Or – “20 Years In Any Other Medium Might Actually CHANGE Things.”

reviewbubble.jpgbey2.jpgWhen I was young, a Limited Series was a 4-issue affair. Jack of Hearts, Vision and The Scarlet Witch, Hercules, even the whole frickin’ World of Krypton fit into that 4-issue format without feeling cramped. Not so in the age of Decompression… Naaah, these days, a limited series is 6, or 8, or 12 issues, if not 52 of ’em. Stories take longer now, though roughly the same amount of action ends up taking place. Mostly that’s a good thing, in that conversations and character bits that would normally take a panel in a Jim Shooter issue of Avengers comprise the greater part of a Brian Michael Bendis issue of Avengers. So, it’s interesting to see that the original 1984 12-issue Secret Wars is being re-visited with half as many issues. Can they cram as much enjoyment in as they did back in the year of Big Brother?

bey1.jpgThe answer, as always, is “Yes. And No. Kinda.” In the final moments of last issue, and the first panels of this one, I was mightily annoyed. Let’s back up for a moment, to understand why. I wasn’t going to read the Beyond! limited series at all. I remembered the original Secret Wars with some affection, and figured that this book would be some stupid attempt to recapture the cleverness of the comics of my youth (and, not coincidentally, the youths of a great many of Marvel’s creators). When issue #1 hit the stands, it seemed like it was interesting, but meh, until the last panel. The “Beyonder” gathered a diverse group of heroes, and told them “destroy your enemies, and anything you desire will be yours.” In response, Venom KILLED Spider-Man, demanded his prize, and the issue ended.

With a kickoff like that, I knew I was in. I enjoyed every issue, I liked the regal Medusa, the capable Wasp and Hank Pym, the bickering between The Hood and Kraven, even the return of Deathlok (well, one of ’em, anyway)… So, when issue #5 ended, with all the heroes dead at Henry Pym’s hand, it seemed like writer McDuffie had fallen back on one of the currently-being-flogged-dead-horses at Marvel: The theory that Hank Pym is a worthless hero, a weak-willed idiot, and a wife-beater. Thus, I was (as mentioned above) mightily annoyed, and began this issue expecting recriminations and more Pym-bashing. I was, thankfully, mistaken. The issue begins with the appearance of Uatu, the Watcher, who cryptically points out that “observation with interference is impossible. Sometimes, I let this work to my advantage.” We’ll see how in a few pages… The “Beyonder” (and the quotes will make sense in a minute) announces that Henry Pym has won, and that he now can recieve his rewards…

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And, I’m back in love with this book. For any and all faults (and, honestly, Hank’s various crises aren’t any worse than Iron Man’s or Captain America’s or Thor’s, it’s just that most writers consider him a second-tier hero and feel that they can get away with more as he’s not one of the marquee draws), Henry Pym shows the kind of fire that reminds us that he was an inextricable component of the formation of the Avengers, and by extension, the Marvel Universe as we know it. The voice from beyond speaks, and you can almost hear the smirk, “I could argue that the Beyonder’s power cannot be circumscribed by human concepts of “life” and “death…”

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More precisely, he’s THE Stranger, a fixture at Marvel since X-Men #11, back in the Pleistocene era. The Stranger explains that after the first Secret Wars, he figured that ol’ Yondy had a good idea, and reassembled his “Battleworld,” furthering The Stranger’s own experiments to understand humanity. This is a really good idea, actually, and can be used to explain any number of disappearances from the Marvel firmament over the last couple of decades. But, The Stranger asks, doesn’t a heroic type like Pym want to fix his mistakes, to restore his dead friends and associates to life? After all, he’s not a killer, is he? Or is that simply not necessary? The jig is up, and Henry doesn’t see the point in more prevarication.

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Heh. I like Kraven, Junior. I really liked Deathlok’s reference to Stranger’s Salvador Dali moustache. But most of all, I enjoy the cleverness of Hank’s plan, here. If he seemed like he was avaricious and evil enough, maybe Beyonder would buy his ploy, and send him home without wondering about the others. Deathlok makes a remark (a very intelligent and insightful one, I might add) to the effect that The Stranger has been toying with them just for sport. “Sport?” roars the silly-putty faced thing from Planet X, “I brought you here because I FEAR you!” Earth is home, he sputters, to The Phoenix, to the Sorceror Supreme, to the people who have defied The Kree Armada, the Skrull Empire, repulsed the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, the people who LAID LOW the Mighty Galactus! What’s so special about them pink monkeys anyway?

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Well, that does great things for your self-esteem, don’t it? Knowing that when great cosmic entities get together, they’re dissing your whole race… Nice. Even better is Janet Van Dyne (The Wasp)’s response. “Is there a POINT to all this?” Heh. Stranger loses his cool and starts firing Power Cosmic out of every orifice, as the heroes quickly try to defend themselves (or at least not get disintegrated). Uatu makes himself visible, and the heroes suddenly realize that something new is up. Deathlok, who has been on Battleworld for several years, has never seen The Watcher show up before, and wonders what’s different now.

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Gravity’s naivete has been a running gag throughout the series, I might add, and it works to great effect, even though there’s one fact about young Gravity that nobody has mentioned yet. We’ll touch on that in a moment. Uatu just stands there, as Deathlok psyches the Stranger out. “Face it, Stranger. Somehow you’re going to lose! Otherwise, The Watcher would be off watching American Idol.”

The Stranger turns and confronts his cosmic peer, demanding an explanation. Uatu says nothing. “Are you merely here to make me keep my promises to this vermin?” Uatu… says nothing. “You will interfere if I refuse to keep my promise, is that it?” Uatu says… nothing. And the Stranger CAPITULATES! “Very well. If you keep your vow, I’ll keep mine. This experiment is over.” I love this moment. By “letting it work to his advantage,” Uatu saved the lives of the assembled heroes, but it’s also very telling that the ultra-paranoid Stranger talks himself out killing them all. But, you ask, why would The Watcher get involved like that? What’s going on here that’s in any way special?

One word: Gravity. The fact that no one has mentioned, namechecked above, is that Gravity is the most powerful hero here, possibly even one of the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Universe. And as The Stranger’s planet starts to fall apart, he shows HOW powerful, HOLDING THE EXPLODING WORLD TOGETHER to save his compatriots.

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This buys Hank Pym enough time to figure out how to pilot the ship that brought them there, and get them all home safe… except for Gravity. Greg’s effort was too much for him, and he dies from the effort. All the assembled heroes and villains (even Venom) come to the boy’s funeral, telling the grieving parents and girlfriend of his heroic efforts, telling them that whatever else has happened, their lost son was a good man, and a great hero. As the issue closes, Uatu appears again, and forces me to watch the Marvel Previews for the next five years to find out what it is he’s foretelling…

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Okay, now THIS is exciting. I’m definitely going to be watching to see if this story continues, because it’s one thousand times more interesting than any Civil War fallout, at least for me. This issue was damn fine, with excellent characterization, well-done dialogue, and a heroic moment for one of Marvel’s extremely minor mid-00’s-Jemas-era-miniseries heroes. This whole miniseries has been fascinating, and sadly far below most people’s radar. If you get a chance to pick it up, you absolutely should, and if there’s any justice at Marvel, these plot threads will go somewhere. MacDuffie should be given a monthly title (preferably one of the dreadfully relavant books like Ms. Marvel or Iron Man) and allowed to go and have fun telling stories this good for a couple decades or so. Beyond! #6 (and, actually, the whole mini) gets 4.5 stars and the wish that there was a next issue…

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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