Thursday, July 22, 2021

Power Begets Power


Amid all the battles taking place between heroes and villains during the 1985-86 limited series Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars, there were two characters who were instead more concerned with their own priorities in this strange setting they had been thrust into. For the world-devourer Galactus, his was to almost immediately seek out and confront this conflict's orchestrator, the Beyonder, and insist that this being use his clearly overwhelming and limitless power to end his endless craving for the life force of worlds; but for the infamous monarch of Latveria known as Dr. Doom, he, too, sought an opportunity to gain power for himself, having witnessed the great power which the Beyonder wielded to wipe out an entire galaxy as well as create a world on which the captured super-humans would battle.

The Beyonder would effortlessly rebuff both of them during the initial attempt of Galactus to breach the Beyonder's portal to his universe, and, from that point on, both would pursue their goals in their own way using their own methods: Galactus, by summoning his world-ship to facilitate his draining the planet of its life force (which would mean the deaths of all of those brought from Earth), and Doom, by turning his attention to the vast world-ship and its secrets. Finally, Doom's patience bore fruit, when Galactus, in preparation for facing the Beyonder once more, began consuming the incredible sources of energy which were available to him, starting with his world-ship.

Yet in his own preparations, Doom had secured the means by which he could take advantage of such a moment--and as the horrified onlookers on the planet fear the worst, Doom lays claim to nothing less than the power which Galactus looked to absorb himself!

In other words, Ms. Rambeau, it sucks to be you right now.

Given that Doom has always made bold claims of his "matchless mind" being able to adapt to situations that lesser men could not, it's fitting for writer Jim Shooter to show him having not so easy a time of it in attempting to keep his focus--and his sanity--regarding his own corporeal state of existence even as he struggles to cope with the perceptual shifts inundating him at these early moments of an entirely new existence. We're left to assume that Doom's prior experience in being able to absorb and control cosmic power has played some part in allowing him to weather the far, far greater flood of forces meant for the mind and body of Galactus--but we'll find his greater test in this regard is yet to come.

Yet even in as superior and overwhelming a state of being as he currently finds himself, there is still one other whose shadow falls over him (or, more to the point, in whose shadow he still remains), a realization that he cannot tolerate--and so he now girds himself for a winner-take-all struggle with the Beyonder, a contest which he has prepared for to a certain degree but will demand all the resources this man can bring to bear, just to stay alive.

(I'm not sure how well Doom expects Klaw to fare, when the former Master of Sound appears destined to face the rest of his life dissected, immobile, decapitated, and mad--although it doesn't appear as if Klaw cares one way or the other.)

We know from past schemes, however, that Doom is no stranger to miscalculation--and his arrogance has led him to place all his hopes for victory on physically reaching the Beyonder in order to use his technology to overcome him. We can only wonder what approach Galactus would have taken with a second attempt at confronting the Beyonder directly; but in Doom's case, Pride [indeed] goeth before destruction, And an haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18)--and the sting of defeat brought on by an opponent that crushes his assault as if he were far, far less than an ant makes for a riveting scene and reduces Doom to an almost pitiable state. So much so that he resorts to utter desperation to salvage what minuscule hope remains for him.

As Captain America will come to suspect, it seems almost certain that Doom is using his power to exercise a sort of mental tug on the minds of those present to accept that his plaintive words are the truth and that they should accede to his request. Yet only one reaches out to him, albeit uncertainly: Magneto, who to his credit stops short before grasping Doom's hand but is then jumped by the others to avert the likelihood. Doom, unable to maintain contact any longer, fades--only to then find his own doom swiftly upon him.

The only indications that those on the planet receive of the battle's climax raging above is a severe series of quakes, followed by a sudden silence. All assembled are readying to face one of two possible outcomes: Either Doom or the Beyonder has triumphed, or the two have fought to their mutual destruction. They don't have long to wait--but who... what... descends and appears before them is possibly the most demoralizing image they could have, under the circumstances.

Wow, Spider-Man! Since when did you develop stretching powers?

Yet against all odds, as our two covers above would seem to indicate, Doom has triumphed over the Beyonder and taken his power for himself. The scope of Doom's might at this juncture cannot be overstated, a fact the assembled heroes are well aware of as they nevertheless prepare to go to their deaths fighting--but stuns them with a proclamation which makes clear that as far as he is concerned, hostilities have ceased.

The appearance of Doom making peace with the heroes, however, doesn't sit well with the Molecule Man, feeling that Doom has betrayed his own villainous allies--and so Owen Reece lashes out, first by using his own incredible power to cause an upheaval which removes the heroes from the area (along with several billion tons of the planet's crust), and then moving to confront Doom. But, like the heroes, he'll find Doom's reaction the opposite of what he expected.

While the Molecule Man would have more of a role in this series' follow-up, Secret Wars II, his involvement here, and that of his fellow villains, comes to an end--as has that of Galactus, who drifts in space as a result of Doom usurping his power earlier. As for Doom himself, who maintains he's renounced his evil ambitions, he makes his position clear to the heroes who have been summoned into his presence one last time, a point he makes in no uncertain terms.

Obviously, Doom's haughty stance remains a part of him. We learn, however, that his way is not as free and clear as he'd like to believe, as, unknown to him, the Beyonder yet lives and has been taking control of select individuals in order to covertly make his way to Doom's proximity. In addition, Doom has found that managing the Beyonder's power requires continuous focus and concentration, nor can he fall asleep for fear of his power being unleashed beyond control.

Meanwhile, Spider-Woman has been discovered missing from Captain America's departing group, forcing Cap to defy Doom's edict and return to look for her (not realizing that the Beyonder has recently taken control of her). Doom allows the intrusion, and even sends his reconstituted aid, Klaw, to search for her. In the meantime, Cap's conversation with Doom will give the Avenger cause for concern as to whether the power of the Beyonder should be left with such a man.

Nevertheless, the group votes to return to battle Doom--and at that moment of decision, the repercussions, as Cap feared, are instantaneous.

That would seem to take care of these "wars," you would think--an attack that "blows to pieces" the bodies of the only remaining players and leaves Doom supreme, end of story. Unknown to Doom, however (can anything be unknown to him in his current state, seriously?), the Beyonder's essence had jumped from Spider-Woman to Klaw before her departure from Doom's new citadel--and "Klaw" begins to sow the seeds of doubt in Doom as far as just how effective his attack has been.

Since life and death are trifles to one with the Beyonder's power, the incredible happens as the result of Klaw suggesting a scenario in which Cap and his group could have survived. And though an all-out attack on Doom by the heroes is blunted even as he struggles to rein in the power which becomes increasingly unchecked, Cap makes it past his defenses, in time to witness the true end of this conflict.

The epilogue to this series takes a good deal of wind out of its sails, anything or anyone having to do with these people being whisked away and forced to take part in a bloody series of battles is summarily dropped--in particular, the Beyonder, who appears to have lost all interest in his own reason(s) for instigating this entire affair, as well as any interest in the participants' welfare as far as returning them to their world. How curious that the Watcher has not been present, though that fact in itself speaks volumes as to how significant this conflict has been; yet he could have been the one to inject some sort of closure regarding the Beyonder's actions, for the heroes and for the reader.

And speaking of the others, how do these people calmly plan to return the way they arrived, when Doom's power, run amok and having destructive effect not only on the planet but its star, should have annihilated the orbiting "arena" constructs which brought them there? Instead, Shooter's priority is to move to position the heroes so that their departure coincides with the various states we find them in when they materialize back in their own titles. Just as the Beyonder has forgotten them, so, too, have they apparently decided that a being who is aware of their universe and has proven to be malicious and willing to cause immeasurable destruction can simply be relegated to a file entry and that's that. At least the Illuminati--another "secret"--decided to be a little more proactive.

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