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 Ghost Racers 4, Hail Hydra 3, and M.O.D.O.K. Assassin 5.
Ghost Racers 4
Patrick: I was watching Django Unchained a few weeks ago, and for all of that movie’s virtues (it has many), one thing that always bothers me is how horrific violence is met, in turn, with more violence. Django is certainly motivated to ruin the lives of everyone living at Candy Land, but it hardly makes it any more fun to watch him slaughter a bunch of people. The film works a lot better in the context of the history the film is playing with — just like how Inglourious Basterds really only works because the Nazis were real-life awful awful people that did terrible, terrible things. I’d argue that neither of those films’ revenge fantasies actually work on their own merit. But it turns out that real-life atrocities are easier to get mad about than fictional ones. Not a revolutionary idea, I know — but this same idea makes the ending to Felipe Smith and Juan Gedeon’s Ghost Racers an uncomfortably ambiguous outing, morally speaking.
With Gabe trapped in a Ghost Racer race, Robbie teleports back to the track and unites the Spirits of Ignition against their masters. It plays out a lot like the Tarantino revenge stories I mentioned above, but without any real-world gravitas behind the Zadkiel’s actions, our heroes look more like fellow sadists than crusaders with a legitimate grudge. But the conclusion also just raises the question of how good a dude Robbie really is — if all he had to do was want to unite the Spirits of Ignition, it makes him pretty shitty that he never bothered to do so just because he was winning. That’s a moral issue the conclusion of this series doesn’t even seem to consider.
Then there are the Ghost Racing fans. Smith’s script singles out two assholes in the crowd that seem to be cheering for a violent race more than anything else and then fries them in the stands when Slade unleashes some eye-lightning. That same eye-lightning spares the family sitting right next to them, I think because they were holding signs that support Robbie.
Like, I get that they chose someone to cheer for, but they’re still presumably fans of the sport, right? Isn’t everyone in this culpable? It all adds up to a moral victory that is far shallower than I’d actually like it to be.
Drew: It also raises some weird questions about fandom. Could anyone’s reasons for supporting the Ghost Races even matter if the end result is the exploitation of the racers? Where that gets particularly icky is how that extends to the readers of this book. Could there be right or wrong ways to enjoy this series?
Patrick is right to suggest that this issue doesn’t ultimately seem that interested in addressing these questions, but what’s odd is how the violent revenge seems to reward the very fans this issue pretends to smite. I was never reading this series for the violence, so watching the Ghost Racers gouge Arcade’s eyes out before trampling him to death is a big old turn-off for me, but it’s a boon to those who really just wanted to see some graphic sadism. This issue attempts to have it both ways — giving the sadists what they want while suggesting that everyone else are appreciating it the “right” way — leaving it with no leg to stand on. Its moral seems to be “vengeance is awesome,” which I just don’t think I can get behind. That might spare me from Slade’s eye-lightning, but it also means I can’t really enjoy this issue.
Hail Hydra 3
Drew: I remember watching Bambi as a kid and being absolutely terrified of the hunters, but having basically no reaction to the death of Bambi’s mother. It might be easy to chalk that up to me being a sociopath, but I tend to think it’s because I didn’t have a meaningful frame of reference for death. I understood abstractly that Bambi’s mother was gone, but I had no emotional connection to what that meant. Over time, we build up a kind of catalogue of those moments — maybe from personal experiences with death, maybe from seeing people we care about dealing with it — giving us that frame of reference. Interestingly, the situations we empathize with don’t need to mirror any one of those moments perfectly (say, you don’t need to have lost your mother to hunters to empathize with Bambi in that moment); we can imagine what it might be like to feel that loss. Unless, of course, the loss is large enough to take us once again outside of that frame of reference. Hail Hydra 3 may find Ellie Rogers going through such a loss, but writer Rick Remender does everything he can to keep us with her.
The issue covers a lot of action and a number of plot beats, so its emotional center is largely concentrated in Ellie’s first chance to process what she’s just been through. Not only has she lost both of her parents, but she’s lost everything they fought for — she and Nomad are the only things left of the resistance. Her loss of hope feels reasonable enough, but, as Nomad points out, we can’t pretend to understand what she’s going through. Maybe I can imagine what it would be like to lose both of my parents at once, but to also have everything I’ve ever known — people, places, and ideas — snuffed out in that same moment? That may be a bit too far outside my experience for me to have any kind of emotional connection to.
Now, an empathetic connection isn’t always necessary — I don’t need to know what it’s like to walk on broken glass to cheer for John McClane — but it’s really the point of that scene. Moreover, Nomad’s speech to talk her into this hail Mary is meant to reverse that hopelessness. Without fully understanding her mindset, we can’t fully understand the meaning of changing it, which leaves the emotional core of this issue somewhat hollow. There’s still plenty of good stuff in this issue — it ends with one hell of a fight sequence — but the emotional stakes are leaving me a little cold. What’d you think, Spencer?
Spencer: I think that resting the emotional core of the issue on Ellie is a strange choice to begin with; to be honest, I’m starting to think that we’re not really supposed to try to see things from Ellie’s perspective here at all. Throughout this entire series Nomad has been the viewpoint character, and this issue specifically is about how Ian’s unique firsthand knowledge of both Steve Rogers and Zola is his greatest advantage. In a sense, that knowledge extends to Ellie — neither the reader nor Ian really know her, so we have to construct a personality for her based on what we’ve read of her parents in the past. That’s how Ian approaches her, and while he may not fully understand her, it’s enough to help her — and move their mission forward — for now.
Nomad’s unique knowledge also leads to many of this issue’s most thrilling moments, especially his prediction that Zola would take the form of Steve Rogers to attack them. It’s something that nobody in the resistance other than Ian — or perhaps Rogers himself — would have known, and it’s clever as all get-out.
The decision to stick so closely to Ian’s P.O.V. does have a few downsides, though. Most significantly, Hydra’s dystopia feels awfully generic. There’s nothing to set Hydra’s cruel world apart from the countless dystopias we’ve seen in recent years, or even elsewhere on Battleworld; even Hydra’s Nazi roots are glazed over in order to squeeze in a Nick Fury Jr. cameo. There’s a lot of political buzzwords getting thrown around here that aren’t explored — that’s understandable, because this is first and foremost a series about Ian’s issues with his two fathers, not politics, but it ultimately leaves this world not feeling as fleshed out as it could. Whether that’s a failing or not depends on what you’re looking for in the title — it doesn’t exactly have any sort of political point to make, but if you’re interested in Ian Rogers, or even if you just wanna see Roland Boschi lay down one banger of a fight scene, then this might be exactly what you’re looking for.
M.O.D.O.K. Assassin 5
Spencer: The most affecting moment of Christopher Yost and Amilcar Pinna’s M.O.D.O.K. Assassin 5 may just be the final one, where the titular assassin rechristens himself as a “mental organism designed for, but not strictly limited to, killing.” This new moniker cheekily reflects M.O.D.O.K.’s growth throughout the series; he’s discovered that there’s more to him than simply killing, but he’s also discovered that his single-minded design can work to his advantage as well. For example, Baron Mordo, despite all his power, is a complete moron; M.O.D.O.K.’s logical, tactical mind, while designed only for killing, allows him to see the flaws in Mordo’s plans instantly. M.O.D.O.K. has found a way to embrace his gifts without letting them come to fully define him, and I feel like that’s a lesson we all can take to heart.
While these themes are a powerful core to build this title around, so much of its charm still comes simply from M.O.D.O.K.’s outrageous personality, and this book wouldn’t be even half as fun without making room for ridiculous dialogue and rampant violence. My favorite moment in this respect is the opening page, where M.O.D.O.K. essentially pens a love poem devoted to his admiration of Angela’s ability to kill.
It’s a riot, and that’s this book in a nutshell.
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.