Don’t stop now, the final battle’s just beginning! Still! But hey, at least it took a lot of widescreen blockbustery action as a preamble to get there!
Behind the scenes, it’s no secret that this series was extended from eight issues to nine. That means that at one point, all the story beats were to have been wrapped up by this point. This issue makes it clear that the creators chose correctly— there’s a lot going on in here and having it overflow into another issue feels much better paced.
Let’s take some of these story beats one at a time as the issue features some distinct scenes.
First, there’s the battlefront, which gains key players in the Thing a.k.a. the Shield. He makes a dramatic entrance towering hundreds of feet above the scene. Nicely dramatic, although the establishing layouts are lost, so we don’t really know that it’s a Helicarrier he’s smashing, and it’s all lost in orange glows and smoke even as its pounded into the ground.
There’s a similar problem throughout the scene, as things that are meant to be epic are depicted too close-up or obscured to read with the same weight. Thanos and an Annhilation Horde also show up, for example, although it’s more like Thanos and an Annhilation Eight. I count seven zombies through the Seige Couragous gateway. Admittedly, this is likely a product of having so much story that a giant double page spread of a field of battle among thousands just simply can’t fit in. It’s hard, however, to give the comic points for showing-not-telling when it’s physically not capable of showing.
Dr. Doom, appropriately, gets his share of key moments in the battle. Since this event is arguably a Dr. Doom mini-series, it’s probably a necessity. He even gets his own showdown with a villain, as Thanos confronts him and starts monologuing. We may have missed out on some opportunity in the beginning of the issue to hear from Doom’s thoughts, but by using a villain as a counterpoint, we “hear” Doom by contrast. And his answer to Thanos’ bold question about Doom’s authority? Basically: “Shut up, that’s why.” Okay. Not the most subtle of characterizations but it’s pretty badass and will likely be a key Dr. Doom moment for quite some time.
Second, it’s the infiltration of Castle Doom by Mr. Fantastic and the Maker. Starlord is there, too, for some piloting and some cracking wise, both of which may need some work. He’s also holding some of Groot’s stick in his mouth, but that just sounds dirty, not to mention that at one point it looks like the artist is using a blunt for his photoreference. Aside from attempts at quirkiness, there’s also a large “CRRASSSHHH!” for some reason I still can’t understand. It’s just one more artistic error for the scene, which also includes panels too close-up to get a sense of anything, and coloring errors as Starlord’s gloves appear and disappear on the same page.
Another important beat is the family reunion happening with the Fantastic Four. (Less important might be, well, any of the other Liferaft heroes. Spider-Man(s) continue to be absent, along with Thor, and Captain Marvel’s situation has yet to be explained.) Valeria is slowly coming to accept the realization of her reality, although we can’t read a full expression of it yet, just vague utterances that “it’s [all] some show… like theater.” It’s okay, though, Valeria. We really like shows with big explosions. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of people standing around with mouths half-open looking at each other. Oh, wait. I guess we get that, too.
So, in Valeria’s words, it’s all just a big “show.” Could that be an intriguing hint into some unexpected twist ending? Dropping a concept like that makes a nice tantalizing subplot. Perhaps some kind of virtual reality? Some theme about scripted predestination versus free will?
Although, it also could be a bit of a metacommentary on how superficial the story of Secret Wars has become. It doesn’t really matter that there’s a big battle on the ground; just add a few figures throwing perfunctory punches. Once so-and-so’s function of the story is done, you can have them removed because they aren’t important anymore. Remember those Spider-Men? Yeah, me neither. You can have the Thing wake up, but he’ll just be taken off the board in a few pages. Might as well have a new guest star grow out of the World Tree, too, as he’ll be shunted to the background doing, I dunno, background action. Like Macbeth’s tale told by an idiot, it’s quite possible that the big finale is a lot of sound and fury over nothing. Come to think of it, this was Doom’s ennui from earlier issues, but we readers will want a bit more ideal than that. At least the sound and fury of it all is quite spectacular and out-and-out slugfesty and explodey goodness.
The spectacular action more than makes up for the usual story flaws, and the art, while showing some storytelling that appears too cramped or nonsequitor in places, has a better hits-to-misses ratio overall.