A question debated by geeks for decades gets answered in this week’s issue of Secret Wars. Spoilers ahead.

(One more time: spoilers follow! Hover over the top left of each image and click on the magnifying glass icon to expand it.)

At the heart of the Secret Wars miniseries lies an unexpected conundrum: just who is Dr. Doom now? That query used to be easier to answer. Doom was the main nemesis of the Fantastic Four, a man so driven by ego that he saw himself as the best person to rule the world. He was clearly a villain.

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But he’s been acting more and more like the opposite. It was Doom who jumped into the breach as the multiverse was dying, emerging with the power to roll a saving throw and rewrite the universe.

Now that the context of all existence has changed, the Latverian monarch is coming across a lot like a superhero. A god, in fact. But there’s one thing he can’t do.

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Doom’s origin stories over the years have shown him mastering both magic and science in his quest to become master of all. And once he put on his iconic mask, he’s almost never been shown without it. The appearance of Victor Von Doom’s true visage has long been the kind of small-yet-important detail that nerds have been contemplating for years. Is it a still-handsome face with a single scar that his vanity forces him to hide? Or did the climactic moment of donning his mask leave him horribly disfigured?

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Page 16 of Secret Wars #3 answers that question. It’s a shock to see the face of Doom, to have a definitive answer for a question made all-powerful by its lack of resolution. The bigger shock is in feeling sad for Victor. Even after he resolves his lifelong goal of ultimate power, he retains the foibles of the person he once was. Despite being a man who thinks he’s perfect enough to become a god, he still has doubt.

It would be a big departure for Dr. Doom to be suddenly re-categorized as a tragic, misunderstood hero. While he’s been portrayed sympathetically before, previous creators have always undercut that framing with cruelty and ruthlessness. Here, he feels more human than ever before. Prideful yet capable of second-guessing himself. He’ll probably do something evil soon but that doesn’t rob this issue of its importance for giving a fascinating glimpse at one of Marvel’s biggest villains.

The other big thing that happens in Secret Wars #3 is the the encroachment of the Marvel Universe that once was into the realm of Battleworld.

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Secret Wars is the editorial device taking the Marvel Universe from what was to what will be. And the revelations in this issue show developments that reveal more pieces survived the multiversal cataclysm than initially thought. The sun shining over Battleworld? There’s a superhero in there making it smoulder. The liferaft from mainline Marvel Earth survived, too, holding a cargo of heroes crashing into a world where they don’t fit in. A world ruled by a Dr. Doom who did what they couldn’t. Hell of a thing, that.


Contact the author at evan@kotaku.com.