Beyond! #1-2

Written by Dwayne McDuffie
Art by Scott Kolins
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 20 years since the release of Marvel’s original Secret Wars series. The concept was a simple but attractive one; take some of the company’s biggest characters and plunge them into an alien world in a fight for supremacy. Now Dwayne McDuffie and Scott Kolins are updating that idea for their new Beyond! mini-series starring a mixture of A- and C-list characters, and in many ways this new version is the far-more entertaining one to read.

Gravity is a relatively new superhero, enjoying his life and its combination of fighting crime and going to college. When he’s drawn into a strange structure that appeared overnight, he’s certainly not ready to be thrown into a spaceship with a mixture of heroes and villains, all of whom are instructed to slay all their enemies and that all they desire will be theirs. Everything is not what it seems, though, and Gravity and the other super-powered beings trapped in this match are about to discover just how bad a situation they’re really in.

When I first started reading Beyond! it was hard to not instantly notice a major shift in the whole “Secret Wars” idea. When the series first ran, it was primarily populated by the big names of Marvel Comics, with anyone who was everyone and starring in a comic seemingly being pulled into the series. Doing so removed a lot of the danger and suspense of the book; it was hard to believe that, for instance, the company would really kill off members of the X-Men over in a completely different mini-series. McDuffie gets around this hurdle by picking primarily minor at best characters, either ones who have only ever been supporting cast for others (Firebird, Medusa) or had mini-series published that never went anywhere else (Gravity, The Hood). Suddenly the stakes are a bit higher for most of the characters involved, forcing the reader to really pay attention to what’s going. As for the first two issues of the series, they’re the sort of book that can best be summed up as just being pure fun. McDuffie is using a plot structure where every time the characters things can’t get any worse, they do. It keeps the book moving at a quick pace, even while providing a healthy amount of characterization. Medusa seems (rightfully so) more like the Queen of the Inhumans and less like a costumed superhero here than in anything else I’ve seen her appear in for a while, by way of example, and McDuffie absolutely gets Brian K. Vaughan’s creation of the opportunistic Hood. I’ll admit that I hadn’t heard of half of the characters in Beyond!, but thanks to the writing I feel like everything I needed to know was already given to me.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book drawn by Kolins, but I’m enjoying re-acquainting myself with his art. For the most part he’s got a good handle on the book, able to handle a large cast and keep them all looking distinct. In some ways what I was actually more excited about, though, was how well Kolins draws the backgrounds and setting of the book. This is the most vibrant, alive looking Manhattan I’ve seen in comics for some time; you really get the impression that this is an actual city, not what so many artists seem to think is more appropriate if it looks like a sound stage. It’s a great look, and it’s one that follows the characters wherever they go, from a spaceship to a jungle, with everything carefully thought out and coming to life on the page. The only thing I’m not so crazy about is how Kolins draws Venom; for some reason the character seems to actually look as fluid as he or McDuffie is trying to make him, with the scenes of Venom being hurt looking downright bizarre (even as you understand what it’s supposed to look like). If Venom wasn’t such a major part of the first two issues of Beyond!, it probably wouldn’t be worth mentioning, but his prominence in the comic makes it impossible to ignore.

Beyond! is a pretty enjoyable book; it knows that it’s supposed to be fun and fast and succeeds quite nicely at both of these qualities. Best of all, it’s the sort of comic that understands the periodical format as being more than the serialization of a longer work. With big cliffhangers waiting at the end of each of the first two issues, this is the kind of book that you genuinely want to buy on a monthly basis. I’ll definitely be back for more.

1 comment to Beyond! #1-2

  • With Civil War on hold, this title now has a chance to stand out and reach the same audience, which may have overlooked this strong, self-contained, super-hero event.