Sunday, May 10, 2015

I Reads You Review: Marvel Super Heroes: SECRET WARS #1


WRITER: Jim Shooter
PENCILS: Michael Zeck
INKS: John Beatty
COLORS: Christie Scheele
LETTERS: Joe Rosen
EDITOR: Tom DeFalco
32pp, Color, $.75¢ U.S. (May 1984)

Everything old is new again and again and again...  Marvel Comics launched its latest everything-is-changing event comic book miniseries, Secret Wars, this week.  However, neither the event nor the  title is new.

A little over 31 years ago, 1984 was the year Marvel Comics released Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars (Secret Wars, for short).  Not everything about that Secret Wars was new.  For instance, Marvel had apparently contemplated and attempted this type of comic book event – a large number of super-heroes taking on a large number of super-villains – in the comic book, Contest of Champions (1982).  For all intents and purposes, however, Secret Wars was the first its kind, a successful gathering of a comic book publisher's most recognizable heroes and villains in a special comic book series.

So this is how the story goes.  Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #1 (“The War Begins”) opens as a large group of Marvel Comics' biggest superheroes arrive in an unknown and distant part of the universe.  Members of the Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, and also Spider-Man find themselves aboard a large and mysterious space ship of some kind.  Meanwhile, some of Marvel Comics' biggest super-villains find themselves transported aboard a similar ship.

Both groups watch an entire galaxy being destroyed and, almost immediately afterward, watch a planet being built.  The one who brought the heroes and villains to the far depths of space and who is also the builder of this new world finally speaks.  The voice says that he is “from beyond.”  He promises both heroes and villains that if they slay their enemies, “all you desire shall be yours.”

That is an easy proposition for this “Beyonder” (as Galactus calls him) to make, as he knows that many of his listeners are spoiling for a fight.  Heroes and villains know that their most hated adversaries are members of the group on the other side, and that even within their own ranks are people whom they dislike... maybe even enough to kill.  Let the battle royale begin!

I had not read Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #1 in ages, but when I read that Marvel Comics' big 2015 event would be entitled “Secret Wars,” I found a copy of the original on eBay at a decent price.  I don't remember what I thought of Secret Wars #1 after reading it for the first time all the years ago.  I do remember that by the time I got to the halfway point, I was disappointed in entire series.

Marvel hyped Secret Wars as the event that would change everything.  I think either TIME or Newsweek magazine covered the series in short article.  Other than a new costume for Spider-Man and some fights, nothing changed, however.  In fact, Spider-Man's new costume, the original version of the black costume that was actually an alien symbiote, appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #252 (cover dated: May 1984) comic book before it “first appeared” in Secret Wars #8.

Reading Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #1 now, I find myself ambivalent.  I am curious to read the rest of the series, but this first issue is neither especially bad or particularly good.  Mike Zeck was not the right artist to draw the large number of characters and big action scenes required for Secret Wars, although he proved to be quite good at drawing solo Spider-Man comics and The Punisher.  In fact, I still think of Zeck, an especially talent artist, as the definitive Punisher artist.

As for the story and script by Jim Shooter, it is more inconsistent than imaginative.  In a few spots, the character drama is good.  In some places, Shooter presages the kind of superhero revolution that was about to explode via Alan Moore (Watchmen) and Frank Miller (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns).

Ultimately, Shooter and Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars did introduce something to American superhero comic books that remains to this day – the big event as a big, money-grabbing lie.  For the most part, big event miniseries change little.  When one does bring change to our favorite superhero universes, that change usually lasts until the next big event.  There are exceptions, such as DC Comics' Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985), which is why it is fondly remembered by those who read it.

The truth is that Secret Wars showed American comic book publishers that they could create an atmosphere via a publishing event in which fans and readers, i.e. their customers, feel the need to buy (literally) into an event.  That includes purchasing the main event series and many, if not all, of the related or tie-in publications.  The sequel to Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, Secret Wars II (1985), had tie-in issues (as did DC's Crisis), some of which only had a tenuous connection to the main series.

I bought into events for a few years, but lost interest in world-changing comic book events a long time ago.  When I returned to reading superhero comic books some years ago, I found myself still disinterested in comic book publishing events.  A few times, a friend or store owner passed a freebie that was part of an event, and I read them.  Thirty years after Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, the writing in comic books is supposed to be so much better than it was in the past.  Still, even when a golden boy writes a crossover, line-wide, event, it tends to amount to sound and fury signifying...

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux (support on Patreon)

The text is copyright © 2015 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for syndication rights and fees.

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