Gravity, Wasp, Henry Pym, Firebird, Alyosha Kravinoff, Medusa, Venom, the Hood and Deathlok. All kidnapped and taken to Battleworld by a being purporting to be the Beyonder. "Slay your enemies and all you desire," he said - so he certainly sounded like the Beyonder. The kidnapped heroes were originally accompanied by Spider-Man (which is why I'm reviewing this rubbish). But it wasn't really Spider-Man, it was the Space Phantom, so I guess the joke's on me. Oh, and Pym's just killed everyone. And the Watcher turned up. Read on if you can bear it.
The issue opens with the Watcher pontificating at length on the "observer effect" and how the act of observing can act to alter the events being observed. This is an important theme of the issue so bear that in mind.
With Pym victorious, the eerie voice of the Beyonder is heard asking what Pym desires. The Beyonder also seems worried by the Watcher's presence, and demands to know why the Watcher is here. Unsurprisingly, Uatu isn't talking so the Beyonder returns his attention to Pym. Pym knows that the Beyonder is long dead, and that this cannot be the real Beyonder; so for his wish he demands to know who the Beyonder really is. And the big reveal is that the "Beyonder" is in fact The Stranger (or more accurately "A" Stranger), which at least explains his connection to the Space Phantom.
The Stranger explains that he took over where the Beyonder left off and "has his reasons" why he is experimenting on Earth's heroes. Then he realises that Pym has deceived him, and the other heroes aren't really dead: just miniaturised and hidden in the palm of Pym's hand. The Stranger says that he is studying humans because he is scared of them. So many events of universal magnitude happen on Earth. Why? What makes humans so special and so resilient? He must know!
Cue the obligatory fight scene. Ordinarily, a bunch of heroes of this calibre would stand no chance against the Stranger. However, the presence of Uatu has got the Stranger worried. Can it be the Watcher has only turned up because this is the fight where the Stranger is finally defeated? This uncertainty forces him to give up, and agree to end his experiments (see - the observer effect at work). Then he rather capriciously destroys the planet and gives the heroes only a few moments to reach the ship home.
They'll never make it in time! Fortunately, Gravity steps in to save the day! He uses his powers to make the other heroes 'fall' around the planet and back to the ship that brought them there. Gravity doesn't join them: he has other work to do. As Pym attempts to get the ship started, Gravity uses his powers to literally hold the planet together! Unfortunately, the strain is too much for him. Gravity makes it back onboard the ship only to die in Firebird's arms.
Cut to the funeral of Greg Willis aka Gravity. All his Battleworld companions are present. Lauren is in tears, sharing her grief with Greg's family. Michael Collins and his family offer their condolences. Parker Robbins (the Hood) tells Lauren what a great guy Greg was. Medusa and Black Bolt give Greg the "highest honour of their people". Everyone says nice things. Even Mac Gargan is hiding in the background, paying his respects.
The series ends with another revelation from the Watcher. He didn't go to Battleworld to witness the defeat of the Stranger, he went to witness the death of Gravity: "... a being of profound destiny whose influence has only just begun. His death, as the world will soon discover, is far from the end of his story..."
This actually isn't a bad issue. It has one enormous, sickening and unforgivable flaw that turns me red with anger and makes me want to beat my fists fruitlessly against the wall. But, if you ignore that, there's much to like.
The Stranger says, "When the apocalypse comes, all that remains will be the roaches and the human beings." I really like the Stranger's motivations in this story, it's a cute idea from McDuffie and I suspect it makes for the backbone of his coming run on Fantastic Four. However, it doesn't make up for the preceding four issues of drivel. He might have flashes of inspiration, but McDuffie doesn't write character scenes very well. That won't work well in the family-dynamic of the FF. Although events in Civil War probably means he'll be writing a completely different FF.
And then there was the plot! There were so many holes in it I thought for moment I was reading an issue of Araña. There's no explanation about all the other heroes that came to Battleworld and were supposedly killed only to be seen back on Earth weeks or months later. There was no explanation of what happened to the Space Phantom at the end of last issue. There was no explanation as to how the ship that blew up in issue #1 was in any state to take the characters home again. You would think if it had been that easy they would have just fixed it and gone home without playing the Beyonder's game.
And what was that unforgivable flaw? The death of Gravity of course! Gravity was the best new character introduced into the Marvel Universe in years! McDuffie took the newby superhero, and suddenly made him experienced and a leader of men. He had him reveal his identity to his girlfriend as an aside, ruining dozens of good story possibilities. And then he killed him off. At least Sean McKeever can leave Marvel for DC with a clear conscience! Where's the respect for the creations of others? I know it looks as though McDuffie is setting Gravity up for some major appearance in Fantastic Four but it isn't the death that irks me so much, I just don't want McDuffie to be writing him. I don't want him to tarnish McKeever's brilliance any more. God, I'm depressed.
And there we have it. "Is there a point to all this?" asks Janet Van Dyne in this issue. Sorry Jan, the answer is no. There has been no point to this series whatsoever. It was a diversion, that turned into a waste of time and then became a chore to read. If you didn't buy this in single issues, I wouldn't recommend the trade.
Two and a half webs for an interesting idea, minus one web for the beastly misuse of Gravity. He deserved better, dammit!
MacDuffie's sequel to this story appeared in Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #544-546. It turns out that Greg Willis didn't die after all, but became "one with the force of gravity". His body is stolen from his grave by the cosmic entity, Epoch. Epoch wants Gravity as the new protector of the universe (since Quasar died in the original Annihilation crossover. To cut a long story short, Gravity refuses the offer but ends up saving Epoch from Galactus. Greg Willis is restored to his original power levels, and returns to Earth with the Fantastic Four. His status quo is completely reset, which makes you wonder why MacDuffie bothered killing him off in the first place.