Put aside, for a second, the mentions of “Battleworld Forged” and “Universes Destroyed;” we’ll come back to them soon enough. The most interesting part of Thursday’s Secret Wars trailer from Marvel comes at the very end, when the words “All New” appear above the Marvel logo. “All-New Marvel?”
The idea of a reboot for the Marvel Universe is something that’s been floating around for years, especially after DC did it for a second (full) time with 2011’s New 52 — a move that was outstandingly successful for the publisher despite fan complaints about the loss of long-standing continuity. Instead of following DC’s lead, however, Marvel’s response has been to relaunch and refine its offerings with the Marvel Now!, All-New Marvel Now! and Avengers Now! campaigns. But what if that was going to change? After all, doesn’t “All-New Marvel” sound like it’s a chance to start over?
When a Marvel Universe reboot has been mooted in the past, it’s often met with a response somewhere along the lines of “That’s not what Marvel does; that’s DC’s thing.” To be fair, that’s historically been true, but there’s no denying that the recent direction of certain Marvel titles — specifically Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers — is veering close to the traditional DC trope of Crises on Infinite Earths. Hell, the Alex Ross cover to Secret Wars #1 is pretty much a tribute to the George Perez cover for the first Crisis on Infinite Earths issue back in 1985. (That series ended, you’ll remember, with DC’s first universe-wide reboot. Food for thought, perhaps?)
There are plenty of tempting reasons for Marvel to consider a line-wide reboot, of course. Putting aside the attractive possibility of even more #1s (We’ve seen, after all, that Marvel will happily go that route without any reboot necessary), there’s the chance to create one continuity that spans everything Marvel, outside of the already-in-progress movies, from the comic books to the animated series and the various merchandise and the whatever else you can think of. Instead of having to explain why Iron Man in the comics doesn’t look like Iron Man in the cartoons or Iron Man in the Slurpee cup, rebooting offers the possibility to get everything in the same place and offer newcomers a chance to get on board on the ground floor. That part, at least, worked for DC when they tried it, and Marvel’s brand penetration is far greater than DC’s at this point.
And yet… and yet… One of Marvel’s things is that everything is in continuity (Well, almost everything; I think we’ve all agreed never to speak of Team America ever again). Even when it makes no sense — we can all agree that the Nick Fury Jr. thing was needlessly convoluted, right? — everything counts. It’s a gift to long-term fans, and also a way to drive back-catalog material sales; this stuff still “matters.” Rebooting the universe might simplify everything, but it also means a loss of decades of history and, arguably, decades of reprint material.
What if there was a way for Marvel to have its cake and eat it, though? What if Marvel was able to start all over, redefine its universe and prevent wiping away its entire history to date? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Battleworld. (I told you we’d get back to that eventually.)
For those who remember the original Secret Wars series, you’ll remember that the first Battleworld was a patchwork planet made up of bits and pieces of other planets. The trailer for the new Secret Wars at least heavily hints that the new Battleworld is made up of parallel Earths relating to all the teasers released over the last few weeks, and the mention of “Universes Destroyed” in the trailer leads me to wonder: what if the new Battleworld is Marvel’s Earth from now on?
I know, I know; that sounds like a ridiculous theory, but think about it. If all of the various Marvel Earths get smushed together as the result of Incursion-related shenanigans, it offers the publisher the chance to easily reset continuity to wherever it wants, without undoing any of the stories fans have already read. Spider-Man is married again? No problem, the Spider-Man on this planet comes from a world where Mary Jane didn’t make a deal with Mephisto! Wolverine’s alive again? It’s the Wolverine from a world where he didn’t die!
Sure, you’ll have duplicate versions of characters, but you’ve got all of Secret Wars to kill them off in fan-friendly mash-ups. Hell, that even gives this new Secret Wars more of a reason to exist than the first; instead of fighting because some mysterious godlike force demands it, now all the characters can be fighting for their very survival.
I’m not saying that this is definitely the direction that Secret Wars will take — outside of the teasers and today’s trailer, I know absolutely nothing about the project for sure, just like you, dear reader. But there’s something about the way that the trailer makes it clear that Battleworld is made up of different continuities that sticks in my brain and makes me think, there really is a way for Marvel to realign its continuity and essentially reboot the entire line without invalidating what went before. Isn’t that the best of all possible worlds?