Thursday, February 13, 2014

Charge Of The Dark Brigade!

The nine issues of the Secret Wars II limited series may have inadvertently proven what its first series never really had the opportunity to establish--that the Beyonder, the all-powerful being who seemed clueless about the universe and the beings who inhabited it, wasn't really sustainable as the headliner of his own title. Which may be a moot point, since the marketing draw of both series was the padding of each and every issue with a number (if not a veritable avalanche) of super-beings, who at first came into conflict with each other, and in the second series with the Beyonder "himself"--that is to say, in the human form he assumed in order to better understand the human condition.

It's not a terrible way of exploring the Beyonder character further; but, stacking the deck as it did with Marvel super-heroes en masse as well as spreading the story to many other titles (while justifying these crossovers with promises of repercussions across the board), it's probably more fair to say that the goal of Secret Wars II was to rake in the cash at the register than to craft a memorable story of the Beyonder's journey and experiences. Each story of the second series is self-contained, so that its ending could then direct the reader to other titles which would build on events just covered, while hopefully picking up some new readers for those titles in the process. It's doubtful that such groundwork was laid with the thought of making these nine stories masterpieces.

Marvel's heroes and villains tend to work better in small doses and small complements, rather than truckloads of them being dumped into a story where only lip service can be paid to their character, or motivations, or power(s), and where some are inevitably ignored altogether. Issue 7 of this second series is no different in these respects, as you can tell by its cover; yet the story at least makes an effort to justify this swarm of villains, and it does offer some focus on at least three characters. One, of course, is the Beyonder, who spends most of the issue on a Pacific island lost in thought:

Another is Ben Grimm, the Thing, also in the Pacific, who is no longer with the Fantastic Four and is turning his talents to acting:

The third is the powerful demon Mephisto, who is infuriated by and fearful of the Beyonder's presence and has crafted an all-or-nothing plan for his destruction. Mephisto really should consider becoming an engineer, given the number of variables he's depending on to pull this plan off. First is the mechanism itself, "Beyondersbane," which harnesses a fraction of the Beyonder's own power:

Then there's Mephisto's "Legion Accursed," an army of super-villains amassed through deceit, and which will act as a trigger for the mechanism:

And then, to give his plan more favorable odds, Mephisto has drafted celestial figures as additional power sources. And just look at the entity he's enlisted as his gunner:

Unfortunately, Mephisto is on a timetable, since the power within the mechanism is such that the whole thing will melt to slag unless it's used quickly. But, as any engineer knows, it only takes one glitch to render an invention inoperable:

Which brings Mephisto to the Thing, relatively close at hand, and still furious at the Beyonder whom he blames for the loss of the humanity he'd found off-world, as well as his loss of his girlfriend, Alicia Masters, to Johnny Storm in his absence. In disguise, Mephisto doesn't find it difficult to point this orange loaded gun at the Beyonder:

And so the plan is launched, and Mephisto unleashes his villainous army:

But his plan could encounter one last glitch, this time in the form of the Thing. With all the pieces of this plan finally ready to ignite, and with the Beyonder still despondent over his current state and electing not to act against the threat, the Thing's conscience could tip the scale either way:

But which way??

In the final analysis, it comes down to Ben Grimm not liking the odds here.

To face this horde, Grimm ironically has Mephisto himself to thank--the one being who, by ensuring the Thing would be able to delay the Beyonder, has likely sabotaged his own plan to destroy him.

In desperation, Mephisto plays his only option where the Thing is concerned. Yet it may be too little, too late:

I've no idea why Mephisto didn't simply teleport the Thing away, as he's done with so many others. Perhaps even a demon of Hades is susceptible to making a hasty decision in the heat of the moment. Still, with the Juggernaut as the Thing's only remaining foe, Mephisto may yet win the day:

So far, it's been a decent and admittedly exciting climax to a story which had been dragging up to this point. And with the Juggernaut poised to bring Mephisto's plan to fruition, we're given one more scene which does justice to the characterization of the Thing--a display of Ben Grimm's fighting heart, which has seen him through many such hopeless battles:

With Mephisto's plan crumbled, the status quo returns to the story of the Beyonder, more or less--"less," in this case, being Mephisto's companion, Death, abandoning him due to his failure. Eternity and the various cosmic entities who were part of Mephisto's efforts return to their own concerns; the Thing takes a well-deserved nap; and the Molecule Man, who has been vaguely aware of this crisis, fears that his own neutrality where the Beyonder's activities on Earth are concerned is eventually going to be compromised.

As for the Beyonder, Grimm's efforts on his behalf have helped to snap him out of his doldrums, and he concludes that he can best help himself by helping others. We'll have to find out another time whether the Beyonder found fulfillment in such altruism--though with so many Marvel characters considering him a threat, and only two issues to go to this series' conclusion, he may wind up understanding the human condition no better than the rest of us.

Secret Wars II #7

Script: Jim Shooter
Pencils: Al Milgrom
Inks: Steve Leialoha
Letterer: Joe Rosen & Friends

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