Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Post-Graduate Studies #12

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:
War Games, Part II
by Professor Matthew Bradley

  First, it should be noted that Professor Tom and our august Dean are graciously allowing me to weigh in with my curmudgeonly comments, but I am doing so without access to Tom’s material, and thus apologize in advance for any redundancies or unwitting contradictions.  Second, I am a poster child for a phenomenon he will doubtless discuss, those driven away from Marvel at least partly by this limited series.  For me, it was more like the beginning of the end, as I’d already been growing dissatisfied with what I considered the relentless downward slide in average quality under Shooter’s regime, although I finally pulled the plug and started letting my subscriptions lapse at the outbreak of the shameless marketing gimmick that was Secret Wars II.

It may tie in with my status as self-proclaimed Elder Statesman of the faculty’s ex-Penguin USA wing (Professors Chris, Gilbert, Joe, and Tom), but I think I might’ve liked this better if it had been published a few years, or even a decade, earlier.  The sad thing is that I freely acknowledge, and in fact dearly love, the crossover as a defining characteristic of the Marvel Universe, when used judiciously.  Yet here, with each character wrenched from his own book’s continuity—and bear in mind that I’m revisiting this absent the dubious benefit of more than four years of context since our undergraduate curriculum ended with the 1970s—it just seems way too commercial; to this day, I can’t come across the phrase “Sheep Meadow” without my eyes narrowing ominously.

The Post-Grad Effect has also erased a gap of almost two years in between the publication of this and the similarly dire Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions, increasing the here-we-go-again feeling as the heroes suddenly find themselves assembled in a mysterious installation out in space.  Admittedly, Shooter restricting himself to heavy hitters (Avengers, X-Men, Hulk, Spidey, Fantastic Three) obviates the “It’s a Small World (After All)” flaws inherent in MSHCOC, but this egregious mix of super-villains makes that a wash.  I don’t know which notion troubles me more:  that those three stooges from the Wrecking Crew are elevated to A-List status, or that the mighty Galactus is considered on par with, say, the Molecule Man; way to drag everything down to your level, Jimmy!

I’m well aware that penciler Michael Zeck has his partisans on the MU faculty, but I am not one of them, and recall being similarly unenthused by the rarely interrupted run on Captain America #258-89—the last two years of which were also inked by John Beatty, so don’t look for any help there—that he wrapped just prior to this.  Then as now, I find their stuff way too cartoony and goofy-looking, e.g., the grotesquely misshapen Thing on unnumbered story page 3 or the wonky faces of Cap in page 4, panel 2; Xavier in page 5, panel 5; the villains in page 11, panel 5; and Wolverine in page 17, panel 7.  Thus, combining prosaic-at-best artwork, a Shooter script, and an intrinsically annoying premise in a 12-issue endurance race makes for a pretty daunting package.

Obviously, certain elements are jarring with no 1980s frame of reference other than my memory, e.g., Sue expecting again; the presence of Monica Rambeau, pretender to the venerated rank of Captain Marvel, and the vexing She-Hulk; and the He-Hulk having Cousin Brucie’s brain.  But Banner didn’t used to be so obnoxious as when he curtly dismisses his friend and fellow egghead with, “That’s obvious, Richards” (except, apparently, to Iron Man, who as Tony Stark should be one of the savviest characters)—and why do they all call Reed that when they’ve known him for decades our time?  Inevitably, not everyone gets equal time in these feeding frenzies, yet by my count Spidey, arguably Marvel’s #1 character, gets a grand total of 13 words, counting “Wheee!”

Jim’s dialogue and characterization are typically crappy, as when the supremely confident Doom (who has wielded the Silver Surfer’s Power Cosmic, for [Dean] Pete’s sake) feebly gasps, “awe-inspiring…humbling…”  Could we cut with those incessant references to his “personal force-field,” please?  Does he have an impersonal one, too?  The reduction of the normally somewhat ditzy Wasp to insufferable-moron status is particularly bothersome, although it’s no surprise that another Pym would be subject to his mistreatment after the sodomization her poor husband—one of my favorite Marvel characters—underwent in Avengers, my single biggest beef with Shooter-as-Writer.  And, as usual, those lacking Chris Claremont’s subtlety overdo Logan’s abrasiveness.

Even the wavy lettering of the Beyonder’s dialogue, presumably intended to convey an “awe-inspiring…humbling” otherworldly quality, looks more like Big Joe Rosen was three sheets to the wind, while an apparent printing error, at least in my copy, omits the purple from Galactus on pages 12-13.  Given my reflexively negative recollections of this limited series, it would clearly be disingenuous of me to claim that I was disappointed in revisiting this first installment, so let’s just say instead that it completely lived down to my expectations.  Although I’ll try my hardest to keep an open mind, there’s little reason to hope that this creative team—which remains virtually unchanged over the course of the dozen issues—has any pleasant surprises in store for me ahead.

Some improvement:  Doom sounds more like Doom (we’d certainly expect a despot’s dialogue to come naturally to Shooter, no?); the splash page is pretty cool, marred only by Cyke’s risibly prominent tongue; and, judging by the snippet of the Beyonder’s dialogue in the flashback, Rosen seems to have sobered up.  Yet in my view, the negatives still outweigh the positives, even if any accusations of my being hypercritical are, at this point, probably justified.  How lazy is the art?  Well, it’s not until page 20, panel 3 that poor, neglected Spidey is properly portrayed with the web-patterns on his costume…which is still missing in the adjacent prior panel.  I’m sorry, it may seem like a small thing, but to me, that’s glaringly, unforgivably sloppy.

Again, I’m hampered by lack of context.  Per Richards—excuse me, Reed—Professor X “wasn’t in his wheelchair when he disappeared, though he arrived here in it!”  Naturally, that went right over “No Frame of Reference” Bradley’s head, and when I saw Charles up and about, I assumed it was just one of those recent developments, like Storm’s punk mode, that I had overlooked in all of the chaos of #1 (although I did notice that his suit keeps changing from green to blue—perhaps Joe handed the bottle to Christie Scheele?).  But when Reed adds, “It’s as though the Beyonder ‘fixed’ little things that seemed to be wrong, or missing!,” is it mere cynicism on my part to suggest that you could substitute “editor, Tom DeFalco” for “Beyonder” in that sentence?

Similarly, I was going to comment on how odd it seemed that quintessential New Yawker Stark would compare the fortress to the Pentagon when a little research revealed, as the story pointedly did not, that this was not Tony but ex-jarhead Jim Rhodes.  And I was still bugged by Banner’s peevish persona until Spidey said, “He’s been so touchy, lately!,” suggesting the existence of extenuating circumstances in his own book.  But however given to speechifying some may consider Captain America to be, I’m doubting that he or anyone else would actually say, “It’s no wonder that the name Mister Fantastic is renowned for compassion as well as courage!  [Is it?]  You give added meaning to the word hero, Richards!”  Aw, gee, thanks, Cappy—call me Reed...

As with the arrogant nationalist slurs Bill Mantlo kept putting in people’s mouths in MSHCOC, I’m bothered on multiple counts by the ubiquity of the dismissive term “kid” in Jim’s dialogue here.  Granted, we’re all spoiled by Chris’s consummate characterization, but wouldn’t Logan be more likely to call Colossus “Petey” or the like at this late date?  Speaking of our merry mutants, yes, I fully understand the various reasons why one shouldn’t get too hung up on either the respective ages of our heroes or the elastic passage of time in the Marvel Universe, but while the original X-Men were students when they debuted, the torch has been passed to a new generation, so for Bruce and Ben to call Cyclops (who, we are reminded, was on his honeymoon when snatched) “kid” is jarring.

Miscellaneous Matthew-Nits to pick:  upon seeing She-Hulk (whose “tubular…to the max!” made me gag), the Enchantress marvels, “A green woman?  Is there no end to the varieties of mortals?”  This seems a strange statement coming from an Asgardian who battled You-Know-Who in Hulk #102…then again, why would we expect the freakin’ Editor in Chief to know that?  Doc Ock says, “You rebuilt Ultron?!”  Well, he was completely intact, but just needed to be powered back up, a nuance we might expect to be lost on, say, Crusher Creel, yet perhaps not on one with the intellect of Otto Octavius.  Has the Lizard said or done anything except be glimpsed in the background?  Finally, am I the only one who thinks Galactus looks like he’s auditioning for the role of Arishem?

MSHCOC already gave me a less-is-more feeling that I considered a fatal flaw in its conception, and Shooter only exacerbates despite having four times as many issues in which to service his cast; here, for example, some of us learn for the first time that Scott isn’t the only one recently married, as Hawkeye pines for his “new bride” (née Dr. Barbara “Bobbi” Morse Huntress Mockingbird).  Yet I’m glad to see that Cap can take time out from being the Sentinel of Liberty to listen to some constructive criticism from the MU faculty:  “How’s your work going, Reed [emphasis mine]?”  Says the latter, “I’ve managed to keep tabs on Galactus,” but since he’s been standing motionless on a mountaintop since #2, I don’t know how big an accomplishment that is.

So, Magneto’s “person [evidently his favorite word, at least in Jim’s interpretation] is magnetically shielded”; is that like having one of those “personal force-fields”?  Gleefully kicking a man when he’s down, Shooter adds insult to injury by having poor Hank Pym’s estranged wife succumb to a certain mutant’s, uhm, personal magnetism in about 3.5 seconds—“Oh, why not?”—and start locking lips with The Person Of Magneto, as in “None may touch…,” except maybe Jan if he gets lucky.  Meanwhile, Tom (DeFalco, that is, not Flynn) has suddenly gone from 0 to 60 in the footnote department, now helpfully informing us that Ben Grimm is “a.k.a. the Thing.”  And I thought he was a.k.a. the Easter Bunny, as he cracked in #1.  Ya learn something new every day.

In the first of the obligatory WTF art moments, what the hell has happened to the Wasp’s nose in page 4, panel 2 (right)?  She looks as though someone drilled two tiny holes in an otherwise featureless expanse between her eyes and her mouth.  And the caption “he smiles” doesn’t quite do justice to Thor’s maniacal grin in page 6, panel 3, “exultation” or no.  But nothing says “WTF” like when Dr. Victor Frankendoom whips up the intensely forgettable Titania and Volcana in his lab at the self-styled Doombase.  “Forgettable” may be the operative word, because Jim either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the ur-Titania, a luchadora created by Gruenwacchio in Marvel Two-in-One #54; despite having a little more staying power, she sure looks like a misplaced Grappler.

Even more annoying, he has his villains raise the obvious question for us (Wrecker:  “Where did they come from?  I thought we was the only ones on this planet except for Captain America’s jerk squad!”  Absorbing Man:  “Who knows?  I wouldn’t put it past Doomsie to build broads from scratch!”)…and then drops it like a hot rock.  The Spidey/X-Men MARMIS, for lack of a better word, is equally annoying.  They’ve fought together as friends, so why wouldn’t Spidey take a little time to talk things out with them?  Why does it take Charles that long to “sense an eavesdropper”?  And I hope I live long enough to see the day when Wolverine—Wolverine, mind you—would say, “He really clobbered us!  He made us look like fools—!  Like amateurs!”

Of course, Xavier would probably be just as likely to say, “there is no escape from my power!,” a line that would sound more suitable coming from, say, The Person Of Magneto, but that’s what happens when just anybody thinks he can write believable X-Men dialogue.  Meanwhile, the good guys’ citadel is “roughly the size of Chicago”?  It looked pretty big when we first saw it, but not that big.  As one whose countless sobriquets include Maudlin Man, I resented Bruce’s kvetching about Reed’s “maudlin whimpering!  You think I don’t miss my woman?”—obviously another development I forgot—but in fairness, that pensive shot of Reed (page 7, panel 4) and a comparable one of Hawkeye (page 6, panel 5) are among the Zeck/Beatty duo’s better moments.

“The worst thing for me is thinking about my wife back home,” quoth Cyke, “not knowing what happened to me, whether I’m dead or alive!”  I can’t help wondering if that’s a deliberate (and, to me, most unwelcome) reminder of the whole “I thought you were dead”/“No, I thought you were dead” fiasco that was not among Claremont’s better moments.  “I am not interested in an alliance!” TPO Magneto tells Frankendoom.  No surprise there, given the treatment he received at Victor’s hands after proposing one in Super-Villain Team-Up #14.  Hey, DeFalco—that might have made a nice footnote!  Finally, like Mr. McGuire (Walter Brooke) in the late, great Mike Nichols’s The Graduate (1967), “I just want to say one word to you.  Just one word”:  “Skeeter.”

In a phenomenon I don’t recall seeing before—for whatever that’s worth—the space atop the splash page, oft devoted to boilerplate giving the star’s origin, contains an issue-specific recap that engendered some teeth-gnashing on my part with its inconsistently punctuated reference to “the mightiest Super Heroes [sic] and Super-Villains of all…”  Yeah, just throw that in my face, guys.  Even before the Molecule Man (“call me Owen”) says, “I’ll just drop those [mountains] on ’em!,” the unusual cover reminded me of the delightfully hyperbolic narration from the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) trailer:  “and this time, they drop a mountain on him.”  The scene in question obviously aspires to be one of those “most-talked-about moments.”

I’d half-heartedly hoped that these two fill-ins by Layton, who was offering some pretty polished inks over the pencils of John Romita, Jr. (coincidentally the artist of MSHCOC) on Iron Man when our formal curriculum ended, would make for a nice break from this Zeckstravaganza.  But it seems this issue’s title, “Situation: Hopeless!,” has a dual meta-textual meaning, because either Bob isn’t as good a penciler as he is an inker, or Beatty is doing him no more favors than he has Mike.  I mean, check out the Hulk’s face in page 4, panel 3, which looks like a wizened cabbage.  Page 19 is just ridiculous: we get about three pages’ worth of eye-glazing technobabble—interspersed with Rhodey’s baffling “It’s un-stickin’-believable!”—squeezed into eight tiny, cramped panels.

I guess it was supposed to be obvious that this wasn’t your father’s Iron Man inside the armor when he says, “I never drop talent like this, my man!” while (coincidentally or not) having just rescued his fellow African-American do-gooder, the Captain Marvel du jour.  This month’s Lazy Characterization Award goes to Wolverine for declaiming, “I go through life holdin’ back—keepin’ the animal inside in check—just barely!,” with a Self-Evident Silver Medal to Thor for calling the Enchantress “verily, a goddess!”  The Torch outdoes She-Hulk on the Contemporary Pop-Culture Barf-O-Meter when he tells his cat-eyed alien instant girlfriend, “Baby, I’ll tumble [fantastic?] 4 ya!,” which I presume tells us all we need to know about the EIC’s listening habits.

Jim clearly wants us to go all aquiver over the cleverness of his “when icicles ornament Surtur’s fiery realm!” line, but I think his overreach is obvious in the parallel sequence set in Magneto’s fortress, which appears to have been constructed over a sea of worms.  First, Jan calls him “the most evil scum since Hitler” (at whose hands, we may recall, the young Magnus lost his family), and then, Xavier says, “I was no better than Doom…or Hitler…”  Two comparisons to Adolf, of two different characters, within less than three pages seems a bit much already, but for Charles to equate himself with Der Führer simply for using the power to cloud men’s minds—as he’s done like a hundred times before, and always for the most altruistic reasons—is really pushing it.

For the nonce, my criticisms may have plateaued with this issue, which I paged through a second time, just to confirm that there is not a sign of the Lizard, apart from the recap in page 4, panel 3.  I swear to God, I don’t recall him having one single line (assuming he’s even capable of speech in Shooter’s rendition, as he was in, say, my beloved War of the Reptile-Men) or bit of business to date, so why use him at all?  May I call that bad writing?  This month’s pop-culture name-checks include Remulac and Mongo, the respective home planets of the Coneheads and Ming the Merciless.  The fact that Colossus is as instantly smitten with Ƶsaji as “Jah-Nee” is tips us off that something’s going on with her, but at least Peter didn’t say, “Я рушится 4 года.”

Most of my complaints concern Galactus.  The amount of chitchat I recall between him and, e.g., Reed over the years suggests that Jim overdoes the “we can’t even get his attention!” shtick, especially since Big G is clearly somewhat flummoxed himself, yet that’s outweighed by a level of bad science offending even a layman like me.  More than once, we’re told his home is “solar-system-sized”; if that were possible, would it be readily viewable, even from “millions of miles away”—just how, pray tell, was that distance calculated?—and wouldn’t it exert a gravitational field that would destroy Battleworld, as it’s now dubbed?  Then, suddenly (and again, more than once), it is referred to as the “world-ship,” which if indicative of its size is scarcely synonymous.

The heroes get their first gander at Shooter's ego

As for the art in this second and final Layton/Beatty fill-in, the splash-page image of Reed looks disturbingly like one of those desperate, distorted figures in the supremely atmospheric woodcuts with which Fritz Eichenberg illustrated the tales of Edgar Allan Poe—presumably not quite the effect they were going for.  The normally lean Xavier appears positively squat on several pages, while Piledriver is suddenly sporting a curly coiffure that would seem better matched with the Torch’s excruciating attempts at ’80s-style smooth talkin’ (“Hey, you’re one fast mover, lady!”).  And although I’m sure they’re trying to create an aura of mystery around the Beyonder, limiting themselves to trotting out that same damned quote for the umpteenth time wasn’t doing it for me.

Hey, who’s that green, scaly guy on page 4?  Is he a Marvel character?  Oh, you say he’s called the “Lizard,” eh?  Having benched him for so long, Shooter unsurprisingly seems to have a poor grasp of the character, although that’s not the worst aspect of the swamp scenes, which would be the dimwit dialogue Jim inflicts upon the Wasp (whose hideous jumpsuit is, by the way, truly one of the low points of her countless costume changes over the past two decades).  Ironically, such sequences involving fewer characters are a refreshing change of pace from the group gropes that reduce many of them to anonymous stick figures, and another reason why my complaints about the writing have, at least for now, leveled off to a maintenance dose, as it were.

For example, the Galactus-Mobile is further downgraded from “solar-system-sized” to “world-ship” to “impossibly huge construct,” which if still inconsistent is far more plausible, while the mutant leadership squabbles remain tiresome, yet at least Monica slaps down the ubiquitous “singles-bar chit-chat.”  Zeck is back, which is cause for…uhm, renewed utterance of “Meh.”  In terms of new wrinkles, Klaw (Deep-sixed by the Dazzler?  Man, that won’t look good on your super-villain résumé) brings very little to the table, especially in his current infantile state, and most especially as defaced by Mike and John in page 8, panel 2; Doom’s variation on “Klaatu barada nikto” seems cool—but with the code words revealed, couldn’t anyone then utilize them?

A cluttered Layton cover (although I like the rare pink background) trumpeting all sorts of new developments.  I presume, particularly in light of its placement directly beneath her bier, that “The Death of an Avenger!” refers to the Wasp, although first, said alleged death is actually portrayed in the prior issue, albeit confirmed here, and second, it’s strongly implied that the She-Hulk is about to buy the farm at the climax of this one.  Kang, of course, has reputedly been killed already, but even aside from the fact that he’s been “dead” before, Shooter has played this card already—and, in fairness, is not the only one to do so—in his vastly overrated Korvac Saga, so the whole thing is completely devalued as we await the inevitable Cosmic Reset Button.

“The X-Men’s Greatest Battle!”  I won’t even dignify that with a response.  “Introducing the All-New Spider-Woman!”  Well, I never liked the old one (so, of course, I bought all fifty freakin’ issues of her largely lame mag), and don’t know if this one will be any improvement, but I have to assume that Spider-Man’s lament, “I should have gotten a patent or trademark or something,” is supposed to be an in-joke, since Stan freely admitted that Jessica Drew was whipped up just to protect the copyright.  Speaking of which, I don’t know if it’s overtly spelled out later on, but for now I guess we have to assume that Mary “Skeeter” MacPherran and Marsha Rosenberg—sorry, that’s Titania and Volcana to you, buddy—hail from that same Denver suburb as Arachne-to-be.

On the subject of La Rosenberg, I’ll freely admit to being notoriously accepting when it comes to the female form (not that any are being offered to me, mind you), but I am truly perplexed at the constant insults leveled at Volcana’s body type.  On page 7 alone, she is derided as “plump” by Klaw and “bloated” by the Enchantress, yet while I might go so far as to call her “voluptuous,” it seems to me that her figure—certainly as depicted in page 8, panel 1—is both attractive and not all that different from those of the other distaff characters.  Zeck and Beatty do better than usual with Galactus in page 13, panel 6 and Captain America in page 22, panels 3 and 5, although the faces in page 5, panel 1 are an incredible hodgepodge that looks like a mix of artists participated.

Don’t fall over, but I even have something nice to say about Shooter’s scripting:  Professor X’s telepathic speech in page 24, panels 1-3 actually gave me a tingle of excitement and put a micro-lump in my throat, although I had to read it over 2-3 times just to be sure I wasn’t hallucinating.  Galactus-Mobile Watch:  “impossibly huge” has now been reduced to “enormous,” so I presume “relatively substantial” is next.  Not sure if Creel’s self-repair contradicts established Absorbing Man-lore, but will say that the sight of him carrying around his severed arm amid “The X-Men’s Greatest Battle!” (a chaotic mess epitomizing Professor Gil’s “running around”), complete with ball and chain—no, not Mrs. Creel!—was fairly hilarious; Rogue’s abilities seem poorly defined.

Given what little I know about how fraught Shooter made the production of this series, on which I hope Professor Tom elaborates at great length, it’s not terribly surprising that Beatty would need some help, credited here alongside old hands Jack Abel and Mike Esposito.  Methinks the Bullpen could also have used some help with that crappy cover tagline:  “Amid the Chaos, There Comes a Costume—!”  Don’t quit your day job, fellas.  Oh, right—this is your day job.  It’s also a bit of a cheat or a spoiler, depending on how you look at it, since said costume doesn’t materialize (literally) until the last page, but that’s okay, because I never liked it, and it’s a bit anticlimactic anyway, since in real time it had debuted seven months back in Amazing #252.

The Symbiote Subsequently Known as Venom (after my time, thank God) is, of course, the most notorious example of Jim’s supposed diktat that major characters had to undergo some massive upheaval; I call that change for change’s sake, which I deplore, rather than growing organically out of their own strips and better writers.  In this case, it was reportedly yet another shameless marketing gimmick, forcing readers to buy Secret Warsyet another reason to hate it—as well as their own books, but I believe it was not, as it were, limited to this series, e.g., Tony Stark’s drunken abdication of the Iron Man armor or the ruination of Yellowjacket.  If Tom or anyone else has the ammo to shoot me down on this, believe me, I’ll welcome setting the record straight.

Getting back to the inking for a moment, while I neither know nor care who did what, that would explain anomalies like the protean shape of Creel’s head, ranging from normal in page 4, panel 2 to his Beldar impression (hence the Remulac reference?) in page 7, panel 1; Greenskin looks like he just stepped out of an Archie comic in page 24, panel 2, yet on the plus side, Xavier actually looks like himself, and good, in the very last panel.  So, the Wasp wasn’t quite dead, although Shooter drags her down another notch with the hair-and-makeup line, but just needed Ƶsaji to recharge her batteries before bringing Jan back to life.  Thank goodness—I was afraid Jim was going to write a story in which characters were killed and then resurrected.  Well, that’s a relief...

I thought the drunken Enchantress scene was terrible (especially the on-again, off-again slurring of her speech), typically out of character—and apparently those fast-moving “cats of Skornheim” to which she compares Cap were never heard of again—yet it couldn’t hold a candle to the jaw-dropping Patty-Cake Quartet.  “Were you surprised there was a black man under the metal?”  Nah, not after all of the times you went around jiving “Sheeoot!”  Maybe we should rename the EIC Jim Sheeooter. Any doubts about his ignorance of Marvel history were erased when Amora asked her old foe, “you are the mighty Hulk, are you not?”  Ironically, since they were separate personae in those days, it’s Banner who should have forgotten all about their previous encounter!

For what it’s worth, the Shooter/Zeck/Beatty credits will remain unchanged for the rest of the series.  My comments concerning this issue may be somewhat curtailed by the fact that, uhm, I’m not 100% sure I understand what’s going on!  Granted, I could go back and reread it, but to be blunt, I neither think it’s worth it nor feel I should have to; as far as I’m concerned, if Stretcho can’t make his case clearly enough to convince Cap to back him, then I’m off the hook.  I think when Reed said he’d had tea with Galactus, who as far as I know doesn’t even consume human foodstuffs, something switched off in my brain, and it didn’t help that in the very next panel, he didn’t look like any rendition of Mr. Fantastic I’ve ever seen.  What was in that tea…?

Not to be outdone, the oft-problematic Ben looks like a Muppet in page 6, panel 5 while Rhodey, who seemed like a pretty cool dude when he was Stark’s pilot, continues to behave like a sexist dick, and I remained mystified by his “I think they’ve started to realize there’s a different guy in here, now…”  Again, I haven’t refreshed my memory as to how this was being handled in Iron Man, but in the subsequent panel, his brown eyes—and, it looks to me, some brown skin—can be clearly seen through the slits in his helmet, whereas Tony’s eyes are blue; also, however much said helmet muffles his voice, it would have to be obvious that it was someone else’s, especially to Avengers with whom he’s served on and off for 20 years.  So, exactly who was being fooled?

Then there’s Reed in the next shot (page 7, panel 4); granted, the forced perspective is making him look tiny, but man, I’ve seen stick figures on street-crossing signs that looked more realistic.  And how many times are we gonna be subjected to that same damned quote from the Beyonder?  Is that the extent of his characterization, perhaps making him the most boring villain in history?  The annoying Peter/Ƶsaji/Jah-Nee triangle was reportedly the EIC’s controversial way of tearing down a Colossus/Sprite romance that Chris was building in X-Men.  Galactus-Mobile Watch:  we’re back to a “solar-system-sized construct.”  And just how, precisely, was it constructed?  By galaxy-sized elves?  Doom:  “I need only activate my point-singularity power supply…”  Hunh?

Sayeth Doom, “The war is over!”  If only, as we have two more issues through which to suffer.  I’ve long said that the worst comics (or movies or whatever) often result in the best—i.e., most interesting to write and, I hope, read—reviews, but in this case, the worse it gets, the less I have to say, presumably to general rejoicing.  This thing is supposed to be such a huge deal, and yet the Zeck/Beatty artwork is so consistently, relentlessly lame, with its stick figures and rubbery, off-model faces, that it’s not even worth singling out individual panels for censure.  And because the Beyonder has so far been neither shown nor given any personality whatsoever, there’s just a great big vacuum where the antagonist should be; no antagonist, no drama, nothing.

Maybe next time Jim will get around to telling us things like what the hell happened with Doom and his chestplate, but by that point, will anyone care?  Right now, it’s just a blur of mediocrity, at best.  How is solidified sound in any way relevant to lenses, which concern light?  Logan’s ill-timed anti-American rant, with its humans : mutants :: Nazis : Jews analogy (just six issues after mutants Magneto and Xavier were both compared to Hitler; can you say “mixed messages”?) is no more welcome than his patronizing “you’re a better man than I gave you credit for!”—hey, that’s Captain America you’re condescending to, you little Canuck—and even for the Torch, no matter how preoccupied he is over Reed, suddenly to dismiss Ƶsaji as a “chippie” is implausible.

So, Shooter has written a story that features a former villain who has become all-powerful, wishing only to share his benevolent omnipotence, and climaxes with its outsized cast of heroes seemingly slaughtered.  Am I the only one who finds all of this slightly familiar?  (*cough* Korvac *cough*)  Ororo’s ongoing petulance is beneath her, and Nightcrawler has had so little screen time that I keep forgetting he’s actually in it, but Mike and John, perhaps inspired by seeing light at the end of the tunnel, have actually drawn some nice faces, most notably Cap’s in page 23, panels 3-4 and page 25, panel 3.  “I can get us home,” says Reed.  Hey, great.  Uh, by the way, exactly where are you?  Might knowing that first help?  Other than that, I got nothin’…

“War is over, if you want it…”  Oh, John, you have no idea.  Or, as Professor Tom would succinctly say, “Ofah.”  So many pages (43, with the already premium price jacked up even further accordingly), so much wrong.  I think this war should have stayed secret.  Excuse me, “these wars,” although Shooter naturally declines to differentiate or enumerate which war is which.  But of course the title—with its unfortunate historical echoes of clandestine involvement in Laos and Central America—was just a meaningless, marketing-driven concession to the toy line that sired this unholy mess, as were such costume changes as Doom’s cloak-free look, which sharply reduced the effectiveness of one of Marvel’s greatest villains.  Right, a big surprise there.

So, after 11 issues, you’re finally going to tell us a little something about the Beyonder, although we will still never see him except as a “shimmering radiance”?  Whatever.  As you may imagine, when that buck-naked Conveniently Expository Elemental oozed from the tub in page 6, panel 5, I had some decidedly unprofessorial thoughts, but how’s this for presumably unintended irony:  at the top of the page, she says, “Those [beings]…really puzzled him,” immediately above a shot of a Xavier who, at least in my copy, has puzzlingly become African-American.  Is he Professor Malcolm X?  Speaking of which, we don’t escape without an inane Rhodey line (“His warranty must have just now expired!”) or egregious error on page 39 (“it’s [sic] useful life is at an end”).

Fulfilling Shooter’s Commandment, we’re saddled with not only Spidey’s questionable fashion choice (“Oh, well…,” concludes scientific whiz Peter Parker with an ultimately self-destructive lack of curiosity), but also Greenskin the Gimp (parenthetical pet peeve:  if you were shot, or in this case zapped, in the leg, would you really yell, “My leg!,” just to make sure everybody got where you’d been hit?  That always annoys me) and Shulkie replacing Ben.  Mind you, this is the same guy who, not too long ago, was mooning over Alicia, yet now abruptly decides to blow her off and remain on Battleworld, his only ticket home from “trillions of miles” away being Reed’s device.  Man, I hope he’s got a change of batteries for that “gizmo” and keeps it in a safe place…

Later, as Reed hints at on the last page, we’ll learn that his transformations between Ben and the Thing, which have been the subject of some concern during Secret Wars, are actually the result of a mental block…just as the slowness with which Xavier regained the use of his legs, which has been the subject of some concern during Secret Wars, is actually the result of a mental block.  An occupational hazard, I suppose.  Deus ex machina—that’s Latin for “this…‘wish-fulfillment’ phenomenon we’ve been experiencing,” right?  And yet, “Apparently, at some point, death is irrevocable!”  Not, of course, when you’re “blown to bits,” thus the endless pages of dead heroes being resurrected, interspersed with endless pages of resurrected heroes battling cartoony critters.

I’m too battle-weary to formulate a clever conclusion.  So, let’s just declare victory and go home.

In Two Weeks!
Marvel Two-In-One
Gruenwald and Macchio!!!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Post-Graduate Studies #11

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.

This Week:
War Games
by Professor Tom Flynn

Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #112
May 1984–April 1985
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by Mike Zeck and Bob Layton
Inks by John Beatty, Jack Abel, Mike Esposito and Art Adams
Colors by Christie Scheele and Nelson Yomtov
Letters by Joe Rosen
Covers by Mike Zeck, Bob Layton, John Beatty, Bob McLeod and Terry Austin

If you’ve been a long-term University student, you might have noticed that four words seemed to consistently come up when a professor discussed the reasons they stopped buying Marvel comics: “Jim,” “Shooter,” “Secret” and “Wars.” Now Secret Wars — well, officially Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars — was not the first mini-series from The House of Ideas: that would be 1982’s three-issue Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions. But Secret Wars has always received the most scorn from old school zombies, perhaps because of the man who created and wrote all 12 issues, yes, the vilified Jim Shooter. However, Big Jim is not totally to blame for what many saw as not a “Big Event” but a “Big Sellout,” and the ultimate example of the publisher’s perceived slide into mediocrity. Mattel and the Distinguished Competition actually helped get the ball rolling.

In the early ’80s, Mattel was having a great success with their line of 5.5-inch He-Man and the Masters of the Universe action figures, even winning a lawsuit brought on by Conan Properties International, which claimed that the characters were inspired by Robert E. Howard’s famous Cimmerian. Which they probably were: Mattel was originally signed to produce Conan the Barbarian toys based on John Milius’ 1982 film. At the time, the company was also keeping its eye on the new, smaller 3.75-inch figures that started to flood the market. Kenner was absolutely killing it with their Star Wars merchandise, taking full advantage of a license that Mattel had mistakenly rejected back in 1978. Plus, Hasbro started selling a ton of its miniaturized G. I. Joes, many inspired by the Marvel comic book that debuted in 1982. So, when Kenner struck gold once again with the launch of 1984’s The Super Powers Collection — 3.75-inchers based on DC heroes and villains — Mattel’s president Ray Wagner decided it was finally time to slice into the small-scale-figure pie and reached out to Marvel, Jim Shooter specifically.

During his meetings with Shooter, Wagner insisted that the publisher needed to create a comic book “event” that would help them market a potential toy line. The Editor-in-Chief claims to have proposed “one big story with all the heroes and all the villains in it,” something that thousands of letter writers had already suggested through the years. Mattel bit and suggested using such words as “secret” and “wars,” since they tested well in focus groups. So after some back and forth, everyone agreed on Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars. The toymaker did have some stipulations though. For some reason, they thought that Doctor Doom looked too “medieval,” and demanded a redesign. Same thing for Iron Man: he needed more of a high-tech sheen. With the contract settled on, the two parties went their separate ways and began work on their ends of the project.

Mattel eventually only produced two series of Secret Wars action figures and vehicles in 1984 and 1985 before poor sales killed the entire series. Kids were able to scarf up 3.75-inch toys of Captain America, the redesigned Doctor Doom and Iron Man, Doctor Octopus, Kang the Conqueror, Magneto, Spider-Man — in both his classic red-and-blue and new black-and-white costumes — Wolverine, Baron Zemo, Daredevil, Falcon and Hobgoblin. Strangely, the last four would not even appear in the 12-issue miniseries while many that did were not even offered. Plus, production had already begun on three more non-Secret Wars characters — inexplicably Iceman, Electro and the Constrictor — before the plug was pulled: these were only released in Europe. Each figure came with a shield, round for heroes, square for villains, that included lenticular images that changed according to their angles. As for vehicles and playsets, Mattel manufactured the Doom Copter, Doom Cycle, Doom Roller, Doom Star Glider, Marvel Super Heroes Freedom Fighter Playset, Marvel Super Villains Tower of Doom Playset, Star Dart Glider, Turbo Copter and Turbo Cycle. 

Obviously, the Secret Wars toys were meant as Mattel’s answer to Kenner’s The Super Powers Collection, but they paled in comparison. The DC figures were uniquely sculptured, offered more articulation and came with an “action feature” — a punch, a kick — that could be activated by squeezing an arm or leg. Shabbily, Mattel’s product shared just three basic body types, so extra-large characters such as the Thing and Hulk were not even considered. And they were only articulated at the shoulders, hips and neck, offered no “Super Powers” and costume seams and lines were painted rather than sculptured. Meaning they quickly rubbed off in greasy little fingers. Not much thought was put into the packaging for the figures as well: the artwork for the backing cards was all the same, only the character’s name changed. 

Marvel also handed out multiple Secret Wars licenses for a ton of other tie-ins, including everything from a Captain America Flying Shield Launcher to coloring books, puffy stickers, lunchboxes and even beach towels. It seems that none of these — like the toys themselves — were very successful or well made. 

After meeting with Mattel, Jim Shooter decided that he was the only one who could write the books since, “Marvel’s writers at the time, some of the best in the business, were, to a person, very possessive about the characters they were writing. To some extent, that was a good thing, indicating a love for the characters that generally showed in their work. It also led to some intense rivalries and bitter arguments regarding crossovers and guest appearances. Allowing any one of the writers to handle pretty much everyone else’s characters in Secret Wars, contemplated to be the biggest, most continuity-intensive crossover ever done, would have led to bloodshed in the hallowed halls. So, I wrote it. As Editor-in-Chief, by definition, I was the company’s designated Keeper of the Franchises, and the ordained Absolute Authority on the characters — all part of the job, at least back then.” I’ve always said that Shooter made significant improvements on Marvel’s business side during his run as EIC — royalty programs, “creator owned” series and more — but the big lug sure had a swelled head. And for all his bluster, it quickly becomes obvious that Jim was not up to the task.

One of my faves, Miraculous Mike Zeck, was tagged as the artist. After cutting his teeth on Master of Kung Fu, Zeck was in the midst of a boffo, three-year run on Captain America when he was handed this supposedly prestige assignment. Generally, Mike’s art is a big disappointment in Secret Wars. Everything looks rushed, leading to a minimum of background details. Admittedly the technique might be needed in a series with so many characters to draw, but he uses way too many long shots, making the action a bit hard to decipher. Zeck himself admitted that he had to change his approach and, “back the camera up much more than I was used to with single character books.” And you would think that the introductions of the new Doctor Doom and Iron Man suits would require “Big Reveal” illustrations, but they are hardly acknowledged. Even though it’s said that Shooter ran him through the wringer with constant demands of redrawn pages, the Miraculous One once commented, “I always hear from fans at conventions that it was Secret Wars that prompted them to start reading comics. Very gratifying.” John Beatty — Zeck’s frequent collaborator on Captain America — was named inker. From textures to shading, he doesn’t add much. Supposedly because of Shooter’s micromanaging and meddling, Bob Layton needed to fill in as penciler for two issues and inkers Jack Abel, Mike Esposito and Art Adams were called on to help out for the finale. 

With the creative team in place, the hype began. Marvel made the decision to introduce the Secret Wars concept in the April 1984 issues of the individual series of the heroes involved, showing them disappearing into a huge, futuristic structure that appeared in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow on the last few panels. This tease appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #251, The Uncanny X-Men #180, Iron Man #181, The Incredible Hulk #294, The Thing #10, The Mighty Thor #342, The Mighty Avengers #242 and Fantastic Four #265. Boy, the art by Ron Frenz on Spider-Man and Luke McDonnell on Iron Man is pretty poor. But we do have John Byrne on Fantastic Four and Walt Simonson on Thor, so things evened out a bit. Now here’s the odd part. During its 12-month run, Secret Wars made quite a few ripples in the current Marvel mythology: Spider-Man’s new black-and-white costume, She-Hulk replacing the Thing in the Fantastic Four, etc. Now these changes were introduced into the character’s individual series the very next month, May 1984, even though readers would have to wait for as long as a year to find out how they actually happened in the miniseries! Seems a strange marketing tactic. But Marvel definitely had its eye on the bottom line. During the 12 months that the miniseries was printed, the company’s “regular” comics offered 23 pages of illustrations at 60¢. However, the cover price for Secret Wars was jacked up to 75¢, with little or no increase in page count: confusingly, some stayed at 23 while others were 24, 25 or 26. Yes, I admit that at 52 pages, the last issue was a bargain at only $1. Still, I’d label the whole affair a misguided fleecing. Marvel knew that the fanboys wouldn’t be able to resist, regardless of the cost. 

In the end, no one could possibly argue with the fact that Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars sold like chocolate crack, becoming one of the most profitable releases in the history of Marvel Comics and easily its #1 bestseller at the time. But did the miniseries deliver the goods? Was it the “catastrophe” that former Marvel writer Marv Wolfman wrote in a memo to DC editors at the time? Let’s look and see!

Issue #1 (May 1984): “The War Begins” 

The premiere issue basically lays out the plot. An all-powerful and unseen entity called the Beyonder transports Earth’s mightiest superheroes and supervillains to two different way stations floating in space. As they look on in stunned amazement, the being — with an ultraviolent explosion — creates Battleworld from pieces of other planets, including, for some reason, Denver, Colorado. The god-like being also stocks his composite creation with a wealth of futuristic technology, crafts and weaponry. Next, he transports the heroes and villains to different ends of his massive new world, telling them, in his disembodied voice, to “slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours! Nothing you dream of is impossible for me to accomplish!” Now who are our players? Here’s some typically bad dialogue from pages 4 and 5 that painfully spells it out:

The Wasp: “I suggest that first we find out something easier — like who all is here! I’ll start! Everybody knows us because we’re the mighty Avengers, and we’re famous! But just in case, I’m the Wasp, and with me are the She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye and Iron Man, who’s really on leave, but is with us anyway!”

Professor X: “I am Professor X, these are my X-Men — Storm, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Cyclops, Wolverine and Colossus.”

Colossus: “And Lockheed, the dragon!”

The Hulk: “I am, of course, the Hulk!”

Spider-Man: “Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man at your service!”

The Thing: “We’re the Fantastic Four minus Suzie — the Invisible Girl to you! Stretcho calls himself Mister Fantastic, if you can believe that! The crumb’s the Human Torch … and I’m the Easter Bunny!”

Doctor Doom: “Someone … or something has spirited us across the universe — the Asgardian Enchantress … Ultron … the Absorbing Man … the Wrecker and his Wrecking Crew — Thunderball, Piledriver and Bulldozer … my Future-Earth counterpart, Kane … the planet-devouring Galactus, the Lizard, the Molecule Man and Dr. Octopus. An intriguing collection of most dangerous individuals … and none more so than I, Doctor Doom!”

Like most of Shooter’s dialogue throughout Secret Wars, it’s cringe-worthy and, seemingly, directed at children who know nothing of the Marvel Universe — a terrible stylistic decision that completely hamstrings the entire miniseries. Or perhaps the Trouble Shooter is just a lousy writer. [Insert Professor Bradley’s hearty “YES!”] Now, for those who had stopped buying comics at this point — myself included — note that jive-talkin’ Jim Rhodes is inside the Iron Man armor; it’s the uninteresting Captain Marvel #2, Monica Rambeau; the Hulk has Bruce Banner’s brain; and Professor X no longer needs his wheelchair. And while he is not named, Magneto is included among the good guys since he was in somewhat of a “transition” stage in 1984 and had formed a tenuous alliance with the X-Men. Regardless, he’s treated terribly by all the non-mutants, who call him a murderer and compare him to Hitler, causing the magnetic mutant to fly off in a huff. Shooter references Hitler again later on, which is worrisome. In the criminals’ camp, Galactus drains Ultron of all his power when he lashes out at his own teammates, calling them “organics.” The rest of the issue is filled with squabbling about who should lead each team, with the heroes basically deciding on Captain America while Doctor Doom takes charge of the villains after the Beyonder incapacitates an attacking Galactus. When the Latverian despot is unable to convince the rest of the villains not to become pawns of the Beyonder, he flies off in a spacecraft — only to be shot down by Kang’s plasma cannon.

Issue #2 (June 1984): “Prisoners of War!” 

After issue #1, it’s obviously apparent that Secret Wars turned out to be a tremendous turd, so you’ll have to forgive me if I use shorthand during my recaps from now on. Trust me, it’s better for us all. 

The heroes investigate Doom’s crash site and discover that the armored dictator survived … The rest of the villains attack as Doom flies off … The good guys win the first battle, capturing Kang, Enchantress, Thunderball, Piledriver and Bulldozer … Storm discovers a structure “bigger then fifty-four and a half Pentagons” and they make it their base and secure the captives in the “humane prisoner-detention system” within … Alone, Magneto finds his own headquarters as does Doom, who dubs it Doombase .. He is soon joined by the rest of the baddies who weren’t captured … The Doctor repowers Ultron and makes the adamantium automaton his personal bodyguard … Magneto slips into the heroes’ temporary home and kidnaps Wasp … During the skirmish, the Thing unexpectedly transforms into Ben Grimm.

Where to start? Captain America’s military experience was one of the reasons he was elected leader. But none of his shouted commands reveal any real strategy or insight, boiling down to “regroup and attack!” Inevitably, one of his comrades would moon, “I’d follow that man anywhere!” It’s tiresome and lazy writing. And it’s totally unbelievable how both the heroes and villains can easily master the extremely complicated alien technology that the Beyonder scattered on Battleworld, even knuckleheads like the Wrecking Crew. Plus, everyone is too dramatically impressed with the Beyonder’s “incalculable … inconceivable” power. Even the stoic Professor X exclaims, “To the Beyonder, even Galactus is less than a fly!” I’ve checked: the Beyonder is never shown in the entire miniseries, except for some type of rift in space. No one knows what he/it looks like. Heck, it could all be the work of the Ringmaster and everyone is hypnotized. Don’t tell me it hasn’t happened before.

Dumbass Dialogue:

She-Hulk: “Hiya! I’m the She-Hulk! You must be the Enchantress! Gee, I’ve heard so much about you — you’re a not-nice lady!”

Issue #3 (July 1984): “Tempest Without, Crisis Within!” 

An incredible storm, “like all the hurricanes on Earth for a thousand years rolled into one,” rocks Battleworld … Galactus revives from the Beyonder’s awesome assault during issue #1 … Spider-Man overhears the X-Men’s plans to join Magneto … After a brief tussle he escapes but webhead’s memory of the odd incident is erased by Professor X … In his headquarters, Magneto frees the Wasp from her metal bindings and they kiss after a brief conversation … Doom uses alien technology to transform two women into Volcana and Titania … At the heroes’ base, Thor frees the Enchantress and they blink away to discuss events as Asgardians … Doom and the others attack the good guys’ fortress, freeing the prisoners and severely injuring Captain Marvel, Iron Man, She-Hulk, Spidey and the Fantastic, well, Three.

First of all, there’s no reason whatsoever on display why Magneto and Wasp start to lip lock: he frees her, they engage in some unwitty banter and then the smooching begins. And the introduction of the unimpressive duo of Volcana and Titania is completely bungled. You turn a page and Doom is standing in front of a pair of clear tubes with two women inside: Shooter doesn’t even bother to mention that he snapped them up from the Denver section of Battleworld — we only find this out in issue #11! With all the supreme Marvel baddies included, why was it even necessary to introduce these two duds? Their powers are nothing special or original. Titania is super strong while Volcana can fire bursts of “ionized plasma.” Whatever that is. Looks like lava to me. By the way, Volcana’s real name is Marsha Rosenberg while Titania’s is Mary “Skeeter” MacPherran, one of the publisher’s actual production assistants. Both characters would stick around the Marvel Universe, with Volcana appearing in the inevitable Secret Wars II. No, don’t plan on covering the sequel — not sure I could survive more bamage to my drain.

Dumbass Dialogue:

Magneto: “The storm has granted us a brief interlude of peace here on this world of sudden death! Let us not deny our desires!”

The Wasp: “No … No … No …”

Magneto: “There is so little time, Janet!”

The Wasp: “Oh … I, I guess … I suppose it’s not … oh, why not? You have the iciest blue eyes I’ve ever seen Magnus … and I guess … the ‘eyes’ have it!”

Issue #4 (August 1984): “Situation: Hopeless!” 

Molecule Man destroys the heroes’ fortress … They manage to escape but Moly drops an entire mountain range down on top of them … Thor and Enchantress continue their conversation as the woman tries to plant a mind-controlling kiss … When they hear the mountain fall, she transports them both to the general vicinity of the calamity … The Thunder God faces off against the assembled evil-doers and is seemingly destroyed by Ultron’s disintegrator ray … Only the Asgardian’s broken helmet and tattered cape remain behind … Doom then kills Kang for betraying him in issue #1 … The X-Men arrive at Magneto’s stronghold to discuss joining forces … The Wasp takes advantage of the interruption and escapes  in a spacecraft … Under the mountain, the heroes have survived as the Hulk and Iron Man managed to wedge out a hollow space … Mr. Fantastic uses “micro-electronic components” from Hawkeye’s arrows and Spider-Man’s webshooters to make power pods that he attaches to Iron Man’s armor … The Human Torch and Captain Marvel focus their energies into the pods to add strength to Shellhead’s repulsor rays … He blasts a hole through the mountain and they are freed … Thor joins his teammates having hidden his escape from Ultron’s blast with a bolt of lightning … The exhausted heroes stumble across a strange alien village … A beautiful, white-haired woman begins to heal their wounded with the power of her touch … Ben Grimm turns back into the Thing.

I would have to assume that Jim Shooter meant the mountain sequence to be one of the nerve-wracking highpoints of the entire Secret Wars miniseries, but it, excuse the expression, falls flat. I wasn’t buying how Reed Richards was able to whip up his little doodads. Not sure how Hawkeye gets — or makes — his arrows, but Peter Parker put together his webshooters in his bedroom: can’t imagine that his DIY technology would be compatible with armor put together by super-genius Tony Stark and his endless resources. It’s all so contrived. Piling on, Thor’s “death” is also an eye-roller. Not that anyone would have believed that the Thunder God was actually killed, but there’s no evidence at all of lightning in the panel where he supposedly disintegrates — plus, his arm is clearly shown as he hides behind a rock as the baddies walk away triumphantly. Thor is going to hide behind a rock? Methinks not. I’m not familiar with Molecule Man, but he comes across like a complete dope, whining that he wants to be called Owen and that his psychiatrist told him not to use his immense powers. Doom, for a reason we must assume will be revealed, seems to protect him from the other villains — not sure that’s really needed if he has complete control of molecules. What are his limitations? This is the first of Bob Layton’s two fill-in issues. While Mike Zeck hasn’t been knocking my socks off, Layton’s characters are not as dramatic, often taking on awkward poses. But, it’s fine overall. Besides, the art was never Secret War’s problem.

Dumbass Dialogue:

Volcana: “Molecule Man, it was unbelievable how you obliterated this entire structure — with just a wave of your hand!”

Molecule Man: “Oh, it’s easy when you control all molecules! And you can call me Owen if you want, Volcana!”

Volcana: “Owen! What a darling name!”

Issue #5 (September 1984): “The Battle of Four Armies”

Galactus summons his galaxy-sized homeship and it hovers over Battleworld even though it is “two million miles” away … Using a potion, the lovely alien healer mindmelds with Johnny Storm … They kiss afterwards … At Doombase, the Wrecking Crew belittles Molecule Man until he turns Piledriver’s uniform into an ultra-hard metal… Moly creates a chariot and flies off with Volcana … Professor X, Magneto and Mister Fantastic try to communicate with Galactus but are rebuffed … Galactus sends a monstrous, armored giant from his ship to attack the heroes … It is eventually destroyed through teamwork … Doctor Doom’s crew attacks riding a powerful walking platform … Cap’s team is nearly overrun until the X-Men and Magneto arrive … Distracted by the combat, Galactus is unaware when Doom enters his home with a tachyon-speed jump-ship … Driven by rage over missing Kitty Pryde, Colossus manhandles the villains … They flee but not before the metallic Russian is gravely wounded by the Wrecker’s crowbar … Professor X commands his students to return to their ship leaving Colossus behind … Colossus is tended to by the alien healer.

The last of Layton’s fill-ins and, for some reason, the art takes a step up from last issue. I assume it’s an effort to make everything sound impressive, but Shooter throws around some big numbers in his Secret Wars script: Galactus’ homeship is “two million miles” away, the heroes were buried under “one hundred and fifty billion tons of rock” and at one point Cap tells his troops to meet him “in the large dome we discovered on the four hundred and fifty-first level” of their headquarters. 451st? They managed to explore over 400 floors? Sigh™. The alien healer, Ƶsaji, is a total gyp since she nullifies some of the risks: why worry about getting injured if she can just patch you up? While it’s obvious that Johnny Storm is already macking on Ƶsaji, Colossus starts with the googly eyes after she heals him — even though he is involved with Kitty Pryde at the time. But considering Kitty was about 14 years old, perhaps he should switch gears instead of risking a statutory rape charge back on Earth. There’s talk that Ƶsaji’s power causes the healed to fall in love with her, but not all characters are affected. So another dropped ball by the Editor in Chief. The budding romance between Molecule Man and Volcana is, of course, insufferable. Yes, she starts calling him “Owie.” And not only do the baddies treat Moly poorly, they call Volcana some vicious names, including “cow” and “sow.” Zeck does give her a very well-endowed figure, but she is far from overweight, so not sure what this is all about. Finally, I’m trying to understand Professor X’s intentions by having his team constantly abandoning the others. And they leave one of their own behind? I dunno.

Dumbass Dialogue:

Doctor Doom: “Is it madness, my dear Enchantress, which drives a man of my genius to strive for an impossible prize … or is it the striving for that which is ever just out of reach which prevents madness from overtaking me?”

Issue #6 (October 1984): “A Little Death” 

The Wasp crash-lands her stolen spacecraft in a swamp and is attacked by the Lizard … On Galactus’ homeship, Doctor Doom comes across a mentally unbalanced Klaw … He had been absorbed into the ship’s hull as a soundwave during an incident with Dazzler years earlier and driven mad … Galactus begins to build a world-devouring machine … Wasp bandages the Lizard’s wounded arm and they become friends … Doom transports Klaw to the surface to tell the villains to travel to a volcanic plain on the other side of Battleworld ... Professor X telepathically overhears the command and sends Cyclops, Rogue and Wolverine to observe them … Storm gets angry since she’s the team leader … Ƶsaji finishes healing Colossus … The Human Torch flies in and they kiss … The three X-Men encounter Doctor Octopus, Molecule Man, Titania and the Absorbing Man … Wolverine slashes Molecule Man and the baddies retreat … Cyclops uses his optic beams to set off a volcano causing a fiery chain reaction … Riding a huge, bulldozer-like vehicle, the Wrecking Crew come across Wasp and the Lizard … Janet is killed by a laser blast … Furious that his new pal is dead, the Lizard attacks his former teammates … He and the Wasp’s body are immobilized and brought on board by a stasis-ray.

Jim Shooter seems to be spinning his wheels at this point. Cyclops doesn’t seem to have a reason to set off the volcanoes and even wonders, “Let’s hope I did the right thing!” Am I crazy, or is it totally out of character for the Lizard to act like an injured puppy when he lets the Wasp care for his wound? Did the raging reptile ever behave like this before? Perhaps resident Spider-Man expert Professor Joe can recall such an incident, but I sure can’t. And again, do we believe that Janet is actually dead — Shooter chickened out and introduced the healer Ƶsaji after all. Speaking of the Lizard, he’s a totally odd choice to be included among the Secret Wars villains. He’s not even a top tier Spidey foe: he’s close, but still seems pretty lightweight compared to all the other heavy hitters. Besides, the Connors creature had been totally forgotten since the first issue. In all, Wasp and the Lizard are easily the worst represented characters in the entire miniseries. Well, the nutty Klaw is up there as well. I suppose that Galactus’ machinations raise the stakes somewhat. Mister Fantastic deduces that he plans on devouring Battleworld itself, killing everyone and ultimately winning the Beyonder’s contest. As his prize, he will ask the omnipotent being to cure his relentless appetite to devour worlds. Makes sense. By the way, I’ve neglected to mention that the characters on both side of the conflict are constantly complaining that they need to grab some shuteye and find some food. Who cares?

Dumbass Dialogue:

The Wasp: “Oh, no! I broke a nail! I don’t even have an emery board and I’m thirty-seven trillion miles from my manicurist and it’s her day off anyway!”

Issue #7 (November 1984): “Berserker!”

The new Spider-Woman arrives at the heroes’ camp after being brought to Battleworld on the chunk of Denver, Colorado … She proves her powers and is welcomed to the team … The Wrecking Crew barrel by in their vehicle and toss Wasp’s corpse out of the top hatch … She-Hulk brings Janet’s body to Ƶsaji but she is far too gone to be cured … At Doombase, Volcana sees on a video display that Molecule Man has been grievously wounded by Wolverine … She begs the Enchantress to transport her “little Owie” to the fortress … The evil Asgardian agrees for “a price” that will be settled later … The X-Men and Magneto attack the bad guys’ ship … Wolverine slices off one of Creel’s arms … The villains escape under the cover of Volcana’s fiery power … Noticing that Doctor Doom is on his homeship, Galactus violently transports the despot back to the surface … Galactus turns his attention to the erupting volcanoes … He stops their spread so that Battleworld isn’t destroyed before it can be consumed … The baddies return to Doombase and the Absorbing Man reattaches his arm … Piledriver tosses the Lizard into a holding cell … Seeking revenge for the Wasp, She-Hulk bursts into Doombase and flattens Bulldozer … The rest of the villains pounce and she is overwhelmed and brutally beaten.

I’m completely confused. I had originally thought that Doom wanted the volcano eruptions to distract Galactus so that he could slip away from the Big G’s homeship unnoticed — he used a similar ruse to enter it in the first place. But that didn’t happen at all, making Cyclops’ decision to set them off even more convoluted. And was any one clamoring for a new Spider-Woman? Again, we needed another character to make Secret Wars even more crowded than the A train at rush hour? What’s next, John Elway is going to walk out of Denver and announce himself as Broncosman, the Horsefaced Hero? With his arm lopped off by Wolverine, the Absorbing Man worries that if he turns from stone back to flesh, he will bleed to death. So, Crusher holds his loose limb in place when he transforms and, voila, he becomes whole once again. Dubious to say the least. Why would his veins and arteries reattach perfectly? And what is one of the reasons the lug known as Crusher Creel takes the risk? “I can’t stay stone forever? How am I gonna eat?” I told you that Shooter was obsessed with food. 

Dumbass Dialogue:

The Enchantress: “So … the echoing thunder of battle gives way to dull rhythmic thuds following by shrieks of agony! They are bludgeoning some wretched fool to death! Perhaps it would be amusing to watch … Bah! Fie upon dull sport! Rather would I stay here and think about mighty Thor!”

Issue #8 (December 1984): “Invasion!”

As the X-Men keep an eye on Galactus, Captain America gathers his forces and they assault Doombase … Klaw frees the Lizard from his cell … The heroes and villains face off … Iron Man takes down the Wrecker … Spidey knocks Bulldozer unconscious … The Thing transforms back into Ben Grimm again as he faces off against the Absorbing Man … Spider-Woman steps in and crushes Creel … Hawkeye shoots Piledriver in the shoulder with an arrow … The Hulk encounters the Enchantress and she beguiles the green goliath … Cap arrives and the Asgardian seductress is defeated … Ben and an unarmed Hawkeye are cornered by the Lizard and Klaw … Captain Marvel gets the jump on Volcana and the injured Molecule Man is captured as well … Spider-Man manages to kick Titania out of Doombase … She crashes to the ground far below … The Human Torch uses his Nova-Flame to subdue Ultron … Captain America finds a dazed Doctor Doom, mindless from his encounter with Galactus … Grimm and Hawkeye mollify Klaw and the Lizard with a game of patty-cake … Captain Marvel finds She-Hulk near death and places her into one of the life-giving tubes … The bad guys are all locked in “dungeon” cells … Ƶsaji manages to save Wasp’s life after all but nearly at the cost of her own … Mister Fantastic patches Iron Man’s damaged armor and improves it using alien technology … Hulk discovers a futuristic machine that fashions clothing from a mere thought … He creates a new helmet and cape for Thor … Spider-Man decides to use it to fix his tattered costume … He accidentally activates a different device that forms a black-and-white outfit subconsciously influenced by Spider-Woman’s similar look … The new suit flows over his body like it is alive.

And here we have Spidey’s new costume, an event that jacks this issue to upwards of $450 on online auction sites. I assume we all know that it will be revealed as a living thing, a symbiotic being that would eventually become Venom. As I’ve mentioned, any changes Jim Shooter made to the characters during Secret Wars were revealed in the May 1984 issues of their individual series, the same month the miniseries debuted. So while readers of The Amazing Spider-Man were introduced to the new suit eight months ago, they had to wait until December to find out how that event actually transpired. Talk about ill conceived. To make matters even worse, the webslinger went back to his original red-and-blue outfit the same month this issue of Secret Wars came out! It’s almost comical. Per Mattel’s request, Iron Man’s suit is also changed but it’s hard to notice a difference or uptick in power: looks like Mister Fantastic simply added some red shoulder pads. As if the pairing of Wasp and the Lizard wasn’t painful enough, he’s now buddy buddy with the doofus Klaw. I mentioned that the master of sound went a bit mad trapped in Galactus’ homeship, but not that Shooter has him talking with a ridiculous stutter throughout the proceedings: “I want to put a fly in Galactus’ soup! Soup! Soup! Oop, oop, oop!” Yes, it’s as annoying as it sounds. The patty-cake scene is one of the low points of the series — of which there have been many so far. Again, had Shooter ever read a story featuring the Lizard? He’s a vicious monster and is certainly not gonna stand around like an unbalanced five-year-old and watch while Grimm and Klaw slap hands like goofballs. “Dissturb our games-s and the Lizard will destroy you! Once we finish, we will do as you s-ssay!” Help me Jebus.

Dumbass Dialogue:

The Lizard: “Who frees-s-s me? What s-s-sort of creature is-s it? What iss-s its-s name? Ss-speak!”
Klaw: “Why, I’m Klaw, the master of sound! I can’t stand for someone trapped! No! You see, I was trapped in a ship’s hull not long ago! It drove me mad! Mad! Ad, ad, ad! Also, I lov-ove the way you talk!”

Issue #9 (January 1985): “Assault on Galactus!” 

Galactus finishes assembling his apparatus and begins to devour Battleworld … The X-Men attack Big G's machine but encounter sphere-like guardians that repel the mutants … Cyclops manages to fire a full-force optic blast and the resulting nuclear explosion buries the heroes … The rest of the good guys blast off from Doombase to join the fight … Ben Grimm transforms back into the Thing … Spider-Man realizes that his new suit has built-in webshooters … Iron Man damages Galactus’ planet-destroying machine … Reed orders a stop to the assault and vows that they must let Galactus devour Battleworld and them along with it, so that the Beyonder will cure him of his destructive appetite, savings billions of lives … Galactus and his weapon blink away as does Mister Fantastic … They reappear on the giant’s homeship … Galactus shows Reed a vision of his pregnant wife, Sue, and his son, Franklin … Colossus digs out his unharmed teammates … Ƶsaji recovers after nearly dying from bringing Wasp back to life … Reed and Galactus return to Battleworld … Told by Galactus that he is “a universal champion of life,” Richards is more convinced than ever to let him win … The planet-killing machine starts up again … Captain America decides to keep fighting and the rest of the team agrees … Mister Fantastic changes his mind and joins in … At Doombase, Doctor Doom begins to slice Klaw into lenses of pure sound … The heroes resume their barrage and Galactus is injured … He destroys his homeship and recharges himself by absorbing the energy released … The still unseen Beyonder opens his space portal to observe.

Yes, you read that right: Doctor Doom actually slices Klaw into slabs like he’s a block of cheddar cheese. Or should I say, “cheese, eese, eese.” It looks ridiculous and, of course, the mental master of sound spouts idiotic dialogue the whole time, even quoting Poe, which will please no one except, perhaps, Professor Gilbert. Now Reed’s call for restraint actually makes some sense: if Galactus is cured then no more worlds will be destroyed. But Cap’n is not going to stand for that commie talk and quickly rallies the troops. Mister Fantastic changes his mind after thinking of his unborn baby. Shockingly, I think that Shooter stumbled on an interesting idea by having Galactus devour his own homeship to repower: have to give some credit where it’s due. Spidey acts like a total ass when he discovers his suit’s webshooters, bouncing around like a loon and squirting Johnny Storm in the puss. He also discovers that he can change the length of the sleeves and pant legs, making it appear that he’s wearing a one-piece bathing suit in a rather embarrassing panel. Not a good look. 

Dumbass Dialogue:

Colossus: “I am not afraid … except for Ƶsaji! If the end must come, let it come now, while she lies in coma-like sleep! Ƶsaji! I did not truly know beauty, nobility and selfless compassion until I met you! Is it just that your healing touch — your very life-energy flowing into my body — laid bare the depths of my soul to you? No, I cannot believe that! Even when first I saw you, somehow I knew that you were the one in all the universe I could truly love! And yet … you love another! Strange … but it does not matter! I want nothing in return for my love! It is not some — some commodity to be bartered! I care only that you are happy — if it must be with another — I am content! I go to fight for your life above all, beloved Ƶsaji! And let him who would threaten it — even Galactus himself — beware!”

Issue #10 (February 1985): “Death to the Beyonder!” 

The energy from Galactus’ destroyed homeship is torn away and diverted towards Doombase … Captain Marvel transforms her body into electromagnetic radiation and flies off to see what is happening … Inside the fortress she spies Doom siphoning Galactus’ recharge with a weapon created with the sound lenses made from Klaw’s body … Doom gains omnipresent and unlimited power … He also senses Marvel’s presence … The heroes enter the X-Men’s crashed ship and Magneto flies it towards Doombase with magnetic waves … Doom upgrades his armor to contain his newfound energy and prepares to confront the Beyonder … The good guys smash into Doombase and discover that Captain Marvel has been frozen in her light form … Massive quakes begin rocking Battleworld as Doom challenges the Beyonder … Even in his new form, the armored despot still proves no match … Doom sends a hologram of himself to the heroes asking them to join his struggle and share their powers with him … Only Magneto is moved to help but he is restrained by Hawkeye and Iron Man … Doom finally succumbs and the Beyonder begins probing the mad monarch’s psyche … The Beyonder removes Doom’s armor and strips the skin from his body … Victor reaches out at his assailant … Another quakes nearly shatters Doombase … The heroes remove She-Hulk from her life-tube and free the villains … They all rush out of the fortress just as it collapses … A giant Doctor Doom towers above them outside.

While it has been a running theme throughout Secret Wars, Shooter really ratchets up the mutant rhetoric about how they have been mistreated by humanity in this issue, led by Magneto and Wolverine. It nearly leads to a dust-up between Logan and Captain America, with the feisty Canuck raging, “You’re the champion of the American dream, fightin’ for liberty and justice — but only for your kind! For humans … for regular Americans!” Even if that was true, which of course it isn’t, haven’t many of the “regular” heroes, especially the Hulk, been ostracized themselves? It’s just another poor choice by the Editor-in-Chief. Don’t ask me what was actually happening when the Beyonder is probing Doom, it just seemed like an attempt at pretension. Shooter also doesn’t grasp the fact that Iron Man is not a good choice when it comes to dealing with Magneto. You know, the metal and all. Victor’s redesigned suit doesn’t stray too far from the original: basically he just loses his cape and blouse but gains a band around his right leg. Why Mattel objected to his original appearance in the first place is beyond me. Could there be a more classic set of Marvel togs?

Dumbass Dialogue:

Wolverine: “Don’t take this wrong … but you’re a better man than I gave you credit for! I’m an attacker an’ you’re a defender — but we’re both soldiers! I’m beginnin’ to think you got room in your high-falutin’ ideals for all people … don’tcha? Even if they’re mutants!”

Captain America: “Some of my best friends are people!”

Issue #11 (March 1985): “… And Dust to Dust” 

The gigantic Doctor Doom shrinks down to normal size … He removes his mask and reveals his healed and unscarred face … The Latverian monarch announces that he has beaten the Beyonder, becoming the “mightiest being in this or any universe” and is now “serene in my omnipotence” … The villains witness Doom talking to the heroes and assume he is a traitor … Molecule Man flips the good guys away with a tidal wave of dirt and attacks … Doom frees Moly from self-doubt and unlocks his full potential … Molecule Man returns to his allies with a renewed confidence … He creates a silver ark and they all fly off to Volcana’s apartment in the Denver, Colorado, region of Battleworld … The good guys regroup and return to the ruins of Doombase … They bed down for the night … Molecule Man forms a dome around Denver and tears it away from the surface … It flies off into space back towards Earth … Colossus takes a sky-sled and visits Ƶsaji, telling the healer that he loves her … A slumbering Hulk is struck by a small burst of energy and begins sleepwalking … He comes across Spider-Woman and the energy jumps to her … Dazed, Spider-Woman strides into Doom’s lab where she sees that Captain Marvel has mysteriously recovered  and a message has been carved into a wall: “You Are Summoned to the Tower of Doom at Dusk Tomorrow” … The heroes are amazed to discover a crystalline tower, two hundred miles high, in the distance the next day … Doom welcomes then inside and says that he has “transcended all concerns of this plane of existence” … Setting right the wrongs he has recently done, Doom resurrects Kang and sends him home … He also mentions that Galactus has been saved by his herald, Nova … The docile Doctor grants the heroes a “boon” … When they refuse, Doom dismisses them claiming that their “dealings are ended forever” … He begins to plan the rescue of his mother’s “spirit essence” from Mephisto … The burst of energy jumps from Spider-Woman to Klaw … At Doombase, the heroes decide that Doom cannot be trusted and vote to continue the war … Doombase is destroyed by a cataclysmic explosion killing all inside.

I must have read the entire Secret Wars miniseries three times when preparing this post, including this issue. But I still have no idea how Doctor Doom defeated the Beyonder. One minute the skin is being torn from his body, the next he is Big Man in the Entire Universe. There’s nary an explanation! What was Shooter thinking? I’m totally flabbergasted. Considering that Galactus was on hand, it’s actually surprising that Doom would emerge as the ultimate protagonist of the whole shebang when all is idiotically said and done. When the villains arrive in Denver, the citizens are still alive and, while there certainly is destruction, the buildings are mostly intact. Which made me laugh for some reason. “Oh Marge, you know nothing about football!” However, I only groaned at the panels of the baddies lounging around Volcana’s dingy apartment. Whooo boy. Of course, the Lizard sits in the corner like a lapdog. Or floordog, I guess. I didn’t have to read ahead to figure out that the jumping burst of energy is what remains of the Beyonder — you know, because of what happened during his mind-bending battle with Doctor Doom. You saw that, didn’t you? It takes three whole pages for the heroes to individually agree that they should bring Doom down, since, as Captain America states, “it must be a unanimous vote … or we do nothing!” Why? Say that the weakest of the bunch, I’m looking at you Hawkeye, doesn’t want to get involved. That means the rest can’t just flip him the bird and get to the smashing? Of course, it’s the lovelorn Colossus who casts the final vote. There are tears in his eyes as he sobs “Forgive me, Ƶsaji … I say yes … we fight!” In all fairness, I must give Shooter another nod. Cap doesn’t trust Doom because the first thing he did when gaining the Beyonder’s power was to heal his face. If Victor is so transcendent, why would he care? 

Was anyone shocked by the last image of issue #11, a full-page panel showing the obliteration of the heroes? Until now, no character has died without being revived. Seriously doubt that Big Jim is going to risk killing his cash cows at this point.

Dumbass Dialogue:

Captain America: “Just stand ready! Don’t do anything till I give the order!”

Spider-Man: “My spider-sense would be tingling of Doom meant to kill us!”

Professor X: “I concur that he means us no harm, Spider-Man! Though the sheer energy of his mental processes blocks my telepathic probing, I sense no aura of malice about him!”

Thor: “Speak to us, Doom! We fear thee not!”

Doctor Doom: “Listen well, then … I shall speak to you but once, for greater things beckon me!”

Issue #12 (April 1985): “… Nothing to Fear …” 

Denver, Colorado, hurtles through space … Doctor Octopus begins to freak out in Volcana’s apartment and smashes through a wall onto the street below … Molecule Man traps him in a rising mound of asphalt … The Enchantress lures Volcana away and begins to drain her life for the power to transport back to Asgard, the “price” she demanded for saving Molecule Man in issue #7 … Molecule and the Lizard arrive just in time to save Volcana … The Enchantress blinks away back to Battleworld accidentally taking the Lizard with her … When they arrive, the reptile slashes her face and she incinerates him … In Doctor Doom’s tower, Klaw warns his master that Ƶsaji has the abilities to raise the dead heroes from the grave … He adds that it will kill her in the process … Doom struggles to contain his new and overwhelming power … Thor’s hammer Mjolnir smashes through a wall signaling that the good guys have been resurrected by the sacrificial Ƶsaji … Klaw begs Doom to give him an iota of his energy to fight the heroes as the Latverian gains his composure … Klaw reactivates Ultron and creates an army of bizarre creatures that attack Captain America’s crew … During the battle, the Thing changes back to Ben Grimm … But he discovers that he can now control the transformations and becomes rocky once again … Ultron breaks the Hulk’s leg … The shrinking Wasp enters the robot’s body and incapacitates it from the inside … Captain America rushes past Klaw and enters Doom’s tower … The master of sound smiles and stutters, “Perfect, erfect, erfect” as he races by … Cap leaps at Doom but is killed … However he reforms and attacks again as the Latverian begins to lose control … The burst of energy that is the remains of the Beyonder leaves Klaw’s body and rips his power back from Doom … Free from the Beyonder’s control, Klaw rushes forward apologetically … When he touches Doom they both dematerialize … The war is finally over and the heroes have won … They return to Doombase … Mister Fantastic constructs a brace and crutch for the Hulk … Professor X, Storm and Rogue create new costumes for themselves with the clothing-creation machine … Cap remakes his cracked shield … Lockheed, missing since the first battle, returns with a female dragon … Colossus buries Ƶsaji … Mister Fantastic uses a device to beam up the heroes to the orbiting ship that will transport them all back to Central Park … The Thing decides to stay behind … She-Hulk replaces him in the Fantastic Four.

For the grand finale, Shooter decides to devote three of the first seven pages to the Enchantress speaking with a female Elemental that she created after filling Volcana’s bathtub. It’s as dumb as it sounds. The water spirit is a ditzy nymph, using such words as “wowie” and “gossiping.” What’s worse, she simply recaps the previous eleven issues. Seriously? Was Big Jim worried that people would just buy the last issue to see what happens and save themselves 8 dollars and 25 cents? Nah. Remember, Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #12 was giant-sized and priced at $1, offering 52 pages compared to the usual 23, 24 or 25 of previous issues. The Editor-in-Chief had space to fill and probably couldn’t come up with anything else of interest to pad out the requisite pages. Sheesh. It’s easy to spot when the talented Art Adams inks Zeck’s pencils: they are the best-looking panels of the entire miniseries. 

Now Ƶsaji didn’t actually resurrect all of the heroes: she only gave her life to save Colossus, who had luckily taken his armored form just before everyone was blown to smithereens. The X-Man then took Mr. Fantastic — somewhat protected by his rubbery body — to the medical chambers in Doombase. The revived Reed then used the machines to restore everyone else. Speaking of Richards, he was able to transport the heroes to the orbiting ship the entire time? Why didn’t he just do that in issue #1 and save us all some grief? When he’s using it on the X-Men, Lockheed’s new “girlfriend” flies in and is beamed-up as well: this causes a strange reaction that causes the mutants to end up in Japan instead of the Sheep Meadow. The final battle with Klaw’s creations is another misstep. I thought Secret Wars was supposed to be the be-all-and-end-all clash between Marvel greatest superheroes and supervillains? But at the end, we have a bunch of nondescript monsters. After some of the X-Men create new outfits for themselves, Spidey realizes that he used a different machine to make his. He shrugs it off with an, “Oh, well.” Sure. The thing flows over his body like it’s alive and Pete Parker, Boy Genius, gives it a, “what, me worry?”  Oh, and I forgot that Curt Connors stumbles in at the end stating that the Enchantress’ blast somehow cured him of his Lizardness. Right. Did I miss anything else? Ah, who cares at this point.

Dumbass Dialogue:

The Enchantress: “Arise, Elemental!”

Water Elemental: “Okay, okay … “

The Enchantress: “I require information to plan my next move! First little one … tell me what you know of the Beyonder!”

Water Elemental: “Tough question! Wowie! If I answer, will you grant me the power to walk through fields of flowers as mortals do?”

The Enchantress: “Answer, or I will freeze you solid, and … “

Water Elemental: “Okay, okay!”

Thank Crom that’s over. If you’ve managed to actually make it through my endless blundering, it should be crystal clear that I have quite a low opinion of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars. Marv Wolfman’s claim of a “catastrophe” might be a bit harsh, but he was not far off. As obvious by the “Dumbass Dialogue” sections, Jim Shooter’s lousy script was the main culprit. Not only would it easily win the award for “Most Exclamation Marks Used in a Comic Book Mini-Series,” many of the heroes and villains behaved completely out of character — which is a total disappointment since Shooter, as you might recall, considered himself the “Absolute Authority” on all things Marvel. And Doctor Doom’s attainment of the ultimate power was completely bungled, among other head-scratching moments. Plus, at one point, Jim had poor Spidey squeal, “Wheeee!” It’s “Wheeeeee!” Even Homer Simpson knows that. Sy™.

I’d like to wrap things up with a quote I pulled from Jim Shooter’s own blog. I’m sure we all remember the Marvel/DC crossovers that began with 1976’s Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century. That was followed by dust-ups between Batman and the Hulk and the X-Men and the New Teen Titans. In 1983, the next in the series was settled upon: the Avengers versus the Justice League of America. Now, creative staffs from each publisher took turns on heading up these, legitimately, “Big Events.” This time, DC took the lead, assigning two former Marvel heavyweights, Gerry Conway and George Perez. But after he wrote the plot, Conway left the project and Roy Thomas was brought on board. All three highly talented people. On Marvel’s side, Jim Shooter had final approval. 

The Editor-in-Chief flatly rejected the first draft of the plot and, after some resentful back and forth, the book was eventually cancelled — as were all future crossovers. Why? “My job was to look after our characters and make good comics. I would not, could not agree to approve a plot that violated our characters and sucked,” says Shooter. He goes on to add, “One of Mark Twain’s nineteen rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction requires ‘that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader.’ This plot had crass stupidities in abundance.” 

Gee whiz, Jim. Perhaps you should have taken your own — and Twain’s — advice when you decided that you were the only one who could have written Secret Wars.

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Secret Wars by Professor Matthew Bradley!