Comic Therapy Sessions: Looks at Eagle

2082972-eagle_168I could try to pretend I was a cool kid, so wild that the first comic I read was the ultra edgy, rebellious 2000AD. Yet the fact is I wasn’t a regular reader of the adventures of Judge Dredd until well into my teens. As a younger child it was another British Comic featuring it’s own iconic Sci-Fi hero that transitioned me from reading funnies such as Beano and Dandy to a more adventure orientated weekly. A comic that while never reaching the heights of it’s punk rock IPC stablemate, still managed a respectable twelve year run, outliving nearly every other weekly boys comic.

It was in 1982 while watching ITV children’s television that I saw the advertisements for a brand new comic called Eagle (ITV is the independent alternative to the BBC, which unlike it’s stuffy rival features television advertising), the first issue it excitedly proclaimed would feature the all new Dan Dare as well as the return of the green skinned villain The Mekon. I didn’t know who Dan Dare was, or his enemy the Mekon whose return I couldn’t get excited about as I didn’t realise he’d even been gone in the first place. Even so the ad worked it’s magic on me, the crude animation showing the Mekon bursting out of an asteroid looked cool as hell so yeah I was going to give this a try. Especially as the first issue came with an inspired free gift in the form of…..wait for it, a space spinner! Yep, another sodding space spinner!1804425-eagle19820327 I wonder if someone in the IPC higher ups had part ownership in a sweatshop making space spinners? In any case I’m curious to know if anyone has ever raced the space spinner from the first issue of 2000AD against the one from Eagle no.1. If I win the lottery that’s on my to do list.

Unknown to me this was actually the second incarnation of Eagle. The first that ran in the 50’s and 60’s was designed to promote strong moral values amongst children and would also be educational. That’s not to mean it wasn’t also going to be fun and full of adventure. After all, it also created the iconic British character Dan Dare. An astronaut based on the typically English archetype of the RAF fighter pilot, embarking on Flash Gordon style adventures in some beautifully illustrated stories with a now vintage interpretation of space travel and alien worlds.

Dare became one of the top stars of British comics and though his inclusions in 2000AD may have been a misjudgement, those behind Eagle’s relaunch intended to build their new comic around a more back to basics Dan Dare that all the dads would remember from their own childhoods and would encourage their own children to read. However in order to avoid conflict with a Dan Dare television show (which never actually happened) creators decided to feature not the original Dare but his great, great grandson (also called Dan and himself a cadet in Earth’s space academy). The original Dare’s arch nemesis the Mekon returned in the first issue as promised where it was explained that he’d been found guilty for war crimes but since the Earth had no death penalty he’d been imprisoned in an asteroid and sent drifting into space for centuries. Because yeah that sounds way more humane.

The decision to replace the original Dare was controversial and writers have claimed with hindsight that it was a mistake. Personally I liked the new Dare as he was depicted as more hotheaded and rebellious than his stiff upper lipped ancestor. Certainly the first story arc where the young Dare returns from a training mission to find Earth had been invaded in his absence and mostly conquered by the Mekon’s forces was a long running saga that had me gripped.

When the 1st issue hit newstands it was a very different comic from any of it’s counterparts. For a start it was published on higher quality paper, rather than the pulp material that was the norm at the time. Though the focus was on the strips, Eagle also featured a large number articles, with interviews with children’s tv personalities, sport stars and musicians. Celebrities such as Olympian Daley Thompson and comedian Lenny Henry were given regular columns. Cutaway diagrams of vehicles a feature from the original Eagle made their way into the relaunched title as well as news stories aimed towards young males.

But it was the stories themselves that were the most striking difference, as most of the strips were illustrated not with drawings but with photographs. These Photostories featured more down to earth tales of detectives such as Sgt Streetwise, Joe Soap or the school drama Thunderbolt and Smokey (showing a little bit of 80’s political incorrectness) where two kids try to turn around the fortunes of their loser football team, while dealing with the usual school problems of bullys and pain in the arse teachers (the kids succeed in reaching the final of a schools tournament but lose the big match which left me really deflated).

The use of photos while different did have a stiff staged look to them and could be laughable in their awkwardness. However for one story in particular it helped to make the tone more horrific. Walk or Die was a story of a group of schoolchildren who survive a planecrash in the Canadian wilderness and are forced to make a dangerous journey back to civilization. The first episode sees the surviving teachers mauled to death by a grizzly bear and later one of the younger boys drowns when a self made raft capsizes. It’s not quite Lord of the Flies but it’s still a grim tale made all the more intense by being acted out by real children.

Drawings were retained for the most outlandish strips such as Dan Dare and another fantasy story The Tower King set in a world where an accident causes the loss of electricity and society reverts back to a medieval existence. It’s an exciting tale (as a child I was freaked out by a tribe that resided in the tunnels of the London Underground called the Rats and by the return of the Plague to Britain’s shores), and had it had been in 2000AD we could probably be enjoying reprints of it to this day. The drawing style of strips allowed for more creative indulgence, but it was still a photo story that quickly became the comic’s breakout feature.

doomlordDoomlord featured a shape-shifting alien who kills and adopts the identity of various humans, as he follows his agenda to seemingly wipe out the human race. Tracking him is a reporter who no one will believe. It makes for a fairly standard monster story, but is still entertaining and the rubber mask worn by the actor is genuinely grotesque and creepy.

The story takes a more philosophical turn in the final episodes where Doomlord while making a virus that will wipe out mankind reveals he comes from a race that acts as judge, jury and executioner when investigating lifeforms and evaluating their right to existence. Humanity he’s deemed is destined for extinction and in a montage showing the evils and crimes that mankind has inflicted on the Earth and it’s inhabitants, it’s hard to argue with his conclusions. The reporter manages to turn the tables on Doomlord and both are killed by the virus, stating that humanity will die but it will be at it’s own hands and not Doomlords. This proclamation comes across as shallow when considering that the purpose of the virus was to destroy only humans and leave the rest of the lifeforms on Earth intact unlike the holocaust that mankind would likely have unleashed.

A sequel Doomlord II soon followed, with a second Doomlord being sent to find the missing first one and complete his mission if necessary. This series had a different tone from the first with comedy moments in the opening episode where Doomlord kills and takes the form of the first person he meets, who happens to be an unfortunate tramp. It’s an identity that causes him discomfort due to the flees in the rags he’s now wearing, and when he’s later accosted by two thugs Doomlord dryly asks them which one of them has the least bodymites to help decide which ones form he should adopt.

The new Doomlord is a more sympathetic figure and although he too finds humanity guilty, he believes the species shows the potential for redemption and so is given a year to change mankind’s ways. Doomlord succeeds in gaining a reprieve for the world by causing a nuclear scare that shocks the world into the disarmament of it’s nuclear weapons. However when Doomlord III comes around humanity has already reverted to type and the death sentence is ordered by Doomlord’s seniors. Doomlord rebels, instead revealing his existence to the world in an attempt to force humanity into changing his ways and later becomes Earth’s protector against the various agents that are sent to carry out humanities extinction.

Even though he became a hero, Doomlord stills resorts to dark methods to complete his goals such as brainwashing people and murdering innocents who’s identity he needs to use. He’s a challenging anti hero that became the comics second longest running strip and maligns the Eagle’s reputation as being a safe alternative to it’s edgier rivals.

Because of the photostory format, Doomlord was restricted from fully embracing the sci fi elements of his storyline. This changed after the first year of Eagle where to cut costs the comic was revamped, switching to traditional pulp quality paper and reverting photo stories to the traditional drawing style (the celebrity involvement was also dropped).

With this step writer’s were now free to do more outlandish and spectacular storylines, with Doomlord taking full advantage of the new freedoms now including more elaborate villains to face Doomlord. While a new strip that could not have existed in the photostory format was the Computer Warrior, where a boy finds a way to enter a dimension through his home computer, becomimg a physical part of his computer games where if he loses he’ll remain trapped there (one creepy moment is when he’s in a formula one game and finds the pit crews are made up of kids who are trapped in the world, begging the question why were these mass disappearances of gamers going unreported). As well as being a good story the strip also created the opportunity for merchandise tie ins as all the stories were based on actual games. Another cross promotion came when Eagle began running a strip adaptation of the budget clone of the Transformers toys known as the Robo Machines, which was pretty fun and a damn sight better than the God awful challenge of the Gobots cartoon.

deathwishblake003Other notable strips were the dinosaur epic Bloodfang (which I dealt with in a previous article), the adventures of Newsteam who covered stories in various hotspots and warzones, House of Daemon a really disturbing haunted house story, Golden Boy a young athlete blackmailed into competing on a dangerous tv show called the suicide game, Death Wish a race driver who is disfigured when badly burnt in a race accident and embarks on a career as a stuntman and Manix another anti hero in the form of a robot secret agent.

dannyPike_03My personal favourite and the one that I always read first was The Fists of Danny Pike a boxing drama where a troubled kid from the streets of Liverpool becomes a successful heavyweight boxer. It’s obviously draws heavy on the Rocky films but as a boxing fan I was gripped in his hunt for the world title held by Alvin Sharkley. Pike gains a shot at the title early on, and goes against the advice of his trainers who feel he isn’t ready, accepting the shot due to his desire for his dying grandmother to see him as champion before she dies. He loses the fight on a cut eye and has to climb his way to contention once again.

When he finally gets a return shot at Sharkly I can still vividly remember a panel where Pike is knocked down and seemingly out in a shocking cliffhanger (what made the scene special to me was the shot of a family back in England watching the fight in dressing gowns in the early hours of the morning, just like how my own family used to watch the big fights.) The following episode sees Pike cut again and given one more round to knock out Sharkly and achieve his dreams. Unfortunately Pike fails and descends into a state of depression and after drugs and alcohol abuse is left homeless and destitute…..oh course I’m lying he knocks out Sharkley in one of my all time favourite feel good moments of reading comics.

One of the things I liked about is Eagle is the diverse stories that covered all genres such as detective, war, sci fi, horror and even sport and school drama. This is due in part to the trend of merges between comics. In those days when a comic’s sales fell to a significant level the comic would be merged with a stronger comic, or in reality be absorbed. The new combined comic would feature the best stories from each title and the two would supposedly be given even billing although as time went on the lesser comic’s title would diminish until finally it would disappear altogether. Eagle in it’s position as a strong comic was the one that always absorbed the failing comics, with titles such as Tiger, Scream, Wildcat and Battle seeing their last days within it’s pages. (2000AD was also part of one such merger with it’s sister comic Starlord. Starlord was actually the better selling comic but was more expensive to produce and thinking that there was more potential in 2000AD, it was Starlord that was the one that ultimately dissolved).

Eventually though Eagle was the one that came to the end of the line and sadly as the UK comic industry was in a heavy decline there was no comic left to merge into. In 1994 Eagle became a monthly comic and shortly after disappeared forever. I’d long been gone as a reader by this time, having grown out of the comic and moved onto a life of Marvel fandom. Before I cancelled my own subscription I could see the signs of the comics decline, with costcutting reprints of early 2000AD creeping in. The appearance of the great, great grandson of original Dare’s partner Digby joining Dan Dare as his new sidekick seemed a desperate gimmick too and even as a youngster I groaned at his appearance.

Eagle is often seen as a tame, safer comic and true it’s nowhere near as gritty as 2000AD. However Eagle wasn’t without it’s edging moments, many characters were killed off, stories would have downbeat endings and it had a fair share of horror strips that didn’t hold back on the gore. One story that caused controversy in particular was the Hand about a photographer who has a hand transplant from a murdered gangster and as a result becomes possessed with his ghost and is forced on a revenge crusade against the mob that killed him. The strip was featured on a breakfast TV show (ITV’s TV-AM) for it’s violence, citing how a scene showing the lead fashioning a firebomb out of a bottle of wine could lead to children copycatting and making their own homemade devices. Eagle responded with a well reasoned editorial, that was enlightening to my young self on how the media really worked.

I have very fond memories of Eagle. In many ways it paved the way for my later obsession with comics, and at the times it made Monday mornings bearable as that’s when my copy would get delivered with the morning papers (one of the paperlads admitted to me that he used to read my copy on his daily rounds and would sometimes do my street’s deliveries last so he had time to read it, the cheeky sod). The end of Eagle to me signified the death of a style of adventure comics that delighted young readers for many decades. Styles and interests change and go out of fashion, it’s an inevitable fact of live. Yet when looking back at the comics that thrilled me as a child, I can’t help but feel a sadness at their passing and that aside from the more mature 2000AD there are no 21st century equivalent for today’s children.

And before I start going on about how much I miss Vinyl and betamax video tapes I’ll wish you all adieu

Dazza

One final Eagle story. Like most comics Eagle would run whacky competitions for it’s readers, stuff like winning an all you can grab spree in a toyshop or win your weight in chocolate.

However one competition stuck in my mind for it’s sheer bizzare concept. The winner of this contest would get to swim in a swimming pool filled with lemonade. Photographs of the winning boy, smiling as he swam in his lemonade appeared in Eagle which even as a kid I thought looked, well creepy.

I’m sure that this page from the comic exists somewhere on the internet, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be using the keywords necessary to find it.

Comic Conversations: Episode 64

Image and video hosting by TinyPicfettman, luro, and marvell2k talk all things comics for the week of May 27, 2015. Including but not limited to…

Comic Book News of DC’s New Continuity Post-Convergence.

Marvel’s Lighting Round Review of Nova.

Regular Reviews of: Fight Club 2, Hawkeye, Inferno, Infinity Gauntlet, Inhuman Attilan Rising, Old Man Logan, Where Monsters Dwell, Secret Wars 2099, Secret Wars Journal, Uncanny Avengers: Ultron Forever, Ivar Timewalker, Divinity, Deadly Class, Sandman Overture, Suiciders, Ragnarok, and Providence.

Our Picks for Book of the Week.

And Lastly, We Preview Next Week’s Books, fettman’s Lighting Round Review of: Action Comics, Justice League, and The Wicked + The Divine.

Regular Reviews of: War Stories, Broken World, Justice Inc Avenger, Covenant, Jupiter’s Circle, Renew Your Vows, Armor War, Darth Vader, Future Imperfect, Little Marvel, Groot, Master of Kung Fu, Princess Leia, Secret Wars, Secret Wars Battleworld, Star Wars, Superior Iron Man, Squirrel Girl, Years of Future Past, Deadrop, Imperium.

As always all this and Jack’s Awesome Boxtroll on a brand new edition of Comic Conversations, IT’S AWESOME.

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Comic Therapy Sessions Radio: Episode 0

155 Comic Conversations Presents…

fettman, luro, marvell2k AND DAZZA in premiere edition of Comic Therapy Sessions Radio talk Dazza’s recent article of now legendary UK comic, 2000 AD.

We talk how 2000 AD has influenced English culture at large, Judge Dredd, UK publishers in the 70’s, Invasion, Nemesis The Warlock, Bad Company, what was in Kano’s box, We Preview Dazza’s next article, and so much more.

Like the show? GREAT. Because Comic Therapy Session Radio will be a continuing podcast here on ComicConversations.Com every week! ENJOY.

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Comic Therapy Session: Looks at 2000AD

2000adI don’t live in space. I’ve never been to the astro soccer finals on the moon. I’ve never been on holiday to Mars, sat by the pool with my robot girlfriend, watching comets fly over the horizon as we sip blue wine in cube shaped glasse. All these things it was implied we’d be able experiencing in “THE FUTURE,” and to quote a great cult movie “but we’re not, and we’re very disappointed!”

The year that was seen as the threshold for all these science fiction happenings was the year 2000. As a child it was this mythical flashpoint, so far away in the distance but full of wonders and promise as books and films told us this would be the era where we reached for the stars. Of course when we got there apart from a massive piss up the only thing we had to look forward to was the threat of all our technology packing in, just because the makers of our computers hadn’t realized one day we would get to the year 2000 while programming the dates in.

Just like the creators of a certain British comic hadn’t considered that while naming it 2000AD gave it a futuristic feel in the 70’s one day it would kinda date it. Then again comics in the UK were just never meant to last that long.

In the late 70’s there were two major houses publishing comics in the United Kingdom. Both IPC and DC Thompson had libraries of weekly comics that ranged from funnies, girls comics, television tie-ins and a variety of action comics. IPC had edged ahead in the rivalry and were reportedly shifting five million copies of it’s comics a week. War and action comics were amongst the top sellers at the time, but in 1977 IPC tried something different, a comic that would capitalise on the the craze for science fiction movies while bringing a gritty, British attitude.

Britain in the 70’s was a nation in turmoil, and simmering with unrest. It was a time of high unemployment, strikes, riots, the only industry that seemed to be growing was in the arms race during the cold war. Even if the threat of nuclear annihilation never came Britain still seemed a dangerous place where a trip to the shops on a Saturday afternoon could see you running from a soccer riot into the path of an IRA bomb blast. The anger of a nation was reflected in the television of the day with gritty TV detectives and bleak working class drama shows while in music Punk Rock was giving voice to an angry, disaffected youth.

2000ad ist coverIt was in this climate that 2000AD was born in February of 1977 and not surprisingly it wasn’t the optimistic, fairy tale science fiction of Star Wars, instead it was an anarchistic, rampaging riot of a comic that would be embraced by a youth seeking rebellion. Even the artwork had an alternative vibe as editor Pat Mills had chosen mainland European artists to help give the comic an unconventionally alien feels, strengthening it’s futuristic settings.

Yet while 2000AD would be the comic of the anti-hero, the first issue presented by the green skinned alien editor Tharg the Mighty, had it’s fair share of contradictions for such an edgy comic. As was the tradition at the time with any new comic, the first few issues would come with a free gift to entice new readers. A childish “space spinner” toy was attached to the cover of issue one (most surviving issues front covers are therefore damaged but can still go for £100, however if you’ve somehow kept the spinner toy you can double that amount), which is at odds with the mature stories inside. The second issue at least came with the cooler tattoos designed to look like bionic, robot parts. Likewise the decision to bring back the clean cut Dan Dare from the long defunct Eagle comic while sound in gaining publicity proved an awkward fit despite an attempted revamp to the character.

The rest of the initial line-up in the anthology strip shows a heavy influence of American TV and film. M.A.C.H 1 was a bionic man type hero while Harlem’s Heroes tales of a sports team in a violent gladiatorial combat sport drew heavily on the Rollerball movie. Joining these were Flesh a gory dinosaurs meets western hybrid with prehistoric creatures being farmed for food and probably the most striking title Invasion, invasionwhich dealt with Brtiain being occupied by a fictional foreign power in the form of The Volgans. It’s an intense first episode with enemy paratroopers striking at all of England’s major cities while the BBC frantically report on the nation’s defeat and surrender. Bill Savage a working class lorry driver returns home to find his family killed in the invasion and embarks on a killing spree, snarling and slaughtering his way through the first 51 issues of the comic. It’s one long crusade of venom and non stop rage.

As violent as Invasion was the first chapter was toned down considerably at the last minute. Originally the invading army was supposed to be Russian before being changed to a fictional country in the Volgan Empire. Likewise the female prime minister executed on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral was named as Shirley Brown yet the artwork shows it was clearly meant to be Margaret Thatcher (Thatcher would not become Prime Minister for another two years, but she was already a hated figure as leader of the Conservatives. My first encounter with politics as a child was when that bitch took away my school milk).

Part of the reason for toning down the comic was due to recent problems with another IPC publication called Action. Action pushed the boundaries of comics like nothing before it, with all it’s stories having dark premises and a violent attitude that kids ate up. A shark called Hookjaw, a half blind boxer, a German Pannzer division were just some of the challenging characters starring in their own series. But it was a story called Kids Rule OK where the adult population has died out and the world belongs to warring gangs of children that really drew infamy from the media. The moral watchdogs always on the look out for new dangers to be outraged by were quick to seize on Action and in the resulting campaign against it the IPC heads ordered Action to be overhauled and reworked to cut back on the violence and gore. Robbed of the edgy content that made it a success Action’s popularity dipped and soon faded into cancellation.

Action at least drew a vague line in taste where 2000AD should not cross, even if it often danced along it. Yet though IPC would constantly be looking over the shoulders of the writers and artists, the comic always held a ballsy edge over it’s rivals on the comic stands, especially when in issue 2 a violent cop of the future made his debut, one that would become the figurehead of the comic and it’s one true breakout star, even appearing in one average Hollywood movie and one really great one.

jusge dredd

The beauty of Judge Dredd is it can be read many ways. On the one hand it’s a cop drama with Dredd a dedicated and unwavering enforcer of the law, but readers wanting a more cynical, anti establishment tone will point out it’s almost a parody of police brutality (the late 70’s saw many incidents of unrest and clashes with police in riot gear, not dissimilar to the uniform Dredd wore). There’s a distinct fascist tone to Dredd, particularly in his role of Judge, Jury and executioner with him deciding a perpetrator’s guilt on the spot and dispensing justice there and then, even if it’s a swift death penalty.

You could be forgiven for thinking Dredd is a one dimensional character, concerned only with upholding the letter of the law (as in the Stallone movie version) yet on several occasions he’s been seen to challenge his superiors on matters of moral principle. In a rarity in comics, Dredd actually ages as his strip runs in real time as each year of 2000AD represents a year in the life of Mega City One (Dredd is currently in his 70’s and a story device where Dredd is not as fit and powerful as he once was is often used).

Dredd has appeared in some of 2000AD’s most memorable sagas such as his many forays into the lawless lands of the cursed Earth that lay beyond Mega City One. (One such adventure landed 2000AD in legal issues when Ronald McDonald, Colonel Sanders and the Jolly Green Giant were used as characters in the episode Burger Wars).

Possibly the best storyline (and my personal favourite) was the Apocalypse War saga where Mega City One is attacked by Soviet rival city East Meg One. During the brutal war Dredd leads the resistance against the invaders and in one unsettling scene rounds up citizens deemed guilty of collaborating with the Sov forces and executes them in a pit, leaving a banner over their bodies branding them as “traitors.”

The war ends with Dredd taking control of nuclear weapons and using them to obliterate East Meg One, killing all 500 million of it’s citizens. It’s a shocking unflinching moment but is true to Dredd being the ultimate, merciless anti-hero.

While I enjoy Judge Dredd, it’s not my favourite strip in 2000AD, so what follows are some of my own favourite strips. All of them embody the biting rebellion and alternative edge that really appealed to me when I rediscovered the comic in my mid teens. I’ve already covered Invasion which is a joyfully angry revenge story so here goes with the rest.

Bad Company

bad compnay

Without a doubt my favourite 2000AD strip. Bad Company are a rogue platoon fighting a guerilla war with a decidedly sadistic alien race called the Krool. The Krool make vicious villains with their taste for human experiments on their captives, but their cruelty is often matched by Bad Company’s leader Kano, a colonel Kurtz like figure obsessed with killing as many of the aliens as possible.

The story is narrated by Danny a fresh faced soldier who along with his squad is press-ganged into joining Bad Company.

Bad company are an assortment of vicious rogues and outcasts who treat Danny and his fellow “recruits” like cannon fodder, even forcing them at gunpoint into fields to draw out ambushes. The cheapness of the lives of bad Company’s soldiers is emphasised when the vicious Thrax kills a frightened comrade during a bombing raid for making too much noise.

Danny’s appearance subtly changes with each episode as his personality grows darker the longer he fights in the war. He’s hardly recognizable by the final issue of the first season that ends with a battle worthy of a Sam Peckinpah movie as the majority of Bad Company are killed in one final charge.

A second season would see Danny forming a crew of even more outrageous characters in the hunt for the enigmatic Kano. Speaking of Kano a plot line running through the first season was the mystery of what Kano kept in a small box he was obsessively protective of, even going so far as to kill a Bad Company member who snatched and took a look inside. I won’t spoil the secret here but for those who never will read Bad Company I’ll post it at the end of this article as it’s a gory, twisted revelation.

295000-15971-nemesis-the-warlockNemesis The Warlock
One look at the gothic heavy and weirdly wonderful artwork of Nemesis the Warlock and you know you’re reading something different. Nemesis himself is one of the strangest looking characters to have his own strip, a bizarre hybrid of a horse in a humanoid body. Nemesis is an anarchistic alien at war with the puritanical extremists of the human race, headed by one of the greatest villains in 2000AD Torquemada. With the catchy and devilish slogan “Be pure, Be vigilante, Behave” Torquemada as ruler of Earth rages a crusade against all things non human.

Nemesis takes being an anti hero to the extreme, using any methods in his anarchist philosophy on the principles of chaos in his war against Torquemada’s terminators. One of the strips most shocking moments is when he hijacks a bus full of two hundred school children and deliberately crashes it during a chase, killing all on board. When quizzed by his partner Purtity, Nemesis dismisses the act and states the children would probably have grown up to be terminators. Seriously, kids bought this comic.

Nemesis saga spanned ten series over a twenty year period and is one of most bizarre of all of 2000AD’s series and can be daunting at times in it’s weirdness, but it’s an engrossing read and visually there’s nothing quite like it. For a time Nemesis was joined by another favourite of mine The ABC Warriors who I covered in a previous article but to give a refresher imagine a heavy metal, drug fuelled version of Transformers with two of the greatest robots in comics, the seething evil Blackblood and the ultra cool Joe Pineapples (someone make some 2000AD action figures please, I’d love to have these guys on my shelf.

Zenith

Zenith-Phase-Three-hair

Until recently legal issues over the ownership of Zenith between publisher Fleetway and series creator Grant Morrison prevented the series from being reprinted. Finally a series of collected editions have been released so finally us who were not readers at the time can saviour Morrison’s own take on the adult superhero theme that was all the range in the late 80’s.

Zenith is set in an alternative history where superheroes battled in World War II but are now all but extinct. Zenith the orphan of two heroes in the superhero group Cloud Nine is a Justin Bieber like figure who’s spurned the superhero life in favour of a pop career and lives only for his own shallow, self interest. Zenith is a totally unredeeming character, any involvement in superheroics is done so begrudgingly.

Zenith is awesomely easy to hate and Morrison writes him as such an obnoxious, sarcastic character that I even find myself resenting him even when he succeeds in saving the world. So far I’m only on the third of the five books but I’m enjoying it immensely and it’s refreshing that it’s one of the 80’s dark age of superhero comics that has still a sense of fun without the preaching by the likes of Misters Miller and Moore.

Seriously get the new collected editions of this book now, just in case legal issues take another twist.

These are just a taste of the many great strips that have erupted from the pages of 2000AD. Robo Hunter, Slaine, Strontinium Dog and Alan Moore’s wonderful sci-fi heroine Halo Jones are all great reads and most can be revisited in graphic novel format. And there are many more hidden gems amongst the long history of the comic (we’re just a couple of years away from the 2000th issue), not to be forgotten are the one off short stories of Thrag’s tales.

As for the legacy of 2000AD, just look at the likes of Alan Moore, Bryan Talbot, Mark Millar, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison who have all worked on the comic in the early part of their careers.

Today like mega city one 2000AD stands alone amongst the wasteland of the UK comic scene and while it’s sales are nowhere near the days of selling 300,000 a week it’s still hanging on in there. It’s undergone an image change, with the black and white pencilwork largely replaced by a lavishly vibrant paintwork style, (ABC Warriors in particular is an amazing feast for the senses) but it’s still got that underground feel that made it such a dirty, thrill riding hit.

Maybe the title has dated but the stories in 2000AD have held up pretty damn well.

Bonus spoiler of what’s in Kano’s box?

kano box

So in the final episode of the first series of Bad Company Mad Tommy (mad because he seems to think he’s fighting in world war one, but was really only acting insane to avoid being killed by Kano for knowing his secret. But he lived the role so well that by series two he was really mad), reveals that the young Kano was captured by Krool and experimented on by removing half his brain and replacing it with half a Krool brain.

After escaping from the camp Kano was going insane and Mad Tommy went back to the camp and returned with the discarded half of Kano’s brain in a box. By having this Kano was able to stabilize his mental condition somewhat. However Mad Tommy also reveals that he was unable to retrieve Kano’s brain from the camp and so took half a brain from a random dead soldier’s body.

In series two we find out that Kano’s real half brain has been placed into another Krool.

Told you it was fucked up.

Dazza

Comic Conversations: Episode 63

Image and video hosting by TinyPicfettman, luro, and marvell2k talk all things comics for the week of May 20, 2015. Including but not limited to…

Comic Book News: of Uncanny X-Men 600 being pushed back till after Secret Wars and El Hijo del Eight Months Later.

As well as our latest interview with Dazza, where we talk Dazza’s latest Secret Wars 2 article and the UK comic book scene.

Light Round Reviews of: Powers, Lumberjanes, Insufferable, and Daredevil.

Regular Reviews of: Master of Kung-Fu, A-Force, Avengers World, Deadpool’s Secret Secret War, Guardians of Galaxy, Loki, Planet Hulk, Moon Knight, Battle World Battles, Spider-Verse, Star Wars, Ultimate End, Blood Shot, and Ninjak.

Our Picks for Book of the Week.

We Preview Next Week’s books: Deadly Class, Providence, Fight Club 2, Sandman Overture, Suiciders, Ragnarok, Hawkeye, Inferno, Infinity Gauntlet, Inhuman Attlian Rising, Old Man Logan, Secret Wars 2099, Secret Wars Journal, Uncanny Avengers: Ultron Forever, Where Monsters Dwell, Divinity, Ivar Timewalker.

As always, all this and so much more on a brand new edition of Comic Conversations, IT’S AWESOME.

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Comic Conversations: Episode 62

Image and video hosting by TinyPicfettman, luro, and marvell2k talk all things comics for the week of May 15, 2015. Including but not limited to:

Comic Book News of the Archie Kickstarter controversy, the Top 10 selling books for April, and we TALK to the man, the myth, the legend, Dazza. We talk his recent Secret Wars 1 and 2 articles as well as Dazza talking what the comic book scene is like in the UK, both past and present.

fettman’s Lighting Round Reviews of East of West and Injustice Year Four.

Out Regular Reviews of: Parallax 2, Astro City 23, Black Cross 3, Injection 1, Saga 28, Walking Dead 141, Angela 6, Darth Vader 5, Guardians 3000 8, Howard the Duck 3, Starlord 12, Ms. Marvel 15, Silk 4, Spider-Man 2099 12, Thor 8, Lantern City 1, and Secret Wars 2.

Our picks for book of the week as well as next week’s lighting round reviews of: Daredevil, Lumberjanes, Master of Kung-Fu, and Powers.

And finally our regular reviews of Justice League of America, Empire, Insufferable, Secret Identities, A-Force, Avengers World, Deadpool’s Secret Secret War,Guardians of Galaxy, Loki, Planet Hulk, Moon Knight, Battle World Battles, Spider-Verse, Star Wars, Ultimate End, Blood Shot, and Ninjak.

As always as this and so much more on a brand new COMIC CONVERSATIONS, IT’S AWESOME.

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Comic Therapy Session: Looks at Secret Wars II

Secret_Wars_II_Vol_1_1Despite all the mockery and derision that was hurled at the first Secret Wars series by the comics media and from within the industry itself, it was still a massive hit commercially. Yet creator Jim Shooter was adamant that Marvel wouldn’t sully the memories for fans and resisted the urge to rush out a lucrative follow up. From this point forward Marvel’s motto would be “Do it once, do it right and move on!”

This is of course complete bollocks. Maybe somewhere there is a parallel Universe where the comics industry doesn’t rehash it’s successful storylines or concepts until their beaten into the ground. But we’re stuck in this one. And in this universe Jim Shooter couldn’t get his sequel out fast enough and so a mere three months after the final issue of Secret Wars hit the newstands a new series with the inspired title Secret Wars II was launched.

Like all sequels Secret Wars II had to be bigger than it’s predecessor. So Shooter promised that this time Secret Wars would feature every hero in the Marvel Universe and the story would be so huge it would crossover into every title during it’s nine issue run. Every month along with the latest issue of Secret Wars II, several of Marvel’s regular series would take turns to tie into the main storyline. Depending on how you feel about crossovers today, Secret Wars II deserves the credit or blame for shaping the phenomenon that the industry would come to be based on.

To Shooter’s credit instead of rehashing the contest of champions concept with more fighters he did try something different. This time the Beyonder in his desire to understand the absurdities of mortal existence comes to Earth to experience us first hand. Like the lead from a cosmic themed sitcom the Beyonder interacts with Earth’s mightiest heroes (as well as some of it’s more obscure ones, even the Micronaughts and Rom get a vist) making a habit of generally screwing things up with good intentioned meddling. Villains are allowed to escape, the Heroes for Hire building is destroyed when it’s turned into gold and the cosmic balance of life is royally screwed up when Death is extinguished from the Universe.

The Beyonder goes through the whole gambit of human experiences in stories driven by his misunderstanding of eating, getting drunk, falling in with a criminal gang, falling in love, becoming a superhero, taking drugs, being reverse gangbanged by a posse of prostitutes (my younger self was pretty shocked when Beyonder is propositioned by a streetwalking hooker and later we assume loses his virginity to a bed full of call girls). Basically all the everyday activities we humans take for granted.

SW21Oh yeah and going to the bathroom, as Peter Parker has to teach the Beyonder how to take a shit. Yes, this really does happen. Of course we don’t explicitly see it, after all there’s already plenty enough shit on display during Secret Wars II as it is (see what I did there? As lame as that gag is it’s infinitelty better than anything that happens in the main series of Secret Wars II).

Look, I’ve defended some bad comics in the past. Trying to find enjoyment on some level from many a bad series, but even I can’t do that here, as Secret Wars II was my first disappointment I experienced in reading comics. The main series of Secret Wars II is just horrible. The artwork is absolutely lousy and gets worse as the series progressives (if progressing is even the right word). The characterisation which was a flaw in the first series gets even worse here, the epitome being when Captain America in an unfortunate choice of words tells Beyonder to “Go back where you came from”. And if you think that’s totally out of character for Steve Rogers, wait until you see what happens in the final issue.

But what is really grating is that Secret Wars II actually tries to be worthy and you get the impression Shooter thinks the comic is a lot cleverer than it really is. The main series attempts to satirise 80’s culture, targeting television, the news media, new age fads and cults. One of the Beyonder’s main confidants is the Molecule Man who along with girlfriend Volcana never seems to leave the couch, existing on TV dinners and watching nothing but sitcom rerurns.

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It’s an interesting idea but the satire is driven home with all the subtlety of a brick to the face. It’s so heavy handed and the supporting cast are shallow sterotypes like the hippes that come to sit with the beyonder while he sits on an island pondering his existence.

Worst of all is in the very first issue where we meet a disillusioned lunatic television writer Stewart Cadwell, who is granted superpowers by the Beyonder and as Thudersword goes on a warpath against the NBC studios. It’s a stupid character, and a bizarre choice as the main villain of the first issue of what is being billed as the biggest comics event of all time. What makes it even worse is when you realise the character of Thundersword is a deliberate parody of Steve Gerber who had a long dispute with Marvel over the rights of Howard the Duck (Cadwell’s rant on violence in the media echoed Gerber’s own feelings on the subject and one of Gerber’s cartoon creations was called Thundarr).

So think about this. The biggest saga in Marvel history is kicked off with half the issue spent making fun of a writer Shooter has an obvious grudge with! Call it petty, egotistical, it pretty much sums up Secret Wars II which seems like Shooter’s personal soapbox calling everything he dislikes in 80’s America.

It’s not all social preaching, we get some action scenes, particularly in issue 5 when the heroes attempt to battle the Beyonder who’s erratic behaviour has started to spiral dangerously out of control, issue 7 where Mephisto sends an army of villains to take out the beyonder and the final issue where frustrated by his inability to make sense of the universe he threatens to destroy the whole universe and faces off with pretty much every Superhero going at the time.

Whilst the battle scenes in the first secret wars were fun in a cheesy, kitsch sort of way here the fights are a mess. The art here is at it’s very worst, with the strain of cramming so many characters on the panels clearly taking their toll. In each of the mentioned battles the heroes or villains attack as just one big mob, with all the artistry of a charging soccer hooligan gang, even the guys with long range powers seem intent to just rush head on at the most powerful being in the Marvel Universe.

Did I mention there’s rape? Yep, in issue 8 the Beyonder brainwashes a cocktail waitress to force her to spend the night with him.

Did I mention there’s infantcide? Yep in the final issue the Beyonder decides the only way he’ll understand the Universe is if he is reborn as a mortal. While incubating as a baby in a giant machine the heroes decide to take the opportunity to kill the beyonder in this fragile state. There’s some soul searching at first, but soon Reed Richards is holding back a whole lynch mob of heroes trying to tear down the machine (Reed holds them back because destroying the machine would unleash the Beyonder’s power and destroy the universe). It’s no surprise that Wolverine and Namor are among the pro baby killing lot (well Shooter’s dated blood thirsty interpretation of Wolverine that is) but we also witness, gentler souls such as Ben Grimm, Spiderman, She Hulk, Tony Stark and Captain America leading the charge to get at the machine.
That’s right, Captain America becomes a potential baby killer!

For what it’s worth it’s the Molecule Man that does the deed and kills the baby Beyonder so all the heroes can act sad and tearful even though they were trying to do the same thing a moment ago.

Oops I should have said spoiler alert there. Anyway you know how Secret Wars II ends now, so you don’t have to read it and you should all thank me for that.

If there is a saving grace to Secret Wars II it’s that some of the tie in issues make ok reading and a few are quite good. Obviously this is because Shooter wasn’t writing these (although he was making the regular creative teams lives miserable in overseeing his vision for the project) and we don’t have to suffer the horrible artwork (did I mention I hated the artwork). In many of the tie ins the Beyonder plays a tiny role anyway. Sometimes he’s nothing more than a spectator to events (as in X-Men 196 and Captain America 308) and other times the issues deal more with the aftermath of the Beyonder’s meddling. It really comes across as if the writer’s were including the Beyonder begrudgingly in their stories.

A few issues are worthy of note. The X-men issues feature the Rachel Grey version of Phoenix in a crusade to rid the universe of the threat of the Beyonder. The Thing goes for revenge against the Beyonder in a violent wrestling match (The Thing was kind of a wandering figure in his own series and blamed the Beyonder for his relationship with Alicia falling apart). A New Mutants story sees the mutants in a heroic last stand against the Beyonder in a battle to the death. While Daredevil’s own encounter sees him briefly gain his eyesight back.

One story in particular always stayed with me, a Fantastic Four story about a young Human Torch fan who is bullied at school and pretty much neglected by his parents. The kid dies after setting himself on fire trying to emulate his hero and though heavy on the melodrama it’s a well written, sometimes moving issue. The Beyonder’s appearance in an angel like role akin to It’s a Wonderful Life feels out of place with him suddenly having the wisdom to talk Storm out of giving up being the Human Torch (John Byrne disliked having the Beyonder in the story and offered to write another Secret Wars tie and save his story for a later issue, but Shooter overruled him). It’s a diversive issue that unashamedly tugs on the heart strings but has troubled some in it’s portrayal of comic fans.

So what with have with Marvel’s first crossover and company spanning event is one truly terrible main series and about two dozen single issue stories of varying quality. What was really sad for Marvel was the series ran at the same time as DC’s Crisis on infinite Earths, a series that had a purpose beyond being a simple cash in and in terms of quality and legacy kicked the ass of smiling Stan’s army. Overall while Marvel was putting out some of it’s best series from the likes of Claremont, Stern and Bryne, Secret Wars II is an ugly stain on it’s mid 80’s output.

Many years after Secret Wars II finished an issue of Avengers Illuminati appeared to retcon the whole story by suggesting it all occurred in a replica of the Marvel Universe created by the Beyonder. I personally found it a confusing issue and while I’m not a fan of the whole idea of rewriting the timeline as done in “Brand New Day”, I’m totally fine with the idea of Secret Wars II never happening (in truth, this doesn’t really work as there were consequences of the saga that spilled over into the regular comics).

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That said, I would pay real money if they did an action figure of the Beyonder’s first appearance in the composite Marvel Universe costume.

Till next time

Dazza

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t want to do this in the main article as not all may be interested, but I wanted to discuss the British version of the Secret Wars II comic. As I detailed in the article on Secret Wars that storyline was republished in a weekly Britsh magazine size format splitting the story in episodic chunks to run along side backup stories such as Alpha Flight and Iceman.

When Secret Wars ended it immediately became Secret Wars II and while retaining it’s magazine size the comic reverted to the single story format in keeping with it’s American counterparts. As well as the main series the comic also included the tie ins, often featuring a handy introduction to the charcters making their debuts in the series as well as updates on what had been happening to familiar ones inbetween the two Secret Wars.

Several of the Secret Wars II stories tied in heavily to major storylines in the regular Marvel series, such as the Beyonder making brief appearances during the Fantastic Four’s hate monger storyline and the Avengers Nebula/Skrull storyline. To accommodate this, Secret Wars II initially would also include these storylines in full and where necessary would adopt a cut and paste approach to insert key moments of buildup into regular stories (such as the pages in the Avengers that covered Captain Marvel’s journey to Thanos’s battleship and subsequent kidnapping by Nebula).

The result was that the UK version of Secret Wars II was initially like an anthology of highlights of what was going on in Marvel at the time and actually made for a better weekly comic. What it also did was highlight the jarring difference in writing and art quality between the main series and the regular comics.

Eventually this approach was ditched and with a few exceptions the comic simply printed the issues of the main series and tie ins and even began skipping those crossovers that didn’t bring much to the overall arc (the final issue of Defenders was one such omission).

Combined the two series of Secret Wars lasted for 79 of the UK issues with the epilogue from Avengers 266 appearing as a back issue strip in the weekly Spiderman comic. It’s success for a while helped to establish Marvel UK as a part of the comic scene, but that’s a story for another time.

Comic Conversations: Episode 61

Image and video hosting by TinyPicfettman, luro, and marvell2k talk all things comics for the week May 6th. Including but not limited to Comic Book News of an alleged Civil War Movie Script being leaked:

http://www.comicbookmovie.com/fansites/BritsKingdom/news/?a=120220

and we plug Dazza’s latest article!

Regular Reviews of: The Question 2, Descender 3, Jupiter’s Circle 2, Swords of Sorrow 1, Spider-Man 18, Ant-Man 5, Inhuman Annual 1, Last Padawon 2, Hulk 16, Punisher 18, Spider-Gwen 4, Squirrel Girl 5,Deaddrop 1,and Secret Wars 1.

Our Picks for Book of the Week and We Preview Next Week’s Books: A Lighting Round Review of Imperium, East of West, and Injustice Year Four.

And Regular Reviews of: Astro City, Parallax, Black Cross, Injection, Saga, Walking Dead, Angela, Darth Vader, Guardians 3000, Howard the Duck, Starlord, Ms. Marvel, Secret Wars, Silk, Spider-Man 2099, Thor, and Lantern City.

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Comic Therapy Session looks at….The Original Secret Wars

download (10)A couple of months ago a young lady I work with who reads DC comics asked me what the new Secret Wars was going to be all about. I admitted I wasn’t 100% sure but tried to explain how the regular and Ultimate Universes were going to crash together (I think) and how all the Marvel realities were all going to converge into one (or something) and form a brand new battleworld, which was split into territories each representing a classic Marvel storyline but I wasn’t sure if this meant they were going back and changing how those storylines played out and as I waffled on her eyes clearly started to say “what the hell are you talking about?” I’m not surprised, because I realised I didn’t know what the hell the new Secret Wars was all about either because to someone who hasn’t been keeping up with Marvel of late it’s bloody complicated.

By comparison thirty years ago the first Secret Wars was so a much more simple affair. Sometimes painfully simple. But if you want to appreciate something that changed the way the direction of comics, for good and bad Secret Wars is an important milestone.

For my own experience with comics Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars changed everything. In the UK Secret Wars was a rarity as it was reprinted and issued as a weekly comic (the first six issues were fortnightly) in the larger format that we had over here. Also in keeping with British comic tradition the comic would often come with free gifts such as badges, stickers and posters. The main story was cut up into ten page episodes and would share the comic with a reprinted back up strip such as Alpha Flight, Iceman (from his own limited series), Spiderman and later the British made Zoids.

Secret Wars UK was published a year later than when it was first released in the US, but even us British fans that knew this didn’t care. It was just great to get regular access to Marvel adventures. Comic shops outside of London were rare at this time and it was just pure chance if you happened to live near a newsagent that carried any Marvel US titles (or risk sending your money to mail order ads that would come and go). I only had two Marvel comics to my name when Secret Wars appeared in the UK, but seeing such icons as Spiderman, Hulk, Fantastic Four (along with many characters I recognised even if I knew little about them) all together I knew that this must be something big! As a kid I was mesmerised by the colourful cast and I’m sure that for many British readers this was their true introduction to the world of Marvel and will inspire many fond memories. Even if the series was derided by older hardcore fans across the pond.

There’s a lot of criticism aimed at the first Secret Wars event and most of it is fair. However there is a degree of snobbery aimed at the series origins as a toyline tie in. In 1984 Kenner had licensed a range of toys based on DC characters and in response the rival company Mattel struck a deal to do the same with Marvel. One of the agreements was that Marvel would do a series to promote the toys and Editor in Chief Jim Shooter decided on a fan friendly story that would feature all the major Marvel Heroes and Villains. Shooter used a concept that had been done a few years earlier in the three issue Contest of Champions where heroes were divided into teams to battle each other at the whim of cosmic beings. Except this time it would be Marvel’s greatest heroes battling it’s most evil villains on an Alien world.

Shooter claims that writers during his era in charge had a territorial attitude to the series they were working on and were highly possessive of what they perceived to be their characters. Headaches and arguments would often ensure whenever their characters would guest star in other books, arguing how they should act and what they should and should not say. Sensing the potential for trouble having so many creations in one book, Shooter took on the writing himself and no doubt in the process ensure that the series accommodated Mattels wishes for the series, which included featuring futuristic vehicles and bases that could be turned into toys and revamping Doctor Doom’s costume (Mattel didn’t like the medieval look and wanted something more sci fi).

The series was teased for a few months in X-Men and Spiderman when Xavier and Peter Parker sensed an enigmatic alien presence scanning them. Later in the April 1984 issues of Spiderman, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Avengers, Hulk, Iron Man readers got the same cliffhanger with the heroes investigating a giant alien construction which suddenly appeared in central park and promptly disappeared taking the heroes with it.

What followed was something quite bizarre in terms of continuity. The fate of the heroes would be told in the course of the following year in the twelve issue Secret Wars starting that month. However the following month’s issues of the regular series of those abducted would pick up after the heroes return to Earth.

images (6)Which would be fine except Secret Wars had some massive changes for some of those involved. The most famous is Spiderman gaining his new black and white alien costume, which would debut in the May issue of Spiderman, yet it wouldn’t be until December and issue 8 of Secret Wars that readers would find out how he got this new attire. There are many other twists and developments that occurred in Secret Wars which had already being revealed in the regular series.

Colossus had fallen in love with an alien called Zsaji who had died to save his life, all this we find out in X-Men before the homewrecking, alien tart had even appeared in Secret Wars (Shooter apparently did this to end the Colossus and Kitty Pryde romance which he was uncomfortable with due to the apparent age difference. Incidentally the scene in X-Men where Kitty finds out is really heartbreaking). Professor X returns having abandoned his wheelchair and has even started wearing a yellow Superhero costume which thankfully didn’t last. More important was the apparent thawing of hostilities between him and Magneto.

The Fantastic Four returned with She Hulk as a new member replacing The Thing who had remained behind on the Battleworld. The Thing who can now revert back to being Ben Grimm had his post Secret Wars adventures on battleworld related in his own solo series which ran concurrently with the Secret Wars series it follows. While he’s gone the Human Torch starts hooking up with Thing’s girlfriend Alicia (although it turns out she’s a Skrull when writer’s wanted him a single playboy again), although Thing himself had been dicking around with an alien warrior. Jeez what’s with these heroes? One issue away from the loved one and they’re sticking it to the first hot alien ass that comes along? Keep it in your tights guys.

So anyway the heroes are transported along with a team of Supervillains to an alien world especially constructed by a being called the Beyonder to host a contest between the two sides. “Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours” he proclaims and with little hesitation the two sides do just that, proceeding to kick the shit out of each other for the next nine issues. At first glance it looks like the balance is tipped heavily in favour of the heroes. The villains side is made up of Doctor Doom, Molecule Man, Absorbing Man, Wrecking Crew, Enchantress, Doctor Octopus, Ultron, Lizard (who kinda disappears for a while and is practically forgotten), Kang and Galactus. Of course Galactus goes his own way leaving the villains looking heavily outnumbered. Fortunately for them they manage to bag some heavy duty weapons and vehicles (no doubt for Mattel to base toys on) to redress the balance. They also got some reinforcements in new villains Titania and Volcana.

Naturally with this being Marvel there’s infighting amongst the heroes. When I first read Secret Wars the question I asked myself during the first few issues was “why is everyone being such assholes towards the X-Men?” I was soon to learn that even amongst the freaks of the superhero community the X-Men were pretty much outcasts and to be honest my love affair with the X-Men pretty much started here because of it. For many years I always considered the Avengers wankers on the back of Secret Wars.

Indeed the X-Men get sick of the wanker’s attitude and decide to leave them to it and head off to join forces with Magneto (who because of his motivations was initially placed with the heroes by the Beyonder) as an independent ally of the heroes. Such a monumental move by Professor X is massively rushed in terms of story and dialogue and has to be explained and justified in just a few panels. This is one of the most jarring elements of the series that with so many characters and so much going on, characterisation often takes a backseat. Many heroes are reduced to their most basic character elements, in fact some even seem to have fallen back several years in their development.

3828407-secret-wars-cutWolverine for example had for years grown into the role of a thoughtful, philosophical warrior with surprising compassion and sense of honour. Yet in Secret Wars he was back to being the bloodthirsty hothead that first joined the X-Men. The Wasp is also presented poorly as in the Avengers she had risen to become a mature, confident leader of the team, yet here reverted to being a panicky airhead constantly pining for her wardrobe and a makeover.
Naturally many characters struggle for attention in the main story though Shooter does at least try to give everyone the odd moment here and there. Storm and Cyclops subtly vying for leadership of the X-men, new Iron Man Jim Rhodes struggling with his new identity, Rogue showing doubts over which side she should be on. Others get totally lost, if you’re a Nightcrawler or Captain Marvel fan you’d almost cheer if either of them were spared a speech bubble for some minor introspection.

Among the few who do get to shine with anything resembling a story are Colossus conflicted by falling in love with Zsaji and the Molecule Man who despite being potentially the most powerful player is racked with the emotional baggage that he fights through the entire series. But it’s Doctor Doom who proves to be the saga’s main protagonist.

While everyone else seems pretty content to play along with the beyonder’s game (in truth the heroes don’t have much choice as they are constantly under attack from the villains), Doom is looking beyond this nonsense and is the only one who is against the two sides going to war. Always one step ahead, Doom comes across as the most enlightened of all the combatants and is clearly playing an agenda above it all. He’s the one that takes down Galactus steals his power and uses it as a stepping stone to challenge the Beyonder and ultimately steals his power too and effectively becomes a God which naturally does not sit well with Captain America’s group despite his supposed good intentions.

Ultimately Secret Wars proved to be a dumb, crude blockbuster of a comic. The emphasis is very much on the action and on this it delivers. Every chapter during the back and forth war of the first nine issue features several battles, often they are rushed affairs devoid of any hint of the emotion that should be evident after decades of rivalry (amazingly Doctor Octopus and Spiderman never clash once throughout the series). However there is at least a flow to the story of the war itself. Battles happen for a reason and each one has some element or setting that makes it different to all the others. I really liked the “Battle of the four armies” episode (don’t roll your eyes) where as the stoic Galactus makes his move Cap’s unit take a hammering from the villains have to be saved by the intervention of the X-Men.

viewThere are other memorable moments. Despite the cosy, PG friendly style with regards to violence of Michael Zeck’s artwork, storywise there are some brutal moments. Like when the Wrecking Crew invade the heroes camp in a tank just so the Wrecker can toss a seemingly dead Wasp at their feet. Later when She Hulk is battered close to death surrounded by a mob of villains the scene is unsettling. It does lead to a sense of satisfaction when the heroes finally strike back and take down the villains one by one in their own base. The highlight is where Titania finally gets beaten at the hands of Spiderman, I admit I wanted to cheer when I first read that. Wolverine also gets to use his claws on Molecule Man and Absorbing man, the latter who’s arm he cuts clean off.

Secret Wars receives it’s fair share of mocking from comic purists and admittedly I can see why. Many elements, particularly in story and dialogue can be judged as dated and simplistic. Still it retains a popularity today as Marvel continues to publish new editions to cater to nostalgia hungry fans like me. This was the first of the “big events” and while many of the others that followed it became unwieldy and overwhelmingly huge to follow, Secret Wars was refreshingly easy to keep up with and did not intrude on the regular ongoing series like today’s crossovers often do.

Today’s readers may find it laughingly unsophisticated but for many my age it proved an exciting introduction to the Marvel family and for that I can forgive a lot. I admit I bought a hardback collected edition a few years ago and I’ve read through it more than once.

I realise that many times through these columns I’m in danger of becoming an apologist for some of comic’s less than finest moments. Yet even with me and my rose tinted eyes there are some series that I would fail to find anything to redeem it.

So yeah, next time I’ll be doing Secret Wars II.

Until then

Dazza

 

After column bonus.

Last year I was in San Francisco and visited a cartoon and comic musueum. On display were a number of pieces of the original pre inked artwork from various famous comics. One caught my attention. It was the original art of the opening splash page of secret wars where all the heroes appear looking stunned at their surroundings. Right there amongst the heroes was Kitty Pryde, stood next to Cyclops in the position where Wasp ultimately came to stand.

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Was Kitty intially supposed to be in Secret Wars? I’ve seen her appear on initial concept variations of the classic issue cover too, so who knows?

Comic Conversations: Episode 60

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fettman, luro, and marvell2k talk all things comics for the week of April 27th, 2015. Including but not limited to Comic Book News of: Free Comic Book Day, Netflix Ratings for Daredevil, Avengers 2 making 84.5 million opening day, Seven New Marvel Titles, Shout Outs, Gerry Conway’s disputed DC Royalities, Dazza’s article, and Batman and Joker’s Death.

Lighting Round Reviews of: Batman, Ninja Turtles, and Justice League.

Regular Reviews of: Multiversity 2, New Avengers 33, Avengers 44, Fantastic Four 645, Inhuman 14, Secret Avengers 15, Moon Knight 14, Silver Surfer 11, Daredevil 15, New Avengers Ultron Forever 1, Princess Leia 3, Silk 3, Quantum and Woody Must Die 4, Superior Iron Man 8, and X-Men 26.

Our Picks or Lack of Thereof for Book of the Week as well as Previewing Next Week’s Comics: The Question, Descender, Jupiter’s Circle, Swords of Sorrow, Spider-Man, Ant-Man, Inhuman Annual, Last Padawon, Hulk, Punisher, Secret Wars, Spider-Gwen, Squirrel Girl, and Deaddrop.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.