By Hussein Wasiti
“Thus, Battleworld. Thus…Doom.”
Secret Wars is epic and subversive, but not in the way that you might think. Instead of paying off Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four and Avengers runs in a traditional way that could involve swathes of characters from the 616 and the Ultimate universe going at it, quipping with each other and generally having a ball, Hickman went in another direction.
For context, I read Jonathan Hickman’s entire Fantastic Four/Avengers saga because of his upcoming X-Men relaunch with House of X and Powers of X, which started this week and will lead into a brand new era for the characters under Hickman’s direction. That sounded exciting, and it gave me the excuse to finally sit down and read what all the fuss was about. I came away with a lot—mostly repeated—personal exclamations that Doctor Doom just might be the greatest Marvel character ever created.
In the pages of New Avengers by Hickman, Steve Epting, and Mike Deodato, the Illuminati has been reformed. It’s a secret group consisting of Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Tony Stark, Hank McCoy, and Namor; the nature of the organization is that they understand to fix the world they may have to make choices that the Avengers would not be comfortable with. They have reformed to deal with incursions that have resulted in two Earths from different multiverses clashing into each other, effectively destroying them. Secret Wars is the culmination of this entire story, in which the Marvel Universe is essentially split asunder. While the heroes are fighting themselves instead of attempting to prevent the next, and final, incursion, Doom has taken it upon himself to fix the situation in the only way he knows how. He defeats the cosmic forces responsible for the incursions and saves the multiverse by piecing together everything he could and forming Battleworld, his own world where Doom looms large. He is God Emperor Doom, ruler of the world. This is how the second issue of the event opens, without any context whatsoever. It’s bold and effective storytelling by Hickman and event artist Esad Ribic, who provides career-defining work here.
I described the event as subversive earlier, and here’s why. Firstly, I find it amazing that most of this was essentially an alternate reality political story where Doom is trying to shield the truth from his family, a Reed-less Fantastic Four with no memory of Mr. Fantastic. If anything, this story is a treatise on Doom; he did what no other Avenger could do, and he single-handedly stopped the incursion threat. In a way, he outsmarted Reed Richards and outgunned Namor and Tony Stark. Marvel readers know that Doom is a special character and what this event did for me is recontextualize him, adding these new elements to the character that I didn’t think were ever there. He’s always talking himself up, constantly claiming that Doom conquers all. In Secret Wars, he puts his money where his mouth is in a way that he hasn’t done before.
This is what makes his inevitable conflict with Reed Richards the most compelling aspect of this book. Their relationship is a contentious one and Doom’s erasure of Reed from the minds of his family ranks among the most evil choices he’s ever made. This false utopia that Doom created is a response to the perceived condescension he believes he experiences under Reed Richards, and that’s just the perfect distillation of Doom as a character. As a result, this story is the ultimate realization of his ego. His wife is Susan Richards and his children are Val and Franklin Richards. His police force consists entirely of Thors. His subjects are Marvel villains like Mr. Sinister. When given the chance to remake the world, to save millions of lives…this is the best Doom could do? Installing these puppets to fuel his ego? It’s remarkable, consistent characterization on Hickman’s part.
The artwork by Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina is pretty magical. There’s a physicality to Ribic’s pencils and inks; you can see his brushstrokes on darker parts of a page, or on a character like Black Panther. I genuinely appreciated that element because it grounded the book, and made the event seem like a more personal story than some corporately-published money machine, which it ultimately is. Ribic’s Doom is a lumbering yet graceful figure, one in charge but also burdened by the great stress of his new role in life. Like a small part of him can never forget that what he did was unnatural, and the people he surrounds himself with would never associate themselves with him like that in the 616.
If you haven’t read this story and are interested in doing so, I do think you can just pick this up and enjoy it as a standalone comic. The first issue continues directly from the end of Hickman’s Avengers run, so some confusion may occur, but this is a gripping, intensely enormous, yet still character-focused affair that proves events don’t have to be bombastic shows of prowess. They can pay off years of storytelling in ways you can’t do in a regular series.
One last thing before I go, a bit of directionless, mindless speculation directed at the X-launch later this month. Doom’s white costume in Secret Wars is a very striking look, and I couldn’t help but notice that Magneto has a similarly-colored costume in the cover to House of X #1. What could this mean? Does this indicate some sort of Doom-level role that Magneto will occupy? Only time will tell.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Esad Ribic and Paul Renaud
Colorist: Ive Svorcina
Letterers: Chris Eliopoulos and Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Publication Date: September 2016
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Hussein Wasiti is a history undergraduate with an intense passion for comics. You can find his weekly writings over at comicsthegathering.com, and periodically on The Beat. He is on Twitter as bullthesis, and he lives in Toronto with his hordes of comics.