Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld: Secret Wars Week 13

In an ambitious turn, Dan Grote reviews not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR Secret Wars tie-ins this week. read on, True Believers...

X-Men ’92 #2
Story: Chad Bowers and Chris Sims
Art: Scott Koblish and Matt Milla

When we last left the X-Men of the ’90s, ’00s villain Cassandra Nova (or more accurately the Shadow King possessing Nova’s body) had them hooked up to machines, trying to cure them of their violent tendencies. And so we get that lovely trope of characters being shown their deepest desires and innermost demons while being psychically manipulated.

Wolverine goes first, because of course he does. Logan’s sequence is an exercise in seeing how many Easter eggs can dance on the head of a pin, as he wrestles first with a cadre of his then-greatest non-Sabretooth foes – Lady Deathstryke, Cyber, Silver Samurai, Omega Red and Viper – then with every version of himself that was ever made into an action figure, from first-appearance Wolverine with the whiskers on his cowl to Uncanny X-Force Wolverine with the black-and-gray costume. And at the end they all hug. For serious.

However much they’re paying artist Scott Koblish, it isn’t enough. Given the number of cameos, throwbacks and downright homages – especially in the Wolverine section – Koblish spends the entire issue playing chameleon, mimicking the designs of John Byrne, Barry Windsor-Smith, Chris Bachalo, Joe Madureira and others, many times in the same panel.

As Nova makes her way through the team her motivations become a bit clearer. The Shadow King-powered Nova is in touch with the psychic energies of everyone on Battleworld, including the X-Men of other realities, nearly all of which are much darker (Age of Apocalypse, House of M, Inferno, etc.). She claims if she doesn’t turn the X-Men of Westchester into a patch of peaceful vegetables, the same fate will befall their domain.

“I’ll die before I see the Thors place a ‘suggested for mature residents’ sign outside Westchester,” she tells Storm, once again winking so hard at the reader as to risk being stuck with permanent Popeye face.

While the X-Men are trapped in Nova’s Clear Mountain, another team of mutants is trying to track them down to rescue them. If the X-Force at the end of this issue – Cable, Domino, Bishop, Archangel, Psylocke and Deadpool – would have appeared together on the original Saturday morning cartoon, 13-year-old me would have lost it (and possibly asked why, if it were X-Force, Cannonball, Boom-Boom, Sunspot, et al, weren’t there). Cable even yells “Stab his eyes!” which I don’t think I’ve seen on a page in 20 years.

Another made-up team of familiar faces in this book is the Rej-X, freaks who failed Nova’s mind tests and have been locked away to strip Sentinels for parts. Among them are Masque, Feral, Artie and Leech, a pre-horseman Caliban, Sauron, Maggot, Chamber, and one of Sinister’s Nasty Boys, the purple one.

Guys, when you read a book in 2015 that has Maggot and a Nasty Boy in it, you know the Dream of the ’90s is alive.

But the best cameo in this book – and there may be more this issue than in the first one – is the 1992 X-Men arcade game, which Jubilee kills time playing while she waits for the rest of the team. The arcade game debuted the same year as the cartoon but featured a decidedly more ’80s team of X-Men, including Nightcrawler, Colossus, and, much to Jubilee’s consternation, Dazzler.

Finally, a stray thought: Where’s Morph? He’s gotta show up at some point, right?


Thors #2
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Chris Sprouse, Goran Sudzuka, Karl Story, and Marte Gracia

Someone is killing all of Battleworld’s Jane Fosters, and now there’s one less Thor to find out who.

The second issue of Thors opens with a call for vengeance, as Doom’s hammer-wielding police force spreads out and roughs up every Hulk, zombie, Ultron and Morbius who might have an inkling as to why Beta Ray Thor was killed and by whom.

Meanwhile, Thorlief Golmen, aka the Ultimate Thor, continues his investigation into the Foster murders, only to discover a fellow Thor – make that ex-fellow Thor – has been collecting evidence of his own.

There’s no way to tell for sure whether this de-powered, ax-wielding, one-armed Thor is the 616 Odinson. He claims to know things the other Thors don’t – as Loki did in the previous issue – but he reveals little before sinking back into the shadows.

The end of the issue reveals a new body – this time not a Jane Foster – and a new suspect. Well, new for Thorlief, anyway. Whatever’s going on, it may be connected to the truth about Battleworld, how much of which people know varies by book, domain and creative team. But it’s definitely way too soon to tell, and kudos to Jason Aaron, Chris Sprouse, et al, for keeping us in the dark while keeping us entertained with this Asgardian police procedural.

MODOK: Assassin #3
Story: Christopher Yost
Art: Amilcar Pinna, Terry Pallot and Rachelle Rosenberg

There’s violence, there’s ultraviolence and there’s this issue of MODOK: Assassin, in which practically anybody who’s ever killed somebody in the Marvel Universe is sent after MODOK and his crush, Angela-Thor.

Who’s everybody? Well, there’s the Scarlet Spider, the Grim Reaper, Jack-O-Lantern, Boomerang, Screaming Mimi, Bushwacker, the Ghost, Hit Monkey, Black Widow, the Punisher, Typhoid Mary, Wolverine, Sabretooth, the Kingpin, the Shroud, Viper, a resurrected Doctor Octopus (remember when he died in the first issue?), and, finally, the Mindless Ones: empty, demonic beings who generally serve Dormammu.

Many of these characters die in the most grisly ways possible: Decapitation via chainsaw, psychic energy blast, having their head crushed in the bare hands of a Thor, getting run over, impalement, getting sliced in half from head to crotch, etc. Flying eyeballs, freshly loosed from their sockets, are not an uncommon sight. There hasn’t been a celebration of cartoon violence this loud and proud since the Itchy and Scratchy shorts on The Simpsons. The only reason this isn’t a MAX title is because nobody’s cursing or having sex. Seriously, good on you, Amilcar Pinna.

Apart from all this psychotic glee, however, there’s still a mystery to solve. Someone back at Thor HQ finally realized one of their own is missing (ironically, it’s Beta Ray Thor, who, if you’ve been reading Thors, or even the review of Thors above this, you know has been killed). Angela-Thor has been de-hammered and cloaked so, while MODOK can see her (and continually comment on her beauty and the way she wields a sword), he can’t “see” her with any sort of tracking device, and the Thors also can’t get a read on her using any of their science or magic. Clearly, someone wants her out of the picture, likely the same person who sent the Mindless Ones after her at the end of this issue.

Next issue, I fully expect a higher body count, more mayhem and, maybe, some light plot resolution.

Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars #3
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Matteo Lolli and Ruth Redmond

Part of what has made Deadpool Deadpool more and more over the years is the fact that, while he’s an unhinged psychopath with no qualms about murdering for fun and profit, he still knows how to make a heroic sacrifice.

That side of the character is front and center in this revisionist take on the original Secret Wars. Last issue, he gave up his cool lenticular shield to help Reed Richards rescue the heroes from the mountain they were trapped under. This issue he sacrifices his good looks, and his feelings for the alien healer Zsaji, to resurrect the other heroes. Doubtless DP is not done sacrificing yet, especially with one more issue to go and the fact remaining that nobody will actually remember him being there.

But if Deadpool is good, he’s chaotic good at best. And according to this issue, he maaaaaay have had a hand in creating Venom. When the heroes find the Star Trek-like replicator machine that makes new outfits, Wade gets his mitts on the black alien-symbiote costume before Spider-Man. (His review: “Could use a few more pouches.” Amen, brother.) But when he feels the symbiote feeding off his thoughts, he promptly removes the costume and passes the savings on to Spidey. Though not before a dress-up montage that shows him looking like everyone from Captain America to Cruella de Vil.

By the end of the issue, Dr. Doom has defeated the Beyonder and taken his power for himself (sound familiar?), and Deadpool tries to reason with him, newly handsome person to newly handsome person. One guess how that goes.

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