Secret Wars (2015) #4 Review: Stillanerd’s Take

SecretWars(2015)#4--coverREED RICHARDS:“I can’t help but notice you decided to put yourself on a throne.”
PETER PARKER/SPIDER-MAN:“Yeah. We’re all absolutely shocked by that. Just floored.”

So what happens when a tyrant and self-proclaimed god is reunited with the world’s smartest but useless man with a body made of rubber? You get the latest chapter in Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s would-be magnum opus known as Secret Wars, of course.

“Part 4, All the Angels Sing, All the Devils Dance”

WRITER & DESIGNER: Jonathan Hickman
ARTIST: Esad Ribic
COLOR ARTIST: Ive Svorcina
LETTERER: Chris Eliopoulos
PRODUCTION: Idette Winecoor
COVER: Alex Ross
VARIANT COVERS: Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi; John Tyler Christoper; Tomm Coker; Erica Henderson; Jim Starlin; Andy Smith & Chris Sotomayor; Chris Samnee & Matthew Wilson
ASSISTANT EDITORS: Jon Moisan & Alanna Smith
EDITORS: Tom Brevoort with Wil Moss

THE STORY: As the Thors and the Cabal fight each other in Utopolis, on The Hidden Isle of Agamotto, Doctor Strange explains to the Life Raft survivors the necessity for Doctor Doom’s rule; that Battleworld is an “unnatural world” centered around constant conflict, and thus “needs an god with a firm hand.” The Raft Survivors, however, think Strange sounds insane. When Reed asks how Doom was able to do this, Strange matter-of-factly tells them that when he, Doom and the Molecule Man faced the Beyonders, they killed them and took their powers. However Strange, when faced with the opportunity to become a god, “ran from it” while Doom embraced it. When Miles Morales laments how his world and everyone he knew is gone, Strange reassures him and the others parts of the various Earths are still left, and that while Battleworld does fall short, it should still counts for something. But Cyclops, still possessed by the Phoenix Force, disagrees, saying if one plays at being god and didn’t have the world they wanted, the responsible thing would be to “burn it down and raise up something better.” Strange starts to protest when the Young Thor’s hammer glows—a call of distress from the other Thors.

With the battle against the Cabal going badly, one of the Thors prays to Doom for help. Doom, along with Susan Storm and Valeria, head to Castle Doom’s map room to see the battle. Though Valeria, through her calculations, concludes the battle between the Thors and the Cabal is unpredictable (especially as Thanos gives off higher energy levels than his other incarnations on Battleworld) Doom, as far as he’s concerned, doesn’t feel the need to intervene, especially once Strange arrives along with the Life Raft survivors. Valeria states this makes the projected outcome even less predictable, and Doom, upon seeing the Life Raft survivors, states how they are both “disquieting” and “familiar.” Then Susan spots Reed Richards, someone she has never seen on Battleworld before, yet feels there’s something “special” about him. And when Doom sees Reed, he states how he’s finally found him after years of searching Battleworld for some version of him. Doom tells Susan to send for surgeons in preparation to treat the wounded Thors, and he teleports to the battle.

Reed compliments Doom for creating Battleworld, and while Doom gloats at being able to save the “unsaveable” from total annihilation when Reed and “his ilk” could not, he is impressed Reed managed to survive. When Reed points out how Doom has placed himself on a throne, Doom remarks how he already had one by birthright, and has now placed himself “a good bit higher than that.” Thanos, however, is unconvinced, saying how one playing at god shouldn’t be afraid to admit it, to which Doom responds by saying “I am God,” then causes the ground to explode beneath them. Doom says he’ll allow them to time to accept him as their god and bow before him. Cyclops, however, blasts Doom with the Phoenix Force, the heat so intense it melts Doom’s armor onto his body, proclaims Doom is still just a man, and that all worlds, including Battleworld, belong to him and his fellow mutants. But before Cyclops can finish, an instantaneously-healed Doom grabs Cyclops by the throat, tells him his “dream” of mutant supremacy is over, then snaps his neck.

SecretWars(2015)#4--p.20Meanwhile, Strange casts a spell which scatters the Cabal and the Life Raft survivors to different realms of Battleworld. Strange tells Doom he did this to save them, knowing they would refuse to submit to him. When Doom says they will try to undo everything they accomplished, especially Reed, Strange states how, because they are people they really knew from “the old world,” he won’t allow Doom to destroy them and refuses to bring them back. Strange also says that while he didn’t tell Reed everything, he knows Reed will be more determined to stop Doom once he learns how Doom “stole” Reed’s family, adding that in spite of becoming a god, Doom is still afraid of Reed. And with that, Doom turns Doctor Strange into ash.

THOUGHTS: If any of you have read any film or literary criticism, no doubt you might have come across the term “three-act structure.” Being the attentive readers that you are, you may have figured out that when someone talks about “acts” they are talking about the parts which make up a story, and thus conclude a “three-act structure” is a story is made up of three parts. There are some schools of thought which believe this model is too restrictive, that not all stories can be so easily divided into three acts (William Shakespeare’s plays, for example, used a five-act structure). But really, when we talk about a “three-act structure,” it’s just a fancy way of saying every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Also, no matter how many acts a story has, it’s typically agreed the first act is what establishes the setting, the characters and the conflict which drives the action forward, which also means ideally it’s one of the shortest parts of the story.

Now you might be reading all this and saying, “Gee, thanks for the brief lesson in English Lit, Stillanerd, but what does any this have to do with Secret Wars?” Simple—even though this comic is part four of an eight-part series and at the half-way point of the story, it feels we’ve only just finished the first act and are starting into the second. Think about it: we’ve had one issue showing us the Final Incursion and thus explaining what happened to Marvel and Ultimate Universes, a double-sized issue giving us a guided tour of Battleworld, another issue which brought back all the survivors of the Final Incursion—and yet only now is Jonathan Hickman getting into the main conflict of the story, which is those survivors, having been scattered all across this patchwork planet, having to find a way to fix things while being hunted by Doom. That, my friends, is what we call very, very, very slow pacing.

Not that this doesn’t allow for some decent characterization. Once again, Hickman explores the psyche of both Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom, this time with the focus on how they respond towards the survivors while also continuing his overall theme on what is the purpose of having power. As we see in this issue and the last one, Strange has chosen to side with Doom out of a sense of obligation and gratitude for his saving what was left of the multiverse, that even though Doom is a tyrant, he’s the person with the power to keep Battleworld together. But there’s also the implication another reason Strange collaborated with Doom is out of both regret and fear, regret over having refused to take the Beyonders power as Doom did, and fear that, because Doom has become a god, he knows there’s no way he can oppose him. His decision then to save the survivors of the Final Incursion isn’t just an act of defiance, but an act of repentance, and that his duty lies more with protecting what little is left of the universe that once was—which the survivors are—more so than Battleworld’s God.

SecretWars(2015)#4--p.14Hickman also has a perfect understanding of Doom and his motivations. We see than in spite of becoming all-powerful, of having literally everything he ever wanted, Doom can never let go of his jealousy of Reed Richards. Over the course of Secret Wars, we’ve seen Doom, in having become a god, has also grown despondent and disinterested, willing to delegate positions of authority to others such as Strange, Valeria and the Thors. His deciding to intervene in the fight between the Raft survivors, the Cabal and the Thors only when he saw that Reed was still alive speaks volumes. Having claimed Susan as his wife and her and Reed’s children as his own already showed the level of Doom’s envy, but Hickman shows just how deep it really is with the suggestion that Doom has also altered the memories of Reed’s family to the point they don’t even know who he is. Doom, under Hickman, isn’t just a jealous god but a petty one, as well. The conflict between Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom has been one of Marvel Comic’s longest-running and classic rivalries, and with Secret Wars (2015) #4, Hickman continues this tradition in what appears to be the culmination of their longstanding feud.

When it comes to the relationship between Doom and Strange however, it isn’t nearly as effective. With Doom and Reed, we have over fifty-years of comic book history from which to refer (including The Fantastic Four which Hickman himself used to write for), so one has clear understanding where these two are coming from and why they’ve been enemies over the years. We don’t really have this with Doom and Strange as it pertains to their time together on Battleworld. That’s because, as I stated in the review for Secret Wars (2015) #3, we’ve never actually seen their time together on Battleworld. Yes, we’re told they are friends united in the common cause of maintaining order in Battleworld, but we’ve never seen how that friendship between them developed. So when Doom kills Strange as punishment for his defiance, what little sense of regret, betrayal and loss is undermined. The only emotional resonance from the death of Doctor Strange is shock and little else. (And considering how he’ll be getting his own series post-Secret Wars there’s not even that.)

SecretWars(2015)#4--p.17More impressive, however, is the death of the Phoenix-possessed Cyclops. Granted, like Strange, we suspect Scott Summers will be revived somehow after Secret Wars, and it clearly was a means for Hickman to show just how powerful Doom has become, if not also a “take that” to the current state of the X-Men comics. Nevertheless, the scene itself has some terrific dramatic monologues and fantastic visuals by Esad Ribic. In general, Ribic’s art in the beginning of this issue still has the same strengths and weaknesses as before, that while perfectly rendered, his figures look far too rigid and posed, and appears to have only mastered two to three facial expressions. There are also some panels in which it seems to be at least one or two instances where Ribic may have swiped from the last issue. But once Doom arrives at the scene of the battle, Ribic art suddenly takes on a whole new life. Ribic is able to capture both the awesome and terrifying display of Cyclops as the Phoenix when he starts to literally melt Battleworld’s “God Emperor,” and when Doom grabs Cyclops throat had holds him aloft, you can see the strength and power he truly has. If only Ribic didn’t feel compelled to have Doom’s mask have a movable lower jaw; it’s far better when Doom’s mask is expressionless with all the emotion being projected from his eyes.

SecretWars(2015)#4--p.5There are other moments within the comic which are particularly noteworthy. Hickman is able to capture the sense of despair in Miles Morales’ response to learning his entire world has been destroyed along with his family and friends, and Ribic having Spidey offer a comforting arm really sells it further. There’s also some choice, referential humor. Spidey’s sarcastic reaction to Doom becoming the self-proclaimed ruler of Battleworld is priceless, as is Maixmus’ response to the Maker—who is Reed Richards from the Ultimate Marvel universe—when the later believes Doom is addressing him instead of the 616 Reed. It’s a subtle jab which further underscores how it isn’t just any Reed who is the source of Doom’s ire but the original and (as some would argue) the real Mr. Fantastic.

Still Hickman did take too long when it came to setting the stage for the main conflict of Secret Wars, and based on the promotional material of the “All-New, All-Different Marvel” hinting the status-quo post-Secret Wars, what deaths we see here carry little meaning as they otherwise should. Even so, the inevitable conflict which Hickman has finally established now has the potential to make the rest of Secret Wars even more dramatic. More intriguing, however, is where exactly on Battleworld have the various survivors been sent, though that also means one will have to buy various tie-ins to find out. Still, in spite of its imperfections, Secret Wars (2015) #4 is still a well-crafted and enjoyable comic, even if you, like the cast of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, would wish Hickman would “just get on with it.”



  • What’s this? Only one all-white page with grey text in a Jonathan Hickman comic? Wow! Maybe Hickman is starting to realize comic books don’t need to be divided into “chapters” with novelesque title pages, after all?
  • Okay, I realize the Cabal are supposed to be an extremely powerful group of villains. After all, it not only includes the likes Thanos and Namor, but also a Herald of Galactus from an alternate universe. Even so, they’re all up against an entire group who all have the power of Thor. One would think Doom’s cops wouldn’t be having this much trouble taking these guys down, or be so desperate as to pray to their “All-Father” for help. Still, guess had to be some way of advancing the story.
  • Star-Lord? Is that a toothpick in your hand, or are you offering Dr. Strange a joint? Seriously, what is Peter Quill supposed to be holding?
  • There have been a lot of different incarnations of Thor over the years. There’s been Beta Ray Bill who looks as if he has the head of a horse. There’s that time when Thor was transformed into a frog as seen during Walter Simonson’s classic run on Thor. But a Thor with the head of a warthog? (Or is that a boar?) That’s definitely got those other Thunderers beat.
  • In case some of you don’t know, Black Panther and Namor have had a very antagonistic relationship over the past few years. Namor has been responsible for destroying Wakanda at least twice now, and T’Challa did try to kill Namor during Hickman’s “Time Runs Out.” So having a panel in which T’Challa goes after Namor is a nice bit of continuity, but you kind of wish there was more words exchanged between them. Heck, it would have been nice to see more of the actual battle between the Cabal and the Raft Survivors as opposed to having it all be watched and commented on by the family of Doom.
  • Something else just occurred to me about Cyclops’ death. Shouldn’t he have already ceased to exist? Because don’t forget, the premise of Brian Michael Bendis’ All-New X-Men comic is that the younger versions of the original five X-Men (Cyclops, Jean, Beast, Iceman, and Angel) have been brought to the present. And, as hinted in the X-Men crossover “Battle For the Atom,” if any of those younger versions are hurt or killed, then the older versions of themselves will cease to exist. Well, if the teenage versions of the original five were still on Earth during the Final Incursion and none of them survived, then how is the grown-up Cyclops still alive? Maybe this is why Hickman should have used Magneto instead, especially since mutant supremacy is more his deal anyway.
  • I think it’s safe to assume Miles was sent to Manhattan and will probably show up in Ultimate End. Also, we already know Star-Lord will show up in Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde, and I think it’s a safe the Jane Foster Thor will appear in Thors. And maybe it’s the 616 Thanos over in Infinity Gauntlet, which would make sense given how that comic is supposed to be taking place behind The Shield which keeps all the most dangerous threats out. So the question is where was the 616 Spider-Man sent to? My guess is he’ll show up in Spider-Verse to be reunited with the All-New Web Warriors (Spider-Gwen, Spider-UK, Anya, Spider-Ham, Spider-Man Noir and Spider-Man India). Though it would be nice if he popped up in Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows.
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(18) Comments

  1. Al

    @#15: Thank you @#17: Couldn't they just be resurrected again though as opposed to clones? Like remember how in Secret Wars I Doom resurrected everyone almost by accident. We haven' confirmed them to be clones or anything right?

  2. Frontier

    @#14 - Ultimate End is after the Final Incursion and on Battleworld. The only ones we know are for sure clones , if there are clones at all, is Cyclops and Spider-Man since they were on the Raft and Cyclops bit it in this issue. But yes, yes it would.

  3. asdf

    #10: Have to full disagree on that point, because this isn't about just a "fight" against Doom. This is now being heavily implied to be centering around a final battle between Reed Richards and Doom. And Reed's greatest power isn't his elasticity, but his mind, the only thing Doom is still scared of. If Richards (And i'm honestly unsure if it might not be Ultimate Reed, not 616 Reed who does the job) defeats Doom, it's hard to simply call that a contrivance. #14: It's definitely not before the final Incursion, since Thor Corps shows up at the end of issue 1, and first half of issue 2.

  4. Stillanerd - Post author

    @#5 Al -- a) Well, as Frontier said, Al, the various parts of Earth Dr. Strange is taking about more than likely refers to the "kingdoms" of Battleworld as shown on the map from issue #2 and the various Secret Wars tie-in minis. b) That's exactly what it appears to be. c) I think it supposed to mean they're from the original universe before Battleworld. Remember, prior to the Life Raft Survivors and the Cabal, Doom and Strange were the only ones, as far as they knew, who survived the Incursions with all their memories intact. Everyone else on Battleworld Doom has "saved" or resurrected as it were have had all their memories altered and have essentially been brainwashed into thinking Battleworld is all that has ever existed. Hence why it's a big deal for Strange to find that he and Doom are not the only ones who have survived with their memories intact. d) Yeah, Hickman did say this isn't the original Susan, Franklin, or Valeria. However, if you go by the comic only, the subtext does indeed appear to be this is the original 616 Susan, Franklin, and Valeria, only they no memory of Reed, hence Strange's line about how Doom "stole" Reed's life. Which, I agree, if that really is the case, it's downright evil. Not to mention, as I said, just HOW jealous and spiteful Doom really is towards Reed. But even if these are, indeed, alternate versions of Susan and Reed's kids, it still doesn't make what Doom did right. Which is exactly the point. e) Yeah, I think everyone reading Ultimate End is scratching their heads over how Ultimate End works in relation to Secret Wars, so you're not alone on that one. And yes, I agree about Cyclops. @#6 George Berryman -- Absolutely. And let's not forget the character who has had the most long-term damage, Hank Pym.

  5. Al

    @#11: But wouldn’t everyone be recreated because then they’d all be dead. And isn’t Ultimate End before the final incursion? And doesn’t that just make everyone a friggin clone basically? Or can’t these just be the original versions only resurrected by Doom with altered memories? Well you say just blame Bendis but seriously couldn’t him just editorially messing up or not caring explain the discontinuity issues rather than the horrid Doom clone idea?

  6. Jack

    How well did Hickman's FF and Avengers sell? I tried a couple of Hickman's Avengers TPBs, and didn't care for them. I thought they were humorless, and weak on character appeal. Even though the scenarios were sci-fi bizarre, I didn't register much "yee-haw!" zing. But maybe it's just me. Just seemed like a very complicated and long chess game.

  7. Metalfan

    This is why I don't like modern comics.Dramatic scenes to highlight oh so snarky dialogue.P ages and pages of people just talking, and lack of any kind of coherent plot or storytelling. Secret Wars 1984 was hardly a masterpiece, yet it kept my rapt attention, which is more than I can say for this series.I almost dropped it with this issue, except the variant Action Figure cover was available. Marvel continuity actually ended in early 89 anyways.,

  8. Frontier

    @#5 - For A, I think the AU's represented by Battleworld Domains are about it in terms of what dimensions were saved. For C I think the idea is, and this is just my own understanding of things, that Doom saved the citizens of those respective domains and recreated anyone who wasn't there or that couldn't be "rescued" as it were. That's how we can have a 616 Cyclops and Spider-Man in Ultimate End while the real versions are shown in the main Secret War book. For D, Hickman has definitely confirmed that the FF shown in Doom's court aren't the 616 FF, and that the 616 versions died on the raft. Now, this FF could have had their own Reed that Doom wiped from their minds, and that's why Sue was able to somehow recognize and point out our Reed when she saw him, but I somehow doubt it. And we still have yet to see what happened to Ben, I think. For E...just blame Bendis.

  9. cronotose

    I have to say, when a series decides to utilize an all-powerful villain (or at least one wildly, dramatically, more powerful than the protagonists), I kinda check out. Writers like to do things like Solus destroying Cpt. Universe Spidey to make them a credible threat in a short space of time, but what it really does is show their hand and write them into a corner. When this happens, we now know that there's no way the conflict can end in anything other than plot contrivance. As it sits, who can stop Doom? If nobody can stop Doom, why should I care about how the conflict unfolds? This is especially problematic when we already know where most of these characters are going to end up in the aftermath. Having this many characters to write dilutes a lot of the potential for character moments as well. That its called "Secret Wars" in the first place goes further to imply that most everyone won't remember these events after they transpire.

  10. Nick MB

    @8 Well, the original review was B+, that's hardly a slating, and I've seen plenty of good reviews on other sites too. Do think Secret Wars has probably had the best reviews of any of Marvel's events for a while.

  11. Jonathan

    @7 - You are not alone. I am loving the heck out of this whole SECRET WARS event. It's been very enjoyable and fun for me.

  12. Jim Wojton

    I may be in the minority here, but so far I'm really liking this series. Compared to other "universe changing" event series of the past few years, Secret Wars has held my attention. I fervently hope Hickman can maintain the interest level through to the end, and not have this conclude with a whimper and an ultimately unsatisfying resolution ( like so many of Bendis' series).

  13. George Berryman

    @5 - About Cyclops... this is the double-edged sword of allowing writers to just do f-ck-all with characters to fit story instead of having characters react in ways consistent with their history. A writer takes it to the extreme and sometimes even moves on, leaving damaged goods in their wake that are often irreparable. Cyclops is one of these. Looking at Spider-Man stories, we find the Lizard. Mark Millar nearly turned Tony Stark into that but Tony had the good fortune of being rescued by a hit movie, and was able to be rehabilitated from "douchebag" back to "loveable douchebag."

  14. Al

    A few questions: a) When they say various parts of the alternate Earths remain do they mean EVERY alternate reality or just the ones we know. E.g. is like Marvel Adventures still out there somewhere on Battleworld? b) So Doom has the exact powers of the Beyonder like he did in Secret Wars I? Because that could account for how he resurrected people. I’ve said this before but he did that in Secret Wars I and the Beyonder did it to the New Mutants back in Secret Wars II c) When Strange says the survivors are from the old world does that mean everyone on Battleworld aren’t the real deals from their own universes or is it just a fancy way of saying the ore-Doomworld time? d) You said Doom’s altered the FF’s memories but didn’t Hickman say they weren’t the original FF but AU versions? Cos if Doom’s been intimate with Sue whilst messing with her mind that is monumentally effed up. e) I’m still lost in regards to how this meshes with Ultimate End? Help Also I think if anyone doesn’t get an opinion on what the responsible thing to do is, it’s Cyclops. STFU until you didn’t abandon your wife and child for your dead ex-girlfriend and later murder your father figure. Speaking of whom I doubt Cyclops will stay dead even without a reboot. He’s’s an X-Men and coming back to life for them is called Wednesday. Also he literally has a cosmic force which allowes the user to get resurrected.

  15. Diannah

    @Stillanerd, I have to agree with you about the pacing. And the problem with pacing isn't just this series, but in most of the Battleworld series. Spider-verse is driving me nuts with it. Not-so-ironically, A-Force hasn't suffered from this problem, and it's my favorite book of the entire Battleworld event. Time for Marvel to get a clue...

  16. Jack

    And a truly omnipotent Doom would = no conflicts whatsoever. He has to have weaknesses, so he can err, fail, or do whatever it is they are going to do to bring everything back.

  17. Stillanerd - Post author

    @#1 Jack -- That's a very good point, Jack, and it's something that gave me pause as well. Because you are correct in saying if one is omnipotent, or all-powerful, then being omniscient, or "all-seeing," should be a given. I think the general idea Hickman was getting across is that even though Doom has near-limitless power, he's still restricted in having to use his five senses, meaning he cannot see everything that's happening on Battleworld at all times. Still, I do think Hickman could used different words to get across the same idea. Also, let's not forget that even though Doom has the power of the Beyonders, keeps referring himself as a "god" and is even worshiped like one, it doesn't actually make him "God" as he claims. As the various characters in this issue, from Cyclops and Thanos point out, Doom is still a man who is playing at being a god. Granted, he's a man who has literally remade reality by condensing it all into a single world made from the remnants of other Earths, and brainwashed all of it's inhabitants into thinking Battleworld is the only thing which has ever existed, but he's still just a man all the same. That's probably also why there's been no mention of the "One-Who-Is-Above-All" either, as He tends not to interfere with what's going on in the comics, save for that one issue of Sensational Spider-Man during Back in Black, of course.

  18. Jack

    Hey, Mike, could I suggest a nerdy nitpick of my own? I am a minister, and p/t used to teach theology at a college. In one of the earlier issues, Strange tells Doom, "You're omnipotent, but not omniscient..." That's an impossibility. To be omnipotent means to be able to do anything. No limits outside of your own inner character and will. So to be omnipotent would mean you would also HAVE to be omniscient, since "knowing" is something you do, and your knowing abilities would be all-powerful. It's a tiny detail, but I noticed it. I also notice that Marvel seems to have chosen to forget about their own "One-Who-Is-Above-All", eh?

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