Every Friday in Panel Discussion, Jeremy Writebol considers how the latest comic book releases intersect with the Good News of Christ. This piece may contain spoilers.
It’s all over. Earth-616, Earth-1610, the Multiverse… they’re all gone. The universes collided with each other, leaving absolutely nothing but destruction and annihilation behind. Not even the Avengers could save the fifteen hundred different Marvel universes, not even one of them! Fortunately, one of Marvel’s most notable characters possessed the wisdom and foresight to see the colliding universes and the annihilation they would bring and take action to obtain the power to remake and renew the universes under his supreme hand. In so doing, he became a new creator, benefactor, and authority. Instead of merely a doctor or brilliant scientist, he became God of the new Battleworld. Doctor Doom became God Emperor Doom.The decades-long struggle between Richards and Doom is a picture of our struggle with God.
Doom’s forever rival, Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic, foresaw the “incursions” as well and was hard at work to stop and save his own universe from annihilation. But Richards’ attempts at survival were insufficient compared to Doom’s. (Building a few survival rafts to get the best and brightest out hardly worked.) As a result, Richards was weak and the universe was over. But Doom was great, and a new world made in his image began.
For eight months now, Jonathan Hickman has been working on a major overhaul to conclude the legacy of the Marvel universe and allow Disney to move the entire Marvel brand into a whole new world (pun intended). The “Powers That Be” decided that, instead of a bajillion parallel universes, a single, cohesive universe would be more efficient for Marvel’s storytelling strategy. Characters have been discontinued and dropped off the face of the universe (goodbye Gambit), new teams have formed, and supporting stock characters have been transformed and taken up the mantle of classic protagonists (hello Thor). The world has been remade, and it’s “All New, All Different.”
While the Secret Wars saga encompasses the entire Marvel universe, its conclusion is really an intimate and finishing struggle between Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom. It’s been well-documented since 1962 that Doom and Richards possess similar abilities in science, engineering, physics, and leadership. Each is the other’s foil. Within the historical storyline of these two characters, the only difference has been that Richards possesses just a bit more smarts and moral clarity — just a bit — than Doom, and this is the aggravating distance that Doom feels must be overcome.
Every interaction with Richards has seen Doom try to demonstrate his superiority, power, and intellect over and against that of Richards. His pursuit has been to wield power and gain respect because he truly believes himself to be the better person. But evil and death have followed every attempt to take over. The incursion events became the stage for one last effort to fix the world, and for Doom to demonstrate superiority over Richards.
In the last act, a weakened Richards puts into motion his final attempt to overcome Doom and death and to fix the universe once and for all. But the final “boss battle” isn’t won with might or strength — it’s won by mere confession. As Richards and Doom duke it out for the final time, Doom comes to confess that he, too, believes in the superior goodness of Richards. If Richards had been the omnipotent one, he could have “solved it all — solved everything…”; he could have “done so much better.” That confession signals the final victory of Richards over Doom. It also signals Doom’s healing.
In many ways this is the power of confession for us today. The decades-long struggle between Richards and Doom is a picture of our struggle with God. Like Doom, we live as scarred death, attempting to rule a universe that isn’t really ours and control a world that we’ve tried to fashion in our own image. We’ve tried to take over the universe in an effort to save ourselves and all that we hold dear. We’ve “made [ourselves] God and the first thing we did was replace [God].” We’ve removed him from our world and our lives, only including him when he’s absolutely necessary and convenient for us. However, we are poor saviors and insufficient gods, and we bear the name Doom. Our universe will end in death.
The turn for us comes through confession. As Doom finally — though unwillingly — declares that Richards would be the better, more moral, just, and kinder savior of the Marvel universe, Mr. Fantastic is put in his rightful place. So too for us. As we cease to declare ourselves Lord and instead confess Jesus as Lord, we find both God and ourselves set in rightful places. To declare Jesus as Lord is to give him the rightful supreme authority and place of rulership over our lives. It is to declare ourselves insufficient saviors, and Jesus as the only Savior. It is to lay down our attempts at perfection and to take hold of, by faith, his ultimate perfection. It is to stop striving to make a name for ourselves, and to be baptized into the Triune name. It is — for us — to turn from trying to heal our own wounds and allow Christ’s wounds to be our healing (Isaiah 53:5).
Perhaps the real secret of Secret Wars is the underlying story of God’s grace for us in Jesus as Lord. Our world is falling apart. Our universe is coming to a conclusion. Death is coming for us all. The secret lies in the reality that if we entrust ourselves to Christ, he won’t break or bruise us, he won’t level us with death and doom. Instead, he has taken death and doom for us and is now Lord and God over all things so that, “if [we] confess with [our mouths] that Jesus is Lord… [we] will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
Doom’s salvation came through confessing that Mr. Fantastic was his better. Our salvation comes through confessing Jesus as our Lord.