Current Reviews

subheader

Sunday Slugfest - Beyond! #1

Posted: Sunday, July 2, 2006
By: Keith Dallas

Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Artist: Scott Kolins

Publisher: Marvel Comics

EDITOR’S NOTE: The first issue of Beyond! will reach stores this Thursday, July 6.





Average Rating:

Michael Aronson:
Ariel Carmona Jr.:
Keith Dallas:
Michael Deeley:
Kelvin Green:
Shawn Hill:
Diana Kingston:
Sam Kirkland:






Michael Aronson

Paying tribute to the past has become a little too much of a fad of late, what with the Crisis Redux and Bendis’ “love letter to the ‘70s.” A thematic sequel of sorts to Secret Wars was hardly out of the question. But wait, you say, wasn’t there that five-issue Bendis-written series that took ages to come out? Thankfully, my friend, this bares absolutely no resemblance to that train wreck.

The art – I was a huge Kolins fan when he was illustrating The Flash. Ever since, I felt he had lost a lot of steam when he moved to Marvel and teamed with different inkers and colorists. Here, he’s apparently inking his own work, and it’s a huge step up. Everything looks that much more dynamic and vibrant and his tendency to draw similar faces for every character seems to be fading. After four years of stylistic meandering, the real Kolins is back.

Where the pencils pull through, the script holds back. I’m not sure what it is, as McDuffie clearly has the timing and pacing for good dialogue, but his lines fall flat way too often. “Dude, I just hit you with a car. There’s a truck, right over there.” I get the implication of this line, but it doesn’t flow right. “Great, ‘Cigarette Nazis in Space.’ Maybe you should make a movie.” Instead of being concise and sharp, it’s like he wants the witty banter to sound clunky.

As for the characters, they’re all pretty one-dimensional so far, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – yet. The original Secret Wars was fun because it featured an assortment of many Marvel characters smooshed together to team up and fight. While it’s not entirely clear what the cast of Beyond! is going to do, their interaction with one another, while pretty stilted, is somewhat believable given the motleyness of the crew.

I’ve gotta give props for the twist at the end of the issue. It’s something that will be solved or fixed or retconned in one way or another, but for what it is and the fact that it’s hardly ever happened before, it was a pleasant shock. Shock tactics aren’t usually a good way to go, but since Beyond! seems to be nothing more than popcorn, it fits the tone.

Want to escape the grim Civil War and get back to the days of good versus evil with flashy costumes, flashy powers and flashy sci-fi concepts? Well, you’ll just have to settle for Beyond! instead, which does a decent job of recapturing that feel, but a decent job and nothing more.




Ariel Carmona Jr.

From a purely visceral and nostalgic perspective, this comic book has something Civil War and some of the more modern “realistic” and gritty comics being published by Marvel and other big name companies don’t have, and that is a sense of whimsy and fun.

When I read comics these days, I don’t want them to reflect the world around us too much, I want escapism and fun. Realism handled well is great. To some degree you have to have it. It’s interesting to see how super heroes would deal with our world’s problems if they really existed, like that wonderful issue of Spider-Man in the aftermath of 9-11.

However, having Captain America in Cuba dealing with Castro sucks. Having Cap deal with the Serpent Society? Now we’re talking!

Back to Beyond, so what if the plot is a clever rehash of Secret Wars? Who cares if Marvel’s intergalactic version of “Q” from Star Trek is back, and what his motivations are? The Beyonder wasn’t the point in Secret Wars 22 years ago (my Lord has it really been that long?). The point was to see how an assemblage of Marvel heroes would respond to being placed in such unusual circumstances testing their survival instincts. A secondary motivation was a desire for the company to sell action figures, but that’s another story.

With Beyond we come full circle. It’s weird to have Venom in the mix since it harkens back to the whole alien costume saga, but maybe that’s the point. Other key Marvel characters are brought into the party including Gravity, the Wasp, Al Kraven, the Hood, Medusa, Dr. Henry Pym, and Firebird.

Scott Kolins is an artist I am not too familiar with, but his pencils impress here, rendering familiar and iconic characters with great flair and skill. He draws some pretty intense action scenes between Gravity and Brushfire, though he also seems capable of rendering the quiet scenes which require simple expressions and subdued realism.

I have to give mixed reviews to McDuffie’s script. The first part in which Gravity flies out to battle Brushfire is good, but when he arrives to join the rest of heroes and villains, the dialogue falters, some of it is pretty inane banter with some pretty lame exchanges between the protagonists. Still, it moves at a crisp pace and climaxes with one heck of a cliffhanger. There’s nothing out of this world here, simple super hero fare which Marvel handles very well. These days, the company seems to be making good use of nostalgia and reviving older characters and placing them in modern tales with newer characters. Either that or retelling classic story arcs in fresh new ways. Such is the case here.




Keith Dallas

I was an avid Villains & Vigilantes role game player in my youth. (The Champions role playing game had a better system, but Bill Willingham drew some vivid pages within the V&V modules which became the inspiration for his own Comico series Elementals. Okay, I’m digressing…)

My friends and I couldn’t find many V&V modules to buy in the stores, which meant we were forced to create our own story plots. Between doing school work and home chores and after-school activities, who the hell had the time to create elaborate story plots for our group of characters? So, during most Saturdays when we’d meet to play V&V, the month’s GM would announce, “There’s a group of super-villains robbing the bank. The team is needed!” And for the next two hours our characters would rumble against whatever baddies our GM created for that week, and that was the totality of our module.

From all appearances, Beyond! is going to be a six-issue rumble as the Beyonder has brought nine characters into deep space and enticed them to combat each other. Marvel has a history of producing some entertaining character rumbles. I’m sure my reviewer colleagues are (rightly) going to reference the original 1984-5 Secret Wars, but this first issue of Beyond! also reminded me (1) specifically of Marvel’s earlier character rumble, the 1982 three-issue Jim Shooter-John Romita Jr.-Bob Layton Contest of Champions, and (2) generally of 1970s Marvel Comics, most of whose issues’ plots boiled down to “There’s a group of super-villains robbing the bank. The team is needed!”

In all honesty, I’m unfairly suggesting that Beyond! is “brainless,” and that doesn’t appear to be the case as the issue’s opening pages introduce the intriguing concept of an on-going “cosmic experiment” involving an endless series of abducted combatants and a bystander witness who seems cursed to being unable to stop the never-ending cycle of violence and death, despite his best efforts and intentions.

Marvel is showing a lot of faith here green-lighting a limited series starring such “A-listers” as The Hood, Medusa, Firebird, and the new Kraven the Hunter. I would really love to learn if Dwayne McDuffie hand-picked these characters for this story, or if this is the result of some kind of writer-editor-artist brainstorm. Regardless, Scott Kolins’ portrayals of these characters are distinctive and appropriate: Venom is malevolent and grotesque, The Hood is shifty and devious, Kraven is untamed and abrasive, and perhaps most interestingly, Medusa has the most “presence” of anyone in the group with her regal and haughty demeanor. In addition, there’s something “old school” and “comfortable” about Kolins’ rendition of Spider-Man. It’s a wonderful “classic” look, and I’m not just referring to the blue-and-red costume; I’m referring to the body language and proportions.

It is also refreshing to see that even though Spider-Man is the only “bankable” character of the group, the creators don’t let him hog the spotlight. Instead, the Spider-Man-like Gravity is this issue’s focus, and I’m curious to see if the focus stays on him for the remaining five issues, or if it shifts to other characters.

This issue’s ending isn’t going to fool anyone into believing it is a “permanent development,” but it is nonetheless an unexpected move, and judging from the solicitation descriptions of future issues, this situation might not be reversed anytime soon.

Whether or not you’re going to find Beyond! worthy of your time and money depends really on your taste for frivolous, unconnected-to-anything-else-currently-going-on-in-the-Marvel-Universe fare. I, for one, am on board; I miss playing Villains & Vigilantes on my Saturdays.




Michael Deeley

A handful of heroes and villains are taken into deep space where a booming voice tells them, “Slay your enemies, and all you desire shall be yours.” It’s just like the original Secret Wars. Spider-Man and the Wasp recognize the rules and explain them to Medusa, Hank Pym, Gravity, the Hood, and the newest versions of Kraven and Venom. But it seems like these “Wars” have been going on for a long time. Someone’s been burying the losers. Who is he? How could these “tests” continue when the original organizer, The Beyonder, has been in prison? And why are heroes and villains on the same team this time?

All these questions take a backseat when the first hero dies.

If you want a simple, exciting super-hero story, you’d be hard pressed to do better than Dwayne McDuffie. The man wrote Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, and much of the Milestone comics line. He introduces the premise and the characters simply and clearly; better than Jim Shooter did in the original Secret Wars. (Sorry, Jim.) We’ve got bickering, love, secrets, hate, and revenge. It’s also great to see The Hood return to comics. His original mini-series, by Brian K. Vaughn, was a cult hit well deserving of wider recognition. This is also the first time I’ve seen Gravity and the new Kraven and Venom. Despite my lack of foreknowledge, I soon learned who everyone was.

And what a shocker of an ending! I know it can’t be real, but it’ll bring me back next month.

Scott Kolins draws a desolate alien planet, a vibrant New York City, and mighty beings. I hope the new Battleworld will have pieces of other planets, just like the old ones. It would give Kolins a chance to draw lots of different environments and creatures. His work is steadily improving.

Beyond! is that rare comic: it stands alone and is new-reader friendly. Share this with non-readers and they’ll enjoy it to. The rest of use are in for a fun ride.




Kelvin Green

I’ll admit, I expected this to be terrible. It is, after all, yet another case of the so-called “House of Ideas” strip-mining their past rather than moving forward, and moreover it’s plundering the original Secret Wars, which I do have considerable nostalgic affection for, but it’s hardly the company's finest creative moment. Truth be told though, Beyond is not too bad.

Scott Kolins continues to improve in his work for Marvel, and there are only a couple of panels where his old penchant for rampant grotesquery resurfaces (check out the manly chin on Gravity’s “girl” friend!). However, on the whole Kolins does a great job of the issue, producing some striking pages, and he really excels at dynamic action sequences. Dwayne McDuffie does good work with the ensemble cast, adeptly juggling the multiple characters and providing strong characterisation throughout, and the script also has considerably more wit and pace to it than Jim Shooter’s original, although that wouldn’t exactly be a Herculean task.

That said, the writing does suffer in one particular area, and that’s in outlining the purpose and direction of the series. In short, it’s difficult, looking at this first issue, to see what the point of it all is. Perhaps future issues will elaborate on the concept of this series and how it differs from its inspiration, but even so, that highlights a fundamental flaw, as those kinds of details really should be here in the first episode; as readers, we need some sort of hook, a reason to read further. That hook won’t be found in the cheap cliffhanger ending to this first issue, as there’s absolutely no dramatic weight in such a major change to the status quo when there’s an omnipotent reality-altering entity hanging around ready to change it right back by the end of the next issue. And the hook surely can’t be the cast, as while it’s an eclectic and interesting mix, it’s interesting precisely because the majority of the characters are not major names, and rehashing rubbish crossovers with the addition of a C-list cast doesn’t immediately strike me as a winning formula; it might work, but it’s a weird creative choice if that’s all there is to this series. Although I’d certainly be up for another go at “Avengers Disassembled” if Rocket Raccoon and the Kidney Lady were involved.

Beyond! is very well put together, but a good empty retread is still an empty retread. The series certainly isn’t a total loss, but things need to pick up in future issues with a more definitive statement of what the series actually has to say, and why we shouldn’t just go and read the original instead. Nostalgia alone is not enough.




Shawn Hill

Plot: What is this bunch of oddballs doing in space, being yelled at by a glowing ball of light? That’s what they’d like to know!

Comments: This issue reads like a corrective and a respite from the current Marvel crossover. Blithely disconnected from almost anything called current events, we’re reading about a familiar group of figures placed into an odd (and totally artificial) situation. You’re not going to get deep character development from a story that places Medusa, Kraven, Gravity, the Wasp, Firebird, Spider-Man, the Hood, Venom and Hank Pym all in the same artificial setup (basically, fight your “enemy” to the death).

Instead, what you’re going to get is showcase moments for their powers and the simplest effective shorthand for their personalities. You’re going to get superhero action on a cosmic scale. You may register a good one liner now and then. And you’re going to be too busy worrying about “who’d win” scenarios to bother to reflect on morose and serious political motivations and moral integrity.

Rather you’ll see bad guys sink to their level, and good guys rise above it, through bravery and sacrifice. This series seems to be a sequel of sorts to two very old concepts, the Secret War mini-series of bygone days. The Beyonder is implied here, though he may not be a dude in a silly white suit anymore. But if he’s, as Janet says, “the living embodiment of a Cosmic Cube” (i.e. the Marvel Universe answer to DC’s Miracle Machine), you know the stakes are going to be high. Literally anything can happen.

Scott Kolins is the ideal artist for this escapist premise, his quite readable style just too cartoonish and happily linear to go for the moody shadows and subdued colors that characterize so much of Marvel’s regular product for the last few years. Photo-realistic isn’t in Kolins’ lexicon, but fun storytelling is, and there’s no shortchanging of action sequences or emotional expression along the way.

The focal character this issue is Gravity, fitting because he’s the newest Marvel Universe addition, as well as the newbies among the veterans the Beyonder has kidnapped to a deep space station/battle arena.

As always, the test of a good first issue is “will I buy the next one?” And the answer to this one is yes, like a drowning man swims towards an island oasis. Even with a reset button looming in the very premise, this one looks like an uncomplicated fun ride.




Diana Kingston

I’m probably not the only person who expected this to be a complete farce; Marvel has an obnoxious tendency to exhume old stories and events, only to have the corpses stink everything up. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you didn’t read Akira Yoshida’s “Age of Apocalypse” or Straczynski’s “Sins Past,” which means you’re probably a good thirty or forty brain cells ahead of me these days.

Anyway... a revival of Secret Wars? In 2006? By some Duff guy I’ve never heard of? My first thought was “Hell no.” Or maybe it was “Beyonder’s back - better hide the jheri-curl.” Imagine my shock when this first issue turned out to be not only competent, but damn good and a fun read to boot.

McDuffie’s playing a clever game here. It certainly looks as though he’s recreating the set-up of the original Secret Wars: a group of superhumans from all over the world are tricked into teleporting across the universe to a mysterious battleground. But right from the start, there are hints that something else is going on here - instead of the Marvel All-Stars, the cast of this book is comprised of C-listers like Medusa, Hank Pym, the Hood and Gravity (who remains as effective a focalizer as he was under McKeever). Of course, as soon as they’re acquainted, a big flash of light delivers the following speech: “I AM FROM BEYOND! SLAY YOUR ENEMIES AND ALL YOU DESIRE SHALL BE YOURS! NOTHING YOU DREAM OF IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO ACCOMPLISH!” That's right, our heroes have been abducted by the cosmic version of Simon Cowell. They’re doomed.

I’m not familiar with most of the cast, but nothing strikes me as particularly out-of-character. McDuffie does a great job of raising expectations while subtly undermining them: Wikipedia tells me that the Beyonder’s speech is a verbatim replica of his introductory message in Secret Wars... but the command to “slay your enemies” makes a lot less sense in a group of eight heroes and one villain, engaging our suspicions without being too blatantly obvious about it.

This issue really deserves , but I’m dropping half a bullet because of what happens at the end. Had that scene played out with any other character, it would have worked, but I doubt anyone’s gullible enough not to see through the final product (and if they are, I have some invisible Armani outfits I’m just dying to get rid of). The book would have been stronger without that last tacky moment, but other than that Beyond! is off to a pleasantly surprising good start.




Sam Kirkland:

Beyond!, a six-issue limited series by Dwayne McDuffie and Scott Kolins, collects a random group of B and C-list superheroes and villains (with the exceptions of Spider-Man and Venom, ‘natch. How else would you expect the book to sell?), throws them into outer space, and lets them loose. It’s a concept that should sound familiar to longtime readers, promising to pit hero against hero and villain against villain in a cosmic backdrop.

The story is told from the perspective of a relative newbie to the superhero lifestyle. Sean McKeever’s Gravity plays the role of said newbie, whose own 2005 miniseries ranked just enough above average to qualify him for future appearances such as this one. Unfortunately, the storytelling is all over the map. Gravity is somehow lured to a portal that transports him to space in a rather confusing sequence. From there, a vague threat/challenge is made by a mysterious antagonist, and the assorted characters begin to turn on one another. Gravity’s amazement at actually being in deep space rings true, but Al Kraven (that’s right, Ron Zimmerman’s Kraven) calling Hank Pym fat might be the most ridiculously pointless piece of dialogue I’ve ever read. The story contains other instances of odd dialogue as well as some rough transitions. It also lacks any kind of focus or hook to persuade readers to come back for more. I think Joe Quesada can count the number of people clamoring for a Medusa/Venom fight on one hand.

The artwork seems looser and less detailed than Kolins’ previous work did, such as Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, for example. It doesn’t have the rich detail and colors that drew me to his work there. Of course, Kolins’ pencils are naturally slipshod, but Paul Mounts helps alleviate that problem somewhat with his colors. Overall, the artwork appears slightly unpolished, due in large part to the lack of a strong inker.

McDuffie deserves some credit for the end of this first issue, which comes out of left-field and significantly ratchets up the intensity level and shakes up the team’s dynamic. Although the event of the last few pages will certainly be reversed by the time the series ends, it’s still no less shocking and interesting to see. The out-of-continuity nature of the title might be off-putting to some, but at the same time it contributes a feeling that anything can happen.

Beyond! acts as a bit of a throwback to the old days. If you’re looking for a simple, inconsequential diversion to Civil War or if you perhaps happen to run a Medusa or Firebird fansite, you’ve come to the right place. If not, you can safely let Beyond! pass you by without missing a thing.



What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!