Monday, July 25, 2005

This Crossover Was Bad - Secret Wars II (Part 1 of 3)

In April of 1985, Marvel began, to that point, their largest company-wide crossover, which followed DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths by a couple of months, and lasted for the next nine months.

It was a bad crossover.

But why?

Here, I will explain to you why it was not good, by examing the nine-issue main series as well as the THIRTY-THREE comics that tied into the crossover. I will do it for you so that you do not have to. Remember, do not try this at home! I am a trained bad comic reading professional!

Let's begin!

Secret Wars II #1

Looking back at this series, it really is amazing how much it reads like Jim Shooter's personal opus about the 1980s. I know that sounds silly, to formulate a big companywide crossover and have the main series behind the crossover be the personal feelings of the writer of the series about the times we were living in, but hey, I guess being the head of Marvel was worth SOMEthing, right?

It allowed Shooter to use a big companywide crossover as his personal soapbox about the 80s.

In this issue, we are reintroduced to the Molecule Man and his girlfriend Marsha (from the first Secret Wars series). Shooter had a real fondness for the Molecule Man. Here, he portrays Owen and Marsha as the prototypical 80s couple. They sit around and watch TV reruns, eat TV dinners and Bar-B-Q chips and Doritos.

Meanwhile, the Beyonder decides to visit Earth after being intrigued by the events of the first Secret War (where he grabbed a bunch of superheroes and villains and had them battle it out for his amusement).

Al Milgrom and Steve Leialoha do not do a BAD job on the art, but nor is it all that great looking.

The way Shooter works in the other titles is so weak. There's a hilarious scene where Magneto finds out about Beyonder, and decides to go to LA to confront the Beyonder. He says, "There is not time for this, Nightcrawler! You MUST do as I say!"

The other X-Men are outside, but somehow hear this and burst through the window to confront Magneto!

But get this...the next panel, Colossus, who was inside, ALSO breaks glass.

What glass is he breaking?!!?

Does Milgrom realize where Colossus was?!?

He was inside! Therefore, he cannot be breaking any window glass!!

Meanwhile, the first life that Beyonder directly touches is another of Shooter's commentaries on 80s life, as he is a prototypical Hollywood writer, who Beyonder transforms into a "superhero" (soon to be super villain) Thunder Sword!

This character allows Shooter to have a commentary on the current state of creative people in Hollywood at the time.

This gives the "action" for the issue, as Iron Man (Jim Rhodes) and Captain America have to defeat Thunder Sword.

Meawnwhile, the New Mutants and X-Men (with Lila Cheney and Dazzler for, well, for the hell of it) show up, and Beyonder appears to kill the New Mutants (but really unleashes the inner demon within Illyana Rasputin, and she goes nuts and teleports the New Mutants to Limbo).

Creepy stuff.

As the issue ends, Beyonder goes off to follow Captain America unseen, to observe him.

Wow, this issue was awful.

New Mutants #30

What Happens? Kitty Pryde is able to bring Illyana back to normal by taking her demon sword, which may have infected Kitty with the same demon problems Illyana had. Once they returned to Earth, they decide to save Sunspot and Magma, who were caught up in an arena where they are forced to fight people. Dazzler and Shadowcat go undercover to rescue them, but Dazzler seems to get caught up in enjoying the arena spotlight, and a mysterious foe knocks Kitty out and puts her in a big robot body and sends her to fight Sunspot and Magma – to the death!

Was it good? Not really. Sienkiewicz’s art is really good, though. It is funny, by this point, he was on the book long enough that he really could draw whatever he wanted, and that includes some pretty surreal scenes. Like drawing Cannonball’s forehead like it is two feet tall – for no reason.

Wow…getting caught up in an arena, but finding that you like the attention…Claremont sure does love that plot, doesn’t he?

This was a pretty dorky issue, but Claremont at least makes sure you understand what is going on, which was nice.

How much did it tie in? Well, the beginning of the issue takes off from Secret War II #1, but beyond that, there’s just a page or two where Rachel meets up with Beyonder, and they have a “meeting of the minds.”

Was it better for being tied in? No. The crossover got them in the middle of a storyline, and the Beyonder appearance had no real meaning to it.

Captain America #208

What Happens? Captain America visits the West Coast Avengers and fights a new villain called the Armadillo. The Beyonder chooses to duplicate Cap’s body for his form on Earth.

Was it good? Not really. It wasn’t bad, though. Gruenwald was still firmly in his “continuity king” mode here, as he was using an issue of Captain America to catch up with the West Coast Avengers, who did not have their own series at the time, but soon did. Armadillo was a goofy looking bad guy, but an interesting enough story (guy just wanted to help his wife, so he went to a doctor, who agreed to help if he worked for him, and then spliced his genes with an Armadillo). This issue also takes off from the most recent Iron Man Annual, where Iron Man and the West Coast Avengers fought Goliath. In fact, it is so tied in (Same evil doctor, same heroes, and continuing the plot from the Annual), it is astonishing to me that Gruenwald DIDN’T write the Iron Man Annual in question. Paul Neary was a pretty good penciller, I wonder why he gave it up…

How much did it tie in? Minimally. Beyonder just copied Captain America’s body to use as his own. Which is funny, because Gruenwald would later have Red Skull ALSO have a cloned Captain America body!!

Was it better for being tied in? No, as it did not matter that it was tied in.

Uncanny X-Men #196

What Happens? A group of his students plot to kill Professor Xavier. The X-Men search for the killers (all they know is that SOME student plans on killing SOMEone) while reconciling themselves with the fact that Magneto is hanging out with them now. Kitty Pryde is assaulted by the students, and the students’ psi-bomb turns Rachel into a crazy Psi-Hound. Magneto talks her down from killing the students.

Was it good? Yes. This was a very good issue. Nice art from John Romita, Jr., and a strong, down-to-Earth story from Claremont. Sure, there were a lot of Claremontisms in the issue, like his ever subtle hints about Nimrod (every other page has some human talking about how great Nimrod is), or the big speeches about how it is okay for Magneto to join, as Rogue was a bad guy, too. There were two very notable scenes in the issue. One, Kitty Pryde getting sick of Wolverine’s smoking, tries a cigar herself, and HATES it. It is here that we learn that Wolverine’s powers make smoking okay for him. Two, there is the notable scene where a black student calls Kitty a mutie, and she calls him a nigger, to show him that words can hurt. Bold choice by Claremont. As an aside, Rachel has the UGLIEST clothes in all of comics. It is so weird to see this character played seriously where she is dressed like Olivia Newton-John in the “Let’s Get Physical” music video!!

How much did it tie in? Not a lot. Beyonder shows up a few times, and Rachel is all freaked out by him, and Claremont sets up hints that Beyonder and Rachel WILL have scenes in the future. Nightcrawler is deeply affected by the very CONCEPT of the Beyonder, so he has a big heart-to-heart with a local priest about what the existence of a man like the Beyonder means to his religious beliefs.

Was it better for being tied in? Nah, not really. I mean, it only barely tied in, but if there was no Beyonder in the issue, there would be nothing missing from the story, save Nightcrawler’s speech.

Iron Man #197

What Happens? Iron Man (Jim Rhodes) fights Thunder Sword again, while Tony tried to save old flame Bethany Cabe from some bad guys.

Was it good? It was okay. Rich Buckler’s art was pretty good. Denny O’Neil’s storyline was pretty interesting at the time, as Tony Stark was trying to rebuild his company, along with the help of a brother and sister scientist team, while aiding Rhodey as Iron Man. There is some silly “I am not worthy to be Iron Man” jive from Rhodey, which was silly. Seeing Tony in the old Iron Man armor was kinda cool, and the final solution of the issue, feeding Rhodey energy from a nuclear reactor to stop Thunder Sword, was neat.

How much did it tie in? Just Thunder Sword. No Beyonder.

Was it better for being tied in? Eh. I mean, without the tie-in, there’s no bad guy for them to face, so I guess it is better off.

Secret Wars II #2

This was a marked improvement over #1. This issue was actually fairly interesting. In it, the Beyonder (now having Steve Rogers’ body), wanders around Manhattan trying to understand things. Someone tells him that he needs to eat food, so he eats food, which means biting down on a bottle of soda.

He eventually goes to ask for advice from one of the few people he knows in Manhattan – Spider-Man!

This leads to the classic scene where Peter Parker explains to the Beyonder how to use the bathroom.

Funny stuff.

The whole issue is set against the backdrop of events of the current issues of Fantastic Four, in which the Hate-Monger (working with the Pyscho-Man) was turning the city crazy. This issue takes place over the span of TWO FF issues, as this issue shows a scene from the BEGINNING of the storyline (where Invisible Girl becomes Malice) AND the end (when they stop the bad guy). This issue actually shows the resolution of the storyline, which must have been a lot of fun for people who just read Fantastic Four.

To throw some EXTRA confusion in (as that is always fun, right?), the Hate-Monger is killed by Scourge!!

Yes, the whole Scourge thing even extended to CROSSOVERS!!

The lesson Shooter decides to teach us this issue is about money, and the overwhelming power it has in our lives. Beyonder HAS no money, so he cannot function.

This leads to the famous situation where, when he wants to hire Power Man and Iron Fist, he finds money by turning their building into gold!!! The building, of course, cannot stand up, so it collapses.

Not a bad issue. The art was stronger, as well (Josef Rubinstein inked some of the issue, and it was much tighter over Milgrom’s pencils).

Web of Spider-Man #6

What Happens? Spider-Man gets involved in saving people from the collapsed building. Meanwhile, the government and Kingpin strike up a deal.

Was it good? Yes, which was a big change of pace for Web of Spider-Man, which was not a very good comic book at the time (in fact, I do not believe it was EVER a good comic book). The government strikes up a deal with Kingpin to get rid of the gold building without any other criminals getting involved, as such a huge influx of gold would throw the US economy into chaos. Spider-Man helps save the lives of the workers trapped in the building, but is outraged when he learns of the deal with the Kingpin, so he decides that if the government can do slimy deals, then he can at least take a reward for himself, so he takes a notebook that was in the trash that is now gold, exclaiming melodramatically, “I’m getting mine!!” Good story by Danny Fingeroth (with a good deal of humor), and decent art by Mike “I have never heard of him before” Harris.

How much did it tie in? Just the gold.

Was it better for being tied in? Well, if not for the Beyonder, there would have been no plot in the issue.

Amazing Spider-Man #268

What Happens? Spider-Man and Kingpin vie over the gold.

Was it good? Yes, but not as good as the previous issue, as I do not know if the plot really deserved two issues. But I really enjoyed DeFalco and Frenz’s work period, and I think they did a good job dealing with Peter’s personal moral crisis regarding the gold.

How much did it tie in? Just the gold.

Was it better for being tied in? Well, it would not have existed were it not for the Beyonder, so I guess so.

Fantastic Four #282

What Happens? The Fantastic Four decide to go to the Microverse to go after the Psycho-Man, to pay him back for what he did to Sue (turning Sue into Malice). Meanwhile, Franklin meets Power Pack.

Was it good? Yeah, but it is weird to remember how much the Marvel books at the time were pimping Power Pack. I mean, I liked Power Pack as well, but it was getting kinda silly, the way their two most popular creators, Claremont and Byrne, would devote issues to just getting people interested in Power Pack. Claremont had Power Pack guest star in a couple of issues of X-Men (including one just a month or so before this issue of FF), and in this issue, Byrne devotes the first ELEVEN pages of the comic book to Power Pack! Specifically, Franklin Richards’ dreams, where he can project himself into the astral plane. Good stuff. As for the main plot, Sue is really angry, and there is a lot of yelling about how Reed better hurry his ass up, because she wants to beat up Psycho-Man. It was this storyline that Byrne changed her name to the Invisible WOMAN, which was a good step, except that it was kinda silly to have the name change be as a direct result of having her mind messed with. It would have been cooler if it was a more natural thing, like, “Oh wait…I have a kid, I’ve been married for years, maybe I should stop calling myself a girl.” In addition, the rattail mullet he gave her…YUCK! Still, it was a fine issue.

How much did it tie in? Barely any at all. They mention the Beyonder, and that is really that.

Was it better for being tied in? It wasn’t tied in, so yes.

Secret Wars II #3

No more Rubinstein, so the book is much looser, and less attractive, in my view. In this issue, we see Beyonder meet up with a prostitute and her pimp, and the pimp’s boss. It is through these connections that we see Shooter’s lesson for this issue, which is about greed.

In this issue, the Beyonder basically takes over the world (during this time, he also adopts the hair color and look that became synonymous with the Beyonder, the black, jheri curl hair and the fancy track suit). Through this, he slowly learns lessons about why that is NOT a good thing, like how people cannot be “real” when they are forced to obey you.

However, the kindness that Beyonder shows the one prostitute helps her change her life, by getting out of prostitution, so Beyonder realizes that he can use his powers to do GOOD, and that is what he sets out to do at the end of the issue.

As an aside, at one point in the issue, the Beyonder cures the gangster’s son of dyslexia. How Milgrom chooses to demonstrate this is hilarious. He shows the kid smiling, holding a pad of paper with three words spelled correctly. It is just too funny.

Daredevil #223

What Happens? The Beyonder hires Nelson and Murdock to represent him, and when the accept, he gives Matt his eyesight back. Meanwhile, Daredevil searches for a stolen camera that belongs to his girlfriend.

Was it good? Yes. Shooter co-wrote this issue with O’Neil, presumably to keep the book in line with what Shooter wanted. Mazzucchelli’s art is strong, but not as strong as his later work would be. It is a neat little idea, to show Matt with sight. In addition, it allows for a nice melodramatic scene where Matt turns down the offer, as he believes that, subconsciously, knowing that his sight was a result of the Beyonder, he would feel too indebted to be impartial. Strong stuff.

How much did it tie in? Strongly. The main story in the issue is the interaction between Matt and the Beyonder.

Was it better for being tied in? Yes, if it were not for the Beyonder, the story could not have happened, and it was a good story.

The Incredible Hulk #312

What Happens? While stuck in the interdimensional intersection known as the Crossroads, the Hulk, along with Guardian, Glow and Goblin (the three manifestations of Bruce Banner’s soul), sit around and think back to the life of Bruce Banner, and how he came to be the Hulk.

Was it good? The art was very good (Mike Mignola). Bill Mantlo, in this story, plants the seeds for Peter David’s Hulk run with this issue, as Mantlo is the first writer to suggest that Hulk always existed within Bruce, he just was trapped within until the Gamma explosion. Bruce’s dad is a real jerk.

How much did it tie in? At the very end, Beyonder shows up to bring the Hulk home.

Was it better for being tied in? Well, you could argue that this was one of the BEST uses for the Beyonder. Mantlo was stuck, and needed a deus ex machine, and, well, Beyonder was a walking, talking deus ex machine! So I will say yes.

Avengers #360

What Happens? The Avengers team up with the Skrull army to stop the space pirate Nebula, who has at her disposal Thanos’ world-destroying ship, Sanctuary.

Was it good? Yes. Roger Stern and John Buscema were a good team on the Avengers, and this issue was no exception. The late, great Buscema was never a fan of drawing superheroes, which is a real shame, because he was really, really good at it. The best thing about his work was how NATURAL he made it all look. The way he captured everyone’s mannerisms so well, it was quite impressive. In any event, the battle with Nebula was quite cool. The Beyonder shows up at the end to help the Avengers, but makes a mess out of it by accidentally letting Nebula go (he knew she was the bad guy, so he thought he was helping by teleporting her away, but the Avengers and Skrulls were just about to capture her). In this issue, Starfox learns that Nebula claims to be his brother Thanos’ granddaughter!!

How much did it tie in? Not a lot. The Beyonder shows up and screws things up, but he is not a major focus of the issue.

Was it better for being tied in? No, he was not needed in this issue at all. He did not help it any.

Secret Wars II #4

Rubinstein was involved in inking this issue, and it was much nicer to look at.

The lesson Shooter is teaching us this issue is about love, and what you would do for it and how you get it.

The Beyonder has been loving and leaving the ladies since he’s been on Earth, but he never understood what love was.

So when one of his flings kills herself because he breaks up with her, he totally doesn’t understand it (he brings her back to life, of course).

However, he begins to understand it when he decides that, of all the women in the world, he must have Alison Blaire, The Dazzler.

The rest of the issue is Dazzler wooing her through various means, including giving her some of his power, making “The Avengers” attack him to test how she feels about him, giving her success, at one point, she even accidentally dies (Beyonder brings her back to life, natch).

None of it works.

Eventually, he binds her will to his, but then he realizes that that is not love.

So he leaves, quite despondent.

Not a bad issue, really.

Dazzler #40

What Happens? Dazzler, who was in custody when Beyonder sprung her in Secret Wars II #4, goes back into custody of the bounty hunter sent to find her. Meanwhile, a bunch of mutants attack Dazzler. The Beyonder shows up to help, but we quickly learn that he is still just trying to get into Dazzler’s pants.

Was it good? No. Archie Goodwin and Paul Chadwick were the creative team on the issue, so it SHOULD have been good, but it was not. The art was fine, and the bounty hunter, Chase, was an interesting character, but the motivations of the bad guys were just idiotic (something about how Dazzler’s light was important). Meanwhile, Beyonder’s antics are basically just stuff he tried in the Secret Wars II issue! So that was silly.

How much did it tie in? It directly tied into the last issue of Secret Wars II.

Was it better for being tied in? No. Then again, I don’t think it would have been good otherwise either.

Alpha Flight #28

What Happens? The remaining Omega Flight members (who were on the run last issue) are corralled by Madison Jeffries. Meanwhile, the Alpha Flight team deals with the return of Talisman, who Beyonder freed in Secret Wars II #4, as well as trying to find a new body for Sasquatch.

Was it good? It was okay. Byrne’s art was quite nice. The battle between Madison Jeffries and Omega Flight was cool. It was funny seeing just one dude kick all their behinds. As for the Talisman stuff, it really struck me as Byrne trying to wrap up some dangling plot threads, as this was his last issue of Alpha Flight. The bit at the end was funny, though, as the Alphans are trying to find a new body for Sasquatch, and they find one using an interdimensional device (remember, Sasquatch’s original body came from another dimension)…and they pull out…the Hulk!!


How much did it tie in? Not much, really. All the scenes were done in the pages of Secret Wars II #4.

Was it better for being tied in? I guess so. Talisman was back, so Byrne, too, used the Beyonder as his big deus ex machina.

Rom #72

What Happens? The Beyonder comes to visit three of Rom’s allies, Brandy Clark, Cindy Adams and Rick Jones, who were all hanging out together after the terrible Dire Wraith war. Beyonder gives them any wish they choose, and leaves them in various states of happiness.

Was it good? Steve Ditko’s art was quite good. Bill Mantlo was playing “wrap up” with this issue, as the series was coming to a close soon. So he used Beyonder’s powers to get rid of Mantlo’s silly “Rick Jones has cancer” plot, reunite Cindy with her parents, and send Brandy to be with Rom. Not a bad issue, really.

How much did it tie in? A lot. The whole issue has Beyonder in it .

Was it better for being tied in? Yes, as Mantlo, too, used Beyonder as a great big deus ex machina.

Hmmm…it appears as though this will take longer than I have room for. Okay, then Part two will be tomorrow!


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Blogger Ken Robinson said...

You've read Secret Wars II and survived the experience?! You're a better man than I, Brian.

7/26/2005 12:25:00 AM  
Blogger MarkAndrew said...

Well, OK. It ain't Contract With God or Dark Knight Returns or BEANWORLD!
or nuttin'...

But I always dug Secret Wars II. It's the combination of intentional and unintenional humor (both in about equal measure) that makes it work for me.

Interestin' call on Shooter's motivations. I'd never read much into SWII, but if it WAS Shooter's (attempted) take on MODERN LIFE then it also gets serious points for ambition.

7/26/2005 01:34:00 AM  
Blogger Tim O'Neil said...

Scroll down to the review.

I took on SW II myself a while back... not quite as comprehensively. You get points for being thorough.

7/26/2005 04:34:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Thanks, Tim!

I'm sure you did a great job on it, but I am going to hold off on reading your review until I finish typing mine up, as I do not want to worry about repeating something that you said!

Then I would feel like a thief.

Worse than taking a gold notebook even!!

7/26/2005 04:44:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

Okay, I have some serious issues with this series of articles. Not because I disagree, mind you. It's just that SWII's SOOO bad, it's almost too easy a target! It's like picking on a special olympics athlete for having bad form!

7/26/2005 10:02:00 AM  
Anonymous red_ricky said...


You're telling me that Captain America fought the Holiday Armadillo; and I missed it?!?!?!

Dammit, where was Santa Claus when this happened? Does Superman know?

7/26/2005 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Reading this, it's pretty easy to figure out where Secret Wars II went most glaringly wrong. Any fan who decided just to follow the mini-series, and pick up any tie-in books only if they were books he already read, was screwed. Plenty of plot elements were either resolved or introduced outside the story, which made each successive issue feel like half a story. Good crossovers (or bad ones with good construction) don't gyp the reader like that.

Jim Starlin did something similar during the Infinity Crusade, where at the end of issue 3, Pip the Troll turned the Goddess into a pillar of salt. ("How biblical," Pip quips.) Then, in issue 4, Goddess is back to normal, and Pip is all trussed up and being guarded by the New Warriors' Silhouette. How did that happen? Apparently, it's not important, which makes the big cliffhanger pretty useless.

Greg Rucka, who should really know better, is doing this right now with the "Sacrifice" crossover in the Superbooks and Wonder Woman that picks up where the cliffhanger of OMAC Project #3 left off, with Max Lord planning to use Superman to take out Batman and the Justice League. Anyone looking to OMAC Project #4 for the conclusion of that plotline will be sorely disappointed. As far as I'm concerned, that's dirty pool.

7/26/2005 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

You are absolutely bloody insane. Heh.

I think I've read all of two issues involved with Secret War II...

...but it'd be funny if they brought Beyonder back in, like, New Avengers or something.

Sentry is Beyonder. Pass it on.

7/26/2005 01:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Dan Coyle said...

Good God, Brian! WHY??

But I admire your strength in going through every bit of this crossover.

In some ways I liked Secret Wars II, it certainly had a more interesting premise than the first series- of course, being overly cynical, you could say the second series actually HAD a premise.

I've heard after the success of Secret Wars Shooter's micromanaging of the Marvel Universe- fueled, no doubt, by his success with the series- alienated a lot of people. One of the best sites to hear stories about this is Preist's.

But it is a very weird story, and I think the Al Milgrom artwork didn't help at all. Shooter's issues with women also get a little wonky here, and they got even wonkier in Star Brand.

I once met David Mazzucchelli at a convention and he looked at the DD issue and admitted that story had been rewritten and redrawn so many times under Shooter's orders that he wasn't even sure how much of his art actually survived.

Don't forget the last Secret Wars II crossover, Deadpool Team-Up #1.

7/26/2005 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger Nik said...

"....guy just wanted to help his wife, so he went to a doctor, who agreed to help if he worked for him, and then spliced his genes with an Armadillo."

See, this is why comic books rule over pretty much any other medium of entertainment.

7/26/2005 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"See, this is why comic books rule over pretty much any other medium of entertainment."

And I think the doctor (Dr. Malus) was used by Gruenwald many times after that!!

7/26/2005 05:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Jon said...

I had a friend who maintained that Secret Wars II was actually Christian allegory. Omnipotent being becomes incarnate in order to save mankind, but mankind turns on omnipotent being, executing him in a contraption. Omnipotent resurrects himself, and says 'alright, bozos, I'm outa here.'
Mankind (and mutantkind, and maybe Thor) pause to reflect on what they've done.

8/04/2005 12:36:00 AM  
Anonymous suedenim said...

For whatever it's worth, I seem to recall reading somewhere that the "Thunder Sword" character was written as a not-especially-thinly veiled jab at Steve Gerber.

8/12/2005 10:22:00 AM  

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