Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld: Secret Wars Week 16

Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra
Story: David Mandel
Art: Michael Walsh and Matthew Wilson

Did you ever look at Jim Steranko’s 1960s SHIELD art and think, “Man, he’s really doing some cool, trippy stuff, but you know what this needs? Some funny observations about the male midlife crisis!”

Hank Johnson is your average Hydra-hailing schlub in a green tunic and yellow suspenders. He gets kicked in the head by Original Recipe Nick Fury on the regular, has three kids and a wife with whom he engages in typical couple’s spats such as whether to hire a nanny or whether they should leave boring parties without saying goodbye, and all he wants are some tickets to next weekend’s Nets game.

There are some great bwa-ha-ha moments in this book, which was written by an executive producer of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Watching MODOK sing “Amazing Grace” at a Hydra funeral is alone worth the price of admission. For Halloween, the Johnsons dress up as the Avengers, and Hank cosplays as Rage (Remember him? Wore a yellow luchador-ski mask thing on his face and a leather jacket with the sleeves ripped off?). And there’s a great subplot in which Hank is sexually harassed by Viper, aka Madame Hydra.

Also, just because you work for an evil organization doesn’t mean you can send your kids to school with peanut butter sandwiches. Wolfgang von Strucker Elementary is sensitive to its students’ food allergies.

Artist Michael Walsh appears to be channeling both Steranko’s psychedelic spirals and panel play and the expressive minimalism of Hawkeye’s David Aja. It’s a great mix.

The otherwise-mundane-life-of-a-henchman bit is nothing new. The first Austin Powers movie – which also takes its cues from 1960s spy flicks – included two bonus scenes on the subject, and two of The Venture Brothers’ early breakout characters were Henchmen 21 (now 1) and 24 (now dead). But Battleworld has a way of making old tropes seem fresh. Just look at Thors (police procedural) and Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde (romantic comedy/adventure).

Actually, with the exception of the Secret Wars logo on the cover and the inside-cover boilerplate Battleworld explainer, there’s no mention of God Emperor Doom, the Thors, domains or any of that SW stuff. So feel free to enjoy this book on its own merits.

Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars #4
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Matteo Lolli and Ruth Redmond

So what did we learn from Deadpool’s adventures in the original Secret Wars?

Well, if you believe Deadpool’s fractured, twisted memories (apologies in advance for spoilers), he helped Captain America defeat Dr. Doom during his first brush with godhood, was briefly made handsome, slept with the Wasp, made a deal with the Beyonder to resurrect the alien healer Zsaji (she who so famously broke up Colossus and a too-young-anyway Kitty Pryde) and may have played a direct role in Spider-Man’s black symbiote costume turning evil. And no one remembers any of it because the Wasp wished really hard to erase DP from her memories, forlorn both because Wade loved Zsaji more than her and because he was back to his original pizza-faced self.

Does any of this matter? Is this continuity now? Meh, who’s to say? On the one hand, Cullen Bunn’s Deadpool minis (Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, Deadpool Killustrated, Deadpool Kills Deadpool) are generally non-canon romps full of violence and free from consequences. On the other, Deadpool’s flashback stories of the past few years have had consequences in the present, which is why he has a daughter now. Best to not sweat it and just enjoy the mayhem.

That said, there is one panel that sticks out a bit: When Deadpool meets the Beyonder, he realizes he might be a character in a comic book. Had this actually happened in 1984 (and Deadpool actually existed then), it predates the canonical first story about Deadpool’s fourth-wall breakthrough, during Christopher Priest’s run on the book, by more than 15 years. Chalk it up to Wade’s broken brain, maybe. Still, it’s funny how, in a story that is essentially one big retcon, this minor point sticks out.

Anyway, in case you were worried you were about to experience a Deadpool-shaped hole in your pull list (as IF), fear not, for this week marks the start of Deadpool vs. Thanos, a new mini by Tim Seeley and Elmo Bondoc. That said, if for some reason you can’t spend Wednesdays with Wade, there’s always Thursdays (see what I did there?).

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