Last time in Secret Wars, things were heating up as the Cabal had a run in with a bunch of Thors while some survivors from the previous universe made an appearance.
What will happen next?! Is it good?
Secret Wars #4 (Marvel Comics)
So the Thors fight the Cabal and ended up getting their butts kicked, causing Dr. Strange and his newly awaken pals to come a running. However, Dr. Doom also happens to see what is going on and decides to enter the scene as well.
Secret Wars #4 is perhaps the best issue of the event so far. Its not without its problems, but it also feels like the event is getting somewhere now. The first issue was completely not new reader friendly and felt it was trying to do too much at once. The second issue was a gigantic exposition dump to explain and set up the entire new world. The third issue was a lot more exposition and setup with very little excitement or intrigue. This issue is a change of pace as it provides a lot more forward progression in the story, a real rising conflict and a direction, intrigue and potential, and a few surprises thrown into mix. If you have been fading on the book, Secret Wars #4 is a safe bet to renew your interest.
Umm, Reed? You’re talking to Black Panther, not Stephen. You feeling okay?
Secret Wars #4 features a confrontation between Doctor Doom and the Raft survivors, the decision Dr. Strange makes and what that could lead to, the ending’s implications, and even some backstory about how this world came to be (clearly a very BIG unanswered question from New Avengers). There’s a lot of interesting conflict and potential here for where the story can go, now that all of the characters are separated from one another, good and bad and what the ending presents. It really gets you hopeful and excited for how the rest of the event will play out, especially since it could lead to some epic and thrilling confrontations.
On the opposite side though, the comic raises some worries with the story. We are now officially halfway through this event with only four issues left and there are a LOT of story elements that need to be addressed: The remaining cliffhangers and subplots from the Avengers and New Avengers run, how Battleworld will be undone, the conflict with the Cabal running around, Reed Richards facing down Dr. Doom, and character arcs to be finished from this and previous Hickman series. It’s worrisome to think about Hickman covering all these plot threads in just four issues. Also troubling is a particular plot point mentioned in regards to the Beyonders; Dr. Strange reveals that he and Doom defeated them all, got their powers (at least Doom did), and used them to create this world. The problem with this is the fact that the Beyonders were built up to be this huge and intimidating force of nature (Lovecraftian in the way people described it), something that was causing the end of the Multiverse. To have them all be defeated off panel after the buildup and hype about how super awesome they were (destroying and taking down the ultimate beings in the universe) would be possibly one of the weakest and disappointing things seen in Marvel Comics as of recently. It would be the ultimate slap in the face and weak climax for a storyline since Infinity’s conclusion for the Builders, since these are the guys that were built up to the be driving force behind the death of everything since the beginning of Hickman’s Avengers run. It’s possible they’ll come back and we are not done with them (if we are not done with them, throw that onto the pile of things the writer would need to cover for the conclusion), so I’ll reverse judgment for later. Right now I’m just very worried about this.
Hickman’s writing is better than previous issues for the most part, though suffers in areas. Characterization is limited to primarily only the doctors, while everyone else is just sort of there and doesn’t get to do much (which is a shame, since you do see Namor and Black Panther fighting in one panel and there’s still plenty of conflict between the two left to address). Strange and Doom do get to have some nice moments and character bits, but that’s it. The pacing is slow going, but rarely feels like it drags since the comic does tend to keep the story moving. The dialogue and narration are iffy as always, as there’s still a lot of dry talking and monologues that are irritating to read at times. In particular, Phoenix Cyclops probably had the worst dialogue for a single a character, while the most annoying exchange happens with Doom, Susan, and Valeria as they analyze the fight between the Thors and the Cabal (thankfully it changes at end though). But positively, there are some decent conversations and dialogue in the comic, the final scene of the issue especially. While problematic, this is easily still one of Hickman’s better outings in terms of writing.
Finally, we turn to Esad Ribic’s artwork and it’s generally about the same quality as the previous issues. The layouts are put together pretty well, with the pages and panels being easy to follow while allowing the story to flow naturally without any sloppy cuts. The action looks exciting and intense, but can also come across as static in panels. The coloring is beautiful, creating a great tone and mood for a lot of the scenes, like with the ending. What is not so great are the characters. While they all look like who they are supposed to be, their facial expressions are still rather goofy and over-exaggerated in many instances. Also off in the character department are directions the characters look in. If you look at the way characters are facing or where their eyes are looking, sometimes they seem to be staring off in a different direction or at someone else completely when they are talking or listening. It’s noticeable at points and this ends up making for some unintentional funny moments.
Strange looks so puzzled and baffled in the second panel.
Is It Good?
Secret Wars #4 is the best issue of the event so far, at least to me. The story feels like it is really getting underway now, finally moving away from the setup. There’s also some improvements in the writing, some stronger character bits, and the cliffhanger is very pretty enticing. Where the comic trips is in some of the story development, the missed opportunities, some weak dialogue, and also in some areas of the artwork. There are only four issues left to go and hopefully, things keep improving from here on out.