Back in October I talked about DC’s Blackest Night . It was an event comic that suffered a lot of the pitfalls that modern event comics always seem to suffer from: cheap character deaths, tie-ins that are five times longer than the event itself, & characters who don’t serve much of a purpose to the event being a part of the whole thing just to make it seem bigger. So, what would an event look like if it had none of those problems? For the answer, let’s turn to a Marvel piece I’m very familiar with, The Secret Wars, and not the shit one from a couple years back. We’re going way back to the mid 80s for this one.
We open with a group of Marvel heroes finding themselves aboard a strange ship, floating through space. They introduce themselves and notice another ship nearby, this one full of villains. It turns out that both groups have been taken from Earth by the Beyonder, a cosmic entity who’ fascinated by Earth’s super beings. So, he’s chosen two teams to pit against each other. One team made up of those with selfless motivations. The other made up of those with selfish motivations. Can our heroes stop the villains who have been promised anything they desire, should they triumph?
I actually only have one criticism of the narrative here. There’s a bit of a tryst betwixt the Wasp & Magneto. Which comes out of nowhere, doesn’t really do anything and ends pretty quickly. I think it’s just here to establish that Janet is a strong independent woman who doesn’t need her abusive ex-husband.
Aside from that, I like that the division for the characters is based on relative selflessness instead of something overly simplistic like “good vs. evil.” I also appreciate the way that the series gives all of the participating characters a chance to shine. The conflicts in this story are very interesting as well, particularly those that arise from philosophical differences within the ranks. Seeing James Rhodes tell off the Human Torch for being a racist fuck is pretty damn magnificent.
Looking back on it, this event also established a lot of elements that led to interesting stories later on. This was where Spidey got his black suit, events started that led to Colossus and Shadowcat having a falling out, The Thing got to have solo adventures in space, She Hulk joined the FF and there were other things too. And, thanks to the event being self-contained, the pacing is able to proceed at a good, steady pace without anything feeling left out or time skipping ahead awkwardly. We also don’t have any elements being mentioned but nothing really happening with them in the main event. It’s almost like writing a story that doesn’t include a bunch of supplementary materials leads to a stronger story.
Here’s another area where I have to give the Secret Wars complete credit. Jim Shooter doers a good job of naturally & concisely introducing our colourful cast. So that those readers who don’t pick up every title in the Marvel universe can keep up without any problems. He also does a fantastic job of showcasing those factors that make the characters who they are, in spite of having a pretty big cast and only twelve issues. He also does a good job of introducing us to some new characters, the second Spider Woman, Titania & Volcana.
To use an example, let’s look at what is quite possibly the best explanation for Magneto’s character. Magneto is, naturally, put with the selfless group. This leads to him being confronted by Ben Grimm & Monica Rambeau (The Thing and Captain Marvel). After she calls him a murderer he becomes indignant and says this: “I am many things. A mutant, master of magnetism, an avowed enemy of humankind, but a murderer? A slayer of innocents? Never! I fight in defence of my race! My cause is just…” He goes on from there but that is actually a perfect explanation of Magneto’s character. I also like that, in the comic itself, there are a lot of pauses in that bit to illustrate how carefully he’s choosing his words. I also think it’s very telling that the pauses stop shortly before he declares that he has never been a slayer of innocents.
The dialogue in this is very well crafted, is where I’m going with that.
The pencilling for this series was mostly done by Michael Zeck with a couple issues being drawn by Bob Layton. There are times it can be a bit under-detailed, especially in large panels that have a lot going on. But, as a whole, it looks pretty damn good. The grand, alien imagery is really nice. The action flows well. The colours by Christie Scheele, except for that one issue in which they were done by Nelson Yomtov, are really nice. They’re vibrant and bright so they really pop.
The Secret Wars was a superb event. It’s so good that it’s hard to believe it was crafted to try and sell super hero toys. It was dynamic, introduced the beginnings for a lot of stories and it didn’t need to cheaply kill off a bunch of good characters just to show that it was “for serious.” My final rating is going to be an enthusiastic 9/10. If you want to see a comic event done right, look no further. Now, I’ve talked about comic events done right and events done averagely. Next week’s bonus review will focus on how to fail at them really horribly. Because you guys deserve to see the whole gamut.
In closing, I wish you all a happy and safe holiday season whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Hearth’s Warming, Hogswatch, the Solstice, Yule, Christmas or any other holiday. Consider this month of bonus reviews a token of my esteem for all of you.