Monday, November 17, 2014

Let's Look At Secret Wars II Crossovers!

ROM #72

The announcement of a new Secret Wars, along with the confirmation that the Beyonder will once again be involved (as opposed to certain other secret war which shall go unmentioned), has renewed interest in the original series as well as its weirder follow-up, the aptly named Secret Wars II. The second Secret War is notorious for many reasons, such as the scene where Peter Parker teaches the Beyonder how to go to the toilet, but what often goes unmentioned is that the series was as interesting as it was odd. Sure, anyone expecting a repeat performance of the hero-vs-villain slugfest of the first series walked away sorely disappointed. But if you were on the lookout for a few dozen issues of Marvel superheroes waxing philosophical with God . . . True Believer, you just hit the jackpot.

As odd as the main series was - and boy was it - the crossovers were even odder. Many creative teams, left with the bare remit to have their heroes interact in some way with the Beyonder, rose to this dubious challenge and produced memorable stories. Keep in mind, however, that I said "memorable," and not in all instances "good." (The Daredevil tie-in is maybe the worst Daredevil story ever, but it sure is memorable - for all the wrong reasons.)

If you go seeking the complete Secret Wars II saga through legal means, either on Marvel Unlimited or in Omnibus format, you will miss one of the weirder crossovers, ROM #72. Because Marvel no longer has the rights to ROM, the series - and this issue - has never been reprinted.

ROM ended with issue #75, so issue #72 was part of a half-dozen or so issues devoted to cleaning up the series' outstanding plotlines in the wake of the conclusion of the Wraith War. With Earth and the universe freed from the menace of the Dire Wraiths, ROM was free to return to his home planet Galador. That left a few dangling threads to be cleaned up back on Earth, such as the book's supporting cast. Brandy Clark, ROM's true love, had been stripped of her Spaceknight armor and left behind, unable to follow ROM into space. Cindy Adams was a young girl who had seen her parents killed by Dire Wraiths, but not before being left with the psychic remains of a dead Wraith's mind rattling around her brain. Finally, longtime Marvel Universe hanger-on Rick Jones was dying of inoperable cancer, a cruel remnant of an idiotic attempt to give himself superpowers with gamma radiation.

The Beyonder, flying around Earth in his continuing investigations into the nature of desire, is drawn to these three and their unrequited wishes like a moth to a flame. In a scene not at all reminiscent of any stories from religion or myth, ever, the Beyonder pretends to be a wayward hiker who is taken in by the group after having been caught in a terrible storm. Because they are selflessly kind to him, the Beyonder decides to grant each of the three their fondest wish:

ROM #72 was written by Bill Mantlo, and it's interesting to note that this isn't the only time Mantlo was able to use to the Beyonder as a deus ex machina to tie up unresolved plots. He also used the Beyonder as a means of retrieving the Hulk from his year-long exile in the extradimensional Crossroads (although, it must be noted, the Beyonder did his usual shitty job of it and almost got Alpha Flight murdered in the process). With just a few issues left, the problem of how to tie-up ROM's supporting cast resolved itself with the wave of a guest star's godlike hand.

Curing Rick Jones' cancer was problematic for a number of reasons. There's an unwritten rule in superhero books that although exotic fantasy ailments can be easily overcome, real-world diseases must have real-world consequences. Ignoring that rule is both troublesome in the context of the stories themselves (if Reed RIchards could cure cancer, there would be no more cancer in the Marvel Universe, for instance), and offensive in the context of a real world where people die of diseases like cancer and AIDS every day. The best example of this is The Death of Captain Marvel: Mar-Vell dies of cancer and all the greatest minds in the Marvel Universe can't help, because cancer is real. (Brian K. Vaughan's Doctor Strange mini from a while back, The Oath, approached this question from a different angle, showing the consequences that ensued when Strange broke this rule to use magic to cure Wong's cancer.)

Rick Jones, if you need the reminder, is the guy directly responsible for the creation of the Hulk, as well as the formation of the Avengers. He's been a sidekick to the Hulk, Captain America, more than one incarnation of Captain Marvel, and ROM. They couldn't just kill him, and yet, they gave him cancer, which was a problem. To Mantlo's credit, he recognized the awkward position this puts Rick into:

But in the end, despite the hemming and hawing and pretending to feel guilty about it, Rick remains cured. As a parting gift, the Beyonder even restores Cindy's parents to life. But he can't leave well enough alone, because all he can think about after that is how Cindy - who is happy to have her parents resurrected - will grow old and unhappy and die just like everyone else. Because he's kind of a jerk, really. Thankfully, Rick Jones, who has also temporarily been granted Hulk-like powers by the Beyonder, is there to talk some sense into the One From Beyond:

So with that, the Beyonder takes back Rick's powers, restores Brandy to her human self and sends her across the universe to be reunited with ROM on Galador, and walks off into the sunset. Literally, the sunset:

There are two ways to interpret this issue. You can choose to believe that the Beyonder's appearance on the eve of the book's cancelation was just the perfect pragmatic device with which Mantlo could wrap-up a bunch of loose ends with very little effort, making sure that everyone got a happy ending. Or you can believe that this is a good crossover tie-in because it confronts the series' core conflict head-on - what does a being with the powers of God do upon encountering human weakness and incompleteness? Being able to cure cancer with a snap of his fingers is pretty startling, after all, and the scenes of the Beyonder trying to measure and quantify gratitude and charity to finite, fragile humans are actually pretty interesting. The two opinions are not mutually exclusive. Having a literal God walk around the Marvel Universe for the better part of the year and wreak unintended consequences on the whole Marvel Universe was an interesting idea, even if a number of writers were also able to exploit the set-up to get out of corners into which they had foolishly painted themselves.

1 comment :

revelshade said...

The Ditko! It burns!! Those giant man-hands on Cindy at the bottom of pg 12! And yet it is sweeter than honey to my eyes! The way the Hulk powers evaporate off of Rick in a weird, lacy mist in the next to last panel, and the montage of eyes and faces at the top of the same page! There's a paradox the Beyonder should spend some time on...Ditko! Monster or Messiah? Or both?!