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Secret Wars II Omnibus

Posted: Wednesday, April 28, 2010
By: Michael Deeley

Jim Shooter & Various others
Al Milgrom, Steve Leialoha & Others
Marvel Comics
Reprinting material from: Secret Wars II #1-9; New Mutants #30, 36-37; Captain America #308; Uncanny X-Men #196, 202-203; Iron Man #197; Fantastic Four # 282, 285, 288, 316-319; Web of Spider-Man #6; Amazing Spider-Man #268, 273-274; Daredevil #223; Incredible Hulk #312; Avengers #260-261; 265-266; Dazzler #40; Alpha Flight #28; The Thing #30; Doctor Strange #74; Cloak & Dagger (v2) #4; Power Pack #18; Thor #363; Power Man & Iron Fist #121; Spectacular Spider-Man #111; Defenders #152; and Quasar #8.

Two questions immediately come to mind. Why does this book exist? And why did I buy it?

Secret Wars II is rightly considered one of the worst comic books ever made. Badly written and poorly drawn, it's widely mocked by fans. Writer Jim Shooter had written better stories prior to this, and would again. Al Milgrom is regarded as a good inker, but was never know for his penciling. So why did he pencil this book? It's so bad, the normally talented Steve Leialoha can't save it. One can't help but think they made the comic this bad on purpose. It's so ugly, so stupid, and so crazy, it couldn't possibly be an accident.

So why collect it? Why buy it? Why even read it?

I just told you. ‘SWII' isn't just bad; it singularly bad. It fails in ways no other comic book ever has, before or since. Like ‘All Star Batman & Robin', ‘The Dark Knight Strikes Back', ‘Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose' and the Anita Blake comics, you have to experience this to believe it. It will redefine your definitions of "good" and "bad". And in it's own backwards way, it's enjoyable.

In addition to that wonderfully awful story, we get almost every official tie-in comic. At least one issue of every superhero comic Marvel published in 1986. That means works by John Byrne, Chris Claremont, Bill Sienkiewicz, David Mazzucchelli, Roger Stern, John Buscema, John Romita Jr., Walter Simonson, Brent Anderson, Joe Rubinstein, Archie Goodwin, Jerry Ordway, Tom Palmer, Terry Austin, Mark Gruenwald, Bill Mantlo, Bob Wiacek, Joe Sinnott, and Christopher Priest as "Jim Owsley". We even get early work by Paul "Concrete" Chadwick, and a credit to "M. Hands", the pseudonym used when multiple inkers finished a book. All these wonderful writers and artists are united by this terrible crossover. Reading between the extremes of quality makes your brain snap. And that makes the experience even weirder.

The basic idea is solid. The Beyonder, the omnipotent alien from Secret Wars, decides to come to Earth to learn more about humanity. His attempts to find a place in our world lead him to crime, conquest, love, suicidal despair, and murderous rage. He conquers the world then sets it free. He starts a new cult just by sitting still. He kills and recreates death. The Beyonder is a perfect being trying to find his place in an imperfect world.

I'm reminded of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The crew confronts a powerful machine called V'Ger. V'Ger has traveled across the universe absorbing all knowledge. Now it's returning to Earth to deliver that knowledge to its creator. Much of Spock says about it can apply to the Beyonder. "He knows only that it needs. But like so many of us, he does not know WHAT he needs." "This simple emotion, (friendship), is beyond his understanding." "V'Ger is a child. You must treat him as such." Like V'Ger, the Beyonder possess infinite power and knowledge but no wisdom. Without the ability to understand emotions, both others' and his own; without recognizing his spiritual shortcomings; without acknowledging less powerful beings as having intrinsic value, he can never find what he truly seeks: a purpose for his life.

Sadly, the comic itself never gets that deep. Instead of exploring those complex issues of identity, self-awareness, or even exploring the full ramifications of an all-powerful child loose on the world, we get scenes of the Beyonder playing with his gadgets and pondering the mysteries of human life. Like eating, going to the bathroom, and buying stuff. There are moments when the Beyonder learns lessons in maturity. Like when he gets more satisfaction from inspiring a woman to improve her life than from conquering the whole world. Or learning that making a woman fall in love with you is a hollow prize. But the story never builds on these lessons. Nor is there a natural process from one lesson to the next. It's like these issues were written to be independent of each other and not quite part of a cohesive series.

I would describe the artwork as flat and awkward. I never realized it until know, but good comics art creates the illusion of depth in every panel. You're supposed to get the feeling that these are real people in a 3-dimensional space. I never realized that until I noticed it was missing in SW II. Not only do the characters appear flat and lifeless, they're also in unnatural positions. Limbs jut out stiffly from their bodies. Joints are pointy right angles. Proportion is all wrong. Backgrounds are bland and generic. In short, this comic looks like it was drawn by people who'd never drawn anything before. And knowing that's not true only makes it worse.

How bad is it? Go to marvel.com and look up the Kitty Pryde & Wolverine digital comic. Al Milgrom penciled AND inked that. Secret Wars II is even worse!

Fortunately, this omnibus includes over 30 comics that are better in every way. Highlights include the life of the Hulk from a psychological point of view, (very similar to the Ang Lee movie); Spider-Man wrestling with the hypocrisy of the government paying the Kingpin to help dispose of a solid gold building, (don't ask); Nightcrawler and Sunspot having crises of faith brought on by the Beyonder's very existence; Daredevil getting his sight back for one day, (also written by Shooter, proving he could have done a better job on ‘SW II'); and a hilarious scene of the Beyonder trying to be "black"! It's a bit worthy of "The Chapelle Show". Also included is a Fantastic Four story that reveals the cosmic origins of the Beyonder. It also has Dr. Doom making a frowny face. I'm serious! Doom is so crushed by failure, his iron mask frowns! The high quality and sheer fun of these comics almost makes this book worth the full price.

Almost.

Other unexpected bonuses include a 2-page strip written and drawn by Milgrom. It's a nice bit of cartooning done in a light, fun style. Milgrom also did an intro strip for the Marvel Premiere Classics edition of Kitty Pryde & Wolverine. They've convinced me Milgrom is a fine cartoonist who should be drawing these strips on a regular basis. We also get an early version of SW II #1 as penciled by Sal Buscema! Huge improvement over Milgrom's work.

For the record, I have to say there are a couple of tie-ins not included in this collection. Rom #72 and Micronauts #16 couldn't be included because they were licensed titles. If I was the editor, I would have included Fantastic Four #281. While not an official tie-in, it expands on events shown in SW II #2. It's a stronger crossover issue that FF'#282. I also would not have included Quasar #8. It's labeled a Secret Wars II tie-in, but the story deals with events from Secret Wars. Most importantly, I'd have reprinted the joke pages from Deadpool Team-Up #1 at full size instead of shrinking them all down to an unreadable size on a single page.

Secret Wars II is one of those rare stories every reader must experience. It's so bad yet so brilliant at the same time it will change the way you judge all other comics. The tie-ins comprise some of the finest superhero work of the decade and all time. And yet the overall package isn't quite worth $100. I was able to buy this book for less than $70. I suggest you do the same. If you already own the first Secret Wars Omnibus, or if you're waiting for a Blu-Ray version of Plan 9 From Outer Space, then you're just the kind of person who'll love this book. The rest of you can buy the original comics in the quarter bins. Somehow, reading this series in a high-quality format defeats the purpose.



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