Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The Tunnels Of The Mole Man! / The Scenic Route! / No Way Out! / Cold Storage! / Last Kiss / Crystal Blue Persuasion! / Pin-Up Section! / Crystal / The High Evolutionary: Chapter Five! - Silver And Crimson / Beyond The Pale! / Secret Wars 3
Story: Steve Englehart, Edward L Norton (Annual), Mark Gruenwald (Annual)
Artist: Sal Buscema (#313)
Pencils: Keith Pollard (#314-319), Ron Lim (Annual)
Breakdowns: Kieron Dwyer (Annual), Jackson Guice (Annual)
Finishes: Joe Sinnott (#313-316, 318-319, Annual), Romeo Tanghal (#317), Jose Marzan (Annual)
Inks: Tony DeZuniga (Annual)
Letters: Workman (#313-319), Ken Lopez (Annual), Joe Albelo (Annual)
Colors: George Roussos (#313-315, 317-319), Glynis Oliver (#316), Gregory Wright (Annual)
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Chief: Tom DeFalco

After Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars and Secret Wars II, there is, sadly, no such thing as Secret Wars III.

However Fantastic Four #319 does contain a strip entitled "Secret Wars 3"!

It's the final chapter of a sprawling 8-issue epic, which had begun innocently enough with the Mole Man, Belasco and Master Pandemonium each encountering the new FF for an episode apiece.

Yes, the new FF, thanks to the excellent re-imagining of the Fantastic Four that defines this brief era. Crystal, Johnny, Ben and Sharon make quite a different dynamic to the classic line-up, but they function effectively as a team in a different sort of way. They come across more as equals, which is perhaps no surprise given that with Ms. Marvel they effectively have two Things on the team!

Steve Englehart's freestyle plotting gives little away as to where this tale will lead next, with lengthy flashbacks and teleportation warps wherever the narrative requires them. He seems to know where he's going while also leisurely making up the journey as he goes along, which is not a bad thing if you care about it.

And Englehart appears to positively enjoy caring about it.

AIM Agent: "Our attack at the South Pole* was to divert you while I used the teleporter! You were too close to finding it, and thus, the Nuwali!

We found it six years ago, and the ideas we've gained from the Nuwalis' museum have been of enormous benefit to us!

So I was sent ahead of you, to hide on your ship and make sure you died if you got past the Ice-Droids!"

Footnote box: *Last ish -- Polar Ralf.

Ahh, those footnote-boxes and their endless references to other comics. I don't know if it's down to Englehart's writing, Ralph Macchio's editing, or both, but this holistic space opera seems bent on eventually drawing the entire Marvel Universe into it, like some kind of giant comicbook sun.

Here is a list of all the back-references to be found in just these eight issues:

Fantastic Four #313
Marvel Two-In-One #53-58
The Avengers #236
Fantastic Four #312
Fantastic Four #296
The Incredible Hulk #243
Fantastic Four #296
Fantastic Four #308
Fantastic Four #308

Fantastic Four #314
Fantastic Four #296 (yet again)
Fantastic Four #313
Fantastic Four #313
Ka-Zar The Savage series
Magik mini-series
West Coast Avengers #6
West Coast Avengers #15
Strange Tales #14
Marvel Premiere / Doctor Strange #10

Fantastic Four #315
West Coast Avengers #15 (again)
West Coast Avengers #15 (again)
West Coast Avengers #6 (again)
Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars mini-series
The Thing #22
Comet Man #5

Fantastic Four #316
Fantastic Four #315
Fantastic Four #315
Fantastic Four #313-315 (yet again)
Captain America #331
Comet Man #1
Ka-Zar The Savage #34
Eternals volume 1 #2
Fantastic Four #315
(YET again)
Fear #20-26
The Avengers #257

Fantastic Four #317
Fantastic Four #316
Fantastic Four #316
Marvel Two-In-One #63
Fantastic Four #316
(yet again)
Comet Man series
Fantastic Four #314 (again)
Ka-Zar The Savage #34 (again)
Fantastic Four #51

Fantastic Four Annual #21
Fantastic Four #317-318
Fantastic Four #313
(YET again)
Fantastic Four #308 (yet again)
West Coast Avengers #36
The Vision / Scarlet Witch
Fantastic Four #13
Fantastic Four #240
X-Factor Annual #3
Punisher Annual #1
Silver Surfer Annual #1
The New Mutants Annual #4
The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22
Fantastic Four #306
The Honeymooners
TV series (seriously)
Fantastic Four #318 (again)
West Coast Avengers #36 (again)

Fantastic Four #318
Fantastic Four #312 (again)
Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #10 (again)
Fantastic Four #290

(whoa - what happened that month?!)

Fantastic Four #319
Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars mini-series (again)
Secret Wars II #9
Fantastic Four #318
Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #10
(yet again)
Silver Surfer #16
Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #10
(YET again)
Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #12
Fantastic Four #260
Fantastic Four #288
Fantastic Four #278
Fantastic Four #137
Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #3
Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #1
(he actually means The Thing #10)
Secret Wars II #9 (again)
Fantastic Four #20

As you can tell by the hyperlinks to my own reviews of some of said issues, I thoroughly approve!

The annual, nestling in-between issues #317 and #318, is even more entrenched in continuity, featuring no less than three strips, with a gallery of ten non-canon pin-ups of the main characters in the middle. While striking her pose, Sue even comments to the reader on recent submissions to the letters page!

The final portrait has been autographed by Crystal, with the ironic handwritten message "It's great to be back with the Fantastic Four! I'll never leave again!" Heh heh, she'd actually just resigned ten pages earlier.

This departure enables the second strip - simply entitled Crystal - to follow her character alone. The third strip bears less apparent connection to the others, being chapter five of that summer's cross-annual High Evolutionary series.

At 64 pages, it's no wonder that this publication even has lettering on its spine!

Anyhow, having never read these comics before, I didn't know which issues were the relevant ones for the Secret Wars 3 component, but I now reckon that I only really needed to read the last two - #318-319.

These guest-star fellow Secret Wars castmembers the Molecule Man, Volcana and Doctor Doom, as they join the Fantastic Four, err, Three, on a journey into the Negative Zone in search of… the Beyonder!

Yup, the one from beyond still knows how to make an entrance!

Steve Englehart never got the chance to participate in the humongous Secret Wars II 23-title crossover, so it's reasonable to see Fantastic Four #319 as his chance to finally contribute to it.

Since that series, despite having grown-up again, the Beyonder seems to have been stewing in his own juices over in his very own realm, and has regressed back to the destructive persona that he had in Secret Wars II #8.

This is a bit of a shame. He'd previously spent much of that 42-part odyssey as quite a nice guy. Left to exercise his omnipotent power unchecked over just one universe though… well.

So, at long last Marvel have admitted what we all knew all along - that the Beyonder is basically supposed to be God.

I always thought that one of the inherent flaws in the original two Secret Wars series was that the supposedly all-powerful and omniscient Beyonder kept on demonstrating more and more limitations, particularly in his ability to understand things in detail.

Englehart has clearly had a few thoughts on this subject too, as well as the whole time-travelling Doctor Doom retcon from Fantastic Four #288, so here he sets out to resolve these matters once and for all.

That's all bad news for the one from beyond though. As the Beyonder learns of his true origins, along with it he has to take a very deep breath and recognise that he is not who he previously thought he was.

Well, it must be pretty gutting for the most powerful being in the multiverse to get attacked by entities who are even more powerful than he is, and to then have to acquiesce to consider their absurd claims to have created him.

All the awe and wonder that had previously been conjured up by the Beyonder character's original concept of simply being able to do anything, has to be let go of when reading this issue. I felt disappointed as I turned these pages. In a good way.

The Beyonder goes down. Whoa.

I guess the real-life parallel would be having to let go of a deeply-held worldview, such as who your parents are or a religious belief, and accept that someone else actually does know better than you.

It takes a lot of character to do that, which demonstrates I think just how well-realised the Beyonder has become, at the hands of so many great writers.


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