Ah, it’s good to be back in the comic book blogging world… Instead of commenting as I used to in years past (and sometimes commenting at nauseating length) on comics of the present, I’ve decided that I’ll turn my gaze and observations on classics of a bygone age. Welcome to Comic Book Classics Revisited!
To get us started, as 2015 gets started as well, I figured it would only be fair to look back at the event that has inspired Marvel Comics’ upcoming mega event that may (or may not) lead to major shakeups in their publishing line. Yes, I’m talking about 1984’s mega-hit, Secret Wars, or if we were to call it by its actual publication name – Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars.
With Comic Book Classics Revisited, what I wanted to do is talk about each issue of a classic run, or series, or even a single issue if it is classic enough, in-depth. It’s a little bit of a review, but mostly a look back on the comics that, no matter how silly they may seem today, or how well they hold up today, we dearly love. And by “we”, I guess I mean “me” because, well, I’m picking these comics to cover. Sorry, but them’s the breaks! Seriously, though, I think I’ve got a good lineup planned to cover many, many, many weeks. You’ll catch each new installment of Comic Book Classics Revisited on Mondays and Fridays. That’s twice the classic-y goodness a week! Okay, I guess I should just get us going here…
We cannot talk about Secret Wars without first talking about what lead to its creation by Marvel’s then-Editor-in-Chief, Jim Shooter. Shooter was a big personality with an even bigger drive. For better or worse, he had big plans for Marvel Comics – whether writers and artists liked it. That’s neither here nor there. What’s important, in terms of the creation of Secret Wars, was that Shooter wanted to get Marvel merchandise out there and reach the levels enjoyed by rival DC Comics and Star Wars enjoyed in toy stores. Mattel was interested in the Marvel characters, but wouldn’t really get involved with the licensing unless Marvel produced a comic, or event, specifically centering around the line they wanted to produce. Using what he had learned from the very kids that bought Marvel Comics, and mixing in a little market research from Mattel, Shooter took the reins of a twelve-part maxi-series called Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars. Having a special series of this length was special enough. Most mini-series and events up to this time had only been two, three, or four parts long. Sometimes you’d get a mini-series that could last six or eight parts, but it was rare. What was even rarer was the sheer number of characters to be featured from both the good and bad guys’ sides.
This was a big deal and something truly special. People can argue the merit of the series or how it was contrived simply to sell toys, but dammit if it didn’t work. We kids ate it up like it was a bowl of ice cream topped with all our favorite sprinkles. It was exactly what we wanted – as many good guys that could fit into the story fighting as many of the bad guys the story could also fit. For the most part, all the major players were here: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Dr. Doom, Kang, Ultron, Dr. Octopus, Magneto, Galactus, and even more. It even introduced a godlike being at the center of all the conflict, the Beyonder. Again, debate the origins of the series or how well it stands up, but it was exactly what we wanted. On top of that, in the 30 years since it was published, there are very few special events from either Marvel or DC that lived up to this one. It simply gave us kids what we wanted.
That being said, let’s blow the dust off this classic and crack open Secret Wars #1!
With little fanfare leading up to the start, readers, and heroes alike, are immediately thrust into the series. You gotta love that, right? No boring exposition. No months of lead up that, if you were a new reader, or a passive reader suddenly curious about this big event happening, could confuse the holy livin’ hell out of you. Just have our heroes appear in a construct in space. Speaking of possibly being new readers, if you were young and inexperienced with Marvel characters, they even take the moment to introduce themselves through dialog. Kinda goofy, but think back to when you were a kid, and you see that there are toys AND a comic featuring these characters and you make this your very first comic book ever. You may not know everyone present. So, you get their names, what team they are with, and a taste of their personalities.
The heroes quickly notice there is a second construct floating about full of villains. Thanks to Doctor Doom, we get a roll call of the villains in the second space ship. It’s also Doom who recognizes that recognizes that forces have gathered “as if for war!” However, there is one guy in the heroes’ ship that seems out-of-place. That would be Magneto. The Thing calls him a slime-ball and Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau) straight up calls him a murderer… To his face!
Magneto explains that he’s a lot of things – a mutant, a master of magnetism, avowed enemy of mankind(?!), but in now way is he a slayer of innocents, dammit! However, this brings about something that is really well handled in this series on a more mature level than you’d expect. Why is Magneto clumped in with the heroes at the beginning? Well, he may be all those things stated above, even that part he slips in about being an avowed enemy of mankind, but he does fight for his race. It really speaks to the depths of his character. Think about anyone who fights for a cause. Go ahead, pick one, anyone. There are always those who will call that person an enemy or a terrorist. Yes, I know, back then Magneto was more of a flat-out villain than someone who could be considered a freedom fighter, or a civil rights activist, or an honest protector of his race (I mean, he did start a little band called the Brotherhood of EVIL Mutants). So, save your comments about that and the comparison I just drew, but it seemed to be the start of a new way to portray this character. Even as a young child, I thought he was fascinating. How could someone who fights for his race truly be evil? Well, that Brotherhood thing is a mark against him, but we see Mags in a bit of a different light throughout this series. Mainly as someone who is stuck in the middle, but his intentions, however ill-conceived and threatening to the human race, are not like those collected in the villains’ ship. In fact, there is a being on the villains ship (spoilers, it’s Galactus) who doesn’t exactly fit with the villains as well, but we’ll see more about that later.
Everything gets interrupted when a galaxy seen outside both ships’ windows is seemingly obliterated and both ships are transported elsewhere. Here, they see a new planet get formed from pieces of the destroyed galaxy. On the villains’ ship, though, the spectacle is dwarfed by a rampaging Ultron who decides to go apeshit and try to kill everyone. Why? Duh, it’s his programming. So while he has no idea how he got there, how/why he was resurrected, he just decided that he’s in no need of answers when his programming demands that he just freakin’ kill everyone that is living. Molecule Man is drafted by Doom to stop Ultron, and, after first saying he just wants to be left alone, uses his power to toss Ultron against Galactus. However, he does so with, apparently, enough force that Galactus actually notices what’s going on around his feet. He picks up Ultron and burns out his energies leaving Ultron a dead carcass of Adamantium.
A super bright light from the depths of space opens up and a voice says, “I am from beyond! Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours!” Galactus, says he knows the power the “Beyonder” possesses, and he wants that power to be used to stop his ceaseless hunger. Galactus busts out and heads for the bright light (which resembles a rift in space), and Doom follows because that’s what Doom is best at – going after power to control it as he sees fit. The Beyonder offers a warning about approaching him. Doom balks, but Galactus goes forward, but gets swatted back like a gnat.
So, the ships are directed and flown to separate parts of this new planet the Beyonder created. It’s later named “Battleworld” so I’m going to go ahead and start using that name now to make it easier on me and you, dear reader (but mostly me as your dear writer). Immediately, Captain America starts barking out orders which some are quick to hop to, but others, like the X-Men are kinda not down with in general. They realize they are nowhere near the villains, but Magneto is still at the heroes’ encampment. This starts another argument with Mags, but Professor X and Cyclops step in to say this is neither the time nor the place to try Mags. Their argument is that the reason for him to be placed with the heroes is beyond their comprehension but his power may be of use to them.
This now starts something that becomes a running problem in the first few issues (oops, spoilers!). The X-Men are not well trusted by the other heroes for sticking up for Magneto and tensions rise almost immediately. Another thing that comes about during these early scenes is that the Hulk is “talkin’ funny” because he’s got Banner’s brain inside the Hulk’s body which could present other issues among the heroes. Ultimately, fed up with the heroes and their tomfoolery, Magneto takes off. Professor X takes this moment to go ahead and ask who should be leader. He suggests Reed Richards, but Reed passes off to the Hulk, but he wants none of it either. Hulk suggests Captain America, and Wasp, the current leader of the Avengers at the time, agrees that the situation is best in Cap’s hands. Wolverine protests, but Professor X settles it.
Across planet, Doom wakes up after being tossed back to Battleworld by the Beyonder. Galactus is still out cold, but Doom spots the villains’ fortress and goes to plead with them that they must not fight. A little uncharacteristic, but I can’t say I disagree. Surely nothing good can come out of an all out war for a godlike being’s pleasure. Even Captain Kirk knows that. The villains all take a vote and name Doom their leader, but Doom tries to plead his case about proceeding cautiously and being careful not to anger a being like the Beyonder simply for their own selfish desires. Molecule Man just wants a nice house in the suburbs and maybe a girl, but Doom slaps that notion right out of his dumb face and when everyone keeps up the “I want my dream shit to come true, let’s fight!” crap, he destroys their fortress and heads out to talk to Richards to try to comprehend the power of the Beyonder. But he doesn’t get far as Kang shoots his little rocket sled out of the sky to prevent what Kang believes is Doom joining the heroes’ side.
When the heroes find Doom, Cap offers help, but that just pisses Doom off. Doom blasts him and leaves, and the heroes soon find that Doom’s hissy fit isn’t their main problem… The rest of the villains are attacking!
And so ends our first part of Secret Wars! Again, I still love how quickly you are thrust into action. Each of the books featuring the heroes did have a cliffhanger where the heroes participating in the event were spirited away, but the story does not rely on it like we see so often in the events of today. Think about Secret Invasion for a moment. If you weren’t reading Avengers books, you’d have absolutely no clue how you got to this point. You’d not have the knowledge of finding the Skrull version of Elektra. Eventually, it is all summarized, but you still have to go through the gradual build. That’s not to mention that each comic these days are shorter, and each event is not usually more than seven or eight parts long. It’s nice to just be thrown in and have the story start with page number one.
Sure, some of the dialog is cheesy, but think back to who it was written for – kids. Yeah, we have to spend a few panels to have the characters be introduced, but this was to familiarize kids with characters they may not know well enough to just go with. Yeah, thirty years later, we all know who these people are, and if we don’t, we know how to find out. I’ll give the dialog a pass. I also want to point out one thing I thought was cool in a historical way. If you’re a fan of the Avengers, or read their fist issue, you’d know the Wasp was the one who came up with the team name. Well, here, she has a kind-of titular line where she mentions that Cap should lead because they are obviously a part of some “Secret War”. Janet Van Dyne sure knows how to name stuff!
In the end, this comic, like all classics, are like your favorite fluffy robe or plushy blanket. It wraps around you and gives you warmth. It makes you feel good. It’s not the Avengers as some sort of multiverse-hopping team of heroes maybe needing to destroy universes to save their own. It’s not the Fantastic Four having catastrophic familial problems. It’s not the X-Men dealing with death after death after fight after argument. It’s just heroes doing what they do and villains just loving the simple fact that they are evil to the bone. It’s simplistic, but fun. With fun, what more could you possibly want in a comic book?
Check back on Friday, for issue #2 of Secret Wars as Comic Book Classics Revisited rolls on!