Friday, July 24, 2015

Marvel's Secret Wars


Buckling beneath the unrelenting weight of 60-plus years of long-term continuity, Marvel has finally decided to reboot their entire universe.


This is a good thing.

I mean, come on, man... the idea that a modern day reader has to be familiar with stories and character histories written thirty to forty years ago is fucking ludicrous. And what is a brand new reader supposed to do? Research? Get out of here. Now, while obviously this isn't the main reason there aren't as big of crowds of new readers these days as there were in the past, it sure as shit doesn't help things. Especially when older readers treat it all as so god damn essential.

Which it isn't.

And this gets to the heart of the problem...

I've been reading comics forever, and despite their long time consumer loyalty, I've found that the main thing older readers seem to contribute to the industry as a whole is to exacerbate a certain problem. They encourage a certain line of thought that is cancerous and slowly destroying comics. They do this by acting like every issue of every title is just one more chapter in one big story. They act like it was all intended from the very start to be read continuously from beginning to end, instead of just admitting that--for the most part--it's all nothing but a bunch of random and arbitrary and often very simple-minded adventure tales, written over the course of years--literal decades--by a multitude of different creators, all of whom vary wildly in both talent levels and social agenda. Decades! Times change. Society changes. Comics have changed too, everything from publishing models to the technology used to create them. Shit, man, even the writing style has changed. Everyone always points to Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore's Watchmen as the twin stories who famously added familiar writing techniques, character motivations, and story tropes to comics, resulting in all of those 2-D books suddenly becoming 3-D.

At least as far as the stories were concerned...





But that shit was published 30 fucking years ago, man...

30 years! And now, what was once revolutionary, is well and truly stagnant. Times change, so should comics. That's what I'm talking about today. But before we get to the details, here's some larger issues you might need to know about first...

What is Continuity?
Long-term continuity is what I was just bitching about. It's the idea that something was said or done in a story in... lets say, 1970-something or whenever, and from that point on, that particular character's tale has been shaped and guided by that moment. From that point on, they can no longer act in any way that contradicts that moment, because it's a set-point, like Columbus sailing the Ocean Blue in 1492. The problem with this when it comes to a long-running serials is, it narrows options. Actively--and passively--holding on to stories from so long ago eventually does nothing but choke the creativity out of the industry. It cuts off new directions. It predetermines paths. Succinctly put, Long Term Continuity makes the best creators slaves to the worst. 

What is Secret Wars?
1984 was a big geek year. 1984 was the year Indiana Jones and The Temple Of Doom was released. So was A Nightmare On Elm Street, Dune, Romancing The Stone, Supergirl, Starman, The Toxic Avenger, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Repo Man, The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension, Revenge of the Nerds, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, This is Spinal Tap, The Last Starfighter, Ghostbusters, Conan the Destroyer, and The Terminator. Seriously, folks, it was the type of year that determined the rest of some peoples' lives... ahem...

Moving on... 

1984 also featured one of the first big comic book crossovers. A year long event where a super powerful character called The Beyonder brought a mix of heroes and villains to a "battle world" (made up out of pieces of many different worlds), and then made them all fight. It was awesome. 

Okay, sure, it also ended up leading us to Venom, but hey... can't all be winners.



Oh, how progressive of you, Reed..

What is the Multiverse?
Well, The Multiverse is a real term, with real applications in real science. Succinctly put: The multiverse (or meta-universe) is the hypothetical set of infinite or finite possible universes (including the Universe we consistently experience) that together comprise everything that exists: the entirety of space, time, matter, and energy as well as the physical laws and constants that describe them. The various universes within the multiverse are sometimes called "parallel universes" or "alternate universes". This is how a comic company like Marvel keeps the main universe (Earth 616--the one with the stories pretty much everyone is familiar with) and the Ultimate Universe (Earth 1610--a secondary one that influenced a lot of the movies' styles) separate. This is where all the "What if..." like "Iron Man as a cowboy" type stories exist. In comics, it's basically a way of filing and organizing various story continuities.

So what's going on today?
The End of Everything. The Multiverse is dying. I've talked about this story before.

It's been a favorite of mine, a twisting, turning, surprisingly complex tale of sacrifice, betrayal, graying morals and fierce survival. It mostly took place in the New Avengers, written by Jonathan Hickman, over the past couple of years. In a nutshell, the multiverse was dying, caused by a cascading contraction where, one by one, universes were crashing together. When two universes would collide, they had eight hours until either one Earth (the focal point of the collision) had to be destroyed, saving both universe, or both universes would be wiped out. The Marvel Illuminati--Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Dr. Hank McCoy, Bruce Banner, Dr. Strange, The Black Panther, Prince Namor, and Blackbolt, Lord of the Inhumans--were forced to fight most of this battle in secret, trying to save everything and everyone they've ever known and loved, forced to make hard decisions--could they kill a whole world--the kind of decision that would destroy friendships, and cost heroes their souls. And when their friends and families and the rest of the world found out, they were vilified for their actions, forced to go into hiding. Next came the mad scramble, fractured teams, dark alliances, brother against brother, a titanic struggle to save the world, all for the highest of stakes, the survival of everything. Heroes, villains, and monsters not only fought each other, but a desperate situation whose inevitable result was quickly becoming apparent. In the end, not even the heroes of two universes were equal to the task.

In the end, they all failed.


And now...

The Multiverse was destroyed.

Two Life Rafts escaped the final collision of Earth-616 and Earth-1610, carrying heroes and villains from both realities.

Now the survivors have awakened in Battleworld, a planet composed of the fragments of worlds that no longer exist and maintained by the iron will of its God and Master, Victor Von Doom.



Everything is different now.


In this new patchwork reality, the various realms exist in different times and settings, and all are kept separate by impossibly high walls. Multiple versions of characters exist in different areas. Multiple versions of the same character also exist in the same areas. It's an unnatural and dangerous world, the remnants of broken universes welded together, forever in constant upheaval, at war with themselves and each other, with Doom as God Emperor, Strange as Sheriff, and every Thor from every universe as their Law Enforcement.  



Sounds cool, huh? It really is. It's a strange mix of looks and tones and settings that all somehow works together really well. So far, the story is tense and well told. Hickman is really at the top of his game here. The main title of this Event--appropriately called Secret Wars--is as exciting and surprising as his Fantastic Four run... if you're familiar with his work. It is seriously Epic in scope, and yet still human. The character work is completely on point, even with such a sprawling and weird cast. In short, it's a damn good read.

Plus, the art by Esad Ribic in is amazing. Take a look.








Right?

It's awesome. If you're not reading this book, you should be.

So, as these things always go, there are also a myriad of side titles available, and many of them look pretty interesting. However, what's really cool about this particular Event is, unlike the norm, every title is pretty much a stand-alone tale, all you really need is a general understanding of the situation. None of the books are dependent upon knowing the exact details of any of the other stories in order to tell its own full story. I appreciate this. It allows you to pick and choose what titles you read without worrying that you're missing out on some essential piece of the story elsewhere.

So, with that in mind... here are the ones I am reading, and would recommend...

Marvel Zombies


Writer: Si Spurrier  Artist: Kev Walker

Marvel Zombies... I know. There were some good stories that came out of this, and there were a lot of bad. I know. I know. This one is good. Elsa Bloodstone works on the Shield Wall, daily holding back the hordes of zombies, the armies of Ultrons, and the Annihilation Wave, protecting the Realms of the living behind her from destruction. But then a teleporting accident strands her deep in the Dead Lands with only a weird bald kid for an ally, and very little chance of surviving the trip back home. I've only read one issue, but so far, so good. I'm also not familiar with Spurrier's work at all, but I do know that Kev Walker is good. Check out that zombie Dr. Octopus...

Runaways


Writer: Noelle Stevenson  Artist: Sanford Greene

This book isn't anything like the old Runaways title, this one is more like Superhero High School. It goes like this: In the Realm of Doomgard, there is a special school where only the best and brightest attend. It's a wild place. Shit goes down, and it sounds like the main characters are going to have to try to survive as a team through some kind of Hunger Games type of Graduation Final. Which means, all right... I can get behind that. I love the cast. I'm a sucker for disparate team match-ups. Cloak and Dagger, Jubilee, Bucky, Molly Hayes, Skarr, etc. Also, I really like Noelle Stevenson's work on Lumberjanes. That's just a great book. So, it's good to see her applying her style here. And so, it is because of all of that kind of stuff, that I am sticking with the book despite Sanford Greene's work, which I'm not 100% sold on it yet.

Thors



Writer: Jason Aaron  Artist: Chris Sprouse

I've never been a big Thor fan, but right now Jason Aaron is writing the hell out of that title. His "God Killer/God Bomb" story is destined to become a classic and defining story for Thor. So, following him over to this title during The Secret Wars is kind of a no-brainer for me. Pairing him with Chris Sprouse? Even better. Then I read the first issue... It was great. In Battleworld, every Thor from every universe that was is now both police and army. They are the hammer of Doom. This book is about them, and more specifically, how Ultimate Thor, and his partner Beta Ray Bill, have caught a really weird murder case. The same woman-different variations from different realms--all murdered, over and over again. No evidence. No clues. No suspects. And if they don't solve it soon, Doom may intervene, and that wouldn't be good for anyone.

Planet Hulk


Writer: Sam Humphries  Artist: Marc Laming

In the far north of Battleworld lies Greenland. It is a gamma-irradiated place populated almost entirely by Hulks. It's a wild and nearly uncontrollable place. It's dangerous. Steve Rogers is a slave, who--along with his trusty companion Devil Dinosaur--is put to to use as an axe and shield wielding champion gladiator in the Great Colosseum at Doomgard. He chafes under his bondage, yearning for freedom, and rebels at every chance. This eventually brings him to the attention of the God Emperor Doom. However, instead of destroying Steve, Doom offers him a job, and if he succeeds, he will be granted his freedom. All he has to do is travel to Greenland and kill the Red King of the Hulks... This book is weird and awesome. It's full of giant monsters and crazy stuff. I'm not familiar with the artist, and honestly, not that big a fan of Humphries, but this is really fun. I'm enjoying this one a lot.

Infinity Gauntlet


Writer: Gerry Duggan  Artist: Dustin Weaver

I really like this comic. Gerry Duggan is an unknown name to me, but I'll be watching for more of his stuff in the future, and Dustin Weaver's art is beautiful. Infinity Gauntlet is a weird title. It feels the more disconnected from the main goings-on than anything else I've read. Part of that reason is the main characters: an African-American family (Dad, Grandpa, Older Sis, Younger Sis, and the dog) that as far as I know have never appeared in any other comic. They're survivors in the decimated realm of Perfection, overrun by hordes of ravenous bugs and on the wrong side of the Shield Wall. Mom disappeared years ago after joining the now wiped-out Nova Corps. Then the oldest daughter finds a little blue stone, and suddenly Mom is back in full Nova gear... but so is Thanos, and the Guardians of the Galaxy too, and they all want that little blue stone.

Old Man Logan


Writer: Brian Michael Bendis  Artist: Andrea Sorrentino

This comic one is the continuation of one of Mark Millar's better creations... there's hardly any mention of rape! Heh, yeah... Millar is somewhat controversial... Anyway, also like all of his stuff, the central idea is fantastic. The basic conceit was that the story took place in a future world where the super-villains had finally won and all the heroes were dead. Except for Wolverine, who was broken and wouldn't fight anymore... until he was pushed too far. It was kind of like Unforgiven meets Mad Max, but with dystopian versions of Marvel characters. It was all right, for the most part. This book here is Brian Michael Bendis picking up where that story left off, with the added bonus of it otherwise having nothing to do with Millar, and with it being set in BattleWorld. Old Man Logan decides to climb one of those impossibly high walls and see what's on the other side. Shit goes down. Sorrentino's art is brilliant and a perfect match for the story.

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps


Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Thompson  Artist: David Lopez

This one is all about Captain Marvel and her elite squadron of female pilots defending the Realm of Hala Field from invasion by their neighbor, the Hydra Empire. In Hala Field, everyone believes in the God Emperor Doom. But when certain lies begin to come to light, and they are ordered to destroy an illegally traveling ship that has otherwise caused no harm, the loyalty of Captain Marvel and her team is tested, and they begin to question Doom. Kelly Sue knows these characters, and while her banter can sometimes land with a bit of a thud, it's generally a well-written and fast-paced story. I'm intrigued. Also, David Lopez draws the hell out the flying-action scenes.

Red Skull


Writer: Joshua Williamson  Artist: Luca Pizzari

I'm not familiar with either the writer or the artist, but I was sold on this book the moment I read the log-line: The Red Skull rebelled against Doom, and so he died. At least that's the story. Other stories whisper that the Skull yet survives somewhere out in the Dead Lands. Crossbones is hired to put together a team of villains to investigate these whispers, and if they're found to be true... to kill the Red Skull. Magneto, Moonstone, The Winter Soldier, Lady Deathstrike, Electro, and the Jack O'lantern all travel out to a place overrun by zombies, to kill a supposedly dead man. They probably won't survive. I love Dirty Dozen/disparate team match-up stuff. Love it. This is a fun book so far.

So, there you go, folks. Those are my recommendations.

Now, these aren't all of the titles circling the edges of this particular story, of course. These are only the ones I'm reading that I like and would recommend. There are other titles that I didn't pick up, because they didn't interest me, or I'm not a fan of the writer/artist/characters, and there are some I picked up and just did not like. There are even a few books that I'm currently reading, but I not sure if I'd actually recommend them, for various reasons. I'm not going to bother mentioning any of those. You can--and should--browse the stacks a bit and decide for yourself. Your own mileage may vary, after all. As for these last few titles I have listed below, they are not out yet. I haven't read them, and so I can't possibly recommend them, but they have perked my interest quite a bit, so I'll pick them up when they come out...


Squadron Sinister, Hail Hydra, Siege, and Agents of Atlas.

One involves Squadron Supreme members from various dead universes mixed with some villains from the regular universe, and like I've said a few times already, I do love disparate team member match-ups. The next comic is about a lone rebel in a realm ruled by an Evil Organization, and that's all I need. Sounds good to me, I'll check it out. The third book is about the Commander of the Shield Wall trying to hold back the endless hordes of the Dead Lands. Another hook that got me easily. Plus, the story features America Chavez, so I'm definitely interested. And the final one features a super smart Gorilla in a tuxedo. I mean... come on, man...

Tuxedos are also sometimes referred to as Monkey Suits... HA!

Ah... comedy,
Jon