In short: Thors mourn, Doom broods, Valeria’s leery.

That’s a succinct six-word summary, but it shows how this issue features three distinct set pieces for each story beat, albeit with some ominous panels sprinkled in at the end… of Thanos looking at a wall. You know— to create some suspense for the wait until next issue.

The first section could be a typical funeral, but we know this is no ordinary death, that of Dr. Strange from last issue. It’s a dramatic irony that lends a kind of tension to the tone of the issue, and there’s actually a lot of such incongruities in this tiny scene, too. The bright colors and the mournful actions; the “real” Thor being among the Corps; a downright evil sneer and attitude from Franklin. (Although I have no idea what he’s supposed to be doing making bushes grow on the shoulders of Strange’s statue.) The latter is perhaps the most shocking, as Franklin feels completely lost to the world of Doom, echoing the slavish devotion of the Thors. This focus on emotion makes an interesting bookend to the focus on reasoning and science at the end of the issue.

Before we get to that, though, it’s Doom’s emotions that are at the fore. The heavy-handed tone carries over into this scene, as the colors shift to cool blues of the evening and few panels of Doom looking up. Up at the statue memorial for Strange, I mean. Really, though, it’s the art that carries the weight of the characterization here, as the colors, posing, and an absence of word balloons are all staged for Doom to be stewing in his emotions. The art also serves as a significant transition as Doom visits a character we thought lost. The painterly and highly-detailed panels give way to pure white glows and negative space, to sketchy, “unfinished” rendering.  

Unfortunately, the flow and tone of the story significantly breaks at this point, as Doom talks with perhaps the only person in Battleworld he *can* talk to about his guilt and shame— Owen Reece, the Molecule Man. Rather than explore the complexity of that situation, the two engage in a conversation about things they already know about. It takes an awkward transition by Doom to start the whole thing, as he moves from talking about Dr. Strange “doubt[ing]” into saying “even I was not there at the start. In the beginning, it was just you and them [the Beyonders.]” It’s awkward because, if Strange doubted anything, it was in Doom’s plan, and had nothing to do with the backstory that Molecule Man launches into and continues expositing for five more pages.

It’s important, however, to know that the Molecule Man is still alive, and there were a couple of points made to round out the mystery of Hickman’s magnum opus that’s been running for years. For readers that have not been following this from previous issues of Avengers and New Avengers, it’s needed information.

Of course, such readers can always read the Primer I wrote for this site to explain the Beyonders’/Battleworld’s story from the beginning. I’ll have to update that Primer with the new bits we get here— the most significant of which is that Doom-as-the-Great-Destroyer used a bunch of Molecule Men as a bomb against the Beyonders, destroying them, stealing their power, and using Owen to save the remaining realities into what became Battleworld.

Notice how Owen is drawn vertically opposite (heads down) to Doom, creating a visual juxtaposition between them while reinforcing the insanity the Molecule Man is reduced to. His world is literally upside down? Got it. The colors shift to oranges and reds while the white of the negative space bleeds through it all. There’s a lot of visual metaphor here to supplement the tone and character relationships, which is disappointing, then, when the flashback scenes completely interrupt this with more straightforward staging and predominance of purples and blues. And when there *is* a legitimate and significant scene change, the same orange-red is used when depicting the building of the Future Foundation. Confusing.

The final section features Valeria explaining to the Future Foundation their orders to find the “real” heroes who were scattered last issue. Which is good, since once again our point of view heroes are absent in the main series of this publishing event. Strangely, the Future Foundation includes scientific geniuses of the past, such as Nostradamus, who refuses to put on a shirt and change his swaddling rags for trousers, and Tesla, who chooses to dress in full body leather with light bulbs sticking out of the shoulders and still sports a fat ’stache. (Yes, I realize that the writer used these guys in a still-unfinished S.H.I.E.L.D. series that stalled out in 2013, two years ago. It really feels out of place to point of being laughable, however.)

Grade

B-

Conclusion

Overall, it’s a clunky issue with somewhat awkward transitions into a gear-grinding info-dump that nevertheless would be sorely needed for the eventual paperback collection of Secret Wars 1-8. And while certain unknown aspects are revealed, and while characters like Valeria are shuffled into place for later conflicts, there’s not really that much that’s new. If it were meant as a chance to catch our breath, well, we’ve had three months from the last issue to breathe so we’re ready for more, please. The true saving grace here is the art, which very neatly captures everything needed, whether literal or metaphorical, for character and tone.