Secret Wars Round-Up: Issues released 7/8/15

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Today, Patrick, Spencer, Michael and Drew discuss Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows 2, Spider-Verse 3, Spider-Island 1, Civil War 1, 1872 1, Ghost Racers 2, Runaways 2, Secret Wars 2099 3, and X-Men ’92 Infinite Comic 4.

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Patrick: It’s Spider-Day in Battleworld! Not only do we have three books with “Spider” in the title, Civil War prominently features Peter Parker (and the rest of the Parker clan). It’s amazing how malleable the concept of Spider-Man is, and how it can be at home in all four of these discrete story worlds. The rest of the issues on our Round Up today all approach their unique worlds in different ways – some try to cram in every possible piece of relevant lore, others pic and choose; some want to make a point about the source material, others are only interested in telling fun stories with the concepts. I’m continually amazed that no two series have similar approaches to Secret Wars – not even when they’re all named “Spider.”

Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows 2

Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows 2Patrick: I don’t think there’s a single set of circumstances under which Dan Slott doesn’t inherently understand Spider-Man. Renew Your Vows 2 imagines a New York where traditional roles of heroes and villains are inverted, with Spider-Man’s rogues acting as a police force rounding up would-be heroes for Regent. I love the ways this transforms Peter from the put-upon hero to the put-upon fugitive. Every single heroic choice Peter makes is elevated by the increased stakes of having an all-powerful supervillain in charge of the city. Mind you, it’s not like the city’s brass are ever really on Spider-Man’s side, so maybe it’s just refreshing to see that subtext elevated to supertext. I also just love the way Slott and Andy Kubert use the Spider villains – seeing Boomerang, Shocker and Beetle together again gave me delightful flashes of Superior Foes of Spider-Man. And the final-page reveal that the low-level rogues are hoping to get promoted to the level of Sinister Six was just awesome.

I’m also impressed with Adam Kubert’s artwork in this issue. I’m not the biggest Kubert fan, but his obsession with detail plays out beautifully on the streets of New York City. He also makes a lot of meaningful layout choices, emphasizing Regent’s power or the hustle and bustle in NYC. My favorite layout shows Peter finally stretching out and using his abilities for the first time in years. Kubert allows himself the same freedom, stretching his long horizontal panels across two pages.

Free to be Spider-Man again

Spencer: Patrick, you dialed in on so many of the (numerous) things I love about this issue, but one more thing I really appreciate is the way Slott still focuses on Peter’s sense of responsibility. Peter may no longer be Spider-Man and may no longer be helping people, but that doesn’t mean that he’s given up on what he’s learned from his Uncle Ben — it just means that his greatest responsibility is now to his family above anyone else. That seismic shift in priorities is what leads Peter to give up the costume in the first place, but it’s also powerful enough to make him pick it back up when faced with Annie’s capture.

It’s thrilling to see Peter pushed to his limits, but the drama wouldn’t be effective if we didn’t care about Peter’s family — and thankfully, Slott is up to the challenge, creating a fun, loving rapport between these three characters.

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How could anyone not root for the Parkers?!
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Spider-Verse 3

Spider-Verse 3Drew: I had a surprising amount of fun with Amazing Spider-Man‘s Spider-Verse event, but I never really stopped to consider the significance of the “web” that connects all of the universes — it was just how the bad guys got to the good guys. That was 100% the right choice for that event, which was more about the horribleness of the villains than the universe itself, but those priorities are essentially reversed here. Or, at least they are for most of the Spiders; Gwen is still much more concerned with the “bad guy” plucking the web strings than the web itself, putting her at odds with the rest of the group.

That makes for some solid tension (and a great final page reveal), but I wish Captain Britain’s frustrations over the tactical failings of his team had remained the central conflict of this series. Writer Mike Costa does such an amazing job of detailing just how a group of solo fighters would fall apart against a well-seasoned team that that scene really deserves a more central role in this issue. Can he whip these spiders into shape? Will they face-off against a well-oiled machine again in the future? I suppose it’s time for Peter to steal the show, but with so much interesting stuff going on between everyone else, he’s almost not necessary.

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Spider-Island 1

Spider-Island 2Spencer: Having never read the original Spider-Island storyline, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of Christos Gage’s story, but what I got was essentially a zombie survival story with spiders instead of zombies. Paco Diaz’s grotesque spider-ized character designs are an excellent fit for the story (though his art is still a bit too cheesecakey for my taste — I don’t know how Spider-Woman breaths in this version of her costume), but more interesting than the monsters themselves is Flash Thompson as Agent Venom, who is leader of the survivors but doubts his own ability to lead. Maybe it’s his desire to prove himself, or maybe there’s simply no other way to survive Spider-Island, but his decision to fight monsters by making more monsters is clever, but awfully extreme. There’s no turning back, and with the reality of Battleworld a finite one, I have to wonder if there’s any way for this story to have a happy ending.

Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz, and Sal Buscema’s Mayday Parker back-up, meanwhile, picks up directly where Spider-Verse last left her, finding her doubting her decision to let her father’s murderer, Daemos, escape.

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I love this idea of exploring the doubt that can follow a big decision — Mayday’s confidence at the time has since withered away in the depressing aftermath of having to live with her choice, and that’s incredibly relatable. I do have to wonder how we can follow-up so clearly on the events of Spider-Verse when nobody on Battleworld should have memories of that event, though — does Mayday and her family’s ability to hang onto those memories have something to do with why her friends suddenly think she’s an impostor? Did something go wrong when her universe was integrated into Battleworld? I guess only time will tell.

Drew: Man, I was enjoying that back-up too much to consider where it fits in Battleworld. I guess she lives in the Manhattan that is half 616, half 1610, but is simply unaware of the presence of other Spiders there. Her memories of the events of Spider-Verse don’t really jibe with that of the rest of the Spiders we’ve seen in Spider-Verse, who at best have some vague deja vu of fighting together. Ultimately, though, all of those details don’t really matter — this back-up is all about giving us a classic Spider story, complete with the guilt over a loved one’s death.

The feature story steals the show for me, though. I definitely agree that Diaz tends to focus a bit too much on Spider-Woman’s behind, but I was amused enough at Flash’s machinations to ever get too distracted. His final play is one hell of a hail Mary, banking on the devil he doesn’t know, which sets up a killer cliffhanger. The cover to the next installment may spoil the outcome of that particular beat, but you can bet I’ll be back, anyway.

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Civil War 1

Civil War 1Michael: Charles Soule opens with a bit of continuity-altered exposition before we find ourselves in a nation literally divided six years after the original Civil War (so technically it takes place in an alternate 2013 – if we’re keeping track here.) Tony Stark’s registered superhumans are on the East AKA “The Iron” and Steve Rogers’ freedom fighting heroes on the West AKA “The Blue.” While Soule’s script is a Civil War Elseworlds follow-up, it feels heavily influenced by Mark Millar’s other greatest hit Old Man Logan with references to gangs and sanctioned forces likeThe Punishers” and “The Bullsye Boys,” I like how splitting the country in two leaves both halves well, half empty. The Iron has the potential to be a police state while The Blur is basically the revival of the Wild West.

Another piece of connective tissue to Millar is frequent Millar collaborator Lenil Francis Yu on pencils. Yu litters the pages with split screen panels and divides: over-embellishing the split in ideals. Though it’s only been six years, Tony’s head is topped with white hair; probably what Robert Downey Jr. would actually look like naturally in a few years. Cap retains his super soldier youth of course.

Steve Rogers and Tony Stark

I’m curious as to why Peter Parker was separated from his family – are MJ and their daughter essentially Tony’s prisoners? Or do they actually agree with him? Also, what’s up with those wings? 

Patrick: What’s up with those wings, indeed? There’s a lot of what-the-fuckery to the set dressing here, and it ends up making the Kingdom that Civil War takes place in seem like a genuinely politically tense atmosphere. I don’t believe the Kingdom itself is actually named — and like a big nerdo, I tried looking for it on the map and couldn’t find anything — but it’s totally possible that this series is sharing space with Old Man Logan.

With so much to cram into the set up, and such a deliberately paced negotiation / assassination scene in the second half of the issue, the whole thing feels a little unbalanced. It takes as many pages to destroy New York as it does to just have Tony and Steve sit down at the table together. I’m totally in favor of that slower pacing, but it certainly feels weird when it’s held up against the almost-recap speed of the first couple pages. Plus, Charles Soule’s lawyerin’ sensibilities are better suited to the methodical, rhetoric-heavy conversation between Steve and Tony. It’s amazing how well he writes these ideologues – even after their mediator is shot, they both find a way to blame the other. It’s compellingly written stuff.

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1872 1

1872 1Drew: The lead-up to Battleworld featured a number of alternate universe versions of our favorite Marvel characters, but none that felt quite as electric as those of 1872. Timely is a remote western city near a mining interest. Wilson Fisk is its mayor, Steve Rogers is its Sherrif, Ben Urich is the newspaper reporter, Tony Stark is the eccentric (and drunk) inventor, and Bruce Banner is the apothecary. There are plenty of other fun cameos — Wolverine appears as a brand of whiskey, while the Vision can be spotted as a novelty fortuneteller machine.

What’s really fun about all of that riffing is just how free it is — that is, there’s no sense of obligation to include all of the Marvel universe. Steve Rogers is the sheriff because that makes the most sense, but Thor wouldn’t fit, so he doesn’t appear at all. That leaves the story to feel rather authentically like a western, with characters only being slotted in where they make sense. There’s room for more cameos down the line, and we only get a single image of the Marvel assassins Roxxon dispatches to get Steve, but for now, I’m happy just to see Steve explaining his patriotism in the terms of the 1872 old west.

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Ghost Racers 2

Ghost Racers 2Patrick: The first issue of Ghost Racers was a fitting introduction to the concept of Ghost Riders zipping around the Killiseum for the amusement of the citizens of Doomstadt, but that’s such visually and thematically rich material, that there wasn’t a lot of room to explore our hero. The second issue rectifies this with a dive into Robbie Reyes’ past. We get to see him hanging out with his little brother, Gabe, and trying to flirt with a girl. It’s all very wholesome and normal — with odd “Doom” / “God” replacement in the teenagers speech to keep the reader from getting too comfortable. Fillipe Smith actually does a great job of writing Robbie’s friends – they sound just raunchy enough to be real teenagers. Of course, we’re not seeing just any day, but the day Robbie’s Injection Spirit was identified by a D.P.D. (Doom Police Department? Doom Patrol Department?) sentinel and he was conscripted into the races. It’s such a nice little scene, effectively humanizing everyone involved, but Smith doesn’t bail on the flashback just yet. Instead the story stays with Reyes through his first race and subsequent loss. We get to witness the horrors of losing a Ghost Race first hand – I guess those teenagers aren’t the only things in this world that are rough around the edges.

what happens when you lose

This makes it clear that Robbie is willfully lying to Gabe when he says he knows there’s nothing to fear from losing the races. Hell, he’s been blasted in the chest with some kind of laser, but he’s just too proud or trusting or protective to share that with his little brother.

Oh, and then there’s that friend-monster that appears on the tracks, giving even more weight to what could very well have been a trite, predictable flashback. It all makes Robbie’s desperation feel so real and meaningful. Right now, we have no idea where Eli spirited them off to, but whatever escape he’s about to stage will be so much cooler for the emotional investment this issue allows us to make.

secret wars divRunaways 2

Runaways 2Spencer: Things take a dark turn in issue 2 of Noelle Stevenson and Sanford Greene’s Runaways — it’s still full of the playful charm and skillful characterization that made me fall in love with the first issue, but the characters’ concerns have suddenly grown far grander than detention and final exams. Forced to work together during their final exam, Jubilee, Sanna, Cho, and the rest of Team Puce quickly discover that the students who fail their final exam aren’t just being expelled — they’re being murdered by their fellow students. It turns the stomachs of our cast, who start living up to their name by deciding to run away from the Institute. It’s a horrifying realization to be sure — especially when we factor in the death of Pixie — but I can’t help but think that maybe these kids shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Doom’s oath flat out encourages his students to learn to die for him (and to laugh while doing it!).

Serious Sanna

But just like normal students with the Pledge of Allegiance, most of the cast barely pay attention to the words they recite; they’re distracted throughout the whole thing. It’s only Sanna who really seems devoted to Doom’s ideas, which explains why she’s not as revolted by the others by what they found, and why she’d decide to stay behind. I’m both eager and terrified to see how these kids can escape the all-seeing eyes of Doom, but I’m just as eager to see how their fugitive status effects their relationships, especially with Sanna and Cloak still in the school and Molly not even realizing she’s ran away. One things for sure: it’s gonna be one hell of a story.

Michael: Runaways 1 was entertaining, but the reveal that the final exam was actually a battle royale in disguise totally had me dialed in. There’s something so delightfully twisted and ironic about all of it that makes it a true tragedy and gives our little Breakfast Club something to truly rebel against. It reminded me of the initial pitch of Runaways: a group of kids finding out that their parents are actually some pretty evil super villains. The otherwise non-threatening Amadeus used his video game mastery to gain an upper hand in the exam; it’s a trope we’ve seen before in movies (“I know video games, so I can help!”) but it actually works pretty well in these circumstances. I also liked how Amadeus felt responsible for the supervisor unit that was scrapped because he hacked it, allowing them to escape detention – I’m betting that robot head comes in handy later on. Though they’ve “escaped” from the institute, we all know they’ll be back at some point for a rescue/showdown extravaganza. After all, what is a Cloak without a Dagger?

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Secret Wars 2099 3

Secret Wars 2099 3Patrick: With the introduction of the 2099’s Defenders, Secret Wars 2099 may have stuffed itself full of too many active ideas, and none of them really get the room to breathe that they deserve. I praised earlier issues’ explorations of gender dynamics, and while the same thematic material appears here, it’s brushed under the rug far too quickly process any of it. Our big dumb perpetrator is still Herc, and he’s still jumping to treating women he doesn’t know as objects. This time, Herc lays claim to Valkyrie, even though she is a) not interested and b) dating the Roman Submariner. It’s a big stupid conflict, which turns into a big stupid drinking contest, and while Captain America admonishes them both as “morons,” they don’t really learn any lessons. In fact, they’re goaded on by Hawkeye, who is unable to make conversation with the Defenders, so he resorts to casually sorting Herc’s shitty sexism.

There are a lot of weird storytelling quirks to this issue, and it all adds up to a book I can’t quite get a handle on. We’re introduced to Val and the Submariner as they’re apprehending Martin Hargood, but artist Will Sliney makes the weird decision to keep them in the dark, showing them in silhouette even when they’d logically be perfectly well lit. Maybe this is a failing of mine, but I get nothing out of that reveal when we can finally make out their identities. Sliney plays it like it’s supposed to be some big “awwwwwwwwwwww daaayyyuuumn!” moment, but it just isn’t. (In fact, I was much more surprised to see Hargood using magic on the previous page – that seems like the more dramatic revelation to me.) Also, can someone tell me if this is supposed to be Roman still? Why’d his skin and costume change color?

Roman the Submariner changes color

Again, maybe this is my fault, and Roman the Submariner’s color-changing ability is well known among 2099 fans. For me, it was just confusing. Did you have a better handle on this issue Spencer?

Spencer: I can’t say that I know 2099 continuity well enough to know whether Submariner can change color or not (do chameleons live underwater?), but I think it was just a coloring mistake. It’s jarring, to be sure, but not the end of the world. That said, I had a bit of a hard time getting a grip on this issue as well, Patrick. I’m still wondering what exactly this series is about. Miguel’s confrontation with the Defenders finally starts bringing the ethical dilemmas of superheroes working for a corporation to the forefront, but it feels too late to suddenly focus the series around that idea after two issues where it was barely subtext. And where does that leave the assassination attempt on Cap’s life? There’s still time for writer Peter David to bring all these disparate ideas together, but in the meantime, this series just feels unfocused.

With nothing grander to lean against, the success of this issue relies mainly upon character interaction. Fortunately, there’s a lot of cute moments, but unfortunately, there’s just as many frustrating ones. The scene where Iron Man confronts Black Widow, for example, doesn’t give readers any new information about either character, and just turns the subtext about her acting like a real black widow into some bluntly delivered text. I generally enjoyed the first two issues of Secret Wars 2099, but while there are parts of this issue I enjoy as well, by and large it’s oddly aimless.

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X-Men ’92 Infinite Comic 4

X-Men '92 Infinite Comic 4Patrick: As the cover implies, this issue is mostly about Gambit and Rogue. Cassandra Nova has them set up in a trapped-in-your-mind simulation with each other because the way in which they are inappropriate is not just in how overly violent they are (as the other X-Men), but in how sexually charged their relationship is. Cassandra is acting as a stand-in for the television executives that neutered the X-Men for their animated series, and her criteria for what is BSA Approved and BSA Rejected hinges entirely on what it would have been acceptable to see on Saturday morning cartoons. Writes Chad Bowers and Chris Sims are poking some gentle fun at the TV show, but I the criticism is generally pretty toothless – especially because Cassandra is rejecting parts of this universe I know I was introduced to on that show. Beast, being well read, articulate and generally peaceful, is rejected for being… I dunno, too beastly? Maybe I’m off on who the target is, but it sure sounds like Bowers and Sims are taking a shot at an editorial force with which I am not familiar.

And then X-Force arrives on the scene, and suddenly comically large guns are the name of the game.

X-Force

Artist Scott Koblish hilariously makes Cable’s gun the focal point of the page. Man, Cassandra’s going to hate those guys. I suppose if all this is leading towards the stupidest, most violent X-Men out there just kicking the shit out of someone who’s trying to censor the X-Men, I’m okay with 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.

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