Secret Wars #3
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Esad Ribic
Colors by Ive Svorcina
Published by Marvel Comics
The third issue of Marvel’s mega-event drastically slows down the pace of the series by focusing primarily of Sheriff Strange’s hunt for the sinister Cabal and Doom’s existential identity crisis. But, even though the scope of the issue is much narrower than previous installments, the progression of the overall story continues uninterrupted, and everything that the mini-series is building to is left unhindered. Given the tendency of event comics to drag on needlessly (Secret Invasion, and Age of Ultron), seeing Secret Wars proceed into its middle act with full steam is a good omen of things to come.
Readers have already been introduced to Battleworld, and for those not reading any of the tie-ins, the main series does a good job of conveying the intricacies of all these semi-autonomous regions. By the second issue of the series, the bad guys have been let loose and plan on wreaking havoc, and now, Mr. Fantastic and the survivors on his life raft have now been introduced to the series. As usual, Jonathan Hickman does an exemplary job of introducing the major players in a quick, but impactful manner. The way that the plot has been rolling, is that it has been building on itself by re-introducing the major characters in this new environment; instead of focusing too much on this brave new world, everyone is immediately thrust into the catastrophe which helps to prevent the series from stagnating.
These middle issues are the most crucial of any cross-over because it’s at that point in the series where stagnation and idleness take hold. The biggest problem with Secret Invasion was that the Avengers spent five issues in the Savage Land doing absolutely nothing. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like Secret Wars will be afflicted by this as not only is the scope of the crisis much, much larger, but also, the true conflict of the series has yet to be revealed. The fact that the latest issue can still be as engrossing as it is without the setup of any overt conflict is a testament to Hickman’s plotting skills. The most pressing concern, besides Doom questioning the validity of his rule, is that The Cabal is running around Battleworld despite their distinct lack of evil plan.
The mark of a good comic book writer lies in their ability to write compelling villains. Chris Claremont could write Magneto in his sleep, Geoff Johns singlehandedly reinvented Sinestro in a Milton-esque Lucifer way, and Grant Morrison provided the canonical Joker. Similarly, Jonathan Hickman gives readers the quintessential Dr. Doom, a Dr. Doom who is arrogant but self-aware, and omnipotent yet not omniscient. The walking assortment of contradictions that is Dr. Doom is seen most clearly in the twisted mercy he showed the Human Torch. Mysteriously enough, all readers know for certain is that the Human Torch once spoke out against Dr. Doom. Instead of killing him or sending him to The Wall, Doom relented and deferred to the Invisible Woman, who then insisted that her brother be punished by illuminating Battleworld as its sun. Certainly, it’s a plot point that will be revisited at some later point in the series, but as it lays right now, Johnny Storm’s imprisonment and servitude is arguably the highlight of the entire series so far as it encapsulates not only who Doom is, but summarizes his relationship with the rest of the Fantastic 4.
Readers have already seen too many alternate realities where Susan Storm and Dr. Doom are an item, no doubt a plot device used to illustrate the similarities between Doom and Mr. Fantastic. During his run on Fantastic Four, Hickman also played with the idea of Dr. Doom admiring Johnny Storm, especially after his death in the Negative Zone. Reed’s response to the news that Doom runs the world is another priceless moment, one that again harkens back to older paradigms, specifically Hickman’s last issue on Fantastic Four where Doom becomes a god in his own right. What it comes down to is that Secret Wars #3 is an issue that succeeds on the strength of its great characterizations; and so far, that’s been a field where Hickman has never let readers down.
The third issue of this eight issue series is not without its flaws however. Once again, Esad Ribic’s facial expressions are a little too cartoonish. Every time a character is surprised or shocked, their eyes pop out and look like they’re going to fall right out of their head. Certain characters have jaw dropping moments that literally look like their jaws are going to hit the floor. The surreal artwork of Ribic doesn’t really work for an issue that’s centered on conversation and exposition.
The only misstep on Hickman’s part is the reveal of Doom’s face, something that should never be exposed to readers. The mystery of Doom’s scarred face should remain just that as readers should question whether his face is actually mangled and charred or if his face is only slightly scarred, but because of Doom’s own vanity he hides his imperfection completely. Overall, it’s a minor gripe in what is otherwise another exciting installment in Marvel’s most ambitious event.