Back in 1985 Marvel produced a little series called Secret Wars, that became the template for every big multi-character crossover that followed. Now, a mere twenty-one years later, Spider-Man is returning to Battleworld and this time he is accompanied by an assorted collection of weirdoes and social malcontents. But is all quite what it seems?
On an alien world, a weary man is digging the latest three graves in a massive cemetery on a blasted plain. A skrull, a kree and someone who looks like the Bi-beast is consigned to the earth. These deaths are the result of a great cosmic experiment that has been going on for some time. The grave-digger has been trying to limit the blood-shed and help some of the combatants to escape, he has been less than successful. The rewards on offer, the temptations, were too great to stop the most recent arrivals from killing each other. He is beginning to lose hope, as the cycle is set to begin again.
Cut to New York and Greg Willis (aka Gravity). There's been some changes for our hero since the end of the Gravity limited series, and all for the better. Not only did he scrape through into his second college semester, he's back together with Lauren. Will Gravity come between them again? Not a bit of it: Greg has told Lauren his secret identity and she's perfectly accepting of his double life. The couple's exuberant canoodling, is interrupted by a fire- wielding supervillain going on the rampage in the street outside. Donning his costume, Gravity flies out to deal with this threat and demonstrates that he is no longer a rookie, but a superhero to be taken seriously.
Responding to a tip from the local police, Gravity heads to the park where a strange alien-looking device can be found. He finds himself drawn toward the strange structure, there is a brilliant flash of light and Greg is rendered unconscious.
He awakens some time later on an alien space ship. Standing around him are a motley collection of superheroes, antiheroes and villains: Hank Pym, the Wasp, Firebird, Medusa of the Inhumans, Venom (Mac Gargan), Kraven the Hunter (Alyosha Kravinoff), The Hood and the ever amazing, oft sensational and occasionally spectacular Spider-Man. Of course, put this many super-powered egos in the same space and they immediately descend to bickering. Alyosha and the Hood take an instant dislike to one another. Medusa calms everyone down long enough to listen to the Wasp. Janet reminisces of time that she and a few dozen heroes and villains were kidnapped in a very similar space ship by a being called The Beyonder...
As if on cue, a deep voice booms out of the starry void around them: "I am from beyond! Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours! Nothing is impossible for me to accomplish!!" Sound familiar to anyone? It is the Beyonder - a being of fantastic power, the living embodiment of a cosmic cube! Of course, the Beyonder who assembled all those heroes and villains for the original Secret Wars has since come to Earth, turned into a human, turned back into a cosmic cube, changed gender and so on and so forth...
While most of our heroes stand around stupefied by events, the Hood decides to take the Beyonder at his word. He turns invisible and prepares to attack the other players in the game. Unfortunately for him, he's about as offensive as a damp teabag in this company, and Alyosha takes him out with ease. But the Hood is not the only one who things the Beyonder's promises are worth something.
Mac Gargan doesn't believe they can negotiate with the Beyonder. They have no choice but to "slay their enemies". He doesn't have a problem with most of the assembled (he barely knows them), only one person on the space ship could be realistically deemed his enemy. He attacks Spider-Man. Spidey dodges Gargan's attacks with his usual agility, firing off webbing and witticisms with equal speed. But something goes wrong. Perhaps Spidey forgets that he is not fighting Venom on the Scorpion, but a terrible combination of the two. Gargan's symbiote creates a wickedly sharp stinger that impales the webslinger from behind. Spider-Man collapses to the floor and dies in Medusa's arms.
An elated Venom appeals to the Beyonder to give him what's coming to him. The Beyonder doesn't oblige, but the other heroes on the space ship aim to do just that. Medusa leads the charge.
Well, that's an ending that gets your attention. Killing off Spider-Man at the end of the first act is somewhat of a surprise, but it is also a gimmick that has the potential to backfire badly. Obviously Spider-Man can't stay dead, so the reader knows that either a way will be found to bring him back to life, it's an parallel dimension or it isn't really him in the suit. Any of the above is a bit of a cop-out, but something you should expect from a comic that puts shock over substance.
Now, I don't mean that observation to be a criticism. There's nothing wrong with a bit of mindless fun from time to time, and Beyond certainly has that in spades. There's something very entertaining about this bizarre pastiche of Secret Wars. It's not a story that's going to have any great significance in the wider Marvel Universe, nor give us any profound insights into its characters; but it is going to keep its readers happily diverted each month and you can't ask much more than that.
I'm also pleased to see that, as the narrator, Gravity has taken the position as the de facto leading character of the issue. It's no secret that I was a big fan of the Gravity limited series by Sean McKeever and Mike Norton, and I'm really pleased to see the character getting some more time in the spotlight.
I have to confess to feeling a bit cheated by the turn his life has taken. Greg Willis was the quintessential down-on-his-luck superhero - just like Spider-Man used to be in those Halcyon days of yore. Now he seems to have got it all together. I would really have liked to see how he patched things up with Lauren, and watched him agonise over whether to reveal his identity to her. But then I would really have liked to see a Gravity ongoing series as well.
However, that's my problem. What the writer didn't show us about Gravity before the series started can hardly colour my opinion of Beyond. This is a good little comic and well worth picking up, even if Spidey is dead all ready.
A good solid tale of superheroics with just the right amount of pathos and melodrama. It's not going to win any awards, but it's better than a lot of the dross out there. Three webs.
Are you wondering who all these people are? Hank Pym (aka Giant Man, aka Ant Man) and Janet van Dyne (aka the Wasp) are far from nobodies. They were founding members of the Avengers who took a sabbatical from the team at the end of the Avengers: Disassembled arc from a few years ago. The upcoming Civil War puts them back in the thick of things.
Alyosha Kravinoff (also known as the second Kraven the Hunter) was introduced in the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) as the second son of the original Kraven the Hunter. Alyosha came the United States to find out who his father was, and wound up masquerading as the original Kraven. That story line was quietly dropped and he has been most recently written as a Hollywood- obsessed international playboy. He's had several run-ins with Spider-Man and they're currently on good terms.
The Hood's real name is Parker Robbins. He's a high school drop out, obsessed with the trappings of being a supervillain. To that end he stole a magic hood and cloak and caused no end of trouble. His only appearances before now have been in his own short-lived comic written for Marvel's MAX imprint.
The Venom we see here is not Eddie Brock. This is Mac Gargan who, up until recently, was better known as the Scorpion. Gargan has a long and tumultuous history with the webslinger. When Eddie Brock put his symbiote up for auction in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #9, it eventually found its way into Gargan's hands. As Venom, Gargan is much more powerful than he ever was as the Scorpion.
Firebird is an ex-Avenger who gained powers form a radioactive meteorite. She has pyrotechnic abilities and is apparently immortal (although that is open to debate). She's had several adventures with both the Avengers and the West Coast Avengers, and was an active member of the team back in 2001-2002.
Gravity is a newby superhero is recently moved to New York from Wisconsin. See my reviews for the Gravity limited series to learn more about him. And then go and buy the trade.
Finally, Medusa has been knocking around the Marvel Universe for decades. The Queen of the Inhumans and wife of the fearsome Black Bolt she is something of a Marvel mainstay. She also looks destined to play a fair role in Civil War.