The Issues of Today: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars (Part 3)

No introduction necessary this time around. Let’s jump into the final four issues of “Secret Wars.”

Marvel Super Hero Secret Wars (Part 3)

Writer: Jim Shooter
Penciler: Mike Zeck
Issues: 9-12

I feel like my last post leaned too heavily on the “summary” side of things, so I wanted to begin with a brief overview of this last section before getting into an actual review of this story:

Galactus begins to devour Battleworld, but our heroes rally together and destroy his machine. Galactus himself, made desperate by this defeat, consumes his homeworld/ship for the sustenance he craves. Dr. Doom takes advantage of this and, with a machine assembled from Klaw’s body, usurps Galactus’ power, which he then uses to battle the Beyonder. Succeeding in seizing the deity’s power, Doom refigures his face and promises the heroes to be a benevolent deity.

Not trusting the doctor, the Avengers, X-Men, and others plot to defeat the masterful monarch. Doom unleashes a torrent of energy that kills the heroes, though his own doubts (and Zsaji’s healing abilities) brings them back to life. Renewed, the heroes battle Doom until the Beyonder reappears, his conscience having entered Klaw. The Beyonder takes his power and dominion back from Doom, giving the heroes the opportunity to leave Battleworld. Everyone but Ben Grimm decides to leave. Meanwhile, the group of villains that journeyed to Battleworld are transported back towards Earth by the Molecule Man, save the Lizard and Enchantress, who end up back on Battleworld.

That’s my brief synopsis. There’s a ton of story packed into these last issues, and I think it’s part of why the narrative falters in comparison to the previous eight parts. I commend Shooter for wrapping up several strands he threaded through the past segments—Dr. Doom’s quest for power, Galactus’ plan to consume Battleworld, even the love triangle between Colossus, the Human Torch, and Zsaji gets wrapped up—and some of these strands even assist one another. It’s because Galactus’ plan to feed off Battleworld is thwarted that Doom devours the power needed to face the Beyonder; it’s because Doom uses his abilities to destroy the heroes that Zsaji rescues Colossus and, from there, the other heroes are “resurrected.” Storylines teased in the opening chapters are brought to a culmination.

Unfortunately, though each of these pieces build upon each other, they don’t work as well as standalone arcs. Dr. Doom gaining Galactus’ power makes sense narratively—he turns Klaw, a previously established character, into a weapon that harnesses Galactus’ energies while the giant is vulnerable consuming his ship, the only existing source of nourishment once Battleworld is off the menu. Elements that Shooter has already introduced come together in (a. a good conclusion to Galactus’ story which doesn’t descend into a “hero vs. villain” battle royale and (b. weave into the arc he’s already been working on for Doom.

The “Doom vs. The Beyonder” part is the bit that niggles at the back of my brain, however. Harnessing his newfound cosmic strength, Doom attacks the Beyonder and, after a brief exchange of cosmically-enhanced blows, is seemingly defeated by him. The creator of Battleworld proceeds to “dissect” the villain, pulling out his memories and intentions. Readers of Fantastic Four comics will not learn much new about Doom or his origins, nor about his lust for power. But all of a sudden, we’re introduced to the concept that Doom seeks the Beyonder’s power for three reasons. First, as a method of manipulating men further than he is already capable of as a dictatorial ruler and mastermind supervillain. Second, to rescue his mother’s spirit from the depths of the interdimensional demon Mephisto’s realm. Third, to reconstruct his face, which has long been scarred.

Again, these reasons will make sense to fans of the character or the FF books Doom primarily appears in. But virtually nowhere in the rest of the comic are reasons two and three given as explanations for Doom’s mad quest. While these reasons are part of the character’s motivations in other stories, it comes as a bizarre and sudden shift here. Later panels will see the Enchantress learn Doom intends to invade Mephisto’s realm at some point, and Captain America will point out a picture of Doom’s mother a few issues from now, but these are really the only moments dedicated to these motivations. I understand Doom’s thirst for power, a desire inherent in his character, but I do wish Shooter had set up some of these motivations earlier in the story.

That being said, “Doom as God” is maybe one of the most intriguing aspects of the entire “Secret Wars” story. The villainous doctor is already a powerful adversary throughout the rest of the story, and with his newfound strength from the Beyonder, he’s even scarier. Shooter presents him as almost a benevolent god, one who waxes poetic about bringing peace to his former foes and shaping the universe in a better light. Yet, Shooter also recognizes that, because Doom is a deeply flawed man, he is also a deeply flawed god. Doom monologues about the weighty burden of his godhood, of how one absentminded flick of his finger could ravage a star system. In addition, Doom’s hatred for his enemies transcends his promise of helping them, lashing out almost subconsciously and wiping them out as they plan his downfall.

On the flip side, this does mean the other villains take a back seat to Doom. We’re given snippets of their voyage through space as the Molecule Man propels them towards Earth, but any room for character development has by-and-large passed us by. It’s a bit of a shame that potentially interesting characters are left largely unused. That’s not to say the bad guys have not been entertaining, but where Shooter has developed several good heroic characters, the only villain with any real arc is Doom.

Even the heroes, in some instances, aren’t focused upon as much as they were in previous chapters. They certainly contribute to the story—they battle Galactus, they stand against Doom the deity, they battle several “solid sound monsters” Klaw creates—and they certainly have developing moments, such as when Wolverine and Captain America almost come to blows over the “mutants rights” issue only to patch things up later on. But we’ve sort of entered a phase where they appear more passive than active. A not-quite-dead Beyonder takes control of the Hulk and Spider-Woman to get close to Doom and steal his power back; Doom kills all of the heroes with a bolt of cosmic lightning upon learning they want to stand against him; even their plan to stop Galactus is upended when they destroy the machine but fail to capture the giant purple planet eater, leaving him to devour his own ship. This final third is really Doom’s story, not theirs.

The love triangle between our aforementioned trio of characters is another subplot that gets wrapped up, none too satisfyingly. The whole concept has been wacky from the start, with Johnny and then Colossus falling for an alien maiden they barely know and cannot understand. Mix in Colossus’ struggling with his devotion to Kitty Pryde and you end up with a subplot that was included for unfathomable reasons. Was a romance subplot really necessary for this insane superhero story? No, not at all. Ultimately, Johnny acts like a jerk towards Zsaji, and when the problem with Galactus becomes more critical, he rebuffs her. This gives Colossus the opening he’s been dreaming of, and while a romantic relationship seems more in the cards for him and the girl, it’s nullified when Zsaji sacrifices her life to “resurrect” him so he can save the other heroes following Doom’s death blow.

In the end, then, Zsaji winds up a bigger hero than both the Human Torch and Colossus, prompted by her love for Colossus (which he, at least, reciprocates, if not foolishly) to give up her life. According to Zsaji’s Marvel wiki page, it’s her relationship with Colossus that causes Kitty Pryde to break up with our metallic mutant following the heroes’ return to Earth. So other than our heroes’ “resurrections,” no good comes out of this particular love triangle. Honestly, the story would have been better if it hadn’t been included, as the subplot reflects badly on everybody involved except the poor girl who dies because of it.

You call tell Shooter is trying to tie up as many loose ends as he can, and in some instances, he makes them work well. The Galactus subplot is finished in a way that feels both original (insomuch it avoids a classic power struggle) and satisfying. And while Dr. Doom’s arc adds in some pieces that really should have been alluded to earlier, Shooter does a good job honing in on the character and fleshing him out nicely in his “god” status, even if it means other characters’ development gets pushed aside. It makes sense though, right? Given the limited number of issues and pages per issue Shooter was given, it was inevitable that he would not have the space or time to highlight every single character. He does well with the time that he has, and makes a pretty doggone entertaining story as a result, but I do believe, if he’d changed or axed some elements, like the romance subplot or some of the fight sequences, he would have had more pages to invest in certain characters.

I also want to add that, as standalone as this story is, there are elements introduced that affect other comics once this galactic tale is completed. Spidey’s new black suit, for example, which will later be revealed to be a symbiote and attach to Eddie Brock to become Venom. Or how about Ben choosing to stay behind on Battleworld, curious about his wacky Ben/Thing transformations and leaving She-Hulk to take his place as the fourth member of the Fantastic Four? Or even the inane love triangle that causes Kitty and Colossus to break off their romance in the pages of the X-Men comic? The longest-lasting change is, of course, Spidey’s new costume, which has impacted his comics until this day. Other than introducing us to the new Spider-Woman, however, none of the changes enacted by “Secret Wars” seem permanent. And I don’t think the story meant to do that. Maybe Ben sticking around Battleworld is a bit of a sudden move (especially since the reasons behind his transformations aren’t explained in this limited series), and yeah, I’m never going to defend the love triangle, but part of me wants to least give Shooter a little thumbs-up for trying to shake up the status quo just a bit.

Like I did with the other blogs, I’ll note some fun or interesting moments in these final four issues:

The story was made to sell toys, and there are moments it can feel like an advertisement (new characters! New vehicles! New buildings!), but overall, “Marvel Superhero Secret Wars” is a darn entertaining yarn. Maybe it isn’t the most brilliantly thought-through piece of fiction, but Shooter and Co. managed to make a book that tells a highly entertaining story, plays with some dramatic themes, has some fantastically illustrated scenes, and doesn’t end with absolutely everything back at square one. I think I can safely say I enjoyed the book as much as I read it the first time, and while I have my criticisms, I know I’ll enjoy it the next time I give it a read. If you ever check it out, I hope you’re entertained as well.

—Tags: Comics, Issues of Today