Beyond, Beyonder, Beyondest: Jeff Checks in on Secret Wars Stuff.

August 22, 2015
Other Sonja

Not my preferred issue to buy, but I don’t want to run the same image at the top of a post twice so…

From The Dept. of “Act Now”:  I can’t tell you how surprised and immensely pleased I am that only two weeks after I sung the praises of Frank Thorne’s Red Sonja comics, Dynamite put them up on sale over at Comixology.  You’ll have to act fast to catch them—this post goes live on August 22 and the sale ends on the evening of August 24—but even if you don’t want to pick up the first collected volume (which is on sale for two dollars less than the sale price I paid for it, the sad man said sadly), you can snag individual issues for ninety-nine cents.  I guess I’d recommend issue The Adventures of Red Sonja #6 (a.k.a. Marvel Feature #6), since it’s got Thomas back on the scripting and features some of the art sequences I excerpted?  But honestly, I snagged the remaining two collected volumes before I even thought to post this.

That out of the way, let’s get down to the book reviewing, eh?  And for a change, these are new books! (Ish.) From Marvel!

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GUARDIANS TEAM-UP #9:  Yeah, like I said: Newish books.  This sucker is two weeks old, and features Javier Pulido writing, drawing, coloring, doing the cover…guy probably stapled the suckers at the plant.  Over at our progenitor site, the esteeemed Mr. Hibbs said many glowing things and since I was in the process of hoovering up all the comics (it had been three full weeks!)…

I found it simultaneously tremendous and underwhelming, and in that way it reminded me a lot of when Alex Toth would pop up and do an issue of Batman or something.  Pulido’s art here is lovely, most especially in the way he uses color: there are sequences anchored by green, red, and blue, but it’s when Pulido drops those out to just use black, white, and gray he gets ultra-audacious.  Steve Ditko believed good character design should allow you to identify the character by something as brief as their hand, and Pulido puts that approach to the test, giving us a tussle between two characters in silhouette after discreetly training us how to identify them. Until this issue, I’d never noticed how well the Black Cat falls under Ditko’s rules for design.  And as an especially nice bonus, Pulido also takes the way Ditko would sometimes draw Spider-Man’s outfit as bunching up in odd places and amplifies it, giving Spidey that great DIY aesthetic.

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And yet, I admit it, part of me wishes I’d waited the extra six months and encountered this as a little gem while scouring through Marvel Unlimited than shelling out $3.99 for it.  (Yes, it’s time for Jeff to climb on his crazy Teeter-Totter of Economic Ambivalence!)  Pulido’s storytelling skills are formidable but what we’ve got here isn’t a story: it’s a collection of entertaining sequences that fizzle out at the end, leaving just enough time for a poignant bit that feels unearned and unjustified.  There are a few other bits and pieces that also seem off, not quite polished, even a page here or there where the design feels rushed.  It doesn’t quite provoke the full-on glee in me that, say, Darwyn Cooke does when he drops in on an issue of Jonah Hex or something.

If this was the start of a run, of Pulido switching gears to a fulltime cartoonist, I’d be more excited and more forgiving.  But Pulido whets your appetite with this, leaving you all the more aware the meal is nowhere in sight.  It’s an especially neat little curio, Guardians Team-Up, the kind of thing that gets slipped onto the assembly line before disappearing into an enormous bin, buried by all the other product.  It’s a fun, lovely read.  But it’s not the instant classic I made the mistake of hoping it would be.

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WEIRDWORLD #3:  Similarly, Jason Aaron and Mike Del Mundo’s salute to ’70s van art continues to plague me with sequences so beautifully executed within a disposable cheeseburger wrapper of a story.  Aaron doesn’t go full-on Conan with his story of Arkon, a lone warrior trying to find his home in a world gone mad: instead, he doubles down on the goofiness whenever possible, aware how hilarious it would be to do a Masters of the Universe comic like it was the most metal thing ever, so you have the apes of Apelantis and a character from The Saga of Crystar and vomiting dragons and what have you.

This probably for the best, as I’m sure people would tell me the whole thing would be terrible if played straight.  And yet, I think when Aaron is on, he manages to at least work in enough serious bits there’s something to hold on to. Based on these issues, I think he needs that spot of seriousness because he’s not crazed enough to bring things to a fever pitch.  By the time I got to the end of issue #1 and figured out the tone, I can’t say anything has really surprised me since. And nothing has really moved me either: every issue of this reads like book pitched as a six issue mini and given four. That’s a shame because if ever there was a title that could survive the Secret Wars event, you’d think it would be this one.  (It’s also a shame because I’ve bought three issues of this and feel nothing.)

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Well, nothing but appreciation for the art, I guess.  I’m not in love with some Mike Del Mundo’s designs, which are too oblique to actually end up on the side of a ’70s van.  And he uses a lot of layering tricks to keep his action scenes from looking more static than they really are, which I think is a problem when you’re doing an all-action barbarian book.  But the coloring on the book by he and Marco D’Alfonso is fantastic, making scenes simultaneously dreamy and vivid.  And I’m also a huge fan of his acting, so much so the mounting suspicion on Arkon’s face as he drinks in a tavern with a mysterious stranger was the real highlight of issue #3.

Also, as you my know, I’m one of the few people on this planet that considers myself a fan of Skull The Slayer, and I was initially worried about how the character might be handled or mishandled here…but, at least as he appears in this issue, I didn’t have anything to worry about.  Aaron is either considerate (or indifferent) enough to have the Jim Scully who appears here be only a Secret Wars analog to the character from the ’70s comics.  I think that does a bit of disservice to good ol’ Skull, but whatever.  He didn’t suffer the fate of poor ol’ Warbow, so I should probably just shut up and count my blessings.

Loves 1

SECRET WARS: SECRET LOVES #1: Sometimes this incarnation of Marvel’s Secret Wars seems less like a crossover event than an experiment in Orwellian doublethink:  how many opposing thoughts can a big summer event hold in its head?  It’s the event where everything matters…except nothing matters! Where every book is involved…except for the ones that still aren’t!  Where everything is connected…by all taking place in its own little ghetto!  And where, by acting like it’s the most important event to have ever happened in Marvel history, so many books are actually letting their hair down and relaxing a little.

Every title I’ve read under the event (admittedly, not many) feels crazily impermanent, spending barely enough time to set up a new status quo (and acting like it’s been that way for years) so it can then be overturned for maximum drama.  Perhaps for that reason, I found it easier to deal with this anthology of stories as each story is doing exactly what the bigger books are: giving you a new status quo, and then putting enough of a spin on it to rocket through the seven or so allotted pages.

For me, it really helped that the three lead stories hit my personal sweet spot: the lead is Michel Fiffe doing a loving tribute to the Ann Nocenti/John Romita, Jr. era of Daredevil.  Fiffe uses his page limit to capture the claustrophobia and lunacy of that run, deliberately overpacking some pages with detail, jamming buildings into as many panels as he can, cluttering every rooftop with detritus and debris.  The effect is overwhelming and intoxicating, tonally sympatico to that previous team’s work while capturing it in its own way.

Following that is a Ghost Rider/Ms. Marvel story written and drawn by Felipe Smith which is a flyweight trifle, fun but neither as ambitious or as disappointing as Guardians Team-Up (but also only a third the length).  I can’t imagine you’d really like the story if you didn’t care for at least one of the leads, but I thought there was something amusing about how it reminded me of a Silver Age DC story, where a male and female character can’t even meet without their respective love interests freaking out.  And there’s also something on-point about how Kamala Khan remains an upbeat fangirl, even as she’s working what’s basically the concession stand at Thunderdome.  Having watched Marvel birth, raise, and then murder the idea of the superhero growing and changing over time, it was kind of a flashforward to the comics that’ll be happening after I’m dead, where Spider-Man is swinging over the streets of a pollution-suited populace.

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Third up is a Danny Rand/Misty Knight story by Jeremy Whitley and Gurihiru that the 13 year old Danny/Misty shipper would’ve loved.  Or I think 13 year old me would’ve loved it?  It’s tough to tell because back then I might’ve been frustrated by how neither character looked the way John Byrne drew them, and instead looked like Disney characters.

But also in the many years since, my ship never quite seems to work with the way everyone else ‘ships Misty and Danny which is that they’re these two totally incompatible people who love each other but struggle to find a common bond apart from beating the crap out of something.  That’s certainly the case with this story, which–again in almost Silver-Age DC fashion–is set after the couple have been married for a few years and have a girl. (And I appreciated that just as Luke and Jessica named their daughter Danielle, here Danny and Misty have named their daughter Lucy.)

I wish I could say the story works, considering it’s five pages of talk and two pages of fight, but the opening dilemma just doesn’t feel like it got resolved by what happened in the story. (I also wish I could say those closing captions weren’t a stealth shout-out to Rick & Morty, but, even if they’re not, they’re distractingly close.)  (Finally, just to round out my trio of wishes, I wish that podcast where I talked about Danny and Misty was up yet, but it’s not.) But…it looks great? It reads pretty well? I’d be more than okay with more superhero comics where best friends in interracial relationships could trade babysitting duties and relationship advice while fighting dinosaurs?

Following that up is a three page Squirrel Girl story where writer Marguerite Bennet doesn’t quite get the character but Kris Anka does?  It’s helped a lot by even more Tumblr-style fan service, a ballroom packed with fandom pairings, and the feeling that everyone creating it or portrayed in it is having fun. I’m okay with fun, honest!

Although having said that, I gotta admit the charms of Katie Cook’s Happy Ant-iversary are pretty much lost on me: it features anthropomorphic insect versions of Ant-Man (who is an ant) and the Wasp (an actual wasp) celebrating their anniversary with a scavenger hunt around Central Park with the help of insect versions of the Avengers.  (“It was adorable,” he sneered.)  I guess if you are the sort of person who finds insects cute, or that anything can successfully become cute if drawn with enough cuteness, then this might be your kind of thing. Me, I’ll leave the bugs, take the little ponies. (And with luck, that’s the most labored pun I’ll ever write.)

Oh, and I’m also not crazy about the five dollar price tag. But if that’s what it takes for Marvel to consider doing this kind of project when the status quo returns…I guess I’m down with it? I guess that should’ve been my whole capsule review.  “SECRET WARS: SECRET LOVE #1:  I guess I’m down with it?”

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SECRET WARS #5:  Hey, speaking of those crazy old Secret Wars, here’s Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s latest issue, only a little bit late and only a little bit boring and therefore a strong contender for the greatest crossover book of all time, right?

In fact, as long as I think of this book as just another disconnected-but-interwoven crossover book to the main event–Hickman and Ribic’s God Emperor of Doom miniseries–I actually dig its stately portrait of a not-ominpotent-enough ruler unable to keep the world he’s created from discovering the lie at its own heart.  (Though, that said, why did this book spend so much time telling me stuff I already knew.  I’m barely on Twitter and I didn’t even read the first issue of this event and somehow none of the stuff discussed by Doom and the Molecule Man was in any way new or surprising?)  Sure, it’s turgid, but it seems deeply committed to its turgidness: it’s really into what it’s doing, in a way something like the flop-sweat stained Fear Itself was not.

But as the actual hub of the event, where things happen and spiral off into other books–or even giving you an idea of what those books are about–Secret Wars is kind of an impressive failure.  At the end of issue #4, the survivors from the 616 universe were scattered all across Doomworld, and here we deal with the repercussions of that, in that Doom wants the people closest to him to find the survivors without them discovering how they escaped.

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Okay, that’s a decent hook: survivors plunged into other books, changing up skewed situations even more.  Fine.  So which books should I go hunt up?  Well, the last two pages of the issue give me the covers of 51 tie-in books, broken down by their, I dunno, code names (Last Days, Battleworld, and Warzones!)…but absolutely no indication as to which books would continue this story thread. Why the fuck wouldn’t you at least give a reader that? Are you hoping I’d buy all 51 books?

But, hell, maybe there aren’t books in which those heroes pop up and you get to see the rest of the story.  Maybe they just pop up in two issues holding the Magical Marks of MacGuffinville and it’s on to the finale!  Again, Secret Wars feels like an experiment in double-think and it’s just as true here, where Jonathan Hickman can be at the literal center of the Marvel universe and still come across as isolated, happy in his corner but alone, the focus of an entire line that is also being largely ignored.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say it suits my current interest level in superheroes these days, but it seems like a damn peculiar way to go about things.

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11 comments on “Beyond, Beyonder, Beyondest: Jeff Checks in on Secret Wars Stuff.

  1. Michael C. Aug 23, 2015

    Wow Red Sonja! Thanks for the heads up, I just snagged the first two collections!

    I’m curious about Weirdworld and Secret Loves but ultimately think I’ll wait for these to pop up on Unlimited. I started the Secret Wars event off by sampling some tie ins but none of them hooked me beyond Inferno. Now, that’s not a particularly great series, but I have an infinity for that era of X-Men and the art and writing in this new Inferno series has been great so I’ve stuck with it. It’s basically just a lot of fun. Sort of a wild b movie horror/fantasy X-Men miniseries. But Most of the tie ins have been all over the place and like you said I tend to feel a bit empty after sampling them. I’m thinking they will read better on Unlimited when I haven’t spent $3.99 or $4.99 for them. Seriously, the Marvel single issue price tag has finally gotten to me, to the point where I’m only willing to pay it now for Daredevil and Spider-Woman. And once those restart after Secret Wars I’m not sure I’ll continue with them either. Although Spider-Woman is keeping the same creative team so I’m mighty tempted.

    “Turgid” is a good way to describe the main Secret Wars book. That might be why the latest issue has sat unread in my house the past week. I’ll get to it soon enough and see if I concur with your thoughts on it. I suspect I will. It’s a damn beautifully illustrated series though. I just wish it moved along at a brisker pace and that some more characters were involved.

    • Matt Terl Aug 23, 2015

      Secret Wars is such prime Unlimited material. Everything kind of stands alone (or at least, alone within the Secret Wars context), most of it is breezy and dumb — what Jeff has called “potato chip comics”. Looking forward to reading all the series I’m not buying once it gets there.

    • Michael C. Aug 23, 2015

      And of course I meant “affinity” not “infinity” (too many Jim Starlin comics read over my lifetime).

  2. Dasbender Aug 23, 2015

    I feel much better reading your review of GUARDIANS TEAM-UP #9. I thought the problem was me. Hibbs’ review of “EXCELLENT”, along with my usual love of ANYTHING drawn by Pulido (going all the way back to Robin: Year One) convinced me to drop my $4 on it. And it WAS BEAUTIFUL. But that’s it. I sneezed and I missed it. There was no story. Comics are about storytelling through visuals, so while great sequential visuals are a key element, EXCELLENT comics need to tell us something, anything. Even if the message is something rudimentary like “superheroes are fun” or “shadows on a wall are interesting.” But this seemed like it simply strung together pages until it was over. Hibbs must’ve been high on Marvel Team-Up nostalgia to read more into it than was actually printed there.

    Maybe I would’ve felt differently if I had some deep love for Spidey or Star-Lord, where simply spending time with them would be its own reward. The book is worth the time spent reading it for the eye-candy, but I wish I would’ve waited for it on Marvel Unlimited.

  3. Matt Terl Aug 24, 2015

    The comments here make me wonder what Marvel will do it/when waiting for Unlimited becomes the new “waiting for the trade”. If you can just divorce yourself from the cycle of buzz/ongoing-conversation waiting for Unlimited becomes the only economically rational decision.

    • I genuinely think they’ll kill it, if they think it’s becoming problematic to their profits. Marvel’s been all too happy to cut off their nose to spite their face, especially lately.

  4. daustin Aug 24, 2015

    I’m not buying any of the Secret Wars stuff, and plan to read only the highlights when they come on Marvel Unlimited (following the same pattern with the Star Wars material). That said, what Secret Wars series are worth the time? I have plenty of other reading material, and don’t care about specific characters or overarching Marvel narrative in the Secret Wars context – I only care about the individual merits of the series and their art/stories here. So far, the ones I have on my list to check out eventually are Secret Love (that Fiffe art is tempting me to actually purchase that one), E for Extinction, Weirdworld, and maaaaybe Ghost Racers.

    Anything else worthwhile? Anyone want to speak up for the Modok thing, or Runaways, or Deadpool, or Inferno, or Master of Kung Fu or any of the other stuff?

    • Michael C. Aug 24, 2015

      Daustin – Inferno is the only Secret Wars tie in I’m reading and it’s partially because I have a soft spot for the era of X-Men that original story came from and partially because the art and story hooked me from the first issue. The art is gorgeous, including the coloring. The story by Dennis Hopeless is ludicrous in the best way; I get a strong b-movie/horror fantasy vibe from this series and the art goes big and colorful and over the top to match it. It’s four issues in so far (and because Marvel has been so ridiculously secretive about how many issues most of these tie ins are running I have no idea of the fifth will be the final issue or not?) and it’s been wildly entertaining so far.

      I also picked up issue 2 of Secret Wars Journal, an anthology mini. I did so because I love Misty Knight and Daredevil and those two are the leads in the two stories that issue. I know you aren’t following specific characters but I still recommend that issue because both stories had great art and wacky what if? style stories.

      I read the first issue of Marvel Zombies and enjoyed the characterization of Elsa Bloodstone (along with the very good art) but decided to save money and finish that mini on Unlimited later.

      Hope that helps!

      • daustin Aug 26, 2015

        Thanks. I did love the Inferno crossover back when it came out, though current X-continuity is beyond me.

        • Michael C. Aug 27, 2015

          The good thing about reading the SW Inferno tie=in is you really don’t need to worry about X=continuity because it’s set in its own continuity and you as the reader are learning it as you go. I do find these SW tie-ins take a while to pick up, as you’re being dropped into new patchwork worlds, but for the most part you absorb the details quickly and in the case of Inferno at least, it’s all spelled out pretty early for you. Plus, having some knowledge of the past Inferno story and older X-continuity is a bonus for reading it. Knowing about current X-continuity doesn’t seem required so far. That said, I did binge on Bendis’s Uncanny X-Men and All=New X-Men runs on Unlimited recently, and I’d recommend those. I’m not usually a Bendis guy, but reading them in chunks on the app was the best way to do it, I think. They’re to decompressed (as is most everything now)but reading them on Unlimited allowed me to ignore that as I could blow through five issues at a time and not notice. Now, with All-New, All-Different starting up soon I expect Marvel will just jettison most of the work Bendis did on these books the past several years, soooo continuity will likely get even murkier.

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