Drew: There’s nothing like comics continuity — and I mean that quite literally. Virtually no other narratives feature the same kinds of questions about whether something happened, how so and so exists if that didn’t happen, whether or not characters remember events that did happen before they didn’t, or if all of the events we’re reading will somehow be undone in the future. I’ve never been particularly interested in what is and isn’t canon (as far as I’m concerned, the only stories that “count” in comics are the ones that I’ve read), but it’s certainly interesting to see how the Big Two twist themselves up in knots to explain things. Marvel has long touted its continuity as being unbroken (a few retcons notwithstanding), in contrast to DC’s system of periodically “resetting” their universe with a massive crisis, but Secret Wars began with proudly proclaiming the death of the Marvel Universe as we know it. Indeed, this week finds writers not just defending that break, but reveling in it.
Secret Wars 3
Drew: No issue is more direct in its defense of Battleworld than Secret Wars 3, which opens with Doom and Strange reminiscing about the creation of Battleworld. Before he created Battleworld, elevating himself to the status of God, Doom was just a man, albeit an incredibly powerful one. It’s easy to see Hickman in that description: a powerful writer elevated to the role of world-creator through Secret Wars. Or perhaps Hickman is Strange, steward of the narrative built around Doom’s kingdom (making Doom Marvel editorial). However the parallels map to our world, it’s clear that the maintenance of Battlworld — and particularly the maintenance of the cobbled-together history that everyone should remember differently — reflects the duty of crafting whatever Marvel Universe will emerge from Secret Wars.
All throughout Hickman’s run, I’ve been fascinated by his portrayals of power, but I’ve been resistant to see those portrayals as reflecting Hickman’s own experience. This issue largely reveals the folly in that thinking, as the troubles that weigh in the minds of Doom and Strange are very much the troubles of creating and ruling over a world full of Marvel characters. Heck, in an adorable display of self-deprecation, Hickman has Strange dismiss how he came to Battleworld as “quite a story. A long one.”
Like most of Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers, I hesitate to call any of the proceedings fun, but they sure are fascinating. I suspect the methods Strange uses to deal with characters who remember the old Marvel Universe will speak volumes about where Marvel is headed long-term, but maybe that’s a bridge we’ll have to cross when we get to it. For now, I’m happy to read Hickman’s thoughts on ammending continuity, no matter how transparent the allegory.
Spencer: It is a fascinating allegory, but what I’m most curious about is how we’re supposed to view Doom. Most of the Secret Wars tie-ins (such as A-Force and this week’s Battleworld 2, which we’ll discuss later in this Round-Up) portray Doom as a grand oppressive villain looming over Battleworld, and that’s the easy assumption to make about Doom. But I’m fond of the way Hickman fleshes Doom out in this issue — he’s still a deeply flawed man, but he’s also changed quite a bit from his pre-Battleworld ways. He sincerely wants to protect his people, and he’s actually feeling self-doubt and humility for the very first time, but Doom also thinks his world is perfect (and that his idea of perfect is infallible), and that’s more than likely going to be his fatal flaw, ’cause it definitely isn’t.
Still, it’s a bit disarming — although certainly a change worth exploring — to see such a sympathetic Doom. I don’t think that will last long, though. The title of one of this issue’s chapters is “God Doom Loves All Men But One,” and that one man is without a doubt Reed Richards. Now we’ve got two Reed Richards running around Battleworld, and that isn’t going to be good for the sanity of any of these men — especially when Doom has already co-opted so much of Reed’s life (Susan, Valeria, even Franklin) as his own. It’s fascinating that Doom can only flourish without Reed present (he even reveals his face on camera for the first time in nearly sixty years — that’s significant, folks), and although I expect that we’ll see the Beyonders pop back up before too long, I kinda hope the conflict of Secret Wars continues to just focus on Reed and Doom. There’s not many characters Hickman has a better handle on than those two.
Giant-Sized Little Marvel AvX 1
Spencer: I think we all picked up Giant-Sized Little Marvel AvX 1 for the same reason — to watch Skottie Young’s adorable renditions of the Avengers and X-Men throw around more Marvel in-jokes than you can swing a bat at, and man, does it deliver in that department.
Wrong way, Matty!
Still, I was surprised at how well the plot works too. An escalating series of petty pranks and competitions continually drives the rivalry between the Avengers and the X-Men — it’s simple, but incredibly effective at escalating the conflict to greater and greater heights throughout the issue. It feels like Little Rascals meets Ed, Edd and Eddy meets Lil’ Gotham, and it couldn’t be more delightful.
Patrick: I also appreciate that Skottie Young was able to pack a couple of stories in before getting to the main punch-em-up between the X-Men and the Avengers. It seems like they’re mostly fighting over the Food Cart Fiasco, but I loved that little Magick story (I love the little-girl version of her costume) and the theme song that introduced the issue was equally adorable.
I think my favorite beat in the issue is the closer, which introduces us (and all the heroes) to the new kids in town, identified only as “the twins.” You guys, that’s totally Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Naturally, both sides want to claim them as their own, mirroring the real world phenomenon of having these characters appear in two different film universes. Not all the jokes land — like Scott’s repeated puns/not-puns about having one eye — but when we routinely get panels as adorable as this, I don’t have any complaints.
Future Imperfect 1
Patrick: I’m finding the world of Future Imperfect to be significantly less charming. A lot of where that charm is lacking is in the dearth of specificity — there’s nothing particularly colorful, unique or compelling about the kingdom ruled over by the Maestro (which is just straight-up called “Dystopia,” by the way, as though broadcasting that there’s no meaningful world-building going on here). There’s an underground movement committed to freeing Dystopia from Maestro’s rule because of course there is. There’s also the fact that the first half of the issue starts to posit an interesting scenario with Odin — possibly our Odin — appearing in the desert and willing to join the resistance. That would be thematically rich: who else in the Marvel Universe can speak to the all-powerful-ruler experience that Maestro is going through? But when that facade fades and it turns out that Odin is just Banner in disguise… it’s like, what was the point of that being Odin in the first place?
Unless of course, the issue is actively trolling its readers. I mentioned that I was excited because I thought this might be the same Odin that we’re been reading about in Loki: Agent of Asgard, so I was looking for that connection to the Marvel Universe I understand. When Peter David and Greg Land rip that rug out from under me, I feel betrayed, which effectively makes me feel how Ruby feels. Ditto Maestro’s psyche-out change of heart. So… effective trolling guys…
Drew: It certainly works as a surprise, but keeping us in the dark about who Maestro is, what he does, what’s so bad about him, and exactly what these rebels hope to accomplish gives us precisely nothing to hold onto in this issue. I suspect that may not be an issue for somebody already familiar with the stories Future Imperfect is riffing on, but casual reader won’t find much to orient themselves with here. Maestro is clearly the heel, but by the time he’s laying waste to the rebels, I have nothing invested in seeing him lose. Not that it matters: this issue is clearly just a set-up for the Hulk/Thing fight promised next issue. Maybe that’s enough to get folks to come back, but it won’t be for me.
Years of Future Past 1
[Blowin’ in the Wind] will last, unfortunately, for a long, long time. When I say “unfortunately,” I’m talking about the fact that it will always be relevant to something that is going on in this world of ours.
Drew: For all of the philosophical parallels we can draw from the X-Men, the most depressing (but perhaps most realistic) is that their struggle for acceptance will never be over. That’s a fact that may ultimately be more driven by the need to publish X-Men stories into perpetuity than to reflect any profound truths about human nature, but it doesn’t make Years of Future Past 1 any less bleak. Returning to the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Days of Future Past, this issue finds a small band of mutants staging a coup of sorts against a government bent on driving them extinct. That coup happens to be saving the President from his own machinations, even though they find his politics deplorable, which manages to leaven the issue with enough optimism to keep it from becoming a total slog.
In that way, Christina “don’t call me Chrissy” Pryde is the literal silver lining — mutantkind’s last, best hope at acceptance and survival. Even her parentage — Colossus and Shadowcat — betrays a kind of hope-springs-eternal optimism (at least for fans of that particular pairing), but the biggest piece is her positive voice, which writer Marguerite Bennett distinguishes with an upbeat energy even as the opening images are crushingly oppressive. It’s a tricky balance, but I’m impressed at how well this issue pulls it off.
Spencer: That balance really is essential to the issue, Drew, since the mutants’ entire mission here is just a battle to keep hope alive. The mutants are fighting against extinction, and that will take a miracle — but it’s exactly the fact that they’re willing to shoot for a miracle in the first place that keeps them in the fight. Bennett clearly treats the unflinching optimism of the mutants as the only hope for the future, because the present has been absolutely ravaged by the fear, greed, and hatred of the humans. President Kelly and his minions don’t care at all about saving their society or protecting individual citizens — Kelly’s let the world reach dystopian levels for everyone to “protect” them from mutants, and Kelly’s goons are more than willing to leave civilians to be killed by the new Sentinels just so they can frame the mutants — they just want a group they can use a scapegoat for their own failings, and mutants fit the bill perfectly.
It just goes to show how those in power — both in the world of Years of Future Past and in the real world — are rarely concerned with protecting anybody but themselves, and how willing they are to harm others to deflect all blame and negative consequences from themselves. Faced with such relentless evil, it would be easy to take a vengeful path, and that makes it all the more impressive and inspirational that the mutants have come up with such a “peaceful” plan to regain their freedom. Kudos, mutants. Kudos.
Secret Wars Battleworld 2
Spencer: Just like its first issue, Secret Wars Battleworld 2 features two stand-alone tales focused on exploring some of the stranger corners of Battleworld without affecting the event’s overall continuity… or, at least, that’s the way it appears at first. The first story, David F. Walker and J.J. Kirby’s “A Monster So Fowl,” fits the premise most closely — in it, a very hip-looking (and human) Blade finds himself in Battleworld’s “Duck District,” home of our very own Howard the Duck, facing a duck version of Drakula himself! It’s an intentionally bizarre tale, getting a lot of mileage out of Blade’s culture shock and the juxtaposition of grim vampires against the silliness of Duck District (and its cartoony depiction under Kirby’s pen — it looks straight out of Disney Adventures). Still, the story’s strongest moments come when Blade and Howard are allowed to just chat it up and realize that, hey, maybe they aren’t so different after all!
Howard the Duck’s shtick, after all, isn’t necessarily that he’s a duck, but that he’s a very normal guy who just happens to also be a duck, and that makes the discovery of his and Blade’s shared humanity a most fitting ending.
Donny Cates and Marco Turini’s “Ross Against The Machine,” meanwhile, features returns to Arcade’s arena (last seen in Planet Hulk 1). While much of the plot revolves around the tension between Arcade and Taskmaster, the real juicy bits come from the sheer contempt Ross has for “God” Doom and the rest of his ilk. There seems a very real chance that Ross’s vendetta could play a role outside this issue — unusual for Battleworld — but even if it doesn’t, it’s still a welcome reminder of how awful Doom’s Battleworld can be for an average citizen, and a necessary one considering the more sympathetic portrayal of Doom over in Secret Wars 3. Just because he’s trying to make a perfect world doesn’t mean he’s come anywhere close.
Patrick: That raises some interesting questions: why would Doom keep the ugly gladiatorial aspects of this society around? I mean, ridding the world of recreational warfare seems like pretty much a no-brainer when constructing a Utopia, right? That’s starting to feel more like inconsistent characterization than interesting portrayal, which is sort of a bummer. It’s entirely possible that Hickman has one idea for God Doom, but every other writer can’t help but see Doctor Doom.
That also makes for a rapid tonal shift between these two stories. Spencer pointed out that the Blade/Howard the Duck story looks like it’s straight out of Disney Adventures, but it seems even sweeter next to Turini’s grim, line-heavy designs at the Killiseum. (It’s okay, spellcheck, I know “killiseum” isn’t a word.) Ross-as-War-Machine ends up looking like an abominable mash-up of man and machine – more Cyborg or Metal than anything out of Marvel’s canon. Even Taskmaster looks like he was designed with maximum edginess in mind – it’s just unsettling to have that Skeletor-esque mask replaced with something perfectly round and smooth.
Plus, I think I’m slowing learning something about myself: I don’t like gladiators-in-the-arena stories. Unless they’re exceptionally well-done, the conflict feels artificial — which is sort of is — and the cruelty of those running the area always seems insanely overblown. That’s why I have such a hard time sitting with the idea of a benevolent God Doom that not only allows this to happen, but oversees it from a nearby throne.
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.