Friday Flashback: Secret Wars

Friday Flashback: Secret Wars

Marvel’s December solicitations revealed the next round of December What If books. This round’s unifying subject is mostly recent “event” style stories: House of M, Spider-Man: Back in Black, Newer Fantastic Four, Captain America: Fallen Son, and… Secret Wars? Wait a second, that’s really old! In fact, that’s 23 years old! Sheesh! Hey, isn’t that also an all-time classic Marvel story? It sure is!

The 12-part story in 1985 and 1986 was the first big time that Marvel and DC went head-to-head with “event comics,” something we now see every summer. The book was written by Jim Shooter and drawn by Mike Zeck. Shooter, of course, was Marvel’s E-i-C and has long been associated with all things cosmic, and this is a large reason why.

The story sits in a lot of longtime readers’ minds as a truly quintessential Marvel story. Upon re-reading it, I found it to be a quintessential 80s story. The exposition is spelled out to a T, just in case you’re having the story read to you and not allowed to actually look at the pictures, and they certainly make sure that any new readers will know exactly whom the characters in the book are. As for those characters, the choices seem a little weird looking back on it. Here’s your line-ups, which they literally did Mickey Mouse Club style:

In the Red corner, we have the heroes: Wasp (Janet Van Dyne, not a tennis playing protestant), She-Hulk, Captain Marvel (Monica, not the good one), Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, and Iron Man (a “black man;” their words, not mine; Jim Rhodes if you’re curious) are representing the Avengers; Professor X and his X-Men, Storm, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Cyclops, Wolverine, and Colossus!, who gets and exclamation point (and Lockheed the Dragon!); The Hulk, with Bruce Banner’s full mental capacity, and Spider-Man are the free agents; The Fantastic Four minus one round out the Heroes side with Mister Fantastic, The Human Torch, and the Easter Bunny present (Sue was preggers at the time). Magneto was also mysteriously put among the heroes squad.

In the Blue corner, we have the villains, who also conveniently lined up so Dr. Doom could do his best Michael Buffer impersonation: Enchantress, Ultron (well, for a minute or two), Absorbing Man, Wrecker, Thunderball, Piledriver, Bulldozer, Kang, Galactus, Lizard, Molecule Man, Dr. Octopus, and of course Doom himself. Yes, these line-ups are incredibly lopsided. No, no one seemed to point that out.

Ultron is an almost immediate casualty, as he goes all “organics must die” and Galactus drains him of more power than an H-Bomb. Finally the orchestrator of all this reveals himself. The Beyonder, a seemingly all-powerful being from the multiverse tells the assembled fighters that all they have to do is defeat their foes and he’ll grant them anything they desire. He punks Galactus and Dr. Doom, and the fight between the heroes and villains begins.

The first battle sees She-Hulk take things “like tubular, you know – to the MAX!” (her words, not mine), and the villains soundly defeated into a retreat by the assembled might of the heroes. Though, really, the X-Men (minus Cyclops) got their butts kicked and the Avengers (plus Hulk) picked up the slack. Everyone, especially in these early issues, is written as what now would seem caricatures of them. Wolverine’s “tough” but also pompous and disrespectful, especially to Captain America. Shooter also perhaps inadvertently made a great case for the Hulk to be a mindless, savage beast- his Banner-fied Hulk is the most annoying character this side of Jar Jar.

Regardless, both the Heroes and the Villains setup bases, but the Heroes respite is short as Magneto is tearing up the power plant of the mysterious planet. When the heroes investigate, Ben Grimm is reverted to normal Human, and they see the looming threat of Galactus.

The heroes soon start to despair, while Magneto lays his best game on The Wasp and a nasty storm keeps most of the heroes inside, despite having both Thor and Storm present. The X-Men continue their streak of getting destroyed as even Spider-Man beats them up in issue #3, after hearing them establish that they defend a world that hates and fears them, just in case you missed it the first 25 years (at that point), and that they planned to join up with Mags. Xavier wipes what ‘ole Parker heard from his mind before he could go tell anyone else, though. While Magneto macks on Wasp, Doom powers up a couple ladies himself, essentially creating Titania and Volcana. With the X-Men gone, it’s up to the other heroes to get beat up, and beat up they get. Doom and his new allies take them down easily, destroying their base in their wake.

In a ridiculous display of over-powered characters, Molecule Man drops an entire mountain range on the heroes, who survived the collapse of their buildings. Thor looks like he’s vaporized by the re-tooled Ultron, and Doom orders the robot to do the same to Kang. You know what hasn’t happened in awhile? The X-Men haven’t gotten their asses kicked. Well, leave it to 2-inch tall Wasp to take care of that problem. Maybe the Avengers should’ve just called her during that whole Disassembled thing and let her take care of things on her own! In a ridiculous display of over-powered characters, Hulk caught the mountain range thrown at the heroes, saving them all.

The heroes are healed by some natives, and Johnny Storm goes on a psychotropic trip to recap the series thus far with one of them. From here the series progresses through a rotating set of battles. It may seem redundant after awhile, but that’s really what the whole premise of the book was in the first place. The X-Men do eventually strike back, and not quite get there asses kicked. Wolverine nearly kills Molecule Man and cuts of Absorbing Man’s arm. Really, if they weren’t so desperate to go up against another 12-issue universal crossover, they could’ve just let Wolverine and Galactus kill everyone and done a one-shot.

The heroes and villains each continued their own in-fighting and their own master plans to get off this crazy Battleworld. Meanwhile, Colossus spends his time off-world cheating on Kitty Pryde with Johnny Storm's cast-offs. Make your own inappropirate "Colossus's skin is hard as steel" joke now; I'll wait. A new Spider-Woman (who would later go by Arachne to stem confusion) is introduced, as apparently South Park (or some other Denver suburb) was one of the pieces of many worlds used to construct this new planet. A volcano erupts, the Wasp dies (she got better), She-Hulk and Titania start their rivalry, and “Amid the chaos, there comes… A COSTUME!” That’s right, the biggest part of this event (the longest-lasting at least) is Spidey’s new costume. Thor and Hulk found a machine that makes new clothes based on your thoughts (obviously, a high-priority for a battleworld), but Spidey uses the wrong machine. Instead, he gets covered by what we’ll later find out is the Symbiote who bonds with Eddie Brock, creating Venom. In an interesting twist, after bugging-out that Julie Carpenter was infringing on his identity, his new black costume is clearly based on hers.

Galactus hungers, and tries to eat the planet, cause that’s how he rolls. Doom steals some of Beyonder’s power using lenses made of Klaw. Doom fights and seemingly destroys/merges with the Beyonder, owning all the magnificent power. Fight fight fight, battle battle, battle, and finally the Beyonder takes his power back from Doom, the heroes all live happily ever after, and Captain America rebuilds his Shield through sheer force of will (wait, what?). Colossus’s hussy died, Ben Grimm decided to stay in space, and She-Hulk joined the Fantastic Four in his place. And thus, the saga ends.

This book is really notable for that last bit, where She-Hulk joins the F4, and for the birth of the Symbiote costume. Reading it again made me realize just how much this was structured like a modern shonen manga. They just kept fighting, sometimes for issues at a time, and kept fighting stronger and stronger foes. No one really won or lost in the end, and aside from the aforementioned changes (temporary though they were), nothing very lasting happened here. The greater battle, really, and one that we now see yearly, is that of the crossovers between Marvel and DC. Is this one of Marvel’s greatest stories? I’d have to say no, honestly. However, it is one of the most memorable, for sure. And just think, we never would’ve had Spider-Man 3 if it wasn’t for this book. Oh, wait…

Let's hear it - what are your memories of Secret Wars

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