Peace and Redemption
***There are a couple spoilers here, but not too many.***
Secret Wars ends with a bang, not a whimper, but it is a wonderfully soft bang.
To be sure, it has plenty of pyrotechnics. There is a great battle between T’Challa and Doom that takes place on many levels, including the metaphoric, and a confrontation between Reed and Doom that gets down to brass personal tacks.
But it is the thread of the Molecule Man’s story that makes it work, as is true with the original Secret Wars (I and II). Of course I may be blinded by my fandom, because the Molecule Man is one of my favorite characters. But it was truly heartwarming for this fan to watch the careful redemption of Owen’s character over the prefatory Incursion storyline, and through the Secret Wars series. All throughout I watched and hoped, because Owen’s character has been dreadfully trashed through the decades since Secret Wars II redeemed him the last time. For those who aren’t as familiar, let me give this precis: he started off as one of the most pathetic villains of all time. His various random appearances showed him to be needy, plaintive, wretched, feeble, throwing childish temper tantrums that make Doctor Octopus look adult, and immature about the opposite sex in ways that make comic book fans look like James Bond. (You should read the story where he basically tries to seduce Tigra.) Anyway, he was basically the definition of pathetic. Then Tigra gets him to a therapist, he falls into a mutually-loving relationship with Volcana, Doom later removes his self-implanted mental blocks, and he realizes he’s all-powerful. He ends up acting as a mentor to the Beyonder, and between that and his relationship with Volcana, he basically becomes self-actualized and fulfilled, a complete and mature and happy person.
Then, the folks at Marvel decided that was no good, tamped down his powers, and for good measure broke him up with Volcano and made him back into a sniveling worm. His next couple decades were probably even more embarrassing than his pre-Secret Wars series, culminating in his loss to Sentry.
So when he reappeared in New Avengers, seemingly being treated respectfully by Jonathan Hickman, I was tentatively hopeful, but nervously waiting to see if he once again turn into a loser. But Hickman even created a plot justification for his personal instability over the years, so things looked positive. Throughout Secret Wars, it has been clear that he was a key part of the plot, but how, exactly, was ambiguous, so I was still on tenterhooks about how this would all end.
Without spoiling anything, I can say that he does in fact end up as a major, perhaps the major, key player in the plot, and is redeemed in character as well, ending up as a seemingly once again fulfilled, happy, sane, self-actualized character, acting as a mirror to the way he was redeemed at the end of the two previous Secret Wars series. And (bringing this review back to the issue), this is one of the things I like about this series: it has lots of symmetries with the originals, from the two life rafts mirroring the “hero” and “villain” teleportation rings from Secret Wars I, to the mentoring relationship between Doom and Reece (to just mention a couple). I think all the fights and intrigues in this issue are great. It’s great to see Doom’s personality crack in his fight with Reed, essentially finally admitting that he is not perfect even in his force of will, his greatest trait of all; and Reed's comeback to him, about wanting to help Doom be better, was perfect; that last shot, which I won’t spoil, has a nice feel. I will be curious to see how, if at all, Doom will be changed by this event when he next appears in normal comics. I also love Owen's comment to Miles about the hamburger--do we interpret that as why Miles is the one person from the Ultimate Universe to get to stay in the now-Prime universe? Or is that why Miles's family is now back alive and seemingly peaceful once again? (As seen in his own series.)
T’Challa’s final scene, going back in time, is intriguing, and I’ll be curious to see what that means in the future, since it seems to imply that he is the only one to know what happened, and to have travelled back to that time? How this works in relation to Reed is also unclear, and is one of the points I wish was cleared up—somehow Owen (I think) decides to bring Sue and Franklin back to life, but not Ben or Johnny? They say Reed rescued them from the life raft, but did this actually happen in some weird time-revision, or is Reed lying to her about that, and it was just that Owen selectively brought them back to life (which is what I get from the “I had some help” line, followed by the picture of a smiling Owen). And what does it mean for T’Challa to have gone back in time, and be aware of all that happened, if they still do go on through all the normal events seemingly as they happened, since they do apparently still end up in the life rafts?
That temporal conundrum aside, the final moments with Reed, Franklin, and Owen working together to make new universes, and with Owen’s selves floating off to seed them with his power, slowly bringing himself back to sanity, was very touching, a great endpoint for the series, and a wonderfully quiet way to wrap up Owen’s return to respectability. I hope.
Oh yes--the art is beautiful, as always. Without Ribic, this series wouldn't have been nearly as tone-perfect as it has been.