May 8, 2015

Secret Wars vs. Crisis on Infinite Earths, Part 5!

We are in the middle of DC Comics' Convergence and at the start of Marvel's Secret Wars, two series that involve multiverses colliding! Every day this week, the Cube staff will be looking at the two series that started it all: the originalMarvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, by Jim Shooter, Mike Zeck, Bob Layton, and John Beatty, and Crisis on Infinite Earths, by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. We'll talk about our likes, our dislikes, and other stuff in the middle. Let's end this today!

Secret Wars vs. Crisis on Infinite Earths
Part 5
Cube Roundtable
(All summaries written by Ben)

Writer: Jim Shooter; Penciler: Mike Zeck; Inker: John Beatty; Editor: Tom DeFalco

The war is over, and Dr. Doom has won. Molecule Man scoops up the villains, and the nearby suburb of Denver, and heads for home. The heroes decide if they should fight the all-powerful Doom.

Ben Liked: I like the idea that an omnipotent being is no longer plagued by concerns like ambition, greed, or power. It reminds me of the movie Lucy. I just now realized that Scarlett Johansson was Cosmic Doom in that movie. Her and Doom are two of my all-time favorite creations. I’m strange.
Ben Disliked: Half-naked Colossus.
Ben Didn’t Understand: If Doom is omniscient, how does Captain America surprise him?
Worst Use of a Magic Wish: Locating pet dragons.

Duy Liked: The Hulk chasing Spider-Woman around is appropriately creepy.
Duy Disliked:  The Hulk's expression before he gets zapped into chasing Spider-Woman around is not. That's been my entire problem with this entire comic: so many good ideas, so much rushed storytelling, so many inappropriate expressions, so many abrupt stops.
Duy Don't Understand: Amora the Enchantress is such a sexual creature, she strikes sexy poses even on the rocky terrain.
Duy Can't Believe: How popular the X-Men were at this time. There's six of them here, and I want to strangle half of them, and Wolverine wasn't even cool yet until they realized Byrne's version was the way to go.

Matt Liked: Doom is still Doom, even with a pretty face. Mr. Fantastic does make a handy hero-sack. Cap knows the power of a good nap. It’s some good WTF moments with heroes possessed and running around Doombase. “Summoned to the Tower of Doom” is a great, ominous message to send. Totally in character too. Explosive decisions!
Matt Disliked: The villains take dumb/exploitative to an extreme and not in a funny or good way. Molecules aren’t Molecule Man is even dumber than I thought. The obsession with the healer is ridiculous. It’s really terrible.
Now he’s “Pretty Boy” Doom: Who basically looks like Peter Parker. Let’s be honest, a lot of people with brown hair basically look the same (take me and Ben, for instance).
War, what is it good for?: Trans-cosmic moving of parts of Denver. The bubble is a nice and thoughtful touch too.

Travis Liked: Zeck does awesome legs-akimbo poses. Johnny Storm is so full of it. Something made Colossus cry! Always a plus. And, every team here is just cocksure and defensive of their team’s pride and accomplishment in the best way.
Travis Disliked: We lose Scheele for the competent but not really exciting Nelson Yomtov.
Travis Don’t Understand: What kind of impact goes “SHRAAAAAKKKKKT?” and are all the Ks pronounced individually?
Subtle Dickery of Doom: “Meet me at dusk.” There’s no way to be on time for that. You show up early and wait. How long? Who knows? Track the sun and you still don’t know because dusk isn’t an actual time.

Writer/Editor: Marv Wolfman; Penciller: George Perez; Inker: Jerry Ordway

A new, single Earth has formed in the wake of the fight at the dawn of time, and the heroes are left to figure out where they fit.

Ben Liked: That Superman and the Flash are the characters used to introduce this new Earth. Superman because he was the original superhero, and Flash because that’s where the concept of multiple Earths first began. It’s more clever than I expect from Wolfman. The two Supermen and the two Flashes grasping onto the cosmic treadmill as they stare off into the void where Earth-2 used to be, is a great image.

Ben Disliked: Again, after the build-up of the last issue, we get more explanations and talking about what happened. I understand how necessary it is to introduce the new combined Earth and have everyone figure it out for the reader, it just seems like another narrative lull after a brief promise of high octane action. I keep saying there are no consequences to what happens, and what I mean is that whatever happened at the dawn of time doesn’t even matter, the end goal was always going to be a new Earth. Win or lose, nobody’s actions mean anything at all in terms of what happens next in this story.
Ben Didn’t Understand: Why Marv Wolfman or DC thought the multiverse was too complicated, or too difficult of a concept to grasp? What I think is even more complicated is erasing parts of your history periodically, while keeping other parts of it intact. I’ve never felt that a firm detailed continuity has ever been necessary, I’m a proponent of maintaining your own personal continuity. But when you make “fixing” continuity the main goal of your storyline, you’re sort of asking readers to point out what still doesn’t fit. Already, right from the very beginning, we can see that everyone present at the dawn of time remembers that there used to be separate Earths, and yet once this series is over that is no longer the case. We can see that Superman and Wonder Woman’s histories are still intact (Lex Luthor is a criminal in prison) and yet after the series was over both those characters got a complete reboot from scratch. I know there was editorial resistance about Crisis as it was happening, but surely there could have been better coordination. That’s what happens when you edit yourself. DC would spend the next 20 years trying to explain how all these characters existed on the same Earth, and how things like Superboy never existing could happen in a universe that still had the Legion of Super-Heroes. All these solutions to explain something that was supposed to eliminate the need for complicated explanations, and in the end, the best solution was the existence of a multiverse anyway (even though it’s thus far gone underused).
Dumbest Exclamation Ever: “Cut my calories and call me skinny!”

Duy Liked: The two Supermen don't look the same, don't wear the same types of clothes, don't even move or fly the same. I always liked the Forgotten Heroes in concept. I like it when they do a flashback scene, inserting some distinct heroes in there, and don't mention who they are if it isn't important (Bat Lash is important). Batman is relegated to detective work (as it should be).
Duy Disliked:  The dialogue in Crisis was never great, but Dr. Fate actually saying "Let Dr. Fate lead you to your fate" makes even me cringe.
Duy Don't Understand: Okay, how the hell is someone supposed to pronounce "Kal-L" in a way that sounds different from "Kal-El"? Do you just roll the "L" sound?
No, Dick, No: Earth-2 Robin says "The only Dick Grayson I found was 19 years old and living in Manhattan." I'm sure there were other Dick Graysons.

Matt Liked:  Superman saving Superman is well done. The creators are at least upfront that things make no sense. Lex is totally a jerk, even in prison.
Matt Disliked: Misshapen Alaska on the first page? Did they not look at a map? Why are these people listed in the phone book? An heiress? A reporter? This idea was bad even i 1985.
Well, did it work?: The retelling of Batman’s origin is well done, effective and only 3 panels.
Anti-Monitoring Station: People use phone booths and actually call information, what did happen to the old rotary phones? If no one knows, the Anti-Monitor will be on it soon.

Travis Liked:  This is a beautifully elegiac issue. Braniac’s “corpse” is haunting. “Welcome to my universe.” Dr. Fate’s crazy ankh-shaped energy blasts.
Travis Disliked: For a goodbye to universes issue, it’s really uncomfortably weird to me how anglo everything is. There are more talking apes than there are nonwhite humans in this comic.
Travis Don’t Understand: Why couldn’t all of CoIE be as doom and cosmic as this one?
I’m Still Wondering: What did all the character-gathering and weepy Pariah actually add by this point?

Writer: Jim Shooter; Penciler: Mike Zeck; Inker: John Beatty; Editor: Tom DeFalco

Cosmic Doom has annihilated the Marvel heroes, but the Beyonder isn’t quite as dead as he thought.

Ben Liked: Tricking the omnipotent character into reviving the heroes by describing a scenario in how they could have survived is always a good trick. Doc Ock freaking out on Molecule Man. The splash pages of big alien action are the best art of the series. Captain America continuing to advance on Doom despite repeatedly getting vaporized should be a staple of event storytelling. This should be the climax of the new Secret Wars. Every Marvel movie should end with Cap getting disintegrated but continuing to charge back by sheer determination.

Ben Disliked: Backstory via water elemental is pretty weird.
Ben Didn’t Understand: Why they didn’t go even further with the post-Secret Wars changes. Spider-Man’s black costume, and She-Hulk replacing the Thing isn’t enough. Wolverine should have returned as a sentient fork. Reed Richards should have returned with his brain in his fingers. Nightcrawler should have returned with some proper clothes on. I guess Colossus and Kitty Pryde were broken apart. That’s good enough.
Least Valuable Player: Colossus.

Duy Liked: The Hammer of Thor barging in on Doom. That's how it should be — and is really one of the very few moments of Secret Wars that I actually truly felt.
Duy Disliked: Again, the art just looks rushed. Maybe I wouldn't feel this way if I weren't reading it back to back with Crisis, but I am. The two-page spread of heroes fighting monsters should be epic, but it just looks hollow.
Duy Don't Understand: How Storm never at any point in this story beat the crap out of Professor X, that disgusting worm.
Mike Zeck Trademark: Between this and that Captain America annual featuring Wolverine, that's two issues where Cap should be fighting this epic battle, and it lasts for around two pages with no real winner.

Matt Liked: Now that is a apocalyptic opening shot. The Elemental’s explanation of everything, try imagining trying to comprehend the minds of superheroes and villains yourself for a minute. On the other hand, Enchantress cooking the Lizard to fix her scars is pretty badass. Some nice crazy monster fight sequences there.
Matt Disliked: The listing of the names lessens the impact. Just show the smoldering craters! Bad Doc Ock arms, where do they come from, the front or the back? Enchantress’ endless fat shaming is not cool. Sure, steal someones life force, but there’s no need to insult them while doing it. Professor X’s costume is lamer than his legs usually are. The nicknames are all takes on the -ie form and they are all bad.
Nothing to Fear but the end of a Secret War: Molecule Man has no fear, reigniting stars, melting the ground to confine Doc Ock. Nothing to worry about from the mysterious black Spider-Man costume, nothing at all...
War, what is it good for?: Destroying apartments and flooding their bathrooms to talk to magic spirits. Getting pwnd by some psi-ops...from Klaw.

Travis Liked: Cap’s shield shattered always looks impressive. And the Lizard’s old design was so much cooler than recent versions.
Travis Disliked: Enchantress is taken down by the Lizard in one strike. No.
Cheesecake Will Happen: Enchantress bathes fully clothed, apparently, so she needs a water sprite to bend over the tub with her butt and feet in the air so make up for it. A posture that Klaw mimics almost perfectly several pages later.
Stock Gesture That Bugs Me: Do people really check out their nails in real life or is that storytelling code for “I’m not doing nothin’ nu-uh just minding my own beeswax”?

Writer/Editor: Marv Wolfman; Co-Plotter/Penciller: George Perez; Inker: Jerry Ordway

Everyone unites to stop the Anti-Monitor once and for all. A world lives, heroes die, and the DC universe will never be the same.

Ben Liked: I like most of the deaths that occurred. Unlike the mess of DC continuity that sprang from this series, the deaths seemed to be more strategically planned to provide better stories moving forward. The majority of the redundant duplicate characters from Earth 2 were obvious removals. Replacing Dove, of Hawk and Dove, was a good move. (I remembered while reading this that Hawk and Dove were some of the earliest DC characters I followed, after the Flash. That seems so random and I have no idea how it started.) There are way too many Aqua characters as it is, if anything they didn’t kill enough of them. Wally West taking over as the Flash resulted in a highly praised tenure as the lead speedster. The moment where Wally finds Barry’s costume on Qward, realizing that he really is dead, is the only moment that had any actual emotional resonance with me. It was given the proper amount of space, which is not something you can say about a lot of the scenes in this series.

Ben Disliked: Speaking of, the battle scenes are each given one panel, which is not enough to make me care about what’s happening. It’s like if the radio only played 5 seconds of each song before moving on to the next one. Thankfully, original recipe Superman got a chance to shine at the very end, against the Anti-Monitor.
Ben Didn’t Understand: How Geoff Johns misinterpreted Earth-2 Superman and Lois riding off into the sunset in their own private Heaven, to mean they spent 20 years as roommates in a crystal apartment with Alexander Luthor and Superboy-Prime until they all went insane. If I was Superboy Prime and I had to listen to two elderly people have sex for all eternity, I would have gone insane too.
Most Ironic Title: Final Crisis

Duy Liked: Harbinger tells Dr. Light Supergirl was going to die regardless of whether Dr. Light distracted her. How does Harbinger know that? She's just talking to get Dr. Light to fight. Earth-2 Superman taking the fight to the Anti-Monitor is just pure adrenaline rush.
Duy Disliked: Anything Alexander Luthor does, because I hate that guy. Wonder Woman gets the short end of the stick, kicking off a trend where she's basically useless in big-time DC events.
Duy Don't Understand: How Earth-2 Wonder Woman never traded in the bathing suit.
No One Cares About Green Arrow: The differences between the Wonder Women, Supermen, Bat-families, Green Lanterns, and Flashes were worth noting in this whole thing. But really, probably no one on those two Earths were as different while still having the same basic roots as the two Green Arrows. They never interacted. Not once.

Matt Liked:  Good group shot cover. I liked the Animal Man Star Trek reference, complete with a Darkseid aside. Wally beating up Psycho Pirate is probably the highlight of this issue. The image of merpeople with guns is just too funny. Darkseid has the technological capability to literally see through your eyes.
Matt Disliked: Again, a really bad image of North America. I’m super meh on the Challengers and space posse. Bad geography and Jade exposition. Pariah’s “power” is basically being an evil dowsing rod. Where is the 2nd star in the binary system? We also get Earth-2 Lois ex machina.
Endings: Doves? Caught on camera?! WTF is that Dr. Strange and a giant hamster in Salem? The Anti-Monitor just can’t be kept down. Maybe he would if he was as fatalistic as Superman 2 and Superboy Prime.
Anti-Monitoring Station: Hate watching the Earth and breeding shadow demons, if only he’d taken up knitting...

Travis Liked: Splash! I love Perez so much more when he goes bigger and less crowded. Red skies and lightning!
Travis Disliked: Anti-Monitor is kind of impossible to take as a big threat with that silly face. Stay-Puft has got nothing on him.
Travis Don’t Understand: It took this long for things to just go full-bore madness?
This Issue Reminds Me: I ship Lori Lemaris and Mera so strong.

Travis: Finally finished the damn thing. Crisis is really long.
Ben: It takes so long to read. So long.
Duy: Yeah, much longer than Secret Wars. Because skipping parts of Secret Wars is the only way to finish it and retain your sanity.
Matt: There is a lot of chaf in Crisis. That was the biggest pro to Secret Wars to me. It's more focused, even if nothing happens and Klaw exists.
Duy: "It's more focused. Nothing happens and Klaw exists" should be its tagline.
Travis: All I'm saying is, one of them tries to cram in every character ever to disguise the fact the first third has nothing to do with the other two thirds. The other has the Wrecking Crew in a big truck with a laser blaster on it.
Matt: The Wrecking Crew plus Absorbing Man are a comedy tag team for the ages. Mostly 8-12.
Ben: I like seeing flashes of 100 characters doing nothing, more than fun comic book fights. Wait no, that's dumb!
Duy: I like it when comic book fights are boring. It seems like you'd have to try to make that happen, but Secret Wars makes it look so easy.
Ben: Only the most cynical soulless robot would not be amused by a rousing game of pattycake. The Spectre shows up 4 times before he actually does anything 
Matt: For one issue (like a third really) he does something. Then it's back to being a floating space thingy.
Duy: No one does anything in Secret Wars but Doom. Everyone else sucks in it. Spider-Man's big thing is that he beats up the X-Men and then he can't even remember it, and then he finds a costume. Oooooh.
Ben: The Anti-Monitor is beaten by the power of ... love?  I don't even know. I'm pretty sure Marv plotted this as he went.  That's the only explanation.  Thankfully his editor liked him and let him do it.
Matt: They also took a lot of this and used in AvX, including that whole Spider-Man beating up X-Men. They just made sure he remembered getting shitkicked this time. 
Duy: The Anti-Monitor's weakness is obviously being punched really hard. The Beyonder's weakness is he's an idiot.
Ben: At least being an idiot is understandable. Crisis was the equivalent of when Michael Jordan played baseball.  You knew he was great at another thing.  In Jordan's case, basketball.  In Wolfman and Perez's case, it's veiled sexual situations about barely clothed teenage superheroes presented as full stories.
Matt: At least both series have super weird and inappropriate gender dynamics going on. I'm looking at you, Killer Frost and Human Torch/Colossus.

Duy: Your love for Molecule Man is weird. All of you.
Ben: He controls molecules!
Matt: And he uses his powers!
Duy: Any Marvel fan who enjoyed Secret Wars should be ashamed of themselves. Demand more!
Ben: Demand less, DC fans! Less crying and everyone standing around shocked, doing nothing!
Matt: The problem is, it's comparing apples to pancakes (that do not have apples in them). Crisis tries to cram everything in the DC world and collapse 40 years of nonsense into a single universe. Secret Wars goes pretty small and is incredibly uneven. Both of them fail, one more spectacularly than the other (Crisis, which I like and hate more). There are many choices in Crisis that can and should be soundly questioned. Like Psimon.
Duy: You shouldn't question anything in Secret Wars at all, because that means thinking about it and that would be terrible.
Ben: And the logic is sound!  They tell you everything they're thinking of feeling at all times!

Final Thoughts: 

Ben: Despite my disparity in tone in covering the two series, I found that both had many moments in the storyline where it didn’t seem to have any real purpose. Twelve issues is just way too long to maintain any sense of narrative momentum, especially with the more compact storytelling of that era. Of the two, I thought Crisis was much more unnecessarily complex. Not because of the plot, but because it tried too hard to include every single character from DC history, to the detriment of a focused, coherent story. All those characters may have been great for continuity nuts, or as an easter egg hunt, but it doesn’t make for a great story. Also, Crisis had a specific enemy that made that lack of focus even more glaring. The Anti-Monitor was all over the map with his evil plans, like Wile E Coyote trying to catch and kill the Road Runner/multiverse. Every time something happened, the heroes would all get together to talk about the result, while the Anti-Monitor ordered more traps from Acme. Secret Wars had a little bit more of an excuse to meander, because the only goal was beating the other team, and factions of each team had their own separate goals besides fighting a simple war. There was no way for it to end as the Beyonder demanded, because the villains aren’t going to beat the heroes, and the heroes are never going to slay their enemies. So instead, they just trade shots until they all go home, sometimes wearing different clothes. Secret Wars had a smaller cast of characters to work from, allowing it to spend more time with each. Ultimately, Secret Wars was better at being a fun toy comic, than Crisis was at being a multiverse-altering epic storyline. Plus, Secret Wars had better fight scenes. That’s truly all that matters.

Matt: I was hesitant to go back to this story. It aged ok. The story would’ve been tighter if they focused on a smaller cadre of heroes/villains. Even if it's a Crisis, cramming everyone in detracts from the effectiveness of the storytelling and probably hurt the drawing process. The story does make Final Crisis look worse in retrospect. One big observation is the basic total absence of Batman. Clearly, the 80s were the time of Superman. How things have changed in 30 years. Meanwhile, the 90s Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons have their voices stuck in my head while I was reading. The Spider-Man cartoon did a better version of Secret Wars, probably because it mostly abandoned the X-Men. Having the action focus on a smaller group of people works, but the splitting into even smaller heroes groups did not. The X-Men always being apart hurt their story, but the Avengers stuck together with the Fantastic Four. The main critique I have with this event is that there really aren’t any stakes. The Earth is not in peril, the Universe is not in peril, it’s a pretty small ball concern. Some cool things happen, some costumes change, but apart from Ben being left on Battleworld, nothing much changes. It just doesn’t seem ambitious enough.

Travis: Secret Wars is better than Crisis on Infinite Earths. And, not only because Spider-Man beats up the X-Men in one while the other features Pariah crying and accomplishing nothing. Owie and Marsha 4Evah! Old-Supers and Old-Lois not 4Evah, but sweet in Crisis. Okeh, Crisis isn't that bad. Just mostly.

Duy: Okay, I mean, really, both series had their problems. But Crisis was massive and all-encompassing and made me want to know more about just about everyone, from the Legion of Super-Heroes all the way down to Bat Lash. I can get why that would be a problem — to be honest, I kinda felt that way after Avengers: Age of Ultron. But in comics, that's just how I like it. Secret Wars was full of great concepts that just weren't executed well enough to really hit me, at any given time, plus. Crisis is better drawn, and in a visual medium, that counts for a lot. But I think really, the most important thing is we can look at these two series and remember that everything that's going on today, the big events, the changing status quos, hell, even what the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes are leading to — none of these happen without Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths. And the entire industry knows it, too. When IDW released their big Cartoon Network crossover comic, written by Louise Simonson, you know what they called it?

That's right, Super Secret Crisis War. Now that's a lasting impact.

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