Wednesday, May 20, 2009

1985 - Return of the Beyonder!


As I picked up the ridiculously large Secret Wars II omnibus, I thought I'd post an entry about this infamous 1985 miniseries.

Secret Wars II 
Writer: Jim Shooter 
Artists: Al Milgrom, Steve Leialoha, and Joe Rubinstein 
9-issue limited series  
July 1985 - March 1986

Marvel Comics hoped to capitalize on the financial success of the Secret Wars and released a follow-up limited series called Secret Wars II. The series turned out to be a disaster and failed on several levels. Despite the crossovers, the series didn’t sell as well as the original one. The art, which was one of the bright spots from the original series, was significantly weaker. Jim Shooter returned as the series’ writer, but hadn’t learned anything from the harsh criticism of the original Secret Wars series. The plot is buried in the crossovers that are juggled by dozens of different writers. 

With his curiosity peaked in the Secret Wars, the Beyonder made his way to Earth and assumed a human form based on Captain America’s body. He wandered about the Marvel Universe experiencing everything humanity has to offer. He visits practically every Marvel character. Highlights include Peter Parker (Spider-Man) showing him how to use the bathroom, and Dazzler rejecting the Beyonder’s attempts to “court” her.



The Beyonder went through several stages of development. He began with curiosity which developed into a frustration with humankind. He took another turn and decided to become a super-hero, but even then he doesn’t find his purpose. He finally settled on becoming human. However, the process was interrupted and the Beyonder dies during his "birth".  
 
"The inherent fatal flaw in this is that no human writer can convincingly portray utterly omnipotent characters, and Jim Shooter proceeds to demonstrate this. The resulting escapade depicts a spoilt two-year-old brat with limitless power flitting around the globe as multitudes of heroes chase mindlessly." 
     - The Slings & Arrows Comic Guide

Shooter pulled out a lot of themes, like power corrupting, stranger in a strange land with an omniscient twist, good versus evil, and the purpose of life. However, they were like signposts passed by a speeding car. A brief, blurry glimpse of an idea that was quickly left behind. Shooter’s story was weak and painfully drawn out into nine issues, which includes a double-sized finale. The story was also distorted by the obscene amount of crossovers (33 issues!). 


The heroes in this series were cardboard cutouts who attack the Beyonder in waves, with no real strategy or reason. Just as in the Secret Wars, the characters behaved the way Shooter interpreted them and not how they were necessarily portrayed in their own series. 

The ending was simply bad. If the Beyonder is omniscient, why would he need to construct a machine that could make him human? Wouldn’t he just think it and it would happen? The machine plot point existed only to give the heroes a realistic chance at stopping an omniscient character.

The dialog was absolutely dreadful. Here’s a sample. At the climax of the Beyonder’s relationship with Dazzler, he attempts to express his “love”: 

“Why do you flee? There is cosmic ecstasy in our being as one! If I feel it, you must feel it too! It is glorious --! Wonderful! Do not deny it to me!”

The combination of Milgrom and Leialoha was a mistake. Their art styles clash. Milgrom’s penciled art required a good finisher and Leialoha’s inks are just too loose and scratchy. There are several pages, mostly at the end of issues, where the veteran inker Joe Rubinstein helped finish the issue, and those pages are superior to Leialoha’s art. Take a look at the early issues of The West Coast Avengers where Joe Sinnott provides the inking and compare for yourself.

If this series accomplished one thing, it captured a snapshot of the 1980s. From the Beyonder’s perm, to the Dazzler’s leg warmers, to Ronald Reagan; it’s all there in its 80s glory.

5 comments:

  1. Believe it or not, I devoured this with great glee back when I was eight, when the obvious conceptual and dialogue problems flew right over my head! it was a great proper introduction to the Marvel Universe though, especially as the crossovers introduced me to John Byrne's Fantastic Four, Roger Stern's Avengers, Denny O'Neill's Iron Man, Chris Claremont's X-Men etc...

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  2. the should have called this series "The Beyonder Retuens". Secret wars II was kinda misleading. i think it was the Beyonder tie-ins into other titles that made this series at all worth while.

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  3. Damn it!! Secret Wars 2 gets such a bad rap. This was a great comic for KIDS, providing lots of mindless fight scenes and colourful characters all in the one book.As a 9-10 year old child I gobbled it up. although I had to rely on amatuerish british reprints to follow it. Many of the crossovers were pretty damn good; Uncanny X-Men #202 & 203 where Phoenix sets out to kill the Beyonder were very good with a real dark feel to them. I loved captain America #308 where Beyonder takes on the physical form of Cap and Gruenwald gives one of the greatest descriptions of what it is that sets Cap apart from the rest of Marvel's heroes through the eyes of the Beyonder. the issues of Amazing & Spectacular Spider-Man where the Puma tries to fulfil his destiny by killing big B. These were all highlights for me. I don't think it is complete nostalgia that has me feeling this way. I still think that it is a fun read and a lighthearted romp. I just wouldn't expect to much intellectual stimulation from these comics. This series reminds me that comics used to be fun.

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  4. Jason,

    I ate these up as a kid, and still have a soft spot for them, logic be damned. That being said, all of your criticisms are correct. Secret Wars 1 and 2 were panned on Usenet in the 1980s, although the kids loved them. Even though I was a kid at the time, I had issues with the Beyonder being omnipotent yet having the need to build the machine. Then again Thanos had the same problem in the 1990s.

    The main problem I had was the lack of coherency from issue to issue- the crossovers were necessary and a gimmick for me to collect everything. By issue 4 no one was really talking about SW2 at my school. The FLOW of SW1 was much better. SW2 and Crisis don't flow from issue to issue.

    Even with the flaws, I still find SW2 better than Secret Invasion and Siege. It was FUN. The cosmic beings were FUN.

    I don't see any public sales figures for Secret Wars I vs Secret Wars II on Comichron to make an informed judgement on if SW2 was a financial failure, however. Out of curiosity, where is your source for sales?

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  5. Sorry Damian, I went over my notes, I couldn't find anything about the sales. I try to keep better track of my sources these days. :)

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