Tuesday, 3 June 2014

SW2 #2-4: "I'll Take Manhattan!", "This World Is Mine!", "Love Is The Answer!"

(Throw the baby out with the bath water. Then retrieve the bath water.)


When I was eight years old my sister and I would go to our friend's house down the street and play make-believe. One of our favourite games involved me pretending I was an ambassador from a subterranean race.  These underground dwellers had various special powers - brought about by... well, we never really came to a conclusion on that - and had access to indescribable sums of wealth via coins made from pure diamond.

I thought it was an OK game - I preferred the one where we were having a sleepover attacked by disembodied cannibalistic heads - but more than a quarter of a century later, its clear it's a scenario best left in childhood. It certainly wouldn't do to base multiple issues of a high-profile comics crossover on the idea.

Jim Shooter, it's fair to say, disagrees. What else is the Beyonder but my childhood fantasy writ large; an infinitely powerful being exploring Earth with access to whatever money he needs to buy things and people to play around with. Quite frankly, there's more than a whiff of self-indulgence here. Shooter created the Beyonder, which explains his interest in the character, but what is there to him that could interest anyone else?  In the original "Secret Wars", he was clearly nothing but an extra-galactic MacGuffin, existing purely to explain why the most popular Marvel superheroes would end up spending twelve issues punching each other and various supervillains in their gamma-irradiated faces.  I'm baffled as to how anyone could look at that story and decide the best plan would be to remove the team-up aspect and the actual war in order for the sequel to focus on someone so utterly functional.

Which is what we end up with here.  And it's awful. The Beyonder's infinite power robs these issues of any dramatic potential, which basically leaves us with three options: social commentary, wish-fulfilment, and discussing the limits of power. Shooter is kind enough to separate these threads into three consecutive issues, which at least offers us some structure.  That's pretty much where the compliments have to end.

Issue #2 deals with the Beyonder attempting to process the basics of human life. This comes across as a little strange - he observed us for years before wanting to explore the nature of human desire but he doesn't know about food or gravity? - but we can set that aside; the much bigger problem is how lazy this all is.  If you want to craft jokes and provide askance comments on society this is pretty much the most obvious route you can possibly take.  That means you have to work hard to avoid the path of least resistance. Shooter almost never even tries to move beyond phoning in cheap shots and obvious misunderstandings. The Beyonder thinks you eat everything a hot-dog vendor gives you including the glass bottle your soda came in! Ha ha!  The Beyonder will "step outside!" if you ask him to, even if he has to go through a fourteenth floor window! HA HA HA!  Alongside the seemingly endless scenes of the Beyonder failing to understand idioms and synecdoches, he asks penetrating questions of US society like "what are clothes?" and "why is eating?"  This isn't a warped mirror held up to our culture, this is people trying to figure out how any of this is their problem, which is at least a feeling the reader can sympathise with.

There is one nice moment where the Beyonder greets Luke Cage by punching him full in the face, as a few days in the hyper-violent Marvel Universe has led him to experience far more surprise attacks than he has handshakes. And I do like the fact that over the issue the Beyonder actually gets more useful information from a black bag lady and from Luke Cage than he does from three high-profile white superheroes. Because if you want to know how to fit into a world that doesn't seem to have been constructed with you in mind, why would you ever ask someone Caucasian?

This pattern continues in issue #3 when the Beyonder encounters a hooker who, once again, is rather more use to the Beyonder than, say, Mr Fantastic [1]. Aside from this one interesting note, though, this issue manages to be even worse than its predecessor. As awful as SW2 #2 was, at least it was making points about the difficulties of assimilation, even if those points were as lazy and uninformative as is humanly possible.  In this issue, the Beyonder befriends some rather... interestingly designed street criminals, and gradually works his way up the food chain by providing gold and protection to his new friends.  In between he eats whatever he wants in the finest restaurants without getting fat, and lazes on a gigantic hydrofoil in the ocean fucking models, each and every one of which has fallen in love with him (where "in love" here translates naturally to constantly pestering him for more of the penis from Beyond).  It all seems like rather grotesque wish-fulfilment: use your powers of awesomeness to get hot women to fall in love with you and let them fuck them in ménage a huit on your sparkling hydrofoil in-between eating insane amounts of food and hanging out with gangsters without having to be afraid of them or hurt anybody to get your kicks.  That's a damn cynical way to read this tale, I admit, but I'm utterly at a loss to explain what else this story can possibly be about. There's just nothing else to it. There's no insight or moral; no-one spends any time worrying about whether a life of crime is moral or worthwhile. Except for Toots, the streetwalker the Beyonder encountered at the start of the issue; she falls for him and realises it was only the attention of a good man that was stopping her from breaking through her self-hatred and realising her current job was disgusting and she could become a woman of character.  There's just so much to hate in that idea.

There's not even any real connection to the wider Marvel Universe aside from the briefest of cameos - including, hilariously, Circuit Breaker from Transformers, the only occasion I'm aware of when a character from that title appeared in a "mainstream" Marvel book:

- which I thought was supposed to be the thin thread on which this whole exercise is self-indulgence was hanging. Reducing the characters who made Secret Wars a success in the first place to bit parts is inexplicable enough. Removing them entirely to focus on what the Beyonder does when no-one we care about is around is an exercise in toe-curling egotism, and the results are appropriately terrible.

(It also makes the covers of this series pretty much actionable under trades description legislation - the Beyonder "conquers the world" by deciding one day to control everything in it, and no-one even notices but the Molecule Man.  The implied confrontation with the Avengers happens a) after the Beyonder has relinquished control, b) at the very end of the book, and c) entirely off-panel. It seems the people in charge of covers realised these issues had chuff-all to recommend them on their own terms.)
Issue #4 is at least a step in the right direction, in that in this issue the Beyonder decides it is time he investigated that thing you Earthlings call "love". Finally we have a problem that the Beyonder can't immediately answer with his unlimited power - indeed, figuring that fact out is what the issue is pretty much all about.  But the simple fact that we've moved into an area where immediate success isn't guaranteed for the Beyonder doesn't mean we suddenly have a reason to give the slightest of shits about what he's up to. And there's still some weird and not unconcerning issues around the margins. I'm fine with Molecule Man telling the Beyonder that love shouldn't be a business deal, but rather less with Beyonder deciding that his latest girlfriend Sharon (who of course he has to resurrect after she kills herself because he left her) only considered their relationship a business transaction, because the "ecstasy" he brought her is just a commodity. Way to devalue a woman's sexual experience, Beyonder!

(Yes, yes, this is a character, not the author. I'm not inclined to give Shooter much in the way of charity at this point. If he can have someone take time to point out you shouldn't eat glass to the Beyonder, there's time for it to be pointed out that women get to base their love for someone on whatever they damn well please, even if it is something so ludicrously unreasonable as "how it will make [them] feel." Who doesn't love someone because of how it makes them feel? That's like saying it's wrong to eat if all it does is make you feel not hungry.  But then there isn't really time for Shooter to go through this with Sharon; she's too busy being amazed that the Beyonder might want to fall in love with a man. The Beyonder explains that's fine because he can easily be a woman as well as a man. THERE CAN BE NO OTHER EXPLANATION!)

Anyway, the Beyonder searches for a woman whose love can't be bought, and settles on Dazzler, a woman who pre-Beast had two relationships in a row with men she wasn't particularly sold on, but who splashed out significant amounts of money on her. Having looked for someone whose love can't be bought, and chosen someone whose love can be, if not bought, at least subsidised, the Beyonder proceeds to attempt to buy her love. He tries flowers, tours of amazing places, a magic ring, access to a recording studio. All we really learn here is that the Beyonder can't actually remember his own plans. We also have the frustrating scene of the Beyonder accusing Dazzler of hypocrisy because she fears him for his power whilst being upset over humans for fearing her power, and she agrees rather than pointing out the important difference that she only ever uses her powers in shows and self-defence, and the Beyonder uses his to abduct women and sexually proposition them.

When showering her with gifts doesn't work, the Beyonder moves on to arranging a legit concert for Dazzler, which doesn't work because he fast-forwards her to the gig itself, so it comes across as one more cheap stunt, and fakes an attack by the Avengers to gain sympathy, which doesn't work because Alison isn't an idiot.  His last gambit is to offer Dazzler half of his power so she can understand him, only to discover she doesn't actually want to deal with what she sees.

I suppose as morals go, this isn't a bad one. You can't buy a woman's love, or trick her into it.  You have to actually meet her on her own terms, show her who you are, and hope that she approves.  As conclusions go, this is amazingly obvious, but the truth is so many men are incapable of grasping these ideas that maybe underlining them in crayon is actually necessary.

So one dull issue, one disastrous one, and a meandering mess which even generously can only really be considered one step forward, three steps back in its gender/sexual politics. It's not an encouraging scoreboardd at present, to put it mildly. In amongst all of this nonsense is at least one interesting feature; Shooter is clearly using this series to kick-start other stories in other titles.  The Beyonder releases a dark elf villain of Thor's, for example, as well as freeing Shaman's daughter Talisman from her father's medicine bag.  Really, Shooter had already come up with this idea of seeding a crossover with jumping-off points with his previous effort, but here the idea is perhaps more fully committed to.  It's a reminder that whatever else Shooter is, he was positively uncanny in predicting what comics crossovers would look like thirty years on.

Which just makes how horrible these issues are all the more perplexing.

[1] In Reed's defence, the Beyonder did come to him for answers whilst he was battling to save his wife from the influence of the Hate Monger.  This though raises another problem. Who could have thought it made sense for sections of important battles in Fantastic Four to be resolved here?  Are they repeated in FF proper, making this almost entirely redundant? Or did FF readers actually have to buy this issue to fully understand what was happening?


Issue 2 is described as taking place a few days after the Beyonder's arrival on Earth. This clashes with the Uncanny X-Men time-line, though, and for obvious reasons we'll be taking the latter as gospel.  We'll therefore move the beginning of these issues to the day following the Beyonder's encounter with Rachel Summers. Issue 3 continues on directly, and spreads over at least ten further days.

Issue 4 takes place over two days, but also intersects with Alpha Flight, which causes some fairly major timing issues.  Or at least, it would if the Beyonder was incapable of time travel.  It's clear he wants to pay Shaman for the privilege of using his medicine bag (to extract an engagement ring; what that's doing in the bag and why the Beyonder can't make his own with his infinite powers of awesomeness is never explained), and returning Talisman to the real world makes perfect sense as a quid pro quo.  There's no reason why the Beyonder couldn't have stepped back in time to the exact moment Talisman was swallowed, in fact by the strange measures of such things, that might actually make more sense than the coincidence of the Beyonder needing something from Shaman's pouch at the very same moment Shaman requires the Beyonder's aid to rescue his daughter.

On the other hand, we really will have to change the Dazzler time-line; there's no reason to see why the Beyonder would pluck Dazzler from the past rather than the present.


Monday 14th to Thursday 24th January, 1985.


X+6Y+319 to X+6Y+329.

Contemporary Events

Your humble blogger turns five. Also, BT announce that their classic red telephone box is to be slowly phased out

Standout Line

"The experience is consummated!"

A happy ending to the Beyonder's trip to Spidey's bathroom.

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