Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld: Secret Wars Week 8

X-Men ’92 #1
Story: Chris Sims and Chad Bowers
Art: Scott Koblish and Matt Milla

I’ve liked a lot of the titles connected to Secret Wars so far: the main book, Thors, MODOK: Assassin, Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars, to name a few.

I LOVE this series.

Granted, as someone who came of age in the 1990s, I’m the target market for this book, which is based on the Fox Saturday morning cartoon that ran from 1992-97.

Everything about X-Men ’92 captures the show’s essence perfectly: The lack of color gradients, Cyclops’ abject refusal to have fun, Wolverine’s action-hero one-liners, Gambit’s creepy Cajun come-ons, Rogue’s Southern charm, Storm’s need to enter into histrionics every time she uses her powers, Beast’s insistence on quoting Shakespeare, the way telepaths use their powers and then scream and pass out, Jubilee’s front-and-center status, the use of lesser X-characters as background decoration, the never-evolving Sentinels, the meddling of Basic Standards and Practices, etc. There’s also laser tag.

It helps that the book is written by a guy who spent months cataloging the show’s every eccentricity for an online audience. It helps even more that the book is drawn by an artist known for illustrating flashback issues of Deadpool in Marvel’s past house styles.

Fitting, given all that, that the book’s antagonist is perhaps the most decidedly un-’90s X-villain: Cassandra Nova, created by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely at the dawn of the following decade. Nova’s cartoon-verse origin is not the same as Morrison’s, but equally as convoluted: She’s a clone of Charles Xavier created by Apocalypse that ends up serving as a vessel for the Shadow King. And she wants to force peace through mind-control. “The era of the extreme is over,” she says, in dialogue that could not be veiled more thinly. “The world that’s coming deserves a better class of mutant, one that isn’t burdened by all those pouches filled with aggression and inner turmoil.”

How does all this tie in to Secret Wars? Westchester is its own domain of Battleworld, ruled by Baron Kelly, aka Sen. Robert Kelly (aaka President Kelly in the cartoon), who wears a cloak over his suit and flies around on a chariot pulled by Warwolves from the early issues of Excalibur. That’s about it, really.

Easter egg: Look for cameos by Rachel Edidin and Miles Stokes, the hosts of the excellent and authoritative Rachel & Miles X-plain the X-Men podcast. Sims is a friend of and past guest on the show, and I could hear his pleased-with-himself fanboy giggle in my head as I read this book.

In fact, for more ’90s X-Men fun, check out the second most recent episode of X-plain the X-Men, in which the hosts play a tabletop game based on the cartoon, voices and all.

 MODOK: Assassin #2
Story: Christopher Yost
Art: Amilcar Pinna, Terry Pallott, Ed Tadeo and Rachelle Rosenberg

MODOK is the best at what he does, until he finds a woman who can give his swelled head a [redacted for poor joke quality].

The second issue of the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing’s adventures in Killville is a protracted misunderstanding/fight scene, as the Angela-Thor that fell into his domain at the end of the first issue comes to and the first thing she sees is one of Jack Kirby’s most famous grotesqueries.

And that grotesquery is in love. So much so that he can barely focus to counter Angela’s thrusts and parries with his arsenal of guns, bombs and chainsaws. It’s adorable really, especially when the creative team plays up the fact that his little T-Rex hands can’t reach his nose to wipe the blood off it or help him get up under his own power, like a homicidal turtle stuck on its back.

Meantime, the three leaders of the Assassins Guild – Wilson Fisk, Viper and the Shroud – are investigating Bullseye’s murder, and all the evidence points to ol’ bighead.

As the book closes, there are new mysteries to be solved. What has made Angela-Thor unworthy of wielding her hammer? And how will she and MODOK fare against the murderer’s row of, well, murderers the Assassins Guild is about to send their way? Stay tuned.

Infinity Gauntlet #2
Story: Dustin Weaver & Gerry Duggan
Art: Dustin Weaver

Even on a world overrun by giant bugs, family is important. After last issue's harrowing escape from Annihilation bugs, series narrator Anwen has been reunited with her mother, Eve, and they have found the rest of their family. Not having time to mourn her grandfather, who gave his life to save her, Anwen is immediately given a Nova uniform and pressed into service by her mother, along with the rest of her family. I like that, despite being overjoyed that they're together again, Menzin, Anwen's dad, doesn't immediately think this is a good idea, giving his daughters suits of alien armor and preparing to fight the bugs. Of course, with how dangerous the world is, it winds up having to be that way, and Fayne, Anwen's little sister, and their dog Zigzag, also get Nova uniforms and are ready as the bugs attack. Things seem to be going badly until Eve finds out her daughter has found the Mind Stone (something I still have a hard time typing. They're the Infinity Gems to me and always will be), which she uses to wipe out the bugs that are attacking. It's clear that the war has had an impact on Eve, and that the stones are what she came back to Earth for. She's glad to have the one stone, but isn't as happy to find the Nova base has been destroyed and the Stone they already had is gone from the Nova Gauntlet. Here's one of those things that has become sort of canon in recent years and I want to address. There's a good explanation as to why a Nova Gauntlet needed to be created to harness the gems for a normal mortal, but I find it odd that many recent writers make the Infinity Gauntlet an artifact of its own, when it was originally just the glove Thanos was wearing as he gathered the gems. Back to the actual issue, with the main story of the family over for the issue, we get to see the other players in this cosmic drama. We see who stole the Stone, and it's not Thanos. It's Star-Lord and Gamora, both of whom are considerably more mercenary than we are used to seeing them. And after a jump into the future where we see Thanos fighting Anwen, we return to the present with the future Thanos to see him meet his present self, and Thanos learns the last person you should trust is Thanos, even if that's you. Infinity Gauntlet continues to be a well rendered character piece, sort of a cosmic Walking Dead, with gorgeous art from Dustin Weaver. This issue starts moving the plot out of just a family drama into something more cosmic, and I hope that the character driven aspect doesn't get lost as the cosmic amps up.

Where Monsters Dwell #2
Story: Garth Ennis
Art: Russel Braun

You know that story where two very different people come together in hardship and find some common ground to succeed? The modern version of which comes from the novel/movie The African Queen and is a plot device done a million times in mainstream comics? Yeah, this doesn't seem to be shaping up to be that. Stuck together in a land that time forgot, Where Monsters Dwell protagonists airman Karl Kaufmann (The Phantom Eagle) and lady who I'm pretty sure is a spy or secret agent of some kind Clementine Franklin-Cox hate each other. HATE. And for good reason. Kaufmann is a sleaze. Not a Han Solo charming rogue, but an honest to God crappy person. He flat out says he came back from war expecting people to worship him, but women who didn't drop to their knees to do that him make sick. And when he propositions Clementine and she spurns him, he says that if things got complicated, she could always get an abortion. Garth Ennis tends to write characters in moral shades of grey to pitch black, with little to no white, and boy howdy if he wants us to hope the dinosaurs eat Kaufmann, he's succeeding. I can't say Ennis is failing at characterization, because we see Kaufmann as exactly what he is. I do want to know more Clementine, as I'm still not exactly sure what her game is. Last issue, I thought she planned to go to this dinosaur land, but it's now clear she didn't, so I'm not sure what her deal is. I do have to say, though, that Russel Braun is the star of this show. Between his drawings of natives, of the jungles, of crocodiles, and of dinosaurs (particularly a gorgeous T-Rex devouring said natives), you are completely drawn into this world. And as with the previous issue, there is no indication whatsoever that this takes place on Battleworld or has anything to do with Secret Wars, so if you're feeling a little Battleworld fatigue, this might be a place to stop by and rest before re-entering a world of Doom.

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