Thursday, April 01, 2004

Notable Links for 04/01

First, I'd like to answer some reader mail. Regarding the conversation these last few days over the repercussions of Tokyopop going exclusive with Diamond in the direct market, Top Shelf Publishing's own Brett Warnock writes in with clarification of the situation:

"I'm pretty certain that this 'exclusive' is primarily in regards to the book trade, and the front-end market in the direct market. That is, since Cold Cut is essentially a back-order outfit for the direct market only, I don't believe there is a conflict of interest."

I hope that answers any questions anyone might have had. Seems it wasn't that bad a deal by Cold Cut after all.

* "A political comic in a magazine handed out at an event organized by the Queen’s Palestinian Human Rights association last fall was interpreted as anti-Semitic by Sara Berger, president of Queen’s Hillel. Members of the association, however, said they never intended to promote anti-Semitism on campus. 'At an event at the beginning of the year they were handing out the Washington Report magazine, which had a section in the middle with comics that were anti-Semitic,' Berger told the Journal. 'There were portrayals of Jews with big noses [and] stars on their arms, holding money bags.' Ali Al Nasser, vice-president of the Palestinian Human Rights association at Queen’s, said the comics were misunderstood." Read more here, courtesy of the Queens Journal.

* Amateur cartoonist and photographer Ray Ueno has died at age 68. Read more here, courtesy of Stars & Stripes.

* "Renowned cartoonist R K Laxman, journalist Kuldip Nayar, former Governor Karan Singh, eminent diplomat L M Singvi and Justice M M Ismail were among other personalities awarded by Jayendra Saraswati Swami of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, here on Wednesday, for outstanding performances in their fields. Though Laxman, who is ailing, was not present, his grand daughter Mahalaxmi Laxman received the award on his behalf. The girl presented to the pontiff a portrait of the senior pontiff of the mutt with the 'common man' offering pranam, drawn by her grandfather, as a mark of respect." Read more here, courtesy of the Times of India.

* "The actors who provide the voices for the cartoon characters on the long-running TV show 'The Simpsons' have stopped work in a bid to force a settlement of lengthy contract renewal talks, Daily Variety has reported.
The Hollywood trade paper said the six actors have not shown up for two script readings in the past few weeks, holding up production on the hit satire's upcoming 16th season. It quoted insiders as saying each cast member is asking for about $360,000 (195,460 pounds) an episode, or $8 million for a 22-episode season. Each member currently earns $125,000 an episode." Read more here, courtesy of

* Courtesy of SIlver Bullet Comics, we have the news that DC's "Catwoman" has won this year's award for "Outstanding Comic Book" at the GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Awards. Read more here.

* "The Kentucky Derby Festival announced that 'Cathy' cartoonist Cathy Guisewite will be grand marshal of the 49th annual Pegasus Parade April 29 in Louisville, Ky. A 'Cathy' character balloon will also appear." Read more here, courtesy of Editor & Publisher.

* "March 31, 2004, Marc Hansen and Barry Petersen have been named as additions to the Board of Directors of NOW Media Group, Inc. according to NOW Comics founder Tony Caputo. 'As shareholders, both of these excellent gentlemen will have voting rights at the annual board meeting, scheduled at the end of each calendar year,' Caputo said. 'Both also have a minority stake in NOW Media Group, Inc. an Illinois corporation, which owns NOW Comics as an imprint and trademark.'" The Pulse has the press release here.

* Steven Grant answers reader mail at Permanent Dmaage this week.

* I don't usually, as you know, post to movie stuff, but this article on the "Hellboy" flick from the North Carolina Times I found to be very interesting.

* Courtesy of Newsarama, we have the winners of this year's Diamond Gem Awards here.

* Richard Johnston talks to ex-Crossgen writer Ian Edgington in this week's Waiting For Tommy (link courtesy of Dynamic Forces). There's also a rather... surreal... Q&A with Joe Quesada tacked onto the end. I guess he's just trying to make up for his previous disaster of a Quesada interview. Anyway, one quote in particular jumped out at me - in reference to the possibility of spin-offs from the popular "1602" mini-series:

"...but like many of our franchises, slow growth, slow growth and more slow growth.

To which I can only reply:

MARVEL COMICS: Moderation is Our Middle Name

* "I-Pods, Gap jeans, McHappy meals -- John Gallant didn't have any of those as a boy growing up on Prince Edward Island. In fact, as he makes abundantly clear in his new memoir, Gallant didn't have much of anything. Bannock, Beans and Black Tea, the title of Gallant's first book published by Drawn & Quarterly, is the story of a dirt-poor childhood. One thing that sets Gallant's memoir apart is the fact that his son provided illustrations for the book. While Gallant still calls his boy Gregory, the rest of the world knows him as Seth, the author of such graphic novels as It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, and an illustrator for such magazines as The New Yorker. (Seth, 41, legally changed his name when he was in his late teens and was into the Toronto punk scene.) Another thing that distinguishes the book is its bitter litany of deprivation. One grim story after another accumulates to form an angry howl at life's injustice." Read more here, courtesy of The Globe and Mail.

* Kevin over at Thought Balloons has news of the Attorney General of Rhode Island, who is hanging a Stan Lee quote over the entrance to the state office building where he works. Unfortunately, it's not "Goddamn, how about a show with a stripper who fights crime? The kids would like that one, wouldn't they?" Here's the link, courtesy of the Providence Journal (registration required).

* Mike Sterling over at Progressive Ruin may not be in today, but his pal Dorian steps in and continues the Blogosphere-wide lovefest for Grant Morrison's "Doom Patrol" that David Fiore started recently. Dorian discusses here how "Doom Patrol" #34 clearly warped his mind.

* Sean T. Collins is mad as hell... and really, he has no choice but to take it. (Yes it was a tortured movie reference, your point would be..?) In any event, I share his grief that Marvel is turning back the clock, but it was inevitable. It's almost comforting in an asinine way. When a company is on the rocks, they try anything they can to claw their way back to the top. When things are going good, they try as hard as they can not to rock the boat - it's Business 101. Marvel was about as low as you can go in the late 90's, and they had nowhere to go but up. Thankfully, they put some people in charge who had some wild guesses at making good books. A few of those guesses were wildly successful, and a few of them were even worth reading. But the majority of them... well, lets just say that its a good thing that the ideas that worked worked really well. For every Morrison on "New X-Men," you had Joe Casey on "Uncanny". For every "Alias," you had the "Rawhide Kid," and for every "Ultimate Marvel," you had "Tsunami." Lets not even mention Epic, U-Decide, Mark Waid off "Fantastic Four," the no-reprint policy, "Fight Club" Thunderbolts, the horrible "Silver Surfer" relaunch or "Marville." It's basically throwing stuff up on the walls and seeing what sticks - there's no rocket science here. How many different creative Teams has "Iron Man" had in the past three years? Why did they screw up the marketing of "Truth: Red, White and Black" so badly? I'm not going to get nostalgic for the glory days of NuMarvel.

Remember Zombie Punisher?

What's one more Punisher cover between friends?

It's hard to forget, I know. But back when Quesada was just “Marvel Knights” EIC they had Bernie Freakin' Wrightson back on the boards to do it. The one thing NuMarvel knows how to do it throw people at problems until they stick. Wrightson didn't do it for the kids... hire the people who did "Preacher." Problem solved. Hey, if I had told you three years ago that John Severin would be drawing a big-time Marvel western series, you'd have crapped your pants in joy. But did you buy "Rawhide Kid"? No, me neither. Getting Milligan & Allred to revamp the worst-selling "X-Men" spinoff was brilliant - but if it hadn't worked, they'd have tried something different in six months. If Bendis hadn't clicked on "Daredevil", he wouldn't have lasted six months either. But he brought the back up to fairly successful numbers - around just under 60,000 a month as opposed to around 45,000 at the beginning of his run - so he stayed (numbers courtesy of ICV2).

Marvel is in the business to sell comics. Like any business, they are prey to market ebbs and flows - but unlike most businesses, Marvel is also in the position to actually create ebbs and flows dependent on their behavior. So I don't believe NuMarvel knows what its doing in any great way, because the record shows they've been right no more than, oh, maybe a third of the time. But in this business I guess that's all you need. It is not in Marvel's interest to publish thought-provoking postmodernist superhero narratives - they're in the business of making money. Now is the time in the traditional business cycle when you stop experimenting, go with what works and reap the profits of your expansionary phase. In another five years or so when this fails, who knows? Maybe there won't be a direct market left by then.

* Courtesy of Dave at Motime Like The Present, we have an essay on the influence of Jorge Luis Borges on Grant Morrison (link courtesy of The Modern World).

* "Stewart 'Staz' Johnson features in his new role, which he likens to that of TV's Handy Andy, in Zero to Hero on Sunday afternoon. The show features two teams of three people who get their chance to live out a fantasy and become a superhero with the help of Stewart and designer Venetia. Using a range of household junk, or the kind of things lurking at the back of the garage, contestants and designers get together to make an outfit that the would-be new Supermen or Superwomen must wear to complete a task set for a fictitious comic book character." Read more here, courtesy of Wakefield Today. Hey, from drawing "Robin" to this in just a few short years... gotta love that kind of career trajectory.

* Peoples is still talking about Jamie Rich's recent column . Here, Dave at Intermittent gives it a whack.

* Comic Book Resources talks with Alan David Doane's favorite punching bag, Clifford Meth, here.

* Babar at Simply Comics relates the joy of seeing Michael Chabon at the VA book festival here.

* Scott at All Ages give the down-low on a joint presentation he was lucky to see by Chester Brown and Seth here. Sounds great. Now, I'll bet right about now Joe Matt is wishing he actually did something that would get folks to want to see him talk in front of large amounts of people, eh?

* Silver Bullet Comics' usually interesting weekly "Panel" discussion takes a look at... sound effects... this week. Oh well, can't win them all.

* Also at Silver Bullet Comics, Tim Hartnett takes a look at comic book covers here.

* Ever wonder what happened to comic scribe Gerry Conway? Well, he's making a lot more money now (link courtesy Relish).

* "A local boy with diabetes is dealing with his disease and helping others learn about it as well, KMBC's Natalie Moultrie reported. Kamaal Washington, 10, found out five months ago he has diabetes. 'He went through a gamut of emotions -- worry and fear, 'Why me?', and then how to deal with it on a long-term basis,' Kamaal's mother, Dana, said. One way Kamaal is dealing with his diabetes is through drawing comic characters inspired by his father's Omega Man Comics. He and his 8-year-old brother created their own comic book, 'Omega Boy Vs. Dr. Diabetes.'" Read more here, courtesy of The Kansas City Channel.

* "Frank Pitt is a distant, unfeeling, single-minded, neglectful father, and Tom Stern loves him. That's probably because Pitt's not Stern's actual dad, but rather his creation. The balding chief executive, the namesake of the comic strip ‘CEO Dad,’ is a self-absorbed jerk, but one who's struck a chord as he tries to reconcile his roles as a boardroom shark and a family man. Stern, who co-writes the strip from his Woodland Hills home, has watched his brainchild grow from a funny joke to tell at parties into a syndicated comic running in five newspapers nationwide." Read more here, courtesy of the Miami Herald.

* The Kansas City Infozine reviews "Neal Adams' Monsters", from Infozine press, here.

* Courtesy of Billy Bates over at the Comicon boards, we've got this wonderful story... happy April Fools on this one, I guess.

Secret Wars II

Do you remember the first “Hellraiser”? There’s a scene at the very beginning of the movie where this dude goes and buys an evil puzzle box from a swarthy Arab merchant – despite the Arab’s protestations that the box is, you know, evil. So he goes home and solves the puzzle and leather demons from hell come through the wall and rip him limb from limb and carry him screaming and weeping down the corridors of hell. That’s kind of what it’s like to read “Secret Wars II.” Only more painful.

But . . . I was younger, dumber. I didn’t know any better.

I liked super heroes, especially Marvel super heroes. They were totally cool and stuff, and I couldn’t get enough of ‘em. And SWII (as it shall heretofore be known as) had not just one or a few but DOZENS of super heroes, all in the same damn book! How could I go wrong?

Well . . . as I was soon to learn, I could go terribly, terribly wrong.

"Marvel Super Heroes’ Secret Wars" was one of the most successful publishing phenomena of the 1980’s. Sad to say, because it really holds up about as well as Kleenex, but to judge from the way that book and “Crisis” together totally ruined comic publishing for a good decade or so, it was quite influential. Not influential in the nice creative inspiration way, but influential in the “Hey, I need a fifth Ferrari, why don’t you print up some more money, er, ‘Armageddon: 2001’” way. Needless to say, some very fat and sinister men became very rich off some very bad comics.

So, was there ever any doubt that there would be a Secret Wars II? Only if you were, you know, five. But any sequel would, by necessity, have less charm than the original, and since we’re talking about Secret Frickin’ Wars here and not “The Godfather,” there were bad muffins in the oven.

Now that I begin to write, I feel as if I’m getting something off my chest, undergoing some very important bit of catharsis. It is only recently I have begun to understand how twisted my perceptions are on a very basic level, due solely to the mind-numbing influence of SWII. Its important that I communicate these things, even if only to myself, even if the only person who reads these words is the on-duty physician down at the mental ward where I will be deposited, free to illustrate the walls with crayons made of my own frozen fecal matter. Damn you, “Big” Jim Shooter!

Anyway, we all know where SWII picks up. The Beyonder comes to Earth to learn about humanity. Seeing as how his only prior job experience was being the sum totality of another universe, it’s to be expected that he was somewhat baffled by the whole “existence” thang. Now, who had he previously sought out in an attempt to learn about life? The Dalai Lama? The Pope? Noam Chomsky? No . . . the Marvel Super Heroes. Remember how he had previously transported a whole passel of them onto a distant planet in order to fight amongst themselves for a full year? (Don’t worry if you had forgotten - a handy recap is never more than a few pages away!)

So, this tells us that the Beyonder just isn’t very bright in the first place – after all, going to The Mighty Avengers for advice on the meaning of life is almost as bad as going to “Hulk” Hogan and The Rock for advice on film acting. Any suspicions about his varying levels of brightness are only reinforced by the fact that the first person he visits upon arriving on Earth is The Molecule Man.

Now, here’s where the real fun part of the story gets started. The main conflict of the series basically occurs between the Beyonder and the Molecule Man. You see, it had been previously revealed (in MSHSW #11) that the Molecule Man was actually the most powerful being in all of existence, second only to the Beyonder himself. So, it made perfect sense to the Beyonder that he would be the most simpatico being in the universe.

But all the power in the Universe hadn’t done much for the Molecule Man’s outlook – he just wanted to live a quiet, unassuming life in Denver, with his girlfriend Marsha, otherwise known as the fifth-tier super villain Volcana (created by Dr. Doom during the first Secret Wars, by the way). However, life being what it is in the Marvel Universe, he just keeps getting dragged back into the thick of things.

This series, more than any other word I could possibly use to describe it, is repetitive. So, if he goes to see the Molecule Man once, he goes to see him fifteen times. They talk about life, the universe, their traumatic childhoods, the time a friend of their family’s took them aside one summer afternoon and . . .

No, I made that last part up. But the existence of the Molecule Man marks one of SWII’s great missed opportunities (actually, considering how they pretty much used a scorched earth policy in creating these damn things, its pretty much the only missed opportunity short of “MUHAMMED ALI vs. THE BEYONDER”). The Molecule Man was actually an interesting concept for a character – the most powerful being in the universe as an average nebbish. Anyone with two brain cells to grind together would have thought that had some potential – and apparently it had so much potential that the Molecule Man was almost retconned out of existence entirely by the machinations of later creators (more on this later).

Be that as it may, the existential dialogue throughout the series was of such a juvenile nature as to defy description. The Beyonder desired to understand the nature of desire – I know, its oxymoronic just to type it. There had previously been no longing or curiosity in his existence, so naturally, he was pretty pissed when he began experiencing these feelings. However, instead of the Marvel Super Heroes taking the Beyonder under their wing and befriending him, teaching him the meanings of life in a friendly and compassionate manner, they pretty much spent the next nine issues playing Dogpile-on-God.

Which is pretty pitiful when you think about it. Lets see - the man with knives coming out of his hands vs. the man who can destroy an entire galaxy in the blink of an eye. The man who can spin a web and lift a Volkswagon bug vs. the man who can destroy an entire galaxy in the blink of an eye. The man with an indestructible shield and a heart of gold vs. . . . well, you get the idea.

But it wouldn’t be very interesting to see the Marvel Super Heroes sitting down and talking about the nature of existence, now would it? So, instead of doing what most rational people would do in the awe-inspiring presence of the near Divine, they did what your illiterate cousin who works down at the gas station would do. Tried to kick his ass and put the shiv between his ribs.

The truly delicious thing about the second Secret Wars, however, was not the limited series itself (it says “limited series” but it sure as hell feels like forever), but the endless series of crossovers. It is neither the most mind-numbing crossover of all time (that medal would have to go to the Infinity War – a story so big as to spill over into half a year’s worth of “Moon Knight” continuity) nor the stupidest (that honor really, in all good conscience, has to go to “The Joker’s Last Laugh”), but it was one of the very first and the template for all those to follow.

As a conscientious young collector, I spent the next couple years tracking down every single SWII related book I could get my hands on. In this day of eBay, it would probably take you all of ten minutes to track down the whole series, but it took me a while longer back then. I can still remember the last one I actually found – “Power Man & Iron Fist” # 121. One of the better ones, actually, featuring Luke Cage taking the Beyonder to a soul food restaurant. (Could you make this stuff up? Well, obviously, yes, because someone did, someone very bad.)

Some of the crossovers, especially the early ones, were so tangentially connected to the main story as to be laughable. But they all had the Beyonder somewhere, and while I don’t think they are all worthy of discussion, some of them reached new lows in the field of bad comic books.

“Captain America” #308 actually features the smartest thing the Beyonder does in the entirety of this series. He decides to take a human form, so he spends the issue following Cap around before deciding to adopt a duplicate of Cap’s body as his own. Pretty smart. If it had happened in pre-Crisis DC, however, the Beyonder could have helped the Star Spangled Avenger on occasion by impersonated Cap in order to fool pesky girl reporters trying to uncover his secret identity.

“Web of Spider-Man” #6 and “Amazing Spider-Man” #268 deal with the aftermath following the Beyonder having turned a building (Power Man & Iron Fist’s building, incidentally) to solid gold at the conclusion of SWII #2. Seems the Beyonder really misunderstood the concept behind a market economy, at least as described by Luke Cage. Anyway, Spidey saves a bunch of people before getting wound up in the Kingpin and the government’s machinations – seems they have to dispose of the building, fast, or the entire world economy would have been instantly destabilized. Makes sense, right? What doesn’t make sense is Spidey whining and feeling guilty over swiping a single solid-gold notepad from the wreckage – after he busted his hump saving dozens of lives and helping the government avoid worldwide fiscal collapse. I would have probably grabbed whatever I could without seeming too ostentatious – so would most people. But Spidey? He’s got to feel guilty about it . . . don’t you just love the totally bogus and unrealistically stringent sense of morality they tried to foist on kids here?

“Daredevil” #223 is quite possibly the low point of the entire saga. I realize that’s saying quite a bit, but please bear with me here . . .
See, in SWII #3, the Beyonder took over the Earth. It didn’t take any work at all, and he actually found total domination quite boring. So, a little while later he shows up in the offices of Nelson & Murdock, Attorneys at Law, with the stated goal of achieving world domination through legitimate legal and financial means. As part of the initial commission, the Beyonder restores DD’s sight to him. Miraculously. Without any problems, just, boom, he can see now for the first time in twenty or so years. As you can imagine, Matt’s happy – ecstatic – and sets about enjoying his newfound sight. If it had just stopped here, not only would Daredevil had been a much happier (albeit less interesting) guy, but Marvel would have escaped with some shred of dignity intact. But no. The Beyonder ultimately realizes he doesn’t really have any interest in taking over the world at all, so he withdraws his commission from Nelson & Murdock’s firm. He tells Daredevil that he can keep his newly restored sight – as a gift. Here’s the part where most normal people – hell, just about anyone ever to live in the history of the world, especially anyone who’s ever experience actual physical disablement – would just say, “thanks, buddy,” and swing away on their Billy club. But no. In one of the single most absurd and implausible moments in the history of comics, Daredevil demands that the Beyonder take his sight back. Why? I don’t really understand, your guess is as good as mine. Leave it be said that the gods of comicdom were paying attention, and they sent the Kingpin in to fuck DD’s life up but good not half a year later, courtesy of Frank Miller. Stupidity is its own wonderful reward.

“Dazzler” #40 gets the runner-up nod for being the most confusing and unintelligible chapter in the series. In SWII #4, the Beyonder had fallen in love with Alison Blair, the fabulous Disco Dazzler (although she had dropped the disco prefix many years earlier). They parted on amicable terms but here he is again, showing up to see if he can get one more lay, just for old times’ sake. They don’t “get it on” again, but they do fight some demonic cyberpunk bikers. Or something. I couldn’t really tell, but the early Paul Chadwick art was pretty nice. To no-one’s surprise “Dazzler” was soon cancelled.

“Rom” #72 was also just a few issues away from that series’ end. Here we again encounter the major problem stemming from the Beyonder’s existence – how do you prevent him from becoming a deus ex machina of cosmic proportions, essentially rewriting series as he sees fit? In the case of “Daredevil,” they basically fumbled the ball. In the case of ‘Rom’, they . . . basically fumbled the ball. See, whoever had been writing “Rom” had given Rick Jones cancer. Yeah, they had given one of the longest-running supporting characters in the history of comics a terminal disease. Good thing the Beyonder showed up and cured Rick or they would have had to figure out another way to get out of this one. Nice Ditko art, though.

“The Thing” #30 featured the Beyonder as a professional wrestler. Too bad, if he'd showed up an issue later he could have met Devil Dinosaur.

“Fantastic Four” #285 featured one of the most insidiously wrong-headed stories in Marvel history. Johnny Storm is so bummed out after a young Torch obsessive immolates himself in imitation of his hero that he swears to never use his flame powers again. But the Beyonder shows up, during his life-affirming Samaritan phase, in order to show the Human Torch that he can’t feel responsible for the tragedy just because the kid had a screwed-up life. He says something to the effect that Johnny couldn’t allow the kid’s death to deter him from doing good, because it was only through his hero that “he had ever truly lived at all”.


Yeah, that makes sense. Seems to me that the real message here is that people who set themselves on fire do not make good role models. But most canny readers would probably recognize more of themselves in the dead fan’s behavior than would sit comfortably. Its OK to be totally obsessed with distant fantasy role models because making it in real life is, you know, hard and stuff. Stay in your basement, set yourself on fire, its all good so long as you keep buying Marvel comics.

“Micronauts: The New Voyages” #16 gets the crown for being the most confusing, unintelligible and just plain nonsensical of all the crossovers. The Beyonder shows up in the Microverse and does something important – or something. Unless you’ve read every previous Micronauts book, chances are this one makes absolutely no sense. Leave it be said that the dreaded deus ex machina strikes again, as the Beyonder seems to save the Microverse from some sort of imminent destruction – or something. I’ve read this book half a dozen times but I just can’t make heads or tails of it.

“Cloak & Dagger” #4 is almost as bad as the aforementioned FF issue. In it, the Beyonder shoots heroin. No, I’m not kidding. I’m sure there’s all sorts of profound exposition on the darker nature of humanity and addiction as a demon of the soul, but the way the book was printed I can’t read about half the lettering. Neon yellow letters on black backgrounds printed with everyone’s favorite flexographic techniques. Anyway, did anyone ever notice the fact that Cloak & Dagger was a book about drugs, pedophilia and child pornography? Yeah, and they got together with Spider-Man and fought super-villains, too. Did I mention that the Beyonder shoots up?

The aforementioned “Power Man & Iron Fist” #121 (just four issues away from the end here, too) features Luke Cage taking the Beyonder to a soul food restaurant. Now, I have to give credit where credit is due – of everyone in this entire Godawful wreck of series, Luke Cage is really the only one to actually sit down with the Beyonder and try to, you know, talk things over. But then the Beyonder turns himself black and talks some bad jive – I know, it sounds horrible but its actually a pretty funny sequence. Anyway, there’s another kid in this book who’s dying of cancer, but he doesn’t get a reprieve from the Beyonder. I guess God really is an arbitrary asshole after all. They also have to explain to the Beyonder just why setting up a giant bank of television screens in order to monitor the comings and going of every living being on the planet was a bad idea.

“The New Defenders” #152 really was that title’s last issue – and a more ignominious ending one cannot imagine. The Beyonder shows up and gives Moondragon enough power to demolish the rest of the Defenders – good one. The worst part is, he was trying to help matters. Anyway, the Beast, Angel and Iceman had an appointment in the new “X-Factor” book that was starting up in just a month or so. Never did get to see what happened to that dog, though.

In the months leading directly up the story’s conclusion, numerous patterns begin to repeat themselves. A number of confusing subplots in various series come to a screeching halt as the “big shot” heroes of the MU – meaning, the top selling titles – all dropped what they were doing to mess with the Beyonder.

In the pages of “Peter Parker, Spider-Man” # 111 and “Amazing” #273, The Puma, of all people, discovers it is his fabled destiny to destroy the Beyonder, and that the Universe itself will give him the power to do so when the time is right. Well, it did, but he didn’t. We were, however, treated to the sight of the Puma’s aged Asian mentor listening to Duran Duran while praying in a Buddhist temple. Isn’t that so hip! It’s killing me, it’s so hip.

“X-Men” #202-203 has the Beyonder generally making things difficult for Marvel’s Merry Mutants. Rachel Summers (you know, Cyclops and Marvel Girl’s daughter from an alternate future) decides that she has to kill the Beyonder. Apparently, she hadn’t been paying attention just a few pages ago when the Puma tried. So in order to do this she kills all her friends in the X-Men. She needed their souls or something. Anyway, even though The Beyonder gives her a part of his power, she still wusses out. See, I told you she wasn’t paying attention. And even though Rachel Summers took their souls to use as cannon fodder against God, the X-Men got better. You thought they died for real? What do you think this is, the New Defenders?

“New Mutants” #36-37 has the Beyonder killing the New Mutants. I don’t just mean killing them a little bit, he totally vaporizes them and wipes their memory from the face of the planet. But don’t worry, they got better too. Really makes you wonder what they were thinking.

And then there’s “Fantastic Four” #288, featuring the rematch between Dr. Doom and the Beyonder. Any astute reader, knowing the long-standing enmity between the FF’s then writer/artist John Byrne and SWII perpetrator Jim Shooter could read this issue as a not-so-thinly veiled allegory for just how much these two chucklebunnies hated each other. See, it turns out that during the time when the first Secret Wars was going down, Doom had ostensibly been dead – killed by Byrne during the “Trial of Galactus” storyline. Of course, he wasn’t really dead, and Byrne had been planning his return all along. But Doom showing up smack dab in the middle of the first Secret Wars kinda blew that all to hell and gone. So, Doom tracks down the Beyonder and wants to know the score. Reed Richards scolds the Beyonder about messing with the time stream, warning him that not even he could survive a rupture in the fabric of the space-time continuum or something like that blah blah blah. So, Byrne basically lectures Shooter about messing with his continuity and fixes everything in the end by having the Beyonder send Doom back in time to the first Secret Wars. See, the Secret Wars weren’t even over and they already couldn’t wait to retcon Shooter’s baby into oblivion (more on that in a bit).

The Secret Wars ended pretty much for good with the release of SWII #9, prosaically entitled “A Time To Die.” After nine issues worth of mood swings and whiny bitching on an Olympic level, the Beyonder sits down and thinks things through. He makes himself human. Or something. Everyone dogpiles on him again, but it’s the Molecule Man going toe-to-toe with him that turns the tide. Finally, the Beyonder turns himself into a widdle biddy baby and gets zapped to death by the Molecule Man. Its just pain by this point, it really is. The only thing that would have redeemed it by this point would have been a two-page pin-up of Wolverine skewering the infant on his claws and devouring it whole. (But no, the only Wolverine-eating-baby-infant action to be found anywhere, so far as I know, is in the pages of “What If?” second series #6.)

(Trust me, there's some Wolvie-cannibalism inside.)

Shooter’s downfall shortly after the conclusion of the Secret Wars pretty much ensured that there would be no more sequels.

But that didn’t stop the Fantastic Four from spending half a year basically undoing everything that Shooter written. Now, I don’t know about you but one of the most annoying things I come across as a comic reader has to be when the creators’ personal differences spill onto the page, causing them to write stories with the express purpose of thumbing their noses at other peoples’ stories. Claremont and Byrne did this quite a bit when they were working on “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four”, respectively. By that same token “Secret Wars III” has to be the most petty and vindictive comic ever written.

“Fantastic Four” #319 basically said that everything associated with the Secret Wars had been a lie. The Beyonder hadn’t really been all-powerful – he had been merely an immature cosmic cube, not really that powerful at all. Him and the Molecule Man actually possessed two halves of the power necessary to make a mature cube - seems the accident that had spawned the Molecule Man had torn an interdimensional rift, creating access to wherever the energies for nascent Cosmic Cubes are stored. So, at the behest of everyone’s favorite double-amputee The Shaper of Worlds, they reformed the stillborn cube, causing the Beyonder to basically cease to exist in any capacity (as if being dead had ever held him back before) and killing the Molecule Man, to boot.

So, what about that galaxy the Beyonder had destroyed way back in MSHSW #1? Explained to be a mere illusion. What about all the great powers of the cosmos, such as Eternity, the Celestials, Galactus, etc, who had cowered and cringed for years because of how powerful the Beyonder was supposed to have been? Well, that’s never been adequately explained but lets move on now . . . and did I mention that the Beyonder shot up heroin in “Cloak & Dagger” #4?

So, not only were the combined Secret Wars one of the most insultingly stupid ideas ever executed on the comics page, but they were evidently too stupid to remain a part of canon, either. There’s nothing that makes me feel better about reading a story than to turn around and find out it was all a lie, a damn dirty lie!!! Someone, it seems, had been eating monkey brains and slowly fermenting in a bubbling broth of their own insanity.

Did I mention I once had a pet theory about the New Universe? At the end of SWII, the Beyonder’s death knell basically blasted a hole through the side of the universe. The “White Event” at the genesis of the “New U” hadn’t yet been explained properly, so since the two events actually coincided rather neatly it occurred to me that they might have been the same things. The “New U” had been established from the very beginning to be part of a totally different multiverse from the regular MU, so it was conceivable that the Beyonder’s death-rattle had blasted a hole in existence all the way across the other side of the omniverse. But after Shooter left Marvel, they decided to blow up the New U’s Pittsburg (Shooter’s hometown, probably not coincidentally) and find another explanation for the White Event. I always wondered if that’s what he had originally meant. I guess I’ll just have to take that burning question to my grave.

All told, Secret Wars II was one of the defining points in my life. As I type these words I realize just how much pain and despair there lies curdled up at the center of my soul.

Why did they do it? It’s not as if it’s impossible to make a decent crossover (“DC One Million” springs to mind). It’s not as if it’s even impossible to do a good story about godlike villains (the “Infinity Gauntlet” was fun). But for some strange reason, the circumstances behind SWII conspired to produce a solid year’s worth of comics so toxically bad as to scar small children.

I mean, seriously . . . in order to get away from the basic absurdity of having an omnipotent deus ex machina step into their universe, the creators had to annihilate any shred of internal consistency the books ever had. Otherwise we’d have a rich Spider-Man, a seeing Daredevil, dead X-Men, a dead Rick Jones, a destroyed Microverse (not that anyone would have cared about that), but . . . you get the picture.

I daresay that everyone on the entire planet should have to read SWII before they can die. It needs to be translated into every conceivable language possible, and force-fed to schoolchildren everywhere. People need to know, people need to fear. Otherwise, it could very well happen again. Never forget. Never again, never.

Tragedy of this caliber cannot be allowed to visit our children or our children’s children. SWII salted the once-fertile creative soil of the comics industry so badly that we are only now beginning to recover. The collectibles glut, the Image “revolution”, the massive widespread unintelligibility of mainstream comics – it can all be traced back here. This is the Original Sin.

“I desire to... understand.

In my realm, I am all! But here is multiplicity... here is diversity... here is incompleteness which I do not understand! I desire to understand!”

With these words was a generation’s innocence lost. We may not have learned much about the nature of life, but we saw the true face of evil. It was roughly handsome, with David Hasslehoff’s features and a bad jehri-curl. And, also, its worth noting that he wore a shiny silver tracksuit long before any of the rappers did.

No comments :