The 'Secret Wars' are coming - and, as fashionable as it is to say an event will utterly transform comic books, this looks to be one that actually will! Here's the lowdown...
What were the original ‘Secret Wars’?
In May 1984, Marvel released the epic ‘Secret Wars’ miniseries, and ironically it was to support a range of action figures made by Mattel! The book itself was a powerful one that made dramatic and sweeping changes to the books it affected, introducing Spider-Man to his symbiote suit, breaking up Kitty Pryde and Colossus, and depowering the Thing.
The core concept was brutally simple: Marvel’s main heroes and villains were transported to an artificially-created Battleworld by a cosmic figure known as the Beyonder. There, they were made to fight it out, with events coming to a head when Doctor Doom – of course – managed to acquire the Beyonder’s power for himself.
Written by Marvel’s then-Editor-in-Chief, Jim Shooter, ‘Secret Wars’ was a hit! It set the pattern for pretty much all future comic-book events.
So ‘Secret Wars’ revisits the same idea?
Essentially, yes, but on a bigger scale. Several years ago, Jonathon Hickman started playing around with the idea of ‘everything ends’ – in this case, as he revealed in his run of ‘Avengers’ and ‘New Avengers’, that the entire Marvel Multiverse is collapsing. Realities are colliding against one another, and being erased out of existence. And the process is accelerating.
In ‘Secret Wars #1’, two of Marvel’s realities will collide – what Marvel call ‘616’, which is the reality the majority of their comics are based in; and the ‘Ultimate’ reality, one launched in 2000 with the goal of being more new-reader-friendly because it started pretty much from scratch. The aftermath of this collision will be the destruction of all of time and space, and the detritus will be crafted into the realm known as Battleworld.
Battleworld will be composed of a jigsaw puzzle of pieces from different realities, populated both by original inhabitants and the cosmic refugees from the destroyed realities. So, for instance, we know that Peter David’s ‘Future Imperfect’ will feature Ruby Summers, daughter of Emma Frost and Cyclops from a timeline that’s nowhere to be seen in Battleworld.
We don’t yet really know what’s causing all this, although current arcs in ‘Avengers’ and ‘New Avengers’ are stripping away the secrets and lies, and telling a cosmic tale of Beyonders gone insane and of Doctor Doom stepping up.
Marvel are viewing this as the end of their realities, and whatever happens in ‘Secret Wars’ will essentially lead to a new Marvel Universe.
So ‘Secret Wars’ is a reboot then?
Although CBR tried to argue that it wasn’t – yes. It’s a reboot. If it walks like a dog, barks like a dog, and eats dog-food like a dog, it’s a dog. And if it wipes continuity out, resets histories, and reshapes reality – then it’s a reboot.
It’ll actually go down as Marvel’s first full-on reboot, although they’ve toyed with the idea before, in the Spider-Man book ‘Brand New Day’.
So what’s happening to Marvel’s books if ‘Secret Wars’ wipes all of reality out?
No, that’s not a joke, Marvel really are shutting down no less than 33 books for the duration of ‘Secret Wars’. And that includes hits like ‘Uncanny X-Men’, ‘Avengers’, and ‘Amazing Spider-Man’!
A number of books will be coming to a logical close – for example, Brian Bendis will end his run on ‘All-New X-Men’ and ‘Uncanny X-Men’ with ‘Uncanny X-Men #600’, which will be the final (pre-‘Secret Wars’) issue. Marvel are saying these books have a ‘616 finale’. And it’s worth noting that the end of ‘Fantastic Four’ ties in with this, perhaps suggesting we shouldn’t just take Marvel’s word for it that ‘Fantastic Four’ won’t be back soon – Marvel aren’t above controversial and clever marketing ploys.
Meanwhile, others will launch into a ‘Last Days’ arc that faces their starring characters with the knowledge that the universe is coming to an end – ‘Magneto’ and ‘Silver Surfer’ among them (the latter seems to be an unusual take on the concept, so may be worth special attention). A few books, still too fresh to really take either approach, will deal with 'Secret Wars' in their own ways - 'Spider-Gwen' being one.
However, the 33 lost books are being replaced by other titles – many with strong ties to either classic runs or classic events of the past. So, for example, Spider-Man heads into ‘Renew Your Vows’, which sees a reality where Peter Parker and Mary-Jane are still married; ‘Inferno’ is based in a reality where the X-Men lost that particular event; and ‘Future Imperfect’ returns to Peter David’s classic timeline of that name. Impressively, Marvel are using the digital comic ‘X-Men ‘92’ to bring in elements of the classic animated series.
There are also a handful of brand-new books, such as 'A-Force'.
Although these are ‘Secret Wars’ books, it’s important to realise that these aren’t your traditional tie-ins. Instead, they’re simply events based on Battleworld. Some of them will be important to the main series (‘Thors’ sounds to tie in a bit), but most can be read at your discretion. Just as, say, you don’t have to read ‘Deathlok’ in order to get ‘Amazing Spider-Man’.
This is actually an approach that's fairly similar to one taken in 1995’s ‘Age of Apocalypse’ event, but trying it in an age of digital media is a pretty gutsy move.
And what happens after ‘Secret Wars’?
We can presume that we wind up with a single streamlined universe, one where some of the wrinkles have been ironed out and where some cool concepts from Battleworld have been brought into mainstream continuity. We do know that some books have been branded as 'Warzones!', ones that dramatically affect post-'Secret Wars' continuity.
There’s been a persistent rumour that the post-‘Secret Wars’ reality won’t feature any mutants, as an act of spite between Marvel and Fox over film rights, but that looks seriously improbable. For one thing, about a third of the realities of Battleworld sound to be X-related.
The reality is – we don’t yet know. We can just choose to enjoy the ride!