The Issues of Today: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars (Part 2)

Picking up where yesterday’s post left off, we’re going to dive into the second portion of the original “Secret Wars” crossover storyline. Just a reminder: we last left our heroes fractured and beaten after their base was trashed by Doom’s forces. Meanwhile, the X-Men are off on their own, securing an alliance with Magneto, and the towering Galactus looms large over the planet. But for what purpose? You’re gonna find out real quick.

Marvel Super Hero Secret Wars (Part 2)

Writer: Jim Shooter
Pencilers: Mike Zeck, Bob Layton
Issues: 5-8

Our fifth issue opens with a deadly revelation: Galactus has summoned his ship to Battleworld, from which is dispensed several pieces of equipment. One particular panel by Layton shows that Battleworld is immensely dwarfed by the giant’s vessel, a nice artistic touch giving us a cool visual scale of the size differences. Mr. Fantastic theorizes, and soon confirms, that Galactus intends to do to Battleworld what Galactus usually does to other planets: eat it. And this ravenously hungry cosmic entity doesn’t come back for seconds.

When I first started reading this the other day, I recalled why Galactus was present in the storyline, narratively-speaking, but couldn’t quite remember what I believed Shooter’s deeper purpose was in bringing him into the tale. What function did Galactus serve? As I’ve been reading, it’s become more apparent: as I mentioned last post, this story’s plot is relatively simple. Heroes fight villains, villains retaliate, all to win the Beyonder’s big ole contest. But the inclusion of Galactus adds a greater threat for our main characters to go up against. Galactus isn’t even one of the action figures included in the toy line, so I can’t imagine anyone on Mattel’s side arguing for his presence. Therefore, I appreciate that Shooter seemingly had the forethought to include a conflict beyond the “heroes vs. villains” throwdowns peppering the series. The stakes go beyond just mano-a-mano.

Galactus actually becomes a focal point for a good chunk of this portion of the story. Having spotted our heroes in a village close to him, Galactus sends a robot warrior to battle and distract them while he works on whatever planet-devouring apparatus he intends to eat Battleworld with. Dr. Doom later sneaks aboard Galactus’ ship and frees an imprisoned Klaw, Master of Sound, who became trapped pre-“Secret Wars.” And Doom even sends his cronies on a mission to distract Galactus, which we’ll get to later. The giant’s presence even becomes a point of contention amongst our heroes: do they deal with Galactus’ presence, either by drawing his attention away from feeding on the planet or finding a way to stop him? Or do they focus on fighting Doom and his villains, the original purpose for which they were brought to Battleworld?

Amidst all the Galactus-centered storytelling, other subplots have time to shine. The Wasp, fleeing Magneto earlier, crash lands a ship in a swamp and comes face-to-face with the Lizard, who had mysteriously vanished after the initial clash between heroes and villains. The Human Torch and Colossus, each injured in combat, are both treated by an alien healer named Zsaji they both fall in love with. The X-Men have a chance to fight Doom’s lackies and prove themselves in battle. And a new Spider-Woman appears, having been on a piece of Denver, Colorado that was apparently fused to Battleworld.

These plots work in varying degrees. The Wasp’s story is cut short when she is seemingly intercepted and killed by Doom’s men. To this point, she has yet to do anything of worth on her own. Shooter’s rather vapid portrayal of her (after crash-landing her ship, she bemoans breaking a nail) really hinders her as a character, especially since he also shows her as being a bit more powerful than I would have imagined. Her “wasp stings” blow up a ship, and she keeps the animalistic Lizard at bay and soothes him for a moment. Her biggest contribution is, unfortunately, her “death.” This motivates the heroes to move away from Galactus and seek revenge on Doom.

The Human Torch/Colossus/Zsaji love triangle is probably the worst subplot the entire series has to offer. Johnny knows this girl for a few minutes and can’t speak her language, but he’s stunned by her beauty and pronounces them a couple almost immediately. Zsaji does perform a “mind-melding” ceremony where they see each other’s thoughts, but it almost feels like a way for Shooter to justify the awkward romance between them. Add in Colossus’ involvement—he, too, is won over by Zsaji’s beauty, despite inward protestations proclaiming his love for the earth-bound Kitty Pryde—and you get a series of bizarre, almost creepy scenes. They’re not even fighting over the girl, they just like her. But it’s still weird.

This plotline actually ties in to the aforementioned Wasp storyline. Later on, Zsaji heals the previously believed “dead” Wasp, sacrificing a goodly amount of her own life energy to do so. I’m finding it difficult to tell whether Shooter was intentionally making the love triangle subplot creepy or if that’s just how I read it, but part of me wants him to have made Colossus and the Torch jerks on purpose. Reading it that way makes Zsaji’s sacrifice all the more personal, the energy she gives up helping the Wasp despite the treatment she’s received from these two blowhard superheroes.

Of the three subplots, the X-Men vs. Doom’s men fight outshines the others. Tracking the villains to a volcanic section of the planet, where the bad guys hope to render part of Battleworld inedible to Galactus and force him to divert his attentions to fixing it, Cyclops, Rogue, and Wolverine engage in battle with Doc Ock, Absorbing Man, the Molecule Man, and Titania. It’s a heckuva fight, ending with Wolverine almost killing the Molecule Man in a reckless move and forcing the villains to flee. But the X-Men pursue this crew of killers and, joined by Professor X, Storm, and Magneto, whomp the villains pretty nicely.

Their opponents abscond, unfortunately. Something like this makes me feel like the story is starting to slide into “Maximum Carnage” territory, where foes trade blows with few consequences. However, the battle does signify the X-Men’s ability to work together as a unit on this planet, proving themselves in an arena where, up until this point, they’d been pretty divided. Rogue, who spent the first four issues waffling between staying with the X-Men or abandoning them, solidly decides to stay put. Storm, who had started to doubt Professor X’s guidance, is growing in confidence. For the X-Men, this is a good turning point, and while I’m not sure how this will be portrayed in the rest of the series, I hope X-Men issues following this event carried this concept further.

Spider-Woman’s inclusion in this tale is a little odd as well. “Secret Wars” is her very first appearance, though she alludes to previous superhero experience and her origin is later fleshed out post-“Secret Wars.” Originally, I believed she was invented as a toy first and then included in the comic as a result. But based on what I’ve read on the Internet, no Spider-Girl figurine was ever produced. Was she supposed to be a toy and the idea just got scrapped? I have no idea, but I’m having a hard time seeing how Shooter and Co. could justify the creation of a new Spidey-centric character. She has since become a solid Marvel character, but the series doesn’t benefit a whole lot from appearance. A cool new character that may have helped sales? Sure, but I don’t see any other good reason for her to be here.

Several of these different elements—Galactus’ plotting, the Wasp’s “death,” the discovery of Klaw, and the X-Men’s unification as a team—play roles in a big brouhaha in this section’s “final part.” Emboldened by the loss of his teammate, Captain America changes his mindset from “Galactus is a threat” to “We need to stop our old foes NOW” and leads a large-scale attack on Dr. Doom’s base. Up until this point, our heroes have largely been beaten down and almost embarrassed several times by their enemies. But this attack is different.

Leaving the X-Men behind to watch over Galactus, the rest of the heroes charge in, and Shooter and Mike Zeck do a phenomenal job together showcasing the little skirmishes that make up this big blowout. Spider-Woman vs. Absorbing Man, Spider-Man vs. Titania, Captain America against the Enchantress, Iron Man and Captain Marvel going for Volcana and Molecule Man, the Human Torch defeating Ultron…none of these small fights will ever be iconic in the annals of “Greatest Marvel Showdowns,” but together, they make up a fantastically dramatic sequence of scenes that sees our heroes finally get a decent upper hand.

The status quo shifts again.

This section ends with that victory and the Wasp’s “resurrection” at the hands of Zsaji. Almost as an epilogue, Spidey is shown a machine which fashions for him a new black costume to replace his tattered red-and-blue outfit. It’s a great new look for the hero and is a single moment which will shape the Wall-Crawler’s life for decades afterward.

Two other elements I want to touch on: first, the characterization of our villains. In my previous post, I said I hoped Shooter would delve deeper into the villains’ side for some additional character development. Does he? The answer is…sorta? I guess? Doom stealing into Galactus’ ship points towards his growing ambitions for ultimate power and furthers his story a little; Klaw is certainly a unique antagonist with an odd speech pattern that makes him amusing to read; a blossoming romance between the Molecule Man and Volcana is definitely handled better than our Colossos/Torch/Zsaji subplot and gives a little extra to their characterization. Even the Absording Man is standing out as one of the primary antagonists, with some more dialogue. Add in some extra scenes with the Lizard and Enchantress, and you certainly feel the presence of the villains more in this section. They aren’t developed nearly to the effect that the heroes are, but I’m beginning to feel like they’re actual characters and not just obstructions in the way of our protagonists.

I also noted last time that I was hoping Shooter gave more backstory for the sudden appearances of Titania and Volcana. As of this section, we now know they both knew each other as children in Colorado, but that’s about it. This story’s packed with subplots and action already, so while it isn’t much information, I still appreciate Shooter giving it to us.

Second, our heroes’ “moments.” Like last time, Shooter does a neat job weaving in several opportunities for individual good guys and gals to stand out. As I said, the X-Men (sans Colossus) really rally together as a team under Xavier’s direction against Doom’s forces. She-Hulk takes it upon herself to attack Doom’s base before the big battle, spurred on by the “death” of her friend and bludgeoning Titania nicely. And the “big battle” is, as I’ve mentioned, full of little battles that gives heroes the chance to show their abilities in an entertaining fashion. Even Spider-Woman holds her own and, though her inclusion feels a tad shoehorned, at least earns the right to be present. Ultimately, it’s good to see that some characters I felt were neglected in earlier issues get moments to shine here.

I should add, however, that other heroes still feel like they’re stuck on the back burner. The Thing, for one, really hasn’t contributed all that greatly, and he’s fluctuated between the Thing and Ben Grimm for reasons that haven’t been explained. I can see why Shooter would do this, as not having the Thing’s additional muscle stacks the odds against our band of do-gooders, but it’s still a bit disappointing not to have him in there for the fight. And while Rhodey’s Iron Man has gotten some licks in, he hasn’t done a ton to make his presence known. Maybe both these guys will get an opportunity in the next four issues.

As with the last section, I stumbled upon several lines of dialogues and panels that I found whimsically amusing. For your entertainment, I will share those here:

I’m hoping to finish reading and reviewing “Secret Wars” tomorrow, but we all know about the plans of mice and men, don’t we? With any luck, you’ll be reading about this series’ cataclysmic conclusion tomorrow. So get ready for more superheroics! More Doom! And maybe some answers to some of your questions:

Who wins the heart of Zsaji?

Will Galactus consume the world?

Will our heroes get home?

And will anyone actually read this post?

—Tags: Comics, Issues of Today