1985 was an interesting year for comics with the birth of the event series. Seeing DC release their Crisis on Infinite Earths 12 issue maxi-series, Marvel did the same with Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, or just Secret Wars by writer Jim Shooter (then Marvel Editor-in-chief) and artists Mike Zeck and Bob Layton. Essentially, the purpose of this series was to see these various superheroes and villains gather together and fight. While practically every character in the Marvel universe has been an Avenger by now, it was a novelty then because many of the heroes had their own adventures with limited interaction. While they all knew each other (to a point), they were never seen to be in a group this big before.
The book opens with the heroes suddenly appearing on a domed space station, lost as to why they appeared. Outside they see another platform where their villains have also appeared. The book smartly does a role call, initiating the reader to the cast. Representing the heroes we have Captain America, Captain Marvel II (the Monica Rambeau version), Hawkeye, Iron Man (who is currently James Rhodes, I had no idea it wasn’t Stark until issue #11, which explained why he kept pointing out skin color and saying “sheee-ot”), She-Hulk, Thor, and Wasp from the Avengers. Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, and Human Torch from the Fantastic Four are present. Of the X-Men we have Cyclops, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Wolverine, Professor X, and Kitty Pryde’s pet dragon, Lockheed. Magneto is also on the hero side, but his loyalty is questioned and becomes neutral (and every time they called him Maggie I rolled my eyes).
For the villains we have the Doctor Doom, Doctor Octopus, the Lizard, the Enchantress, Kang the Conqueror, Absorbing Man, Molecule man, Ultron, the Wrecking Crew, Galactus, Klaw, Titania, and Volcana. The latter three appear later in the series.
A voice booms “I am from beyond! Slay your enemies and all that you desire shall be yours! Nothing you dream of is impossible for me to accomplish!” from a hole in the sky. The voice calls himself the Beyonder (inventive, eh?). Then a planet is cobbled together from various bits and pieces across the universe, called Battleword. Galactus tries to attack the Beyonder, demanding an end to his bottomless hunger, and is swatted aside like a fly.
While this series did last 12 issues, not much happened. The entire point of the series was to have the most popular characters fight, and talk, a lot. The story was created because of a new deal with Mattel to sell toys. It’s obvious reading the paper thin plot. Doom does nothing by try and steal the Beyonder’s powers, the heroes just, survive.
Some major changes that informed stories for years to come had their impetus here though. Two new villains were created by Doom, Titania and Volcana. A new Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter) was also added. Most importantly though, Spider-Man got the black costume that eventually turned out the be the symbiote, Venom. While these are important, the quick and comical (no pun intended) way they happened was odd. I gave them more space talking about them here than the book did. It might be my modern sensibility unfairly evaluating a product of its time, but these changes were heavy handed and exposition heavy.
Comic book racism and sexism was on full display here. Here are some of my favorite lines:
Iron Man (to Mr Fantastic while he was fixing his armor): “I’m curious… were you surprised to see a black man under the metal?”
Mr. Fantastic: “Hmm… No, I never gave it a thought! I knew there was a man under there…”
Or this gem from the Wasp:
“Oh no! I broke a nail! I don’t even have an emery board and I’m thirty-seven trillion miles from my manicurist and it’s her day off anyway!”
As Stan Lee put it, ’nuff said.
An animated version of the story is scene during the final season of Spider-Man (1994). Spider-Man leads a similar team (minus Hulk and She-Hulk as their cartoons were on UPN). The story played out differently, focusing more on Spidey.
Secret wars could be a fun read if you know what you’re getting yourself into. It might be a little difficult for modern readers to care. I will credit Shooter for giving each character a moment. If you’re looking for a quick and dirty good guys vs. bad guys story, check out Siege instead.
Did you read Secret Wars? How awesomely anachronistic is it? Comment below!
“Lemme get this straight… a guy who can burst into flames has doubts that this broad from planet mongo can help this mutant dude? Thank God he ain’t black, huh?” – Guess who said that.