In "Secret Wars" #4, writer Jonathan Hickman spends most of the issue examining the dynamic between Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom and makes a remarkably strong issue out of it. Complementing Hickman's efforts, artist Esad Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina strengthen the issue further with beautiful visuals that work well whether the action is physical or verbal. Together, the creative team crafts an engaging and well-paced chapter that furthers the overall story, which is full of micro-level character defining moments that fit nicely alongside Hickman's far-reaching event and make for high midterm marks as the series reaches its halfway point.
Ribic opens the issue with a dynamic splash featuring members of the Cabal battling the Thor Corps, who serve as Doom's law enforcement on Battleworld. A single caption by Hickman leads off a compelling narrative, soon revealed to be the words of Strange, which immediately offers some insight to the nature of Battleworld's creation. This single panel on the first page is enough to make the issue a page turner, even if not all is immediately apparent to readers.
The second page expands on both Strange's voiceover and the overall scope of the skirmish, where Ribic and Hickman demonstrate perfect synchronization despite the different story elements that are shown versus explained. Strange's words as crafted by Hickman are surprisingly natural given the extraordinary story that they tell, an aspect of the issue that Hickman skillfully focuses on consistently throughout. The action then shifts to the sanctum of "Sheriff" Strange as he continues his enlightenment to an assortment of disbelieving 616-Universe Marvel heroes, such as a despondent and haggard-looking Reed Richards and a very impatient and imposing Captain Marvel, whose emotions Ribic captures perfectly.
While Ribic excels at displaying characters' emotions, Hickman does the same with their personalities; his Doctor Strange is a pragmatic realist, who takes no pleasure or disdain in Doom's role as God in this patchwork reality but simply recognizes that things are what they are while doing his best to make his allies realize that. It's a trait that's convincingly established by Hickman before Doom's surprising action near the issue's conclusion, which makes him take action of his own, somewhat contrary to his earlier statements but carried out just as convincingly.
The focus shifts from Strange to Doom while Hickman continues to explore Doom's flawed god complex, as he has done in past issues. Doom eventually has an encounter with a character whom he has rarely faced (and never in his current incarnation), and the sequence is a revealing look at both Doom's nature and his true power. This, in turn, gives way to Strange's own showdown with Doom, which is an almost poetic conclusion to an issue that began with Strange's assessment of Doom's character.
Alex Ross delivers a typically stunning, family portrait-style cover for the issue that visually sums up Doom's relationship to not only Strange, but also Susan Richards and her daughter Valeria. "Secret Wars" #4 impresses, both as part of an evolving storyline and as a standalone character study enhanced with expressive visuals.