Hickman really lays it all on the table here, giving us the secret history of the "Secret Wars." Since I didn't read his run on "Avengers" or "New Avengers," I'm not sure how much of the material that Hickman covers here is new. At the very least, it's new (and exciting) to me.
We (or maybe just I) learn in this issue that the Beyonders had grown tired of experimenting with life, so they moved onto death. They created Owen Reese as a bomb; his analogue in each reality was meant to destroy all reality when they each exploded simultaneously. However, the Beyonders underestimated the fact that Reese's humanity gave him the power of free choice. He wound up choosing to support Doom when he approached him with the truth behind the Beyonders' plan. Together, they began setting off the alternate versions of himself early to diminish the final explosion's power, creating the "incursions" that the Illuminati discovered in "New Avengers." Ultimately, they realized that they couldn't stop the Beyonders' plan, so they worked with Dr. Strange to steal their power. With that stolen power, Doom was able to save some parts of reality and created Battleworld from them.
It is honestly a solid story. If it's the first time that Hickman has revealed it since he started work on it with "Avengers" and "New Avengers," then the long-time readers of those series had to have their minds effing blown in reading it.
With the truth revealed, Hickman can now focus on the matter at hand: where we go from here. First, Doom is clearly worried (as Reese assures him that he should be) that his grip on power is loosening. Hickman hints in the conversation between Doom and Reese (who is hiding from the rest of Battleworld in a "room" located beneath the statue of him at Castle Doom) that they jointly maintain Battleworld and that their grip on it may not be as strong as Doom has led others to believe. Second, it's definitely true that Doom's hold on the truth is fracturing. Over the years, Valeria and her team have studied the energy of Battleworld and identified that Dr. Strange's power existed as almost anti-matter to Doom's power (the "god particles" that comprise all other energy on Battleworld). Although we don't learn why it would be the case (they themselves don't know), their ability to track the energy means that they know that it was Dr. Strange that dispersed the "strangers." (I'm assuming they'll learn that the strangers' powers use energy also different from Doom's.) Her suspicions heightened (since Doom tells the world a different story of Strange's fate), Valeria commits to finding the truth. When you add into the mix Thanos wandering the world on his own, you begin to realize why Doom's worried.
The exciting part of this series at this point is that Hickman still doesn't hint how it's all going to be resolved. Sure, Doom may have been a villain on Earth-616, but Hickman has made it clear that he is really the hero here. You can't dispute that he saved as much of reality as he could. Yes, he put himself on the throne, but you also understand why he had to do so: it appears that keeping the domains separate is important to keeping the peace (and perhaps the integrity) of Battleworld. Reed may well despise him for the reality that he's created, but it's not like Reed succeeded in saving the old one. In fact, Hickman is turning on its head the usual event trope where the heroes save the day just in the nick of time. What are they going to do here? Undo Doom's work and destroy Battleworld? If "saving the day" means "destroying all reality," are you really a hero? Hickman keeps this question at the center of this event, and it's why it's one of the best ones that I've really ever read. Usually, we're starting to fade at this point in an event, as some sort of logical fallacy overwhelms the story. (I'm looking at you, "Age of Ultron.") But, Hickman is not only going strong, but getting stronger. I can't wait to see where we go.
***** (five of five stars)