Saturday, June 02, 2007

Diabolical Ingenuity

I read issue #3 of 'New Avengers: Illuminati' on Thursday. The series, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is a sort of "secret history" of the Marvel Universe, in which it is revealed that Mister Fantastic, Iron Man, Professor X, Doctor Strange, the Sub-Mariner, and Black Bolt of the Inhumans have had a secret cabal for decades that's been doing the "dirty work" that keeps the Marvel Universe ticking along nicely. Every issue has focused on a major Marvel event, and has proceeded to retcon in a behind-the-scenes explanation of how the Illuminati made it happen.

After reading issue #3, I found myself wondering what exactly the point of the series was. Because I really could not, for the life of me, think of one. It wasn't just that the comic was terrible (although it was.) It's that it was so genuinely pointless a story, designed around a comics plotline from twenty years ago that only continuity-obsessed fanboys remember, written solely to retcon out certain elements of the story that the writer apparently didn't like, that I could not for the life of me imagine who it was written for. Nobody but the most rabid, continuity-minded fanboy could possibly be interested in this comic, and every single one of them hates it with an absolute passion because the retroactive continuity that they're employing is so slipshod, nonsensical, and hamfisted that it'll take years to explain the new explanations.

(I've resisted explaining the issue because thinking about it makes my head hurt and because it involves explaining a ton of Marvel continuity, but here goes: 'Secret Wars' introduced the Beyonder, a nebulous omnipotent being from outside of the known universe who wanted to "understand" humanity, so he kidnapped a bunch of super-heroes and super-villains, promised them their heart's desire if they defeated their enemies, and watched the ensuing battle. The series proved popular, so they did a sequel, 'Secret Wars II', in which the Beyonder continued his studies by coming to Earth, taking human form, and interacting with Earth's super-heroes. At the end of the series, he apparently died, having taken "being human" a bit too literally, but his power flowed back into his home universe where it became a new Big Bang, creating this new universe in the image of our own. Still later, in 'Fantastic Four' #319, it was revealed that the Beyonder's consciousness survived with his power, and that it was by his will that the new universe became what it did--he found happiness by becoming a god. But he found out that the reason he could never be happy and was never complete was that he was actually part of a larger cosmic artifact called a Cosmic Cube, the other part of which was "lodged" in the Molecule Man and was responsible for him having super-powers. The Beyonder and the Molecule Man merged to form the Cube, which in later FF issues became a being known as Kosmos, who has been seen periodically since.)

(Except that this issue of Illuminati reveals that no, the Beyonder was actually an Inhuman--one of Black Bolt's species--who was also a mutant, and that he actually made a duplicate Manhattan out near the asteroid belt and interacted with elaborate mock-ups of Earth's super-people. So all of Secret Wars II, which was a crossover that ran to 42 issues and involved every single title Marvel published, in which the Beyonder resurrected Doctor Doom and cured Rick Jones of cancer...never happened. And neither did the issue where he found out he was a Cosmic Cube. Nor did any of his appearances after that.)

As I say, this left me wondering what the purpose of this comic was. If you're not a rabid fanboy, you won't care about any of this. And if you are, you will have a brain seizure and die from the sheer number of convolutions fitting this issue into continuity will require. So why...?

Then it hit me. That was the purpose of the series. Marvel has finally gotten sick of all the fanboys writing in and pointing out how they must have forgotten about issue #255 of Uncanny X-Men, in which we see Psylocke before the plastic surgery, so she can't be Kwannon, et cetera et cetera et cetera. They're tired of people pointing out their continuity errors, so they've decided to kill them all off by producing a comic whose retcons are so audaciously incompetent that comics fans will die of apopleptic fits of rage when they read them. 'New Avengers: Illuminati' is, in fact, a brilliantly conceived murder weapon, and all of fandom is the target.

So remember: Read this comic only under the influence of powerful sedatives. After all, if the writer was on drugs, you should be too.

2 comments:

Mark Clapham said...

This may come across as the words of a madman, but I'm quite enjoying 'Illuminati', not for the continuity (I haven't read most of the stories this series is building around), but because the issues themselves are self-contained, fairly playful little stories with mad cosmic stuff, fun character interactions and lovely, lovely art by Jim Cheung. While this Beyonder issue didn't have anything as utterly cute as the Professor X baby in the last issue, I enjoyed it.

I would be lying if I said it made any huge amount of sense to me, however, and I can certainly see how it would give long time fans the burning rage.

Mark

Eric Teall said...

They're tired of people pointing out their continuity errors, so they've decided to kill them all off by producing a comic whose retcons are so audaciously incompetent that comics fans will die of apopleptic fits of rage when they read them. 'New Avengers: Illuminati' is, in fact, a brilliantly conceived murder weapon, and all of fandom is the target.

That's No-Prize worthy explaining, right there. I laughed out loud at that. Thank you so much for calling a spade a spade. Marvel makes less and less sense to me every day.

Eric