Monday, February 12, 2018

Secret Wars: Secret Love #1

Valentine’s Day
Secret Wars: Secret Love #1

Can SoC survive five modern Marvel stories?

Editor – Emily Shaw
Editor-in-Chief – Axel Alonso
October 2015

Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars was a publicity stunt to sell Mattel action figures. 

In 1984 Kenner had DC figures. While rival Mattel held the license for the Masters of the Universe line, Mattel wanted a product that sold to older kids. Thus they sought out Marvel, however they were clueless about the Marvel superhero line. The executives that approached them didn’t know Iron Man or Thor, they knew Superman and Batman. Didn’t matter that Marvel at the time outsold DC by a mile.

Mattel insisted on Marvel producing a high-profile comic story that would help them sell action figures by promoting “brand awareness” of the existing Marvel super heroes as part of the licensing contract. They wanted something big, that would attract attention they could build a theme around. Focus groups indicated that kids reacted positively to the words “wars” and “secret.”

A bunch of this I gleaned not from Wiki, but from how I spent my weekend. An even better source than random internet posters, I sought out the authorities on the comics: the Secret Wars Reunion panel of Jim Shooter, Mike Zeck and John Beatty who were front and center at the North Texas Comic Book Show (

John Beatty, Mike Zeck, Jim Shooter and convention organizer extraordinaire Chris Latshaw

For all those that care to have a listen, I recorded most of it on my phone. Huddle around this LINK and let’s see if a old man like me can make this YOURTUBES thing work.
The Secret War series was a huge success, by the way. Marvel marketing took notice of that fact. Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter got word as soon as the last book in the series dropped that upper management wanted to talk with him. They asked him for a sequel. His answer was “Great!” He would start work in June. They replied with “No, start it right away. Start working on it now.”

And thus, the massive crossover event was created, paving the way for DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths the following year.

Spring forward to Marvel in 2015. It is the husk of what it once was, publishing-wise. While the movies and tv show arm is going great guns, the publishing side isn’t doing near the sales it used to. It seems a shadow of its former self.

There are many reasons for this downward trend in sales. Some include fan backlash, market over-saturation, pricing, and aging market segment. The one we are going to focus on for this bit is called Event Fatigue.

What began with the first Secret Wars has morphed over the years into reoccurring pattern with comic book companies. They are termed “Events” because they represent stories that alter the universe the characters inhabit, and they involve nearly every title in some way. For the publishing company, they mean a hope for additional sales as new readers pick up existing ongoing books to read more of the storyline. Books that might become part of their pull list if the crossover issue scores gold. For readers they mean trying to find money in their budget for food after spending literally hundreds of additional dollars on comic books.

Doing this infrequently is acceptable, like once every two years.

Lately Marvel has been doing back-to-back events for longer than I can remember. Five years? Six? I don’t know. And the constant cost of these expanded adventures as well as the damaging impact they’ve had on the feeling of a status quo in the Marvel comic universe has created a disenchantment with the events, the publisher and sometimes with the entire comics industry.

The rapid-fire nature of Marvel’s output has everything to do with this.

As does the breadth of titles included. After Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars wrapped up, there were several crossovers in the years that followed. However, few of them involved events that affected every title and many of them limited themselves to just a corner of the Marvel U. Those occurring under Shooter were well done, honoring both continuity while advancing the storyline of both the book and the limited Event series.

Modern Marvel links in ALL the books to almost every event though, in what appears to be a ploy to get Marvel fans to buy the entire catalogue they publish.

And there has been no end in sight: Civil War leads to World War Hulk leads to Secret Invasion leads to Dark Reign leads to Siege leads to Fear Itself leads to Spider-Island leads to A vs X leads to Age of Ultron leads to Infinity leads to Original Sin leads to Axis leads to Secret Wars leads to Civil War II leads to Secret Empire and on and on…. the list continues.

Civil War burned me out. I bought all the issues. And then realized I hated the story Marvel was telling. And next up was what felt like a worse one pitting more of my favorite Marvel Heroes against each other as Hulk tried to kill everyone. I tapped out.

Now there were a couple of good stories in all that above. Specifically, the conclusion of the Planet Hulk storyline I mentioned above that was World War Hulk. But most of it is dreck.

Secret Wars isn’t.

Not totally, anyway. The idea is sh*t, don’t get me wrong about that. It is basically Marvel saying we need a crisis like DC had because we’ve so scrambled up our universe with clutter from all these half-baked events that we’d like to consolidate and move on. Oh! And new number 1’s for every title! Because we at Marvel think THAT is the best way to pump up the sales targets. Not something crazy, like a consistently well told story of characters living in a relatable, in-continuity universe.

No, reboot every series by the end of this thing, chop-chop!

So, Marvel cancelled every title and staged a crisis. Doc Doom saved the Marvel multiverse from utter destruction at the hands of the Beyonders, interdimensional beings of unlimited power, by stealing their mojo and using it to create a patchwork world where every conceivable reality existed in its own separate territory. Doom made himself God-Emperor of this entire place and altered several multiversal versions of popular heroes to serve as his enforcers.

While I haven’t dipped my toes in the actual story of Secret Wars (2015) because it sounds like crap, I have enjoyed LOTS of the spinoff books. Primarily I liked them because they are all essentially long form “What if?...” tales that are quite imaginative and disposable. Where else do you get to see 1800’s versions of Cap and Iron Man face off against robber baron Wilson Fisk in the wild west? Or see how Inferno would have played out if Magic’s dark side had won? Or watch Cap battle his way to the Hulk’s Future Imperfect Maestro. Or Ultron team up with Marvel Zombies to take down a futuristic fairy tale version of the Avengers. Or having all the Ghost Riders perform in a racing colosseum…(okay, that last one ended up super-super lame. But you expect some clunkers in all this).

My point is there were some good one-off stories in these. They didn’t feel like they mattered, especially now, because none of this really got incorporated into the status quo (whatever you term that in Marvel’s “change because the wind blows” current continuity). They were Elseworlds tales expanded to five issues (usually) and made enjoyable reads.

I have BUNCHES of these in the Crapbox because like all Marvel events it was a huge failure sales-wise and fans shed these books as soon as the event was over. I plan on getting to most of them…one day?

But for now, you have background on Secret Wars, so you are ready for this Valentine one-shot of five stories set in the various patchwork playgrounds of the Secret Wars universe, where none of this really matters, but love IS in the air.

Let’s go get all secret and see if we love this issue or not…

"Guilty Pleasure”
Words and Art – Michel Fiffe
Letters – VC’s Clayton Cowels

We begin with a Daredevil tale set during the time of the Inferno infestation of New York, a low point for the Daredevil series in my mind. Anything that ends with him fighting the actual Devil in a duel comes off both silly and pointless. I’ll get to that issue in a later review.

For now though, we open on Karen Page hiding behind a broken rooftop wall as the love of her life, Daredevil, fights that conflicted crazy Typhoid Mary. Karen thinks Matt is having an affair with Mary, and if my hazy memory of this period in his life serves up the right answer, she isn’t half wrong. Typhoid tempted the battler, but he also knew her kind of bad news he did not need.

We flash back to Karen remembering how horn head left her to take on the craziness going on in Hell’s Kitchen that evening. How frustrated she was with him and ended up deciding to follow her lover and best friend.

Karen watches Matt take on challenges old and new while the running commentary explains both her attraction to the hero and her suspicions about Matt having someone else on his mind. This mysterious “Mary” he mentioned in his sleep.

Then we step back into the battle at hand because we are on a short time schedule here. Watch as Daredevil swiftly takes her down.

She’s down for the count, so that’s over. Or is it?

Argh! This pit of silliness again. She turns into Mephisto in his John Romita, Jr incarnation. It isn’t lost on me that seeing this claptrap makes me realize how much I not only despised the Inferno Daredevil crossover, but also this more inhuman version of drawing the Mephisto as well. I believe also that I dropped the book right after this.

To end this mess of a story quickly, while Matt is on the ropes, Karen takes Typhoid’s sword and cuts off Mephisto’s head and all his spirit shoots out the stump of his neck.

And while this may seem like a happy ending, with the two of them kissing and holding each other on the rooftop, the narration makes it sound like whatever Mephisto’s spirit does to Inferno-world Hell’s Kitchen takes both their lives. So yay, happy ending? or No?

This one almost got a pass from me, but the Inferno storyline ending reminded me how nonsensical that whole crossover finished up and I have to give it a solid thumbs down based on that alone. The art held some surprises, especially the limited pastel pink color pallet being used very effectively. If they had just made it a standard Daredevil love triangle, it would have likely won me over on style points and  even with its limited run-time. But no, one miss and four more swings to go.

"Fan of a Fan”
Words and Art – Felipe Smith
Color – Val Staples
Letters – VC’s Clayton Cowels

Next up is this horrible trash story that frustrated me to no end. I don’t know how the new Robbie Reyes differs from Johnny Blaze, but I do hear he’s popular. Ghost Rider always had hype in every itineration through the years. Whether anyone admits it or not, the idea of a flaming skeleton on a bike or a car meting out vengeance appeals to everyone in a perverse sort of fashion.

But I also know the Ghost Racers Secret Wars series was pretty much bottom of the barrel out of the fifteen or so limited series that I’ve read.

That means this short had one slim chance of winning me over, and that comes by way of including the only other girl around Reyes’ age in the current MU: Kamala Khan, A/K/A Ms Marvel.

I’m saving my rant about how Kamala proves the anti-diversity nuts wrong on nearly every level for a later review where I dive into the few books of hers the Crapbox was lucky enough to come across. Let’ just go with SoC loves this character and most everything she touches.

This story being, of course the exception.

I blame the short story format affecting the presentation of the character arc in this one. It is wrapped up so quickly and in such an annoying manner that it suffers. We start with Robbie defeating a monster on the Ghost Rider’s track during a stadium race in Doom’s Killiseum in the capital city of Doomstadt.

His girlfriend/love interest Lisa is watching from the stands.

Meanwhile Kamala is working concessions at the Killiseum and is forced by her boss to take a free hot dog and Slurpee to Reyes as a form of publicity. She embarrassingly agrees, much to the chagrin to her smitten unnamed co-worker.

While the two make small talk, Lisa notices the monster isn’t down for the count.

Her warning is unneeded as not only does Robbie transform in time…

…but Kamala lends him a “hand” (Yeah, I went there. What’er ya gonna do, wait! Please finish reading the review. I promise. I’ll be good. No more puns. Swear!)

The pair team up for a page of smacking the monster around, and I have to state that the new GR doesn’t talk much.

And having bonded over kicking the creature’s butt, It’s only natural for them to feel attracted to each other…

…but PSYCHE! That’s right audience, they don’t kiss. Ha,ha, you poopy-heads. I made you look dumb for thinking that, didn’t I? (Ick! LAME!)

I share one emotion with the love interests in the last two panels: relief that the story is over and I can now forget all about it. Seriously stupid ending. However, to their due, the story runs all of six pages. Given more time this might have been better. Either that, or having read enough Kamala Khan stories I just want to give her character Spider-Man levels halo effect cognitive bias.

"Misty and Danny Forever”
Words – Jeremy Whitley
Artist – Gurihiru
Letters – VC’s Clayton Cowels

And the one that almost saves the book comes right after. I’m a fan of the early 80’s Power Man-Iron Fist stories, so this one is right up my alley. We begin with the two lady companions of those heroes, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. The placard on this tale reads Earth 21722, the walled city of New York, Yorkville, yet in my initial read-through I blew right past that. This feels like regular Power Man-Iron Fist territory, just a bit further down the timeline.

Good. Because I’m up for that. And for Misty to be stressing over not having makeup for a date that night with Danny.

And Danny doing the same with Luke and Jessica, mainly because the writing here is Sharp and gets the characters. Plus, there are word balloons that show emotions with subtle textured clues about the personalities of these characters, not cutesy-lame heart graphics.

This is the grownup romance story and it shows the tough part about relationships, how it is a struggle to compromise and find your place. Especially if kids are involved.

And in the face of this all being some fantasy created by some super villain that could end tomorrow (Yeah, that feels meta), your friends can still show you the important thing is to live and love in the moment.

Even if that moment starts off a little awkward…

…and goes from bad to disastrous at first…

…things can turn up that, well…

…make remember how good a team you are when you work together…

…also make you remember WHY you love a person so much.

THIS is the story that makes the book. It has heart and soul, imbues the characters with traits we understand and can relate to, while also taking a stale story that’s been done a million times over and making it feel new again.

Such a good character piece. Why doesn’t Marvel do these anymore?

"Squirrel Girl Wins a Date with Thor”
Writer – Marguerite Bennett
Artist – Kris Anka
Letters – VC’s Clayton Cowels

I’ve read very few Squirrel Girl stories. She’s not really high on my list of characters. I see her as a one-off silly story which is what this is…a bit of fluffy filler that doesn’t really fit in the Secret Wars universe (given that Thor in that universe is a Doc Doom enforcer and I don’t think that Asgard was the hopping place seen here) – but whatever.

The storyline in this unremarkable mess is Tony Stark gives away a date with hunk Thor to Squirrel Girl for her competition in some kind of animal welfare contest thingie.

It’s really just a story device to get her and Thor on a date.

And then to have her do silly stuff like put out Sunfire’s leg blaze with Thor’s tunic…

…so she can inspect his great abs…

…and then ride off on a giant squirrel driven chariot.

Dumb and forgetful, but at least they didn’t have her lift Thor’s hammer. Like Howard the Duck, Squirrel Girl is a comedy creature who is best used in non-continuity one-off stories. Unlike Howard, Squirrel Girl doesn’t have a Steve Gerber masterminding her comedy, so stories like this happen. Stories you don’t remember reading the moment you turn the page*   

"Happy Ant-iversary”
Words and Art by Katie Cook

Saying that about whatever those last three page were that I now no longer remember, is faint praise verses this last bit from an author/artist I like. Katie Cook does a ton of the My Little Pony books, so chances are likely I’ve read one of hers to my granddaughter.

However, what works there, doesn’t here. Primarily because Cook decides to do this tale of Marvel’s heroes being bugs without any speaking parts. The bugs do those annoying short-cutty Manga emojis that I dislike so much.

The story is Ant-Man-bug throws an elaborate party for Wasp-heroine-bug, something that has her flying around collecting flowers from everyone. The panel boarders are sometimes non-existent and occasionally you can’t tell where the story is going or what exactly is happening.

Any place where a bit exposition would help continues to frustrate me, since the plot of this gets very muddled. Are these other bugs in love with Wasp-heroine-bug too, as one had a heart symbol looking at her? Are they implying that Hawkeye-butterfly gets eaten by Black Widow-spider? I don’t know.

The Squirrel Girl stuff was forgettable in a natural “that was kind of embarrassing” way. This is forgettable in a “you try real hard to wash the saccharine taste of it out of your mouth before you choke” kind of way. Cook is way better than this and I feel like the story and the idea was rushed to execution with the editor not doing their job of saying this doesn’t work. That’s another problem with Marvel for another day: the help drives the boat, not editorial, but enough! I’ve run out of space.

The issue is a pass. Even the one story about Danny and Misty can’t pull the load the others weigh it down with. Additionally, NOTHING in this has any bearing on the outcome in the Secret Wars mini. While love might be in the air, there isn’t any secret that this isn’t where I found it. 

Don't forget to check out North Texas Comic Book Show's website for future events. They guys always have a great, comic-focused convention that lets you get up close and personal with the stars.

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