Got a sweet tooth for weird alt-universe nonsense? Secret Wars Journal #3 is basically the Battleworld equivalent of cheap candy: fun and colorful, but mildly disappointing in terms of actual substance.
In “Who Killed Tony Stark?”, Frank Tieri’s schlocky noir fantasy, Detective Logan investigates the murder of a famous adventurer in the “Old Town” barony. I’m instantly head-over-heels in love with Richard Isanove’s art in this story–it’s dark and shadowy but full of rich, vibrant color at the same time. He hits all the right notes: blinds casting stripes of light and shadow across a carpet, dreamy reflections in a train window, blinding gunshots and dark alleyways.
“Who Killed Tony Stark?” is a beautifully-drawn and diverting comic, and while I liked it, I find it just a little bit obvious.
Tieri’s hard-drinking, redhead-chasing gumshoe version of Wolverine is a no-brainer–which, depending on how you look at it, is both a good and a bad thing. Like a lot of recent neo-neo-noir throwbacks, “WKTS?” faithfully reproduces a lot of classic noir tropes, but doesn’t really do anything with them. There’s a murder, a detective, a suspect, a damsel, a shadowy informant, a twist, and then the story’s over.
Maybe this is supposed to be a pure, cheesy, nostalgic love letter to the genre–which is fine! But “WKTS?” doesn’t take any kind of stand on film noir’s antiquated approaches to race and gender–it just kind of shrugs at them before changing the subject. Logan shakes down some of the Mandarin’s goons in “Chinatown”, which is not so much an iconic film reference as a straightforwardly shadowy place where mysterious eastern villains hang out. And then there’s Pepper Potts, Stark’s “biographer,” who is so two-dimensional that you just kinda have to shrug and watch The Big Sleep to get the taste of boring out of your mouth.
Above all, the mystery’s just not that compelling. Logan looks into a murder, he suspects the wrong person, and then Frank Castle tells him exactly what’s going on. That’s the entire plot. Our main character never really has to question himself, or his motives, or his moral compass–he just obtains new information.
Personally, I like my noir-style heroes a little conflicted–not just about what they don’t know, but about what they don’t know about themselves. The secret behind Stark’s death is related to Battleworld’s zany collision of multiple realities and multiple versions of the same characters. Since he lives in a dimension full of alternate selves, isn’t it weird that Detective Logan doesn’t do a little more explanation into who he really is?
Now, I also have a lot to say about the second story, “The Smashing Cure”. Sometimes, I feel a little silly criticizing these fun little one-shots–like “Who Killed Tony Stark?”, you get the sense that “The Smashing Cure” just isn’t designed to be taken too seriously.
But–you know what? Screw it. I still have a lot to say.
Doc Samson is pretty much living a therapist’s worst nightmare–he’s a clinical psychiatrist in a city full of people who can’t control their inner giant green rage monsters.
I’ve always related to the Hulk as a metaphor for mental illness–it’s not a particularly subtle metaphor, but it’s an undeniably effective one. (If you haven’t seen this brilliant fan comic yet, go ahead and read it. Gets me right in the feels.)
But while “The Smashing Cure” is nominally about mental illness, it doesn’t really seem interested in talking about disability in depth, or even accurately. Seriously, one character refers to the hulk-people as “bipolar”–while being a hulk is a potentially interesting way to talk about bipolar disorder or manic depression or PTSD in a superhero comic, it is not literally those things. Not even close.
I’m also kind of confused about what writer Scott Aukerman is trying to say at the end of the comic. Doc Samson’s final patient of the day is a gamma-irradiated version of Peter Parker–he’s still reeling from the death of his uncle, and unable to process all his guilt and rage. Doc Samson tells Peter exactly what he needs to hear: that he can control his anger by accepting it, and that his burden is actually a gift and–oh yes–a “responsibility”.
It’s a nice, inspirational moment, but I feel like our central metaphor has gotten a little tangled here:
-Everyone is turning into a hulk, and it’s tearing civilization apart.
-Being a hulk is like mental illness, in that it’s something to be controlled.
-Being a hulk is a blessing–a superpower that we have a responsibility to yield justly and wisely.
-Is mental illness therefore a superpower? (Spoiler alert: No. Not really.)
I’m 100% on-board with disability-as-superpower stories, but this story doesn’t quite get there. I think the moral is that Peter Parker isn’t destined to be a superhero because of his condition–he’s destined to be a superhero because he’s Peter Parker.
I don’t mean to get down on these this issue. Because, honestly, I still like candy. Secret Wars Journal is still fun and goofy and everything I wanted it to be, and #3 isn’t all bad. It’s just lacking something that issues #1 and #2 did very, very well: they were weird and fun and colorful, but they also dared to be about something.
Who Killed Tony Stark?
Written by Frank Tieri
Drawn by Richard Isanove
The Smashing Cure
Written by Scott Aukerman
Drawn by R.B. Silva with colours by Guru-eFX
Mad Moll Green writes in Los Angeles and Vancouver. She loves horror movies, comic books, and ironic spandex.