Secret Wars Roundup

I probably should’ve mentioned this earlier, but tie-ins to “Secret Wars” came in three different flavors.  The titles branded with “Last Days” showed how their characters reacted to the end of the Marvel Universe (such as it was).  “Battlezones” gave us a look at the goings-on in different regions while the main event was going on, while “Warzones” did the same but with the aim of setting up future stories in the reborn Marvel Universe.  It’s those last two kinds that I want to talk about here with “Siege,” “Thors,” and “X-Men ‘92.”

Mining crossovers for good story material can be a tricky proposition, unless you’re Kieron Gillen.  Between his work on “Journey Into Mystery” and “Uncanny X-Men,” the writer turned in work that was arguably better than the “Fear Itself” and “Avengers vs. X-Men” events that spawned them.  That’s not the case here with “Siege,” though it serves as a mostly good capstone for the writer’s work in the Marvel Universe.  Rather than rehash the “Avengers vs. Norman Osborn” conflict this series takes its name from, Gillen channels the spirit of his short-lived “S.W.O.R.D.” series as we see Abigail Brand once again faced with an impossible task.  That would be overseeing the Shield wall that protects the Northern parts of Battleworld from the undead, otherworldly, and Ultron-related nastiness in the South.  Things are bad even though she has the likes of Kang, America Chavez, Katherine Bishop, Leonardo Da Vinci, and several hundred clones of Scott Summers (the “Endless Summers”) on her side.  Then she finds out that the wall is destined to fall in a couple of days as a result of someone named Thanos.

“Siege” is both a “greatest hits” collection for the writer as well as a showcase for all of the ideas that he either couldn’t get to or were just too crazy for the Marvel Universe.  While it’s great seeing Brand and Unit here again (and bonus points for the person who had the bright idea to round out this collection with the two-part story from “Uncanny X-Men” featuring the manipulative genocidal robot), things like Da Vinci and his Enlightenment Cannon and his new take on the Fury are genuinely inspired.  Gillen also digs deeper into the conversation between Thanos and Ben Grimm that sets up the destruction of the Shield to great results.

My only complaint with this story is that I’m not a fan of artist Filipe Andrade’s style which shoots for expressionistic and comes off looking rushed and unfinished.  Better are the double-page spreads from the likes of James Stokoe, Juan Jose Ryp, Mike Kaluta, and Bill Sienkiewicz — any of whom I would’ve loved to see handle full art chores for this series.  Even with the disappointing art, this series shows how great a fit Gillen was for the Marvel Universe.  The man deserves all of the creative and financial success he’s seeing with his creator-owned work (along with “Darth Vader”), but I’m really going to miss seeing him work his magic in this particular universe.

Jason Aaron, on the other hand, will be around here for a while yet with his commitments to writing “Doctor Strange” and “Thor.”  I’m sure he’ll also deliver much better stories than “Thors” which actually winds up being less entertaining than the two issues from Walt Simonson featuring the “Frog of Thunder” that are included to round out this collection.  It’s not that the concept behind this miniseries is bad:  We get an inside look at the Battleworld police force of Thors as Ultimate Thor works to solve the mystery of a serial killer who’s killing only one person in all the different regions.  That person is Jane Foster.  It’s played as a police procedural (dubbed “Thor and Order” on the back cover, though I prefer “Law and Thorder”) and filled out with Aaron’s brand of over-the-top trappings as Ultimate Thor’s reputation is built on arresting the likes of Hulks and Ghost Riders.

The procedural format is followed dutifully and even allows for some inspired moments such as when Ultimate Thor interrogates Loki.  Yet the story never really takes off into must-read territory, we’re never given a proper explanation as to why these Jane Fosters are being killed, and there’s an awful plot hole near the end of the story involving the killer and his worthiness that is handwaved away.  While the current Thor does play a role here, it doesn’t appear to be of that much relevance to the story Aaron is telling in her title.  Frankly, I would’ve liked to have seen her play a more central role here.  Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to see her investigate the serial killing of… herself!  At least the miniseries does feature some slick art from Chris Sprouse, with Goran Sudzuka pitching in for the middle two issues, that makes things like Groot Thor fun to see.  Still, this isn’t Aaron’s best work and it’s something that I can only recommend to completists in the end.

Between the eight million copies of “X-Men #1” and the premiere of the animated series back in the early 90’s, you could argue that was the peak of the franchise in the public mindshare.  That’s what writers Chad Bowers and Chris Sims are attempting to tap into with “X-Men ‘92 vol. 0:  Warzones!” as we get the cast of the animated series dealing with an all-new threat in Battleworld.  With the “Westchester Wars” behind them, the team — made up of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Storm, Beast, Gambit, Rogue, and Jubliee — has little to do besides hone their skills with games of lazer tag at the local mall.  That is, until a rogue sentinel attacks and they’re informed by Baron (Senator) Robert Kelly that the “evil mutants” from that conflict have been taken to Clear Mountain for purposes of reformation.  Sensing something isn’t right with this plan, the team takes a trip out to the facility themselves to get some answers from its director Cassandra Nova.

If you didn’t recognize that name, then this may not be the story for you.  Nova is from Grant Morrison’s “X-Men” run, but she’s been re-configured quite well to fit into the context of the animated series.  That being said, the story Bowers and Sims are telling requires both familiarity with the X-comics at their commercial heyday, the animated series, and America’s Bureau of Standards and Practices (not the Bureau of Super-Powers) in order to get all the jokes here.  I actually fall into that category and most of this miniseries was pretty entertaining as a result.  Particularly when a domesticated, family friendly version of Wolverine breaks free of his brainwashing after he can’t bust out his claws to save a woman and she tells him to get Cyclops to rescue her instead.  Bowers and Sims have a great understanding of the characters in this context, and artist Scott Koblish is clearly in on the joke as well, yet they’re targeting a very specific range of fandom here.  If you’re like me, then give this series a shot.  Maybe the ongoing series as well.  Otherwise, it’s probably best to leave this one on the shelf.

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