Secret Wars has been a fantastic big event up to this point. Even the tie-in issues have been entertaining. It has been a long time. Like since Civil War that I have enjoyed a Marvel big event this much. Hickman is crafting his grand opus which is serving as the perfect conclusion to his career at Marvel. I may be highly critical of Marvel’s post Secret Wars plans. However, I plan on enjoying every single bit of this ride on Secret Wars before I end up purging most of the Marvel titles on my pull-list.
Words: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Esad Ribic
Colors: Ive Svorcina
Story Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with the Thor Corps battling Thanos and his cadre of villains.
We cut to Sheriff Strange filling in Reed Richards, Black Panther, Carol Danvers, Spider-Man, Cyclops, Star Lord (all from the 616 universe) and Miles Morales in on how it was the Beyonders who were destroying all of the universes.
Strange explains how he and Doom killed the Beyonders and took their power. That Strange stared into the pool of omnipotence and retreated. That Doom did not. That Doom inherited all of the Beyonders’ powers and became God. Doom then created Battleworld out of the remnants of the other universes. That Battleworld is a place of testing. Of constant conflict.
Our heroes all think that Strange has gone insane. Strange says that there are times when Battleworld falls short of what he had hoped for. But, at least Battleworld exists.
Phoenix powered Cyclops asks why Strange hasn’t burned Doom’s world down and rebuilt something better in its place? That such is the burden of true power like the power of the Phoenix. Suddenly, the young Thor interrupts the discussion and shows Strange that his hammer is glowing. Strange says that their attention is needed elsewhere.
We hop back to the brawl between the Thor Corps and Thanos and his team of villains. The Thor Corps is sustaining damage and is starting to lose the battle. A boar-headed Thor then begins praying. We cut to God Doom on his throne with Valeria and Susan Storm by his side. An astral image of the boar-headed Thor appears. The Thor begs God Doom for his help. That the threat they face is greater than they had previously thought.
Doom then uses his powers to see through the eyes of the boar-headed Thor so he can see the battle. At first, Doom dismisses Thanos and his villains as just mortals fighting mortals. Mere gnats before God Doom and not worthy of his attention. Valeria disagrees. Valeria says that while Thanos and his villains are analogs that we have seen before. But, there are slight variables of these analogs they are seeing. See the same variables enough times then it becomes a constant.
We then see Strange and the newly recovered 616 heroes appear at the battle scene. Susan then points out Reed Richards. Susan says that there is something different about this Reed. That this Reed is special. Doom is stunned. Doom says that he has been looking for a version of Reed Richards on Battleworld since the creation of the world but has never found one.
We cut to Doom then teleporting to the battle scene. Doom immediately calls out Reed Richards. Reed says it is amazing what Doom as done with Battleworld. Doom gloats that he did what Reed and the others could not do. Doom says that he is a miracle worker. But, since Reed also survived that Reed must be a miracle worker, too.
Reed replies “We built a ship. All we saved was ourselves.” Reed says that he is not surprised that Doom put himself on the throne of this world. Doom replies that his birthright placed in on the throne. That what Doom is now is so much greater.
Thanos says that if one plays at being a god then they should not be ashamed to say it. Doom then says “I am God.” Doom then takes out everyone with a massive explosion. Doom says that he is a merciful God and will give everyone a chance to adjust their old way of thinking and bow to Doom and embrace him as their God.
Phoenix Cyclops says that he is the real God. Cyclops starts blasting away at Doom. Cyclops says that he is mutant. That he is more than man. Doom begins to buckle under Cyclops’s furious attack. Cyclops says that he is the future. That this planet belongs to him.
Doom then rallies and grabs Cyclops by the neck. Doom then snaps Cyclops’s neck and kills him. Doom says the Cyclops’s future is a dream and that the dream is over.
Strange then casts a spell and blows all of the 616 universe heroes, Miles and Thanos and his horde far away from the location of the battle. Only Doom and Strange are left at the scene. Doom asks Strange why he cast all the heroes away. Strange replied that he know that the heroes would never bow to Doom and that Doom would end up killing them. Doom says that the heroes are going to try to overthrow him. That the heroes cannot help themselves and act any differently.
Strange replies that those heroes were people that they knew from the old world (616 Universe) and that he lived a lifetime with them and did great things with them. Doom asks “Have you and I not done great things together, old friend?” Strange says that they have but that he cannot be a part of this. Doom commands Strange to bring the heroes back to the location. Strange refuses to do so.
Strange says that he did not tell Reed what Doom as done. But, that Reed will probably immediately start working on how to defeat Doom. And how much harder will Reed work once he realizes that Doom stole Reed’s entire life? Strange says to Doom “Even with all of the power you are still afraid of him.” Strange then says that Doom should be afraid of Reed.
Doom then reaches out and kills Strange. Doom then glowers over Strange’s remains. End of issue.
The Good: Secret Wars #4 was another beautifully written issue. However, like many things that are beautiful, this issue was a bit of a shallow read. Having said that, there was still plenty to enjoy about Secret Wars #4.
Hickman’s narration continues to be wonderfully written. This is one of Hickman’s greatest strengths. He is a talented word smith who can deliver narration almost on the level of poetry. The ornate nature of Hickman’s language is amazing. It is so incredible that Hickman can essentially do nothing but repeat well worn plot points and the reader will be so impressed with his narration that they won’t notice that they are simply in a state of stasis.
The dialogue in Secret Wars #4 is as equally well written as the narration. Each character has a well-developed external voice. What is even more impressive is the almost lyrical flow of the dialogue. At no point does the dialogue ever read stilted or wooden. The words flow back and forth between the characters in such a pleasant fashion.
No, nobody talks in a faux indie-conversational style voice. Nobody talks as eloquently in real life as Hickman’s characters do in this issue. But, who cares? I love getting well constructed and beautifully written dialogue. It does not need to be “realistic” conversational dialogue for me to enjoy it.
The character work in Secret Wars #4 is as fantastic as the narration and the dialogue. Hickman continues to deliver fully fleshed out and well-developed characters in this story. Strange, Reed and Doom receive the majority of the character work in this issue. However, even the other characters are nicely developed given the limited amount of panel time that they receive in Secret Wars #4.
Cyclops is a good example of a character with limited panel time still coming across as well-developed. Hickman nails Cyclops’s air of superiority born of him being a mutant and possessing the power of the Phoenix.
The strong character work led to some flat-out amazing chemistry between the various characters in this issue. In particular is the chemistry between Cyclops and Doom in their showdown, the chemistry between Reed and Doom and, lastly, the chemistry between Strange and Doom. What is truly enjoyable was all of the subtext that Hickman was able to create in the scenes between these characters.
Hickman is able to construct many levels to each scene. There ia the obvious dialogue in each panel. Then there is the action in each panel. Then there is the second layer to the story that is conveyed in the character work and chemistry between the characters. It is so difficult to deliver scenes that have a second layer of meaning beneath the surface of the scenes. Many writers fail in this endeavor. Hickman most assuredly does not.
The fight scene between Cyclops and Doom ia much more than just a bit of action to liven up a slowly paced and dialogue heavy issue. Hickman uses this fight to also demonstrate to the reader exactly how powerful Doom has become. The reader already knows that the Phoenix force is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. And that any character wielding the power of the Phoenix automatically becomes on the of strongest characters in the 616 universe.
By having Doom weather Cyclops’s massive attack and then dispatch Cyclops in such a quick fashion effectively highlights just how immensely powerful Doom has become. Hickman is able to establish Doom as a villain with a power level far exceeding anything that the reader may have seen up to this point. This is an effective way of making the villain seem truly unstoppable.
Also, this scene was effective in showing that Doom is not simply being is normally misguided self with an overly inflated ego. The fact is that Doom truly is God. And that our heroes are in for the greatest battle in the history of the 616 universe.
The short scene between Reed and Doom was incredibly powerful. It is stunning how much incredible chemistry and subtext Hickman could cram into such a short scene. What was the most enjoyable about this scene was the way Reed is utterly humiliated in the face of his long time rival. Hickman has Reed shamefully admit that all he was able to do was to save himself from the destruction of his universe. On the other hand, Doom saved an entire world.
What was great was the subtle way in which Hickman conveyed this shame to the reader. There was no need for over the top gloating from Doom or from a long-winded angst ridden rationalization from Reed. It was simply conveyed through the interactions of these two characters.
I also loved how Hickman used this scene to illustrate that this is not simply the case of Doom trying to be King of the world. That is something we have seen many times in the past. No. Hickman emphasizes that Doom’s position in Secret Wars as something far beyond what the reader has ever experienced. This helps to convey the uniqueness of Secret Wars as well as the feeling that our heroes are up against a truly unstoppable villain.
I enjoyed the fact that Hickman has Doom acting out of fear at the end of this issue. The fact that Reed can still instill fear in Doom effectively highlights how Doom has always wanted nothing more than to be Reed. That it is not just simple hate that powers the rivalry between Doom and Reed. No. Like most rivalries it is born out of jealousy.
Doom has always been jealous of the adoration that Reed has received from the general public. Doom has always been jealous of Reed for his marriage with Sue. Doom has always been jealous of Reed for his loving and caring family that Reed has been blessed with. Hickman is able to demonstrate that even in trying to attain godhood and supplanting Reed as a husband to Sue and father to Valeria that Doom still will never be the man who Reed Richards is. That Doom will always come up short when compared to Reed.
Then there is the scene with Strange and Doom in the final scene of Secret Wars #4. It was beautifully written and a testament to the incredible amount of chemistry that Hickman was able to create between these two “old friends” in just four issues. This was a powerful scene and the reader could feel the disappointment in both Strange and Doom about the two old friends having to cross paths in such a fashion.
Despite Strange forging a friendship with Doom and truly believing that Doom as God of Battleworld is the right thing, Hickman shows the reader that Strange is still a hero at his core and could never engage in anything that would lead to the death of his friends. The best part was that Strange still would not raise his hand against Doom. It was his complex relationship with both sides of this battle that made this scene so compelling.
Hickman ended Secret Wars #4 with a powerful moment with a simmering Doom upset over having to kill Strange and angry that Reed has appeared on Battleworld. This is a solid hook ending that gets the reader excited for the next issue
Esad Ribic continues to crank out some fantastic artwork. Secret Wars #4 is another gorgeous issue. Ribic continues to give Secret Wars an epic scale. This is exactly how a big event should look. The level of detail that Ribic packs into each panel is sumptuous. Ribic also is able to inject a wonderful amount of emotion into Hickman’s story. The character’s facial expressions are excellent. The reader can feel the Strange’s sadness, Reed’s shock and Doom’s seething anger.
The Bad: Secret Wars #4 suffered from plotting and pacing issues. This issue suffered from Game of Thrones syndrome. If you have every watched an episode of Game of Thrones then you know what I am talking about. You fire up your DVR and begin watching the latest episode. You get absolutely zero plot advancement as the story meanders about with no real purpose in mind for 90% of the episode. But, then you get a couple of “shocking” deaths and the writers hope that the viewer did not notice that nothing really happened at all during the episode.
That is exactly what happens with Secret Wars #4. Hickman regurgitates information that we have already received over the course of the past three issues. Hickman wastes the first 15 pages of Secret Wars #4 re-treading well-worn ground about how Battleworld was created, Doom as God, Strange and Doom’s relationship and Thanos’ appearance on Battleworld. Hickman then delivers actual new plot progression with the final 5 pages of this issue.
The lack of new plot development makes this issue a big of a dull read. It also makes this issue a thin read as the reader blasts through the first 15 pages of this issue since nothing new or interesting happens. Secret Wars #4 is the first issue where Hickman’s usual problems with plotting and pacing reared their ugly heads on this big event. It felt like Hickman lost a bit of his focus in this issue. It also seemed that Hickman hit the pause button and began to stall and burn some pages in order to stretch Secret Wars out over eight issues rather than a more proper length of six issues.
Another quibble with this issue was the odd move by Strange in saving Thanos and his band of villains at the same time Strange saved his fellow 616 heroes. I guess it is possible that Strange had to save everyone with his spell and that the spell would not allow him to be selective in who he saved.
However, if that was the case then it is incumbent upon Hickman to have Strange explain that fact. Otherwise, the reader is left confused as to why Strange would save villains like Thanos and his crew. This seemed like a momentary gap in internal logic.
Overall: Secret Wars #4 is a beautiful issue in terms of the quality of writing and artwork. However, the rampant decompression of the story makes it hard to justify spending $4 on an issue that only delivers 5 pages of new content.