Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic have constructed a jam-packed crescendo that's all about momentum in "Secret Wars" #8, and the battle for Castle Doom gives this slower, more philosophical event the set pieces and spectacles it needed. While the series is undoubtedly hurt by its publication schedule, "Secret Wars" #8 did get me re-energized for issue #9. Though we already know most of the outcomes, I'm curious to see how this creative team goes out -- and judging by this issue, it'll be with a bang.
"Secret Wars" #8 brings all the conspirators against Doom together in a coordinated attack. Hickman and Ribic weave all the threads together nicely, and they maintain impressive control of the cast and plot -- something I'm rarely able to say about an event book. Perhaps adding the extra issue has helped with this; while many of the moments in issues #7 and #8 don't feel essential to the plot, they do help me keep track of everyone. The Annihilation Horde, Ben Grimm, Maestro's green army, Sinister's clones, zombie hordes -- the gang's all here, and both Ribic and Hickman have some fun with the various entrances and matchups. Doom himself stays relatively out of the fray, only engaging with a few enemies one-on-one, which does call his godhood into question. (I also have to add that using Sinister as a lens into the battle was an inspired choice.)
That said, it doesn't feel like the audience is necessarily closer to answers or resolutions than in issue #7. For all the fireworks, most of this battle feels inevitable and expected. The few big reveals are more surprising than illuminating -- "Oh, cool" moments rather than "A-ha!". Most importantly, Hickman hasn't answered Reed's key question from issue #6: "If we defeat him...what's on the other side of Doom[?]" The audience has some hints regarding Molecule Man and Strange's backup plan, but I found it difficult to fully invest in the battle when I wasn't sure what the end goal was. For some readers, this may add to the suspense, but it took me out of the action.
Ribic finally gets to shake off some of the stylistic heaviness in issue #8, with a few fun panels. The finale of Doom and Thanos's confrontation is epic, absurd grotesquerie that actually made me giggle out loud. Ribic also gives Sinister's rolling, decapitated head the same scathing, sardonic expression as ever, and the sight of a decapitated head trying to look down on everyone was very funny. Of course, there are still plenty of the grander, mythic images Ribic is known for. T'Challa and Namor's entrance onto the battlefield was majestically, stirringly framed, and colorist Ive Svorcina enhanced the effect with some unexpectedly light colors. However, Ribic runs into the same problem as in previous issues: Sue, Valeria and Black Swan all have incredibly similar faces, despite their wide differences in age. Admittedly, the cast is huge, so making everyone look perfectly unique would be a formidable task, but -- given how important these characters are -- I'd like to see some more distinct characterization.
"Secret Wars" #8 has enough drama and excitement that makes me wish it had had a different publication schedule. However, if Hickman and Ribic can build off the events here, issue #9 should be quite a memorable conclusion.