Welcome to Secret Wars Declassified!
Greetings, True Believers!! Forgive the long-enough delay for this weekly entry. Aside from making excuses, I will simply state that I found it overwhelming to provide a play-by-play of every single issue even if I were capsuling. Much thought goes into even the shortest synopsis and that takes precious amounts of time which lapse and lead to conflict of interest.
Aside from the main mini-series which turned heads [pun intended!] the question is: how much more will the stakes be raised? What other shocking events does Mr. Hickman have planned? Only one new series this week featuring the Sentinel of Liberty’s antithesis. He is presented with a twist, of course.
SECRET WARS #4 (OF 8)
For my thorough review of this issue, click on this.
FUTURE IMPERFECT #3
ULTIMATE END #3 (of 5)
GIANT-SIZE LITTLE MARVEL: AvX #2
X-TINCTION AGENDA #2
YEARS of FUTURE PAST #2
RED SKULL #1 (of 3)
“Hunters” (20 pages) by Joshua Williamson, Luca Pizzari, Rainier Beredo, VC’s Clayton Cowles
Electro is talking trash about the Thors and trying to impress his drinking buddies. A Punisher-like type barges in and proceeds to get their attention. Electro has just been arrested (or so he thinks) for crimes against Doom. He is obviously not alone. Others are just as bad or worse [pun intended!]: Jack O’Lantern, Lady Deathstrike, Magneto, Moonstone, and the Winter Soldier. They can all be absolved if they undergo a mission in the name of the Red Skull. The proposition doesn’t fly since he’s nothing but an urban legend, a myth blown out of proportions to scare the masses. HUH?? You don’t say? The sinister six [natch!] will go into the Deadlands and verify the veracity of these contradicting claims. The mysterious kidnapper is none other than Crossbones!! This sends Electro into a tizzy. Magneto points out Bones’ turn of loyalty. Bones states that he serves the higher power. Sheriff Strange wants him to dispel any foolish notions stat. Electro lunges at Bones but fails miserably. The villains all have inhibitor collars. Bones mocks Bucky’s actual volunteering for the mission. Bucky wants vengeance against the Skull. Bones states that he made it out of the Deadlands alive but the chances of the others doing so are extremely slim. If they succeed, they are free to go. If they fail, death comes for them. Things are never that simple. The group’s power set has been reduced to half. Bucky is confident they will pull through. Teamwork is the key. No sooner have they arrived when the zombies come out to feed. They are overwhelmingly surrounded when a mysterious swordsman hacks his way through the undead. Their saviour is the Red Skull. He’s alive! He’s alive!!
Domain #34: Killville
Domain #41: The Shield
Domain #39: The Deadlands
Skulls, no bones: The expletives uttered by Electro are skulls. Pure brilliance!!
Self-serving: Zombie Electro gnashes Electro. Creepy but fitting, no??
Individual tastes: Electro “…it’s like licking a battery!”; Deathstrike “This one comes with its own knives! Fancy!”; Bucky “Reminds me of a Fourth of July BBQ!”; Jack “Hmm, just like the pumpkin pie my granny used to make!” Hilarious but apt descriptions!
Play dead: Skull tells the goons that their best bet at living is to pretend to have died.
Revenge is a dish best served cold. In this case, an indeterminate length of time has passed since the Red Skull’s exaggerated death. I look forward to seeing his coup d’état against God Emperor Doom. Even in the mainstream reality, these two megalomaniacs rarely cross paths let alone each other. If I’m not mistaken, that only occurred in the swinging 70’s with SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP. There are obvious comparisons to the Distinguished Competition’s Suicide Squad. I suppose that’s a fair assessment but these individuals vary greatly. This is only the first issue but cooler heads prevail so that they can give Bones his just desserts. Mr. Williamson is so proliferant and versatile!! I didn’t realize he is the brains behind NAILBITER. I already read BIRTHRIGHT, a most excellent modern fantasy. Mr. Williamson gets to the core and fleshes out [pun intended!] these nasties. I already stated that the villains are subdued (in more ways than one) but they have a singular purpose. Crossbones’ selfish preservation isn’t surprising in the least. Red Skull almost comes off as a hero. What’s that all about? JK! What comes next? I am curious!!
Luca Pizzari makes the titular character as skeleton-like as possible: gaunt!! He’s pretty much a bonerack. The painting of his visage on the wall is so misleading!! This guy can’t be that threatening! His former lieutenant Crossbones is imposing and built like an overjuiced bouncer. In fact, Bones’ stance once he puts on his mask is eerily like Tim Sale’s style. I will admit that I was fooled and hasty in assuming that he was the Punisher tearing up that dive. The ladies are covered up head to toe. I’m not making a disparaging remark. I’m simply stating that they are formidable in their own right.
Rainier Beredo keeps it mostly dark. Given the nature of the characters, the setting, and the plot, it fits. Any bright colour are quickly muted by the harsh tones. Shadows and silhouettes prevail. The grey used in the bottom four panels of pages 18-19 remind me of the battles depicted in the film 300.
This ain’t no Magnificent Seven. Since it’s an extremely limited series with only two more issues to go, I’m chomping at the bit [pun once again!] to see the battle royale. [7.5/10]
The Dirty Dozen!! MMMM, what’s a better way of phrasing that? *snap* The gritty 12-pack!! That encompasses all of this week’s books since there are no rose-coloured glasses to be found. Well, MRS. DEADPOOL has deadpan [pun intended!] and deliberate humour; RUNAWAYS maintains that youthful spunk; SPIDER-VERSE has growing optimism.
“Tyranny in Timely” (22 pages) by Gerry Duggan, Nik Virella, Lee Loughridge, VC’s Clayton Cowles
Red Wolf is crossing through the desert of the Valley of Doom. He’s hauling quite the heavy crate, pauses to drink some water, and marches on. Ben Urich, reporter and vox populi for Timely tells the tale from his P.O.V. Like any other frontier town, it has its shares of dirty dogs and struggling heroes. He summons Sheriff Steve Rogers who’s at the saloon with local lush Tony Stark. Red Wolf has been caught by the white men and is about to be lynched. Not if Sheriff Rogers has anything to say about it!! He saves the redskin. The crate was full of explosives and Wolf wanted to bring down the dam. Rogers confronts Mayor Fisk’s men and tells them his quarry will go through the legal system to receive justice. Red Wolf expresses his gratitude to Steve and debates the law with him. Mayor Fisk knocks and cheerily greets the duo. The fake pleasantries lead to ire. Rogers refuses to give Reddie to Fisk even if Governor Roxxon is asking. It is his dam that Wolf wanted to destroy. Fisk scoffs at the Sheriff’s dutifulness and brings out his deputy’s demise. Steve is enraged that Fisk sullies Bucky’s good name. Dr. Bruce Banner expresses his concern for Steve’s safety to Tony. The young Stark just laughs it off. He’s a ‘boring’ individual who enjoys many a drink. Therefore, he is not on anyone’s radar. How wrong he is!! Turk and his goons hold him at gunpoint. He will serve as a bargaining chip for Red Wolf. Being the town drunk, Tony belts out a tune which is code for warning Steve. The Sheriff comes to the rescue yet again!! Tony isn’t as useless as he portrays himself to be. He’s an inventor. He rolls up his sleeve to reveal a wrist gauntlet. He darts in one direction while Steve heads another way. Tony shows his resilience. He may abhor guns but he uses the gauntlet to electrify his pursuer through water that he kicked out of a bucket. He is a bit astonished at the result. Steve makes it in time to prevent Turk from taking Red Wolf. He shoots the a-hole dead. Urich is aghast at the bloodshed. He offers a hanky to the lawman. Steve snaps at him for being yellow-bellied and not writing an exposé on the maleficent mayor. In defiance, and as a warning to all others, Steve has the four henchmen hanging from Fisk’s doorstep. The townsfolk are divided over this outrageous action. Ben was shaken by Steve’s words. He has resolved to write the real truth, and nothing but. The Governor sends the Mayor a telegram. Roxxon has dispatched his own hit squad to take out the problematic Steve Rogers. Bullseye comes in town with Elektra, Grizzly, and Owl in tow.
Domain #6: Valley of Doom
Howdy, pardner! The map for the Valley is simplicity at is best. Look carefully for some well-known names of people, places, and things.
Red, white, and gold: “You crossed your own people to save Red Wolf. You made enemies of friends.” “They were already my enemies. I don’t serve them. I serve the Star.” “Ah. And the man with the star gives the laws.” “No, I enforce the laws. The star represents Law and Order triumphing over savagery and chaos.” “And your enemies swear to your laws?” “They do. If not, that’s what my gun is for. Does that make you feel any better about your predicament?” “At least I will not die alone.” – Great debate that could never end!
You won’t see it coming: “The men I worry about will not knock.” – Red Wolf
In whiskey veritas: “HAH! The land of the free, my ass. The government is scared of the people, and we’re terrified of the government.” Tony Stark may be the town drunk but his words ring true!!
Such a stickler! “Free me.” “NO.” “Stupid white man.” – Red Wolf and Sheriff Rogers
Highest honour: There are Easter eggs galore but the best has to be what Ben is imbibing: Wolverine Whiskey!!!
BANG! BOOM! KAPOW!! Bullets fly and many die in the Wild Wild West!! The one good thing about the all-encompassing SECRET WARS is that it covers much ground. It would be near impossible to showcase all these side-series into the main one unless each of those issues were omnibus-sized. Instead, those who like one genre over another can explore at a leisurely pace. I’m not big on Westerns but this one rates high! Gerry Duggan is a most adaptable author!! He also has humour down pat, is currently dabbling in sci-fi, and now he blows my socks off with this adventure. The Trinity of Steve, Tony, and Bruce isn’t that well-established nor evidently heroic but I predict the bond will solidify sooner than later. Red Wolf and Steve are destined to become new BFFs or at least allies with the most begrudging respect for the other.
Nik Virella is a woman :0 Fake-out!! Omigosh, that came out wrong. Her real name is Nicole. Apologies for my assumption. Her artwork is crisp and unblemished. Everyone looks so damn attractive, even the villains!! Red Wolf has a quiet nobility about him. Steve is an angry blond fed up with the lawlessness. Those mutton chops on Ben Urich are to die for!
Lee Loughridge gives a grainy feel to the wardrobe and locales. Desert, dust, dirt, and dregs are the order of the day. The whiteskins are all sporting good tans. They’re pretty much indistinguishable from Red Wolf. Love his new look with the white face paint serving as a makeshift mask.
Kudos to Manny Mederos for the super-wicked map!
I give this book 9 bullets out of 10. Shoot! Just ran out of ammo. Gotta reload!
AGE of APOCALYPSE #1
“Sticks and Stones…” (30 pages) by Fabian Nicieza, Gerardo Sandoval, David Curiel, VC’s Clayton Cowles
Holocaust is hunting errant mutants. He is ready to raze the Savage Land if necessary. There’s one particular quarry: Doug Ramsey a.k.a. Cypher. Destiny valiantly sacrifices herself to spare him but it isn’t enough since he’s quickly found by the hunter. In New Cairo, Sinister answers Apocalypse’s summons. The Baron of the eponymous domain wants to know more about the Friends of Humanity. Sinister assures him that they are insignificant but the tyrant wouldn’t mind a challenge. Doug is saved by the X-Men!! The battle between them and the big bad has explosive results [literally!] Dark Beast and Dr. Nemesis discuss what just transpired. Nightcrawler and Cypher survived. Holocaust didn’t make it. Nemesis informs DB that a slot has opened to be a new Horseman. Sinister chastises Dr. McCoy for his foolish conspiracy. Cypher is of utmost importance even though Hank sneers at the (in)significance of the boy’s powers. The Summers brothers are in charge of interrogating their captive. They are prelates of the Elite Mutant Force. Sibling rivalry escalates since they share opposite philosophical views. Sinister is most curious about Doug. He will have him walk around the Flatscan community, home to the humans. A secret rendezvous takes place between Sheriff Carol Danvers and the mutant Burner. A scuffle leads to a truce. Burner drops some interesting info. He warns Danvers that the E.M.F. will make an unpaid visit come morning. He and his buddies want to throw down with them. Sabretooth startles Dr. Nemesis. He wants the rundown on Cypher. He has brought his rabid pet Wildchild for feeding and as a scare tactic. Peter Corbeau, the official liaison to the Human Compound awaits with the Sheriff. Alex is hungry for vengeance. Scott tries to calm down everyone. Through the babble, Doug determines what they are all really trying to say: “THE VIRUS WILL WIPE OUT ALL MUTANTS.” The humans are hiding this bombshell. Scott hears a rumbling and orders the others to take cover. Magneto and his X-Men emerge. They want Doug for themselves. Magneto is really hoping for a fight.
Domain #6: Domain of Apocalypse
Give yourself some credit: “I’ve been insignificant my entire life. What makes me so important all of a sudden?” – Doug Ramsey
Two sides: “To some, they’re heroes […] To others, they’re terrorists […] Me? I think they’re both.” – Doug Ramsey’s view of the X-Men
Don’t copy my style: “Such sinister machinations…you should discern why this boy is so important…” – Baron Sinister slapping Dark Beast on the wrist
The power of language: “I start to put it together. Hearing ‘between the lines’ and plucking out the hidden intent from everything they say.” Meta-commentary!! Cypher was always mocked by his special ability. In this particular instance, he views himself as miniscule. Either way, words are weapons that he can use to his advantage!! Knowledge is power!!
Silence speaks volumes: “I don’t know if I should say anything. What do I do when revealing the truth or maintaining the lie will get people killed?” – Doug Ramsey
I never read the original saga but I see that Mr. Nicieza has made a resounding comeback!! I don’t need to peruse to get the gist of this Apocalyptic world. It’s surprising to see a former New Mutant bask in the spotlight. I already mentioned in the meta-commentary the role Cypher plays. I see this as a metaphor for peace over war. Being an academic myself, I am disdained when others don’t appreciate intelligence be it mine or someone else’s. Knowledge is a formidable firearm. This is why the soothsayers were dismissed by the naysayers, why the truth tellers are hushed by the higher-ups, why the big brains will continue to be beat up by the bullies. Doug Ramsey is more perceptive than most. His ability to actually see and pick out letters from gobbledygook to form the real meaning makes him all-mighty. Mr. Nicieza knows how to handle numerous characters without having them lost in the shuffle. I thoroughly relished his run on NEW WARRIORS. I never wanted him to leave L I did not really follow this other X-ploits since those individuals fall under my purview but I enjoyed this rock‘em sock‘em tale.
Gerardo Sandoval puts everyone on edge. Literally!! His pencils are jagged and coarse, much like the battle-hardened heroes and war-bound villains. The evil ones look especially frightening. More so the ones rocking the long hair. LOL. Doug’s fresh face is untouched and spared the indignities of combat. His youthful exuberance has an innocence about him. Mr. Sandoval is inspired by manga. This is evident in Doug’s pretty boy features. Magneto looks like he’s been wearing that helmet way too long. His face is extremely elongated.
David Curiel fills in Mr. Sandoval’s layouts without overstepping the lines. All the colours of the rainbow are utilized to great effect. The fine details on the orange-tinged explosion are superb!
Clayton Cowles is a master transcribe!! The super-imposing of key letters over the various word balloons nitpicked by Doug is sheer brilliance! He puts Johannes Gutenburg to shame!!
How many more deaths will occur? There are five down, and many to go! I give this 4 X’s out of 5 (80%)!
CIVIL WAR #1
“” (30 pages) by Charles Soule, Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Sunny Gho, VC’s Joe Sabino
The modern classic that broke sales records and gave Marvel a much-needed resurgence in popularity is here! Like all other ‘chapters’ under the SECRET WARS umbrella, this is a different interpretation and extension of what has come to pass.
The divisive battle happened six years ago. An unseen narrator provides intimate details as to what caused a permanent rift between two of the greatest heroes and their followers. While pounding fists and cracking jaws in Project 42, Black Panther attempts to hack into the system to liberate all the prisoners. He assumes that Iron Man rigged it to self-destruct. Maria Hill informs Tony Stark that T’Challa set it up. Tony accuses Steve of the underhanded act. Cloak manages to teleport both sides but other than the Panther’s sacrifice, Cloak also kicks the bucket as well as 15,000,000 others. The aftermath escalated hero-on-hero violence, had the villains be more vicious, and brought about a failed takeover by Norman Osborn.
Divided camps were established. Clear lines were drawn in the sand rockface. Tony Stark took the East, became President, and renamed it The Iron. Steve Rogers headed for the West, earned the rank of General, and dubbed it The Blue. Colonel Carol Danvers is patrolling the skies with two guards when she spots a teenage girl learning to fly. She gently informs her that she must register to avoid unnecessary hassle and insists she attend a special school to hone her gift. Cassie Lang a.k.a. Stature comes across a teen boy named John who fires concussive blasts from his hands. She gives him a friendly warning: use his powers for good or be at the mercy of the Punishers.
There is a literal Divide that separates the opposing forces. Miriam Sharpe is the raconteuse. She lost her son as a result of young heroes’ carelessness. She is retelling events to a government official. She has been designated mediator in the first ever peace talks. Having met both men, she sincerely hopes they reconcile their differences. Steve arrives with his escort Peter Parker. Steve tells Peter that he really wants this accord to work. He has the bigger picture in mind. All citizens must regain stability. Tony Stark has a female companion. I wasn’t sure who it was. I thought it was Janet Van Dyne given that she’s a brunette but she was listed as one of the deceased. NOPE! It’s Jennifer Walters, the She-Hulk!! Tony has at least an entourage of six. Always has to upstage, doesn’t he? Jen is there as security.
Before the talks begin, Tony makes amends with Peter by reuniting him with Mary Jane and daughter Maybelle. It’s no trick. It’s no ploy. Peter is free to go with his loved ones. A lengthy discourse is presented by each man. Tony wants space from Steve’s land to lessen overpopulation in The Iron but the General isn’t willing to budge since The Blue is severely lacking in resources. Tensions rise since emotions get in the way. Miriam stands to calm the two men. Suddenly, she is shot by a sniper. Uh-oh!! There goes the neighborhood! The bullet was fired from Steve’s side. Shucks! He summons Peter for help. How cruel to be together for no less than ten minutes before being separated again! Peter sprouts Falcon wings :0 and investigates. There was no shooter just a sophisticated automatic rifle that doesn’t belong to the Warzone.
Steve and Tony pull further apart. Steve accuses Tony of having access to or creating such a weapon. He calculates that the shot was meant for him but since Miriam stood up at the exact moment the rifle went off, she bit the bullet [no pun intended!] Tony claims innocence. Steve doesn’t care. He is convinced that Tony wants this war to continue. He is ready to retaliate. Oh dear. More casualties imminent.
Domain #22: The Warzone
That is the question! “Whose side are you on?” – tagline from the original series
Mr. Soule flexes his legal muscles, naturally. Even though the great debate was brief, valid points were made on both sides especially the definition of democracy and the nature of war. He captures the essence of each man perfectly. Their positions of power accurately reflect their personalities. Miriam is the major victim in this scenario. Peace is a pipe dream. War is lucrative. War empowers individuals. War is an unstoppable machine even in the longest of absences.
Leinil Francis Yu reunites with the Avengers albeit briefly in the first few pages of this story. He provides great close-ups of the rumbles in the two-page spread. More impressive is his attention to detail in designing the Divide. How laborious that must have been to draw nothing but crag after crag separated by a metallic bridge!
Gerry Alanguilan is Mr. Yu’s frequent collaborator. The half-face portrait of Steve and Tony is uncannily symmetrical. They could be one person regardless of the shading and slight colouring. On that note, he favours obscuring the left side of the characters’ faces and blackens the roots of the hair.
Sunny Gho has had an extensive run at three major companies and some independents. He doesn’t get to tinker with too much iron nor blue [natch!] but he works best with the duller brown and grey tones. Tony has aged gracefully and Jen is a total knockout!
Divided they stand, united they fail. There can only be one victor. Will it be Tony in this alternate reality? [8/10]
SPIDER-ISLAND #1 (of 5)
“Altered States” (20 pages) by Christos Gage, Paco Diaz, Frank D’Armata, Travis Lanham
I will state this immediately: as much as I gush over Spidey, it’s satisfying to see other arachnid-abled individuals take centre stage! Case in point: Flash Thompson, better known as Agent Venom. He has a small team assisting him. Vision absconds with medical supplies and some trump card. Jack Russell, the Werewolf by Night breaks free of his spider-infested form when the moon comes out and slashes his way through the drones. Jack may be a double agent without his knowing. Flash expresses concern for Jack’s safety but since he still draws breath he is off the hook. Jack tells him of a cure which Flash finds incredulous. It would be at Horizon Labs, the point of origin for the spider-virus. Back at a former S.H.I.E.L.D. safehouse, Flash divulges his plan to Vizh and Spider-Woman: find the cure even if it is a trap. The operation is a go. Flash’s brothers-in-arms willingly enter the fray. Captain America tells a defeated Flash that it was a deliberate set-up. The tide turns in the trio’s favour due to Venom’s cleverness. He experimented with the serum and created specific variations catered to each person’s DNA. Spider-Cap becomes CapWolf. Carol is given the vampire cocktail created by Michael Morbius. Hulk undergoes a Lizard-like transformation. In these new forms, the three are cut off from the Spider-Queen’s hive mind. That particular trio hasn’t particularly turned over. Iron Man, Iron Fist, and other arachnids arrive ready to bring down the house.
Domain #7: Spider-Island
MacGuffin. That’s real? “So the Vision got your MacGuffin back in one piece. Now do I get to hear your super-secret plan?” – Spider-Woman
Set cheese factor to ten: CapWolf returns!! Who remembers this misaligned storyline from 1992?
Christos Gage gets to spin more webs with this new mini. He co-wrote a few memorable issues of SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN and took the reins of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN for a brief period of time. He really gets his nerd on by showcasing Flash. Correction: I get a real hoot out of him reintroducing CapWolf to a whole new generation!! Flash is duty-bound and a solider at his core. Mr. Gage does this character justice!
Paco Diaz gets a second spin at the spiders (of a different kind) after his stint on SPIDER-VERSE. I love the cut of Jessica’s costume. It will soon be a distant thing of the past but she wears it well. The same goes for Agent Venom. Simple always works best. The ebon-uniform stands out thanks to the prevalence of grey as well as the various straps for a soldier’s gear. Spider-Hulk is dumber than his gamma-irradiated self. Four arms are more destructive than two 😉
Things happen much too fast, just like the scurrying of the eight-legged bugs. It is unknown how long NYC has been rechristened Spider-Island but Flash just won’t quit, like his idol Spidey. [7.5/10]
“Shattered!” (10 pages) by Tom DeFalco & Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema, Andrew Crossley, Travis Lanham
Mayday Parker has grown up!! After a major shock to the system due to SPIDER-VERSE, she renames herself Spider-Woman!!! The weight on her shoulders in unbearable. She still can’t get over her father’s untimely death. She confides in her new bestie Stinger. Meanwhile, The Big Man (Hank Pym Jr.) reaches Avengers Next Mansion. He wants to warn Scott Lang that his daughter (Stinger) is in jeopardy. Speaking of which…Stinger and Spider-Woman are ambushed by the Dream Team. Uncle Ben (from Earth-982) marvels at MJ’s business acumen. She is making a killing selling Spider-Man merch to build a trust fund for Mayday as well as set up cash flow for tuition. May doesn’t know why American Dream and her team are attacking her. She’s hoping to have a leg up with Stinger’s presence but her BFF has joined the other side, poised to attack!
Before there was Kamala Khan, there was this utterly incredible pop culture phenomenon involving Mayday Parker. SPIDER-GIRL was the series that literally refused to die since the fans’ kept demanding its resurrection. The creators Tom DeFalco & Ron Frenz are so in synch that they might as well be one individual. Along with Sal Buscema, they are a titanic trio!! What more can be said? They cram so much into this ten-page story (all good!) satisfying all of May’s followers. Action! Intrigue! Suspense! They cut to the chase without dragging out the plot. [8/10]
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: RENEW YOUR VOWS #2
GHOST RACERS #2 (of 4)
MRS. DEADPOOL and the HOWLING COMMANDOS #2
SQUADRON SINISTER #2
SECRET WARS 2099 #3 (of 5)
Tags: All-new All-different Marvel, Marvel, Secret Wars, Secret Wars Declassified