Comics/Graphic Novels

Marvel’s Secret Wars: What Does It Mean?

Dave Accampo

Staff Writer

Dave Accampo is a writer, producer and designer living in Portland, Oregon. He co-created the Wormwood: A Serialized Mystery audio drama, the Sparrow & Crowe comics series, and the digital comics series, Lost Angels. Follow him on Twitter: @daccampo.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A big comics company makes a big announcement that sounds really epic… only you have no idea what it all means. And some of your comic book fan friends are making strange gasping noises, so you feel like it’s probably important, but… it all seems a little foreign and intimidating.

Secret Wars 2015

Yeah, I’m talking about Marvel’s new Secret Wars event. If you’re a newer reader, you might be wondering a bit as to what this all means and what you can expect as a reader. If you’ve been around the block, well, this might start with a little nostalgia, but we’ll get to talking about whether or not Secret Wars is something to get excited about.

So,  pull up a chair, and let’s talk about 1984 for a minute. The year. Not the book. Or the Van Halen album.

Why Does That Name Ring A Bell?

secret-wars-1Back in 1984, Marvel Comics launched a series titled Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars. This was a 12 issue mini-series, in which an omnipotent entity known as The Beyonder nabbed all of the major super-heroes and super-villains from Marvel’s Earth and deposited them on a distant planet, cobbled together from various other planets. These heroes and villains were then told that they must “slay” their enemies and be granted everything they desire.

Masterminded by Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter to tie into a super-hero toy line, this original battle royale… isn’t exactly an amazing story when read today. But, in 1984, the story was monumental. Of course, it was still super-hero comics tied to a line of toys, so no one really died in the end. But! This came at a time when the Marvel universe was fairly well coordinated, and Things Happened in Secret Wars that played out on all of our favorite comics.

A new Spider-woman was introduced. Spider-man’s black costume debuted. Colossus, one of the the X-men, fell in love with an female alien healer, which, once he returned to Earth, ruined his fledgling relationship with Kitty Pryde. The Thing, a founding member of the Fantastic Four, chose to remain on this distant planet, and She-Hulk replaced him on the team.

Yes, this really happened.

Yes, this really happened.

The mini-series was a rousing success, so Marvel immediately made a sequel. The less said about this sequel the better, but the basics are essentially this: The Beyonder decides he wants to understand what it is to be human, so he comes to Earth. He appears in EVERY SINGLE COMIC BOOK published by Marvel at the time, while wearing a series of hideous 1980s outfits. Finally, mercifully, he becomes a human. And that’s that.

The title pops up again in 2004 as Secret War, a mini-series by Brian Michael Bendis and Gabriele Dell’Otto. This grounded series only echoes Secret Wars in the sense that a small group of heroes team up to wage a war that no one else knows about — one that involves overthrowing the government of Doctor Doom’s home of Latveria.

So, that brings us to Marvel’s announcement. Secret Wars. A giant event.  What does it all mean?

What Can I Expect from This New Series?

Rather than regurgitate press releases, I’m just going to lay out my own thoughts, based on the press, the history, and a healthy dose of speculation.

Marvel has a lot of alternate universes. The Ultimate Universe was created in 2000 to give a new generation of readers a jumping-on point. But there have always been a plethora of alternate universes. We’ll come back to those in a minute.

The Avengers

Is this the return of the Beyond… just ahead of Secret Wars?

Meanwhile, Marvel creator and “architect” Jonathan Hickman, has been slowly building a huge storyline in the various Avengers books — a story about alternate earths threatening to collide, and the lengths the heroes will go to save one earth, even at the expense of another.

2015’s Secret Wars looks to be a way to take Hickman’s concept and the leverage it across the entirety of Marvel’s various universes. In this new event, it looks like a new “Battleworld” will be formed, and on it will fight all the various alternate versions of your favorite Marvel super-heroes.

And this is where it can get dicey for you newer readers. You likely aren’t going to care whether or not Captain America from the main Marvel universe can beat up the Ultimate Captain America. So, if you were to jump in on this series, the burden is on Marvel to make you care about these various conflicts — to make you feel for characters in alternate universes who may just lose their homes and their lives.

Otherwise, this book is purely fan service for the die-hards — and the Jonathan Hickman fans, who will see this as the culmination of his work at Marvel.

Do you like obscure characters like this one? You may just be in luck!

Do you like obscure characters like this one? You may just be in luck!

That said — if you’re just discovering comics, and you’re the sort who loves to learn about a new character and then go searching across the internet and in comic book stores for more of said character’s history? You might be in for quite a treat — It looks like this Secret Wars series will contain a lot of arcane lore. The images posted show versions of characters from a short-lived universe of characters from Marvel’s Epic line back in the 80s, something called the “Shadowline Saga.” And there are more popular alternate timelines as well, such as the “House of M,” “The Age of Ultron,” and “The Age of Apocalypse.”

This new Battleworld looks to be a place where all these divergent timelines can play and interact together, so if you’re looking for a treasure trove of strange variations and obscure characters — this could be fun.

Can I Skip the Whole Thing?

Obviously, I can in no way predict if the Secret Wars event will be worth your time. If it doesn’t sound like it’s your bag, I highly recommend skipping it.

However, it’s worth noting that if you’re just starting to read new Marvel heroes like Ms. Marvel or The Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s entirely possible that you may find yourself subjected to references of Secret Wars even if you don’t follow the event.

Welcome to events in comics.

Some events do this better than others. And some books may be affected more than other. Like, you know, if you happen to be an Ultimate universe comics reader…

And Then What Happens?

The End of the Ultimate UniverseHoo-boy. That’s the big question mark. Obviously we can only speculate, but as the dust settles, I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel uses this event not just to rearrange some furniture, but to perhaps offer up some new twists and change the status quo of a few properties. In that way, it may not be unlike 1984’s Secret Wars. So, even if you skip the entire event, you can look forward to some new series, refreshed concepts, and perhaps even some twists in the books you’re already reading.





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