Secret Wars Round-Up: Issues released 5/27/15

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Today, Patrick and Drew discuss Old Man Logan 1, Where Monsters Dwell 1, Infinity Gauntlet 1, M.O.D.O.K. Assassin 1, Secret Wars 2099 1, X-Men ’92 Infinite Comic 1, Inhumans: Attilan Rising 1 and Secret Wars Journal 1.
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“So… isn’t that just Convergence?”

Comic Fan, Traditional

Patrick: The slug line for DC and Marvel’s big events couldn’t be much more similar: characters and concepts from the greatest stories in the publishers’ legacies are forced to physically live on the same planet. Conflict ensues. In Convergence, that conflict was prescribed by the villain that brought those worlds together. Telos made the characters fight each other for survival in a sort of superhero Hunger Games. Many of the tie-in issues found other narrative avenues to explore, but the set-up was tortuously samey (including a broadcast monologue I had to read 41 times). The issues springing out of Secret Wars, on the other hand, seem to have their own agendas: themes, ideas and values that drive the narrative forward — the patchwork planet is simply set dressing.

Old Man Logan 1

Old Man Logan 1Patrick: This may be the series that has the clearest statement of purpose of any Secret Wars issue I’ve read so far: make Logan look awesome. Not at all surprisingly, artist Andrea Sorrentino and colorist Marcello Maiolo are up to the task. It’d be hard to oversell just how beautiful this issue is; Sorrentino and Maiolo find the visual poetry in every single panel. Writer Brian Michael Bendis gives them ample opportunity by allowing amazingly haunting scenes play out with very little copy. After killing an old west-y crime boss, Logan heads home across what appears to be the vast expanse of the American west. Suddenly something catches his eye — a spec flying through the sky. It lands with a dusty crash and Logan investigates. It’s an Ultron head. There’s an immediate visual whiplash as the image of the robotic head sits in the desert sand. Ultron doesn’t belong in an old west setting, and yet, there he is. Logan holds the head up, as though he’s about to start a soliloquy like Hamlet — even Logan has a reverence for this juxtaposition. Sorrentino does this a few more times — even just for fun details.

Old Man Logan finds some sweet toys

Those plushy little dolls and Fantastic Four t-shirts are perfectly contrasted with the ghost town Logan finds himself exploring.

There’s a persistently solitary tone throughout the issue. If I have one criticism of Sorrentino’s art, it’s that it can occasionally trade style for character, leaving the reader detached from the characters. But I think we’re being kept at an appropriate distance from Logan here. Of course, all he wants to do is help people — he’s just as much a contradiction as the contrasting images Sorrentino spreads throughout this issue.

Drew: Honestly, I found it hard to find any substance beneath all of that style. It’s spectacular style, for sure, that extends into Bendis’ loosely sketched post-apocalyptic old west setting, but there’s really not much else to this story other than, as Patrick said, making Logan look awesome. This issue finds him defeating bad guys for crimes we don’t fully understand, visiting friends for reasons that don’t matter, and climbing the wall to satisfy a curiosity that is basically unexplained. Logan needs to have an adventure, so he does. This issue never really addresses whether that need it Logan’s or our own, but maybe that’s the inevitable truth about Wolverine: he fights because he has to.

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Where Monsters Dwell 1

Where Monsters Dwell 1Drew: But hey, if we we’re looking for a character less motivated than Logan, we may have found it in Where Monsters Dwell’s Karl Kaufmann. I have to confess no familiarity with the Phantom Eagle, but writer Garth Enis finds a succinct enough way to make his scumminess crystal clear: he skips out on a pregnant girlfriend, tries to talk his way out of a bill, casually beheads an enemy, and fleeces a would-be fare even as he implies his lecherous intent. It’s not totally clear if all of that is supposed to come off as ugly as it does — it seems like we’re meant to root for this guy at least a little — but there’s basically nothing to like here. He’s a shitty, shitty dude, and no amount of dinosaurs is going to make me care about him.

Patrick: Yeah, it’s hard to look past that opening sequence to anything else. The tribal princess lists increasingly alien sounding dishes that would be at their wedding, as Kaufmann disappears in the background, so it really does read like we’re supposed to have a laugh at her expense. Which makes the book (not the character, but the fiction itself) horrifyingly racist and sexist from the fourth page. I’m tempted to chalk up that regressive attitude to the source material, but that scene feels awful, even coming out of the 1970s.

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Infinity Gauntlet 1

Infinity Gauntlet 1Patrick: What’s a family struggling for survival against giant bugs in a bombed-out Central Park got to do with the Infinity Gauntlet? Why, Nova of course! In this case, the family belongs to an erstwhile mother who’s been out protecting the galaxy while her family’s home world has gone to shit. While Gerry Duggan and Dustin Weaver hint about the Nova connection earlier in the issue, we don’t actually see the character until the penultimate page. There’s an admirable amount of thematic consistency between Duggan’s run on Nova and this sneaky continuation thereof — the focus in on family. The story follows Menzin, a young father trying to shepherd his father-in-law and two young children, Frayne and Anwen, and their dog Zigzag, through another night in post-apocalyptic New York. I’m a sucker for anything that turns the end of the world into a snuggly scenario, where the only hope of survival is camping together as a family! Plus, the Nova’s sacrifice is made that much more explicit — you leave to protect the universe, and this is the cost.

When the gigantic bugs start attacking our family, it’s sort of a chaotic free-for-all. Because we don’t know who any of these people are — or how they relate to anything — there’s no way to stay ahead of Duggan and Weaver and anticipate who lives and who dies. Hell, by the end of the issue the only thing I can say for sure is that Anwen didn’t die.

Drew: I’m with you on not being able to anticipate the outcome — even known characters have proven pretty disposable on Battleworld, so new ones are in extra danger — but I actually think that chaos is a lot clearer than you let on. I’m particularly impressed by the way artist Dustin Weaver manages a concrete pipe set-piece that dominates three pages of that action sequence, keeping us constantly aware of what’s going on both inside and outside the pipe. We may not know where everyone stands at the end of the issue, but Weaver makes sure we know exactly where they are up until that point. That’s no mean feat for a messy battle scene, but Weaver pulls it off with seeming effortlessness here.

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M.O.D.O.K Assassin 1

MODOK Assassin 1Drew: Speaking of well-known Marvel characters being disposable in Battleworld, M.O.D.O.K. Assassin 1 finds the titular Mental Organism casually offing both Doctor Octopus and Gambit. It’s gratuitous, but that’s exactly the point: writer Christopher Yost reminds us throughout the issue that M.O.D.O.K. was designed only for killing, and that’s exactly what he’s going to do. That makes M.O.D.O.K.’s realm even more dystopian than the rest of Battleworld, but it also allows him to have some fun with our expectations. It never occurred to me how fun it would be to see M.O.D.O.K. fight Bullseye or a Sentinel, but Yost mines those for all their worth. By issue’s end, Yost has set up yet another unlikely matchup, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

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Secret Wars 2099 1

Secret Wars 2099Patrick: The weird thing about reading an alternate reality version of 2099 characters is that, if we’re not dealing with Spider-Man, I’m never going to recognize the variations. I thought this was going to be a huge hang up as I read this issue, with its lady Captain America and fucking Hercules, but writer Peter David digs past novelty to find some meaningful material for these characters. The most meaningful — and this stands in stark contrast to the garbage we saw in Where Monsters Dwell — is Herc’s turn as an alcoholic harasser of women. Not only does Cap slug him one for not respecting a lady’s “no,” but the character genuinely feels terrible about what he did.

Herc apologizes to the woman he harassed

Look at that! He’s taking personal responsibility for his actions! It’s not about someone rushing to the woman’s rescue, or even about the woman needing to rescue herself, but it’s about Herc realizing he fucked up.

Oh, and Hawkeye’s got wings. So I’m totally on-board.

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X-Men ’92 Infinite Comic 1

X-Men '92 1Patrick: I’ve been psyched out by Danger Room scenarios before. I know there’s always the possibility of an issue opening with one, but I’m still a sucker for them. X-Men ’92 Infinite Comic 1 hilariously starts with almost the opposite of a Danger Room Psyche Out, clearly presenting us with the X-Men doing their shitty best to simulate having their simulation system up and running by playing laser tag at the fucking mall. And while the stakes may be about as low as they could possibly get, writers Chad Bowers and Chris Sims pack the panels with enough in-character jokes to make me love every second we get to spend with these guys. I suspect my nostalgia reflex is kicking in, and I’m responding positively to seeing the X-Men as I was introduced to them in the 1992 X-Men Animated Series. In keeping with that nostalgia-happy vein, the laser tagging is broken up by, you guessed it, Sentinels! When the action kicks in, it’s really cool to see how artist Scott Koblish takes advantage of the Infinite format. There’s a panel where a Sentinel’s foot stomp down on the characters, but the “camera” slides up to that panel. So there’s literally a foot moving down on the screen, making that the most active Sentinel stomping I’ve seen since… well, since the animated series. I also love the effect of fading from identically staged images with one significant difference, a la Wolverine busting through the Sentinel’s face (from the inside!).

Wolverine breaks through a sentinel's face

I don’t know if it shows, but I loved this issue. Drew, did it cast a similarly effective nostalgia spell on you?

Drew: Like you, my first exposure to X-Men was watching the animates series ((in stereo)), but I have to confess not watching it in the 22 years since it went off the air. It was nice to see these character designs and recall the vocal tics of these characters, but honestly, I was mostly put off by the boneheaded simplicity of the plot. I suspect this is entirely true to the source material, but referring to the Brotherhood of Mutants as “the evil mutants” completely strips the conflict between Magneto and Xavier of the moral questions that makes the X-Men so interesting. It’s possible that Bowers and Sims are intentionally flattening the perspective to just Charles’ (none of the Brotherhood appears in the issue), making for a compelling twist down the line, but for me, this read as way too simple. Instead, we’re given Scott’s sudden desire to leave the X-Men forever as our primary conflict, but it’s too poorly explained to feel particularly threatening.

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Inhumans: Attlian Rising 1

Inhumans Attilan Rising 1Drew: This week has seen a lot of series exploring the geopolitics of Battleworld, but none more explicitly than Inhumans: Attilan Rising 1, which finds Doom placing Medusa between himself and a group of rebels stirring the pot in Greenland. What those rebels want beyond giving sentience to the Hulks isn’t totally clear (nor is why Doom would be opposed to such a thing), but that almost doesn’t matter by the issue’s end, as writer Charles Soule reveals that this may not be the Attilan any of us are familiar with. Specifically, Black Bolt is apparently a bartender at a swanky Inhuman bar located within Grand Central Station, and seems to be able to speak without reducing the room to rubble. That may have something to do with the bar itself — it’s notably called “The Quiet Room” — but who the heck really knows. It’s an intriguing enough premise to keep me coming back, if for no other reason than to see more of Black Bolt’s weird tuxedo thing.

Blackagar Boltagon

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Secret Wars Journal 1

Secret Wars Journal 1Patrick: We had a handful of positive things to say about Secret Wars: Battle World 1, which told two separate stories of Battle World. While both of those yarns suggested a connection to a greater uber narrative, the vignettes from Secret Wars Journal 1 barely stand up on their feet. The first tale, which reimagines the Young Avengers as Robin Hood (Kate Bishop) and his/her merry men (Billy and Teddy) ends with an editorial note telling us where we can spend our other dollars to keep following these adventures. That’d be fine if the adventure was anything, but it’s not. Kate, Billy and Teddy set out to steal something, then they steal something. Laborious plotting was never a quality of Young Avengers, but charm is, and that was sorely lacking in this story. Can I also just note how weird it is to transplant these characters — who got so much mileage about being savvy users of social media and purveyors of popular culture — in a medieval drama? The second story ends up mashing up way too many disparate elements: Mutants, Moon Knight, Werewolves and an ancient Egyptian society, complete with pantheon of gods. If the point of this thing was to shed any additional light on Battle World, it falls mightily short of that.

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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.


9 comments on “Secret Wars Round-Up: Issues released 5/27/15

  1. On the other hand: I completely, one hundred percent, absolutely loved Where Monsters Dwell. Kaufmann is the perfect character for this story. Perfect. Complete scum and honestly believes he’s the good guy.

    This is black humor at its best, and the fact that it’s gorgeously drawn and colored make it by far my favorite thing that I’ve seen out of Secret Wars. This was brilliant.

    You have no idea how disappointed I am to find something out of this event that I saw as masterful to only see it abhorred here. I honestly have recommended this over and over again. This was one of my favorite first issues that I’ve read in years.

    (And I loved the opening scene. I thought it subverted expectations, was expertly paced, and beautifully executed and was a great example of how comics can do comedy. It set the comic up perfectly. I actually reread that scene immediately (before even continuing with the comic) because I was so surprised. And I thought, “Holy SHIT, this guy is terrible!” and he proved it throughout.)

    I want to keep writing, but I’m just going to stop at, “Dang, I think you guys are really, really wrong on this and completely missed the point,” and hope that next issue Clementine is proved to be the star and we see Kaufmann get everything that he deserves or I’m going to look really, really dumb. (Which has happened. But let’s not talk about that.)

  2. I got so uncomfortable reading Where Monsters Dwell, I couldn’t get past the first pages. Glad to know that others share the disgust for it. I have no problem with following stories where the protagonist is a terrible person, as long it isn’t portrayed in such a celebratory light as the writer decided to play there. It was pretty clear that while yes, as a reader i’m suppose to feel like the protagonist is scum, it also feels like a nod nod wink wink from the writer as how of a “awesome jerk” he is supposed to be viewed as. “Hey look at that guy, getting the chicks and leaving them pregnant, what a player” thats what it felt to me… and the racist caricature, ugh, no thanks.

    about the other issues:

    Inhumans: Attilan Rising seems to be really important to understand what is going on Battleword, I didn’t knew Medusa really well before Charles Soule started writing Inhumans, but every time he writes her, be as an antagonist, be as a hero or a queen, she always feels like a imposing and intriguing character full of depth, I can’t get enough of her.

    Infinity Gauntlet was definitely my pick of the week, is just THAT GOOD, I hope this family survives the end of Secret Wars, I would love to see an on going of them, with the same artist of course. I barely know the characters and I want to spend more issues reading about them and their adventures, can’t wait for more.

  3. “The tribal princess lists increasingly alien sounding dishes that would be at their wedding, as Kaufmann disappears in the background, so it really does read like we’re supposed to have a laugh at her expense.” –

    Yes. You’re supposed to laugh. You’re supposed to laugh that she’s going to be banned to the Island of Dung, you’re supposed to laugh that when she says it’s the best day of her life, Kaufmann says, “You bet it is,” you’re supposed to laugh at crocducken, you’re supposed to laugh that while she’s daydreaming of the wedding feast of her dreams he’s skedaddling off into the sunset, and you’re supposed to laugh when Kaufmann says, “It’s not like I’m ever going back there,” in the first panel of the airplane hangar scene where it’s obvious he’s explaining his plight to the mechanic. I thought it was brilliantly funny.

    But I respect the opinions of those who thought it was offensive and unfunny. Lord knows I’ve disliked some of the stuff widely touted here, so it’s all cool. I’m just really surprised. I was so excited we were going to find some common ground.

    Rats. I’d put up a sad face emoticon if I had one.

  4. I know that I’m supposed to laugh, but that’s where my problem is. It only seems cruel. Like, I don’t know how to look past the sexist and racist overtones to have the “oh, he’s such a scoundrel!” laughs at Kaufmann. And really, I don’t know what comeuppance he could possibly get that would make that payoff in a way that would satisfy me (and certainly not one that would fit the tone of carefree high-adventure that the series seems to want to strike).

    After we wrote the piece, I went sniffing around to see what the rest of the internet was saying about it, and it seems to have mostly flown under the radar. IGN’s Jesse Schendeen agrees with you that the scene is masterfully funny, but man, I just don’t see it. More to the point, I actively see something else.

    But there’s no need to be sad – our tastes will align again in the future. Plus, it’s always fun to argue about this stuff.

    • There is a line in humor where the cruelty no longer is funny. I get that. It’s why there aren’t comedies about oppressors getting the better of those whom they have power over. A comedy about a clever king being able to do terrible things to his subjects would be a hard sell. A comedy about 20th century atrocities from the aggressors standpoint would be offensive.

      Even modern movies that are excessively cruel have received disdain from critics, peers and me. Shallow Hal and that type of thing. I get that, too.

      So I guess my question is, what makes this have sexist overtones? What makes this have racist overtones? Because I really didn’t get that from reading it. The most capable character is a woman. The other character that seems completely competent is the black mechanic. Is it all the opening scene? If the pregnant daughter of the chief were a white daughter of a Danish Senator, would that be better? Or is the joke of a man abandoning a girl by declaring her love and then fleeing while she plans the wedding feast too far over the top?

      (C’mon, being banished to the Island of Dung with the dung gatherers is funny. If it’s not, dang. Double dang. That’s HI! – larious )

      • It would be different if it was a the white daughter of a Danish Senator, absolutely (it’s still sexist, and I still don’t like it). My whole problem with the scene is that it’s the quintessentially powerful person (white man) treating the disempowered person (native woman) as an object and not as a person. You can’t just say “would it be better if she was white” because that fundamentally changes our historical reference. White colonial assholes DID fuck natives and leave them to raise kids on their own (and/or be ostracized by their own communities for having a little white baby). It’s just like how you can’t show a southern gentleman treating his slave like shit and expect it to be funny: there’s real life context that makes the gender and the race of the victim un-ignorable.

        And just generally — if we could ignore race (and I don’t think we can) — men leaving women with children to care for is also just too fucking real and sad to be funny to me. That’s male privilege, to be able to just peaceout on a pregnant woman, and it’s gross.

        • For me, it’s not even about the context. I can see how a character being scummy can be funny, but making up a caricature of a backwards native society just so you can have a laugh of the expense of that backwards native society does strike me as both racist and cheap. Listing increasingly gross foods doesn’t strike me as funny because it’s either “look at the gross foods I think native people eat” OR “look at the gross foods I made up so my made up native people could eat” — one is more racist than the other, but neither qualifies as an actual joke.

        • I find myself painted in a corner of my own making, have now traveled from from examining whether or not something has racist or sexist overtones to defending abhorrent ideas, one of which is more racist than the other. I nearly feel like I have to further any discussion with “I’m not racist, but…” which, well, taken in a vacuum, would make one look completely racist no matter what one said.

          So I won’t. I still think this comic is blisteringly funny and I also still think it’s clearly a parody of the deplorable actions and mindsets of that era, but I also understand other points of view on it. I agree that there are some topics that comedy shouldn’t touch, and protagonists that are too terrible to even read about, especially in a lighthearted story, but I didn’t find this one to be crossing that line.

          Alas! You are still my favorite comic bloggers/posters/critics on the interweb, so please, please, don’t give up! We’ll find some common ground soon. I bought like 8,000 comics this week (including a pristine New Mutants 98, first Deadpool, not a new release but I just wanted to brag), and I even dabbled back in Secret Wars with Spidey loves Mary Jane, which better not suck or I’ll have an aneurysm. If anyone is in New York for the Belmont Stakes, I’ll see you out there! Otherwise, I’ll be away from most internet starting tomorrow at noon until Sunday night, and hopefully have read 8,000 examples of 3 color genius.

        • Kaif! I didn’t mean to suggest that you necessarily endorsed everything in the issue. No need for you to defend abhorrent ideas! As always, we value your input, even when we totally disagree. Enjoy the comics, enjoy the race, and we’ll see you next week.

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