Thursday, 13 March 2014
Secret Wars II #1: "Earthfall!"
("No secret anymore...")
Ooh, good move, Jim Shooter! Last time I stumbled across Secret Wars, I was able to condense the twelve issue run into under half a dozen posts due to a comparative lack of X-action.
I can't do that this time. Not because the X-Men feature more prominently (though it would be fair to say they're the superheroes who get the most face time in this issue), but because having already essentially invented the crossover book (Contest of Champions being more of an illustrated report of a Marvel Top Trumps game), Shooter has taken another great leap forward and created the crossover which feeds into other titles.
Yes, the original SW had knock-on effects. We saw the X-Men disappear to fight on the Beyonder's Battleworld, and when they returned their experiences had (reasonably minor) consequences for the status quo. Here, though, the action is taking place on Earth, so rather than a brief team-shaped hole in the parent title, more direct tie-ins are called for.
It would not be hard, I'd think, to colour an argument that suggests that overall, Shooter's innovation ultimately caused more annoyance than entertainment across the last three decades. Certainly it's a pain in my particular posterior, since it might ultimately require nine full posts to wade through what is generally considered to be a terrible series, which presumably won't really be focused on the X-Men in any case. In this opening issue, at least, there is precisely one good mutant-related moment here, when Magneto asks why Wolverine is so hostile to him after they fought as allies on Battleworld, and Logan retorts that just because he stood up for Mags as mutant against prejudiced humans doesn't mean he doesn't fucking loathe him as a person.
So that concludes our mutant considerations. Since we're here, though, what is there to say about this opening salvo. Is it really as black (poo brown, really) as it's been painted?
Well... the first signs aren't encouraging. There are a few things here that read as stupid if taken at face value, and rather cruel if considered satire. The arrival of the Beyonder on Earth (he's come to talk to Molecule Man in the hopes of understanding humanity, presumably because Owen is closest to him in terms of power set) dressed as an amalgamation of all the heroes he kidnapped in the last series is rather a case in point. If Shooter intended this literally, it looks absolutely awful, so awful that Molecule Man pointing out it's awful doesn't save it. Some things are just too hideous to be acceptable even under lampshades.
On the other hand, you could read this as a rather unsubtle satire. "This is what you want!" screams the comic under this reading. "All the best heroes rammed together again, just like last time!". I don't actually think this is Shooter's aim here, but either way it underlines how ridiculous and hollow a story this actually is.
That's another problem here, of course. The original Secret Wars went at least some way to make the extraordinarily simplistic concept work. So far, lightning has not struck twice. A top twenty list of heroes and villains (give or take a few integers) smacking each other around has an obvious lizard-brain thrill to it. An almost omnipotent entity showing up to watch TV? Not so much.
And watching TV is important here. Shooter clearly has some kind of anally-inserted insect about the idiot's lantern here. The Beyonder ultimately decides here he is seeking experience of humanity, and watching television is too passive to count as gaining experience (what he actually decides is there's no value in watching people pretend to get stabbed when you can do the stabbing yourself). That's a position I'd actually agree with in the sense that a lack of engagement with the world more generally is a problem, but that doesn't seem to be what Shooter is, er, shooting for. He just wants to piss all over the idea that watching television is a worthwhile pursuit.
Which I'm not down with at all, and which brings with it a host of other problems. For instance, after spending so much time in the original Secret Wars calling Volcana fat for being what is by any stretch of the imagination a perfectly normal size, it's less than thrilling to see her portrayed here as an obsessive couch potato who guzzles down Doritos in front of the box even when the Beyonder himself has made a house call. Stewart Cadwall, the antagonist of this issue - presumably introduced since the heroes can't possibly fight the Beyonder himself - causes more problems, being as he is a horribly unsubtle caricature of a Democratic TV writer, convinced his pacifist views and high-falutin' ideas make him superior to everyone else in television and, by extension, the people who watch it. He's the stereotypical smug out-of-touch cowardly coastal elitist that shows up in the first three minutes of any Republican stemwinder worthy of the noun.
But as soon as he gets himself a dose of power courtesy of the Beyonder, it suddenly becomes time to obliterate his enemies. Which really pisses me off. There is more that distinguishes the left from the right in America than the fact that the right has the power to abuse others and the left does not. This idea that all that prevents progressives from being as needlessly cruel as conservatives is the lack of opportunity left me hating Stacy Title's The Last Supper, and it's no more preferable in this far less subtle form. Indeed it's even worse here; Cadwall uses his powers to destroy the TV stations that have blighted his life by wanting to make popular programmes, but the instant he loses his power (after being beaten by the X-Men, Iron Man and Captain America) he realises he's deep-sixed his own career. Foolish liberal! Biting the hand of the corporation that deigns to feed him! When will those pinkos ever learn?
So it's all quite over-the-top, and rather uncharitable. What little balance it has is in being as contemptuous of mass-market television as it is of people who want to try and improve it (a position which, not for nothing, is a tad hypocritical coming from a man trying to do new and interesting things with lowbrow superhero titles - those who live in glass houses shouldn't be massive pricks, as the saying goes). Television is awful, and the people who want to save it unbearable, so just give it up and read a book. Or, you know, a comic book in which people dressed stupidly punch each other for fucking ages.
In other words, we're not off to a good start. I'm not sure how this series keeps going, either. The Beyonder seems so insanely powerful that the only way to deal with him might be to undercut the entire narrative, and in any case his quest to understand and experience feels far to Star Trek TOS for my tastes.
But there's plenty of time for Shooter to turn this thing around. First, though, let's see how the unfolding crisis ripples into the title that launhed this blog. How will the Beyonder's hijinks affect the X-Men's uncanniosity?
This story begins in the evening and carries into the following day. It intersects with New Mutants #29 (replaying the scene where Magneto recruits Cannonball, Magik, Dazzler and Lila Cheney), and also follows up from NMU #28 as Xavier recovers from his exertions. We have the latter two events as taking place on the same day, but that doesn't quite work as Xavier is seen recuperating the day before Magneto acquires his new troops. Some slight adjustment to the New Mutants timeline is therefore required.
Sunday 30th to Monday 31st December, 1984.
X+6Y+304 to X+6Y+305.
Basketball star LeBron James is born, presumably already at least four feet in height.
"You're a Republican, aren't you? Well now there'll be one fewer!"
Stewart Cadwall - AKA Thundersword - prepares to execute Captain America.