Secret Wars (2015) launches with an awesome mix of murder, mayhem, wicked nostalgia, and some damn fine plot set-ups.
So Marvel’s latest, major event – Secret Wars – has started. And like many of you, I’ve become fairly jaded towards these giant cross-overs as they typically seem like just a way to have me buy titles I wouldn’t normally buy, with the stakes usually being too low, and with storytelling that ends up as a convoluted mess. Often leaving the reader no further along than if they had skipped the whole thing.
As an example, the last two I ended up buying were Spider-Verse, and Original Sin. So let me give my quick two cents on them, so you can see we are likely on the same page.
With Original Sin, the Watcher gets murdered and someone stole his eyes – which have seen everything, and as far as I can remember, can also see into the future.
Not bad so far for a premise, but without buying every single tie-in comic I was continually let down by the main issues, and the big “OMG, all the secrets of the universe are known” event, never materialized.
Aside from the ridiculous, D-level villain, who had an eyeball for a head – yep, you read that right – I can’t recall much about the whole deal.
Which is sad, because the Watcher has been part of Marvel Comics since about forever, and has been basically the god of that universe. On top of that, turns out that he was guarding all the major badass, world destroying weapons, that have come along throughout Marvel’s history.
In the end, my only take away from the event was that the Winter Soldier became the new guardian of the moon – rather than Nick Fury, which seemed more like a move to bolster Bucky’s importance based on his involvement in the second Captain America movie.
With Spider-Verse, while starting out strong, seemed like more of a way to introduce a couple new female characters in the Spider-Sphere, rather than having any lasting importance or impact, as all the killed off characters were merely alternate universe versions of Spider-Man. And worst of all, Secret Wars was being promoted during that event, rendering anything that happened moot.
And I totally forgot to even mention the Death of Wolverine – which shows the lasting importance of that – so yeah, I don’t expect much from these events, and while I still grab Spider-Man, and Batman, most of my comic time is spent with mini-series type stuff that catches me with a cool premise or synopsis.
So along comes Secret Wars, which had me a bit conflicted. On one hand, it’s Secret Wars – the continuation of the most iconic events in Marvel’s history (sorry Atlantis Attacks) which also brought about my favorite moment in comics – Spider-Man’s symbiote suit. And on the other, an event of this size could only mean a re-boot – bringing back memories of Onslaught, which literally killed all the heroes and my interest in Marvel for a long ass time – almost for good.
But I figured I’d buy the first couple of issues, see how ridiculous they were, so I could be fully justified to myself in giving up on these comics, and was really just expecting the Guardians of the Galaxy to be guest-starring in everything based off the success of the movie, and its soon to be hyped sequel.
Don’t get me wrong though, I did like the Guardians movie, and James Gunn has made some pretty cool flicks that I’m likely to recommend here on Pop Culture Mania – it’s just what I was expecting.
So while I picked up the first couple of issues, I didn’t bother to read them – I have a crazy backlog as is, and it just wasn’t a priority at all.
If you’re a big comic book reader, you know all this, you have your favorite sites to get your comic news and all that, but here at Pop Culture Mania, I’m trying to grab the attention of the people who haven’t boarded the hype-train, and don’t bother with all the goofy, and man-child antics of a lot of the major sites, so let me break down Secret Wars for you in case you don’t know.
Months ago, Marvel started announcing their summer line-up of titles – but the odd thing was, all the promotional images were from stories from the past. Events like the Infinity Gauntlet, Planet Hulk, Inferno, Marvel Zombies, and House of M were all coming back, among others.
It was like someone was cherry-picking the best moments from Marvel’s history in order to retell the stories.
But now that Secret Wars is here, it has turned out to be much more than that – and it’s pretty damn cool so far.
The universe is destroyed. Fragments of reality, taken from past iconic moments, are merged into a makeshift planet called Battleworld. In this realm, heroes and villains exist as they did during these amazing storylines – but also expanded on, as some have started to realize that something is amiss, and others have actually travelled between the domains.
I’m going to give you a couple small spoilers here to get you interested, but don’t worry – I won’t ruin anything, and this is just the beginning.
So the first title I read was Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1, and it couldn’t have started off Secret Wars any better for me.
As I mentioned, typically, I find these events have low stakes, and my biggest comic book moment was when Spider-Man replaced his damaged suit with one that resembled Spider-Woman’s black outfit, which turned out to be much more than meets the eye.
By the end of the first issue, this domain’s Avengers were dead, Spider-Man had killed Venom, for attacking his wife and daughter, and then proclaimed that he was no longer a hero – choosing a civilian life, rather than putting his family in danger again. And in a tease for an upcoming issue, Spider-Man appears back in black. That’s right – a reunion of the symbiote suit and Peter Parker looks like it’s in the works.
Impressed enough with the start, I jumped into the main series with Secret Wars, issues 1 and 2.
I won’t go too deep into these, but they do a fine job of introducing the readers to the idea of how the domains are ruled, and how they fall into place to form the greater Battleworld – all under the control of the living god – Doctor Doom, and his personal army of law enforcers – the Thor Corps.
One thing to point as well – and this is a fine example of how the separate books of Secret Wars are layered on one another – in issue #2, we learn of The Shield, a gigantic barrier providing a somewhat civilized “safe” zone, and on the other side is the Deadlands – populated with fearsome symbiote monsters, roaming armies of murderous robots, and zombie versions of Marvel characters, which will lead into other Secret Wars titles, such as Age of Ultron Vs. Marvel Zombies.
With the first two issues of the main series laying out the foundation and premise, I jumped into the direct spin-off book – Battleworld #1, and the kickass ride continued.
In the first few pages, the Punisher, who is merged with the spirit of Doctor Strange, is on the run for breaking the law of jumping domains.
Chasing him are dark versions of the Hulk, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, and Wolverine – these characters are denizens of the Limbo domain, as part of the X-MEN Inferno storyline – and Castle, now with Strange’s help, can use magic to summon weapons and cast spells, which he uses to kill them all with ease, save Wolverine.
The sequence is awesome, and it was literally the first few pages. Trust me when I say there is plenty more to come.
Here I was half expecting some goofy nonsense, and instead I’m treated to a super-hero bloodbath that plays out in a cool and unique way.
And this is what helps set Secret Wars apart – yes, they are comics, and yes, death in them usually means very little. But the world is full of heroes, many being duplicates, so the deaths do count here. And the coolest part is, you don’t know who’s next on the chopping block, and what version of the character is going to be standing at the end.
The first issues of Armor Wars, and Planet Hulk, expand on the idea of domains, introduce some nice twists on familiar characters, and like the other titles, combine a good mix of clever storytelling and broken heroes.
Planet Hulk occupies the domain of Greenland, now a home for Hulk clans, and hordes of gamma radiated creatures. Steve Rogers, obviously Captain America, now roams this land with his pet dinosaur. While this part didn’t grab my attention the way the others did, the second half of the book focuses on the creation of Planet Hulk, and that part was decent.
Armor Wars, aside from being cool for introducing armored versions of heroes and villains, is gorgeous to look at. Bright hues pop off a dark canvas, and combined with the futuristic look of the world, make for some nice eye-candy.
It also ends with another brutal death.
So that left me a bit conflicted when I jumped into Spider-Verse (Secret Wars), since all off a sudden, it’s back to happy-go-lucky Spider-antics with Spider-Gwen, until about halfway through, when a freaking U-turn in tone rips at your heart.
Make no mistake, Battleworld is already lost, and it’s a violent place – with fatalities being a reality in almost every title so far. The heroes have lost this time.
For clarity, while the big storylines from the past are part of Secret Wars, they are not retellings, rather, elements from those are used and expanded on – for example, in Planet Hulk, it is Captain America that is fighting as a gladiator, with Spider-Man’s Renew Your Vows, he exists in a world where he has Mary-Jane as a wife, and has a daughter.
And with the X-Men Inferno title, the demonic invasion in 1989 never ended, the heroes failed. Now, for them, it’s been nearly 5 years since then, and they are stuck dealing with the aftermath of that.
It is violent and awesome, and a wicked trip back in time to the badass late 80s X-Men.
So like I said, Secret Wars isn’t retelling these old stories, but expanding on them by using their worlds as part of something greater.
I mentioned storytelling layering before, and while you don’t need to read all the books, there are cool little nods if you do, for example – looking back now, the Spider-Man of Renew Your Vows, learns that the X-Men are missing from New York, now the reader learns why, they are stuck in Limbo, but if you skipped it, you wouldn’t be out of the loop.
To end the first wave of Secret Wars, I saved the one book I knew I’d like for last – Old Man Logan.
I’m not going to spoil anything here, just know that this world is likely the worst of them all – the heroes we know have been dead for a good 50 years, and what’s left is just death, chaos, and the worst people imaginable.
This book is likely going to be the most hardcore of the bunch, and you really shouldn’t miss it.
Secret Wars has brought out what’s best about comics, cool worlds, plot set-ups that look to be amazing, and all the over-the-top fighting and battles, with death not only being a reality, but a necessity, and while I can’t say if the whole ride will be as fun -it’s definitely worth checking out, and in my opinion, a showcase for Marvel’s talent.
While I’ve described some of the early points of the Secret Wars books, there are so many other awesome details that you need to see and read for yourself, and I haven’t covered nearly all that’s available. So, if you are a Marvel fan, or more importantly, if you were a Marvel fan, then do yourself a favor, put the cynicism aside for just one issue, pick any one you like, and you’ll likely be impressed as I was.
Thanks for reading,
NOTE: This is the order in which I read. I didn’t plan it this way, but it turned out to read very well. (obviously, these are the Secret Wars 2015 versions)
Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1
Secret Wars #1
Secret Wars #2
Secret Wars Battleworld #1
Planet Hulk #1
Armor Wars #1
Old Man Logan #1