Secrets of Marvel's SECRET WARS, Part 1: It Was Always an FF Story

Art from 'Secret Wars #9'
Art from 'Secret Wars #9'
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Spoilers ahead for Secret Wars #9.

Marvel’s Secret Wars started with "Everything Dies," but by the end of it the mantra became "Everything Lives."

In between, Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic's event series – what Marvel called their biggest event ever – had some bumps along the way, but with all nine issues complete Marvel Senior VP of Publishing Tom Brevoort has time to look back. Newsarama talked at-length with the long-time editor (and editor of virtually all of Marvel's events in the past 15 years) in wake of this week’s completion of the series. In this part one of a two part interview, Brevoort talks about secret origin of the event, the decisions he and Marvel weighed as the delays mounted, and what the final issue revealed as the true story of Secret Wars and, in a way, everything Hickman's done at Marvel before.

Newsarama: Tom, Secret Wars was a massive undertaking that was years in the making. How closely does the finale that was presented in Secret Wars #9 resemble what was originally planned, and what changed from the initial idea to the printed page?

Tom Brevoort: Well, it’s hard to say, in that when we started all of this, originally we didn’t have the endgame all blocked out. It wasn’t until it got to the point where this was going to be a real thing that the endgame became solid. And from there it didn’t really change, materially, at all.

Art from 'Secret Wars #9'
Art from 'Secret Wars #9'
Credit: Marvel Comics

As I’ve talked about elsewhere, Jonathan [Hickman] had the original idea for doing a Secret Wars series – I’m a little vague on exactly how far back we had the initial conversations. I think it may have even been before he was writing Fantastic Four, when he was just doing Secret Warriors. There was an idea for this book that would have been called Secret Wars and that would have had the Illuminati fighting incursions from other universes, and that would have been the book, those would have been the Secret Wars. That was the original version of this that got pitched.

But it wasn’t real yet then, so Jonathan went on to do his Fantastic Four run, and Shield, and a bunch of other things. It really wasn’t until we went to him and said, “Brian [Bendis] is leaving Avengers, would you be interest in doing Avengers? What would you do with Avengers?” And he said “We can do my Secret Wars idea there. We’ll make that Secret Wars.” New Avengers would be that Illuminati book that was the original pitch, and the main Avengers book would tell sort of the light side to the dark side. At that point it became a real thing and we began to build the story that would be the actual Secret Wars.

Initially a few things changed. For one thing, we had just killed Professor X the month before in AvX so he could not be part of the story, and when it was originally pitched and planned, he would have been. This is why we brought the Beast in very early, within two issues I think, of New Avengers. We had to sub out Professor X for the Beast.

But generally speaking, this is the story.

Nrama: So it came pretty close to what was originally planned by the time it had its genesis in Avengers.

Art from 'Secret Wars #9'
Art from 'Secret Wars #9'
Credit: Marvel Comics

Brevoort: Yeah. And again, there are little things that shifted along the way, as with anything that runs this long, and things that we didn’t know or could not have anticipated. Nobody could have anticipated that Thor was gonna be a woman at the time Secret Wars hit, because people hadn’t had those ideas yet.

But the story was mapped out in such a way that those sort of changes could be incorporated into it. The fact that Steve Rogers was gonna be the older, more emaciated Steve, and that Sam Wilson was gonna become Captain America – we could not have anticipated that, and didn’t. But we were able to fold that into the story pretty naturally, which was the beauty of the way this was all arranged, and the beauty of what Jonathan was able to do with it, even factoring that sort of stuff in on the fly.

Nrama: So, speaking of things you couldn’t have anticipated, this may be a little bit inside baseball, but I want to talk about the delays in getting Secret Wars out. Stuff like that is what it is, and it happens in the business. But speaking from your point of view, as the person steering the ship, what goes through your mind when a book like Secret Wars starts getting delays, and how hard was it not to take measures like making creative changes to get the book out sooner?

Brevoort: Well, you have to weigh that at every step of the way, at every stage, and balance between what’s the short term good, and what’s the long term good.

Certainly any time a series is delayed, particularly with a series readers are interested in or into, people are upset. Retailers are upset because comics aren’t coming out and consequently, money isn’t flowing into their cash registers. Fans are upset because they don’t have the thing that they want when they want it. And that’s totally understandable. The flipside of that, though, is if you’re going to act in an expedient manner and you’re gonna make a creative switch and throw bodies at a project, what you’re effectively gonna be doing is compromising the integrity of the quality of the product. Which sometimes is necessary, but it’s almost inevitably to the detriment of the longer term future of the work.

Because Secret Wars got such a strong reaction initially, and throughout the middle, the people at Marvel were more willing to bite the bullet, and suffer the slings and arrows, and hold the line long enough for Jonathan and Esad [Ribic] to finish the story in the manner that it was intended. We took the long term view that the story will be better, it’ll be better received as the issues come out now, it’ll be better remembered in the aftermath, and it’ll have a better, stronger life in its future as a collected edition.

The project that we point to most often when we talk about this sort of thing is Civil War. And Civil War, ten years ago, suffered delays, and ten years ago, we held the line and made sure that Mark Millar and Steve McNiven were able to finish that series. And that series, since that time, has been our best-selling collection, our best-selling digital book, our best selling everything. They’re making a movie now that’s based in some degree on that story. So it would seem like, at least in that instance, that was the smart play. It’s not always that, but in this case the decision was made, and the choice was made – and was made at every stage – that this was the way it should be.

I was talking to somebody about this the other day, and the analogy I made went like this. Obviously, the reason that fans in particular are upset about the delays is that they want the thing that they want; they don’t just want a comic book with the Secret Wars logo on the front of it. They want the experience that got them to that point, and to see that story continue to play out the way they want. They want it now because we’re all impatient and we all want our entertainment.

But this would sort of be the equivalent of saying, “Well, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is gonna open on this date, but we don’t have the special effects completed yet, and if we’re gonna make that release date, we’re gonna have to cast somebody else to play Finn and Rey for the last 20 minutes of the movie." And you could go and see that version of The Force Awakens, but I suspect people would not have been as happy with it. It’s not the same. And that’s an extreme example, but it’s the same kind of example. What people want is the genuine experience.

And so we made this choice, and we stand behind this choice. Just seeing the smattering of reviews and response that we’ve seen in the last 24 hours, it’s getting an incredibly positive response. So it seems like that was probably the smarter play. Yeah, this comic could have been out three months ago, but it would have been a hack job. It would have been finished by a dozen people, and it would have been a mess, and the reaction and response that we’re seeing now wouldn’t have been there. From this point on, going into the future, these delays all vanish. Anyone who has read Civil War in the last ten years had no delays – they read it as a book. Even the people who read it ten years ago who had those delays, they forget.

I’m an old enough fan that I remember the three month delay between Dark Knight Returns #2 and #3, and I remember the two month delay between Dark Knight Returns #3 and #4, but nobody else does. Everybody’s read that as a book. They’ve read it as a collection that’s been on the shelves since 1986. Even the people that were there – those delays evaporate, because then #3 comes out, and then #4 comes out. Watchmen #12 was like six months late. But of course you waited for that, and having waited for that, it’s been a book that’s been in print ever since.

That’s not to say that Secret Wars is a literary masterpiece on the level of the best that the industry has to offer, per se. Other people can make that determination. That’s not really for me to say.

Art from 'Secret Wars #9'
Art from 'Secret Wars #9'
Credit: Marvel Comics

What I am saying, though, is that those delays are transitory. They go away, they evaporate once you’re done. Anybody that’s gonna read Secret Wars from today on out, it’s all done. There’s nine issues and you’re gonna read it, and you like it or you don’t like it. We try to balance the short term need with the long term need to get the best result all around.

Nrama: It sounds like the biggest priority was preserving the artistic integrity of Secret Wars as a whole, and as a work.

Credit: Esad Ribic/Ive Svorcina (Marvel Comics)

Brevoort: Definitely. Especially considering the amount of work that went into Secret Wars. Secret Wars wasn’t just these nine issues – it was three years of Avengers before it, and to some degree, the four years of Fantastic Four before that. So it was a long game. Doing those years of Avengers, there were times when we had to compromise things. We had issues that were done by multiple artists, or we had to bring in an artist that maybe wasn’t the best choice for the subject matter of that particular issue, but was the best guy we had available in the time frame. For the actual Secret Wars series, for the climax, nobody wanted to compromise on that. If the reaction to Secret Wars hadn’t been so good, we’d probably have been more likely to compromise, because it wouldn’t have mattered as much.

Nrama: Throughout Secret Wars, we’ve been exploring Battleworld, but Secret Wars #9 kind of zooms in on Doom and Reed Richards and makes that, really, the central conflict. Why the choice to take it from the macro view to take it from exploring Battleworld and all these territories and characters, and boil it down to these two men for the finale?

Brevoort: Well, that’s the story. It doesn’t boil down to that – that’s the story. This was always the story going back beyond Secret Wars, and it’s all there in the issues that came before this. This is, inexorably, what it comes down to. There’s no other climax that makes sense, that works. It’s easy to see now; maybe it was a little more disguised when we went into it, but this really was the biggest Fantastic Four story ever done. It had a lot of other characters in it because this was a big story, but this was really a Fantastic Four story. It’s about Reed, and Ben, and Sue, and Johnny, and the Future Foundation kids, and Doom and their relationships.

The fact that Doom was the main villain, and the fact that Doom and Reed are the eternal opposites, the two sides of the same coin, that relationship extends back to 1962. We didn’t create that. There is no other outcome that resonates so well, that makes so much sense, that feels so emotionally right other than this. And that’s where the story was headed before you read the first page of it. This is what it was about. This is the thing. So there wasn’t even a choice. It wasn’t even like we were just bringing it down to two guys fighting. The end of any story, you’re gonna face the enemy, you’re gonna face the opponent. In this case, that’s Doom. It was always gonna be Doom. And over the course of #7 and #8, we pulled in the threads of all the different Battleworld territories and all the different characters we saw throughout the series. But in the end, it’s gonna come down to this relationship.

If you look at it, you’ll kind of see that there’s no other version of this that’s more satisfying, or more appropriate. This is the story.

Nrama: So let’s talk about the Fantastic Four.

I’m a huge Fantastic Four fan, and I know you are too. For fans of the FF like us, Secret Wars #9 is kind of bittersweet. On one hand it takes the Richards family off the board for the time being, but on the other hand, it’s kind of a really poetic swan song with the family that launched the Marvel Universe literally remaking it. At what point did you make the decision to take the Fantastic Four in that direction, and was it something that was purely artistically driven?

Brevoort: We made that decision heading into Secret Wars. We’ve said this a bunch of times over the years, but Fantastic Four is a title and a concept that has a lot of built in historical importance in the Marvel Universe, but to the readership of today, it doesn’t resonate the same way that X-Men, or Avengers, or even Guardians of the Galaxy does right now. It’s sort of taken for granted. It’s sort of seen as a holdover from another era. Which isn’t to say that the characters aren’t great, or the concepts aren’t important, or that it isn’t a lynchpin of the Marvel Universe, but it’s just the facts of the world, and the zeitgeist of today. Fantastic Four hasn’t been at the forefront.

Art from 'Secret Wars #9'
Art from 'Secret Wars #9'
Credit: Marvel Comics

And so doing a big story that would be, at least for the time being, the final Fantastic Four story, will hopefully present us with a situation where the heart grows fonder because the thing that you take for granted isn’t around anymore – at least not in the way that it once was. So this is the path that we chose to follow. We’ve had great results with this before. At the end of “Avengers Disassembled,” we stopped having a Thor comic book. And we didn’t have a Thor comic book for a couple years, there was no Thor. And consequently, when the Thor comic book came back, it was an overwhelming hit, it was huge. Some of that is down to the talent that made that book. Certainly J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel were a top flight team, and approached it with both hands on the wheel, but some of it was also that people were hungry again for a character that, before that, they didn’t really pay a lot of attention to. So hopefully, over time, it’ll be the same thing for the Fantastic Four.

The other thing is, those characters are not completely gone. None of them are dead – though people thought they would be, because we planted some memorials and did some eulogizing in the earliest “All-New, All-Different” Marvel books. But clearly, nobody has actually perished, and Ben and Johnny are active in a bunch of books around the line right now.

And whether it’s tomorrow, or in a year, or in five years, the potential, and indeed the likelihood, is that there will be some new Fantastic Four book again. And in the meantime, those characters, for the people that love them, are still in play, and are still a factor in the Marvel Universe. But the omnipresent but overlooked Fantastic Four is not. Hopefully that absence will actually make it more valuable when we announce some Fantastic Four thing at some date in the future.

Look for part two of Newsarama's conversation with Tom Brevoort next week, with the editor answering questions about the effects of Secret Wars on the "All-New All-Different" Marvel Universe and the future of the publisher as a whole.

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