Comics : Beyond #4

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This review was first published on: 2006.

Background...

The Beyonder has kidnapped wave after wave of super-powered entities and transported them to an alien world. There they are to do battle, and the winner will gain anything they desire. The current batch consists of Henry Pym, the Wasp, Firebird, Gravity, Medusa, Alyosha Kravinoff, Venom, the Hood and (apparently) Spider-Man. After Venom killed Spidey, the heroes crashed in a dark jungle. They were befriended by Deathlok, who has been trapped on this world for some time. On their way to the relatively safety of a near-by city, our heroes discover that Spider-Man isn't really dead. Then they discover that Spider-Man isn't really Spider-Man; he is the Space Phantom.

In Detail...

"Phantasm"
Beyond #4
Dec 2006 : SM Guest
Summary: Space Phantom Appearing as Spider-Man
Editor:  Tom Bervoort
Writer:  Dwayne McDuffie
Artist:  Scott Kolins
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Articles: Gravity, Venom III

The Wasp delivers some crucial exposition regarding the Space Phantom. Gravity realises that Spider-Man isn't actually dead (merely imprisoned) and now that the Space Phantom has returned to his true form Spidey is free, and is probably back on Earth. The Space Phantom reveals that he was gifted into the service of the Beyonder by Immortus, in order to save his own skin.

Some of the group want to find a way to use the Space Phantom to punish the Beyonder. Deathlok says that dozens have died on Battleworld, and that the Beyonder is conducting a sick and twisted experiment. However, the majority of the abductees just want to go home, and Medusa thinks that they can trade the Space Phantom to his master for safe passage.

Of course, the Space Phantom isn't going willingly. He transforms himself into Xemnu the Titan (an old Hulk villain who looks like the Abominable Snowman). An enormous fight ensues. The group is completely outmatched. It is up to Henry Pym to save the day, shooting 'Xemnu' with a powerful sedative that he invented on the fly from one of his pocket labs. However, as everyone is standing around congratulating each other, the Space Phantom takes the form of Northstar and flies off at supersonic speed.

However, this plays exactly into Pym's hands. The sedative injection also enables the team to track the Space Phantom between dimensions. Looking particularly smug, Pym pulls out a door from his pocket that he explains (in a particularly incomprehensible fashion) allows them to go to Limbo.

All eight of our hapless heroes head through into the mind-numbing emptiness of Limbo. There they discover the inert body of Northstar, which means the Space Phantom is imitating him. Their plan is to camp around Northstar's body and when the Space Phantom blinks back into Limbo when he switches, they'll nab him.

Unfortunately, this plan has one major drawback. While everyone is sitting in Limbo, the door is unguarded back in the jungle on Battleworld. Venom turns up, destroys the door and traps all his companions in another dimension. He then loudly informs the Beyonder that the game is over, and that he is the winner.

In General...

The fight with the Space Phantom lasts eleven pages. Eleven pages. That's more than half the issue. Coming hot on the heals of an equally lengthy (and pointless) fight against Dragon Man, I am beginning to see why the plot is moving with the speed of continental drift.

The use of the Space Phantom in this book is rather perplexing. This limited series is evidently aimed at people like me, who have been reading Marvel Comics for years and have more than a passing understanding of how the universe works and who all the characters are. Can I be the first to raise my hand and say that the Space Phantom's powers don't work this way?

In order for the Space Phantom to possess an entity he must be in extremely close proximity to his target. Janet actually says this during the course of the issue. So how does he take on the form of either Xemnu the Titan or Northstar? Neither of them are anywhere near the Space Phantom. Also, when the Space Phantom takes a new or his own form, the target he displaced into Limbo reappears at the Space Phantom's current position. Spider-Man should have turned up at the Space Phantom's feet on Battleworld. Finally, the Space Phantom does not return to Limbo when he changes form, making Pym's entire plan pointless.

These are unforgivable continuity gaffs in a comic aimed at people who care about this sort of thing. Unless of course, this is deliberate on McDuffie's part and it is all an elaborate clue as to what is really going on. Perhaps everyone on the team is really a space phantom, although that would be something of a cop out.

Rather more worrying is McDuffie's over-reliance on technological gobbledygook to drive the plot along. He is using Pym as a cross between the X-Man Forge and Sport Billy; having him come up with hi-tech solutions to intractable obstacles. This is lazy writing. This is the writer admitting that he can't think of a logical way to get the heroes from A to B, so he drags in a technological macguffin from left field to do the job for him. This doesn't bode well for McDuffie's upcoming run on Fantastic Four where the temptation to use Reed Richards in such a fashion will be overwhelming.

On the whole, this is not an impressive issue. Firebird continues to smoulder when Pym tries to impress the Wasp, but the plot doesn't receive any forward momentum. After four issues the story has devolved into a predicable 'bicker- fight-bicker-fight' routine that shows no sign of getting us anywhere.

Overall Rating...

Some lazy plotting to get the heroes into their current dilemma. There's nothing special about this issue. Two and half webs.