Image Courtesy of Marvel.com
Spoilers: Keep in mind that my method of reviewing involves spoilers for purposes of analysis. If you care about being spoiled and have not read Secret Wars #2 yet, please avoid this review until you do!!
In an effort to keep this review at a reasonable length (Haha yeah… me from the future here. Spoilers: That didn’t happen), I don’t think I can actually touch on everything in this issue. It was an enormous issue. I will say these things right up front, though: Esad Ribic’s art works MUCH better in this issue where the panels are more focused on close, intimate shots, and less on large shots with a lot of different characters. Most of this book is gorgeous. Ribic’s art stands out when it needs to here, and he makes the full page spreads look like frameable paintings. So this is a big step up from Secret Wars #1 in that regard. On the other hand, the actual physical quality of the book that I was so happy about in Secret Wars #1? Yeah, that seems to be exclusive to that issue. Here, Marvel went right back to the normal paper weight and cover, which is fine. It was a nice touch for that first issue, and I was really hoping they would continue with it, but clearly they just wanted to make sure that first issue really stood out as a collector’s piece, and it worked. Now, as to the content of this issue…
Going into this book, my big question was: “how they are going to treat their ‘crisis’ event?” Because whatever they want to call it, this is Marvel’s attempt at a DC Comics Crisis event. Would characters not remember the world before Battleworld? Or would they remember that world, but have created a new existence in this one. The answer turns out to be the former; however, we know from the Free Comic Book Day preview of The All-New All-Different Avengers that after Secret Wars, everything does go back to “normal.” Or, at least, people remember what the world was like before Battleworld. So it doesn’t seem like we will be seeing the Crisis on Infinite Earths “what is still canon and what isn’t” problem drag on for the next year… just until the end of the Secret Wars event.
This issue opens in “Doomgard,” which is Battleworld’s version of Asgard, with a test to become a “Thor,” which are, apparently, this world’s global police force. We get a New Thor (as I will continue to call him in this review) from Higher Avalon who succeeds and proceeds to be the audience stand-in character for the rest of the issue, by having the world explained to him by King Thor who is kind of a cross between the classic Marvel Thor and Odin. This works fine as a mechanic within the issue to get across things that most of the characters know, but the audience does not. Although, I do hope this is not what we are going to see for the rest of this series, because it did have the effect of dramatically slowing down this issue. On my first read through, I appreciated the exposition, but on my second read-through… man this book seemed long because of it. Right at the end of the issue’s prologue we are treated to a beautiful full-page spread of all of the Thors in Doomgard looking up at a massive Doom mask that is carved into the wall as King Thor references “God, ” therefore explaining to readers that Victor von Doom (or at least someone in his mask) is the God and ruler of Battleworld. This is a somewhat shocking (if you did not pay too much attention to the Secret Wars teasers and pre-release press) revelation that certainly brings with it a bunch of questions, at the top of my list: Does Doom realize that they are all from another earth? There are aspects of this issue that suggest he does, and I’ll get to that.
The other part of this book (the part that doesn’t follow New Thor that is) is concerned with the excavation of an artifact found on the inside of the world (like they go through some water thing and end up in reverse gravity on the other side), which was discovered by Alexander Power (Called “Minister Powers” here) and “the Foundation,” which must be Battleworld’s version of the Future Foundation. The object in question: The liferaft that was boarded to save people from the end of the world when 616 and 1610 were colliding. Oh snap! Okay. We’ll come back to that.
So, most of New Thor’s story is focused on the arrest and trial of Baron Sinister for the crime of an illegal alliance with Baron Hyperion (No clarification on which Hyperion we are talking about here, but I would assume the Earth 712 one). There are some great character moments for Sinister here, which isn’t something you usually get: “Well. If I have an audience… Then I’m inclined to give them a show. I will play the accused, and you will be my escorts—old man thunder and his ward, lightning,” for example. But, again, most of this serves as a teaching moment for New Thor and ourselves as readers. He is told that carrying out the law and order of Doom is indeed, “always this formal… Yes, it is. Until it is not.” King Thor then citing previously violent conflicts such as Baron Summers usurping Baroness Pryor, and the horsemen being taken over by Baron Apocalypse. This scene also includes the first shot we get of Doom, seated on a throne made of the tree Yggrasil, and his palace, which is guarded by Galactus of all things. We also discover that his sheriff is Stephen Strange, his right hand and advisor seems to be Sue Storm, and seated below here on the throne is her (maybe their) daughter Valeria. A strange collection of support for Doom, for sure. The story arc here is honestly not of a lot of interest on its own. Sinister refuses to accept his punishment, suggesting, instead, that he get a trial by combat. Not with Jamie Braddock (the Baron of Higher Avalon), but, instead, with his brother Brian Braddock (Captain Britain of Earth 616). Brian Braddock’s apparent victory by decapitating Sinister is immediately undercut by Sinister’s taunting from his disembodied head, and Doom stops the fight before Sinister can finish Braddock. All of this exists so that we can eventually be led to Jamie admitting that he is the one who is helping the heretics who live in “The Silent Chambers,” and also discover that Higher Avalon is under the Kingdom of Manhattan, which, presumably, floats in the sky.
Once Jamie is judged, we get a strange scene where Sue cautions Doom for “Mercy.” Doom has a close-up panel here where he looks almost remorseful, and then agrees that Jamie shall be the only one punished, and Brian shall be elevated to Baron. This is one of those scenes that suggests that Doom may remember some of the previous world, or, perhaps, had refused Mercy at an earlier time when he should have gave it. Either way, it’s an intriguing character dynamic that Sue can reign in Doom’s anger by dredging up some kind of memory. Jamie is sent to “The Shield” which is a giant wall in the south that protects the rest of Battleworld from “The Deadlands.” People are, apparently, executed by being tossed over the Shield, and into the Deadlands to fight the denizens there. These Denizens include: zombies (from the Marvel Zombies universe), the “Annihilation Wave,” and the army of Ultrons (which… I am honestly confused about why they can’t just fly over the wall, but anyway…). All of this serves its purpose well. We get to see this aspect of the world as New Thor sees it, and then we are brought back to the liferaft plot, because he is. New Thor and King Thor are sent to the liferaft in order to investigate this “heretical” object (since anything that draws faith away from Doom is heretical, and this appears to exist before the world did). During the lead up to this investigation, though, Valeria makes some comment to Strange about how they each represent dueling ideologies of her father: Strange, “The Law,” which is religion, and her “Science.” This is a bizarre comment, since it suggests that her father is Doom, with no explanation (though, I am sure we will get one), my current theories are: She believes Doom to be her father, and does not know that Reed exists somewhere, or… and I think this is most likely, Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom are somehow one character in this universe, and Doom IS Reed. Both of these are possible. Valeria was first introduced as Valeria von Doom, after all, and believed Doom to be her father. Later, it was revealed that Reed eventually gets stuck in Doom’s armor and has Valeria with Sue then… so anything is possible at this point. We will see an explanation for this as the series continues, I am sure.
Eventually, we return to the liferaft with New Thor and King Thor, as they oversee its quarantine. Unfortunately, a Moloid accidentally opens it, revealing… Thanos, the Maker, and the other members of the Cabal. So… this is NOT the liferaft we thought it was. Surprise! And they promptly kill King Thor before proceeding to ask the Moloid what the world is called, to which he responds that while the high-borns call it Latverion, and the faithful call it “God’s Kingdom,” the common people call it “Battleworld.”
I felt like, overall, this issue was another introduction issue. I kind of expected that to an extent, but not to this degree. It made the issue feel very slow. I can see why Issue #1 and #2 were released one week apart, if they were both going to be introduction issues, but I feel like Marvel could have handled everything that happened in issue #1 in a lead-up issue, and had this issue be “Secret Wars #1,” because that is, essentially, how these books are laid out. Additionally, while I understood what Jonathan Hickman is going for by having the audience follow this New Thor as the world is explained to him, it does have this strange narrowing effect where, as readers, we kind of feel like this is New Thor’s comic, and it feels less like a giant event. I am really hoping for something that feels bigger next issue with more of a focus on the enormous cast of characters that are stuck on Battleworld. While I understand that we will get plenty of focus on those characters in their corresponding side comics like Spider-Verse and A-Force, this felt like a story that would have been better served in an issue of Thors, rather than one of the main books. Hopefully, this will change in Issue #3, we will see next month.