We’re now a couple weeks into “Secret Wars'” slow takeover. Ongoings have ended or kicked off tie-in arcs and new series have started to emerge. After months of buildup and approximately six hundred teaser images, Marvel’s “Secret Wars” is here and it’s everything we were promised. Sorta. Mostly. Kinda? Hmmm…
I’ve already spent a thousand-plus words in this column talking about how “Secret Wars” #2 won me over. Sure, there was patient and expansive world-building — but Mr. Sinister, my favorite Victorian-era glamrock mad scientist, got to be catty, so, I’m satisfied. The two new “Secret Wars” series that I read this week, “X-Men ’92” and “Inferno,” didn’t disappoint either. So far, “Secret Wars” is more than I thought it would be because, in those two new #1s specifically, it’s giving me exactly what I want.
In a way. Almost. It’s really close…
These two first issues, “X-Men ’92” chapter one and “Inferno” #1, felt like they were written specifically for me. At this point I need a “Previously on IN YOUR FACE JAM” just to explain before every column that the ’90s “X-Men” cartoon got me into both the X-Men and Marvel Comics and that oft-overlooked New Mutants and X-Force members are my favorites. That’s where I’m coming from, so a day that includes a digital-first comic starring the “X-Men” cartoon’s cast and a series featuring Domino and Boomer is the best day.
For a crossover spinning partly out of events in the ’80s “New Mutants” series, I actually don’t have any real nostalgia for “Inferno.” The last time I read it, I was a bit over all the demon-y aspects of the X-Men — but I’ll admit that hearing the enthusiasm for Limbo and Magik in the “Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men” podcast has made me interested in revisiting all those stories. See, positivity is influential! That positivity may have affected my view of “Inferno,” because I actually found the demon-filled setting of Dennis Hopeless and Javier Garron’s series palatable! The series is set in a splinter reality wherein the X-Men did not defeat the Goblin Queen and Limbo merged with Manhattan. A demon-controlled NYC sounds pretty apocalyptic, but colorist Chris Sotomayor keeps the book firmly in the realm of throwback superhero awesomeness by using totally pop colors that evoke the original event’s late ’80s origin while not feeling dated. It’s a gorgeous book.
The real reason “Inferno” works for me, though, is because of the cast and Dennis Hopeless. He’s only dabbled in the X-Men universe over the past few years, but this series looks like it’s going to be as irresistible as “X-Men: Season One” and “Cable and X-Force.” I know this is an alternate reality and that these characters aren’t really my characters, but they all still feel like them — which makes me invest in them. Hopeless’ Domino is the right balance of irreverent and battle-hardened and he writes a great tortured yet noble Colossus. Maybe it’s inaccurate that living five years in a hellish reality didn’t crush Nightcrawler’s spirit or take the sass out of Boomer, but either of those developments would have left me cold. Also, do I need to start a campaign to give Hopeless a book starring Boomer? Because that needs to happen. And Javier Garron should handle art, because dude brought back Greg Capullo’s fantastic hot pink Boomer suit and made it work.
At least it ninety-five percent worked. I swear, I’m going somewhere with this — I’m just teasing it out, not unlike the buildup to “Secret Wars” itself!
My response to the initial “X-Men ’92” announcement was the most excited I’ve been about a comic announcement in a flat out decade. This is the comic I’ve been waiting for since I underwent the universal change that elevates nostalgia to a basic human necessity; I think it’s called “turning thirty.” The more separated and schism’d the X-Men became, the more I just wanted them to pull the old spandex out of their closets and head to the mall. That’s what they do in this issue. I wanted to write this comic. I’ve had daydreams where writing “X-Men ’92” represented the pinnacle of success for me as a writer. You better believe I was very jealous of Chad Bowers and Chris Sims for getting this assignment — and you better believe it when I say they’re perfect for the job.
“X-Men ’92” is fun, in the exact over-the-top way that my beloved animated series was. The issue starts with a trip to the Lazer Hut 2000 and ends with the debut of this reality’s Cassandra Nova — yeah, the animated series universe’s version of a Grant Morrison character. This is a book that includes Wolverine angrily saying, “Who gives a rip? I got shoppin’ to do.” Scott Koblish’s pencils bring the same radical energy I remember from Andrew Wildman’s early ’90s “X-Men Adventures” issues and Matt Milla’s straightforward colors make every hero look exactly like they did when you first fell in love with them. This is nostalgia done right, with delightful nods to continuity (Jubilee’s “Bang, you’re dead!” and the shot of heroes and villains charging at each other) and a compelling new development (the mutant rehabilitation center). This reads like the smartest, best-looking Pizza Hut comic ever — and that’s ridiculously sincere praise.
So what’s off? If I love what I’ve seen so far of “Secret Wars,” why do I have any reservations? What’s the deal, dude? This is the deal: these aren’t the realities they were advertised as being. They’re Battleworld realities. That’s either a minor quibble or a major one, it seems, depending on the series.
Some of those aforementioned teasers promised returns to realities that people remember fondly — like “X-Men ’92.” Others teased a return to status quos through revisiting old events, like “Inferno.” In the case of the alternate realities, I assumed — and I don’t think I’m alone in this — that we’d be returning to those realities again. After reading a few “Secret Wars” debuts it’s clear that we’re not, not really. We’re returning to alternate versions of these alternate realities. This is incredibly nitpicky, sure, but we’re returning to versions of pre-existing alternate realities wherein they’ve always been a part of the just-introduced Battleworld and they’re under Doom’s godlike rule. But that’s the only real change, as far as I can tell; since some of these series are purposefully trading on your nostalgia for those previous realities, the Battleworld/Doom change seems to be the only change. It’s like Dawn’s introduction in Season Five of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — everything else happened just like you remembered it, except now there’s this major new addition, and it’s best if you just go along with it.
This also affects the series that jump back to previous events from main Marvel continuity, like “Inferno.” Now the “Inferno” event took place on Battleworld — which is one point of diversion — and on top of that the X-Men lost. But the former change doesn’t seem to matter as much as the latter change, which makes the issue still pass as a “What If…?” from that era — which is, again, what I though some of these series would be.
This is the only complaint I have with both series. I didn’t mind it in last week’s “A-Force,” because that’s a totally new concept featuring totally new versions of pre-existing characters. But “X-Men ’92” and “Inferno” take place in status quos that I’m very familiar with. “X-Men ’92” is so spot on tonally that I intuitively hear the voice actors while reading it — more so than usual, I mean. Yes, Storm always sounds like she’s shouting about “the elements” and “monorails” when I read her dialogue. The cartoon-accuracy is thrown off when Baron Kelly arrives wearing a Doom-inspired cloak and talking about the Westchester Wars. This looks like the cartoon I love, and then there’s that.
That’s not to say the “Secret Wars-iness” of it all ruins it for me; this event is why we’re getting these so far fantastic books. This Battleworld business is the price we pay, I think, and that seems affordable considering the crazy concepts and quality we look to be getting. I guess I just wish I knew that going in; seeing a cloaked Robert Kelly on a sled pulled by Warwolves was a big — albeit bodacious — surprise.
But I can live with this, because these two issues had me grinning like Jubilee post-laser tag win. Just a few weeks ago, I was ready to use “Secret Wars” as an excuse to take the summer off from most of my ongoings because of my general disinterest in alternate reality stories. Now, after reading both “Secret Wars” #2 and a few more debut issues, my bank account is prepping for a hit. These books might not be quite what I expected, but they might just be exactly what I want.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He makes videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the sketch comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
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