After last month’s lethargic issue, Secret Wars is back to form with issue five as secrets are revealed and plans are set in motion for what will assuredly be one of the wildest climaxes in the 76 year history of Marvel Comics. Although the middle issues lack the dynamics of the first three, the fifth issue in particle, validates itself by filling in the final gap between Hickman’s run on Avengers/New Avengers and Secret Wars, and by furthering his pieces across the massive chessboard Hickman has constructed.
Examining the events of this installment of Secret Wars, purely on the surface level, the biggest revelation is that the Molecule Man is still alive and is one of three people (besides Doom himself, and the recently deceased Dr. Strange) who know how Dr. Doom defeated the Beyonders and his ensuing apotheosis. For anyone who has read Avengers and New Avengers, this reveal shouldn’t come too much as a surprise, but the real treat lies in Doom’s acceptance of divinity as it conveys the character’s patented arrogance and messiah complex, while at the same time coloring him as shortsighted and oblivious as to the implications of his own actions.
Much like Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, Dr. Doom has taken to altering the perception of history to better suit his needs and tighten his power base. He’s kept the very much alive Molecule Man hidden away from everyone else, as well as lying about the true cause of Dr. Strange’s death. It’s interesting to see Doom, now a god, behaving like a petty tyrant, someone afraid of losing power and fearful of his delicately constructed house of cards come crashing down. He may be omnipotent, but he is still a man, and Jonathan Hickman does a great job (as always) of emphasizing this dichotomy without ever being heavy-handed or repetitive.
Artist Esad Ribic turns in his most polished work of the entire series as most of the over exaggerated faces have been considerably toned down. Characters no longer look like their eyes are too big for their heads and no longer look surprised at every sentence they hear. Working with colorist Ive Svorcina, Ribic masterfully renders Doom’s confrontation with the Beyonders as a chaotic and uncertain battle that rivals the initial battle in the first issue. The only issue with Ribic’s art is that Dragon Man looks more humanoid instead of a dragon. A minor issue, but one that’s much easier to put up with than the constant duck faces that plagued the first few issues.
Overall, the one thing holding this issue back is that the heroes of the life raft and the Cabal aren’t seen until the last few pages. And even then the most they get is one panel each. Thanos’ plan is most intriguing as he tries to throw the biggest monkey wrench into Doom’s scheme, but more than halfway through the series, readers still have no idea what any of the other survivors have planned. They’ve been scattered and because of this, the series takes a step back as Doom once more issues a patrol squad to locate the survivors of both life rafts. It’s something that readers have already experienced, and as a result, it gives the impression that the series is starting to stall. The plot won’t really progress until all the scattered parties are once again united.
The newest issue of Secret Wars offers some great moments, particularly Doom’s conversation with the Molecule Man, and other characters referring to Doom as “God” in casual conversation. The artwork is toned down from previous installments which allows for a smoother delivery on Ribic’s part. Although the issue stalls, it feels necessary in a way, as the way that the issue ends sets up the promise that moving forward, big things are in store for readers.