Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld: Secret Wars Week 4

Hello all, Matt here, and welcome to our first official Greetings from Battleworld, weekly Secret Wars reviews. Dan wanted to focus on Secret Wars reviews for a while, and so we figured, instead of cramming them in with Monday's reviews, we'd give you two days of reviews a week for a while. Each week, Dan and I will hit the highlights from Battleworld. This week, we start with two from Dan, MODOK: Assassin and Inferno, and then two from me, Infinity Gauntlet and Where Monsters Dwell. This isn't going to be comprehensive, since Marvel is releasing six to ten Secret Wars titles a week, and will probably range from two to five a week of the best books Marvel will be doing. Enjoy!

MODOK: Assassin #1
Story: Christopher Yost
Art: Amilcar Pinna, Terry Pallot and Rachelle Rosenberg

The gleeful assassin is by no means a new character type – see the Joker, Bullseye, Deadpool, et al – but the gleeful assassin who’s part robot and can transform the chair that supports his giant noggin into a sweet purple roadster, well, that’s certainly one way to turn a convention on its, um, giant noggin.

MODOK: Assassin is part-noir, part spiritual fill-in for the dearly departed Deadpool. Our hero, the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing, cruises the streets of the Battleworld domain of Killville, taking out targets on the orders of the Assassins Guild and largely anyone else he feels like, occasionally running afoul of the domain’s ruler, the Dr. Strange villain Baron Mordo.

As is a running theme of many of the Secret Wars books, characters concern themselves with cross-border breaches that could earn the wrath of God Emporer Doom (GED for short), and the issue ends with the appearance of a thing that’s familiar to the reader but not to the protagonist, specifically a Thor that appears to be Angela.

Writer Chris Yost starts the body count ticking early in this series, killing off three major Marvel characters – one on orders, one out of spite, and one just for funsies. Yost also does a great job drawing a map for the reader, as MODOK narrates his way across Killville and describes the surrounding territories, including the Monarchy of M, 2099 (“a city drowning in temporal stupidity”), and a territory lousy with Sentinels. Oh, MODOK kills some of those, too.

Amilcar Pinna gets MODOK’s proportions perfectly, from the enormity of his head to the dangliness of his arms and legs to the cartoonlike assortment of bladed and missile-launching weapons protruding from his body. It’s a violent book, but it’s a fun book. And while it doesn’t feel like required reading for Secret Wars, it’s a great palate-cleanser for the weight of Hickman and Ribic’s main book.

Inferno #1
Story: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Javier Garron

Inferno feels less like a Secret Wars book and more like a What If or one of DC’s Convergence titles. It’s one of a few books that visit classic X-Men storylines (See also X-Tinction Agenda, Old Man Logan, Years of Future Past, Age of Apocalypse, House of M) and show geezers like me the X-Men as we remember them, with a little twisting of the timeline for good measure.

In this story, Manhattan fell to the demons of Limbo, despite the X-Men’s best efforts. Once a year, Cyclops – the domain’s baron – permits Colossus to lead a raid on the Empire State Building in an attempt to retrieve his sister, Illyana, who has been fully consumed by her demon Darkchild persona. Once a year, he fails, and any X-Men who go with him die or are crippled.

It’s a pretty grimdark premise, but what makes this book work is watching the X-Men interact like the world isn’t burning all around them. Colossus finds love and support in Domino and friendship in characters like Nightcrawler and Boom-Boom. They quip (Kurt, to a demon: “My name is Kurt Wagner. You remind me of my father. Prepare to die”). They take out lesser X-villains like Pyro and Omega Red. We even get to see a variation on the old X-Club science team, with Beast, Forge and Dr. Nemesis.

And yeah, then there’s some more injuries and deaths and stuff, but it’s an alternate-reality X-story, so is that really a surprise?

Where Monsters Dwell #1
Story: Garth Ennis
Art: Russel Braun

I didn't expect to see a comic from the team that brought us most of the back half of The Boys doing a crossover comic for Marvel at any point, well, ever. Garth Ennis has in the past shown little but contempt for the tropes of mainstream superheroes in general, and his crossover issues of titles he's written have shown their share of irreverence. That's why it should surprise no one that this comic has absolutely nothing to do with Secret Wars. Other than being set on Battleworld, which isn't mentioned or referenced in anything but the text page at the beginning of the issue, this could be a post World War I monster/weird war comic that takes place in the regular Marvel Universe or be creator owned if Ennis wanted to change some names. That's not a dig; it's a statement of fact. As a matter of fact, the comic is a lot of fun.

The opening scene is there not for plot but for pure character, to establish just what kind of a sleaze our lead, Karl Kaufmann (The Phantom Eagle, a pre-existing, if obscure, Marvel character), is; he has gotten the princess of a tribe pregnant and, after swearing he'll talk to her father, flies off. When he arrives back at his airfield, it's even more clear as he is not only broke and clearly running out of credit with people who he's friendly with, but he has a guy called, "No-Balls" (A Garth Ennis character if I've ever heard one), after him because he's responsible for his nominative condition. And when he's seemingly able to con the seemingly naive Clementine Franklin-Cox into paying him to fly her to meet the ship she needs to make, well, it's a way to escape No-Balls and his men. Only Clementine is nowhere near as naive as she seems, and pretty soon there are pterosaurs flying by, machine guns being fired, planes crashing, and more dinosaurs.

Russell Braun draws the heck out of both the WWI era planes and the dinosaurs, and my only complaint is that there weren't more dinosaurs, something I think will be remedied in upcoming issues.

Garth Ennis writes in a couple of different modes, and while this starts out of the gate as pure fun Ennis, like his Marvel Knights Punisher and some of the more off-the-wall issues of Hitman or The Boys, never get too complacent in that; Ennis can turn on a dime and bring the emotional resonance. And that would be great, but I just want more dinosaurs.

Infinity Gauntlet #1
Story: Dustin Weaver and Gerry Duggan
Art: Dustin Weaver

If you're going into the first issue of The Infinity Gauntlet expecting god-like characters and the main cosmic heroes of the original epic, which I have written about a time or two, I'd suggest you reset your expectations before you read this issue. While Thanos has a couple cameos in here, this is not a comic that follows up the original series. As a matter of fact, it seems to follow up Annihilation more than Infinity Gauntlet, as this region of Battleworld is overrun by the bugs of the Annihilation Wave. We don't have a lot of details about what happened, but it's clear the Nova Corps called Earth for backup against the Wave and lost. Now, our lead are a family trying to survive in a world where man is no longer the alpha predator. The issue, narrated by a young woman named Anwen, follows her, her father, her sister, and her grandfather, as well as their dog, as they make their way through this world. We find out her mother was a Nova recruit who never made it back from the battle with the bugs. It's great character work, as we get to know each of these characters in a few short pages, and care about them when the bugs find them. Weaver's art is astounding; I liked his work on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but he's grown in leaps and bound between then and now. The issue ends with a reunion and a tease of exactly what the Infinity Gauntlet and gens have to do with the story. While this is clearly a first issue with a good amount of set-up, it's handled well, and any comic that can introduce that many new characters and get you invested is one worth checking out.

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