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!


  1. All I can say is that if it wasn't for Mr. Shooter there wouldn't be any Marvel today. He revived the company, he revived the industry. His era is what revived interest in Marvel at an INTERNATIONAL level. You probably don't know that, but as I live in Europe, it is easy to see how 1980s Marvel stories sparked a veritable wave of publications.

  2. Great write-up, Professor Flynn. You must really have patience to wade through this. I never realized that the toys were such a big aspect in this.

    I think Secret Wars was one of the first Marvel projects I didn't buy. I know that I hated the crossover break in the books I collected. But I never suspected it was this bad. I am a big fan of Zeck, but always when I browsed an issue a the shop I thought this was poor work. Also I never was a fan of Shooter's writing, thought it never very good. He did good things for Marvel, but he also ushered in an age of mediocrity and terrible comics. Shooter for me always will be the guy who drove the good writers away and couldn't replace them with talent.

  3. Hell of a job, HostlyMostly (as we call him), and you too, Dean Paste-Pot, rightly spotlighting the toys that were the raison d'etre for this turkey, although I practically got PTSD from seeing those covers again. Looking forward to piling on---er, weighing in next time.

    Andy, as usual, you hit the nail right on the head. I don't gainsay Mario's comment at all, but you echo my sentiments precisely: whatever good he admittedly did for Marvel, I disliked the comics Shooter personally wrote, and felt their overall quality slid downward when he was EIC. 'Nuff said.

  4. That may be partially true. Some writers were definitely good, some were highly overrated. Remember, and obviously this should be a given, Marvel comics were already being published in Europe. It's not like the European reader was not exposed to them. By the early 80s the European reader had simply given up on them. Publishers of Marvel reprints were closing. People did not like what was being published. All this with the much-vaunted 70s comics. Only in the mid to late 80s did Marvel make a comeback with the Shooter era. Personally, I started reading, more or less, at the start of the Shooter era and found them to be very enjoyable. I also enjoyed the 70s era. I found those comics to be, at times, awkward, goofy, sometime very well done, but not done consistently well. I abhorred what came after Shooter in the 90s.
    And, finally, all those writers that left because of Shooter, sure as heck didn't take advantage of the fact that Shooter himself left in 1987. I don't remember any surge of 70s creators coming back to Marvel and writing extravagant masterpieces to the delight of fans.

  5. Maybe one of the worst Marvel titles, but absolutely one of the best MU posts!!! Dumbass Dialogue for all!