Saturday, May 10, 2014

Secret Weapons #1 and #2 (Classic Valiant)

Starting as a crossover between various characters in the Valiant Comics shared universe, Secret Weapons has been described by some to be the company's answer to The Avengers. Although I can hardly say a Valiant crossover is anything special, as there's practically a crossover every second issue of every series! It was way too common for this company! Thankfully the revived Valiant knows this, and crossovers are occasional, and part of big events.

The question is, is this series as good as any incarnation of The Avengers? Avengers #200 maybe!

Fred Bender, a villain that superhero Solar left in the middle of Death Valley (What an upstanding hero he is!), finds evil necromancer Master Darque, and is turned into a necromantic monster, hellbent on getting revenge on his one-time enemy. Meanwhile, Geomancer (Earth seer) Geoff McHenry senses the birth of Bender newly anointed as 'Dr. Eclipse'. With Eclipse's existence threatening the world, Geoff recruits various figure in the Valiant universe to help defeat the new evil...

This story's biggest problem is by far the length. While a good comic writer can tell a massive single story in only twenty pages, an embarrassingly large amount of writers can't, and they manage to tell so little story each issue, sometimes by having issue long fight scenes, or by taking multiple pages to show something as simple as someone jumping off a motorbike! At forty comic pages long, Secret Weapons' opening story could have been a packed piece of awesomeness, but instead the damn story is over before it gets a chance to even start! The first issue is all setup, and the second issue has the heroes going up against the villains and winning. No first fight, second-act loss, then final battle, and not even any story developments! Instead they fight the villain, and they win. The End.

And come the end, the character of Eclipse is instantly subdued by Darque, and is used as a gateway for an even greater evil. So much for building up Dr. Eclipse as a terrifying new evil, when all you're going to do is undermine his character by ignoring him at the end and introducing an even more powerful enemy into the fray. And as for this 'demon' that Darque communes with the whole story, the final page reveals that it's not a demon, but a certain villain in the Valiant universe. This plot point was never followed up on, or even mentioned again, probably because everyone involved realized that she was already the main villain in an 18 issue long miniseries and didn't need to appear again, especially so soon.

There is a tie-in issue to this storyline of Solar, Man of the Atom, but it's just largely an extended version of the fight scene in Secret Weapons #1, so it's not required reading. And of course, there's the fact that it's not an easy feat to get a hold of Valiant Solar comics, given the rights are nestled comfortably in Copyright Hell, and are not leaving anytime soon.

The biggest plot hole to this story is why Darque doesn't endow more people with the power he gives Fred Bender. Dr. Eclipse is so powerful, he can easily beat Solar, who is basically a god! It seems like Darque can do this to anyone, so, why doesn't he do this to everyone? If we assume that it's such a difficult trial that only someone faithful to him would go through with it, well he's got hundreds of devoted followers. And if he doesn't turn them all in-case they all decide to gang up on him, well, he seems able to control Eclipse when things get dicey, so that wouldn't be an issue, I would think.

As for the man himself, Fred Bender first appears as Dr. Eclipse in this story. While insane at the start when in Death Valley, and talking like that Eclipsey we all know and love, following then, he seems pretty sane. Huh?! The guy was gibbering crazily, having crawled all the way through Death Valley, and he later becomes the gibberingly crazy villain Dr. Eclipse, yet in the interim, he was a calm and sane individual?! This is all because of Valiant's month-by-month 'real time' dating system for their series'. Why else would it have taken Bender a friggin' year and a bit before approaching Darque.

Also, the Dr. Eclipse on show here is not really the Dr. Eclipse that later issues would define. He's been described by some as "BWAHAHAHAHA insane", and that he indeed is, constantly fast-talking, and mouthing off crazy stuff, all while darkly joking around. Eclipse is an extremely one-note villain, but his insanity makes him entertaining. That personality, however, just isn't on display here (at least, not as much as in later appearances). However, Eclipse's first scene in Issue #2 is fantastic-the stuff great comics are made of!

There is one kinda stupid scene in Issue #1. Eclipse has morphed into an exact duplicate of Phil Seleski (Solar), and gone to Solar's house, where his girlfriend Gayle is. She distrusts him right away and bolts, because he used pet names, and 'Phil would never use pet names!' So what if 'Solar' were to use pet names? He could just be being playful, or joking around. Although given what Solar describes her as shortly after, I assume he's a wifebeating prick who never has time for fun and love.

Your what?! Your fucking what?! Urk, having Avengers #200 flashbacks again!

Onto the other characters, Solar is dispatched the moment he appears, Shadowman cameos at the end of Issue #1, then fights with the others when they show up at Darque's estate at the end of of Issue  #2, and both Eternal Warrior Gilad, and Bloodshot fight zombies, but not much else. The supposed main characters are Stronghold and Livewire, two renegade Harbingers (like mutants from X-Men), but given the amount of characters present, they don't do a whole lot. They do enough though, given the circumstances, and they at least directly save the day, unlike in later issues of Secret Weapons, where guest stars frequently stole their thunder and resolved the situations themselves.

Aric of Dacia (XO Man-O-War) is a total dickhead here. Despite Geoff's desperate plea for help, Aric doesn't care, and wants to go hunting instead ("So it's my problem when Solar can't handle his own battles?")...Until Geoff tells a white lie and says that "Aw, what's the use. Gilad doesn't think you can handle it anyway." Then XO is all ears. And whether it be snapping at his teammates like an asshole, or complaining that young people are leading him into battle, he is not making me want to read his series.

No characters ever have any sort-of development or arc here, aside from Stronghold (and even then, it's not much at all)-they just exist. Bloodshot is a guy with a gun who can help, Gilad is a guy who can help, and Shadowman ends up tangentially involved.

As a first issue, this should be accommodating to new readers, and it is to an extent. You'll have very little idea who many of these characters are, but there's at least not many huge continuity dumps that'd screw with first-time Valiant readers, and Stronghold and Livewire are decent audience surrogates.

The artwork is decent, and while Issue #2's cover (a wraparound) is fine, #1's is very good!...Unless you look at it for too long, and you begin to think things like 'Solar's in a pretty silly position', and 'What the hell are the weird geometric backgrounds?'

Couple the complete lack of character with the ultra-short plot, and I can't say I recommend this story. It's not bad by any means, it's just deeply flawed. A better writer could've done wonders with this story...

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