Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Writer / Script: Tom DeFalco (ASM#272-274), Jim Owsley (TANADPPTSSM(sheesh)#111)
Penciler: Sal Buscema (ASM#272), Ron Frenz (ASM#273)
Layouts: Rich Buckler (TANADPPTSSM#111), Ron Frenz (ASM#274)

Four issues, some of which overlap, covering the Puma's mission to destroy the Beyonder.

That might sound like an open and shut case. The Beyonder wields more power than the entire multiverse billions of times over. The Puma is some bloke from New Mexico. You can see why he might want to recruit Spider-Man to help him. (as a decoy while he runs away maybe?)

Actually, the Puma isn't the type to flee from anyone. Just listen to the coolness with which he greets Peter Parker and Mary Jane, as they first get in to find him sipping coffee on Pete's sofa...

Puma: "Good afternoon. I've been waiting for you. Hope you don't mind, but I've already helped myself to some coffee. Interesting decor you have here. What do you call it -- barbecued baroque?! I am afraid that what I have to discuss with you is quite private. The young lady will have to go."

Peter: "What--?!"

However the Puma has a bigger edge than just his aloofness. His tribespeople have foreseen the Beyonder's coming centuries ago, so they have invested in generations of, um, well I think I'll let the narration to PP#111 handle this one...

Narration: "Thomas Fireheart [-] A man told from childhood of his great destiny. A product of generations of careful, deliberate breeding. A complex anomally, made up of genetic sciences... and dark, tribal magics. Thomas Fireheart is... the Puma!"

(somehow I expect those words to be followed by a set of opening credits)

Basically, the Puma's family history has all been leading-up to one single moment in history when the universe will actually stand some slim chance of destroying the omnipotent Beyonder. Yeah, I can see the inherent paradox in that equation too. In 1985 I think everyone could. Nevertheless, I reckon the quality of the storytelling overcomes this.

The Beyonder is currently on a quest to satisfy his incompleteness. At the outset of this story he's quite mellow about it all, having decided that his purpose in life must be to show everyone else what their purpose is.

Beyonder: "You still don't get it, do you, Puma? You ought to be more like your friend, here. Spider-Man is filled with dozens of conflicts and self-doubts... he blames himself for a lot of things he wasn't responsible for, but all things considered, he's in pretty good shape. He knows his role in the scheme of things. He is Spider-Man, a champion on the side of life. And he has family and friends to look after and care for. He has a deep commitment and sense of responsibility that will not fail him."

Spider-Man: (THINKS)"Y'know... he's got a point..."

The Beyonder's faith is all well and good until he, heh-heh, realises the paradox in this.

His life purpose, he believes, is to show others what their life purpose is. The Puma's life purpose has always been to kill the Beyonder. To enable the Puma to achieve this, means... that... oh.

As a result, for the second half of PP#111, the Beyonder becomes quite melancholy.

Beyonder: (THINKING)"If I lose, the cost will be devastating. If I win... death..."

Beyonder: (CHATTING TO DEATH)"What lies beyond the beyond...? And, why... why am I afraid...?"

We get to witness a fair bit of this sort of monologue as he bravely waits for his possible end at Macchio's nightclub. The whole Secret Wars II saga comes in for quite a bit of flack these days, but the courage with which the Beyonder approaches his ultimate destiny gives the character tons of depth. For his own reasons, he decides to welcome it dressed as Michael Jackson, which is just a tad uncomfortable today.

I don't normally give away the ending in these reviews, but on this occasion I think it's fairly obvious, so here goes. The Puma fails. Spider-Man goes and distracts him at the critical moment, and after that the universe is no longer in such perfect alignment, so there's no second chance. The Puma has failed at his life's purpose, and will presumably spend the rest of his days at something of a loose end.

Not so the amazing Spider-Man though. In the final issue of the four, the now faithless Beyonder has a bet on Spidey's morality with Mephisto. (ooh, deals with Mephisto are never a good move in Spidey-comics) If the webslinger's integrity comes through against all the odds, then the universe will be granted a 24-hour stay-of-execution before the Beyonder angrily destroys it.

However unlike the Puma, Spider-Man wins. Alas, it seems to make little difference to the broader picture as, in the Beyonder's subsequent issues anyway, I don't think this consequence gets referred to again.

I like the character of the Puma. His coldness about murdering people is a shame, but otherwise he seems to have his life fairly well sorted-out.

Or, at the very least, sorted out for him.


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