Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Secret Wars 8, originally released December 9th, 2015.
Spencer: I recently got into a bit of a debate with the AV Club’s Oliver Sava on Twitter about whether Doctor Doom is the hero or the villain of Secret Wars. Sava argued that he’s the hero because he saved the universe — I argued that he’s the villain because he then proceeded to rule his salvaged universe as a brutal tyrant and dictator. In a way, we’re probably both right, and writer Jonathan Hickman seems less interested in laying blame at any of his character’s feet than he is in exploring their motives and varying levels of morality. Secret Wars 8 is a full-on action issue, but each confrontation changes the rules a bit in terms of who’s right and who’s wrong, who wins and who loses.
That’s not to say that Hickman doesn’t establish Doctor Doom as the issue’s most prominent antagonist, but there are so many combatants, each with their own alliances and agendas, that the overall conflict is never as simple as “the good guys vs. Doom’s bad guys.” In fact, the very first skirmish finds Ben Grimm knocking the Maestro out of the sky, despite both of them being after the same thing (Doom himself). There could have been a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” thing established here, but Grimm’s personal vendetta against Doom (as well as his massive size) means that the Maestro is simply beneath his notice. He has more important things to worry about.
The same thing goes for Terrax, whose character arc is within inches of completion before instead coming to an abrupt, comedic conclusion.
Just like Grimm, “Galactus” passes up a potential alliance in order to pursue a grudge, except “Galactus” is actually a puppet/construct under the control of Franklin
Richards Von Doom, whose battle against Grimm has a far different outcome.
This incarnation of Ben Grimm has no problem killing the Maestro, but he’s still too good of a guy to kill the son of his best friend. Ben’s sacrifice is portrayed so nobly that even Sue and Valeria are disturbed by Franklin’s actions; in fact, Franklin’s characterization is easily this issue’s clearest condemnation of Doom’s methods. Franklin Richards was a “normal,” docile kid who rarely used his abilities, and when he did, he used them for good, while Franklin Von Doom seems to relish destruction and violence. Even with the best of intentions, that’s the influence Doom’s had on Battleworld and its inhabitants.
Yet, Hickman isn’t satisfied to just let Doom be the “bad guy,” and that’s where Thanos comes in. Doom defeats Thanos in a single move (that I swear he stole from Mortal Kombat), yet Hickman makes sure his readers are aware that, no matter how awful Doom is, Thanos is even worse.
Faces have never been artist Esad Ribic’s greatest strength, yet this sequence may be his best in the entire issue. Ribic and Hickman use Thanos’ eyes as a window into his black soul, with each panel progressively transforming him more and more from a simple alien into a creature of pure evil. Maybe we can’t root for Doom, but it’s we’re totally in the clear to root against Thanos, even if that means Doom gets the win.
Ultimately, this penultimate issue is a bit too focused on grand, epic action to come to any conclusions about the issues of morality it raises — though with action this good and moments this genuinely fun (Groot!!!) I am not at all complaining. Any conclusions we do eventually reach in the finale, though, are almost certainly going to spring from the reunion of Reed and Sue Richards. In some ways, that’s been guaranteed for a while, since the entire Richards family are absent from “All-New All-Different Marvel” while Doom makes a stab at reformation, but there’s more to it than that.
After all, there wasn’t a single Reed Richards in Battleworld until the Life Raft opened — Doom has to have played a part in that. Moreover, in his new Battleworld Doom has co-opted Reed’s family as his own, and ever since we first discovered this I’ve been trying to figure out why. Yeah, Doom could make a valid claim that Valeria is his family, but that doesn’t extend to Sue or Franklin. Did Doom make the Richards his family as a way to spite Reed for all of eternity, or are they perhaps his attempt to make himself a better person through their (or perhaps even through Reed’s) influence? I have a feeling that the answer to this question will be the key factor in how we view Doctor Doom and his role in Secret Wars once the series is over.
Man, I always worry a bit when I spend so much time speculating, but I’m not trying to insinuate that this issue on its own is in any way boring or unsatisfying — it’s just that Secret Wars 8‘s grand moments make me more and more psyched for the finale. Here’s hoping Hickman and Ribic are able to find the perfect blend of action and character that the finale will need to be satisfying.
Drew, were you able to get into this issue, or did you have a hard time finding something to sink your teeth into? Also, what was your favorite “holy crap” moment? As much as I love Groot, I’ve got to go for that Black Panther/Namor/Infinity Gauntlet cliffhanger. What a brilliant way to bring this conclusion full-circle with Hickman’s first arc on New Avengers.
Drew: And I think that moment also brings the focus back to the master morality that has been such a central theme of Hickman’s Avengers work. If Doom can be construed as a hero (at least momentarily), then Namor and T’Challa have certainly been villains at various times throughout Hickman’s run. Or, at least, these definitions of heroes and villains comes from our own slave morality — in their minds, they’re all doing the right thing. Which means Doom is undeniably the hero from his perspective, and there was really no other way for him to inhabit Battleworld than to rule it with an iron fist. That’s not to excuse his actions — virtually anyone could have done it better and more honestly — just to highlight how important morality is for this series.
Take Thanos, for example. His Titan morality is as alien to Doom as Doom’s master morality is to us. To Thanos, Doom’s failure to sit in judgement of all living things represents a profound moral weakness. That’s the way Thanos believes a world needs to be ruled, which is different from Doom’s, which is different from ours. The important thing is that our morality seems just as wrong-headed to Doom and Thanos as theirs does to us — there’s no “right” way, just the way we’re most familiar with.
Which is why it’s so important that Namor and T’Challa — whose master morality credentials have maybe come at the cost of relating to the likes of lowly humans — stand in opposition to Doom. Surely, if anyone can understand the importance of a King holding dominion over his subjects, it’s these guys. I suppose I agree with Sava’s point in that Hickman hasn’t fully articulated what Doom has done so wrong as to turn these guys against him. Like, I get why he’s a villain to us, but he’s always had his morality based in the ruling class. Exactly what is it that makes his ruling of Battlworld different than T’Challa’s ruling of Wakanda, or Namor’s ruling of Atlantis?
Actually, I tend to think Doom’s master morality is so central to Hickman’s run that it can be used to explain most other aspects — including taking Reed’s place as head of the Richards’ household. Er, at least it explains why he’d feel that he could — as the undisputed god and ruler of Battleworld, he just takes what he wants. I tend to think it’s not just a middle finger to Reed (though I’d believe it if it turns out to be the case), but rather laying claim to the one thing that Reed achieved that Doom never could. Love has always been a sore spot for Doom, and might just represent the weakness of his master morality. I’m not immersed enough in Fantastic Four lore to really understand the complexities of Doom’s relationships to the Richards’ family (a cursory look at his wiki entry adds layers to his soft spot for Valeria that I’ve never seen referenced by Hickman), but Reed’s most human achievement of a family who loves him might be the thing that Doom wants most in this world. It’s the thing that makes the Fantastic Four so powerful, and might also explain why he couldn’t bring himself to kill Johnny or Ben, even as he needed to remove them from the picture.
But, like Spencer, I don’t want to spend too much time speculating. I can’t anticipate how much time we’ll spend digging into Doom’s motives next issue, but honestly, I’m not sure we need to — I think we have enough to get the picture, even if an emotional showdown with Reed seems like the most satisfying conclusion to this thing.
As for favorite badass moment, I think you hit the highlights. I was definitely surprised by the Groot reveal, but I think it would have had more impact if we hadn’t just had the epic Thing/Galactus battle. That first battle ended a little unceremoniously, but I’ll be damned if you couldn’t feel the scale of it. Which I suppose is why repeating the battle with Groot had diminishing returns for me. What makes Groot so scary to Franklin when he was able to dispatch the Thing so easily? Don’t get me wrong — it’s still fist-pumpingly awesome, I just wish those two scenes had a wider gap between them to give each one its full impact.
It’s funny, the last two issues have been almost entirely battles, but Hickman has managed to cram in tons of great character moments in the margins. Obviously, Hickman’s three-year run on Avengers titles was always going to have an anticipated conclusion, but with the end looming on the horizon, it’s becoming ever clearer how much I might actually enjoy it. We’ve excused a ton of meandering build-up for this pay-off, and I think I can finally say with some confidence that it will all be worth it.
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