Three aspects of plot come together — it’s the Maker and the Cabal versus the Thor Corps versus Dr. Strange and the remnant heroes of the old universe. Strangely, it takes Dr. Doom a bit of convincing that this is a Big Deal, and he arrives dramatically to add a fourth side to this conflict. But the biggest deal is the conflict, and dramatic showdown, between just Doom and Strange, that happens at the end…
The stage has been set, making this an appropriate cap to the “first act” of the story, or perhaps the beginning of the second act, depending on how you squint. Finally, “Battleworld” lives up to its name, not only with a snippet of exposition by Strange (“the new world is unnatural. And survival is its first and highest purpose. It is a place of testing— of constant conflict”) but also with the artwork. There’s a whole lot of fighting going on, with some pretty powerful characters.
I’d prefer, of course, nicely choreographed battles with narratives all thier own, but as is often the case, the fight scenes here are largely perfunctory, simply existing as little more than set dressing. Instead of a continuity of panels, each character gets a panel of his/her very own, displaying some power as narration or dialogue happens around him/her. Very dramatic and kinetic portrayals, to be sure, but essentially they’re freeze-frames only. Perhaps we are meant to experience them in a dissociative kind of way, the same way that Doom experiences them by looking at a monitor in this issue, but that’s a bit more meta than I think is intentional.
There are fewer of Ribic’s artistic quirks in this issue, namely those strange gaping faces that pop up now and then. The characters are depicted powerfully throughout, although there are few quibbles where the storytelling doesn’t match/synch, such as Star Lord quipping about a cape that is never clearly seen in that panel nor on that page (nor really at all to be effective.) The painterly quality of the art, especially by way of the colors, continues to be amazing. At times, things get a bit muted, such as the Cabal’s scenes being overall so awash with cool blues that things get a bit blurred together, but man does that make things pop when the glows of power are shown, or when the palette shifts to warm yellows, as when Doom’s erupts in the penultimate showdown.
And it’s all really a Doom and Strange story, continuing their focus from the previous issue. This, despite the large presence of heroes carried over from the previous universe. Those characters may get a line or two of dialogue, usually just to clarify some exposition, really, and at the end of everything, they are all “scattered … to the wind”. Great. So much for any chance at ensemble interaction at all, now.
Sidebar: I wonder if the sidelining of all the heroes is just an endemic by-product of modern comics storytelling, particularly due to the absence of thought balloons. This narrative device may show up from time to time as caption boxes, but only from a single character’s point of view; you’d never see an omniscient kind of perspective to allow the reader to hear from many characters at once. What if, for example, on page 3 as Strange is leading characters further into the Hidden Isle of Agamotto, there was a sentence of thought-balloon from both Spider-Men? There seems space for it. Miles: “This is all so … huge! What’s it all mean!?” Peter: “The kid’s freaked! But trying hard… I better keep close.” Then, when they get scattered, there’s a more immediate punch to the gut as you more acutely feel the implications of that.
Doom’s reluctance and ennui really is at the fore. It seems weird that he has to be convinced that Battleworld might be threatened here. Perhaps he is taking his all-power for granted, or perhaps it’s more of the weariness that he showed earlier. That’s not to say he would give it up, however. Symbolically, he kills Cyclops/the Phoenix just as much as he denies the possibility of any kind of future, any kind of rebirth. He will not stand any question of his power, not even from Strange, and not even if it’s the truth. The final panel is of Doom’s eyes, resolute and determined, the next step in his story.
As a story focused on Doom and Strange, it’s hard to be beat. That means the usual plusses and minuses that we have seen already: Great figures, painterly art, and dramatic special effects— in largely static and perfunctory panels. Huge stakes and dramatic pronouncements from a few major players— with others just offering exposition or simply occupying the landscape. It makes for some good narrative momentum, although a very human-sized scale is still lacking, making it a nice spectacle but hard to resonate with on a gut-level.