Secret Wars II #1
Issue(s): Secret Wars II #1
Part of the problem is that the series sets out to answer a question that i don't think really needed to be raised at all. The cover of issue #1 asks "Who is the Beyonder?". For all intents and purposes, the Beyonder was just a catalyst to get a bunch of heroes and villains to fight each other. He only figured into the actual plot of the original Secret Wars to show that Dr. Doom is so awesome, he won't play anyone's game and will even steal the powers from the referee. If we never learned anything more about the Beyonder, or if he one day turned out to just be the Grandmaster or something, i don't think it would have really mattered.
Around the time of the publication of this sequel, questions in the lettercols of various comics started popping up, saying "I loved Secret Wars, but why wasn't [Alpha Flight/The Defenders/Daredevil/etc.] included?" And the response, conveniently enough, was, they might not have been in Secret Wars I, but they'll be in II. But all anyone wanted to see was their favorite heroes kicking ass alongside the rest of the Marvel Universe. This series is really a bait and switch. It's not a thematic sequel to Secret Wars in any way; instead it's a "fish out of water" story, the one where the alien comes to Earth and tries to understand our strange human ways. Add to that the fact that he's omnipotent, and you've got a story that's more focused on questions like "Why is clothing?" and reality-warping than super-hero battles. That might not necessarily have been a bad thing, but it's not what fans of the first series were hoping for. And the execution of this story is terrible. But we'll get into that more in a bit.
The other problem with this series is the art. The first series was drawn (mostly) by Mike Zeck, who was considered something of a rising star at the time, and in any event he was a decent artist able to handle the difficult task of managing a huge cast of characters. The art here is by Al Milgrom, with Stephen Leialoha. Leialoha was a great penciler on Spider-Woman, and it seems a real waste of his talent to have him inking here, but in theory it could have worked out. Milgrom was an unspectacular artist but a good storyteller with a lot of experience. Leialoha should have been able to add some depth and character to Milgrom's pencils. But they didn't find that synergy and instead the art in this book is very stiff and sketchy (and that's not even getting into character designs). Combine that with Shooter's always stiff dialogue and the book is a very choppy read. John Byrne drew the cover for issue #1; i'd be curious to know if he was ever considered as the artist for the interiors. I know he and Shooter didn't get along, but his participation might have made all the difference in the world.
This series is also the first true "crossover" (at Marvel) as we understand the term. Books like Contest of Champions were entirely isolated and didn't even properly fit into current continuity. For the first Secret Wars, a lot of care was taken to ensure that it did fit into current storylines, but it essentially took place between issues (or, sometimes, panels) of ongoing books, and also didn't require readers to purchase additional books to follow the story. This is the first series where the story actually crosses over into various ongoing titles, and in order to get the whole story you'll want to purchase all the tie-ins as well as the main series. This will be the primary model, with some variations, for company crossovers continuing to this day. By modern standards, Secret Wars II is actually pretty modest, with only about four tie-in books per month. It felt overwhelming to ten-year-old me at the time, and i gave up trying to follow this story while it was coming out, but in retrospect we didn't know how good we had it.
This format is something i have mixed feelings about. On the Pro side, i love Marvel's shared continuity, and what better way to exploit it than to have a universe-spanning event? Plus, it's a great way for Marvel to get some exposure to some of its lower selling books, by getting an instant influx of new readers who will hopefully stick around after the crossover is over. On the Con side, the events often serve as a disruption to a book's regular storyline, and are not always thought out enough, resulting in continuity conundrums. Plus, Marvel has learned over the years how to wring extra dollars out of their readers by not only having a main series plus cross-overs into existing titles, but also auxiliary mini-series and one shots, etc., etc., until the event is a muddled mess, written by disparate writers over various random issues that don't even fit together very well. Which is actually something we'll see even with this first, relatively small scale, attempt.
Anyway, let's get into it. We start with the Molecule Man getting a visit from Combo Man.
Ok, actually it's the Beyonder (and i actually like that initial look!), who is
As we saw at the end of New Mutants #28, Professor Xavier detected the Beyonder's arrival, but he's injured and currently resting at Muir Island (it's worth noting that even though i think this is supposed to be during the same coma as in NM #28, Xavier is shown here laying on a couch with a blanket; more appropriate for someone with a mild sore throat than a coma). He sends the New Mutants back to his Westchester school to rendezvous with Magneto (!) and attempts to send out a telepathic warning to others before passing out again.
Captain America, on his way home from England, receives the message (i assume his proximity to Muir Island was why he picked up on Xavier's call) and uses his Avengers Priority Clearance to commandeer his flight and have it re-directed to LA. Which is kind of a dick move. Wouldn't it have been better for the other passengers, and also faster for himself, if he had the flight land in New York and then gather up the Avengers and take a Quinjet, or at least an army jet plane? But then i guess we wouldn't get to experience Jim Shooter's "Broth-er! Gimmie some butter and salt for this corn!" line.
Already in Westchester (before the New Mutants from Muir Island arrive), the X-Men find themselves face to face with Magneto.
They negotiate an uneasy truce for Xavier's sake.
Magneto has a much faster way of getting to LA. The X-Men pile into a limo and Magneto floats them there. "Let others waste their time in traffic jams."
Meanwhile, in LA, the Beyonder arrives at the home of a Hollywood cartoon writer who is in the middle of a rant to his agent about censors.
The writer, Stewart Cadwall, is a parody of Steve Gerber, who of course had left Marvel under acrimonious circumstances and was now involved in writing cartoons like GI Joe and the Transformers (as well as Dungeons & Dragons and, earlier, Thundarr the Barbarian). Here and here is a site with some pictures of Gerber. Jim Shooter has written:
Stewart Cadwall was the name. Originally it was "Gadwall." A Gadwall is a duck. Mike Hobson advised going to "Cadwall," so as to leave ducks -- obviously a sore spot -- out of it. It wasn't an "anti-Steve Gerber caricature," though it was meant to poke some fun at Steve.
It's a fine, if somewhat mean-spirited, parody of Gerber, but a Secret Wars series is an odd place for it. Anyway, the Beyonder grants Cadwall power, and Cadwall and his Shazam Award transform into Thundersword...
...complete with the pegasus Boromir. Thundersword heads straight for NBC studios and goes on a rampage.
Magneto and the X-Men have stopped by the Gladiator's Arena and picked up Dazzler, Lila Cheney, Cannonball, and Magik in the meantime. The scene that will be repeated with more detail in New Mutants #29; reading these panels in isolation is actually pretty bizarre and unfulfilling.
The mutants try to stop Thundersword and get some help when Captain America arrives on the scene. Iron Man (Rhodey) shows up a little later as well. There's initially some confusion, with the heroes wondering if Thundersword is actually the Beyonder, but Rachel Summers soon detects the actual Beyonder (who has taken on the form of the Molecule Man).
Once he's exposed, the Beyonder reaches out to Magik and converts her into her demon form. She responds instinctively by teleporting away, taking a group of mutants with her.
Wolverine attacks the Beyonder, gutting him with his claws (very similar to what he did to the real Molecule Man in the first Secret Wars, actually), and Lila Cheney teleports the X-Men away in fear of reprisal.
Iron Man and Cap them manage to disarm Thundersword, which turns him back into Cadwall...
...who laments having bit the hand that feeds him.
The issue ends with Cap just sort of wandering away from the battle's aftermath, secretly followed by the Beyonder.
In the entry for issue #9 i'll discuss a bit about how the Beyonder, and maybe this entire series, is a kind of metaphor or maybe self-satire of Jim Shooter himself, with the idea that he's this being with vast power who isn't able to fit in and often angers people even when he uses his power to try to help. I think at least there's a kind of subtext to be found there. I won't be exploring that with each entry but i wonder if it helps explain the oddity of having a Steve Gerber stand-in here. Marvel and Gerber had been in dispute over the rights of Howard the Duck and the settlement didn't go well for Gerber, and then they were in discussion about him returning to Howard that will ultimately collapse before the movie comes out. Here, the Beyonder grants Stewart Cadwall power and he uses it to bite the hand that feeds him. I wouldn't be too literal about the metaphor - when Marvel "granted" Gerber "power" in the 70s it was before Shooter was Editor in Chief. But generally, the strange decision to include a Steve Gerber send-up in a cosmic/superhero story makes a little more sense if you think of the Beyonder as a stand-in for Jim Shooter as well.
Ok. Getting away from wild speculation and back to the actual story.
We don't learn a lot about the Beyonder this issue, and so some of my complaints about this series aren't really relevant yet. If you accept the fact that we're going to be reading a story in which the Beyonder is an active participant, and not just the instigator, this is not a bad set-up issue as far as the plot goes. The scripting, on the other hand, is awful. Molecule Man and Volcana's dialogue is cringe-worthy, as is the X-Men's initial encounter with Magneto. The amount of dialogue per panel is excessive; it's necessary to recap Secret Wars I plus introduce a large cast of characters and at least try to cover what's going on in the New Mutants tie-in, but the result is very text heavy. Add to that some awkward art, and you've got yourself a mediocre comic. Not awful, yet, but not great.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: At the end of New Mutants #28, Professor Xavier wakes up after having been unconscious "the better part of a fortnight", except for one "semi-psychotic episode" when he woke up screaming about the Beyonder. That episode is depicted in this issue. So we can consider New Mutants #28 to be occurring concurrently with all the issues that i've placed between it and this issue and beyond. This issue takes place between New Mutants #29 and #30. Captain America is flying home from England in this issue after the battle with Modred the Mystic and Captain Britain. We see him get on the plane in Captain America #307. Tony Stark is working on his new armor in this issue, and both he and Rhodey appear here between Iron Man #196 (when Rhodey gets his suit back) and #197 (which picks up with him taking Thundersword to jail). Nightcrawler and Colossus are initially confronting Magneto, and then Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Rachel Summers, and Rogue show up, responding to the alert Rachel Picked up from Xavier at the end of X-Men #195 (presumably the same alert that Cap receives this issue). New Mutants #30, Captain America #308, Uncanny X-Men #196, and Iron Man #197 are the tie-ins for this issue.
Crossover: Secret Wars II
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (13): show
The critics pounced on this series immediately and showed no mercy. The issue with the Beyonder "rescuing" a hooker was especially singled out for criticism.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | May 27, 2012 8:02 PM
A very fair review, though until recently I'd no idea this series was so unpopular.
Re-reading it, however, it's easy to see this first issue's flaws. For such an epic crossover, I think more wondrous artwork was needed. As for the writing, I imagine the EiC would want to plot/script the crossover himself to avoid infighting amongst rival writers? But in hindsight I'd have preferred someone with a lighter touch to pen these stories about philosophy and the human condition. The excellent Chris Claremont would have been a good choice, or my own favourite, Roger Stern.
Posted by: Buffy | November 27, 2012 1:05 PM
If Marvel UK basically redefined Secret Wars II to "Marvel Comics from 1985" i can see why you would like it better. ;-)
Posted by: fnord12 | November 27, 2012 8:23 PM
Letter column plugging for this series got rather out of hand; one even appeared in Savage Sword of Conan #112.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | June 28, 2013 5:35 PM
As much as I loved the first Secret Wars, I remember not being able to make it through this series. I got up to issue three, I think, before I gave up as it seemed like it just got progressively worse.
"Secret Wars II Continues In This Issue."
Ugh. I still get shivers thinking about it.
Posted by: Haywerth Clarke | October 27, 2013 1:36 AM
Sal Buscema was the originally announced artist for this series.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | November 8, 2013 4:10 PM
Shortly after this issue came out, Gerber was interviewed for Comics Journal #100 and admitted that he had mixed feelings about the lampoon, but some friends were bothered by it. He also stated that his proposed Howard the Duck revival would start off with a 2-parter called "Howard the Duck's Secret Crisis II" which would clear up all the continuity among Howard's later appearances and satirize recent limited series like DC's Crisis and, obviously, Secret Wars 1&2. I'm guessing the Howard by Gerber revival never happened because Shooter wouldn't tolerate any criticisms from his own company.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | December 7, 2013 4:57 PM
"This series is also the first true "crossover" as we understand the term."
To be fair, it is the first Marvel crossover. DC already had Crisis going by this time and it worked in some of the same ways - banners across the top of connected issues.
Whatever the compromises at the creative level (and it is creatively not a good endeavor - both in terms of the writing, but also in terms of the art - I agree that the composite hero at the beginning looks good, but almost no one else does - it was strange to go from the art in this series to the more interesting art in almost all the connected books - that, and the individual books could sometimes expand on the storyline here - just look at the Magneto scene in NM and then the one here), I think it was probably a big success on the sales level. I was too young still to buy lots of connected books, but my brother bought them all - the only issues at this point that I read of Daredevil or PM&IF and other comics was because my brother obsessively bought the connected issues. The problem was, because the writing in the other series was sometimes kind of stilted, because the regular writers had to work the Beyonder into their books, I don't think it probably lead to increased sales in other books, so overall, I don't think it really worked. Maybe that's why they decided they had to go with more crossovers - because the crossovers themselves sold well, but since they didn't lead to overall increased sales in linked books, they just had to keep doing crossovers.
Posted by: Erik Beck | May 28, 2015 11:14 AM
I've added the clarification that it's the first true crossover at Marvel. Thanks, Erik.
Posted by: fnord12 | May 28, 2015 12:46 PM
Understandable you didn't have it in there - I know you don't really read DC and this is a Marvel chronology site after all.
But looking at this, having just finally read Contest of Champions for the first time, I have to give Shooter a lot of credit for making certain the continuity all worked on this series. Unlike where the first Secret Wars just had all the changes in place by the next month, for the next nine months, you had to balance all of this together. You can actually follow the Beyonder's journey along through all the tie-ins. You might not want to, but you at least can, and it all goes in order.
Posted by: Erik Beck | May 28, 2015 1:19 PM
The Steve Gerber stand-in was meta to me as a kid, and the lame villain took up too much space. Just as bad, was the Iron Man crossover issue that month which featured him getting his powers back. I didn't like the mutants featured so much, being forced to read crossovers for the "whole story" (which wasn't really true), the sketchy artwork, or Owen Reece recognizing The Beyonder on the hurling boulder.
I think if Secret Wars II was called "The Beyonder", and focused only on the infant God's journey to humanity without the cash grab crossovers, clustermuck of characters, or super-hero tropes, it may have been Jim Shooter's magnum opus. There is a lot of deep philosophy in Secret Wars II that he only touched upon, because the event had to include almost every hero, villain, and cosmic entity and cross over into so any titles.
I have always been somewhat obsessed with The Beyonder, and at the core, his scenes are awesome and tragic.
Posted by: Damian H | October 5, 2015 12:32 PM
Just wondering, are there any (relevant) books that DIDN'T have a Secret Wars II tie-in?
Just West Coast Avengers and Vision and Scarlet Witch? Which both have the defense they launched after Secret Wars II had already started.
I was expecting Micronauts but apparently that did have a Secret Wars II tie-in.
Posted by: AF | April 15, 2016 2:03 PM
Some of the exposition is genuinely awful. I quote Cannonball from page 17, panel 1, as Magneto orders those who can fly to follow Thunderstorm: "That's me... an' Rogue, she can fly... an' Kitty - ah mean Shadowcat! When she phases just right she can walk on air."
This was the first time I'd ever met the New Mutants or Kitty - Kitty did appear in one, maybe two comics I'd read before, but it was not clear that this was the same character - and I had no idea what any of that meant. Even the reference to Rogue didn't come across, and at least she was in "Secret Wars I."
And then looking at the next panel, telling Kitty to "phase through that sign! Cut him off!" Because a teenage girl on foot can outrun a flying horse who's already ahead of her.
I put "Secret Wars II" in the "so bad it's good" category, but lots of it doesn't even reach that lofty standard.
Posted by: ChrisW | July 10, 2016 3:08 AM
Thundersword. Whatever. You know who I mean.
Posted by: ChrisW | July 10, 2016 3:10 AM
It's a minor point but I've seen it on at least a couple of entries: Volcana and Molecule Man were never married.
Posted by: Mizark | August 25, 2016 9:58 AM
Thanks Mizark. I guess i granted them a commonlaw status. I've corrected it in a few places. If you see any more, please let me know in the Thread of Shame.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 25, 2016 10:48 AM
My favorite of the Roach's incarnations in Cerebus is easily Secret Sacred Wars Roach (right at the beginning of the Church & State II phonebook). The way Sim lampoons Shooter's stiff dialogue by having the Roach force his assistants Dirty Drew and Dirty Fleagle to recite paragraphs of memorized exposition every time they have to use the bathroom or sit down for a meal is absolutely hilarious!
Posted by: George Lochinski | November 7, 2016 3:44 AM
My favorite part is the Roach trying to talk in the Spider-Man full face mask, so that "So, citizen, you defy the false pope!" comes out as "Fo, fiffiffen, you fefy feh falf fope!"
Posted by: Andrew | November 7, 2016 1:28 PM
Haha yes, that's totally classic!
Posted by: George Lochinski | November 7, 2016 3:16 PM
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