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We've already spoken a bit about Marvel's big "Secret Wars" miniseries, and how it has no business being as good as it is — but as the series crosses the halfway point with the fourth of eight issues, the sprawling epic by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic continues to impress.
"Secret Wars" #4 is where things kick into high gear — all of the key players have been introduced, and most of them are now aware of one another — there's even a showdown with a shocking body count. If you haven't been reading, now's a really good time to jump on board.
1. It's a crossover that puts its story first
Typically, comic book crossovers exist as a sort of big blender for all the characters on a publisher's roster, paired up and against each other for buzzy, shocking moments designed to get fans in a tizzy. It's fodder for tired old "who would win in a fight" arguments and everything-you-thought-you-knew-is-wrong shock-jockery.
But outside of the first issue — which features the last two remaining universes in a desperate struggle to survive destruction — there isn't a whole lot of action. Instead, Hickman and Ribic take the time to flesh out the fascinating fantasy mashup that is Battleworld, the patchwork planet where "Secret Wars" takes place.
This is best exemplified by "Secret Wars" #2, a better first issue than the actual first issue — introducing readers to Battleworld by focusing on the peacekeeping Thor Corps and following around a rookie's first day on the job.
That brings us to the second best thing...
2. Battleworld is brilliant
While "Secret Wars" takes its time explaining the hows and whys of its setting, the way Battleworld functions is ingenious.
A patchwork planet constructed from myriad destroyed realities, the world is divided into rigidly policed kingdoms that are domains unto themselves.
What this means in English is that anyone can tell any kind of story they want in a spinoff book and as long as it is set on a separate region of Battleworld, it will fit into the grand tapestry of "Secret Wars" — regardless of who's in it, who dies, or what takes place.
It's a neat little trick, and it helps that most of those spinoffs are also great comics.
3. The art is stunning
Esad Ribic is a master of grandeur and gravity, able to convey weight and importance in a manner that feels airy and effortless. His work feels epic, like what you're witnessing is a rare event that will never happen again.
4. It's a reminder that Dr. Doom is the best villain in the Marvel Universe
Confession: I didn't always like Dr. Doom. He looked more goofy than intimidating, he didn't have any cool, well-defined powers, and he was a "Fantastic Four" villain on top of all that. It wasn't until a few years ago where I finally plunged into "Fantastic Four" to begin with.
(Note: I was an idiot. If you are remotely into superhero comics at all, you should read lots of "Fantastic Four")
Writer Jonathan Hickman has a ridiculous gift for writing the character, who isn't so evil in a mustache-twirling sense, but deeply convicted that he is destined to rule, to be superior. Doom believes he is simply better than everyone else, and he'll even save the world if doing so proved that he deserves to rule it.
He'll also turn you down if he's not your first choice for any problem, as the best single page in all of Marvel Comics proves:(Marvel)
But what's truly fascinating is the ways "Secret Wars" comes to compare and contrast Doom with his rival, Reed Richards, the man who has the life Doom feels belongs to him.
This brings us to our next point.
5. It's about what happens when heroes lose
In the Battleworld of "Secret Wars," Doom is God. That's because Doom did what the heroes couldn't — saved reality.
But Doom is also a villain, who has crafted a world in his own image. Doom, more than anything, is defined by damage — he was a broken, scarred man, and now he is a powerful one, with armor to hide his disfigurement and terrify those who would cross him. Similarly, Battleworld is a broken planet, a scarred remnant of existence willed into submission.
So how do you come back from that failure? Can you call yourself a hero when you couldn't save the entire world?
"Secret Wars" is asking these questions, and I'm genuinely interested in seeing the conclusion it draws.
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