Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Skrullduggery Week, Day Two: Iron Man had better not be a Skrull. Seriously.

Previously, I mentioned how Skrulls could very likely become the fall guys for any mischaracterization or plot holes at Marvel, as in "Iron Man's been a Skrull since, oh, twenty minutes into Civil War." Let me state for the record that would be utter asshattery. Not because it's a cheat and a copout, but because it's been done before.
Say what you will about the Skrulls and their dirty tricks, that's pretty hardcore for being stabbed in the fricking brain.
Above from Iron Man (volume 2) #13, "World War III: Part 3, No Time to Mourn!" Written by James Robinson, pencils by Larry Stroman, inks by JD & Homage Studios. Click to embiggen, the guy talking to Ben in the last panel is Deathblow. Yeah, I don't know either, but he's cool in these issues, and that's good enough.

Anyway, this was a little coda to the Heroes Reborn series, and a neat altered reality story; which of course means everyone's fair game. The Marvel and Wildstorm universes have merged together, so there's altered lineups for a lot of the superhero teams: Hawkeye took a hit in the draft picks and gets sent to Wetworks, for instance; and Maul and Burnout are Ben and Johnny's replacements (both are missing at the start of the story) on the Fantastic Four. It also opens up a huge opportunity for Dr. Doom: Doom conspires to keep the two universes smooshed together, and rallies the somewhat incompetent Skrull and Daemonite invaders into a conquering, occupying force.

I'm sure a lot of readers could probably point out at least two other stories also titled World War III, but when did it change from a vague threat to a legitimate title? It used to be a breathless exclamation, like "If we don't stop that madman, it could be World War III!" Cue next issue banner, although that always had about as much weight as your dad threatening to turn this car around. Nowadays, Black Adam rips a few people in half and it's WWIII. Pfft.

Robinson is best known (and probably rightly so) for Starman, but this shows he knows his Marvel Universe as well. There are a ton of nods to old-school continuity, that don't interfere with the story for new readers: it adds an extra layer if you know Captain America had previously gone by the name Nomad once before, or that the Scarlet Witch likes 'em big and robotic; but if you don't know it's not a big deal.

In one of my favorite touches, when Mr. Fantastic takes an expedition into the Negative Zone, Triton of the Inhumans is their point man: having an intuitive nature for tidal flows, he can navigate it faster than most, as established way back in Fantastic Four #62.
'Wait, Black Bolt couldn't make it, so he sent Triton? Yeah, I'm just gonna start the funeral arrangements for Reed now...'
Although I remember being vaguely aware of some of the WildC.A.T.'s, this issue was my first exposure to Stormwatch, which thankfully by then was the Warren Ellis Stormwatch. Robinson may even give the better deal to the Wildstorm characters, since he sets up little glimpses to a larger world. Who is Jack Hawksmoor, and what good is he if he "freaks out if he isn't in the city"? And why? Sparks is 80 years old, what's up with that? And Majestic, a character I've barely read before or since, gets a good moment, where he basically shrugs off having most of his face shredded.
Much like malt liquor, you get a taste for world domination after four or five times.
Mr. Fantastic and Dr. Doom spend most of the last issue fighting hand-to-hand, until Spartan (who had served as Captain America for part of the war) sacrifices himself to destroy the machine keeping the two universes together. Even though Reed says Doom has lost, Doom says it doesn't count, yet has "given me the taste to rule again." Huh? In my head, the cadence of Doom's ending speech sounds like a parting threat from a Speed Racer villain: "I will face you again...soon...and...I will...beat you!" Still, a strong moment.
On the next page, Cap's shield hits that Skrull so hard, only his shadow was left of him. Cap doesn't play.
But, since this is Skrullduggery Week, what of our chinny friends? Since it's an altered universe story, and even though Doom dismisses them as ineffective lackeys, the Skrulls make a great showing, wiping out several heroes, including Iron Man above, and probably fatally wounding Cap if the universe hadn't just ended. Quite possibly the most successful the Skrulls have ever been, including What If? stories.

Triton panels from Fantastic Four #62, "...And One Shall Save Him!" Written by Stan Lee, art by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Sinnott. Cap and Doom panels from Captain America vol. 2, #13, "World War III, Part 4: War Without End..." Written by James Robinson, art by Ron Lim, inks by Danny Bulanadi.

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