Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Greetings from Battleworld: Week 37

Hey, look, it's Secret Wars! Yes, three months after its original ending date (and with one issue added), Marvel's universe changing crossover has ended, and we're here to talk about the last issue and some issues we skipped earlier on. First, Dan Grote gives a review of that big final issue...

Secret Wars #9
Story by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina

Wait, so are the Richards clan effectively the Beyonders now?

Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s eight-month, nine-issue summer 2015 crossover ends with the Molecule Man and Reed and Franklin Richards re-creating the Marvel multiverse, one sphere of energy at a time. Reed, Sue, Valeria, Franklin and the rest of the Future Foundation then set off to explore all those universes, explaining away their absence from all Marvel books in perpetuity. Super-Scientist Heaven is real, you guys!

But seriously, if the FF are creating whole universes, then that effectively makes them the gods of the new multiverse, which is what the Beyonders were prior to Secret Wars. And if all things are cyclical, what’s to say the Beyonders from the previous multiverse weren’t actually Reed Richards and his brood, and that eventually, after billions of years, they will get bored and collapse their creation? Doesn’t that mean Doom really was a hero all along? Maybe that’s why Reed let Doom live again on the new Earth, restoring his face in the process, in case Reed et al get too carried away in their new role as gods.

But that’s just the end. The book opens with a Battleworld-rattling fight between God Emperor Doom and Black Panther, armed with the Infinity Gauntlet. Meanwhile, the two Reed Richardses – 616 and 1610 – pay a visit to the Molecule Man, the source of Doom’s power. 1610 Reed - aka Ultimate Reed, aka the Maker, aka Evil Reed, aka Big Baby Jesus - doublecrosses his doppelganger, surrounding him in a makeshift temporal bubble in an attempt to devolve him, but the Molecule Man slices Evil Reed apart like so many pizza toppings.

Doom realizes the Panther fight is a distraction and finds Richards with the Molecule Man, who strips Doom of his omnipotence, allowing for a fair fight with Richards, because, c’mon, like Doom’s last fight wasn’t going to be with his mortal enemy?

As the two bump egos, MM lets Battleworld blow up, leaving the be-Gauntlet-ed Panther to restore reality. After a flash of white light, he finds himself in a restored Wakanda on what is now Earth Prime, celebrating the launch of the African nation’s space program.

“And this is our very first one,” Panther tells his pupils as they watch the first rocket lift off. “Our Alpha Flight.” WINK!

Before we leave, a final question: Why did the Molecule Man help our heroes? In the end, it may have been because Miles Morales gave him a hamburger in issue #6. That either makes Molecule Man the Jughead of the Marvel multiverse or Miles Morales the Neville Longbottom of Secret Wars, the background character who actually saves the day.

As finales go, and considering how sprawling and complex Secret Wars was to begin with, I’d say issue #9 is the perfect combination of a satisfying ending and a generator of new questions that won’t be answered anytime soon, if ever, considering Hickman is now done at Marvel. If nothing else, this issue serves as a love letter to Reed and Doom and puts a bow on everything Hickman has written for the House of ideas dating to the start of his FF run in 2009.

And for more on my feelings on Neville Longbottom as the true hero of the Harry Potter franchise, let me corner you at a party sometime.

And with all that extra time, I was able to read one of the more important tie-in mini-series, and it turned out to be one of my favorites...

Story: Kieron Gillen
Art: Filipe Andrade & Rachelle Rosenberg, plus various artists on double page spreads

Many of the Secret Wars tie-ins were just fun what if sort of stories revisiting classic eras and storylines throughout Marvel history. Some of these turned out to be about as relevant to the main series as Countdown was to Infinite Crisis (see Age of Apocalypse and Future Imperfect, both which ended with their primary antagonist, Apocalypse and the Maestro, dead and caught in a permanent Black Mercy-esque fugue state respectively, despite showing up in the main series towards the end leading their armies at God Emperor Doom's request). Siege, though, interestingly enough, has no relation to the crossover for which it is named, and instead fills in some important gaps in the main series.

When I wrote about series that ended too soon, one of the series I included was S.W.O.R.D. Kieron Gillen's book starring Abigail Brand, the half alien head of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s alien threat response team. Siege is Gillen's return to Abigail Brand, who he also spent time with while he was writing Uncanny X-Men which picked up some of the plot threads from S.W.O.R.D., and I gotta tell you, he writes Brand like no one else. He took that snarky, Whedon creation, mixed in some Warren Ellis type drunkenness, and his own flair, and made Brand sing like no one else. This series's Brand in the leader of the troops guarding The Shield, the big wall that keeps out zombies, Ultron robots, and Annihilation Wave bugs from the rest of Battleworld, and she actually wanted the job, because her family was slaughtered the last time there was a breach in The Shield, and she has sworn never again. 

The rest of Gillen's cast includes Leah, an Asgardian Shield-Maiden, who serves as Brand's second at the beginning of the series; A Leonardo Da Vinci right out of Jonathan Hickman's Shield series; Miss America from A-Force and Lady Kate Bishop from Secret Wars Journal, who were banished to the Shield in their respective titles and whose story picks up here, Kang the Conqueror, who is as much a jerk as ever; Ben Grimm, the Thing, who is a physical manifestation of the wall; and not surprisingly, my favorite character in the book aside from Brand, Major Summers, the leader of a massive group of Cyclops clones called the Endless Summers that Mr. Sinister was done experimenting on so he sent them to The Shield.

There's a lot to love in this series. It reflects more connectivity across Battleworld than pretty much any book except for Secret Wars itself, which makes sense, due to the clever plot device where Doom says you can't cross domains, thus keeping people from asking, "Why are there are dozens of Wolverines?"and raising eyebrows. It's got some amazing visuals from Filipe Andrade, whose art I was unsure of early on and who really grew on me. But mostly, it's that Gillen packs a ton of character into four issues, all while working under a clock. The Guardians of the Shield find out at the end of issue one that the Shield will fall in twenty days when Thanos comes. It could have been easy to spend the next two issues having the cast make journeys beyond the wall to find Thanos, and just cram in action scene after action scene. Instead, we see Abigail deal with the possible inevitability of her failure. We see Kate and Miss America grow closer. We see Kang angle for control of the Should so he can win this battle that Brand could not. You care about these characters so that when Thanos appears, you feel bad that you know they have to lose,

Each issue also has two to three gorgeous double page spreads by different artists. These not only serve to give us Abigail Brand's War Journal narrating major battles in the history of the wall, but they allow some phenomenal artists to go to town. My favorites included James Stokoe, known for drawing Godzilla and other monsters, showing Pym-Phalanx, giant techno-organic ants, attacking the wall, and the legendary Michael Wm. Kaluta drawing Leah's triumphant return from beyond the wall with her lady love, Magik, riding a giant Colossus and temporarily breaking the momentum of the final push against The Shield. Sadly, a great two pager from Juan Jose Ryp of the Infinite Summers fighting Ultron drones and another big bad is interrupted by one of those gatefold adds that Marvel put into their books for All-New All-Different numbers ones, so it didn't have the impact I would have liked it to have in singles. It will probably look great in trade though,

In the end, if you read Secret Wars, you know The Shield fell, and Ben Grimm, now using much of its mass, went to fight Doom. But this series not only gives us more of an understanding of what Thanos did and said to make Ben choose this, and we also see a group of valiant heroes make a classic last stand. It's the Alamo with monsters, robots, and bugs, basically, which is as awesome as it sounds. Oh, and if you ever wondered why no one ever connected Nick Fury (Brand's predecessor as commander of The Shield before being lost beyond it) and Alan Moore's superhero killing monster The Fury from Captain Britain, well, your wait is over.

After a crossover has ended, especially one that takes place in a reality that no longer exists, there are often the question from readers about why they should care about those stories because they "don't matter." Well, the reason when it comes to a story like Siege is that all stories matter because they are full of rich character and great art, that they allow a creator to return to a favorite character and get in a new story of that character in a new setting, and because it's fun and exciting. And if that doesn't make a story matter, I don't know what does.

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