-J. Michael Bestul is a writer for the Addison Recorder. Stephanie Ruehl is an artist who works in a comic book shop. They’re married and have a lot of discussions about comic books and graphic novels. Combine all that into a biweekly feature and you get “J. & Steph Talk About Comics.”
May and June mark the DC Universe event Convergence, a smashing together of all DC stories and timelines– wait, no… sorry, the Marvel event Secret Wars, a smashing together of all Marvel stories and timelines.
From the first page of each first issue in the Secret Wars story arc…
The Multiverse was destroyed. The heroes of Earth-616 and Earth-1610 were powerless to save it! Now, all that remains… is BATTLEWORLD. A massive, patchwork planet composed of the fragments of worlds that no longer exist, maintained by the iron will of its god and master, Victor Von Doom! Each region is a domain unto itself!
Steph: Marvel decided DC couldn’t have all the fun, and went ahead and made an all-character, all-world-smashing story arc. Like Convergence, each individual issue takes place in its own pocket world, on one planet, controlled by Dr. Doom.
-J.: Aw, man. I barely recovered from Convergence, and only thanks to the timely release of the new Rat Queens volume. I don’t know if I’ll survive this. … Okay, what’s the deal this time around?
Steph: Some background: Earth-616 is what is referred to as the “primary” continuity of the Marvel Universe. It’s home to the characters everyone knows and loves, e.g. the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Spider-Man, and so on. Earth-1610 is the “Ultimate” Universe. It was brought about in the early ‘00s so Mavel could re-imagine the characters somewhat differently. This universe has Miles Morales as the Ultimate Spider-Man instead of Peter Parker, and a younger Ultimate Fantastic Four gaining their powers through a teleporting accident instead of in space (precisely what the new Fantastic Four movie seems to be about). It also has the Ultimate X-Men, and the Ultimate Ultimates.
-J.: I think they were just called the Ultimates. Oh, dear, that word is starting to look funny. Ultimate. ULTimate. U.L.T.I.M.A.T.E.
Steph: Everyone else got “Ultimate” before their name, Ultimate Ultimates totally makes sense… anyway, Secret Wars is a mashing of the Ultimate Universe and the regular Universe and basically seeing who survives. I found the initial culling in the first issue of Secret Wars pretty devastating.
-J.: I can imagine. The Ultimate titles have been around for fifteen years now, so its got some emotional grounding. I guess the only good news is that Marvel has already killed off some big characters in the primary continuity, so we aren’t going to get hit with their untimely deaths. Everyone else is dead, though. Well, maybe not everyone…
Steph: You’d like to think that wouldn’t you? However, different versions of beloved characters, like say Wolverine, who were already killed off, are of course alive and well in this storyline. So they can be killed all over again. Also I knew the death of Wolverine wouldn’t stick, one way or another.
-J.: Honestly, after reading through Secret Wars #1, I didn’t care. Marvel was taking such a cavalier attitude towards the “culling,” and it reminded me way too much of the Thunderdome aspect of Convergence, that nothing resonated with me emotionally. I feel like the post-apocalytpic aspects of Battleworld might hold my attention, but…
Steph: Secret Wars’ Battleworld is ruled by Dr. Doom, who has proclaimed himself god. It’s governed by Dr. Strange and policed by the “Thor Corps,” which is exactly what it sounds like: a whole bunch of warriors Who Are Worthy fly around enforcing the laws. All laws are followed to the letter or the deviant is taken across the “shield,” a forcefield in place to keep out whatever didn’t make it in. And each pocket world gets a Baron, who controls the day to day, and reports to Strange, who reports to Doom.
-J.: Forcefield surrounding the place? Alternate versions of characters thrust into unfamiliar environs? Convergence all over again. At least the concept of Doom ruling a patchwork amalgam of Marvel universes is unique. That said, it still seems too familiar. I’m assuming we’ll get merged universes and culled titles?
Steph: It doesn’t seem to be just about weeding out the low-selling titles. In my opinion, Marvel is throwing a childlike tantrum over the long-lost movie rights to the Fantastic Four, the X-Men (and subsequently any references to the term “mutant”), and Deadpool.
-J.: Yeah, that was a nice touch at the end of Secret Wars #1. They put up the epitaphs for the Ultimate and Marvel universes, and when you turn the page? It’s a preview for Uncanny Inhumans #0. “Not only will we destroy everything you love, but now we’re very obviously replacing ‘Mutants / X-Men’ with ‘Inhumans.’ Our profit margins are much better with these characters, after all.”
Steph: I don’t think they realize the only one who gets hurt by killing Wolverine, ending the Fantastic Four title, and promising to not add any new characters to the X-Men/Mutant pool is Marvel Comics. At this point the movies are whats driving comic sales. People who didn’t know about the characters before go into comic shops asking about them, or past readers want to catch up with whats new. If there is no new FF stuff to buy, it doesn’t stop people from seeing the movie.
-J.: And I was going to pick up the Fantastic Four title that James Robinson was writing, which is saying something. I’ve always liked the idea of the Four as archetypes more than I liked their stories. But Robinson on that title sounded too perfect to resist — until Marvel cancelled it. It’s so difficult for me to get excited for Marvel titles when I see the accountant’s notes in the margins. At least with DC, you feel like they’ve had too many bad ideas to be so crass.
Steph: I will admit I was excited for the all-lady title A-Force. A pocket world where all the heroes left are ladies. All the Marvel ladies! It was pretty good.
-J.: Like Convergence, there are some individual titles that have been a fun read. But I find my fatigue for mediocre crossover events runneth over.
To Sum It All Up
Secret Wars seems like a secondhand Convergence, which should horrify anyone. It also resembles an effort to strip away comics & characters with smaller profit margins. But with the loss of classic favorites like the Fantastic Four, Wolverine, and Deadpool, as well as others who could become something bigger, Marvel isn’t doing itself any favors.