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

secret wars roundup9Today, Spencer, Taylor, Patrick, and Drew discuss Siege 1, Planet Hulk 3, Years of Future Past 3, Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders 1, Inhumans Atillan Rising 3, Secret Wars Battleworld 3, Hail Hydra 1, and Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps 2.

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Spencer: “Each domain is a region unto itself.” Each and every Secret Wars tie-in has begun with these words, and they really are a remarkably accurate mission statement: despite the common thread they all share, most of these mini-series feel like separate concepts far removed from the rest of their brethren. That begins to change with this week’s offerings, however. Several of this week’s issues find their casts questioning Doom and venturing beyond their own domain. Are we about to see some of these characters collide with the main Secret Wars title? Perhaps, but fortunately, these tie-ins still work as fun standalone stories as well. In many ways, it’s the best of both worlds.

Siege 1

Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a neverending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

The Adventures of Superman (1951-1957), introduction

SiegeSpencer: That idea of a “neverending battle” has become central to superhero comics as a whole. Be it because of the perpetual nature of crime or just of superhero comics at Marvel and DC in general, we know that most heroes will never really “defeat” their opponents in any lasting way — the best they can do is “not lose” and wait for their enemies to return yet again. Kieron Gillen and Filipe Andrade’s Siege 1 takes this concept to its most extreme, pitting its protagonists against endless, mindless waves of enemies they must repel — the most these characters can hope for is a single day of peace before the hoards return. That makes the courage of Abigail Brand even more impressive — while the rest of the cast was sentenced to protect the Shield for opposing Doom, Brand purposely became a criminal for the sole purpose of gaining a position at the Shield.

This is probably why, despite her often-abrasive personality, Brand has fully gained the respect of (almost) all of her underlings. Gillen’s created strong, clever voices for both Brand and the rest of the cast, who all have a ton of personality despite largely being defined by their relationship with Brand thus far. I’m also fond of the way Gillen fleshes out the world and the history behind Siege; he suggests quite a bit of history through short references to times and characters long-gone without explicitly spelling out everything that’s ever happened to these characters, allowing the audience to fill in the blanks for themselves. It’s more engaging for the reader, and allows Gillen to more effectively focus his exposition on one defining piece of history: the last time the Shield fell.

That one moment establishes Brand’s backstory, the power and whims of Doom (who could effortlessly protect the Shield himself but chooses not to), and the consequences if the Shield falls again, giving more urgency to the future-Kang’s warning. I can’t wait to see all these ideas explored further — how about you, Taylor?

Taylor: Oh yes, the implied history of the Shield gives this title an awesome depth. I love it when stories passingly reference something that sounds incredible, like the Grunt Rebellion from Halo or the Barrow-Downs from Lord of the RingsWhat these effectively do is create a world that is bigger than just that which is being explored by its heroes. It’s a simple trick, but so effective!

We get a couple of these references in Siege 1 but my favorite is the cloned and mutated army of Hank Pym.

Pymvasion!

I find the story itself to be enganging, but more than that I love the artwork put in here by Filipe Andrade and James Stokoe. It’s a veritable Where’s Waldo of Ant-Men pictured in this flashback and I love how each one is slightly different. Some are giant, some are small. Some have mandibles, others have the face of Pym himself. The coloring here to is wonderful. While red dominates the frame for obvious reasons, colorist Rachelle Rosenberg infuses it with some shadowy purples and and blacks which lend the scene a surreal and disturbing hue.

I found the artwork elsewhere in the issue to be equally engaging. The character design is unique and I love how details often bend out of focus, giving way to more abstract shape. I’ve always appreciated an issue where the artist tries something a little more abstract and in this case it pays off in huge dividends. When the entire Marvel universe is telling stories about Battleworld, it’s good to make your particular story stand out in some way.
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Planet Hulk 3

Planet HulkPatrick: Toward the end of this issue, Doc Green starts to prattle on about the liberating nature of Gamma — how it strips away any pretense of humanity’s “restrictions of morality and judgement.” Gamma radiation forces the inhabitant of Greenland to act solely on instinct, but it also allows them to ignore pettier concerns like politics or alliances or even friendship. Sam Humphies and Marc Laming deliver a comic that is similarly hopped up on Gamma, spending much of its run-time on Devil Dinosaur wrecking shit up. I’m not sure there’s anything that gets me more excited than Devil Dinosaur to the rescue.

DEVIL DINOSAUR

This fight — in all of it’s simple and obviously appealing glory — takes up a full quarter of the issue. It’s pure, silly joy — and the simplicity is accentuated even further with the two combatant’s discrete color palettes. There’s no ambiguity here — no visual or emotional confusion. The past doesn’t matter, the future doesn’t matter, nothing matters but this moment. And this moment is awesome.

Then Cap throws on the breaks to feel at us. His flashback is not without action, but it sure is a lot chattier than any other part of the issue. Steve and Bucky need to develop a strategy, evaluate their resources and ultimately fall back on their friendship to live through the day. This is an example of the kind of story Gamma frees us from, and it’s hard to say which is more meaningful. I think we’re all conditioned to be automatically invested in the relationship between these old war buddies, so their war stories seem meaningful, even when the meat of that story is “we decided to flank our opponent.” So which of these styles of story — and by extension, which of these ways of living life — is more valuable? Doc Green seems pretty in favor of Gamma, suggesting that Steve is projecting some seriously un-Gamma narrative on to Devil Dinosaur (who is probably just trying to survive, after all). But the issue ends with Rogers in chains, so you kinda have to assume that his friends will fight their Gamma instincts and rescue him next time right?

Drew: Well, Doc Green never quite admits that his instincts were towards war and violence. When asked directly about what Gamma did to him, he answers that it gave him “the strength to confront the truth within [his] soul.” Maybe that means it turned him into a senseless killing machine, but the fact that he’s having a conversation at all suggests that there might be more to the story. Which is to say, Doc Green, for all his sincerity, might see himself as somehow operating outside of the moral-free Greenland he describes. That would explain why he appeals to Steve’s own sense of morals to bring down the Red King — if Greenland is truly devoid of morality and judgement, what could it possibly mean to have a reign of terror? It seems those morals that Doc Green is quick to malign are his greatest resource in trying to manipulate Steve to do what he needs to do. I’m not sure what that means for future issues, but it’s clear enough that Doc Green is up to more than he lets on.

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Years of Future Past 3

Years of Future PastSpencer: Even for a superhero, creating real, lasting, societal change is hard — certainly much harder than punching out some criminals. Beyond figuring out the actual mechanics of how to bring about change, one must set aside their privilege and examine whether their agenda is really for the greater good, and if those they’re attempting to help really want their help. This is the exact situation Chrissy Pryde and her newfound brother Cameron find themselves facing in Margureite Bennett and Mike Norton’s Years of Future Past 3. Not only are these poor kids tasked with leading a revolution without any clear idea on how to achieve their goal, but they’re also dealing with the confusing realities of growing up all at the same time.

little sister

I can’t help but to empathize with Chrissy here. The situation she’s describing — trying to figure out where her morals truly lie and not just believe everything she’s been told by her parents and the rest of society — is a tough situation we all go through, but for Chrissy it’s only complicated by the rigors of life as a mutant and by the typical challenges of young adulthood (which this issue exaggerates, as comics so often do, by having her discover a secret sibling). Figuring out how to save a species who have been so bitterly persecuted and manipulated that they no longer seem to want to be saved would be hard enough for anyone, but for Chrissy and Cameron it seems almost impossible. Their struggle is hard to watch at times, but at least it’s a complex, intellectual read — albeit one that also features giant dragons destroying Doombots, of course.

Drew: It’s always a good sign when a comic has too many good ideas to adequately explore them all. Cameron’s arc this issue takes him from discovering his parentage to accepting his role as the “spare” to Chrissie’s “heir.” That latter statement may be an exaggeration, but the duality between Cameron and Chrissie is one of my favorite notions of this issue. Cameron’s point that Chrissy is too privileged and naive to lead any kind of revolution cuts through the YA martyrdom Chrissy builds up for herself in that passage Spencer posted. She feels the weight on her shoulders, sure, but she has a lot to learn about this world before she’ll ever actually be able to save it.

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Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders 1

Captain BritainTaylor: Like many of the Secret Wars titles, Captain Britain throws us right into the mix of things. In this case, the mix begins with Yinsen City, a place that is a virtual utopia. Baron Ho Yinsen is the realm’s benevolent ruler and She-Hulk is its Thor and under their rule everything is peaceful and prosperous. This calm is subverted, however, when heroes begin to remember their past lives in dreams with the arrival of a wondering Captain Britain. These developments lead to the peaceful Yinsen City being pitted against the warlike Mondo City by Dr. Doom himself.

Aside from the usual discombobulation from getting used to yet another Battleworld, I really like this issue. The primary reason I enjoyed it is that it balances some social commentary with some good humor. The social commentary aspect of the issue is brought about by the very nature of Yinsen City. Again, it’s a perfect place and so long as they follow Doom’s rules and mind their own business it will continue to be perfect. When Faith Hussain shows up though She-Hulk, Yinsen, and the rest make the choice to disobey Doom and follow their conscience.

Yinsen Action

Naturally, this leads to conflict but Yinsen and company know this. They choose this course of action knowing that it will cost them their own personal comfort but also knowing it is the right thing to do. I find this to be a message that resonates with me greatly because it’s something that not only lead me to being a teacher but which I also think could make our world a better place.

Sure, that’s maybe a little starry-eyed and goofy, but isn’t this value something almost all heroes possess? The ability to put the need of the many ahead of the few? And anyway, speaking of goofy things, I love the little bits of humor which pepper this issue. Spider Hero reading that he’s definitely not Spider-Man is pretty great. My favorite bit of silliness comes when She-Hulk is stripped of her Thorness by Doom.
Clonk!The weight of this action is significant. However, since She-Hulk decided to carry a gavel instead of a hammer (her fists are her hammers) it’s falling to the ground is an innocuous “clonk.” This fine example of visual humor made me laugh out loud and keeps the tone light and fun in this issue despite some of it’s heavier themes.

What made you laugh in this issue Patrick?

Patrick: Oh, I definitely laughed at She-Hulks’s assertion that her fist were her hammers. That’s one of those perfect lines of dialogue: true to the character, funny without being jokey, and (for lack of a better descriptor) cool as hell. Another thing that really made me laugh was Antonia bringing Captain Britain a cup of hot chocolate after she breaks through the wall. It’s one of those classic “comforting someone in shock” moves, but it’s just totally absurd within the context of Battleworld. I mean come on – where’d that hot coco come from?

But I also got a kick out of character’s half-remembering their experience — of course dudes like Spider Hero and Captain Britain aren’t going to be able to remember who and what they are, we can barely remember that information. That ends up being a double-edged sword, though, as I found myself struggling to make a connection to these heroes. Other than Jen Walters, they’re all essentially aliens to me. And I guess I shouldn’t need to know all the players ahead of time to get into a long-delayed war between walled-off cities, but so much of that is predicated on the (evidently) unusual kindness of these characters. We get a healthy flashback at the beginning of the issue, but it mostly serves to flesh out Tony Stark, who dies a the end of the flashback. Plus, that origin story is kind of folded in to Yinsen’s dream, so I’m not totally sure what to do with it.

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Inhumans Atillan Rising 3

InhumansPatrick: We’re starting to get to the point in a lot of these series where the overall conflict of Battleworld is spilling over into the individual kingdoms. There’s obvious beef between the Medusa and Black Bolt camps of Inhumans, but the conflict gets a weird little bit of context in the opening lines of the issue: “Blackagar Boltagon, you are hereby accused of treason against the rule of the almighty Lord Doom. Surrender immediately and you will not be harmed.” I’m not totally convinced that the series needed extra stakes – I’m already totally on board for a civil war that pits the Inhuman First Family against each other. However, that line does set up Black Bolt for one of the coolest comebacks I’ve ever read.

Black Bolt says no

Even cooler: I know we’ve seen Black Bolt say “no” in non-Secret Wars contexts, and the result is always a physical shockwave that levels his enemies. Here, the power of Bolt’s “no” is purely symbolic, but no less spectacular.

Unfortunately, after this first page — which I maintain is an absolutely stellar first page — the proceedings get clogged up with more Inhumans that you can shake a stick at (or… y’know, remember). There’s no visual short hand for who’s in which side, so I had a tough time following the tide of battle, except as it pertained to Black Bolt and Medusa. Honestly, I would have been happy to see the whole issue focused on their fight. Black Bolt’s hood goes a long way toward making that character look tough, and Medusa’s hair has a very physical, elastic quality to it. Her hair never feels this strong and physical – artist John Timms draws it more like a hive of angry tentacles. Spencer, were you able to keep a bead on who was who in the rest of the issue?

Spencer: For the most part, yeah. I got confused once or twice, but there actually is a pretty nifty code — Medusa’s soldiers are all wearing gray uniforms, while Bolt’s crew are mostly brighter colors with varied, tattered clothing. It’s literally rebels vs. elites, and thus it’s usually pretty easy to tell who’s who.

As for those extra stakes you mentioned, Patrick, they’ve been a part of this series from the start. In the very first issue writer Charles Soule established that Medusa is after Bolt’s rebels, not because of an interpersonal schism, but because if she doesn’t capture them, Doom will replace her as Baroness. Likewise, Black Bolt and his forces aren’t rebelling against Medusa, but against God Doom and the laws of Battleworld as a whole. You could still argue that these stakes aren’t exactly necessary, but either way, they certainly aren’t new. For me, what this context does is paint Black Bolt as the commander more in the right (something also enforced by the fact that Bolt has more named characters working for him), since his rebels are fighting for freedom while Medusa is supporting a tyrannical dictator, even if her reasons for doing so are understandable.

Anyway Patrick, I too love John Timms’ art here, especially in the battle scenes. He has this sense of design and space that are just breathtaking.

Black Bolt's assault

See? I love the way each panel moves in tighter on Bolt so that we can’t tell exactly what he’s doing until the next page — and all the blank space surrounding those final panels only heightens the suspense. It’s absolutely fantastic storytelling.

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Secret Wars: Battleworld 3

BattleworldDrew: In the wake of events like Infinity and “Time Runs Out,” it was easy to assume “Secret Wars” was destined to be another super-serious exploration of power. While that assumption is certainly true for the main series, many of the tie-ins have proven to be anything but serious. Secret Wars: Battleworld 3 emphasizes this beautifully, tossing what amounts to three one-off gags at us in rapid-fire fashion. The first, about one peaceable Wolverine in the midst of a multiversal war of Wolverines is the least gag-oriented, if you can believe it. That’s not to say its short on gags — Wolverine versions of virtually the entire Marvel pantheon make cameos here, all drawn in an off-kilter style reminiscent of the best Mad Magazine strips — just that it’s got some tension in it that isn’t simply played for laughs.

The other two stories are much more joke-oriented. That comes with the territory — one is a Deadpool story, and the other is just a one-page joke — but writer Ryan Ferrier pulls them both off beautifully. I’m particularly enamored of his old west Deadpool, who trades his usual pop-culture references for exaggerated old-timey slang. My heart absolutely belongs to Ferrier’s “World War Ant” story, which seems to be setting up yet another fascinating corner of Battleworld until it’s suddenly cut short. It’s silliness for silliness’ sake, but that’s exactly what “Secret Wars” needs.

Patrick: Dude, I loved that first story. The joke seems to be on the audience itself. We expect — or possibly demand — to see a Multiversal Wolverine Battle Royale, and our appetites are just as disgusting as Mojo, the vile commentator of Battleworld. Aaron Conley draws a lot of horrible violence, with distressingly intense viscera and gore, but I don’t think he ever draws anything quite as gnarly as this dude.

I haven't vomitted in over two years

Are those veins on his belly? Fucking gross, man. But for as much as the conceit of the story would suggest that this is a violent stab-fest, there’s actually a lot of page real estate devoted to Nirvana-Wolverine’s search for peace in a loud world. It’s an interesting statement on how these stories work – they’re predicated on the audiences thirst for blood, certainly, but also on our undying love peaceful love for the characters. Would this story work if it was “Terry, the clawed man?” Hell no: that needs to be Wolverine, because we know him and we love him and we know what he means.

secret wars divHail Hydra 1

Hail HydraTaylor: As I said earlier, I find the whole Secret Wars event to be disorienting and perhaps an exemplar issue of this is Hail Hydra 1. But where many Battleworld issues are disorienting unintentionally, disorientation seems to be the whole point of Hail Hydra. 

Ian Rogers, aka Nomad, escaped the explosion of Baron Zemo’s base by way of the infinite elevator. Upon exiting the elevator he finds himself in a world run by Zola (his biological father) and Hydra. Rogers tries to ask a local vandal for help but Hydra police capture the the vandal while Rogers barely escapes. Feeling guilty about getting a guy arrested and sentenced to death, Nomad rescues the vandal who is promptly killed by Roger’s doppelganger.

What makes the confusion of this Secret Wars issue a positive trait instead of a negative trait is that Rogers is in the same boat as the reader. I basically have no idea what to expect from a world run, and apparently founded, by Hydra and neither does Rogers. This puts me in the same basic position as our hero which in turn makes the world seem easier to understand for me.

One reasons this is so useful is that we get Rogers narration over all of the events he endures. This has the effect of Ian holding our hand as he guides us through the weird labyrinth of an unrecognizable world.

Narration!

I love how Rogers pieces information together that I wouldn’t have thought of, like how an army sent to dispatch a vandal shows a society strictly controlled. Additionally, I like really enjoy how writer Rick Remender writes Roger’s thoughts as fragments rather than as full sentences. This makes his narration not only kinetic and driven, but more how I find myself thinking as well. That is to say, Roger’s narration feels natural and unlike some voice-overs, adds more to the issue than it detracts.

Spencer, aside from the narration and weird but effective use of disorientation, I thought the action scenes in this issue were great. Also, there seems to be a lot going on here about personal identity and free will. You have anything to say about either of those things?

Spencer: I think issue one is just starting to set up both of those themes, but I like the way Remender has set them up thus far. A lot of the fun of Battleworld and its numerous domains is seeing familiar characters take on new, and sometimes drastically different, roles, but this is the first time we’ve seen a character come face-to-face with one of those polarizing alternate selves. This version of Ian Rogers appears to be our Ian Rogers from Earth-616, adding an extra bit of oomph to the reveal — not only is Ian trapped in a world he doesn’t understand, not only has he met the version of himself he most fears becoming, but there’s also a chance that the consequences of this meeting could last long after Secret Wars comes to an end. This is a critical moment for Ian Rogers indeed.

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Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps 2

Captain MarvelDrew: I love good intrigue. There’s something remarkably compelling in discovering the story is different than you were lead to believe. Generally speaking, the fun is discovering something much more sinister lurking beneath the surface of the world as we know it, but Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps attempts something much more subtle, porting that idea to a “normal” that is just as alien to us. It may be difficult at times to relate to a world full of people terrified of blaspheming, in spite of none of them actually believing Doom’s creation story, but writers Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Thompson ground much of the issue in very simple objectives: keep Rhodey’s presence a secret, and ready the planes for space flight. Carol and her corps manage both, but by the end of the issue, it’s all been jeopardized by a short-sighted corpswoman itching for adventure. That’s an appropriate attitude for a disciple of Carol Danvers (this whole issue is really about her quest for the stars), but it mucks up their plans quite royally.

Spencer: I dunno Drew, there are probably plenty of people who can relate to the fear of blaspheming that Carol and her Corps feel. In countries facing cruel dictatorships this may be a quite literal fear, but others no doubt feel similarly when they have to hide, say, their sexuality or gender identity from their family in order not to be shunned or disowned. Like Carol, Rhodey, and the Corps, they’re all searching for truth and freedom outside of the restrictive, preordained world they’ve been assigned — and again, like the cast, doing so despite the risks takes a great deal of courage. Maybe this isn’t quite an universal experience, but I think it’s quite a valuable one to explore — and hey, if for some reason you can’t quite latch onto this element of the issue, there’s still plenty to love. Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps 2 is a tense, nail-biter of an issue from beginning-to-end, and that kind of suspense is the mark of a great comic.

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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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3 comments on “Secret Wars Round-Up: Issues released 7/15/15

  1. Great reviews as always, Al Ewing and his continuity and event jokes were quite funny in Mighty Defenders, one of my favorites this week. Siege seems to be setting up a lot of sadness, so I’m already preparing myself.

    What I read this week that is related to Secret Wars were Silver Surfer 13 and Ant-Man Annual 1, they are different in the sense that they are more about the future of the Marvel Universe after SW. Ant-Man Annual has a nice surprise at the end, by the way, so I recommend it!

      • And Taylor and I will be doing a full article on Ant-Man Annual on Monday! I’ll save my finer thoughts for the article, but suffice it to say, I enjoyed it a lot.

        Thanks for stopping by and the kind words Noni, we always appreciate it!

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