Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Scripter: Jim Shooter
Penciler: Al Milgrom

+++ contains spoilers +++

Part 1 of 6: Secret Wars II and Me

It's taken me 24 years, but I've finally finished reading Secret Wars II.

I was in my teens when #1 first hit the stands in the UK, but Secret Wars II's 9-issue run also crossed-over into 22 other Marvel titles, several of which were just not available in my corner of London. Clearly, if I was to read the whole story in the correct order (as is my wont) then I was going to have to buy the issues that were available, and then embargo them until I'd procured the earlier rarer instalments from specialist import shops.

Ultimately, I wound-up getting hold of the last four missing episodes when they were later reprinted by Marvel UK.

Some unkind fans might suggest that the reason why it then took me over two decades to actually read them was because of how infamously dreadful the whole sprawling 42-part epic is. I can't argue with them there - the plot is indeed pants, as are some of the short stories contained therein - but that's not why it took me so long.

Basically, in the time that it took me to collect the whole darn series, my interest had simply waned.

Well, lately I've been crossing a number of things off of my todo list...

Part 2 of 6: Plot and Observations

The thing about Secret Wars II is that, love it or hate it, almost everyone hates it.

The series' main problem has nothing to do with the unprecedented scope of its crossovering, or with its being a sequel to such genius as the first series, or even with its betrayal of the Beyonder's original mysterious characterisation from those issues. (in much of this, the god from another universe just acts like a kid)

No, for me the inherent flaw throughout the whole story, as briefly bothered the credibility of the original tale, lies in his super powers, specifically his omniscience and omnipotence.

The Beyonder comes from another, much bigger, universe than our own, which contained only himself. Our entire multiverse is so tiny and simple by comparison, that he knows everything about it, and can do anything to it. Period.

Where his scripts really fail him is in fulfilling that final word "period". In order for some interesting stories to take place, author after author lines-up to knock a crack into the Beyonder's invincible credentials. By the end of these nine months the poor 'one from beyond' has acquired more weaknesses than the Cybermen. Beyondersbane, the Puma, Phoenix, causality... if anything, the whole tale is one of a pure, perfect being who is progressively infected by humanity, until he falls.

It's regrettable enough that his omniscience is broken from the off by his paradoxical desire to understand desire. As things progress, it transpires that there's so much more that he also doesn't actually know, most confusingly how to make the best use of his incomprehensible powers. For example, given that he can destroy the whole universe with but a thought, his actions when he loses his temper are, well, somewhat restrained.

But, y'know, before I sound like too much of a whiner, let me make one thing very very clear here:

I love Secret Wars II.

Its scope is nothing short of genius, and its potential far beyond that of a mere nine issues of the main title. This was an examination of the human condition, and as such had no shortage of inspiration, much like Third Rock From The Sun.

At the outset, the Beyonder remains quite quiet and mysterious, as the stories are told from the familiar perspective of the super heroes who he meets. This works pretty well, although a few of the writers take it to extremes and don't even feature the Beyonder in their contributions. (sorry Denny O'Neil and Danny Fingeroth)

However, once the crossover issues get into telling their own short stories about the Beyonder, the series gets some real momentum up.

A good example is the pivotal Doctor Strange #74. In this the Beyonder, having ascertained that he can never return to his old content state of isolated existence, is on a journey to turning his life around from depression. (I guess that Strange must be later trying to stop the others from attacking him in Secret Wars II #5)

There's also a real progression to the Beyonder's behaviour. Having started-out speaking very little, he then pro(re?)gresses to behaving somewhat like a child. After his aforementioned Strange-change, he enters my favourite era from the series. The Beyonder becomes a - fairly - together guy.

Choosing the path of good, (whew!) he dedicates his life to helping others. Alas, with the power to achieve absolutely anything, he quickly goes to extremes, unaware of the long-term damage such exaggeration may cause. In Secret Wars II #6 he kills Death for a short while, before realising that the universe has become a bit dependent on it.

Alas, from this point on, I had a gnawing feeling that things couldn't last. The Beyonder restricts himself to merely helping individual people out with their smaller, immediate problems. A less-dangerous path, but one that would hardly allow him to properly express himself. Frustration was inevitable.

He has a brief religious experiment with a theory of 'universal oneness', which over a few issues looks like it's foreshadowing a bigger plotline, but then seems to just get forgotten.

Apparently believing in an intelligence (or at least an order) greater than himself, he decides that his purpose in life may be to show everyone else what their purpose in life is. He gets pretty mellow and wise during these issues, and it's a shame that this friendly helpful version of the character didn't last.

When he encounters the Puma, whose life-purpose is to kill him, he realises that his worldview doesn't stand up under scrutiny after all. It's a crushing spiritual defeat, for a godlike being who has now - impressively - become something of an everyman character.

Anger, frustration and bitterness follow, as he resolves to restore his wholeness by getting rid of the universe, along with his own memory of it. It must be said, he takes a really, really long time telling everyone how he's about to do this.

Eventually this threat is resolved quite brilliantly, when Phoenix briefly possesses the universe in all its majesty, and afterwards passes-on her experience of it to him. The Beyonder physically breaks down on the ground, now emotionally unable to destroy such beauty.

The final issue has him building a big machine with which to turn himself into a human properly, i.e. one who has no special powers, and can die. These scenes contain all the wonder that the earlier issues rather missed, and it's a real shame that this situation didn't last for, well, I think there was the potential for years of issues here.

Beyonder: "What a rush! It was awesome... terrifying... exhilarating! I--I was aging! Each breath seemed like... an event! Each second was unique! It was unbearable--! -- And yet, now the oppressive sameness of every moment in this form is unbearable! I've got to try it again!"

Alas, the defenses that he places around himself and his machine are so laughably weak that we can only suppose that he simply hadn't had enough experience of life to know better...

When the ensuing explosion kills the Beyonder-baby and transforms him into an entire new universe, I honestly thought that this was the New Universe, namely Marvel's eight-title 'New Universe' range of comics, which was launched about six months later.

Ohh, what the heck, why not.

Part 3 of 6: In Summary

Overall, I think that Secret Wars II is an absolutely classic series, the like of which I doubt I will ever read again.

Looking back, my main criticism is of the Beyonder's omniscience. Had he been an omnipotent character who knew nothing other than what his experiences had taught him, then I think the stories would have been freer to restrict, manipulate and challenge him. Instead we're continually left to protest, "Oh but he would have already known that," or "why didn't he just do this?"

Beyonder: (to Thor)"What have you got in mind, since I'm not reading yours?"

- [Thor #363]

My favourite issues are Rom #72, Power Man And Iron Fist #121 and Peter Parker #111.

Also, it's worth observing that although this is effectively a story about God becoming a man, there are freeingly no comparisons to the guy who famously died on a cross anywhere. As a result, the entire saga is quite fresh in its approach to the concept.

Several characters do wonder if the Beyonder might be God, and Nightcrawler suffers a rather brilliant crisis of faith over it all. (in Uncanny X-Men #196)

"Is this God? I tell myself this cannot be -- but if he is not, who is?! Do you understand, Michael -- this creature can destroy the Earth in an instant! How can the Lord permit this entity to threaten humanity -- and perhaps all creation -- unless the Beyonder is God. But if he is, how then can I believe in such a being?

My faith sustained me in times of utter despair, when death seemed certain and I was sure there was no hope -- but now, I search for it and find only emptiness. That blessed inner light has fled from my soul. Thanks to the Beyonder, I am hollow inside.

I am lost."

Part 4 of 6: Secret Wars II Chronology

Anyone who's read this series knows that the crossover-order listed at the end of each issue of Secret Wars II doesn't make a heap of sense.

These episodes seem to take place during the preceding issue of the main title, simultaneously with each other, and Fantastic Four #282 only contains the Beyonder in one panel! With this in mind, below is my own, entirely subjective, take on the best order to read these in.

Just in case you're wondering, in weighing-up the different tensions of continuity, I've tended to emphasise them in this order of precedence:

1. Continuity in the surrounding issues of each series (where known)
2. Statements made by the characters
3. The Beyonder's character-development / motivation
4. Everyone else's character-development / motivation
5. The apparent intention of each author
6. Narration / publication date (narration - never one to be trusted)

I've also assumed the Beyonder to only ever be in one place at any one time, and generally focused on being chronological from his perspective. Eg. Most of Hulk #312 takes place in flashback, but it would be more of a hindrance than a help to move it up to the start.

Fantastic Four #285 was quite hard to place. The Beyonder's benevolence and wisdom match his later character-development, but Fantastic Four Annual #19 places it before the war to end all skrulls, and therefore before Avengers #261, which is itself hard to reconcile with how nastily they're all treating him at the end of Secret Wars II #5.

My theory is this: The Beyonder messes things up for the Avengers in space. (A#260) Then the Avengers attack the Beyonder on Earth, which he perceives as punishment. (SWII#5) The manic Beyonder believes he should have given them a chase, and rectifies this. (A#261) Consequently the two parties come to the uneasy truce that we subsequently witness. (SWII#6)

The impossible presence of Starfox in Secret Wars II #5 was a good old-fashioned mistake in the original publication, and remains one in this reading order too. If you want to believe that the Beyonder has travelled back in time, or that Starfox has been briefly recalled to Earth, or is a skrull trapped in Starfox's form, then that's cool too.

In Power Pack #18 page 8 panel 3, Alex remarks "That's the guy from beyond... the one we met last night!" I reckon he's just misremembering the day, or the Beyonder would have healed their mother, instead of limiting himself to merely taking her to the hospital, as per his resolve at the end of Secret Wars II #6.

In Secret Wars II #4 page 4 panel 7, despite what the Beyonder has just said, Captain America is actually away in space. Go figure.

Sections that the Beyonder is not in are bracketed, in case you don't want to bother with those. (I sure didn't!)

Here we go:

Secret Wars II #1 page 1 to page 25 panel 7
(The New Mutants #30 page 1 to page 4 panel 5)
(Iron Man #197)
The New Mutants #30 page 4 panel 6 to end
Secret Wars II #1 page 25 panel 8
Captain America #308
The Uncanny X-Men #196
Secret Wars II #2
(Web Of Spider-Man #6)
(The Amazing Spider-Man #268)
Secret Wars II #3 page 1 to page 9 panel 6
(Fantastic Four #282 page 1 to page 20 panel 1 narration box only)
Secret Wars II #3 page 9 panel 7
Fantastic Four #282 page 20 panel 1 except narration box
Secret Wars II #3 page 10 panels 1 to 4
(Fantastic Four #282 page 20 panel 2 to end)
Secret Wars II #3 page 10 panel 5 to page 23
(The Avengers #260 page 1 to page 11 panel 3)
Secret Wars II #3 page 24 to page 25 panel 2
The Avengers #260 page 11 panel 4 to end
Secret Wars II #3 page 25 panel 3 to end
Daredevil #223
The Incredible Hulk #312
Secret Wars II #4 pages 1 to 5
Rom #72
Secret Wars II #4 page 6 to page 14 panel 1
(Dazzler #40 prologue)
Secret Wars II #4 page 14 panel 2 to page 17 panel 3
Alpha Flight #28 pages 1 to 11
Secret Wars II #4 page 17 panel 4
(Alpha Flight #28 page 12 to page 15 panel 3)
Secret Wars II #4 page 17 panel 5 to end
(Alpha Flight #28 page 12 panel 4 to end)
Dazzler #40 rest of strip
Secret Wars II #5 page 1 to page 22 panel 3
The Thing #30
Doctor Strange #74
Fantastic Four #285

(The Avengers #261 page 1 to page 11 panel 2)
Secret Wars II #5 page 22 panel 4 to end
The Avengers #261 page 11 panel 3 to end
Cloak And Dagger #4
The Micronauts - The New Voyages #16
Secret Wars II #6
Power Man And Iron Fist #121 page 1 until the page that ends with Power Man, alone, slapping his forehead and despairing "Christmas!"
Power Pack #18
The Mighty Thor #363

Power Man And Iron Fist #121 rest of issue
Secret Wars II #7
The New Mutants #36
The Uncanny X-Men #202
The New Defenders #152
The Amazing Spider-Man #273 page 1 to page 21 panel 6
The All New, All Daring Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #111 page 1 to page 12 panel 3 speech-balloon 2
(The Amazing Spider-Man #273 page 21 panel 7 to page 22 panel 1 speech-balloon 1)
(The All New, All Daring Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #111 page 12 panel 4 speech-balloon 3)
(The Amazing Spider-Man #273 page 22 panel 1 speech-balloon 2 to panel 3)
(The All New, All Daring Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #111 page 12 panel 5)
(The Amazing Spider-Man #273 page 22 panels 4 to 5)
(The All New, All Daring Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #111 page 12 panel 6 speech-balloons 1 to 2)
(The Amazing Spider-Man #273 page 22 panel 6 to panel 7)
(The All New, All Daring Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #111 page 12 panel 6 speech-balloon 3 to panel 7 speech-balloon 2 "Have you gone psycho?")
(The Amazing Spider-Man #273 page 23 panels 1 to 2)
(The All New, All Daring Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #111 page 12 panel 7 speech-balloon 2 "It's impossible..." to end of panel)
The Amazing Spider-Man #273 page 23 panel 3 to end
The All New, All Daring Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #111 page 12 panel 8 to end
Secret Wars II #8 page 1 to page 26 panel 6
The Amazing Spider-Man #274
Fantastic Four #288
The New Mutants #37
Secret Wars II #8 page 26 panel 7 to end
The Avengers #265
The Uncanny X-Men #203
Secret Wars II #9
(The Avengers #266)

Part 5 of 6: The Curse of Secret Wars II

Titles that folded shortly after crossing-over into Secret Wars II (arguably to create some space for the upcoming New Universe titles)...

Secret Wars II (obviously)
The Thing
Cloak and Dagger
The Micronauts - The New Voyages
Power Man and Iron Fist
The New Defenders

Part 6 of 6: Little-Known Cameos

Circuit-Breaker (Secret Wars II #3 page 21 panels 2-4)
Jessica Drew, the original Spider-Woman (The Uncanny X-Men #203)
President Ronald Reagan (Secret Wars II #3 page 18 panel 3 and #4 page 4 panel 6)

Clark Kent (Secret Wars II #7 page 9 panels 2-3)

Stan Lee! (Secret Wars II #2 page 18 panel 2)

And finally, in a sort of inverse example, Superman #11.

(most of Secret Wars II is now available again in the Secret Wars II Omnibus here)
Next up: Secret Wars 3!


6 comment(s):

At 1:37 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Steve for this. I too missed this series when it first came out, and have only just downloaded it. But I couldn't find any site that gave an indication of continuity, even the Marvel database was no help. Till I found your page, that is.
So once again, thank you very much.


At 6:46 am, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Thanks for the kind words Ted - I guess it's fitting that even the series' chronology remains a 'secret'!


At 8:05 pm, Blogger franklin mcDaniels said...

The best Secret Wars II site I have found. I love this series (which has far too many critics). A wonderful tour of the Marvel Universe at its peak. And the tour guide is a god becoming human...

At 9:49 am, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Cheers Franklin!


At 9:42 pm, Blogger Thanos6 said...

Glad to see someone else who enjoys this series. I don't share your religious views, but I definitely agree with how criminally underrated SECRET WARS II is. Thankfully, Shooter and the other writers make sure to take the time to properly develop the Beyonder so that we can sympathize when he finally has his breakdown. He's not some petulant deity throwing a childish tantrum; he's tried, he really has put an effort into fitting in, but there didn't seem to be a path that could satisfy both him and, well, everyone else.

At 3:33 pm, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Indeed, his character developed so much that it's a real shame we didn't get to spend more time with him.


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