Spider-Man, Gravity, Firebird, Henry Pym, the Wasp, Medusa, Venom (Mac Gargan), Kraven (Alyosha Kravinoff) and The Hood have been captured by an enigmatic alien entity called the Beyonder. From within a vast spacecraft they are told to "Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours!" Venom takes the Beyonder at his word and promptly kills Spider-Man. That's where we pick it up:
Spidey's dead, Venom did it and Medusa is not amused. As Gargan demands his reward form the Beyonder, the queen of the Inhumans smashes him to the ground with her prehensile hair. The Hood is immediately ready to finish the job with a couple of well-placed bullets. Of course, the Wasp won't stand for killing Venom in cold blood, the law must take its course. Medusa, however, has no such compunctions. She's a queen, and she sentences Gargan to fifty lashes.
Medusa holds Venom down and whips him soundly with her hair. Unfortunately for Gargan, each lash is travelling faster than the speed of sound and delivering a debilitating sonic jolt to his symbiote. It is evident is won't survive fifty lashes. Pym tries to intercede on Gargan's behalf, and the villain takes advantage of the distraction to wound Medusa and make a run for it.
Venom rips a hole in the wall and tunnels out into the electrical innards of the ship. It doesn't take him long to destroy a critical system. The spacecraft lurches and begins to plummet toward the planet below. Gravity attempts to use his power to slow the descent, but winds up making the situation worse. The craft crashes into a woodland in a ball of fiery death.
Medusa wraps everyone up in her hair, which absorbs the impact of the crash. However, she is badly wounded. Outside the burning wreck Hank and Janet give Medusa some first aid. Seems that Hank keeps a lot of useful miniaturised equipment in his pocket for just such an emergency.
The wreckage of the ship looks to be on the verge of exploding, so the company moves further away. All that is except Gravity, who re-enters the ship at great personal risk and returns with the body of his hero, Spider-Man. It is a decent, but largely stupid thing to have done. At this point, Alyosha notices they are being watched.
A man emerges from the forest and introduces himself as Michael. He is the same man we saw burying bodies at the start of the last issue. Michael starts to tell the group as much as he can about the world, and then suggests that they had to the relative safety of a city, sixty miles away. The city is occasionally a way home.
The heroes bicker pointlessly before deciding to head to the city. Pym pulls a quinjet out of his trousers, to allow everyone to ride in style. Michael advises against this: flying attracts trouble. No-one listens to him, and the quinjet is blown out of the sky seconds later by an irate Dragon Man. The heroes quickly begin to do battle with his new threat, and Michael reveals that he is Deathlok!
Meanwhile, unnoticed by the combatants, the fatally wounded Spider-Man gets up and wanders off through the forest.
So, Spidey's not dead. Surely a big surprise for all readers who have been living in cave for the last fifty years, and for whom Beyond is their first Marvel comic. For the rest of us, it's all a bit predictable.
The trick with predictable stories is not to make the denouement as important as how we get there. McDuffie is certainly trying to do this. He tries to move events onward at a frenetic pace, he tries to give us witty one-liners and make the misfit cast as endearing as possible. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite hit the mark.
While the issue gives the impression that there is a lot going on, very little actually happens. The summary above could simply read: "Everyone fights, spaceship crashes and Deathlok turns up." We don't even get any explanation of who Deathlok is or what he is doing on Battleworld until next issue. All this is a little thin for twenty-two pages.
McDuffie seems to be trying too hard to deliver a sharp and amusing script. He seems to think that bickering and witty banter are the same thing, and that if every other line is a lame joke then eventually he'll raise a laugh. However, he juxtaposes this obvious comedy with moments high drama and melodramatic angst. The two do not sit well side by side, and the result is a rather confused comic that doesn't seem to know what sort of story it wants to be telling. Compare this issue with Peter David's recent run on X-Factor. Peter David is a master of weaving comic asides and light-hearted repartee, while maintaining the gravity of a serious and compelling plot. He really makes you care about the characters. By contrast, the characters in this book don't seem like characters at all. They continually talk about having deep emotions, but truly heart-wrenching events (like Spidey's death) are swept under the carpet.
The book is designed for die hard Marvel fans, and it is nice to see a writer using these obscure and lesser-known characters. It is a comic that succeeds in its own terms, but McDuffie has set his sights rather low.
This is not a bad comic. It's an entertaining read as far as it goes; it just could have gone much, much further. Two and a half webs.
It's who's who time again. There have been five individuals to go by the name of Deathlok in the mainstream Marvel Universe, Michael Collins is the third. He was a pacifist working for a cybernetics company, who had his mind put in the Deathlok body against his will. He first appeared in a three issue limited series back in 1990, which was followed by a 34-issue run. Back then he was considered a 'hot' character, and he probably had more appearances in other people's books than his own. His last appearance before now (as far as I can tell) was in Spider-Man: Power of Terror in 1995, after which he just faded from view. This is not the same character that appeared in the 1999 Deathlok series.
Dragon Man has a much older pedigree. He first appeared in Fantastic Four #35, way back in 1965. He was an android designed by one Professor Gilbert as intellectual exercise: could he build something that could defeat the Fantastic Four? Even if you haven't read the story, you can imagine how that turned out. Since then Dragon Man has turned up now and then to smash, or be smashed, by all manner of Marvel heroes. Although his fight against Power Pack is my personal favourite.