You’ve got three guesses to figure out who’s the star of Secret Wars #5, and if you’re not already guessing Doctor Doom, where have you been for the past four issues?
That’s right, gentle readers: issue 5 of Secret Wars is, in its entirety, solely focused on Doctor Doom and the many trials and tribulations of being a God-Emperor.
And, as I’ve said time and time again, I do not care about Doctor Doom. What adds insult to injury for me is the fact that the so-called “action” of Secret Wars #5 is nearly static. The vast majority of the issue is spent watching Doctor Doom experience things, have long conversations to clumsily shove in background information that would have been much more helpful before Secret Wars ever began, and order people to obey him without question. In the grand scheme of things, nothing happens. The only event that might have the slightest bearing on a reader’s understanding of future events is that Doom orders Valeria and the Foundation to hunt down the “anomalies” (AKA the life raft survivors from 616 and 1610), who have been scattered across Battleworld and are either hiding or have been captured.
On one hand, having a stagnant issue like this in the middle of a comic purporting to be the central, most important, action-packed comic that Absolutely Everyone has to read to understand a universe-encompassing event completely disrupts any forward momentum that Secret Wars was trying to generate. If Jonathan Hickman wanted to write a comic featuring Doctor Doom thinking about things, that’s perfectly feasible as a tie-in side comic that’s not shoved in the middle of the main event comic.
On the other hand, Secret Wars #5 attempts to portray Doom as a protagonist. And not only that, but a protagonist who has struggles in which we’re supposed to be invested. Except that those struggles are not actually that relatable, but are in keeping with the problems of a power-mad tyrannical ruler (because, y’know, that’s exactly what he is).
“Oh no, I murdered my right-hand man and probably my only sort-of-friend because he defied my will and now I have to pretend to be sad because nobody knows I killed him and I am so full of half-hearted guilt.”
“Oh no, now I have to go talk to a man I keep in isolation because he knows I didn’t really create the universe like I’ve been telling everyone. Let’s recap exactly how I got these great powers, even though we both know this story because we were there, because the audience hasn’t been told all this helpful information yet. Being a god is so hard.”
“Oh no, now I have to order my daughter (who I actually stole from someone else whose life and family I have taken for myself as if they were possessions and not people and whose uniform still includes a Fantastic 4 logo for inexplicable reasons) to hunt down and kill the last remaining people who remember life pre-Battleworld, including her real father, and she’s questioning my orders. Gosh, kids these days, they just can’t follow a good old murder command anymore.”
Anyone else catching the problem with having Doctor freaking Doom as your central protagonist?
Doctor Doom is not a relatable hero. Heck, Doctor Doom isn’t even any sort of hero in the first place, and no amount of vague guilt over murdering someone is going to convince me he’s worthy of my sympathies as a reader. I don’t think he can even be considered an anti-hero by any stretch of the imagination.
Doctor Doom is a straight-up villain. He can be many things: the antagonist, the bad guy, the baddie of the week (or month or year), the megalomaniac with the plan to either take over or destroy the world, the power-hungry monarch out for only his own gain, but he is not a hero. His name is Doom. DOOM. It can’t get much clearer than that as to where his priorities lie.
As a reader of comics, I don’t particularly want or need to read a comic about an unrepentant villain. Maybe that puts me in the minority, but comics with a villain main character who downright enjoys being a villain don’t hold much appeal. I’m drawn to superhero comics because of the hero aspects of those stories, not the villains. Granted, some villain comics can be done extremely well and are great books, but as a whole they aren’t what I’m looking for when I read comics. And when I’m given a comic like Secret Wars with Doctor Doom swanning about dressed all in white (like he did during his last nauseatingly self-righteous bid for god-like powers during Avengers: The Children’s Crusade) and pretending he’s such a great guy for saving the last scraps of the multiverse only to literally mold it to do his bidding as a terrifying dictatorial deity…
Yeah, that’s not going to go over so well.
The utter inanity of a comic trying to convince me to feel sorry for Doctor Doom because he murdered someone and feels kind of bad about it (but mostly annoyed) is slightly mitigated by what I’d consider some of the strongest art in this series so far. Esad Ribic steps up his work in a big way this issue, with some of the best use of light and shadow, panel framing, body language, and facial expressions that I’ve seen yet (though there are still some instances of the “dull surprise” face here and there).
The saving grace of this whole series has consistently been the work of colorist Ive Svorcina, who presents each new scene with a clear and distinct color palette. Strange’s funeral is highlighted by greens, while Doom’s scenes with Valeria (and later on the Foundation itself) are drawn in shades of blue and grey, immediately followed by Doom and Molecule Man’s interactions in blinding white and yellow light, and even the flashback scenes to the Beyonders have their own characteristic deep blues and purples. The attention to detail in the coloring is precise and visually gorgeous, and I hope we get to see Svorcina’s work on other books after Secret Wars has finally blown over.
But once again, good art isn’t enough to save a book from itself, and Secret Wars #5 is no exception to that rule. If it isn’t bad enough that it asks us to look at Doctor Doom as a sympathetic protagonist, it brings the action of its series to a screeching halt as it pontificates for twenty pages and doesn’t actually get anything done.
We’re already at issue five and the status quo of “Everything is Doom and nothing can change that” has been hammered into our heads again and again, and there has been little to no forward progress. Where’s the brewing rebellion against Doom? Where are the remaining heroes learning about the new world they’ve been thrown into and how best to help its people? Where is the rising action that will culminate in a battle to overthrow Doom’s tyrannical rule and restore the worlds to what they should be at last?
We have three issues left to go, and not much time in which to do any of those things. At this point, there are only a few ways this can go from here: the climactic action is going to be incredibly rushed and very poorly developed, we won’t actually get a climax and nobody is going to overthrow Doom, or it’ll just be three issues more of Doom blathering on about how hard it is to be a God-Emperor; it’s just so tough sometimes.
Honestly, I’d take the poorly planned, rushed action any day.
Secret Wars #5 was written and designed by Jonathan Hickman, with art by Esad Ribic, colors by Ive Svorcina, and lettering by VC’s Clayton Cowles.
Images courtesy of Marvel
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Eve is asexual panromantic, a graduate student with no time for sleep (but always time for comics), a senior contributing writer for the Rainbow Hub, and an avid consumer of any type of media she can get her hands on. When not perusing her incredibly large collection of Marvel comics, she can be found reading, knitting in front of the TV, or on her laptop.