Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld: Secret Wars Week 5

Welcome back to Battleworld, everyone. This week, Dan Grote looks at the new issue of the core Secret Wars title, and the much anticipated return of a married Spider-Man...

Secret Wars #3
Story: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina

Imagine you survived the end of the world. Now imagine you were supposed to survive the end with all your loved ones, but you watched them ripped away from you at the last second. NOW imagine you wake up in a new world where your sworn enemy isn’t just its ruler or its savior but its GOD. Not only that, but, as Dr. Strange puts it, “He is very, very good at playing God.” NOW imagine how Reed will react next issue or whenever he finds out his wife and daughter are Doom’s most trusted advisers, his son spends all day playing in the palm of a planet-eating giant and his brother-in-law is [spoiler].

And we were worried Marvel didn’t care about the FF anymore.

Secret Wars #3 dedicates itself primarily to answering questions, which is good because I’ve had a lot of them since this event started. As of this issue, we now know:
  • What happened to Reed Richards’ Raft ™ from the 616 universe and its passengers, which if you’ll recall from issue #1 included Black Panther, Spider-Man, Star-Lord, Captain Marvel, Thor, and a Phoenixed-up Cyclops.     
  • A very few select characters remember what happened before Battleworld, and we know why the rest don’t recall.
  •  How much time has passed since the final incursion.
  • Where Johnny Storm is, and oo-da-lolli it’s a mini gut punch that makes perfect sense.
  • Why Dr. Strange is the right hand of God Emperor Doom ™, and what happened to the Molecule Man, last seen confronting the Beyonders alongside Doom and Strange in New Avengers #33.
  • How many Spider-Men survived the final incursion (although if you saw some of Marvel’s post-Secret Wars teaser images, I suppose you’ve already had that spoiled).

It’s a lot to take in, and besides most readers who haven’t seen everything Jonathan Hickman’s written for Marvel since Secret Warriors, nobody’s having a harder time with this than 616 Reed Richards, whom Esad Ribic draws in a perpetual state of exhausted, bearded shellshock. But I can only imagine the moment of clarity issue #3 provides will be brief, as Battleworld has much more to reveal, and we’re not even halfway there.

Side note: As someone who’s met him at cons, I very much appreciated the full-page house ad toward the end of the issue memorializing Herb Trimpe, who was the first Marvel artist to draw Wolverine for publication, among his many other credits for the company. Trimpe died in April at 75.

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1
Story: Dan Slott
Art:  Adam Kubert, John Dell and Justin Ponsor

Some Secret Wars comics are meant to tell the complex story of Battleword (Secret Wars). Some are meant to be jumping-on points for new readers (A-Force, MODOK: Assassin). And some, unabashedly, are love letters to Comics Fans of a Certain Age. This book (and the digital-first X-Men ’92) is most certainly the latter.

Renew Your Vows takes place in what, at least to start, feels like a simpler time. Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson are married and have a young daughter, Annie. He works at the Daily Bugle and brings hot-scoop photos to an always-yelling J. Jonah Jameson. He’s not an Avenger. He patrols the streets of New York with other street-level heroes like Daredevil, the Punisher and Moon Knight. Captain America wears his old wing-tipped mask. Eddie Brock is still Venom and looks like a big, slobbering black-and-white monster.

Dan Slott’s name may be on the cover, but it sure reads like David Michelinie or J.M. DeMatteis to me. And it’s all being drawn by Adam Kubert, one of Marvel’s rock-star artists in the years after the Image exodus. For Spider-fans, this book is a warm, fuzzy blanket.

At least to start.

When a supervillain named Regent starts killing off superheroes and claiming their powers as his own, and Venom escapes from prison and threatens his family, Peter is forced to make a choice that will inform the series going forward.

“That was the day I learned what trumps great power … an even greater responsibility.”

We’ve seen alternate-future takes on Spider-spawn – “Mayday” Parker swings immediately to mind – but we’ve never seen Peter actively raise a child, at least to my recollection. “Renew Your Vows” turns back the clock on basically every Spider-Man story of the past decade, but it also sets it forward, showing us the darkness of a world where “One More Day” never happened. Is this Spider-Man’s darkest timeline (and if so, is there still paintball)? It’s too early to tell, but it’s worth sticking around to see.

...While I examine the return of the evil future Hulk and the most light-hearted of any tie-in you're likely to see.

Future Imperfect #1
Story: Peter David
Art: Greg Land

Peter David has a long history with Marvel comics, and despite famed runs on Spider-Man and X-Factor, it will be his Hulk run that he is most remembered for. And of that run, Future Imperfect, the story of the Hulk going into the future to fight an evil version of himself called the Maestro, is probably the most famous, so it makes sense that if Marvel was picking and choosing great alternate history stories to make realms of Battleworld it would be one of them, and make even more sense they'd get Peter David to write it. David jumps right into the deep end, referencing the Secret Wars status quo with Maestro as this realm's Baron. Not only do we get the Maestro and Janis, Rick Jones's granddaughter introduced in the original story and who plays a role not only there but in the back end of David's original run on the ongoing Hulk series, but Ruby Summers, the daughter of Scott Summers and Emma Frost introduced in a dystopic future X-Factor story. The issue establishes what Dystopia, the city ruled by the Maestro, is like, and we see that there's a rebellion in place against it, which includes Ruby and Janis. The desert, the city, it's all classic dark future stuff, but David works with it and keeps it feeling fresh. When Ruby stumbles across a old man in an eyepatch wandering the desert claiming to be Odin, she thinks she's struck gold for the rebellion. Unfortunately, after she brings him to their base, it's clearly not Odin. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to reveal that "Odin" is in fact the Maestro reverted to human form, and a battle commences. Greg Land is an artist I can take or leave (I was a huge fan of his early work on Birds of Prey and Nightwing, but his excessive photo-referencing in recent years leaves me cold), and while in combat nearly all his characters have screaming their heads off expressions on their faces, his page layouts were solid for the fight between the rebels and the Maestro, and it came together well in the end. As with a lot of these Secret Wars tie-in first issues, the final page has a shock reveal, this time of a surviving hero who is leading the rebellion, and it's a nice reveal, one that should lead to a classic throw down in the next issue. With its nods to previous Peter David work, and his usual quick ear for witty dialogue, Future Imperfect looks to be a solid entry to the Secret Wars tie-ins, and since Marvel has said the Maestro is here to stay after the event, this would be a good place to get to know him.

Giant-Size Little Marvel: A Vs. X #1
Story and Art: Skottie Young

All these dark Secret Wars tie-ins got you down? Well, Giant Size Little Marvel is the cure for what ails you! The opening montage, which has musical notes bouncing around the narration and made me try to read them to the tune of the Tiny Toon Adventures theme song, lays out exactly what Secret Wars is about before before bringing us into the kingdom of Marville (not to be confused with the Bill Jemas series of the same name, possible the worst comic Marvel ever published), where at the intersection of Avengers Street and X-Men Way, the little heroes get into all kinds of mischief. The opening fight scene, which is perfectly tame and all ages, is a result of Iron Man melting one of Magik's toy ponies, and her summoning a monster to eat him. The main plot of the issue revolves around an escalating battle to build the best food stand at the corner, from lemonade, to hit dogs, to hamburgers, to Asgardian ribs, and so on, until it all breaks out in a brawl. Skottie Young is a master of drawing adorable little versions of Marvel characters, and the cameos fly fast and furious throughout the comic. While this isn't going to give you insight into the greater working of Battleworld and God King Doom, it's delightful fun and a good palette cleanser. Between this series, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and the new Groot ongoing from Marvel, and DC's new Bat-Mite and Bizarro series, it's a good time for all-ages superheroes from the Big 2.

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