She pointed out the two factors she hated most about Secret Wars Journal, and I asked to borrow it, to read and review for my blog later. My friends is, by the way, my number one–and, um, only source of Secret Wars comics at the moment. I'm extremely interested in the whole thing, but not $4-per-20-pages interested.
I suppose we should back up a bit, though. When Marvel began its new era of line-wide crossover event stories with Civil War in 2006, it also launched a companion, anthology series, Civil War: Frontline. That series compiled stories from various points-of-view around the Marvel Universe, while the main series focused on the events of the story itself: Frontline is where one could find out what the average man on the street of the Marvel Universe might think of the goings-on, or where one could find out how a minor character was affected by the Civil War storyline proper.
It was a good idea, really; it capitalized on interest in the main storyline, it gave a whole bunch of creators a great showcase for their work and it helped flesh out the importance of the event, as it wasn't just something affecting the characters with their own books, but all of the characters in the Marvel Universe (or, at least a lot of them).
Such companion series, generally street-level in focus, have accompanied most of Marvel's event series since, and it's been amusing to watch what a hard time Marvel has apparently had in coming up with titles for such series, and in distinguishing them from the series they're meant to be companions to.
My favorite was AVX: Vs, the logo of which appeared to be "Avengers Vs. X-Men," which was the title of the book it was tying into; the "v" in AVX stood for "Vs.," of course, too. By that point, they gave up on trying to think of different angles for the companion series, however, and treated that one as the comic book equivalent of deleted scenes from a DVD, as the comic didn't contain stories, just extended versions of fight scenes that appeared in Avengers Vs. X-Men.
|Can you tell at a glance which of these is the main series Avengers Vs. X-Men and which is the tie-in, AVX: Vs...?|
Well, Marvel's latest event series is so big it gets two companion series: Secret Wars Journal and Secret Wars: Battleworld.
It doesn't really matter much; they both seem to perform the same function. The premise of Secret Wars, as the 52-word introduction on each credits page declares, is that "The Multiverse was destroyed!" and that all that remains is "A massive, patchwork planet composed of the fragments of worlds that no longer exist."
In practice, this appears to mean that Marvel told all of its editors to "go nuts" while Jonathan Hickman is writing Secret Wars, and they in turn told their various creative teams to "go nuts," and so we have all kinds of pretty nutty temporary titles.
Secret Wars Journal operates in the same fashion: Totally random stories set on "Battleworld" (i.e. the Marvel Universe gone mad), only there are two short ones per issue by various creators, and they should be able to nuttier than many of the other titles, as they only have to sustain a 10-page narrative, rather than the 20-pages of the handful of Secret Wars-related one-shots, or the 120-pages or so of the longer miniseries.
So we're up to speed then?
The cover story is called "The Arrowhead," and it is written by Pru Shen and drawn by Ramon Bachs. In the first panel, we're told that the setting here is "King James' England," and a caravan is talking about The Arrowhead, who is basically Robin Hood. And is also secretly aristocrat Lady Kate of Bishop (who really should wear a mask or something when doing her thieving). She rides with a never named blonde guy and a magician named William.
Marvel fans will, of course, recognize the trio as Hawkeye Kate Bishop, Wiccan Billy Kaplan and Hulkling Teddy Altman from Young Avengers (although Kate might be more familiar to many current comic readers as the other Hawkeye, the one who appeared in every other issue of Matt Fraction, David Aja, Annie Wu and company's Hawkeye comic).
So we get an info dump: Kate is Arrowhead, who robs from the rich and she and her men are going to steal a magic orb of some kind from "The Punisher Sheriff" (Frank Castle is the Sheriff of Nottingham...?), but a trap is set for them and then the "story" suddenly ends, Shen having run out of panels, I guess, with a "See more of Lady Kate in Siege #1!"
So yeah, fuck that comic book. If you went in expecting a comic book about Kate Bishop as Robin Hood in a dress, that's gotta be pretty disappointing; me, I knew there were two stories in the issue, and it still seemed extremely abrupt and ending...in fact, even using the word "ending" to describe it is pretty generous. It's basically just a preview for a comic book that may or may not even exist yet (I don't really know what Siege is going to entail, but I hope it ends up being better than the comic it takes its name from). Honestly, about 75% of those eight-page previews that DC published in May to hype their "DCYou" initiative offered fuller, more complete and more compelling narratives than "Arrowhead."
The second half is a complete story, albeit a rather weird one. Set in "Egyptia," this one is called "We Worship What We Don't Understand" and is written by Matthew Rosenberg and drawn by Luca Pizzari. I'm not familiar with the setting, if it's one imported from somewhere familiar in the Marvel Multiverse, but it appears to be basically the Egypt of the book of Exodus, with the Israelites swapped out for mutants? The Ten Commandments or even Prince of Egypt, but with the X-Men sounds like the best idea ever, and really one that needs more than ten pages to fulfill ("Let my people go, bub").
The mutants are oppressed by the god Khonshu (the made-up Egpytian deity from Marvel's various Moon Knight comics*) and her worshippers. On this particular night, Wolverine is going to lead Shadowcat, Colossus and Nightcrawler to the goddess, so they can kill her. Wolverine's contact is a Moon Knight named Spector, but things don't go as expected, as Spector and other Moon Knights transform into Werewolf By Night-looking werewolves and fight the ancient Eyptian-ized X-Men in eighteen silent panels of brutal, dynamic action and violence running across a three-tiered, two-page spread.
There's a bit of shrugging philosophy from Khonshu, and an ironic, twist ending of the sort one might expect from an anthology comic. In that regard, while this is no longer than "Arrowhead," it at least tells a complete story, with a beginning, middle and end, has at least a few ideas to it, and is structured satisfyingly.
It's additionally a nice showcase for Pizzari. Bachs does a decent job in "The Arrowhead," but doesn't get much to do. Pizzari, on the other hand, gets to redesign, like, all of the X-Men, as well as draw lots of characters in action. Of those designs, some are just details glimpsed in passing, but they're fun ones: Bishop with an ankh tattoo over his eye rather than his traditional "M," Emma Frost still barely covering her breasts, even though now she's got mummy-like wrappings and a cape an,d, best of all, Cable's big, Moses-y beard. (Although in the X-Men version of the Book of Exodus, lets call it The Book of X-odus**, I still insist that Wolverine should play Moses.)
I remember "Egpytia" appearing on one the Battleworld maps I saw online or in the comic shop (which it might have been nice to see in these comics, actually), so I assume this isn't the only glimpse of that "domain" we'll see in the course of Secret Wars, but the ending for all of these characters seems pretty...final, so I don't know if we'll see ancient Egptian (or Egyptia-ian) X-Men again or not.
Despite the various pleasures of the second story, it is still only a good story in relation to the first; I mean, there's nothing wrong with or bad about it, it's just a competently-written, well-drawn story. It is, in other words, the least we should be able to expect from a comic book from Marvel Entertainment in the year 2015. And it follows a weird-ass stealth advertainment piece for Siege. For four goddam dollars.
So, had I paid for this, I think I would have to agree: Fuck this comic.
*Please note: I am corrected in the comments section, as I so often am.
**I would also accept The Book of X-Men-odus.