Secret Wars Round-Up: Issues released 5/20/15

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Today, Drew and Patrick discuss Ultimate End 1, Battleworld 1, Planet Hulk 1, Spider-Verse 1, and Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars 1.
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I have no idea what Secret Wars is going to be.

Retcon Punch, Traditional

Drew: Seriously, though: what is Secret Wars? Is it an excuse to revisit popular stories from Marvel’s history? Is it a means to merge the 616 Universe with the most popular elements of the Ultimate Universe? Is it an open field for creators to try out goofy ideas? Is it a stupid summer crossover event designed to sell comics? Offering the first real taste of what the tie-in issues, this week’s offerings suggest that the answer to all of our questions is “yes.”

Ultimate End 1

BatleWorld Ultimate End 1Drew: Ultimate End offers the most self-contained storyline (though by no means the most self-contained story), exploring how the heroes of the two remaining Marvel Universes are getting along. It turns out: not too well. Peter Parker seems the most personally troubled, since everyone from the Ultimate Universe knows his secret identity, but the bigger conflict seems to be over whether the UU Tony caused their worlds to collide. This is a story writer Brian Michael Bendis has been seeding for a while now, which has reverberated through all of his series, from All-New X-Men to Age of Ultron, but it defies everything we actually understand about the situation as laid out in the main Secret Wars title. That may mostly speak to how little we actually know about what’s going on, but it certainly seems strange for 616 Tony to blame 1610 Tony for the destruction of the universe, since 616 Tony has been fighting incursions for the last two years.

By the issue’s end, their in-fighting seems like small potatoes compared to the threat of the Thor Army (and the attention of Doom they represent), but because the issue opens with the Avengers of both worlds battling one another, there’s really no doubt as to where this is all going. That kind of flash-forward tease works when we have no idea how the situation will get to that point, but because they’re barely getting along from the start, I feel like any story between where this issue ends and when it begins is effectively treading water. Let’s get to heroes fighting each other for no reason — that’s what Secret Wars is all abut, right?

Patrick: You know what? It hadn’t even registered for me that that superhero-packed splash page at the beginning of the issue was actually part of the story. It’s a cool image, but it feels like so much promotional art. Y’know, like it’s the cover of A vs. X or the decal on the side of a Marvel vs. Capcom 3 arcade machine.

Ultimate vs 616

There might be something we can glean from this thing though. For starters, there are an awful lot of X-Men on the 616 side of this equation — more than I would expect, especially given the fact that there’s clearly an imbalance between the 1610ers and 616ers. That may be the key to understanding how this thing “fits in” with rest of Secret Wars. Right now, I’m looking at Battleworld: Ultimate End as Bendis’ take on what happens when these universes go to war with each other. That means using conflicts and characters he established in his own series and letting the other hows and whys slip away. I’m not convinced, for example, that this version of Tony Stark from 616 is the same Tony Stark we’ve been reading in Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers series.

Really, I feel more than a little silly committing so much thought power to the question “but how is this happening?” I can accept time-displaced mutants and parallel universes, but for some reason multiple concurrent end-of-the-multiverse scenarios has me stymied. It should be much easier to like this issue. Bendis has an amazing handle on so many character’s voices, and Tony vs. Tony is absolutely charming. If there’s a misstep in the character writing, it’s Spider-Man’s inability to move past the fact that everyone knows his name. Dude: the world ended. You got bigger problems.

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Battleworld 1

Secret Wars Battle World 1Patrick: This series seems to be the dumping ground for the wackiest “What If?” stories the goons at Marvel could fathom. It’s the essentially exploring the concept that any pieces of the Marvel Universe can be switched around and then dropped into a world to make those new concepts interact with the pre-existing characters and worlds (or some version thereof). This issue gives us two stories: “Soldier Supreme,” written by Joshua Williamson and drawn by Hike Henderson, and “M.O.D.O.K. Madness,” written by Ed Brisson and drawn by Scott Hepburn. “Soldier Supreme” is the more inventive of the pairing, positing a version of Punisher who inhabited by Doctor Strange’s soul. The story is simple: Doom sends the Horsemen of the Apocalypse versions of Spider-Man, Hulk, Wolverine and Ghost Rider to find and kill this “man without a kingdom.” I really like the idea that Doom doesn’t totally know how to sort this character, and therefore has sort of the same problem with him that I do. I don’t understand Doctor Punisher, what he represents or where he comes from. If God Doom is all about keeping order in Battleworld, I can see where this dude is a bit of a problem.

It’s just a bummer then that the issue doesn’t really get a chance to tell a story with the Soldier Supreme. We effectively see is origin and his last stand over a scant eight pages. It is quite the last stand, and I’m a sucker for the way Henderson draws this particular mash-up.

Soldier Supreme

Strange’s wayward soul migrates to Death Wolverine by the story’s end, so I guess we’re not completely done with this concept.

Drew: But you’re right: we are going to miss this particular combination of personalities. Strange’s presence gives Frank the ability to use magic, but he doesn’t seem to have any real control over Frank’s actions. That comes out beautifully as Frank opts for murder/suicide with a magic grenade rather than whatever spell Strange had in his back pocket. Strange is all about living to fight another day (as we see at the end of the issue), while Frank is all about going out in a blaze of glory. The only real let down for me is that Wolverine survives, anyway, rendering Frank’s sacrifice as exclusively suicidal. Still, there’s enough goofy fun here to excuse any missteps — it’s Punisher with magic guns! What more could you want?

Well, if you’re M.O.D.O.K., you might want to rule Battleworld. Only, you know you can’t do it yourself, but only trust yourself to do it. Thus, M.O.D.O.K. turns to his counterpoints from around the universe. It’s exactly what the Sivanas were doing in The Multiversity, and it goes just as well. It’s a silly little bon mot — the M.O.D.O.K.s never come close to settling on a plan — but it also makes me wonder where all of these alternate versions of our heroes and villains are coming from. I thought there was only Secret Wars, but this issue presents many more M.O.D.O.K.s and Wolverines and Doctors Strange than existed on 616 and 1610. I guess folks got pulled in from other alternate Universes, but when and how that happened hasn’t really been made explicit. It’s by no means necessary information to enjoy this issue, but it’s also a question mark that’s hanging over the proceedings somewhat needlessly. But again: whatever. This thing had an army of M.O.D.O.K.s fighting!

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Planet Hulk 1

Planet Hulk 1Drew: Planet Hulk suffers from some of that same confusion — aside from Doom and Strange, it seems like none of the characters in this issue come from 616 or 1610 (and I’m really missing the uppercase/lowercase clarity of Ultimate End here) — but with more of a plot driving the action, it’s less of a pressing issue. A Steve Rogers and the Devil Dinosaur are unbeatable gladiators somewhere on Battleworld, but are really just looking for Bucky Barnes. Their quest leads them into the ire of Doom, but rather than the shield, he sends them to Greenland (the groan-inducing name of “Planet Hulk”) to unseat King Red Hulk, and maybe recover Bucky, who was first sent on the mission.

It’s a solid premise that sets up all of the emotional stakes while still offering some solid dinosaur action. It’s maybe even more mindless than Battleworld, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t get me invested in Steve’s mission. I mean, how intelligent can we really expect a series about a country full of hulks to be?

Patrick: In fairness to the Hulks, we see precious little of them on the page. The cold open shows us a Thor Corps raid on a Hulk village, so the Hulks are restricted to two or three word sentences — none of which contain the big green guy’s trademark choppy grammar. The only other Hulk we meet in the issue — on the final page –is articulate as fuck. So I guess the answer to your question is: pretty damn intelligent.

Ultimately, this doesn’t really feel like a Hulk story at all, but a Captain America story. Indeed, seeing Cap trapped in a strange other world, while still having memories of fighting alongside Bucky in World War II, feels an awful lot like Rick Remender and John Romita Jr.’s Dimension Z story arc from a few years back. Only, y’know, with more dinosaurs.

Steve Rogers and The Red Devil

The backup, written by original Planet Hulk scribe Greg Pak, may be the most revealing look we get at the true nature of Battle World. In it, Amadeus Cho and Bruce Banner fail to stop a gamma bomb from detonating on some future version of Phoenix, Arizona. Surprise, everyone turns into Hulks. It looks like we’re taking the name “Planet Hulk” and applying it to this silver of Battle World because it resembles a great story from Marvel’s past. If that’s the idea behind Secret Wars — that Doom or a Beyonder or whatever — is trying to recreate all of Marvel’s greatest hits, then I guess it makes a little more sense. A little.

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Spider-Verse 1

Spider-Verse 1Patrick: Who’s ready for another fresh look at what it means when world’s collide? Spider-Verse 1 follows Gwen Stacy’s Spider-Woman as she suddenly discovers that she is living / has always lived in a world that’s different than the one she remembers. Her voiceover narration does its best to explain her perspective, but it’s kind of a bitch to internalize:

Gwen Stacy’s guide to being an unperson. I’ve lived in a halfway house for a few months now. No real “neighbors.” Just transients. Nobody knows anyone’s name. I kinda remember having friends. I don’t really remember where they are now.

Writer Mike Costa seems to be the only person exploring the existential dilemma of discovering that you’ve been rebooted. That is some weird-ass psychological spelunking, because, y’know, that’s not an experience a human being can have, but at least he’s engaging in this weirdness on an emotional level. The other Spiders he brings into the fold in this issue seem to have more practical matters on the brain. Spider-Man of India (Pavitir Prabhakar), Spider-Girl (Anya Corazon) and Captain Britain Spider-Man all team up to try to crack this “web” they’re all caught in. It’s weird that they don’t recognize each other — or even recognize the concept of multiple Spiders — from their incredibly recent adventures during Spider-Verse. I’m sorta relieved that there’s finally a set of characters interested in discovering what the fuck happened to them.

Drew: It’s true — while almost all of these issues find characters defying the laws of the land, this is really the only issue that finds anyone questioning the reality of it. Of course, when that reality includes a cartoon pig, it’s hard not to question it. I’m confused enough about how Gwen (or the rest of these spiders) got to Battleworld that I’m not even sure I understand what her questions are, which makes me grateful for that Spider-Ham backup, both as an outlet for cartoony nonsense, and as a meaningful piece in the puzzle of just what the heck Battleworld is. Seriously: Spider-Ham’s discrimination in the hobo camps are hilariously well-observed, but the fact that he just “woke up” in Battleworld gives us a huge hint as to what being here means to the rest of the characters we see. It’s more storytelling in five pages than Ultimate End gets to in an entire issue, all with a killer sense of humor.

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Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars 1

Deadpool's Secret Secret Wars 1Drew: Though the award for the funniest issue decidedly belongs to Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars, which claims to be a tie-in to the original secret wars. It’s a clever anachronism — following the lead of the “inventory issues” Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn have produced throughout their run on Deadpool — which allows writer Cullen Bunn an opportunity to riff on the very idea of Secret Wars. The feature story simply drops Wade into the original event (to which artist Matteo Lulli offers homage after homage), while the backup cynically finds the parallels to the Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions, which is really just Marvel vs. Capcom without the Capcom characters. In both stories, Deadpool is cast as a second-stringer, relegated to the background of these events, finding as much humor at the expense of the titular hero as it does in sending up the notion of big events.

Perhaps the most biting joke here, though, is the absurdity of the notion of “continuity.” There’s no hint that these (or the inventory issues, for that matter) aren’t Marvel canon, so we’re effectively getting a retcon 31 years after the fact — Deadpool was always a part of Secret Wars, we just didn’t see his role at the time. Fans can do with that information what they please, but they have to reconcile it with however they treat canon elsewhere.

Patrick: And maybe that’s the best lesson, even for dudes like us who don’t fret continuity but are still grumbling about where all these Battle Worlds come from. Are we having fun with these stories? Yeah. Would we be having even more fun if we could let those questions go? Absolutely.

Bunn and Lulli clearly have a great handle on the original Secret Wars, but I’m a little less enamored of their take on Deadpool himself. Wade’s fourth-wall-breaking feels obligatory, and a lot less anarchic than I’d like. When he praises the sheer amount of exposition in Wasp’s word balloons, for example, his self-awareness is cutesie without actually having a joke to back it up. After like 50 issues of Duggan and Posehn driving that character, Bunn’s Deadpool feels entirely too safe for me. Mind you, I don’t understand why Deadpool is blonde, beautiful and sporting a mustache by issue’s end, so maybe the really subversive stuff is still coming up.

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A-Force 1a force 1

Check back on Wednesday for Michael and Taylor’s full conversation!

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Loki: Agent of Asgard 14

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Click here for Patrick and Spencer’s full conversation!

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Did you read some Secret Wars tie-ins that we didn’t? Sure you did! There are holes in our pull list. Holes that you’re encouraged to fill with your comments. Let’s keep talking about Secret Wars.

16 comments on “Secret Wars Round-Up: Issues released 5/20/15

  1. I’ll admit–I don’t think it matters much of what the underlying foundation for this whole big hullabaloo is. I would hazard a guess that the main takeaway for most fans would be the sheer absurdity of crossover appeal, alternate universe banana-rama, and heroes punching each other in new settings (probably more of the latter).

    When I picked up Secret Wars 1, I was lost–I didn’t read Hickman’s Avengers stuff–but when I picked up Secret Wars 2, I had a blast. Game of Thrones politics and world-building with Moore’s Top 10 superhero population and inevitable questions about power and responsibility as a result of? Yes, thank you. The how of all that just took a backseat in my mind. The primary concern was the potential for new stories unregulated by the usual confines of “continuity” (whatever that means).

    Though I will admit that all these tie-in’s are a strain on any reader’s budget. Deadpool? Of course. A-Force? Too much hype to ignore it on the stands. Spider-Verse? Yep. Everything else? Ehh….

    • Drew and I have a soft spot for Brian Bendis, but the otherness of Ultimates may prove to STILL be too much of a roadblock for us going forward. I don’t want to speak for him, but I don’t know know how many more of those we’ll be picking up. Or maybe I’m wrong, and everything else is just so other-y that we’ll stick with it.

      Also, I’ll go ahead and champion Battleworld as sort of the second coming of A+X (or even the second coming of Edge of Spider-Verse). It’s so so free with it’s craziness. You know it has to play into this new world, but it feels very risky and unafraid of consequences. Plus, it’s nice to see some different names in the credits.

  2. Battleworld is composed of parts of several other universes that Doom saved from incursion other than 616/1610, the Ultimate Universe and Earth-616 have a kingdom for themselves called Manhattan. The other M.O.D.O.K.S where from other kingdoms of Battleworld, not other dimensions. Secret Wars #1 was really terrible at introducing the event for those that didn’t read Hickman’s run on Avengers or New Avengers, I have seen the same confusion on other reviews.

    • Is that even made clear in Hickman’s Avengers titles? Like, I absolutely think you’re right, but I’m not sure it’s ever said or even implied that Doom was collecting portions of Universes. I think we’re meant to infer exactly what you suggest (which goes a long way to explaining the worship of Doom like a deity), but Hickman hasn’t made the nature or origin of Battleworld particularly clear.

  3. I feel like is a combination of a House of M kind of situation (no one except the ones inside the raft and perhaps Dr. Strange remember reality before incursion) and this. You’re right about being only implied, for all that I know Battleworld could be part of the experiment of the Beyonders and Doom just took the opportunity and ran with it. But about the origin of the kingdoms from what I’ve been reading we’re supposed to believe that they were once part of their own universes much like the 616/1610. The Spider-Verse book seems to be the only book from this week that seems to be already hinting at what is going on. To be honest, I read Hickman’s run for fear that I would be lost and I still feel quite confused, but I guess the mystery is supposed to be part of the main books, so I’m trying not to worry about it. (although it does turn some books less accessible and welcoming)

    • I’m very much in the same boat. We’ve read almost all of Hickman’s run (I have to admit to skipping a few issues between Infinity and Time Runs Out), but I still had no idea what was going on in Secret Wars 2. That made that issue a ton of fun, but it left a lot of half-answered questions hanging over this week’s tie-in issues.

    • The thing that complicates that a little are the characters in Ultimate End who all seem to know that their worlds have collided, but believe them to have collided via completely different methods. I’m starting to think that we haven’t seen “our” version of the 616s yet — with the exception of the Cabal at the end of SW2.

      And then there’s Doom too – he’s probably 616 Doom. But I’d also be willing to believe that Doom started his Battleworld with Battleworlding himself and making a Patchwork Doom made of the Dooms of all realities (or something equally crazy sounding).

      The only series that makes me question that theory is A-Force. That’s clearly the Loki we just saw turn into a lady in Loki: Agent of Asgard 15. Mind you, if any character can transcend the rules of destroyed universes and consolidated realities, it’s Loki.

      • My guess in Ultimate End it’s Bendis ignoring continuity and characterization, he tends to do that, I sincerally don’t know why.

        There are some 616 characters spread around that is kinda unclear indeed. I remember reading that Peter Parker from Renew your Vows is from 616 somewhere bug I’m m not sure. About Loki, I think she was put there because of her association with América Chavez, who probably was there because she originally comes from an all-women utopia herself.

  4. I did something last week that I’ve never done before. I bought a bunch of comics (usual), read them (normal), and then the next day brought them back and said, “These stink, I want my money back,” got my money, bought some Ms. Marvel back issue second and third prints with it, and went home.

    I returned Ultimate end, Planet Hulk, Spider-Verse, Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars and A-Force. I want nothing to do with any of them. I liked about two pages of Planet Hulk (Captain America should ride Devil Dinosaur in Civil War) and the rest I just completely loathed. They looked like characters I had a relationship with but acted weird and said weird things. It was cos-play comics and I won’t pay for it. I’m out.

    I’ll read the Secret Wars main title; I liked that quite a bit. The rest I’ll find in quarter bins next year, read them and throw them away like they deserve. I’m glad others are finding some value in them – for me, it’s saving me a ton of money.

    • Wow, bold move man. I’m having a very hard time deciding what to pick up and what to leave at the shop, so I think Secret Wars will result in reading a lot of number ones, but far fewer number twos. But like, I feel as though I have to give almost everything the benefit of the doubt. Hands down the most fun I had reading a comic yesterday was the X-Men ’92 infinite comic – I was giggling for 15 minutes straight. I DON’T WANT TO MISS GIGGLE OPPORTUNITIES.

      But I can totally understand tapping out on Secret Wars in general. We’ll see you in our discussions of the main series!

      • You know, it wasn’t that big of a deal that I returned some comics. I never have, but I’m close enough with the owner of the store that it’s not a huge deal. He knows I’ll be back and buy plenty. Also, as I wrote that, I was lying a little bit. I bought ONE (and only one) Secret Wars tie-in this week – and freaking LOVED IT COMPLETELY. I won’t say which one (I’ll wait for your write up), but there was one this week that was 100% complete unadulterated awesome and had me from the first page.

        But that was this week. Last week was a big bowl of poop flakes with poop milk on top.

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