Friday, 22 March 2013

SWA #11-12: "...And Dust To Dust!", "...Nothing To Fear..."

(The end of the beginning.)


When last we visited the Beyonder's Battleword, Doctor Doom had just pulled the ultimate fast one and acquired Galactus's power, making him in effect a living god, a result he's only to pleased to explain to the heroes.  As issue #11 kicks off, Molecule Man gets rather suspicious watching the heroes chinwagging with his former boss, and creates a new atmosphere-scraping mountain with them on top so he can talk to Doom alone.  Here we see our first proof that Doom really has changed (other than his lovely new entirely unscarred face).  Old Vic might have atomised Owen Reece simply for interrupting his conversation.  New Vic feels more generous, and teaches Owen how to affect biological molecules in the same way he does inorganic ones.

Whilst Cap's posse scramble down the planet's newest mountain before they run out of air, then, the Molecule Man grabs the entirety of the Denver suburb transported here a few days earlier and, wrapping it in an airtight dome, begins the long voyage home with the neighbourhood as his starship and ten very impressed supervillains as his crew.  I would read the shit out of that series.
With the villains gone, our heroes are safe to take up residence in Doombase, that being the least battered base they know of, as well as giving them the chance to keep an eye on Captain Marvel and see if there's anything to be done for her.  With seemingly no-one left of the planet but hot cat aliens with healing powers, it seems things are pretty quiet for now.  Colossus skips out to woo Zsaji, but otherwise things seem pretty peaceful.

Until something comes in the night and starts possessing people, first Hulk, then Spider-Woman.  Apparently it's looking for Klaw, but Doom ruins the plan by arriving to take his loyal lunatic back to his new 200-mile high base.  Whatever other force had been searching for Klaw disappears, leaving the heroes none the wiser.  As parting gifts, Doom returns Captain Marvel to normal, and cordially invites the heroes to join him in his massive edifice the following day.

Deciding prudence is the better part of valour, our heroes show up at the appointed hour, and are ushered into Doom's presence by a fully restored Klaw.  Doom announces that his quest to become the supreme being is now complete, and with that done the affairs of humans have become rather uninteresting. He decides to atone for recent crimes by resurrecting Kang (something of a strange way to say sorry, I'd have said, but then who am I to criticise the LOGIC OF DOOM), and offers the heroes a boon.  Rather snippily, they turn him down, and head back to Doombase in the hopes that Reed can get them all home. 

Except not all of them head out.  Whatever possessed Spider-Woman (and let's not kid ourselves; it's the Beyonder) never really left, and uses her to find Klaw.  The force then hops into Doom's loopy, reverb-heavy butler, and Spider-Woman staggers back to her friends none the wiser.

Once again, then, it looks a lot like everything's been settled. Cap, though, isn't willing to let things go. He's concerned Doom isn't as free of the petty passions and needs of mortality as the guy is letting on. Why fix his face if the physical realm is now irrelevant? Why plot to save his mother from an eternity of torture at the hands of Mephisto if people no longer mean anything to him? 
(Actually, I'd be pretty happy helping Doom out saving an innocent soul from infinite agony for all time, but that's exactly the sort of liberal wishy-washy thinking Steve Rogers can't afford I'd imagine.) 

Cap puts the question to the assembled heroes (including Colossus, who's taking time out of seducing Zsaji on Xavier's orders), and the vote is unanimous.  The day Doom has become both entirely benign and utterly invincible is exactly the time to strike!   

At least, it would be, except that at that moment the entire room suddenly explodes...

Issue #12 opens with some of the bleakest imagery Marvel's done before or since.  How fare our heroes? "Blood oozing from the mangled remains of their flesh sizzles across the debris of their once-mighty fortress".  Oh.

When Doom decides you've outlived your usefulness, he really doesn't mess around.

Meanwhile, aboard the good ship Denver Suburb, an exceedingly promising sitcom premise is denied us as the Enchantress hides in the bathroom and summons up an exposition elemental.  Apparently the water spirits of Asgard hang out with their equivalent numbers across the galaxy, and one of them happens to know exactly what's going on.  Enchantress and the reader both sit rather impatiently as the last eleven issues are summarised (turns out Magneto's placement with the heroes really was because of how convinced he is that he's helping other people, though I still say that Doom qualifies under similar conditions).  It's like a Game of Thrones info-dump, only without any sex.


Learning of Doom's apotheosis, the Enchantress decides Asgard should be informed, and tries to suck the life from Volcana in order to provide the necessary power for an interstellar text message. Lizard and Molecule Man catch her in the act, though, and attack.  In a panic, the Enchantress teleports herself - with Lizard in tow - back to Battleworld.  There, she drinks the energy from the Lizard instead, leaving him a charred corpse, and tries to teleport back to Asgard.  The universe's most fascinating variant on Big Brother has just suffered its first evictions.

Back in reality's most phallic tower, Doom is brooding over the death of the heroes.  Klaw is convinced he subconsciously wanted them to survive, hence why he blew up their conference room rather than stripping the area down to its constituent atoms.  He also suggests Zsaji might have found Colossus' armoured body and been able to restore him, after which he could save Richards by putting him in a nearby alien medical pod, which in turn could lead to Mr Fantastic saving everyone else.

Doom rejects this as so ludicrously unlikely as to be worth not a moment's thought, especially since in thinking about it he might actually resurrect the heroes by accident in any case.  It's not easy having the powers of a living God. 

One gets the distinct impression here that Klaw wants the heroes to have survived, and when a moment later Mjolnir smashes through the wall, it's clear he's gotten his wish (either because his ridiculous story turned out to be true, or Doom subconsciously retrospectively made it true; I don't know which option is more stupid).  Immediately he announces his wish to kill them all, which seems odd, but then the guy is certifiable, and possessed besides.  Maybe he just wanted the personal pleasure of killing them himself.  Or maybe he's angling for a slice of Doom's power.

That's what he gets, anyway, and he busies himself creating an army of monsters, led by a newly-resurrected Ultron, which I believes now returns the Secret Wars casualty rate to 0%.  Amidst a pitched battle, Captain America overcomes Klaw (the power to "blacken ten thousand suns" apparently being of limited use when one receives a drop-kick to the face) and confronts Doom.

This, though, is the moment Klaw has been waiting for. Each time Doom atomises Captain America (for interrupting nap time, I presume), Klaw resurrects him, until eventually Doom becomes so furious he loses control, and the Beyonder's power starts spilling out in all directions.  That's what the force possessing Klaw - the Beyonder himself, by Jove! - has wanted all along, and feeding off the escaping energy, the creator of Battleworld and instigator of the Secret Wars is once again whole.  He exacts some measure of vengeance by returning Doom to his previous, horribly-scarred appearance, and then he, Doom and Klaw all disappear.  The heroes, it seems, have won by default.

Not without cost, however.  Whether Doom allowed it to happen, caused it to happen, or simply didn't see it coming, the heroes were indeed saved by Zsaji, who perished in giving them so much of her life-force.  Colossus has some mourning to do, then, but for the rest of our heroes, it's really about tying up loose ends whilst waiting for Reed to figure out how to get them home.  There are two developments here that intersects with this blog's focus.  The first is Xavier's announcement that he shall continue to take part in field missions, during which time he'll be in command.  Storm (and Wolverine) continue to think this is a mistake, and given Charles's first act is to create a new costume in a colour exactly halfway between lime green and diarrhoea brown, it's easy to see why one might consider Xavier unsuited for field work.

The other we need to take notice of is the return of Lockheed, who after several issues MIA has returned... with a girlfriend!  Apparently the after-shocks of the battle between Doom and the Beyonder has created some kind of background psychic wish radiation, or something. So Reed Richards claims, anyway, clearly utterly unfazed by how indescribably idiotic the idea is.  I think it's much more likely that the Beyonder is giving the victors at least a taste of the rewards he promised them, though fixing Cap's shield and giving Lockheed a little action seems somewhat far from what was originally promised.  Bringing Zsaji back might be a bit more like it, but for whatever reason, that seems to be off the cards. 

Grief stricken, Colossus rejoins the X-Men and their dragons, and Reed uses the Beyonder's own technology to beam our favourite mutants home again, though the addition of Lockheed's squeeze apparently causes some problems with the system.  One by one our superhero teams leave the Beyonder's patchwork world, until only Ben Grimm remains, determined to stay behind as himself rather than risk returning to Earth as the Thing. 

The heroes are home, the villains have their interstellar flat-share experiment, and Ben has his face back. The Secret Wars, at last, are over.

So what have we learned?  Well, quite a lot, actually.  In terms of our focus on the X-Men, we've spent quite some time deconstructing what the series offers us in terms of mutant/human relations.  To summarise: mistrust of mutants isn't just for one-dimensional villains and witless mob dialogue anymore.  The sight of Wolverine defending Magneto's actions to Captain America strikes me as clear proof that a turning point has been reached.

That turning point is very important in more ways than one.  Firstly, it thrusts "the mutant problem" into the realm of personal politics, rather than the ignore/hate dichotomy that existed before (though Claremont has recently added "exploit" to those two poles).  Whilst there's not a single panel of Secret Wars that can sensibly called subtle, this new approach does lead to a far greater range of equally unsubtle viewpoints, which is something.

The second reason Shooter's approach is important is part of a larger consideration.  Secret Wars is to all intents and purposes the first of the blockbuster crossovers (Contest of Champions being basically Animal Olympics with Blitzkrieg instead of Kurt Woofington), so it's worth noting how it sets the template for what follows.  And one of the most obvious things to say, other than "involves massive threat to all reality" is the fact that even back in the mid '80s, an awful lot of this crossover involves the heroes basically being dicks to each other.

The idea of superhero teams that don't entirely get along is hardly new, of course.  The team Xavier assembled back in Deadly Genesis were far from a sure bet to even get to Krakoa without at least a couple of self-inflicted casualties.  The only time Wolverine gave Cyclops a break was when he was mouthing off at Professor X.  But the idea of superheroes coming together specifically to deal with a threat (albeit unwillingly here, and due to internal issues on many other occasions), simply to threaten to (or actually) punch each other out has to my knowledge its basis here.  One way of putting it is this: Secret Wars marks the end of the era when superheroes only fought each other due to misunderstandings or mind control, and ushers in an age where they might well come to blows simply because they don't like each other.

Many have argued that this kind of - dare one say it? - "civil war" between heroes has now become the standard crossover template, and indeed if one includes suspicion over Skrull infiltrators and the mind-controlling hijinks of the Serpent's hammer, it's featured prominently in just about every crossover since House of M in 2005.   It would be foolish to suggest this is a direct result of Secret Wars when one can far more easily point both to an entire decade of superheroes written as violent malcontents (that would be the '90s, if you're new to all this), as well as the fact that internal conflict has become a far more common aspect of genre fiction since the '80s in any case.  So it's not that Secret Wars was a sufficient condition for Civil War or Avengers vs X-Men.  I can certainly see an argument that it was a necessary one, however.  Whether or not this is actually a good thing, we shall talk about some other time.

With that though, then, I shall bring my Secret Wars posts to a close. Next time around, we'll finally return to our original mission of investigating the timings of Uncanny X-Men as we ask ourselves: why is monsters always start by eating Tokyo?


These issues pick up directly after SWA #10, and continues into the following day.


Thursday 12th to Friday 13th of January, 1984.


X+5Y+318 to X+5Y+319.

Contemporary Events

Christine Craft wins her lawsuit against KMBC-TV, who had demoted her from news anchor to reporter three years earlier after focus groups found her "too old", "too unattractive", and someone who "wouldn't defer to men".

Standout Line

"The exquisite Enchantress, supreme sorceress of Asgard, locks herself in the bathroom..."

If Marvel didn't release a mini-series detailing the adventures of the supervillain houseshare, mere syllables will not be able to express my profound fury.

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