second book of the series, and the scenes in the Kingdom of Utopolis are depicted as a vast and alien desert landscape. Hickman isn’t just mining inspiration from the Marvel Universe library of comics, but also from classic and modern fantasy and sci-fi.
There are also some fascinating (and in some instances, rather disturbing) clues about what might have happened in-between issues. It’s clear through the dialogue that Battleworld, at least from the characters’ perspective, has been around for “generations,” long enough to have established it’s own religion ironically based around a form of Young Earth Creationism. Yet since we learn that space-time has been compressed, just how many years, if any, have actually passed? Strange, Susan, Franklin, Valeria, and the FF kids are from Earth-616, only older, but why are they all in league with Doom? Did they have their memories rewritten and altered as appears to be the case with all the inhabitants of Battleworld, or do they know the truth and joined with Doom of their own volition? Then there’s the Utopolis desert which not only appears to be composed of the petrified corpses of Celestials and other cosmic beings, which also appear orange-colored as the Thing; also, the Galactus-Sentinel in front of Castle Doom smolders, as if ready to flame on like one Human Torch. This is a planet which is literally built on bones of Doom’s enemies along with the remnants of the multiverse.
I’m sure there are those among you who are thinking that, based on the premise of Secret Wars alone, there is no way something like Battleworld will ever be permanent. You’re not supposed to. From the subtext of the story, Hickman hints that for all of Doom’s well-ordered cosmic fiefdom, it is far more fragile and unstable than it seems, even before the arrival of the Cabal. More than once, characters refer to debates about the official sanctioned origin of this universe, and there is strife both in the form of an underground resistance movement and among the various kingdoms themselves. The Shield is a clear Chekov’s Gun waiting to go off, as is the causal mention of Hulks frequently escaping to the mainland. Even the laws of physics are in chaos as shown in the scene which shows there are parts of Battleworld where gravity reverses. Also, if the Cabal have retained their memories of the old multiverse, then so will the survivors on the 616-Reed’s Life Raft, and if the “Kingdom of Manhattan” is where the Silent Chambers are based, then perhaps it’s made up of the Marvel 616 and Ultimate heroes, with those Life Raft survivors as its inner circle.
Yet world-building isn’t all this comic has to offer. Thanks to Esad Ribic’s art, there are scores of terrific scenes and jaw-dropping visuals throughout. Describing such imagery as the hall in Doomgard, Mr. Sinister’s ruby-quartz palace, the desert of Utopolis, and Doom’s castle which has a gigantic tree several miles high guarded by a burning Galactus just wouldn’t to them justice. The trial at Doom’s court is a treat for anyone who is a fan of Marvel’s various What If? tales and alternate universe stories. The moment where Jamie Braddock leaps down from the Shield and then faces and cuts through swathes of the Marvel Zombie with what amounts to a giant lightsaber hearkens back to Ribic’s work on Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder. Unfortunately, no matter how gorgeous his illustrations are, Ribic inexplicably appears to have serious problems drawing facial expressions. Given how many times he shows people slack-jawed and googly-eyed, I’m starting to believe Ribic has just one image he has on file of someone’s face which he uses to express surprise, fear, shouting, confusion, happiness—whatever the script calls for—then traces or copies it onto the page. That and someone scowling or staring blankly ahead. It’s a sore and distracting spot on otherwise spotless work.
Secret Wars (2015) #2 does seem like a lot to digest (the story itself is close to being fifty-pages in length), but for me, it was far more accessible and less confusing than the first issue. True, it raises all sorts of questions as much as it answers others, but it’s that sense of mystery which makes you eager for more. It also really piques my interest in seeing just how the Spider-Man Secret Wars tie-ins will fit now that we have some knowledge about the workings of Battleworld, along with what the final end-game will be once this is all over. Whatever the case may be, I find myself far more hopeful about this Secret Wars now than I was before.
- So part of the ritual in choosing who is worthy to wield a Hammer of Thor in this world means stripping down to loincloth underwear? Guess this is one of those rites of passage where you must forsake all your worldly goods and possessions to join the ranks of this police force, which would totally suck for the person deemed unworthy to be sent back home all-but naked.
- Time for a Marvel Easter Egg hunt. Among the Thors, we see what appears to be a Beta Ray Bill who doesn’t look like a horse, and Storm from What If? Vol. 2 #12. While over in Doom’s court, we have Madelyne Pryor, aka the Goblin Queen, from X-Men: Inferno, next to Sebastain Shaw and Selene of the Hellfire Club; Apocalypse, Holocaust, Abyss, and Mikhail Rasputin from Age of Apocalypse; and the Maestro from Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect. But in terms of overall obscurity, nothing beats seeing the goddess Khonshu—yes, Moon Knight’s Khonshu—being used as a reference to the “Forever Yesterday” story from the 1990s New Warriors series.
- Don’t you just love upside-down word balloons, especially since one would hear words the same way if you were standing, or in this case floating, on you head the same way you would right-side up? Still, to show how gravity is all wonky, it’s still a nice visual cue.
- So did the elder Thor just leave his magical flying goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, behind at Bar Sinister when he transported Mr. Sinister to trial? Also, if the Thors can teleport themselves all over Battleworld by writing Nordic runes on the ground–or least to and from Doomstadt–then why even bother flying? Doom sure as some screwy rules when it comes to his cops.
- “I am the law.” Okay, Doctor Strange, you are darn lucky Sylvester Stallone’s Judge Dredd is nowhere to be found on Battleworld, or he might sentence you on the charge of trademark violation. And just sure won’t stop me from doing my Judge Rico impersonation by saying “Laaawww?!”
- I must say, Mr. Sinister, as X-Men fans might expect, is one cheeky, sly bastard who almost steals the entire issue. But man, what is up with him having normal looking eyes with pupils instead of his usual glowing red ones? I guess Doom does not tolerate anyone appearing more menacing than him, even when that person is named Sinister. But speaking of Doom…
- Again with the movable lower jaw on the mask? Good grief, Doom, you’re still keeping that dopey feature? Also, you literally recreated the entire universe, yet you can’t remake and heal your own scarred face? Though maybe you did and you’re still wearing the mask because its a symbol of your unquestioning authority, so…um…can I take back what I just said before you banish me to The Shield? Pretty please?
- Take a closer look at the zombie horde in the panel right above the ones depicting Annihilus and his Annihilation Wave and Ultron’s army. Notice how one of them has four mechanical arms? Guess we now know what happened to Doc Ock’s body. Though knowing battle world, it’s probably, like the rest of the Marvel Zombies, used to be a Doc Ock from an alternate Earth.
- One of the questions some may have had going into Battleworld (aside from the hell is going on?) is just how big is Battleworld supposed to be? Well, as I mentioned in the recap, The Shield is 16,000 miles long; and, if you look at the Battleworld map, you can see that it circles the southern regions of the globe. To give you a sense of perspective, the circumference of Earth at the Equator is 24,901.5 miles, while the circumference through the poles is 24,859.82 miles. The degree of an Equator is 0, with 90 degrees of latitude both north and south of the equator, each approximately 69 miles apart. We see 22 lines of latitude on the Battleworld map, which means, if the poles are at 90 degrees latitude north and south, then Battleworld’s equator lies between Doomstadt (number 19) and The City (number 21). So with that information all you mathematical experts, what’s the size of Battleworld?
- Also, looking at the Battleworld map, it’s going to really suck for Namor since, unlike Earth, three-quarters of the planet’s surface is not covered by oceans.
- And again with the all white pages, Hickman? Are you also trying to turn the Marvel Universe into an East of West spin-off?