After clearing the decks and some involved establishing of the new status quo, this week’s installment lightly taps the actual plot of Secret Wars into play. The pieces may now all be on the shiny new board with parameters defined but how writer Jonathan Hickman will proceed from here is not yet an illuminated projection. Compacting back to regular-sized, “The Eye of Doom” crosses the line of scrimmage effectively in twenty pages but doesn’t deliver as satisfactorily as either of the previous chapters.
If anything, it raises far too many questions. Aside from cover painter Alex Ross depicting Jean Grey on the among the “castaways” (was she cut last minute? creative leeway? total oops?), there’s cover-to-cover teases of missing scene allusions and demand for clarification of character motivation/origin. Case in point and without saying too much, if this Sue Storm isn’t a mind-controlled/alternate reality/recreated-by-Doom version and is indeed the “classic” incarnation of the character? Wow.
Furthermore, Doom himself is not wholly unlikeable in his current capacity. And it’s not just a “root for the bad guys”-type characteristic that makes him redeemable; he seems almost benevolent. If there’s some hand-wringing going on under there, he and Hickman are playing it very close to the vest. As is, God Emperor Doom is surprisingly emo. He’s always been gothic- European monarch and all- but now the crushing weight of Battleworld has reverted him into a mopey teenager. Almost feel bad for him when Reed Richards catches wind of what’s happened to his family.
Indeed, inserting the surviving wildcard factions from the first issue into mix is the real grist of the piece. Juxtaposing the “fish out of water” outlook of the “616ers” against the reinvented politics and interactions of Battleworld will certainly prove interesting- particularly as the wheels churn the second Strange tells them who’s in charge. Before that, there’s a brief moment of wonderment not all thematically dissimilar to the black-and-white/color transition in The Wizard of Oz. Except Dorothy’s house is stored in a secret island holding facility for three years. Oh, and Kansas is gone. So yeah, guess it’s even more like “no place” now…
The visual team dial the spectacle back from previous outings as well, shifting to darker tones and more personalized settings. Color artist Ive Svorcina gives a good deal of depth to a muddier palette. Of particular note is the green/purple faux-bronzing effect on the Molecule Man “statue”. There is a tragically creepy story just swirling below the surface of that texture. Ominous.
Artist Esad Ribic’s facial expressions are at times hit and miss. Faces are a prominent motif in this issue. Yes, it’s largely one of them “talky” comics, so that kind of a given- but really, there is one panel that you simply cannot unsee! Let’s just say, it’s why Doom overcompensates in the armor. Gruesome.
However, for every unfortunate “hangover-face” (Reed), Ribic nails a pitch-perfect pissy-faced Strange. The absolute coup de grace, though, has to be the above-mentioned dead-silence reveal to the gang about the “God of Battleworld”. The proverbial needle scratching off the record at the party. Classic.
So, the score? We now have a great shopping list for a story. It’s just too bad that we haven’t really gotten to any of it yet. The extended page counts in the first quarter may have spoiled/skewed experience and expectation for subsequent issues. It may be a matter of slightly off-balance pacing as well but twenty pages just doesn’t seem like it’s cutting it for this epic. Small forward progressions are made that will have huge potential but the broader strokes lack in the immediate. After such exceptional strides, it feels like the foot is coming off the gas a little.