Sunday, January 01, 2017

Book 1: That's right I'm going to start the count over each year.

There is a scene in Secret Wars that kind of exemplifies the sort of sloppy storytelling that is the hallmark of anything created primarily to sell toys, and serves as a hallmark of what ultimately is a very silly story that somehow embodies everything that people (or at least one people, me) dislike about comics.
The scene comes near the end of the storyline, a 12-issue miniseries in which various Marvel heroes and villains have been transported to "Battleworld" by a being called "The Beyonder" to fight to the death. One of the people transported it Galactus, who eats worlds. Another is Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic, who was the smartest person in the Marvel Universe until someone named "Moon Girl" came along.  

The scene involves Richards and Galactus; throughout the series (which features actually very few battles, given it takes place on Battleworld and is named "Secret Wars") Galactus has been ignoring the war and building a machine to eat the Battleworld planet, some weird thing where he sucks the life out of the planet and feeds himself.  Meanwhile, the heroes have been ignoring the battle -- which if they win would result in them being granted whatever they wish -- to keep an eye on Galactus, who they generally concede they could in no way ever defeat if they had to battle him, but who they nevertheless plan to battle if Galactus goes through with trying to eat the planet. The heroes do not stop to think, for example, that if they concentrated on quickly defeating the relatively meager force of villains brought here, they could then get all their wishes granted and that wish might include "Let Galactus not eat this planet," but maybe that's why Reed Richards is only second smartest.

Anyway, what happens is this: Richards is teleported up to Galactus' home world, a giant space station, to talk to Galactus. Then Richards comes back and tells the heroes that Galactus has said Richards is a "force for life" or something and Galactus is a "force for death" and that therefore they should not fight Galactus, because, follow the logic here:

1.  Galactus is going to eat Battleworld.
2. That will kill the villains.
3. And the heroes.
4. Making Galactus the winner.
5. Galactus then gets his wish.
6. Galactus' wish will be to be free of the hunger that makes him eat worlds.
7. Galactus will no longer eat worlds and billions upon billions will live.

There is a BIG leap of logic in there, from 5 to 6, especially if Galactus is a "force for death" which suggests that maybe Galactus would instead wish to be even BETTER at eating worlds, but Richards, #2 Genius that he is, determines that the heroes must not fight Galactus and must let him eat the world, giving up their own lives (and the lives of the other people unwillingly called to Battleworld) to save those billions-upon-billions.  

THEN, Richards says something to the effect of "OH WELL LET'S FIGHT ANYWAY" and when the other heroes question this Richards says "Galactus showed me a picture of my pregnant wife and I really want to see my unborn child so let's win this war so I can do that," and everyone charges off to defeat Galactus, which they do only to be killed by Doctor Doom in a flash of lightning. (Oh, um, spoiler alert.)

What COULD have been a very interesting morality play -- let one world die to save billions, inaction in the face of evil to accomplish good, ends-vs-means -- is boiled down to "Yeah but my son, guys it's CLOBBERIN' TIME" making all the philosophizin' time before it so much nonsense. 

That's not the only flaw in Secret Wars but just the one that struck me most recently as I was reading it. Other flaws include arbitrary motivations, characters being declared dead and then magically not dead (including literally EVERY HERO, all of whom are killed dead as doornails by Doom and then resurrected via some mechanism that is not clearly explained) heroes fighting heroes, random stabs at social relevance (temporary Iron Man is an African-American, and when this is revealed [apparently the Avengers don't care who is in the suit as long as someone is?] Iron Man asks Reed Richards whether Richards was surprised at that. Richards says no because "some of [his] best friends are people."  This makes as much sense as anything else in the story.

It's all silly, but it's silly not because someone was having fun with things or anything like that. It's silly because the people involved didn't really care about making it a decent story, even within the confines of what passes for a 'decent' story in a throwaway comic book. (I am not being a snob here; I like comics just fine, and frequently choose them for lighter reading. You can write a fun, light story that's good. It just takes more work than crapping something like this out.)

The people involved may not have cared because Secret Wars was dreamed up with nothing more in mind than selling some action figures; the fore- and after-word of the collection make that clear: Kenner had just gotten DC to commit to some action figures, and this was in the rush after Star Wars to action-figure-ize the world, so Mattel got Marvel to agree to a line of action figures, but wanted a specific story to tie them all into. (That Mattel then put the same amount of effort into the figures as went into the story is maybe ironic? The action figures were equally terrible and not really related to the story at all.)

Secret Wars' biggest direct contribution to comics history might have been the new Spider-man suit, which I recall being a big deal back in the 1980s, and its indirect contribution might have been the emphasis on crossovers and limited-series and universal re-creations, which, judging by almost-completely incomprehensible headlines that occasionally appear on IO9, happen in the comics world with disconcerting regularity -- there are more reboots to comic universes than I could count, judging by those stories.

There are a few interesting silly things that leapt out at me as I read, too. Like this:

"Look it's Doctor Doomwimp." Awesome insult, Absorbing Man. One thing that came out in Secret Wars: Dr. Doom talks like he does because he's recording everything he says. Seriously. He's asked that at one point and he says yeah, he's recording everything he ever says for posterity.  I think it would be awesome for there to be a special wing of of the Congressional Library devoted to every denouncement Doom has ever made of the Fantastic Four, with a whole branch of Blast you Reed Richards!

Hey, they're already cataloging tweets. Maybe get them to do something more fun.

Then there's the fact that the Human Torch in particular talks like this is still 1963, repeatedly saying stuff like I can't dig that lingo, but everyone in the comic talks like, well, an i

A: You, New Iron Man, are calling Thor, God Of Thunder, "junior."
B: You, New Iron Man, are making a basketball reference to Thor, God Of Thunder.
C: Not even a clear basketball reference.  Does anybody call basketball roundball?

Does Anybody Call Basketball Roundball:
A Thinking The Lions/Google (TM) Investigation:

They DO. WYMT (Motto: "Dedicated to Eastern Kentucky") has a "roundball preview." But before you go feeling all cool and calling it "roundball" remember that Urban Dictionary (Motto: Where you go to see what sexual euphemisms your kids are using on Facebook) says "roundball" is "what my dad calls basketball."  

Overall, I ended up having my nostalgia disappointed by Secret Wars. I never read the entire series when I was a kid; I read like three issues, and I don't remember why, other than that I wasn't a big Marvel fan. What I remembered, for 30 years, was this cover:

I loved that cover so much as a kid that I bought that issue, and even though 30+ years later I didn't remember how lame the story was -- so lame that I didn't bother reading all 12 issues back then -- I still remembered how great that cover was, and that -- and that alone --  was why I wanted to read the entire series now.

In other words, 15 year old me was smarter than 47 year old me. He gave up a lot earlier.

1 comment:

Andrew Leon said...

I remember liking Secret Wars when it came out, but I've never read it again, so I probably wouldn't go back to it. We all know how it turned out when I revisited Piers Anthony.
The Spider-Man thing was the biggest point for me. Spider-Man was (is) my favorite super hero, and I loved the black suit. However, it didn't go over well, as you can see because they switched back to the red and blue as close to immediately as you can get when the issues are months ahead on production.