Secret Wars is a mammoth event — Marvel has populated an entire Battleworld with Wolverines, Captains America and Spider-Men. There’s a lot in here that’s worth reading, but we don’t always have the time to dig deep into all of them. The solution? A quick survey of what we’re reading. Today, we’re discussing Inhumans: Attilan Rising 5, Years of Future Past 5, Weirdworld 4, and Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps 4.
Inhumans: Attilan Rising 5
Drew: Comics get a lot of flack for being predictable. For all of your Death of Wolverines and Superior Spider-Mans, there are literally thousands of issues where those heroes win the day as expected. Alternate universe stories get to play with those rules a little more, meaning there are no real guarantees about how the story will end. Of course, our awareness of a story being set in an alternate universe can also undermine our investment in it, leaving us indifferent to even the most shocking endings. Charles Soule and John Timms acknowledge this paradox directly in their conclusion to Inhumans: Attilan Rising, and manage to turn it into a much more profound statement on the indelible nature of these characters.
The issue finds Black Bolt and Medusa teaming up to hatch a thrown-together plan to destroy the New Attilan broadcasting tower. That plan quickly falls apart, but Black Bolt elects to undergo terrigenesis to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Secret Wars has been rife with characters ascending to the heroic status we all recognize, but Soule adds an intriguing twist — Doom, observing the events of the issue from his ivory tower, remarks that these are “the same results as last time,” and snaps his fingers to start again. It’s a decidedly unsatisfying ending for this iteration of these characters, but might be a bit more inspiring for the idea of these characters. That might be a shade to abstract for me to relate to emotionally, but I’m curious to hear what you thought, Patrick.
Patrick: Yeah, that twist does smartly express how arbitrary some of the Secret Wars remixes have been, but it’s hard to get excited about a piece of fiction that is so focused on how pointless it is. I’ll mention this further down the piece, but something like Weirdworld can find a way to actually engage with the feelings readers have in reading these what-if stories rather than exasperatedly throwing their hands in the air and saying “what if” again. I suppose this does give us a clearer picture of what Doom has been going through in crafting this Battleworld — and begs the question of how many other stories we’re reading are really just aborted drafts of alternate realities that Doom will flip the reset switch on. Ultimately, I guess it doesn’t matter: it’s all make-believe, and a particularly temporary brand of make-believe at that. I don’t know that I have any fun with that revelation, but as part of the fuller tapestry of Secret Wars stories, this might be a necessary antidote for goofy genre mash-ups and the like.
Years of Future Past 5
Think of it, fair reader, not as if the decision of the question depended upon yourself, but upon that hot-blooded, semi-barbaric princess, her soul at a white heat beneath the combined fires of despair and jealousy. She had lost him, but who should have him?
Frank R. Stockton, “The Lady or the Tiger?”
Drew: I can remember the buzz of argument after my fourth grade teacher read “The Lady or the Tiger?” to my class, but I maintain that we straight-up don’t have enough information to assert anything. Stockton makes it clear that we’re not guessing based on our own assumptions of human nature, but upon the psyche of the princess herself, who I don’t think we know well enough to speak for. Is she merciful or homicidally possessive? We don’t know, and any guesses are really just guesses. So, when Marguerite Bennett and Mike Norton conclude Years of Future Past with a similar question — and a final image that is literally just a lady and a tiger — I can’t help but feel a little frustrated.
The question — whether the sirens the mutants hear at the end of the issue are ambulances or sentinels (though why assassin robots would wear sirens is beyond me) — hinges entirely on the mindset of President Kelly. As in “The Lady or the Tiger?”, this isn’t so much a meditation on human nature as it is an exercise in predicting the actions of a character we barely know. Was he swayed by Chrissie’s appeal for mutant reform, or do his decades of anti-mutant policies reflect a hatred of mutants so profound it couldn’t be overcome (or, even more cynically, is his anti-mutant platform too politically important to backpedal on)? The only real answer is: we have no idea.
More importantly, though, is the fact that we don’t care. Kelly was never a central player in this series, so hinging the ending on the question of his morality is utterly unsatisfying. What we care about is what happens to these mutants, and this issue frustratingly denies us that answer. There’s no Inception-style “it doesn’t matter” explanation — whether they live or die determines whether any of the actions these characters took in this series was worth it. Was it? Like “The Lady or the Tiger?”, I’m afraid we’ll simply never know.
Patrick: Akron may have spent years seeking out his true home of Polemachus, but we’ve only been with him for a few short issues. And from our perspective, the experience has been nothing short of delightful: Mike Del Mundo’s art is colorful and inspired and Jason Aaron’s script has leaned into “weird” with characters made of diamonds and underwater monsters. The urgency of Akron’s quest hadn’t really been made clear until this issue, when his Odyssey takes a turn toward the hopeless during his battle with Skull the Slayer. It’s not as though a little thing like a battle with someone named “The Slayer” is going to upset our boy Akron — that’s the kind of shit he’s been up against forever — no, it’s when The Swamp Queen and her Man-Things start showing Akron what he wants that he starts to lose it. He sees his home, actually sees it, and then witnesses the whole city melting. Any narrative about homecoming is fraught with the idea that the home you left will not be there when you return: to use my earlier example of Odysseus, he found his wife holding a contest to determine who should be her new husband (and then, of course, Odysseus just started killing all 136 suitors).
Of course, the story of Akron’s homecoming is specific precisely because of its ties to Secret Wars and Battleworld. I know a lot of our readers haven’t been following Marvel on their summer-experiment and while I’ve mostly had a blast, I can’t really blame anyone who’s stayed away. Battleworld is a weird place where characters and concepts and places look familiar but are actually different and alienating. That’s what Akron has been going through: his experience in Weirdworld is the audience’s experience with Battleworld, and now that he’s being teased with images of his home forever changed, it seems as though the conclusion will also mirror our transition back into the All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe. It might sound trivial, but the anxiety of losing something you love is real. I don’t think Aaron and Del Mundo are weighing in much on whether it’s right or wrong to feel this way about Battleworld, but I will put forth that they relish the opportunity to render the scenes of Weirdworld with as much splendor as Del Mundo can muster. So, even if it’s scary, even if it’s unfamiliar, even if it’s weird – how can you say no to something that looks like this?
Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps 4
Shane: While it isn’t rare that any series might draw a fervent fanbase, it’s undeniable that there’s something special about Kelly Sue DeConnick’s take on Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel. It’s clear that this run has been inspirational, both in-universe and out here in the real world, and although I’m somewhat reluctant to make a messianic comparison, this Secret Wars miniseries has really driven that point home, as Captain Marvel manages to not only lead her flock out of danger, but also convinces Kit — once one of her own, who left to join the Thors against her — to reconsider her choices. Kit turning against the rest of the Thor Corps. isn’t the first such instance of a Thor acting out in Secret Wars, but for me it was the most poignant, as having Kit in such a role against Carol just felt…off. Although young, she’s been one of the most important members of the title’s cast and among her strongest supporters, even when times were tough.
Some have argued that DeConnick’s take on the character focuses too much on making her an inspiration, artificially inflating her worth in the Marvel universe, but I think that if you’ve read the run — and this issue is no exception — it’s demonstrated that every measure of Carol’s value is hard-earned. Even here, in an alternate reality, as Captain Marvel leads the Carol Corps. to battle, she’s demonstrating her leadership capabilities and drawing her team together, not in a devoted rush to doom but rather to strategically plan their attack. The Thors are terrifying foes with awe-inspiring power…so what does this team have? How do they win? The answer to that question suggests, I think, just what has been so special about this run.
Thor is one of Marvel’s most iconic heroes, and although Carol Danvers has a long history with the company, she hasn’t reached nearly that level of fame. But if you look at her vocal fanbases, it’s an entirely different story. Here in Secret Wars, the Thors may be powerful and nigh-unstoppable…but they aren’t a team. The Carol Corps. may be mostly human and completely outgunned, but there’s a level of unmatched passion and unity that can’t be beaten. That belief in Captain Marvel has extended to the real world in a powerful way, and sure, even though Thor may sell more and be considered an iconic title, it’s Captain Marvel that means more. As we say goodbye to DeConnick’s run on the title, I’m happy to see that spelled out on the page, because while the title may be changing hands, it’s been her work that has defined this character and set Captain Marvel up to become a Marvel mainstay.
Drew: Absolutely. I think it’s fair to say that DeConnick’s Captain Marvel has always been a team book, even when Carol’s the only superhero on the team — her supporting cast has been key to understanding not only who this character is, but how we should react to her. This issue is no different, giving almost as much page space to the Banshees as it does Carol, and giving basically all of the heroic moments to the rest of the cast. Helen and Rhodey opt to stay behind to face almost certain doom (no pun intended) to buy the Banshees some time, and it’s Kit’s loyalty that ultimately turns the tide in the battle. In that way, Carol’s biggest contribution in the issue is inspiring those acts of heroism — it’s not just that she’s a hero, it’s that she makes everyone she encounters want to be a hero, too. Showing us that via an in-narrative “Carol Corps.” drives the real point home: Carol Danvers inspires us to aim higher, to reach further, to go faster, and to want more.
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.