ROUND 2, BATTLE 2
SECRET WARS: BATTLEWORLD #2
ULTIMATE END #2
Secret Wars: Battleworld reads a lot like Marvel’s old “What If?” series. Each issue features two short arcs about a different wacky result of Battleworld’s existence. Simply put, Secret Wars: Battleworld is what it’s like when worlds collide. M.O.D.O.K. summons and fights an army of M.O.D.O.K.s. Blade and Howard the Duck team up to fight a duck dracula. A Doctor Strange-Possessed Punisher fights Wolverine, Hulk, Spider-Man and Ghost Rider. War Machine receives a pep talk from Captain America (they’re not always very crazy).
The tone of the series varies wildly between stories. The first story of Secret Wars: Battleworld does, in fact, feature a Blade/Howard the Duck team up and it is followed by the tale of a revenge-hungry War Machine searching for his daughter’s killer (but mostly receiving Captain America pep-talks). This isn’t necessarily bad, the reader just needs to be able to cope and roll with it, but it highlights one of the main issues of the series: it is, by default, a place for stories too unimportant to receive their own dedicated storyline. It helps flesh out the world, it examines the consequences of Battleworld’s creation and makes the whole thing feel less McGuffin-like and more drama-filled, but it’s essentially a companion piece.
Ultimate End is guided firmly by the hand of Brian Michael Bendis, and the series’ ability to pull good storytelling from absolute chaos shows just what giving a great writer a bit of a free reign can do for you. It features the same consequence-exploring vibe as Secret Wars: Battleworld in a more coherent package. Tony Stark helps Tony Stark face his resurgent alcoholism. Peter Parker visits dead Peter Parker’s family. Hulk fights Hulk. Now that I think about it, Marvel may have a “one Hulk-on-Hulk fight per series” minimum in place. I mean Hulks are just all over the place in Battleworld. Can we get statistics on how many Hulks per capita this place has? It’s gotta be pushing 1:1 at this point.
Bendis also does an excellent job of making his series stand on its own. There are plenty of Battlew0rld tropes found in the pages of Ultimate End, by they always feel more like they’ve been drawn upon to help Bendis tell his story rather than the more typical feeling that a comic is being temporarily abducted to serve as a host organism for Big Picture back story. There’s no “oh look Hawkeye’s got a scene in this Thor movie because he’s too small to get his own flick” here. The Thor Corp does make an appearance, but it clearly moves the plot forward (while also fulfilling Marvel’s “one Thor Corp appearance per series” quota).
Ultimate End wins in a landslide, due far more to its great storytelling than to any lack of merit from Secret Wars: Battleworld. In an ideal world, they co-exist side-by-side, happily being read in a meadow somewhere near a bubbling brook. They could laugh and play, being tickled by the fingers of their readers, maybe sharing occasional wistful glances with each other. But this is Battleworld Battleworld, bitch. Go grab your copies of Secret Wars: Battleworld and burn that shit, it’s dead to you now. Long live Ultimate End, may it continue to soak its pages in the blood of its enemies.