The secret is out: Why 'Secret Wars' is a big deal for Marvel fans

2015’s Secret Wars was a massive event that destroyed the entire Marvel multiverse and remade it anew. – Photos: Marvel Comics

The big news from Marvel Studios’ San Diego Comic Con Hall H panel was that there will be not one, but two Avengers movies to end the Multiverse Saga phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU – Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars, both to be released in 2025.

We already knew that Kang the Conquerer, played by Jonathan Majors, will be the next big villain in the Multiverse Saga, so Kang Dynasty was a given. It is Secret Wars that has Marvel fans all excited, seeing as the original 1984 Secret Wars story was arguably the first mega crossover event in comic book history.

Secretwars1Secretwars1Plus, after mega blockbusters like Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers Endgame, it would certainly take something super special to eclipse them. Secret Wars has the weight and potential to achieve that, but, the question now is... which Secret Wars are we talking about?

Originally, the “Secret Wars” title belonged exclusively to a 1984 12-issue limited series edition written by Jim Shooter (Marvel Comics’ then editor-in-chief) and drawn by Mike Zeck and Bob Layton. However, in 2015, the creative team of Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic produced a different nine-issue story using the same Secret Wars title.

Both stories were unique, but there is a case to be made for them to form the foundation for the upcoming Avengers: Secret Wars story. This week, let’s take a look at each story and consider which one could work best for the movie.

The original recipe

Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars (1985), or simply known as Secret Wars, came into existence initially as a result of toy company Mattel’s acquisition of the rights to Marvel characters in the early 1980s.

Because of that, Marvel’s then editor-in-chief Jim Shooter decided to come up with a story that gathered various heroes and villains from different titles across the Marvel universe and create a crossover to fuel sales of Mattel’s action figures.

While the idea of a company-wide crossover event is a dime a dozen these days, at the time, gatherings of such magnitude (Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Spider-Men combining their powers against their greatest foes) were extremely rare in the 1980s – making Secret Wars an instant hit.

The original Secret Wars introduced Spidey’s iconic black costume, which later became Venom.The original Secret Wars introduced Spidey’s iconic black costume, which later became Venom.The plot sees the characters getting teleported by an omnipotent being named The Beyonder into a distant planet, Battleworld. It wasn’t a Club Med vacation though, as the heroes and villains were forced to do the Beyonder’s bidding and “slay their enemies and achieve their hearts’ desires”.

With Earth’s mightiest superheroes pitted against its most evil villains, there were slugfests and skirmishes galore, until Dr Doom decided to rewrite the script by usurping Galactus’ powers and besting the Beyonder, albeit temporary.

For me, Secret Wars isn’t just about the slugfests or the merchandising as there were plenty of interesting developments to keep fans occupied as well, from the introduction of Spidey’s symbiotic black suit (which later became Venom), to first appearances of the new Spider Woman (Julia Carpenter), Titania (recently seen in Disney+ Hotstar’s She-Hulk: Attorney At Law) and Volcana.

There were also interesting romantic storylines involving Thor and Enchantress, Colossus and Zsaji, and even a spark of attraction between Magneto and the Wasp.

Last but not least, Secret Wars also marked a change in roll call in the Fantastic Four, where She-Hulk replaced the Thing, after the latter chose to remain on Battleworld. While Doom was eventually beaten and the heroes and villains were transported off Battleworld, the threat of the Beyonder remained.

Take Two

'Secret Wars II' failed to live up to the original's success.'Secret Wars II' failed to live up to the original's success.Buoyed by the success of the 1984 series, a nine-part Secret Wars II was released a year later with the Beyonder coming to Earth for a vacation and to learn about Life and humanity.

While the initial objective was to humanise an omnipotent being, Secret Wars II was let down by a poor script and even worse artwork. Despite some drastic acts committed by the Beyonder (i.e. mind-wiping and resurrecting deceased characters), Secret Wars II remains one of those sequels that should have never been made.

Third time’s the charm

After Secret Wars II’s failure, it took the House of Ideas 30 years to release a more credible Secret Wars story, courtesy of Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic.

The nostalgia goes beyond the namesake, as this 2015 tale has an even bigger Battleworld, comprising a combined mish-mash of the post-collision pieces of Marvel’s core Earth-616 Universe and the “Ultimate Marvel” Earth-1610 universe.

The 2015 ‘reboot’ of Secret Wars was a real epic of an event.The 2015 ‘reboot’ of Secret Wars was a real epic of an event.Then there’s also the presence of the Beyonder... or rather Beyonders, who are now looking to destroy the entire Multiverse in order to reshape it. The Molecule Man also makes a comeback as a Multiversal “key” and practically “powers up” the place.

Nevertheless, the one commonality that stands out most is none other than Doctor Viktor Von Doom.

While his arch nemesis Reed Richards was running out of ideas to save the world and resorting to building an “ark” to save a selected few from the impending cataclysmic destruction, Doom one ups him by actually defeating the Beyonders and using their powers to remake the Marvel Universe in his own image.

This “Doomworld” was a new Battleworld comprising particles of dozens of random worlds from the Marvel multiverse, with subsequent tie-in issues recreating some of Marvel’s most iconic and legendary storylines.

Doom’s act of defiance not only puts to rest the debate on who’s more intellectually superior between him and Reed but – to add salt to injury – Doom rules Battleworld with Sue Richards as his consort, and Franklin and Valeria Richards as his wards.

Thanos is inevitable? Bah! Doom is unstoppable!Thanos is inevitable? Bah! Doom is unstoppable!

With the 2015 Secret Wars scripted in Doom’s favour, the plot twist has the surviving heroes (led by Reed, obviously) launching a plan to defeat Doom and restore the Multiverse to its original form. As expected, good triumphs over evil with Reed besting Doom and reclaiming what’s rightfully his, and him teaming up with the Molecule Man to rebuild the Multiverse.

Comparing the 2015 with the 1984 version, the latest one certainly offers more depth in terms of plot. While the “gathering of heroes and villains” theme is strong in both, the 2015 tale comes off as more of a universal “Reed Vs Doom” tale, and the ending, which temporary took the Fantastic Four out from the Marvel Universe (which was actually triggered by real life issues), made this event more meaningful.

MCU theories

Whichever Secret Wars incarnation you choose, all roads seem to lead towards... Doom. I have said countless times that the next big villain the MCU needs is Doom, and his dastardliness should eclipse even Thanos and Kang, combined.

Just as he did in the original Secret Wars, Doom will inevitably play a huge role in the MCU in the near future.Just as he did in the original Secret Wars, Doom will inevitably play a huge role in the MCU in the near future.Just like how Infinity War and Endgame united the entire MCU, a Secret Wars movie has that similar potential and more – especially when it offers a springboard to elevate the Fantastic Four’s status in the MCU.

Timing wise, there’s already a Fantastic Four movie scheduled for release in 2024 but I expect that to be “self-contained”, unless it’s not an origin tale.

In terms of characters, the Marvel TV series has proliferated a host of characters (both heroes and villains), and the opportunity to unite everyone under one roof should be an opportunity that is too good for Marvel to pass up. Be it the Wrecking Crew’s appearance on She-Hulk or an attempt to revive the Inhumans, a Secret Wars movie would be big enough to host a mega jamboree.

A last word on the Beyonder, who’s been a prominent figure in all Secret Wars versions. He is definitely the game-changing character that the Marvel Universe needs. The Time Variance Authority and the Gamemaster are just comic relief, while the Beyonder offers a different dimension.

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