Wednesday, December 26, 2012
X-amining Secret Wars #1-12
May 1984 - April 1985
In a Nutshell
Heroes and villains are taken by the Beyonder to fight on a far off world, with the winner receiving their heart's desire.
Writer: Jim Shooter
Penciler: Michael Zeck, Bob Layton (issues #4,5)
Inker: John Beatt, Jack Abel & Mike Espositp (issue #8)
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Christie Scheele, Nelson Yomtov (issue #11)
Editor: Tom DeFalco
Issue #1: The Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Hulk all find themselves suddenly teleported aboard a massive ship in outer space. Nearby, a group of villains find themselves aboard a similar ship. They watch as a galaxy is destroyed and a planet formed in its place, then a voice from beyond declares that if they slay their enemies, all they desire shall be theirs. Galactus and Doom confront this Beyonder, but both are easily dispatched and sent crashing to the planet below. The two ships land on the planet, and the heroes elect Captain America to lead them, with the villains quickly launching the first salvo.
Issue #2: Captain America's forces rally and send the villains running, securing a few prisoners in the process. Storm locates a high tech alien shelter they claim as a base, while Magneto claims his own fortress. As Dr. Doom asserts leadership over the villains, Magneto attacks the heroes, and escapes with a captive Wasp.
Issue #3: As Magneto proposes a truce with Wasp, the X-Men discuss joining him. Overheard by Spider-Man, they tussle, with Professor X ultimately wiping Spider-Man's memory of the conflict. As the X-Men depart for Magneto's fortress, Dr. Doom leads an attack on the heroes, destroying their base and reclaiming their prisoners.
Issue #4: With the heroes on the run, Molecule Man picks up a mountain range and drops it on them. The X-Men arrive at Magneto's base and propose an alliance, at which point Wasp makes her move and escapes. Meanwhile, the Hulk manages to keep the heroes alive by holding up the mountain range as Mr. Fantastic cobbles together a device to blast through the mountain. Free, Captain Marvel locates an alien village near where Galactus has begun a vigil. One of the aliens, a woman named Zsaji, uses her power to heal various injuries, but Mr. Fantastic is frightened by sudden action by Galactus.
Issue #5: With the arrival of Galactus' worldship, signaling his intent to consume the planet, both Mr. Fantastic and Professor X attempt to communicate with Galactus, triggering an attack on Magneto's base and the release of a powerful robot to attack the heroes. Just as they defeat it, Doom's men attack once more, but the X-Men arrive and turn them back before departing once more. Meanwhile, Dr. Doom takes advantage of the distraction to sneak aboard Galactus' ship.
Issue #6: The Wasp, fleeing Magneto's base, crashes in a swamp-like area of the planet and comes face to face with the Lizard, while on Galactus' ship, Doom frees Klaw, master of sound. He then dispatches a contingent of his forces to a volcanic region in an attempt to prevent Galactus from destroying the planet, but Professor X sends the X-Men to stop them. Wasp and Lizard are captured by Doom's forces, while a shadowy figure watches the heroes.
Issue #7: A new Spider-Woman, a woman from a Denver suburb which the Beyonder transported to the planet, introduces herself to Captain America's forces. Just then, a group of villains appears and tosses out the dead Wasp. Zsaji attempts to heal her, but fails. Aboard Galactus' ship, Doom is detected and forcibly sent back down to the planet. She-Hulk attacks Doombase in retribution for Wasp's death, but is overwhelmed. Professor X telepathically tells Captain America the X-Men will watch Galactus, allowing the other heroes to attack Doombase.
Issue #8: The heroes attack Doombase, and with Doom recovering from his encounter with Galactus, they are able to overcome the villains, imprisoning them and claiming the base for themselves. Back at the alien village, Colossus finds Zsaji near death, and realizes she has poured her life essence into Wasp, bringing her back to life. Back at Doombase, Spider-Man uses an alien device to seemingly create a new black costume for himself, when Professor X suddenly announces that Galactus has begun to devour the planet.
Issue #9: The X-Men attack Galactus, and are seemingly killed in the process . The rest of the heroes arrive, but Mr. Fantastic calls off the attack, declaring they should let Galactus devour the planet. Suddenly, Mr. Fantastic and Galactus vanish, reappearing on Galactus' ship, while the X-Men turn up alive. The heroes return to the alien village while a recovered Doom escapes from his cell. When Mr. Fantastic returns, he argues that Galactus should be allowed to destroy the planet. However, the rest of the heroes decide to attack Galactus, but just as they gain the upper hand, he returns to his ship and begins converting it to energy, to make it easier to consume the planet. At that moment, Doom, having converted Klaw into a series of lenses, begins to draw Galactus' power into himself.
Issue #10: Flush with the power of Galactus, Doom attacks the Beyonder. Their battle rains destruction down on the planet, with the heroes working to free the captive villains as Doombase is destroyed. In the end, Doom emerges triumphant and comes before the heroes, declaring that the Beyonder is no more, and that the war is over.
Issue #11: Leaving the heroes to confront Molecule Man, Doom uses his power to remove a block on Molecule's Man power, enabling him to transport the entire suburb of Denver, along with the remaining villains, back to Earth. At the remains of Doombase, first Hulk and then Spider-Woman are possessed by a strange energy. The next morning, Doom meets with the heroes, telling them he will soon ascend to a higher plane of existence, and offering them anything they desire. The heroes decline, though the strange energy passes from Spider-Woman to Klaw. Later, Captain America gathers everyone and announces his intention to fight Doom, despite the odds, worried what he might do with the power of a god. Each of the heroes agree to stand by him and attack Doom, at which point the entire gathering is suddenly struck by a bolt of energy.
Issue #12: Having killed all the heroes, Doom continues to grapple with his omnipotence, worried about losing control of his power. Klaw outlines a scenario in which the heroes could have survived Doom's attack, and just as Doom dismisses it as impossible, Captain America's forces attack his stronghold. Unable to control his power, Doom sets an army of monstrous creatures against them, but Captain America is able to reach Doom. As Doom falters in battle, the strange energy which possessed Klaw, the remnant of the Beyonder, emerges and reclaims his power from Doom, disintegrating Doom and Klaw in the process. In the wake of the battle, the heroes relax and recuperate as Mr. Fantastic works on a device to return them home. One by one, the heroes are sent home, the war finally over.
Firsts and Other Notables
The impetus for Secret Wars came about after toy company Mattel (maker of, amongst other things at the time, He-Man toys) acquired the license to create Marvel toys, and asked Marvel to launch a big event comic to support the line, titled "Secret Wars", because those were two words that, according to their market research, drove kids nuts. Marvel Editor in Chief Jim Shooter, seeing it as an opportunity to do the big cosmic story he'd wanted to do for awhile, as well as an opportunity to put into effect some character changes, ran with the idea.
Often cited as ushering in the age of big event crossovers still in effect today, Secret Wars is actually something of an atypical event series. It is Marvel's first twelve issue limited series, and is entirely self-contained. To get the full story, one only needed to read these twelve issues; the "crossover" happened because Secret Wars unfolded alongside issues of series in which the main characters had already returned to Earth. Which meant, that, for example, in one issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man disappeared, and the next issue featured him returning from Secret Wars with a new costume. To find out where the costume came from and why he changed it, readers would have to read Secret Wars. Not only was the "parallel" crossover unique, it was far less intrusive than many of today's crossover event comics.
Issue #1 marks the first appearance of the Beyonder, an omnipotent being from another universe who becomes infatuated by the Marvel Universe, specifically the concept of desire, and decides to pit a group of superheroes and villains against each other, with the prize being whatever their heart desires, to more closely study the concept (it's also the first appearance of what the heroes dub "Battleworld", the hodgepodge planet the Beyonder forms to serve as the setting of his experiment). Throughout the series he appears only as a disembodied voice, though the follow up series, Secret Wars II, will have the Beyonder take human form and visit Earth (one issue of Brian Michael Bendis' Illuminati limited series suggests that the Beyonder is actually just a supremely powerful Inhuman, though I believe most readers laughed this idea off and largely ignore it).
Secret Wars remains most notable for introducing Spider-Man's black costume in issue #8, which would eventually be revealed to be an alien symbiote (there are hints of that in this series) that would become the villain Venom. Additionally, Secret Wars led to She-Hulk joining the Fantastic Four, as the Thing stayed behind on Battleword to launch his own solo series, while the absence of the Avengers would lead to Vision taking control of the team, ultimately creating the West Coast Avengers and trying to take over the world, a storyline that would have far reaching consequences.
Issue #3 features the first appearance of Volcana and Titania, a pair of new female super villains created for the series. The former plays a significant role in Secret Wars II, while the second will go on to have a long-standing relationship with Absorbing Man.
In terms of the X-Men, this series is notable for featuring the first extended team-up between Magneto and the X-Men (following their one-off alliance in God Loves, Man Kills). It also features Professor X leading the X-Men in the field for the first time since he regained the use of his legs, a situation which is left for the regular series to resolve. Colossus falls in love with an alien healer on Battleworld, which will lead to the end of his relationship with Kitty in Uncanny X-Men #183. Finally, a new Spider-Woman, Julia Carpenter, debuts in issue #7. Created at the behest of Mattel (who wanted more female characters), she will go on to join Freedom Force, the government-sponsored version of Mystique's Brotherhood, and eventually join the Avengers.
The heroes involved in the story are the Avengers (Captain America, Captain Marvel, Thor, She-Hulk, Hawkeye, and Wasp), Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four (sans the pregnant Invisible Girl), the X-Men and Magneto. Notable exclusions include Marvel mainstays Daredevil and Dr. Strange (the series features only the characters to which Mattel acquired the toy license). Secret Wars occurs at a time in which Iron Man is actually Jim Rhodes, the future War Machine, filling in for Tony Stark who, at the time, was in the midst of an extended battle with alcoholism. Similarly, at the time, Hulk is in a state in which he possesses Bruce Banner's intelligence.
The villains included in the series are Dr. Doom, Galactus, Klaw, Absorbing Man, Doctor Octopus, Molecule Man, Lizard, Ultron, Kang, the Enchantress, and the Wrecking Crew.
The series is written by Jim Shooter himself (with Tom DeFalco, who will succeed Shooter as EiC at Marvel, editing him), with art by Captain America penciler Mike Zeck. Zeck reportedly fell behind on the series due to constant requests from Shooter to redraw pages, leading to the Bob Layton fill-ins. When Zeck returned, he largely worked off Shooter's layouts.
Issue #3 features the X-Men facing off against Spider-Man, and losing. At the risk bringing back memories of Iron Man vs. X-Men debates from the Wizard letter columns back in the 90s, allow me to just say that, as an X-Men fan, I find the idea that Spider-Man could defeat the entire team preposterous. :)
A Work in Progress
In issue #1, Magneto is sorted in with the heroes, much to the consternation of everyone except the X-Men. Issue #12 reveals this was because the Beyonder sorted everyone based on their greatest desires, and Magneto's desires were more compatible with the noble desires of the heroes.
However, it takes awhile for most of the heroes to warm up to the idea of fighting alongside Magneto; his sinking of the Lenigrad in X-Men #150 is specifically referenced.
Throughout the series, Wolverine is openly hostile to Captain America, specifically angry that he isn't taking a more offensive approach to the conflict. This doesn't quite gel with later portrayals of their relationship, which will show Wolverine having something of a begrudging respect for Cap.
Issue #1 depicts Professor X in his wheelchair, without comment, despite having walked into the Beyonder's structure in Central Park in X-Men #180. In issue #2, he's shown walking, and Mr. Fantastic mentions the Beyonder reconstructing various heroes' paraphernalia and musing that perhaps the Beyonder wasn't aware of his ability to walk, suggesting someone pointed out the new status quo to Shooter between issues.
There's a neat bit in issue #2 that shows Galactus getting up after being knocked down by the Beyonder.
Cyclops says that the Beyonder plucked him from his honeymoon, meaning he's been honeymooning since X-Men #176, barring the break to say goodbye to his dad in issue #177.
In issue #7, Cyclops makes it clear to Wolverine that the X-Men still aren't killing their foes.
At one point Mr. Fantastic argues that the heroes should allow Galactus to destroy Battleworld, killing them and allowing him to claim the Beyonder's prize. Since Galactus' greatest desire is to be free of the hunger that forces him to consume planets, this would eliminate the threat of Galactus from the universe. Or, Mr. Fantastic could have just not saved Galactus' life when he came to Earth to die (in Fantastic Four #244, the events of which were referenced in X-Men #167).
Nightcrawler refers to Kitty as "Katya" in issue #11, a nickname usually reserved for Colossus (since it's, you know, kinda Russian).
As the X-Men prepare to return home in issue #12, they create new costumes, including the new looks for Professor X and Rogue.
Professor X also makes clear his desire to continue to lead the X-Men in the field now that he can walk, something that doesn't sit well with Storm.
Lockheed reunites with the X-Men as they get ready to leave, accompanied by another dragon. Just as the X-Men are teleported back to Earth, the other dragon enters the field, followed by a power surge just as the X-Men disappear; this is setting up the events of X-Men #181.
I Love the 80s
Iron Man references Julius Irving in issue #2.
Later, he whips out his roller skates in issue #3.
When Doom rebuilds his armor using the Beyonder's stolen power, it mirrors the look of his Secret Wars action figure.
"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"
In issue #3, Professor X erases Spider-Man's memory of the X-Men's departure.
By issue #4, however, he regrets that action, comparing to the evil of Hitler.
Throughout the series, Professor X is shown taking a more assertive role in leading the X-Men, behaving more like his Silver Age taskmaster self.
In issue #9, Cyclops realizes this is because Xavier realizes he will likely be sending the X-Men to their deaths while on Battleworld.
Magneto attempts to seduce Wasp in issue #3, but she only plays along until she can escape.
Colossus spends most of issue #4 missing Kitty.
But after he meets Zsaji in issue #5, he spends the rest of the series moping about his feelings for her.
Issue #11 reveals that Colossus' feeling for Zsaji are a side effect of her healing powers, something that Colossus never learns.
The other heroes generally distrust the X-Men throughout the entire series, admittedly in part because they're more willing to work with Magneto, and the X-Men and Magneto spend most of their time on Battleworld functioning as a third unit apart from Captain America's heroes and Doctor Doom's villains.
In issue #5, Human Torch wonders if Zsaji's healing powers would even work on a mutant, prompting a great retort from the African-American Jim Rhodes.
After holding their own against Galactus in order to allow Cap's forces to take out the villains, in issue #9 Captain American thanks the X-Men and puts aside any bad blood between them.
Wolverine then asks Captain America when the last time he fought for mutants' rights was.
Full disclosure: I've only ever read this series as an adult, and as a result, lack the ability to use nostalgia to smooth over some of its rough edges. Which isn't to say this is awful (as some readers assert). The art is clean and consistent if unexciting; there are lots of wide shots and basic panel layouts, and it is definitely a step down from what Mike Zeck is capable, likely due to Shooter taking a firm hand in the artistic process (and, arguably, the basic art is exactly what a series like this needs). The story does the job it sets out to do: feature a big mashup of all the prominent heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe. Had I read this as a kid, I would have loved it, and definitely would have begged my parents for the accompanying toy line. So in that regard, mission accomplished.
The plot itself is relatively thin, serving as a sparse framework for superhero slugfests. It sags a bit in the middle, as all the fighting gets repetitive (Shooter and Zeck largely fail to display the kind of inventive action choreography displayed by Claremont and Byrne or Claremont and Smith to keep things interesting, and there's an over-reliance on random alien technology), but the last four issues or so, as the heroes try to stop Galactus from devouring Battleworld and then deal with an omnipotent Dr. Doom, do some interesting things with the setting and raise some intriguing ideas about the responsibilities of being good and the weight of omnipotence that I would have devoured as a kid. There are also some genuinely fun "fuck yeah!" moments sprinkled throughout the series (I have a great deal of affinity for issue #4, in which the Hulk holds up a mountain range on his shoulders while Mr. Fantastic struggles to devise a way to free the heroes). In the end, as with most trendsetting and divisive series, the result lands somewhere in the middle of both extremes: this is not entirely the insanely fun and exciting romp some of its fans claim it to be, nor is it the complete and utter dreck some of its opponents insist it to be.
In terms simply of the X-Men narrative, it is far from essential. It is most notable for depicting the X-Men working alongside Magneto for a protracted period of time for the first time. As a result, they spend most of the series functioning on their own, helping the other heroes but standing apart, something which dulls some of the fun for X-Men fans. The other heroes are distrustful of the X-Men, and while some of this is blamed on their championing of Magneto, there's also an indication of anti-mutant prejudice at work, which occasionally rings false/out of character (many of the Avengers, for example, have served alongside and stood up for mutants like Scarlet Witch and Beast).
Professor X spends most of the series acting more like his authoritative Silver Age self, and while an explanation for that behavior is eventually given, it's still not terribly fun to read. Meanwhile, Colossus spends half the series mooning over a Zsaji, a cipher of a character who, by design, can barely communicate with the heroes and spends most of her time having other characters tell the readers what they think she's trying to say. Even putting aside the effect it will have on his relationship with Kitty, it's difficult to care about Colossus' affections for this character simply because Zsaji is such a non-entity, and in the end, when we learn his feelings for her are a side effect of her healing powers, it just makes Colossus look like even more of a chump.
Nevertheless, this series is a watershed one for Marvel, marking a clear beginning for a new style of storytelling and taking the concept of the Marvel Universe to another level for the first time. It's definitely rough around the edges, but it has its moments of fun and some big ideas. And there's no denying there's a certain charm in seeing heroes and villains in such large numbers interact with each other on such a grand scale.
In light of the holidays and some upcoming travel for work, we're going to take a brief break next week, but we'll be back on January 9th with Uncanny X-Men #181, as the X-Men return from Secret Wars, followed by the debut of the Hellions in New Mutants #16.