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!!!


  1. As poor as Secret Wars was, we at least get quite a few laughs from your outstanding coverage. Sorry if I threw you a curveball by jumping on the topic myself but I'd say you topped my effort. Magnifico!

  2. Wow I see you are having fun. What I think you don't realize is Secret Wars is a toy tie-tin. It is the equivalent of the 1984 Super Powers DC limited series. Which sucked. You read it once and throw it away. It isn't Art.

    1. Gee, I thought Professor Tom (to whom profuse thanks for his kind comment) covered the whole toy-tie-in aspect pretty thoroughly...

  3. This makes me want to read this nonsense again for sheer insanity! Or maybe I'll re-read SWII.... or maybe read a Dunkin' Donuts receipt for more substance.