Good morning! Hey, didn’t you realize it’s issue six right now? Oh. It’s just characters telling each other bedtime stories? Let me know when something will wake me up for real.

The final third of this now-nine issues miniseries has begun, and it’s all stage building and set-up for a final showdown. Another one. I think it will be like the third or fourth final showdown by now. So the various players position themselves to learn a little bit more about Battleworld, with both truthful and false bits, with interaction that feels both a long time coming and strangely unsatisfying.

But first, let’s all acknowledge the elephant that’s taking up a large corner of the room over there. The Secret Wars event doesn’t really seem to have an end in sight. Maybe at best we have the end-in-sight in sight, although the publishing schedule barrels on, offering the first of the post-Secret Wars Marvel comics series this week. To be honest, it affects the way I read this issue. I do my best to read the event in and of itself, but part of its gravitas was deliberately meant to be enhanced by the fact there would be no other Marvel comics out there. Without that force of weight behind it, things feel lighter than they should be, more trivial. The suspense is lifted.

Further, it’s hard to invest emotionally in the story when we never experience any actual story, instead picking up before or after any of the meaningful conflicts. This has often been a criticism of Hickman’s storytelling style, and here it’s in full bloom. We never see the encounter between any of the major players used in this story— we skip Doom and Black Swan’s reunion, we never see any of the trials that Black Panther and Namor purportedly went through, and Thanos is just kicking it in front of the Thing-slash-the Shield. Now, in gaming I’m more than happy to skip the grind and level up to the next scene as soon as possible. Here, though, we skip it all, and it feels like a cheat. From the very beginning. The opening page tells us “Three Weeks Later,” and I sigh, knowing a lot can happen in three weeks in real life, let alone Marvel time.

I do appreciate the heroes of the Life Raft being shown as competent and effective, even if what we see are really the results of conversations and encounters that happened off panel. There’s not much opportunity to see them competent and effective *together,* however, as they’re already split apart and there are still a few missing. (Even though a new one’s been added— someone called The Prophet and who may or may not actually be important because he’s just on video screen so the heroes can talk about him. Maximus, perhaps?)

The Spider-Men scene, for example, allowed the heroes to arm themselves with precious information while providing a tone shift from much of the ennui that pervades the series. I’m not sure that jokes really sell, and yes I’m talking about the three week-old hamburger bit, because if your characters are echoing your readers’ response about how that doesn’t make sense, it makes you wonder why the writer himself can’t see it. Then again, I’m the kind of reader who wonders if it’s intentional that the juices of the burger don’t fall “down” as the floating Molecule Man eats it, so I’m being pulled out of the scene on multiple levels.

I also appreciate a few philosophical tidbits between the Reed Richards. I’m glad someone pointed out the question of what, exactly, they expect will happen if they confront Doom, and what that means about the nature of Battleworld. I guess it doesn’t really matter, though, as it seems heroes are just going after Doom because he’s the Big Bad and for little other reason.

While I praised the artwork in previous issues, the number of Ribic-Faces on display in this one is just too much. Alex gets a crazy one looking at Val’s projection, Reed gets a really crazy one looking at the images of his family, and Sue is multiple-times crazy when telling Franklin a story. It works on someone appropriately crazy, like Sinister Captain Marvel, maybe, but really. There’s no excuse for the face that Bentley makes when he “could be *lyyying.*” Don’t ruin Bentley for me, Ribic. I mean it.

Most of the time, however, the artwork is fine, if perhaps a bit stilted and formally laid out. The characters don’t get to show off dramatic poses, unfortunately, and so they are static and basic as they spend panel after panel of standing around delivering lines to one another. There’s a bit more dynamism in the “flashback” stories told by Sue, which leads to some more dramatic panel close ups and layouts between the Thing and Thanos, so at least visually, the comic ends on a powerful note.

Grade

C+

Conclusion

“When in doubt, set the story forward a few weeks” seems to be a common solution for Hickman. Comics already move pretty quickly, so I wish would could savor some important fight scenes and conflicts, and instead the characters are already moving into positions for the third and final act. We get some interaction between the players that we haven’t seen for some time, and even some quick but poignant moments for Doom and Dad, but it’s not enough to feel truly satisfied.