Waiting for the Trade – Beyond

Waiting for the Trade

Beyond

by Dwayne McDuffie
& Scott Kolins

collects Beyond #1 – 6

 

Why I Bought This: I
love Secret Wars and this is a
revisiting of that concept with the added bonus of being published as part of
the aftermath of Annihilation; one of
the biggest high points in recent comics and the history of cosmic Marvel.
The Plot: A group
of (D-list) heroes and villains are whisked off to an alien planet by the
Beyonder and told to fight to the death.

Spoilers follow after the break. I will advise there are
some fun plot twists in this story and you can buy this trade for pennies on
Amazon if you want to read it for yourself first.

 

Chapter 1 – We start with an unknown man digging graves as
far as the eye can see. Cut to NYC where Gravity is fighting crime when he
learns of a mysterious structure in Central Park.
He approaches and is teleported onto on orbital space ship alongside the heroes
Spider-man, Medusa (of the Inhumans), Hank Pym and the Wasp, and Firebird
(former West Coast Avenger) as well as villains Venom v2.0 (Mac Gargan,
formerly the Scorpion and not yet a Thunderbolt), Kraven the Hunter v2.0 (the
original’s son, now retired from villainy to be an actor) and the Hood (long
before Bendis elevated him to the top of the villain food chain). The Beyonder
does his spiel from the first issue of Secret
Wars
word for word. Wasp, who lived through Secret Wars, explains to the noobs who the Beyonder is and what he
wants them to do although his ending line of “Slay your enemies and all you
desire shall be yours” should have made that clear without her help. Hood is
gung ho for wish granting and prepares to attack but is taken out by Kraven
with ease. Venom then attacks Spidey, saying Spidey is his only enemy here.
Spidey webs him to the floor but Gargan manifests a scorpion tale with the
symbiote and stabs Spidey clean through the chest. He dies in Medusa’s arms and
she rises up to confront Venom.

Chapter 2 – Medusa nearly beats Venom to death until Pym
intervenes, giving Venom a chance to stab her through the leg and flee by
tearing a hole in the ship. This causes a crash landing from orbit. The group survives
because Medusa uses her hair to make a protective bubble. They begin tending to
the wounded when an African-American named Michael shows up and offers to take
them to an alien city 60 miles away for shelter. Pym pulls a quinjet out of his
pocket but the flight does not last long as the heroes are attacked by Dragon
Man. After the jet crashes Gravity and Wasp are the only two left to fight Dragon Man.
We cut to Spider-man waking up. Back to the fight where Michael reveals he is
really Deathlock.

Chapter 3 – Dragon Man has the heroes on the ropes until
Deathlock upgrades himself. Dragon Man uses his breath attack but Firebird
absorbs it giving Deathlock time to win the fight. The characters make camp and
Deathlock reveals he was brought here years ago with another group of early 90s
heroes but ultimately cut a deal with the Beyonder to stay behind if he would
let the others go home. Kraven goes off into the jungle and finds undead
Spidey, who encourages Kraven to kill the rest of the group and win the prize.
Kraven realizes there is no way the real Spidey would ever encourage him to
kill anyone and walks away. Hood overheard all this and shoots undead Spidey in
the knee to get more information out of him. He brings Spidey to everyone else
and threatens to torture him until Spidey transforms into the Space Phantom.

Chapter 4 – The heroes debate what to do with Space Phantom
and he transforms into Xemnu the Titan (an obscure Hulk foe). We get an
impressive back and forth fight that culminates in Xemnu lifting a mountain in
a nice call back to the original Secret Wars but Pym is able to tranquilize him
before he can use the mountain as a weapon. Phantom then transforms into
Northstar and flies away at super speed. Now that they know what they are up
against Pym unveils a dimensional doorway that he usually uses to access his
Pym Particle dimension but is able to tune into Limbo (the Space Phantom’s home
dimension). Our motley crew goes through the door with the plan to ambush Space
Phantom when he returns to Limbo but once they are through the doorway Venom
smashes the door on Battleworld stranding the heroes in Limbo. 

Chapter 5 – The Pyms argue in Limbo while Venom demands his
reward on Battleworld. Back in Limbo characters compare notes on their personal
lives and we get what has thus far been the definitive break-up of the Pyms
leading to Hank making out with Firebird. On Battleworld Space Phantom in
Northstar’s body confronts Venom and then speeds away when Venom attempts to
attack him. He returns to Limbo only to be attacked by the group and under
threat of torture from the Hood the Space Phantom teleports everyone back to
Battleworld. When they get there the Watcher is waiting for them in an
impressive splash page. Venom once again goes on the attack but Pym neutralizes
him with a sonic disruptor and then turns on his teammates and kills them all
to claim the prize.

Chapter 6 – We get some internal narration from the Watcher
on how the act of observing sometimes changes the result of the event being
observed. The Beyonder materializes to Pym and offers to grant his desires. Pym
says he has three wishes. The first wish is to go home, which the Beyonder says
he will grant. The second is for the Beyonder to reveal his true identity. He
does so and we learn he is the Stranger, who thought Beyonder had a good idea in
Secret Wars and has been recreating
his experiment ever since. His third wish is the Stranger never conducts this
experiment again. Stranger says he will not comply but will grant any other
wish. He then becomes curious why Pym does not wish his comrades back from the
dead. Pym reveals he had shrunk them all and not disintegrated them when he
attacked and restores everyone to full size. Deathlock asks Stranger the point
of this game since he has been stranded here for years, but Stranger says it is
no game he desires to understand humans, particularly super powered ones given
the singular success rate Earth has had against universal powers like Galactus
and the Phoenix Force. With Stranger refusing to end his experiments the heroes
attack and while they are not doing much damage he begins to wonder if the
Watcher’s presence means he is destined to lose the fight since the Watcher has
never shown himself when prior abductees were killed. Thus Stranger reluctantly
agrees to end the experiments. He repairs the space ship that brought everyone
here but also spitefully sets in motion the destruction of the planet. Gravity
uses his powers to hold the planet together long enough for everyone to get to
the ship. When the others pick him up he has pushed himself too far and dies.
Back on Earth all the abductees including the villains attend Gravity’s funeral.
In the epilogue Watcher reveals to us that while he showed himself to confuse the
Stranger and help the heroes, his main goal there to witness Gravity’s
sacrifice which he promises will result in Gravity being reborn as a being of
cosmic significance. (And indeed Gravity does just that in a subsequent FF
trade that follows up on both Annihilation
and Civil War simultaneously).

 

Critical Thoughts:
This is solid story, especially on the first read through as all of the
cliffhangers are excellent. Sure the characters featured are mostly losers no
one cares about but that also makes the stakes more real as the writers could
realistically kill off anyone who isn’t Spidey or Venom in this story and keep
them dead—and in fact we soon learn that Spidey is in fact a C-list villain
while Venom disappears for entire chapters at a time so these two are just here
to sell the book while the real story is focused on the expendable characters. The
art is also a real boon to this story with several impressive splash pages.

To me the biggest flaw is Medusa’s power levels in this story. She has always
had this lame power of she can move her hair like it is alive and yet in this
story she is presented as the big powerhouse on the planet—decimating Venom in
a fight, saving everyone from a fall from orbit, and getting a Dragon Man on
the defensive at one point. It doesn’t seem to jive with prior appearances.
This especially true in the Venom fight where Pym says her hair delivers a
sonic boom upon impact. That line is supposed to explain why her power is
particularly devastating on Venom (who has an established weakness to sonic
attacks) but I feel like if this was true her hair would kill just about anyone
it’s ever touched. Are we supposed to believe the average Kree soldier or FF
villain can survive impact with an object moving so fast it breaks the sound
barrier? Because I have not seen piles of bodies in her prior appearances. So
yea her power levels come off as a big WTF throughout the story.

On the other hand I think the characterization of the
characters in this I’m familiar with consistent with prior appearances. It’s
nice to see Firebird again. I like the West
Coast Avengers
call backs between her and Pym. I’m also glad to see Pym’s super
powers from WCA return. I always
thought Pym’s shrinking of weapons and scientific gadgets in WCA was a far better superpower for an
Avenger than his traditional powers. Ant Man is the lamest super hero idea
ever. Is his arch enemy a shoe, a rolled up magazine or a can of raid? Even
Giant Man is a power not worthy of an Avenger—it just makes him a bigger target
while strength wise he is still only 10% of what traditional Avengers
powerhouses like Thor, Hercules, Wonder Man, Hulk and Thing bring to the table.
But the carrying unlimited tech gimmick is unique to him, and following this
series Slott had Pym using this power as his primary resource in Mighty Avengers so yay on that. Gravity
also continues to be an eminently likeable new character in every appearance
I’ve read of his. We also see Wasp as a natural leader and Medusa in her role
as queen confident and reluctant to follow orders. The Stranger’s motivation also
works as a plausible catalyst for the story, while Watcher’s interfering by not
interfering to help the humans fits with his Silver Age pattern. So overall
good characterization all around.
Grade B-. Look
it’s no Secret Wars by a long shot
but it is an entertaining little call back to the concept and for the cast of
characters selected to participate it overachieves.