In Marvel's Secret Wars series, Victor Von Doom now has the omnipotence of a god. But it's beginning to look like having the power to rebuild the universe hasn't saved him from being a deeply flawed man.
The core conceit of Secret Wars — that Doom became strong enough to snatch slivers of a dying multiverse's alternate realities and make a patchwork world — begs the question: if he's that powerful, why does he need anyone to help him? It's slowly becoming apparent that he doesn't necessarily need Sue, Valeria, the Thors and all the rest; he wants them. The trappings of the world he made are simply the geography of Doom's psyche writ large and they show that he's an incredibly lonely man.
One of Doom's traditional boasts is to say that "Doom needs no man!" Yet, at least twice now, he's wished that Stephen Strange was still around to confide in.
Remember: Doom grew up with an abusive father. And the defining quest of his life has been to free his mother's soul from the netherworld. Doom needs family. He's never really had one. Sure, he'll say that the citizens of Latveria love him. The hooded tyrant famously goes around saying that "Doom does not lie!" so he probably believes that. Some of those people in the country he rules with an iron fist probably do love their masked leader. But it's a tainted love borne from fear, codependence and the worst kinds of human interconnection. It's not the freely-given, battle-tested affection that holds the Fantastic Four together. The fact that Reed Richards has a loving circle of family and friends is the one thing probably rankles Doom the most. It's the one area where Doom can't say that he's better than Mr. Fantastic. Viewed through this lens of dysfunction, it makes sense that he stole these aspects of Richards' life when he attained ultimate power.
That roiling envy is why Doom says the name "Richards" like a curse word in issue #4 when he found out Reed was still alive after the multiversal cataclysm. The limitations of his psychological make-up also explain why he can't fix his face despite being omnipotent. It's because he mentally views any small imperfection as horrific. He doesn't know how to cope.
In Secret Wars #6, it's made clear that Doom has lied to Valeria, specifically about who killed Stephen Strange. Reading those scenes, I thought that Doom is too smart to think that the lie will hold, especially since he knows she's a genius too. But what Doom doesn't have is the kind of emotional intelligence that comes from raising a family. He can't reckon with the idea that somewhere along the line kids stop being perfectly obedient and start questioning the reasoning of every command they're given. And while he did raise a young boy named Kristoff in previous Marvel continuity, those stories have shown that Doom was not at all a good father. Kristoff's loyalty was won through abuse, manipulation and threats.
This week's issue also drives home how central the Fantastic Four is to the Marvel Universe. Doom made them part of Battleworld's perverse creation myth, signalling how important they are to him in a twisted way.
Every scene with Reed Richards and Susan Storm-Richards make their absence from Marvel's wave of relaunched titles even more inconspicuous.
It really does seem like Marvel's first family will be fractured in the aftermath of Secret Wars, replaced by a Doom made whole. On the outside, at least.
The long arc of the years-long metastory that Hickman has been spinning throughout Marvel Universe has been about families. In the Fantastic Four, FF and New Avengers series that he's written, we've seen the noble and darker sacrifices that people make to either have or keep a family. It doesn't matter that the first issue of Iron Man revealed that a major player survives the end of Secret Wars, because the event series' drama depends only partially on the suspense of waiting on the ultimate fate of its players. The 2015 iteration of Secret Wars, picking up from the 1984 series that preceded it, is really a character piece about what makes Marvel's most megalomaniacal villain tick. This event seems like it's going to be the apotheosis of that theme, a Wagnerian crescendo where all the power of multiple universes can't give a man the trust and love he needs to truly heal. So, while the shocker at the end of Invincible Iron Man #1 shows us that Doctor Doom survives Secret Wars, it doesn't tell us what kind of Doctor Doom made it out to the other side. Only time will tell if he's all-new and all-different, too.