You know, it’s very odd when you have this third chapter of a series called Secret Wars, which takes taking place on a planet called Battleworld no less, and there’s not a single fight takes place whatsoever. None whatsoever. Not even so much as a punch. But oddly enough in the case of this issue, it turns out that’s a good thing.
“Part 3, The Eye of Doom”
WRITER & DESIGNER: Jonathan Hickman
ARTIST: Esad Ribic
COLOR ARTIST: Ive Svorcina
LETTERER: Chris Eliopoulos
COVER: Alex Ross
VARIANT COVERS: Marguerite Sauvage; Tomm Coker; Bob McLeod; Nick Bradshaw; Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi; John Tyler Christopher
ASSISTANT EDITORS: John Moisan & Alanna Smith
EDITORS: Tom Brevoort with Wil Moss
THE STORY: Sheriff Strange is updating God Emperor Doom of current events taking place on Battleworld, but Doom finds what he considers reports of minor transgressions dull and uninteresting, asking why Strange even bothers. Strange reminds Doom that while he is omnipotent he is not omniscient, and thus needs to be ready for potential threats. Doom states they will face whatever dangers may come “in the order they present themselves.” As they walk through Castle Doom’s garden, with includes a statue of the Molecule Man, Strange reminds Doom how he was given the opportunity to become a god himself but refused, yet reaffirms that in spite of their disagreements, he will continue to safeguard Doom’s kingdom because what little they have left of the old universe is so precious. Doom says this is why he’s not worried about minor threats because he knows Strange, as his Right Hand, will take care of them. It is then Strange receives “foreboding news from Doomguard” about the slain Elder Thor from last issue.
Strange later arrives at Utopolis and the site of the Cabal’s Life Raft, where the Thors, including the Young Thor, have already gathered around the body of their fallen comrade. Using a more powerful Eye of Agamotto created by Doom to replace the one he lost, Strange is able to learn about the Cabal, and that someone else is still inside the Life Raft. Strange orders the Thors to search for the Cabal, while the Young Thor stays behind as Strange turns the Elder Thor’s body into a statue. Then Strange orders the person still in the Life Raft to come out and it’s…Miles Morales, the Ultimate Universe Spider-Man! Turns out he sneaked aboard and hid on the Cabal’s raft during the Final Incursion; and to Strange’s shock, Miles still remembers what used to exist before Battleworld.
Back at Castle Doom, Doom and his consort, Susan Storm, are watching Franklin and Valeria play on the Galactus Sentinel. Susan used her invisibility to walk in the Great Square where she heard people singing a folk song about her brother. We learn that Johnny Storm tried to defy Doom, and that Doom would have killed him or exiled him, but left his punishment up to Susan. So Susan choose for Doom to turn her brother into the sun (which orbits around Battleworld instead of the other way around) as a means of honoring him. Doom points out how a religion has sprung up around Johnny, and Susan adds how some believed the reason Battleworld didn’t have a sun at first was because Doom was “offended at the idea of something shining brighter in the sky than him.” Doom agrees, but being no longer as prideful as he once was, thinks it would have been better if he had an “unseen god,” believing he is the one flaw in his otherwise perfect world. Susan reassures him that he’s not and, taking off his mask to caress his face—which for all Doom’s power he cannon heal—she tells Doom he should let the people see what she sees: “a god with great love for his people.”
Meanwhile, at the “Hidden Isle of Agamotto,” Strange takes Miles and the rookie Thor to another Life Raft which he’s kept hidden from even Doom. Strange tells the Young Thor to open Cabal’s life raft, and out comes the 616 Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Star-Lord, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, Jane Foster/Thor and Cyclops who is still possessed by the Phoenix Force. Though Strange is skeptical as to whether they’re really survivors from Earth-616, he’s reassured once Black Panther and Reed Richards also exit the Raft and is given the Illuminati greeting. While Reed laments the loss of his family, and the others ask where they are and what happened. Strange explains it’s been eight years since the Final Incursion, that Doom recreated the universe from the remnants of Incursions, mostly from the 616 Earth, and (due to the passage of time and synchronizing the histories of different Earths) no one remembers any worlds having ever existed before Battleworld. Strange also confess he found their ship three years ago and choose not to open it. When he hears this, a furious Reed demands to know why Strange allowed Doom to have absolute power as a god, and why Strange kept them “buried alive” in the Life Raft for so long. Strange answers it’s because “[Doom] is very good at playing God.”
At a campfire, the Cabal debates their next move. Some want to split-up to explore Battleworld, while others remark how they should have kept the old Thor alive as he knew more than the moloid. Thanos, however, says there was “no need for mercy” and that the answers to their questions will find them. When he’s asked why, Thanos tells them “Because, I am looking up.” And soon the rest of the Cabal sees what Thanos sees…several Thors descending from the sky to face them.
THOUGHTS: Superhero comics, buried among its stories of people with extraordinary powers wearing colorful costumes, are often about power. It asks us questions such as what is power, and what does it mean to have it? If we had the power to do something, does that mean we should also use that power? Does, as fans of Spider-Man are well aware, having great power really mean one must have greater responsibility, and more importantly, responsibility to what? For writer Jonathan Hickman, it isn’t just the more power one has, the greater the responsibility—constant sacrifice is required to do the greater good. Yet what is often ends up being sacrificed is the truth; and while those who have power believe they must know all, they also believe secrets must be kept to protect others and mostly themselves. But what those with power tend to forget is no matter how deep the truth is hidden and buried, it one day can be uncovered and exposed to the light.
It’s this pursuit of truth in face of absolute power which becomes a driving and persistent theme in Jonathan Hickman’s latest chapter of Secret Wars. In every scene, someone is either trying to give information, looking for or demanding answers, or trying hide the truth under the belief they’re doing so for the good of the realm. This makes what is a story consisting of nothing but dialogue and exposition not only but essential. After all, having been properly introduced to Battleworld in the pages of Secret Wars (2015) #2, along with its various kingdoms, people and conflicts in the first of many tie-in comics, it only makes sense Hickman should start giving us much-needed answers. Some of what we learn, such as Doom really being omnipotent and creating Battleworld out of the fragments of the multiverse, confirms what we may have already suspected. Others, such as how old Battleworld really is, comes as much of a shock to us as it does to the other characters. Yet writer Jonathan Hickman still maintains enough mystery to keep us intrigued and makes a tacit promise that, as Thanos states, the answers will come to us if we let them.
This also allows for some rather fascinating and insightful character exploration of the two people behind the running of Battleworld, Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom. In the opening scene, Hickman shows us that in spite their philosophical differences, years of being allies united for a common cause have developed into mutual respect and friendship. Yet, there still is an unspoken tension between them. Strange in choosing servitude over absolute power, of enforcing the rule of law, is emblematic of traditional superhero roles. Yet he is an enforcer of what amounts to a benevolent dictatorship in a society entirely based around keeping it’s citizens ignorant of the truth as possible, while at the same time preoccupies himself with the most banal intelligence gathering in the name of security. There is also a subtext that Strange, in spite of his loyalty, is growing more concerned (and perhaps a bit resentful) over the Doom’s approach to leadership, and perhaps for good reason as we see Strange is the one who is doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes maintaining the affairs of the state. It is also ironic that the person who insists of informing Doom of even the most “banal” of goings on in Battleworld should also be keeping from him what is potentially the greatest threat to his rule.
Yet the irony is Doom doesn’t really want to know everything that is happening on Battleworld. Matter of fact, the man who did everything to obtain god-like status, who succeed in creating the world he wanted for himself, is now at the point in his life where he wishes he can just walk away and live on in obscurity, believing it would inspire greater inspiration and faith among his subjects. Even more ironic is that Susan, a woman who has the power to become invisible, is the who persuades Doom to be a ruler who walks among his people and be more available to them instead of living a life of seclusion. That their scene together concludes with us seeing, for the very first time in fifty-three years, what Doom’s face really looks like under his mask, serves to underscore this is no longer the vain, self-important despot which has defined Marvel’s most notorious and infamous super-villain. Doom may still be an aristocrat, but he’s also achieved true nobility, and I have the sense that, towards the end of Secret Wars, he may make the ultimate sacrifice and relinquish his paradise by restoring what the universe once was to save it.
However, although Doom may be a different man, Reed Richards is not, and Hickman is laying the groundwork for an emotionally contentious reunion not only between himself and Doom, but with his wife who has now fallen in love with his bitter enemy. For Susan to move on under the belief she’s lost her husband is understandable, but that she’s willingly in a relationship with Doom, that her devotion to him has become even greater than towards her own brother is shocking. Sure, her request to have the Human Torch become Battleworld’s sun is a kind of mercy and does immortalize him in ways even she couldn’t have imagined, but one can’t help but ask how exactly did she turn out like this? (UPDATE: In an interview with Comic Book Resources, Jonathan Hickman has confirmed the Susan Storm who is Doom’s consort and wife is not the 616 Susan, that this Susan and the Johnny Storm who became the Sun are from a different Earth, and confirms the 616 versions of Susan and the rest of the Fantastic Four and the Future Foundation really did die back in issue #1. That certainly put a whole new wrinkle on this, not to mention says a lot about Doom on a psychological level to say the least. Not to mention make things for Reed all the more harder in seeing an alternate version of his deceased family with Doom.)
Therein lies the major flaw with this comic. Because although Hickman provides us with answers, and we’re provided hints about what has taken place before the events of this story, he doesn’t give us any context for them. We know Strange, Doom and even Susan are doing everything they can to keep up and protect Battleworld but we don’t understand why they seem to see as a “precious” or “perfect” world that needs to be maintained and protected. We know they had to make sacrifices given the statue of the Molecule Man and the fate of the Human Torch, but knowing what happened is not the same thing as witnessing what happened. For all their talk about what happened sometime during their eight years on Battleworld, we’ve never had the chance to see and experience them for ourselves as readers. No matter how excellent as the characterization and dialogue are, it’s difficult to have any emotional investment in it other than surprise or shock.
Even Esad Ribic’s art seems to have it’s occasional misfire when providing a proper emotional beat in spite of all it’s gorgeous splendor. One can smile in childlike wonder when we see Franklin and Valeria Richards playing with glowing building blocks on Galactus’ hand, or look upon in awe, excitement and dread as we see a squadron of Thor descend from cold night sky as Thanos coldly stares back, but unfortunately, he still misses wide of the mark when it comes to facial expressions. The scene when Strange tells the 616 Life Raft survivors Doom is the one who saved everyone and is now the god of Battleworld, for example, is intended to make us be as dumbfounded as the survivors; only we cannot help but laugh because the wide-eyed, open-mouthed look of their faces, which Ribic appears to always draw, is so over-the-top. Same for when we see Reed lament over what he believes is the death of his wife and children. The only exception is the wonderful close-up of Doom’s unmasked face. Although, Ribic does have a nice deft touch of subtlety, such as when the young Thor, when face-to-face with the Jane Foster Thor, begins to put away his hammer.
Secret Wars (2015) #3 doesn’t have the same impact as issue #2, in part because having seen how Battleworld works and some of its regions in series like Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows and Ultimate End, the strangeness of it has become more familiar. It does, however, give us a glimpse into the personalities of Battleworld’s leading hierarchy, and challenges us on our notions of leadership and control. After all, based on what Doom was able to salvage from the rubble of the multiverse to create this new world, he might be, as Strange concludes, the only person capable of keeping order over otherwise chaotic, war-torn realms. That includes, as Hickman appears to argue, keeping and maintaining secrets from the people, no matter how fruitless such as task may be. Because truth, no matter how painful, somehow finds a way to become uncovered.
- Hey, look at that! Hickman is using chapter headings on his white pages! Now they don’t seem nearly as useless as before.
- Some folks after reading issue #2 wondered if Doom really did have any godlike powers. Well, we get a more impressive display here in that, with a mere wave of his hand, Doom can rearrange rooms so that what used to be solid walls have open archways to luscious gardens. At least if Doom did decide to abdicate being ruler of Battleworld, he’d make for the perfect interior decorator and/or landscape artist.
- “…bad guys, because who else dresses that way?” Well, technically superheroes also can dress that way, Miles. But I’ll forgive you because that bit of sarcasm was one of the best lines in the entire comic.
- So I’d be very curious about what the lyrics for “The Man in the Sun” are, not only because it’s apparently a folk song about the Human Torch, but whether it sounds like “The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon” nursery rhyme, or R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon.”
- And it look as though the “The True Face of Doctor Doom” painting the Black Cat stole in Superior Foes of Spider-Man will now be worthless after all. That is if Doom really is going to follow Susan’s advice and show his face in public. Then again, given how his face looks, maybe everyone will mistake him for Deadpool.
- Okay I’ve got to ask: what is up with Carol’s hair? One panel it looks she’s sporting a Mohawk like Storm, but then the next panels we see it’s all slicked back that it looks like she has a mullet and blow dried her hair in a wind tunnel.
- Did Reed put on some black bikini briefs while he was in hibernation aboard the Life Raft? And it sure looks like it shrunk while he was in deep freeze, or his stretching powers were acting up again, if you know what I mean.
- “Well, you sound like an idiot…” Yeah, I’m going to have to agree with Carol in that Strange going into some daft postmodernism when he questioned whether or not the 616 survivors were from the 616 with his whole “Am I really who you think I am” and “Are you really you?” spiel. That being said, it does raise an interesting question in light of Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate End tie-in. Since the Spider-Man who exits the Life Raft really is from the 616, then who is the 616 Spider-Man in Ultimate End? Does Ultimate End #1 take place after Secret Wars (2014) #3, or is the supposed 616 Spidey in Ultimate End a fabrication created by Doom? For that matter, was everyone on Battleworld with the exception of Doom, Strange, Susan and her kids, the survivors on Reed’s Raft and the Cabal, created by Doom?
- “It’s quite simple, really. Exactly how well do you remember eight years ago?” Nice try, Strange, but while it’s true to say that memory is fickle even for relatively short periods, the moment you said how “it took constant effort to synchronize the new history with the old” and how Doom “controls the areas of study in the ministries of science,” all of that’s fancy talk for “Doom and I brainwashed everybody.” Course if you said that, you wouldn’t have looked nearly as good, would you?
- So what exactly are the Cabal roasting and eating when making camp, a…goat-cow? Or is that a cow-goat? Does it taste like lamb chops or sirloin? Although since it seems to have drumsticks, maybe, like rattlesnake, it tastes like chicken?