Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld: Secret Wars Week 9

Red Skull #1
Story by Joshua Williamson
Art by Luca Pizzari and Rainier Beredo

I’m gonna start off this review by shaming myself. I thought I had never heard the name Joshua Williamson prior to reading Red Skull #1. Then I scrolled through this very blog and realized Matt has reviewed his work. A lot. So if you haven’t read his indie series Nailbiter (crime), Ghosted (supernatural) or Birthright (adventure/fantasy), please do so, and perhaps I need to do the same.

As for this book, the first issue sets it up to be the Secret Wars equivalent of Thunderbolts. A team of baddies - Magneto, Electro, Moonstone, Jack O’Lantern, Lady Deathstryke and the Winter Soldier - are tasked by Crossbones with confirming proof of the Red Skull’s death. The Skull apparently led an uprising against Doom and was summarily tossed over the Shield – Battleworld’s barrier against scores of zombies, Ultron robots, and Annihilus drones. If the bad guys don’t comply, they get nasty shocks from the collars around their necks, a callback to Warren Ellis’ run on the ’Bolts. Also, if they fail to find evidence of the Skull’s death within 24 hours, they’re stuck there.

There are a lot of great little moments, many of which involve Electro, who spends the book being an annoying little s--- until [spoiler, but easily my favorite panel in the book and in the top 5 for Secret Wars]. When the team’s plane lands outside the Shield, Electro is freaked out by the sight of a T-rex, which Crossbones then casually shoots through the head, not long before leaving the conscripted degenerates to die in the deadlands. Even the zombies crack wise.

By the “Come with me if you want to live” scene at the end of the issue, you get the impression this can no longer be a team book.

Artist Luca Pizzari draws a few nice cameos, including Miss America Chavez, last seen being arrested in the first issue of A-Force, and everyone’s favorite ’90s lumberjack Thor, Eric Masterson. Then we get to the Shield, and it’s a free-for-all of squinting to try to recognize zombies by bits of tattered costume in a sea of dark shading.

Parting thought: While normally I’d jump all over any T-shirt that says “(X Marvel character) was right,” I think I might have to pass on the “Red Skull was right” shirt featured in this issue.

Secret Wars #4
Story by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina

If man is meant to fear God, then what does God fear?

God fears Reed Richards.

The halfway point of Secret Wars is partly a battle between the survivors of the old worlds: the heroes of Earth 616 who escaped in Reed Richards’ Raft and the villains of Earth 616 who escaped in the raft of the Reed Richards of Earth 1610. Reed 616 has been depicted as bearded, exhausted and shellshocked by the weight of learning that Dr. Doom not only saved reality from being destroyed by the Beyonders but is now the god emporer of all that remains. Even this issue he is still being carried around by the Black Panther. But when Doom discovers Reed 616 among the survivors, he responds with a true display of his power. A couple people die. Important people. Given we’ve already seen previews of what’s to come, you can take as much stock in that as you like. It’s still pretty chilling to see who and how, though.

Oh, and Doom walks right past Reed 1610, pays him no mind whatsoever. Maybe it’s that weird miner’s helmet that covers half his face.

A-Force #2
Story by Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson
Art by Jorge Molina and Laura Martin

Arcadia has a portal problem. It has also an adorable new resident who is black and sparkly, has the innocence of a child and appears to be the source of said portal problem.

Singularity, the character teased in early art of A-Force, doesn’t speak but takes on the appearance of a girl in her early teens. Perhaps that’s a by-product of the fact that the first person she encountered, at the end of last issue, was Nico Minoru. Perhaps she’s just young. Way too early to say.

Either way, she appears to be explicitly connected to the portals that have been opening up around Arcadia, which so far have led to attacks by a megalodon and a Sentinel. (P.S.: This book gets @Midnight-style POINTS for creative Sentinel death, having She-Hulk run one through with an obelisk while saying “Time we put a pin in it.”)

The portal from whence the megalodon came is a swirling mass of preview art from other Secret Wars books. Few are recognizable, though you can clearly see bits of Future Imperfect and Giant Size Little Marvels: A vs. X. The second portal, meanwhile, appears to be a gateway straight to the New York of Years of Future Past, which would explain the Sentinel.

Considering how big a deal it is that people not cross the borders of Battleworld, having someone around who can make it that easy is bound to incur the Wrath of Doom, who is extra angry after the events of Secret Wars #4. So get ready for an escalation.

Easter egg: Nico has an Iron Man statue in her bedroom. Does Arcadia have a Tony Stark? He hasn’t really been a major character in SW outside Civil War, at least not that I’ve seen.

Future Imperfect #2
Story: Peter David
Art: Greg Land

Well, that was a twist I didn't see coming. At the end of the last issue, the Thing was revealed as the leader of the resistance against the Maestro. The opening of this issue shows the origin of the Thing, who in this reality is Thunderbolt Ross. We see Ross and Glen Talbot trying to beat the Russians to space, and pretty much the FF origin plays out as expected, and we see Ross turned into the Thing. From there, the likon's share of the issue is a Hulk/Thing fight, except it's a Maestro/Ross-Thing fight, so it's considerably more brutal. Not just in how the two combatants are beating on each other, but in how they deal with collateral damage. This is equivalent to the end of Man of Steel, with buildings collapsing, and Maestro flat out saying he cares nothing for the lives of those around them, and Thing admitting if he can kill Maestro, it's worth it. Peter David has never shied away from moral relativity, and so it's not surprising his "hero" is only a shade less dark than his villain. Greg Land continues to show that his art is rebounding to something closer to his early style, with well produced carnage. He still has the problem that all his female faces look the same, and if it weren't for Janis and Ruby's distinct hair styles and skin tones, they would be hard to tell apart. But the end of the issue has two reveals, one is completely expected one that is so Peter David I should have seen it coming. The fact that the Maestro is a treacherous monster who is planning to fight god shouldn't shock anyone, but once again, Peter David drops the appearance of one of his trademark characters in (again, she's a blonde female character, so thank Doom part of her shtick is dropping her name, or I would have thought she was Sue Storm), Layla Miller, who David turned from a cipher in House of M into one of the best characters on X-Factor history. I'm looking forward to see how Layla fits into this world, and she what "stuff" she knows in this world.

Giant-Size Little Marvel: A Vs. X #2
Story and Art: Skottie Young

This is going to be a short one. Seriously, if you read and liked the first issue, you're going to like this one. It's cute, and it's great to watch Skottie Young cram in as many cameos as he can into the book (who would have thought Apocalypse could ever look cute?). For a little idea of the plot, basically the X-Men and the Avengers are competing to get the new twins at their school, Zachary and Zoe, to join their groups, with mayhem ensuing. There is possibly my favorite panels involving Arcade ever. But the highlight joke is at the end, when the two teams are having their big fight, and Zachary and Zoe are watching. As they observe Cable decked out in a Skottie Young version of his early '90s costume, they address him as "Big-Guns McShoulder-Pad" and "Pouchy McGee" which made me laugh really hard, because as much as I love Cable, and I really do, it's so accurate. That kind of level of self awareness adds the cherry to the top of this delightful series.

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