Favorite Fictional Characters, #160: The Beyonder
In 1984 I was nine years old, and new to the world of comic books. By that, I mean the serious business of comic books, not the casual perusal of a stray issue of Batman. No, 1984 is when I truly began an attachment to the Marvel Universe that continued for the better part of the next decade, and included a systematic delving into the history of the teams and characters I was meeting, ranging back to their origins when my own parents were still teenagers. The X-Men were my entree, my gateway drug, beginning around issue 183 and extending both backwards and forwards, but I would expand that addiction to include the Avengers. (Especially an odd attachment to the West Coast Avengers. More on that another time.)
Of course, the big event in 1984 was the original huge crossover event, Secret Wars. This twelve-issue limited series was where I first encountered many of the denizens of the Marvel Universe. Dr. Doom, Magneto, Thor, Galactus, Mr. Fantastic...heck, most everyone except Spider-Man (I'd been an adoring consumer of his Saturday morning cartoon with Firestar and Iceman) and the Hulk (Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, anyone?). But this event, this bizarre adventure on the cobbled-together Battleworld, was our introduction, and it remains the fly-in-amber nature of my perceptions of many of them.
A lot of interesting developments came out of Secret Wars - Spider-Man's black suit (which would, of course, turn out to be the symbiote Venom), Magneto's slow turn toward a flirtation with heroism, She-Hulk joining the FF, and more. But I always liked the Beyonder him(it?)self, the omnipotent entity that brought the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe together to scrimmage for his entertainment. It's prescient of Q, Captain Picard's supercharged gadfly in the Star Trek:TNG series that would debut a few years later. All-powerful, all-knowing, but supremely limited (like the genie in the lamp), suddenly aware of an entire reality outside its experience. An unfamiliar lack of completeness, of comforting wholeness. Childlike fascination and yet impatience. The original Secret Wars series hints at these things, as we are treated to perhaps the best narrative arcs in the long histories of great characters like Dr. Doom, Galactus, and others. I reread this series every year or two, and it's worthwhile both for nostalgia and for the added layers I find each time.
Secret Wars II, by the way, is a bloated, confusing sacrilege. The idea of the Beyonder visiting Earth is great, but the execution suffers in the drawn-out attempt to sell comic books. Of course, there is great comedy in Spider-Man having to explain to this cosmic entity how to use a bathroom. That alone is pretty worthwhile.