The Beyonder has snatched various Marvel heroes and transported them to Battleworld. En route, Venom killed Spider-Man and caused their spaceship to crash. The survivors met with Michael Collins (aka Deathlok) who has been trapped on Battleworld for some time. He was leading them to the safety of a near-by city when the group was attacked by Dragon Man and their quinjet was destroyed. Oh, and Spider-Man doesn't seem to have stayed dead...
After a shaky start our heroes eventually manage to defeat Dragon Man. However, they have still lost their means of transport, and are forced to camp for the night - a night that, according to Deathlok, is going to last for a further sixty-two hours. The heroes quip and bicker. This annoys Gravity who is still mourning the death of Spider-Man. Further arguments ensue that are capped by a gratingly inspirational speech from Deathlok urging everyone to pull together.
Of course, no-one actually trusts Deathlok very much, and Michael is forced to go into a retelling of his origin story, as well as the tale of how he came to Battleworld. After many months of searching for a cure to his cyborg state, Michael stumbled across one of the Beyonder's transporters and found himself on Battleworld. He was teamed up with an even odder assortment of misfits: Sleepwalker, Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau), Wonder-Man, Darkhawk, Dracula, Terror and Coldblood. His group struck a deal with the Beyonder: they went home and Michael didn't.
Janet immediately starts to pick holes in the story. If the Beyonder has been collecting dozens of teams of superheroes over the past few years then why does no-one on Earth know about it? Surely, Wonder-Man would have told his team-maters. Deathlok can offer no explanation. As they continue to discuss matters, Alyosha heads off into the jungle to answer the call of nature. He comes across some blood and starts to track it to the source.
Janet, who seems to have taken charge of the team, orders that they break camp and get moving within the hour. Henry takes his ex-wife to one side. He wants to talk candidly about their relationship which has been in a state of flux for as long as most readers have been drawing breath. He apologises again for his unforgivable actions, and hopes that he will eventually become worthy of Jan again. She doesn't know how to take this, and there's an odd expression on Hank's face as he walks away. The whole scene is overheard by Firebird.
Meanwhile, Alyosha has followed the drops of blood to the recently re-animated Spider-Man. The two talk, and neither can come up with a reasonable explanation as to how Peter can possibly be alive. He still has a gaping wound in his chest. Spidey says that the only way home for them is if Alyosha takes the Beyonder at his word, and kills all the others in the group. This starts alarm bells ringing for Alyosha. The real Spider-Man, regardless of how bad a day he was having, would never stoop to encouraging murder. Alyosha returns to camp.
The Hood has been listening to all of this. He materialises behind Spidey and challenges him. After a short scuffle, the Hood shoots Spidey in the kneecap and incapacitates him. The Hood drags 'Spidey' into camp and starts to torture him to find out the truth. You can imagine how well that goes down with the rest of the group. However, the Hood's actions are successful in revealing that this is not Spider-Man at all. It is in fact: The Space Phantom!
This issue gives us the first hints that everything is not entirely what it seems. If Deathlok's story is true then why don't the other heroes that came with him to Battleworld remember that happened to them? While it's true that the Beyonder has the power to do pretty much anything, there is a sense of something fishy going on. Suddenly, we have a plot. This is the "something more interesting than the denouement" I was talking about in my review of last issue. McDuffie now has my attention, the question is whether he can hold for the rest of the series.
We also have an interesting little subplot revolving around Hank Pym and the Wasp. Their relationship is horridly convoluted, and I confess that I don't have a clear idea of where the pair stand at the moment, but it's good to see that it's being addressed. I'm also curious as to why Firebird is taking such an interest in it.
However, the plot itself still moves on at a snail's pace. Our heroes start and finish the issue in exactly the same part of the jungle. They have advanced not one jot toward their destination. We're halfway through the series and we haven't seen any more of Battleworld than a half-mile beyond their crash site.
I would also like to know who this misfit band is supposed to be fighting. Is it just amongst themselves, or is it with other teams? Was Dragon Man with another team? Did he kill them all? If so, why wasn't he sent home? These are all things McDuffie could well be intending to address in future issues, but I can't help thinking that if I knew them now, I'd be enjoying the story more.
The Spider-Man/Space Phantom revelation was well done; a shame it was undermined by Marvel releasing the cover of issue #4 (showing the Space Phantom in Spider-Man's costume) to Previews months ago. Would it have killed them to with-hold it?
On the whole, this issue makes me more optimistic than pessimistic for the rest of the series. We still have the annoying bickering, and a failure of characters to act like real people (have any of them even wondered what happened to Venom?); but it's tempered with a evolving mystery. It certainly seems as though McDuffie knows where he's going with this, and I think it may be worth it.
The presence of an interesting plot raises my hopes for the series, but this is still no better than average. Three webs.
The Space Phantom first appeared way back in 1963 in Avengers #2. He was a space-going entity who decided to destroy the newly-formed Avengers to prove how powerful he was. The Space Phantom has the power to take on the appearance and powers of almost any creature. He fires a beam of energy at his victim and sends them to the realm of Limbo. When he takes another form, that victim is freed from Limbo. It has since been revealed that there are many space phantoms. Immortus (the future incarnation of Kang the Conqueror) creates space phantoms from those unfortunate enough to be lost in Limbo. This space phantom is supposed to be the original from Avengers #2.