Sunday, June 5, 2011

Two-Bit Comics -- Secret Weapons #8

Two-Bit Comics
Random Pulls from the Bargain Bin

In these economic times, finding inexpensive entertainment is difficult. Thank goodness for my local comic shop and a slew of comics nobody cares about anymore! Each week I randomly grab a comic from the bargain bin (for 50 cents) to see what kind of bang I can get for my two-bits. These are those tales.

June 1, 2011 – paid 50 cents for:
SECRET WEAPONS #8
Published by Valiant
Written by: Maurice Fontenot
Art by: Joe St. Pierre


April 1994 was hard. Look at what was going on. The Rwandan Genocide began, Commodore International declared bankruptcy, Formula One driver Roland Ratzenberger dies in a wreck, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz is sentence to 200 hours of community service for punching a cameraman, and Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane pleads guilty to pointing a shotgun at a cop.

Then April 1994 was a hard month made even harder by the suicide of Kurt Cobain.

There was fear and death in the air. It was the kind of month suited for Hunter S. Thompson prose.

It was also in April of 1994 that Valiant Comics published Secret Weapons #8. Coincidence or Cause-and-Effect? Either way, this publishing event certainly captured the zeitgeist of its time, as it caused fear in me and certainly made me think of death. After reading Secret Weapons #8, I was afraid for my sanity and started to think about killing something.

Valiant was Jim Shooter’s baby after he got forced out of Marvel Comics. By the time Secret Weapons #8 was published, though, Shooter had been forced out of Valiant too. Poor Jim Shooter, I wonder what ever happened to him… Valiant, on the other hand, after closing up shop after the demise of the speculator boom of the 90’s seems to have been recently rebooted.

As I’ve mentioned many times in this column, the 90’s were kinda a dead zone for me when it comes to superhero comics, so I have no prior knowledge from which to pull when it comes to the “Valiant Universe,” and picking up Secret Weapons #8 was like picking up A Tale of Two Cities, starting in the middle, and trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

I believe it was Stan Lee who said something to the effect of every comic book is somebody’s first book. What he meant by that was that there needs to be enough context in a book so that anyone who picks up a comic can quickly figure out who the major players are and what it is that they are currently engaged in. Maurice Fontenot, the writer of Secret Weapons #8, apparently didn’t get this memo.

I really had no idea what was going on in this comic when I read it. This made it enormously confusing to me, and, as a sense-making being, this confusion led to frustration which then led to anger. I tell you this by way of explanation, and I apologize in advance for the tone of the rest of this column.


The comic opens with four guys and a lady climbing out of some wreckage. There’s Eddie, Lieutenant Morgan, Gilad, some unnamed guy, and Mandy. Hi there, nice to meet all of you. Apparently “those underground tunnels are still crawlin’ with Spider Aliens!” Turning the page, though, tells me that “X-O and Turok are still down there” and that “they should be able to hunt the rest of them down”. From all indications either there is another comic out there, or we just get to wrap up plot points with one sentence asides. This is good to know.


Hmmmm … when unnamed guy says he has Solar’s number is he talking about making a phone call, or is he making a threat? Thank goodness Mandy passes out before I have to worry any more about that question.
Eddie, aka Stronghold (I would love to know who came up with this superhero name) agrees to take the unconscious Mandy, aka Livewire, home, diagnosing her issue as one of exhaustion, and leading me to assume he is a doctor of some sort. Am I right? Anyone? Anyone?

Page three takes us to Park Slope, Brooklyn, a few days later. Mandy appears to be fine. She and Eddie are sifting through the rubble of what I gather is Mandy’s apartment. Is this the same home Eddie was taking her to? Is this how she recovers from exhaustion? I hope you can understand my mounting frustration with this comic.

While sifting, Mandy and Eddie are suddenly confronted by Mandy’s landlady and her lawyer.


Gaaaaah! What is up with the landlady’s eye?? It’s bigger than her mouth! And what’s up with her teeth? Who the hell drew this anyway? My guess is that Joe St. Pierre has had some interesting run-ins with landladies in his past.

The landlady is suing Mandy for the damages to the apartment building. Mandy reveals she has no money. Eddie tells her he will help her out. End of page.

Page four takes us to London. It is apparently 8:48 in the evening now. I assume it is the same day, but there is a five hour time difference between the two cities, so ….?

It’s best not to think about these things. A matter of fact, the further I get into this comic, the more I realize that thinking in general only makes things worse.

Page four details some sort of conflict between Webnet and The Weaponeer as discussed by three people (I have no idea how they are). They are contacting Bloodshot (really? Bloodshot is the name they came up with for a superhero?) who will find Gilad, who is in Saudi Arabia, who will then track down The Weaponeer’s weapon vault.

Who? What? When? Why? Best not to think. Best not to think.

Page five takes us to Manhattan. It is now 10:22 in the morning (the next morning? Eastern Standard Time?) and Eddie (I think) is at a bank trying to get a loan. Eddie’s father is the Chairman of the Bank. Eddie’s father denies him the loan. I assume this is some sort of deep moment explicating a complex father and son relationship. I have no idea.

Page six takes us to Soho. I’m going to assume it is the one in New York and not the one in London. It is now 5:47 in the evening. This is the last time we get to know the exact time. Why knowing the time was important to the story is never explained.


Mandy is at Seth’s place. Seth is an artist. He makes funky-ass sculptures out of baby heads. Seth is breaking up with Mandy. He tells her it is because she is “weird” Mandy points out to Seth that it is he, in fact, that is making sculptures out of baby heads and that for him to label her as “weird” is, in fact, ironic (and not in that hipster way). The break up does not go well.

Mandy hooks up with Eddie back at his apartment and, as they enter it, they encounter this.


The perspective in this panel hurts my head.

Hey kids, it’s Katsumi Kabuto from the Harbinger Foundation and she’s there with some lackeys, one of whom is named Blast, to take Eddie and Mandy back to the Foundation. From Eddie and Mandy’s reaction, this is not a good thing, but I really have no idea what is going on.

Ms. Kabuto shows Eddie and Mandy a video. It is a highlight reel of Eddie and Mandy’s screw-ups since they left the Foundation. There is an offer of five hundred thousand dollars to pay for Mandy’s lawsuit and an invitation to return to the Foundation to learn to properly use their abilities. It’s kind of a boring movie.

The aforementioned Blast starts to bait Eddie. Apparently they have a history of animosity. Or something. Eddie has finally had enough of Blast’s bullying.


Well, that panel certainly speaks for itself, doesn’t it. It also speaks for the quality of the artwork in this book. Although, not as much as the next full page splash does.


I think you can see what I’m dealing with here.

Eddie and Blast slug it out on the street until some green haired woman electrocutes Eddie, which makes Mandy manifest a yellow whip around her and leap to the street below. I’m still not clear what her super power is.


As Mandy descends (falls? flies?), she is interrupted by someone named Flashbulb (really?) who, from what I can tell, shines a really really bright light in her eyes. This causes Mandy to say, “GAAHHH---!” and crash to street seemingly on her head, to which Eddie says, “If she’s hurt, I’m gonna kill you stinking…”

Eddie, she landed on her head from about six stories up, why would you question whether or not she was hurt?

I turn the page. Apparently Mandy is not hurt at all. A matter of fact she doesn’t even have a bruise. I’m sorry for ever doubting you, Eddie. Won’t you please forgive me.

Gilad and Geoff show up, which is apparently a good thing as far as Eddie and Mandy are concerned, although I have no idea why. In what I guess is a plot twist, though, it turns out that Gilad wants Eddie and Mandy to return to the Foundation. I gather Mandy feels betrayed by this. She’s having a rough day. First there was the whole Seth break-up, then there was the landing on her head thing, and now this?? It’s more than she can handle.


Situations such as this ALWAYS require the use of Gas.

Mandy hates gas.


In response, Mandy destroys the helicopter and, I guess, kills everyone in it. Like I said, she’s having a bad day.

Eddie tells Ms. Kabuto that he will go get Mandy and calm her down. He finds another helicopter (they seem to be lying around all over the place) and goes to the Statue of Liberty where he knows Mandy will be.


I just had to show you that panel. I’ll let you make your own snide remarks about it. I’m too tired at this point.

Mandy and Eddie talk about how messed up everything got for them as they tried to lead a normal life. Eddie looks like a monkey.


Mandy tells Eddie that he is her best friend and, if he thinks returning to the Foundation is a good idea, she will go with him. They get on a helicopter and fly off.

The last page has Geoff and Gilad talking about what has just happened. Apparently Geoff is feeling guilty about the betrayal and has smeared mayonnaise all over his face.


At least I think that is mayonnaise….

The last panel of the comic heralds the arrival of Bloodshot, last mentioned on page four.


Bloodshot announces the beginning of the comic’s next story arc. We are told in a text box that if we care about Eddie and Mandy, the central characters of this entire story, we need to buy a completely different title next month.

I don’t think I’ll be seeking out Harbinger #29 any time soon, or Secret Weapons #9 for that matter.

This week DC Comics has announced they are renumbering all their titles back to #1 to provide a “jumping on point” for new readers. The fact that DC Comics feels they need to artificially provide this in order to get new readers speaks to the very heart of the problem I have with Secret Weapons #8. A good writer should be able to provide enough context to pull in a new reader at any point. Remember Stan Lee’s “every comic is somebody’s first” edict? Why the hell would I want to get another issue of Secret Weapons? I have no idea what is going on in this issue, and the characters are so un-engaging that I have no desire to try and figure out who they are by reading more.

This is a complete failure on the part of the writer and, I think, highlights some of the issues that is keeping new readers away from comics in general.

Maybe DC has identified this, finally, and accounts for their dramatic renumbering. Maybe it reflects their desire bring comics back to a more pure, enjoyable, and accessible medium for everyone. Maybe DC’s announcement is not just a marketing ploy designed solely for chasing the dollar.

Maybe.

Secret Weapons #8? That’s fifteen minutes of my life and 50 cents in my pocket that I will never get back. Boo on you, Valiant Comics, for failing me and comics in general.

3 comments:

  1. Not to mention the time it took you to write and post this article, with clips of the book, scanning it perhaps?

    But did you like it?

    ReplyDelete
  2. You have the actual year wrong. It was 1994 when this was published and obviously 1994 is when Cobain died.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes, I see... that I completely don't understand what it is you are trying to say. But I respect your right to say it, and I thank you for taking the time to say it.

    ReplyDelete