It's going to be hard discussing Secret Wars #3 without crossing into spoiler territory. A great deal of things happen, with several major revelations, and there's at least one moment that the Internet will be discussing for weeks.
But I'm going to try to avoid the big stuff.
In Secret Wars #3, the center stage is owned by Victor Von Doom, the "god" of Battleworld, and Stephen Strange, his "Sheriff of Agomotto." Readers with strong memories may remember that Doom, Strange and Molecule Man appeared in the opening moments of Secret Wars #1, where they appeared to make a deal with the Beyonders. The next time we saw them, Doom was the creator and god over Battleworld with Strange serving as his loyal lieutenant.
What exactly happened between that human trio and the Beyonders is revealed in this issue, and it's pretty much what we expected. One large panel also gives a big hint as to why Molecule Man isn't on Battleworld. After Doom and Strange talk about the world that was vs. the one that is now, they set out on separate story paths.
Writer Jonathan Hickman has been casting Doom in an increasingly sympathetic light since this series began, and issue #3 tells us in no uncertain terms that this all-powerful villain is no longer the bad guy. He's changed, and the influence of Susan Storm is a big part of why. (Makes you wonder if, back in the 616, Susan had fallen in love with Victor instead of Reed, would he have become the villain Dr. Doom? Discuss.) Yet even a god can be fallible, and shockingly, the guy with the biggest ego in the entire Marvel universe now has insecurities and doubts. What happens after he confesses this is the aforementioned moment that tongues are certain to be wagging about.
As Doom's needle moves a bit more toward the side of light, conversely, Stephen Strange's is moving in the opposite direction. Thanks to his partnership with Doom and his complicity in keeping all of Battleworld in the dark about the past, Strange may have a hard time rejoining the heroes after Secret Wars is over.
While Strange is off on a new mission, he encounters the "life raft" used by the group of villains we saw in the last issue — and discovers a surprising stowaway on board. The new, young Thor we met in the second issue returns for this, suggesting that he may have a bigger role to play in the story than anyone suspected. And then comes the biggest reveal of the issue: the not-entirely-surprising discovery that Strange has been keeping a mighty big secret of his own.
Hickman's pacing feels appropriately epic, with the big reveals spread out nicely amid some good character drama. Plenty happens in Secret Wars #3, but it never feels overwhelming, compressed, or rushed. That's a sign of quality writing.
Esad Ribic once again proves why he was the perfect choice to pair with Hickman for this event. Ribic has always excelled at medieval-style artwork, yet he handles the sci-fi aspects with equal aplomb. This is rich, elegant imagery that you'll want to stop reading and just stare at.
Secret Wars #3 is a strong follow-up to the universe-defining second issue and universe-destroying first, laying to rest any fears that Hickman requires an entire universe to manipulate in order to keep things interesting. It's just good storytelling, start to finish.
Is it worth the exorbitant price increase Marvel has employed of late? Hard to say if anything could justify that, but modern, mainstream comic books don't get much better than this.