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Waiting for the Trade - Beyond

Waiting for the Trade

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.