Thursday, March 3, 2011

Intro to Comics: "BEYOND!"

            If you are a fan of comic books then you might know that last week Dwayne McDuffie died do to surgical complications.  He was an acclaimed writer of comics, having created the original character of Static, and having written for Justice League, both the cartoon and the comic.  He was also a writer for Marvel on occasion and did one of my favorite miniseries ever for the company, "BEYOND!"

Buy it.
            A long while ago an event took place in the Marvel Universe that could have been penned by Gene Roddenberry for all the laziness of premise it presented, that comic was "Marvel Super Heroes: Secret Wars".  In it, a being from beyond the bounds of our universe called The Beyonder, uses his godlike powers to gather most of the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe, along with the god called Galactus, to have a good old fashioned good versus evil game of war.  Doctor Doom, managing to keep his priorities straight through all the chaos manages to look past the conflict and instead of killing all the heroes by leading all the villains, he instead invents a machine that steals the Beyonder's powers.  Needless to say the power is too much for him and eventually the status quo is returned and the Beyonder disappears for a while only to return in a stupid outfit and squander any dignity that he had left in "Secret Wars II".

Seriously, this is the Beyonder.  *Sigh*
            Thing is "BEYOND!" took the idea of a godlike chess master and limited the scope, rather than getting everybody in the Marvel universe that has ever had an action figure and throwing them together so that no one gets adequate screen time for the fans to appreciate the story at all, "BEYOND!" instead grabbed only a handful of obscure characters along with Venom and Spider-man so casual readers would buy the book based on the cover, cause god forbid anybody buy a book that only has Hank Pym, Medusa, and Deathlok in it.

            The story's small cast allows each of them, especially Venom, Hank Pym, Medusa, Red Hood, Gravity, and Deathlok to all have moments of awesome and to really showcase characters that do not get enough time to explore the spotlight.  The overarching mystery of the book is who is holding the contest, as while they claim to be the Beyonder, the toned down and mysterious nature of the figure suggests that it isn't, because by this time the Beyonder was an ostentatious jackass.

Cameos Ahoy!  But since nobody but me knows who half these guys are,the idea of them being some name drop to get fans giggling seems unlikely.
            The action is fun, the characters are interesting, the setting is exotic and takes turns through the really out there, the art is one of my favorites as I think that Scott Collins doesn't get enough laurels for his work, and while the ultimate resolution is a bit of a weird "Who the Fuck is that?" moment if you don't read comics, there is an epic moment of sacrifice at the end that leaves the door open to more adventures down the line (and the story does continue when McDuffie wrote for "Fantastic Four")

            But here is the thing, shit happens in this book.  No name characters means you can kill people for pathos and editors won't knock the idea down because "you can't kill Spiderman, he makes us too much money."  Each of the characters is properly built up so that you want them to succeed, it doesn't just bank on you knowing them, even while it refers back to past adventures.  You are shown a glimpse into possible adventures from the past that sound cool, and that you can go and find, continuity bait as it were.  That is cool.

Heroes sometimes lose.

            This is one of my favorite miniseries and I recommend it highly as the best McDuffie work I have read in comic form.  Like I said before.  Dwayne, you will be missed.

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