Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars was one of the first, if not the first, event miniseries. Originally intended to promote a toyline (the comic is lacking in secret message producing shields…only Captain America has his shield and it doesn’t work as a communication device) it has gone on to be one of the signature events of the Marvel universe. A being known as One From Beyond, which everyone calls the Beyonder for convenience, gathers parts of different planets and forms Battleworld, where he had superheroes and supervillains battle each other in order to learn which was stronger, good or evil. Eventually good won and Secret Wars has gone on to become one of the most beloved stories in Marvel history.
With that success it’s no surprise that they would want to do a follow-up. The Beyonder, an omnipotent being who became aware of the multiverse when his reality was pierced, is an interesting challenge to the Marvel heroes. And so it was that Secret Wars II came into existence. This was not received well by fans, and having reviewed the first eight of the nine issues I certainly agree with them. I wonder, though, if my reasons are the same as other fans?
For the purposes of a proper review I did look at summaries of all the tie-ins and the one main issue I lack. This means my look into other stories isn’t perfect but what I saw is enough to sadden me. The concept is not one of my problems, in part because they didn’t use any heavy-handed Jesus metaphors that only work if you’re actually writing about the life of Jesus. The Beyonder is still curious about humans and decides to come to Earth to learn more about us. It’s actually not a bad idea. It could be an interesting look at humanity and desire, or humanity and desire in the Marvel universe, and could even be fun. It wasn’t, because “wacky god hijinks” were usually reduced to “Beyonder doesn’t know about going potty”. I think Hard Time On Planet Earth and Saban’s Masked Rider did better fish-out-of-water stories and they were just aliens. (And Dex had better instructors than Jessie did.)
But “boring” is the least of my problems with this comic. In fact, there are a few issues staying in my collection because Jim Shooter, writer of this miniseries, does give us some interesting tales. There’s Beyonder’s meeting with Boom-Boom, his challenging Death itself, and even the mob treating the Beyonder better than most of the Marvel heroes, even ones you’d think would actually be on his side in the early stages of the event. The Beyonder’s actions barely matter in most of the tie-in stories I saw reviewed. While the aftermath of this poorly thought out actions (due to not understanding how things work or sarcasm) sometimes mattered he was more often a distraction to events in the comic that had no impact on the main story. Half the comics could have not been tie-ins and would have had zero impact on the story. But do you know what really bothers me? The actions of the heroes, and even some of the “normal” people. Even for the Marvel universe jerkiness and stupidity reigns way too often.
First I want to talk about Captain America. The Avengers’ interactions with the Beyonder are usually to attempt to beat him up. Yes, they’re attacking the omnipotent being. This isn’t just their first response, it appears to be their only response in their own comic in all but one case. And when Cap isn’t tossing his shield at the Beyonder he’s making demands, usually to just leave before he causes trouble rather than try to explain that trouble. Even when he WASN’T! That’s the problem with all the “heroes” here, an assumption that Beyonder is a threat and treating him as such no matter how much he insists he’s just here to learn, so naturally that’s what he becomes.
Even the Thing gets into it but at least he has a good reason, right? Well, actually no. On Battleworld Ben was able to transform to and from the Thing whenever he wanted to. He didn’t even need a pair of rings. (80’s Saturday morning viewers may get that reference.) So he decided to stay on Battleworld where he could be human when he wanted and the Thing when he needed to. (I wonder what became of Battleworld?) It was only when that ability mysteriously disappeared (for the reason any status quo returns…someone wanted to write the original version and to heck with what contributions their predecessors did), Ben somehow returned to Earth only to find that, shockingly, Alicia wasn’t waiting for him to return. Ben even had a girlfriend on Battleworld like Colossus did (who died like Colossus’ did…I’m pretty sure Kitty broke up with him anyway). He seemed to think Alicia would be there and she ended up with Johnny over their mutual loss. And who does Ben blame?
Really, Ben? YOU decided to stay on Battleworld so you could be human. YOU decided to leave for no other reason than the power was lost (at least the way he tells it in this comic). YOU left your girlfriend behind. And all this is the Beyonder’s fault? So Ben tries to kill him in his own comic during a wrestling match until his friend and his new crush both talk him out of it. And then he goes to kill him again in Secret Wars II, only to defend him against an army of supervillains sent by Mephisto because he’s still mad Beyonder killed Death (she got better…it’s comics, you really think the embodiment of Death would stay dead when nobody else does?). At least his being evil makes sense.
The only one who has a case against helping the Beyonder would be Thing’s old comrade Sue Richards but even then she doesn’t come off so good. During the event Psycho-Man turns Sue into Malice for no good reason. (Actually, I think his whole reasoning for coming to the Marvel universe from the microverse and spreading hate all over New York City was being bored but I’m not sure.) And yet her revenge against him takes a back seat to the possible impact of an omnipotent being searching for answers, Reed’s favorite activity, right? No, she even gets mad at Franklin when he tries to tell everyone about a prophetic dream he has about the Snarks, enemies of his friends in Power Pack. Are we sure the Malice influence is gone? Like I said I understand why she’s upset but it’s hard to be on her side considering there are larger problem here. But she also assumes Beyonder can be “dealt with” by the other superteams because her revenge is more important. Our heroine, people.
The worst offenders, however, are the X-Men and New Mutants. Mephisto wanting to blow up part of the universe to stop the Beyonder I understand. (Eternity actually willing to give up an arm or wherever the Solar System exists in his body is part of the problem.) But Rachel? I know she has part of the Phoenix Force, although the specifics I’m not up on but it still seems harsh from what little I know of her. When Beyonder brings Boom-Boom to the School they see her and Beyonder and the mutants first response is to attack Beyonder, scaring Boom-Boom off. (Not surprising she would later join the wrong crowd when she goes from abusive father to people who would rather beat up her cabbie.) And why are they all after him? Because he has strange powers they can’t control and they’re afraid of him, always assuming he plans to do harm simply because he’s so much more powerful.
SOUND FAMILIAR, X-MEN?
The whole thing with the mutant stories is that the Marvel universe hates and fears them for stupid reasons. I’m always making fun of the citizenry in the Marvel universe for being cynical, fearful, and angry. They treat their heroes like villains, although somehow Captain American and the Fantastic Four usually get a pass. They attack Hulk when the real way to stop him is to NOT fight him. “Spider-Man: Threat Or Menace” might as well be the new name of the Daily Bugle at this point. Even during the Secret Invasion they decided all the Skrulls were really mutants…even if there shouldn’t be THAT many shapeshifting mutants in the world, and declared Norman Osborn the savior of Earth. There are entire movements dedicated to persecuting mutants while the readers debate the mutant or superhero registration acts. Sometimes even the heroes do that.
So what happens when the mutants are in the position of the citizens and find someone more powerful than they are? Do they (A) try to help him learn and become a better contributor to the universe and try to answer his questions about humanity? Or do they (B) treat him like so many humans treats them, even when they try to help? If you said (B) then you know the Marvel universe very well. All Beyonder wants to do is learn about us and even help others (sometimes he’s actually good at it) but at one point he just assumes being socked on the chin is humanity’s way of saying hello. Way to make a good showing to the god-like being, guys! Make us look good.
Think about the people who are actually nice to him. (Well, Reed tries, but Sue, Cap, and other heroes don’t give him a chance.) First there’s Spider-Man, where Peter tries to answer Beyonder’s questions about life as best he can. He’s one of three characters who is nice to him throughout the time they know him and actually contributes to his education. The second is an odd choice, a mobster named Vinnie (who probably got wacked by the Punisher at some point). While he initially just wants to use his powers to help his business they become good friends (a rarity since anyone else who tries to use him for their own ends tended to stay that way until Beyonder got bored or forced to kill him to resurrect Death) and Vinnie eventually tells him to go his own way and seek his own future.
The last one is “Toots”, a prostitute who works for Vinnie. While other women only fall for Beyonder thanks to his power, she honestly falls for him…somehow…and his words, a simple “I don’t see you different from anyone else”, is enough to convince her she’s worth something and gives up the live of prostitution for a legit job she can stand to look in the mirror after. She also realizes there’s no romantic possibility here and is the only woman who doesn’t end a relationship with him in tears (hers or his) or death. This convinces him that it’s good to help people, which none of the heroes seem willing to help out with. (I’m not surprised it took so long to create a superhero academy.) In fact they seem determined to stop him even when he’s doing good. Granted, guys like Dave refuse to let Beyonder see reason for their own reasons but even after that incident they would rather punch him than help him.
Finally you have the Molecule Man. While he initially tries to help he ends up on the side of the Beyonder-hating heroes, even trying to kill him…and finally succeeding at the end, when the Beyonder decides to start over from babyhood and Owen decides to kill him in that form. Even when heroes try to get Rachel or Owen to calm down and not become murderers they don’t listen to reason (Rachel even stole her friends’ life energy at one point in the tie-ins), and these other heroes didn’t bother to give the child-like omnipotent being a chance to do anything other than leave when it should be obvious that he’s not just going to go back and be nothing again because the heroes want to assume the worst…again, like people do to them all the time.
Not that I’m giving the Beyonder a clean pass here. Boom-Boom and Allison Dare (the Dazzler), had good reason to reject him. Like I said, the Beyonder is in some ways childlike. He asks a lot of questions and he tries to have experiences he thinks are important for
grownups humans to have. With Boom-Boom he scares her off after picking a fight with the Celstials just to prove he can. When he finds something interesting he likes to share. He didn’t necessarily mean any harm but he learned from Boom-Boom the wrong lessons. (When she tries to kill herself to get Beyonder to come back she first fakes an attempt to blow herself up with her own powers then decides to do it for real, which is what he does with the universe to provoke the Celestials.) He may not have meant any harm but that’s not how it looks to others as he starts balancing his power with his new emotions and personality.
With Allison it was learning about love and romance. He tries to win her over and that doesn’t quite work out, thanks in part to his not knowing how love works. He hasn’t even mastered friendship really, but Owen and Marsha are happy because they’re in love. Molecule Man is the closest thing to the Beyonder that exists in the Marvel universe. The cosmic and conceptual beings stand aside when he walks by and deferred to him when it came to fighting the One From Beyond. And yet he’s content to sit and watch TV with his girlfriend or play Trivial Pursuit with their friends. Maybe love is part of being human? But nobody taught him how to woo a woman. Like with so many he did what he thought would win him a friend, or in this case love interest. He had the sense to eventually realize using his powers, which seemed to be something he broke out when things fell apart no matter how often he claimed he wouldn’t use them, to manipulate her was unfulfilling.
Still, while he desired learning he also loved to play. Combine this with not understanding beings who weren’t whole universes and I do get why they might be afraid. Or I would if, I can’t stress this enough, the heroes weren’t acting like the citizens treat them, as a threat because of their great powers. I can understand Beyonder’s approach, and even some individual heroes, but as a whole they became hypocrites. Then you have idiots like Dave, who refused to let the heroes talk the Beyonder out of pushing harder to help others despite the consequences, consequences being something else Beyonder had trouble thinking about due to lack of experience or following anyone else’s experience (because again the heroes didn’t want to be bothered to teach him or introduce him to cartoons), or that guy who saw Beyonder sitting on an island just thinking and gathered a bunch of people to just sit around thinking. (I’m pretty sure that’s a step below those guys who ran with Forest Gump and got mad that he just ran back and there was nothing prolific about running across the country. At least they got exercise out of the deal.)
And that’s my biggest problem with this series. It’s one thing for me to joke about how stupid Marvel citizens and even the heroes on occasion are, but another when they actually live up to the joke. There are stories that aren’t very interesting because they’re boring, but too many times it’s because the heroes do to the Beyonder what the citizens do to them. The Marvel wiki (which really needs a proofreader…not that I don’t) was all I needed to satisfy my curiosity as to how this miniseries ended. It’s dull at some parts, and irritating in others. The rare moments when the concept was touching or amusing were too few and far between the dull and irritating parts. Trust me, stick with the original and ignore the sequel. It was a good idea but in the end a story that didn’t need to be told, or at least told better.