After weeks worth of delays, extensions, and promises, “Secret Wars #9” does indeed end Marvel’s third bite of the Battleworld apple. It also brings to an close Jonathan Hickman’s extended run within the Marvel Universe which began with “Fantastic Four” in 2009, ran through one spin off , two Avengers titles, and a previous crossover event (2013’s “Infinity”) to finally pull down the curtain here. Intended to give birth to the “all new, all different” Marvel Universe (which turns out to be very close to the very old, very same Marvel Universe), it instead comes out months behind. Its relevancy is so diminished that Marvel is reduced to attempting to promote it by teasing the fates of the “Fantastic Four” characters despite the fact that everyone knows their fates. Until Fox Studios comes to a new deal with Marvel’s parent company Disney, there will be no new “Fantastic Four” comics. And half of the team have already been split into two other team books (Johnny Storm with the Inhumans, and the Thing with Guardians of the Galaxy). The shame of it is that this finale manages more memorable moments than many of the previous issues, and may have had more weight had it come sooner.
The ending itself is not much of a surprise. Despite having taken advantage of the seeming “end of the multiverse” to essentially take over what was left, Doctor Doom has slowly but surely been losing his grip on both his “Battleworld” kingdom as well as his own insecurities. In case readers didn’t quite catch this subtext, writer Jonathan Hickman made sure to stretch it so long and make it so obvious that even the illiterate could understand it. At any rate, Battleworld is in shambles and despite a valiant effort by Namor and Black Panther, it all comes down to a one-on-one duel between Doom and his hated nemesis Reed Richards for the power of the Beyonders (and with it all of reality). As always, Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina always deliver on the artwork, offering everything from cosmic level duels among gods to a desperate struggle between two old foes. Despite all of the techno-babble and modestly interesting dialogue, however, it all comes down to Molecule Man playing referee to two people fighting, calling the winner and then hitting an unseen “reset” button. Why couldn’t Molecule Man control the power himself, or pick another avatar for it once Doom clearly overplayed his hand? Because then the story would have been over sooner, and made more sense.
Hickman and Ribic do their best to make this latest struggle between Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom as epic and emotionally charged as possible. Even as both wrestle for the fate of reality, both seem eager to try to out argue the other. It is easy to remember that a long time ago, the pair were friends and peers before becoming mortal enemies. It is easily the highlight of the issue, if not the entire series, as it is at the crux of the entire affair. Aside for this spectacle, the rest of the issue seeks to put various pieces back into their boxes. In exchange for showing mercy to Molecule Man, Miles Morales gets not only to exist in the “mainstream” Marvel Universe (a fact which has long since been known), but his mother has apparently been resurrected (as she was killed two years ago in his own Ultimate series). Mr. Fantastic and the rest of the”Future Foundation” are also given a fond farewell as they set about to recreate and then chronicle the multiverse.
Now that the work is completed, there remain some glaring faults beyond decompression. It may be true that this entire slog would have been twice as good had it been half as long, but that would have required editors Tom Brevoort and Will Moss to be interested in crafting fiction, not a nine month sales campaign. However, other faults remain within the tale itself. Despite an affinity for emotionally detached genius characters, Hickman seems to not trust his readers enough to allow them to appreciate his metaphors or plot twists with their own intellect. He often will have characters literally tell someone what is going on or spell out what the subtext is. It isn’t enough for Namor and Black Panther’s plan to be revealed as a ruse; the latter has to literally explain this to Doom. It isn’t enough for Reed’s current “cosmic retirement” to exist as a metaphor for him wanting to spend more time with his family; he has to literally recreate the universe by being “cosmic catch” with his son. It is akin to how Susan Richards, the first heroine of the modern Marvel Universe, seems to do little more than stand there and need her snooty daughter to explain everything to her by talking down to her. The final pages appear to give Doctor Doom a fresh start, but they may have also removed the motivations of what has always been Marvel’s premiere super villain – especially at a time when Marvel Comics is more interested in having their heroes fight each other than allow any other antagonist to replace him.
As mentioned before, both the delays of release and the decision to extend the series by another issue (which also shipped a week behind schedule) has robbed some of the “revelations” within this oversized issue. Reed’s evil counterpart “the Maker” seems to meet his end here in what is intended as yet another “shocking” death scene, but his survival was known months ago in “New Avengers”, for instance. Not only was Miles Morales’ immigration from the Ultimate universe to the mainstream one revealed in advertising copy ages ago, but he has become a member of an Avengers team and a guest star in “Totally Awesome Hulk” for at some time. Left without the intended impact of being “shocking”, a crossover like this has to stand or fall as a story. Despite some clever segments or imaginative moments, “Secret Wars” never evolves beyond being a beautifully drawn editorial agenda.
Then again, considering that the original “Secret Wars” from 1984-1985 was crafted almost exclusively to try to launch a line of action figures back when “Masters of the Universe” dominated the market, perhaps “Secret Wars” is what it always has been – a commercial venture first, and anything else second. Unfortunately, its reasonable sales success has helped convince Marvel Comics to pursue more rehashes of old crossovers rather than to forge ahead with anything new, as “Civil War 2” is slated to begin in merely four months. It is a shame that Marvel is trying so hard to be “all new and all different” by playing their same old hits like a faded musician who is coasting on recognition and trademarks, and little else. Despite some energetic details (such as a deliciously written Mr. Sinister) and plenty of imagination, “Secret Wars” can’t stand under its own weight from start to finish.