Over twenty years after the events of Secret Wars II--and leap-frogging over the odd stories of "Kosmos" and "the Maker"--we're once again treated to an appearance by the Beyonder, while finally learning his true origin courtesy of writer Brian Bendis and a startling announcement by Charles Xavier:
The explanation is explored in the third issue of The New Avengers: Illuminati, where the group has assembled not merely to hear about the Beyonder, but to investigate his appearance on a planetoid in an asteroid belt. There seems to be consensus that this story is a sort of flashback, taking place after the first Secret Wars series but before the second, which frankly never occurred to me to assume. Other than an offhand reference by Reed who says he's had the FF's sensors on auto-detect for the Beyonder ever since their experience on Battleworld, there's nothing in the story that establishes this isn't taking place in the "present." But the actual point in time isn't really necessary to understand or enjoy the issue's story; and, I have to admit, I wasn't really expecting Bendis to nail it down. I don't think the man even knows what a hammer looks like.
The intriguing part of this revelation, of course, is how this news affects Black Bolt, leader of the Inhumans. Given his reaction as Xavier explains, it seems evident that he's connecting the dots from a past memory:
A memory he's not ready to either admit to or share with even these men, which perhaps explains why Namor's tactless comment seems to irritate him:
From my perspective of reading this story as if it were part of normal continuity, this Black Bolt would have been "covering" during this time, having been replaced by a Skrull and simply giving the impression he didn't recall this person as a way of not exposing his lack of knowledge of the event. Yet, reading the scene again, I prefer the more interesting drama of this being the real Black Bolt, attempting to evade the group's questions because he feels somewhat shamed at the truth. And while this now puts me on board with this being a flashback story, I'm also feeling disappointment that the feelings of Black Bolt, of all people, aren't more fully dealt with in this story. As a Skrull, that would have been understandable as part of keeping a low profile; but as Black Bolt, even his silence stands out as conspicuous.
At any rate, Xavier proposes their group make contact with the Beyonder:
Taking a captured Skrull ship from their prior encounter with that race, the group approaches Ceres. And the scene that greets them gives them an idea of the potential magnitude of the task which awaits them.
Soon enough, though, Reed spots the Beyonder on the street (I know this guy is "Mr. Fantastic," but--come on, you try identifying a specific person over thirty stories below you at street level). More importantly, the Beyonder spots them.
And, to lend credence to Xavier's revelation, the Beyonder then recognizes one figure in particular:
Interestingly, though, the Beyonder seems to be unable to tie in the circumstances of his creation to his current state of being. Whether that's just a result of the vast level of power he's achieved or simply the tendency of Bendis to keep things vague is anyone's guess:
Yet the conversation does lead to a somewhat awkward conversation which perhaps hits a little too close to home for these five individuals, broaching a subject which they might rather not revisit:
Finally, though, the situation reaches its tipping point, and Black Bolt's stern gesture combined with Namor's imperious voice snap the Beyonder back to (for want of a better word) reality:
Throughout this story, artist Jim Cheung has inserted panels that have done a good job of making us wonder just what is going through Black Bolt's mind, both before and during his encounter with the Beyonder. Even the Beyonder seems confused as to why Black Bolt is severing ties with him, as if not really understanding what exactly he has done wrong in the eyes of his king. At the story's beginning, it seems apparent that Xavier has a clear understanding of Black Bolt's--shame? secret? a decision come back to haunt him? We don't learn any more. But as the group departs the asteroid belt, Xavier seems to do his own bit of "covering" for Black Bolt:
We've come to realize, though, that Black Bolt is feeling far more than mere embarrassment; and there seems to be little doubt that he certainly does remember both this particular Inhuman as well as the ceremony in question. Xavier, as well, seems fully cognizant of what Black Bolt knows--but, at least for now, neither he nor Bendis is talking.
As for the Beyonder, it appears that the wishes of his king no longer resonate with him:
We'll have to draw our own conclusions as to how this scene affects our interpretation of Secret Wars II--i.e., whether this planetoid was a "dry run" for the Beyonder's visit to Earth, or if the entire series played out here, instead. I wouldn't recommend poring through that series for clues.
An amalgam of the events of the first Secret Wars series
by artists Jim Cheung and Mark Morales!