Sep 14, 2015

Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember, Part 3

Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember
Part 3: Pimps, Prostitutes, and Circuit Breaker
Ben Smith

What is the meaning of life? It’s a question many have asked, with no definitive answer to be had. That is, until the year 1985, when Jim Shooter gave us that answer, in the form of a nine issue limited series featuring a jheri curled demigod in a polyester suit. Many readers were not ready for such an answer, or, for the question to even be asked. They shunned this landmark series, decried it as a failure with no discernable entertainment value. They were afraid to admit what it meant for us a species, and what it meant for the future of this planet we call Earth. Secret Wars II is the gateway to us understanding the purpose of life. Yet there are many fans that will tell you that this story sucked.

I aim to prove them wrong. Who’s with me?

Secret Wars II #3
Scripter: Jim Shooter; Penciler: Al Milgrom; Inker: Steve Leialoha; Editor: Bob Budiansky

The Beyonder, having decided last issue to take a permanent physical form and (for the most part) stick to it, finds himself weary with no explanation. A cop wakes him up after he dozes off on a street corner.

The one from beyond wanders off down the street, where a young streetwalker spots him, and sees an opportunity to land a new customer.

Clearly tired, she suggests he get a room with her, so that he can get some sleep, after she “tucks him in” of course. (I can’t express to you how overjoyed I am that a prostitute plays a key role in the most ambitious comic book crossover ever attempted, at the time. I don’t have a good explanation why. We’ll file it under, “Spider-Man teaches him to poop.”) He creates a bar of gold out of thin air, to offer her as payment, which freaks her out and she backs away.

Never one to ignore any advice, the Beyonder heads over to the Columbus Hotel, apparently a place of ill repute. The manager pegs him for an easy score, and gives him a room for the night with no payment required up front, planning to sneak in later and steal any money he has.

The Beyonder heads to his room, and still not understanding much of anything, hits the floor for some rest. He’s rudely awakened by a group of gangsters and pimps, employers of the prostitute “Toots” that he met in the alley.

The gangster, named Vinnie, was obviously intrigued by the story of the gold bar created from nothing, and after a quick explanation from the Beyonder about his recent past, is the first person to see this as a real opportunity to take advantage of a supremely powerful being.

Vinnie takes it upon himself to give the Beyonder the name “Frank,” and has his crew guard the door so that he can get some rest, but not before getting that “tuck in” from Toots (the only responsible assumption is that sex took place).

After a restful sleep, Vinnie and the gang take Frank out for a real meal, at a nice restaurant. Only this time, they’re there to teach him what to eat and what not to eat, and the joy of utensils. (It’s a shame that it took a bunch of criminals to really sit down and take the time to teach this omnipotent being, instead of pawning him off onto anyone else, like so many of the “heroes” did. That says something about our society. Yes, I do believe Shooter speaks on behalf of society. He has been duly deputized by a convening authority of no more than eight, but no less than six individuals of inarguable virtue. One of those individuals being Lisa Lisa, of the Cult Jam.)

Postmeal, Frank gets an advanced education in the pleasures of the flesh, from multiple partners. (All jokes aside, last issue he learned the basic tenets of being a physical being. Eating, excreting, and protection from the elements. This issue, his lesson continues with other basic pillars in the house of humanity, sleep and sex. Two of my favorite things, arguably in that order. Followed closely by puppetry. I can only assume Shooter will cover that in future issues.)

The following day, they take Frank out for some new clothes (introducing him to the criminally ‘80s “Miami Vice” suits that he would become infamous for among comics fans).

The next several days would see Frank using his powers to rough up the competition, curing Vinnie’s stable of girls of any STDs they might be carrying, and restoring Vinnie’s wife to look just like she looked when Vinnie married her (in other words, skinny).

Later, at the racetrack, when it looks like the horse Vinnie bet on might lose, Frank uses his powers to make him win. This is the one time when Vinnie didn’t want to win by extraordinary means, as he believes cheating takes the fun out of it. He then gives Frank an education in gambling.

Days later, Frank is now sporting a new penthouse home, and a new hairdo (a look described as very “Michael Jackson”).

I wonder how much of the long term derision of this series stems from the admittedly very ridiculous appearance of the Beyonder. No, you’re right, it’s probably because it’s a story of questionable quality. Regardless, nothing is as infectious as the passion of a fellow fan. Except maybe herpes.

Frank continues to get further embroiled in the many different avenues of Vinnie’s illegal enterprise. After assisting with a shipment of drugs, he stops by a familiar corner to say hi to the girl that started him on this path, Toots.

Toots is surprised to see him, as in her mind, she’s not worthy of his attention. He assures her that people are just people to him, none more worthy than another. (Unlike the Vision, who is obviously worthy of lifting Mjolnir.)

One day, while visiting Vinnie at his expansive estate, Vinnie does something unexpected. He cuts Frank loose. Vinnie believes he’s taught Frank everything he can, and that he should strike out on his own. That he’s meant for bigger things. (Vinnie continues to prove that he’s a better human being than both Reed Richards and Peter Parker. Except for the pimping and drug dealing, that is.)

Frank does just that. Frank, now running his own enterprise, continues to enjoy the finer things in life, like boating, food, and women. (If only all of us could make our bloated gut disappear with but a thought. And by all of us, I mean me. Sob.)

Still desiring more, he decides to take over the entire criminal empire of the city, bending the mighty Kingpin to his will. Finding that to be too easy, he moves up to the United States as a whole, taking control of the country, including the President and the military.

From there, the next logical progression is to take over the rest of the world, subjecting everyone on the planet to his control with but a thought. Still not satisfied, he then exerts control over every molecule and particle in the world. Anything and everything, living or inanimate, is under his complete control.

Meanwhile, in a Denver suburb, “the second most powerful being in the universe” Owen Reece, notices that his girlfriend Marsha’s molecules are being controlled by some outside force, along with the rest of the molecules in the room. He writes it off as the Beyonder “messing around,” and liberates her and the rest of their apartment from his control. So that they can go back to watching network television (which is the important thing in life).

Next, we get the greatest moment in this comic. Greater even than the Beyonder having sex with multiple prostitutes. Frank talks to Circuit Breaker, an original character created by Marvel for the Transformers comic they were publishing at the time. She explains to him how she was crippled by robots that seem to be alive and act of their own volition, but are obviously soulless mockeries of life with no true free will. (This means that this comic was coming out right about the time I was discovering the greatness of comics through Marvel’s Transformers series. Circuit Breaker debuted in issue #9 of that series, and I started with #13. This has no bearing on anything, let us continue.)

Frank has complete control over almost everything on the planet, and yet he is still not content. He pays a visit to Vinnie, to ask him why this might be. Vinnie, being a loyal slave to the will of the Beyonder, has no advice to offer.

Next he visits Toots. She begins to give him a similar obedient spiel, so he frees her from his control, taking to heart Circuit Breaker’s words from earlier, about beings not having free will. (The impact of the Transformers can be felt in any medium, at all times, throughout the course of human history.)

Toots thanks him for treating her like a decent person before, which inspired her to get out of the street life. She went and got a real job, and is trying to be a decent member of society. She doesn’t have to hate herself anymore, and it’s all thanks to him.

The Beyonder, intrigued by Toots’ attempts to better her life because of his (inadvertent) actions, releases everyone and everything from his control, leaving nothing but a shadow of a memory of his rule.

The Beyonder visits Avengers mansion, but only Jarvis is there to meet him. The Beyonder has learned that conquering the world did not bring an end to his desire. It only created a greater sense of unfulfillment, of emptiness. Possessions did not make him feel complete. However, moments ago he experienced the rewarding experience of gratitude from another being. It led him to want to talk to the Avengers, who also possess great power, but don’t use it to conquer.

After Jarvis accidentally mentions that the Avengers are in the Skrull galaxy, the Beyonder disappears, joining them on an adventure covered elsewhere (in the Avengers comic, would be a good bet). He returns to New York some time later.

He remembers Vinnie’s words about sport and gambling, and wonders if the key to a fulfilling life is found in the trying, not the doing.

The Beyonder has a new plan, one that will require a lawyer. A lawyer named Matt Murdock. (This cannot be a good thing for Matt.)

The greatest journey ever documented by man continues. The Beyonder began with a desire to understand human life. He learned that experiencing life first hand would be a better teacher than merely observing. The best way to experience life was to take physical human form, which required basic knowledge of how to maintain that form, to include eating, sleeping, excreting, and shelter. Introduced to the concept of money by individuals like Luke Cage and Vinnie, he embarked upon a path to satisfy his desires through the accumulation of wealth and material possessions. However, no matter how many possessions he accumulated, it did not satisfy his desire for more. What he did enjoy, was the feeling of gratitude he felt from helping another human being. Having exploring everything he could about the concept of ownership, might he now embark upon a path of altruism and selflessness?

I like that the Beyonder’s maturation involves first learning the basic principles of life. Then, after understanding more about the world, he moves on to more selfish goals, like satisfying his own personal desires. It’s no mistake that he’s shown stuffing his face with food as often as he is. Or enjoying the company of many different ladies. (He also experiences zero consequences for his overindulgence, such as obesity or crabs.) Now, it appears he might be looking to find happiness in others. It’s a pretty generalized progression of a person from infancy, to life as a young adult, to starting a family. (Not that starting a family is, or should be, the goal for every person, only that it’s one interpretation of this particular sequence of fictional events.)

Again, this continues to be one of the most intriguing concepts you could ever imagine for a superhero crossover. Especially considering the only “superhero” characters to really appear in this issue were Molecule Man and Circuit Breaker. (I can’t possibly express the joy I got from Circuit Breaker playing a key role in the ongoing education of the Beyonder. In a way, it was her words that prompted the Beyonder to remove his control over the planet. That means you owe your freedom to the Transformers. Pay homage, fleshlings.) Can you imagine that ever happening today? An entire issue of an event comic where no superheroes even appear?

Next week, I’m guessing Matt Murdock has a bad day.

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