After the plot-changing ending of the previous issue, “Secret Wars” #5 takes a moment to settle and reset the game board for the final act of the series as Doctor Doom spends some quality time with the Molecule Man and the survivors of the 616 and 1610 universes integrate themselves into Doomworld. Jonathan Hickman pens a reflective installment at this midway point, using the quiet to show how the threads of Doom’s world are beginning to unravel. Esad Ribic doesn’t throw any visual gags into this issue like the last few but does deliver more strong character work in both the dramatic flashbacks and the solemn scenes throughout.
Readers are finally given a glimpse into the cataclysmic moment when Doom, Owen Reece and Stephen Strange confronted the Beyonders. Though fans have patiently waited for confirmation of what happened, many have speculated correctly about what the trio weaponized to stop the destruction of reality. The reimagining of Reece as a time bomb planted by the Beyonders in every reality is a strong use of the existing properties and how their origins tie into one another. It gives Molecule Man new purpose, previously only a macguffin or deus ex machinia depending on the writer. The scenes in which he and Doom are alone in the ether are the main focal point of the issue and have the strongest interaction between the king with the heaviest crown and his lone remaining confidant. Reece’s madness was frustrating to read when Hickman first introduced him but, as the character settled into his role, the writer has blended the insanity with sage wisdom.
Ribic illustrates the scene in sparse panels and tight shots that ratchet up the drama of the situation. It’s an opportunity for the creative team to allow Doom the chance to re-steel his resolve after lashing out at the end of issue four. The artist tells a lot of Doom’s story through limited facial real estate, giving a lot of power to Doom through his eyes. Though he’s cloaked in white instead of green, this series may prove to be a definitive visual version of the monarch of Latveria. The rest of the issue continues Ribic’s command of strong pace, compelling visuals and expert panel choices, even with a talking heads issue like this one.
As Valeria begins to question the nature of the new strangers on Doomworld, Hickman proves that the greater story he has been telling comes down to family. Hickman’s first story as writer of “Fantastic Four” was about how the 616 Reed was unique in that he had love in his life, a tribe around him that kept his ego in check. In the wake of the universe’s restructuring, Doom received the two things he coveted more than anything: ultimate rule and Reed Richards’ clan, the only trophy he could not easily supplant from the Fantastic Four patriarch. Doom has always felt he could do anything better than Richards and he is beginning to find that, while it may be true in a grand plotting sense, he doesn’t know how to be family. In this, Doom comes closest to the concept of Reed Richards, though it’s the Richards of other realities, meaning his true prize still ultimately eludes him.
The end of this issue teases out stories in the connecting series in the publishing line and a major move by a character whose presence has not yet been fully felt in this epic. Though it’s a downbeat issue, “Secret Wars” #5 is essential for those following Hickman’s maxi-saga or readers looking for a study in Doom’s motivation.