The problem with Marvel’s Secret Wars

Secret Wars header

Every couple of years (or whenever sales are lagging), Marvel and DC try to do a universe-shattering mega cross-over event, where the multiverse is sundered by some vague sounding super entity like the Anti-Monitor, the Beyonder, or the Builder.

This year, it’s Marvel’s turn, with their new Secret Wars event debuting in May. There was already a Secret Wars event back in the 80’s, but Marvel got lazy and reused the name for this incarnation. Also, they are literally destroying the Marvel universes, and have been teasing everyone with a “Time Runs Out!” scare quote on every issue of every series for the past few months.

Doom thor

At the beginning of this Secret Wars, the Marvel universes have been remade into an amalgamation of a bunch of different places and creatively named “Battleworld,” and it is ruled by a god-like Dr. Doom with an army of Thors as his enforcers. That sounds like a good hook to me, but if my past experience with comics is any indication, I would probably have no idea what the hell is going on unless I read some of the backstory first.

But where to start? I googled “what should I read before Secret Wars” and Comic Book Herald suggested Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run as a good jumping off point.

OK great. I like the Avengers movies and the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, so this won’t be so bad. And, Hickman’s Avengers starts in 2012, so it’s not like I have to read 40 years worth of comics to understand what has happened so far.

Except then I fell down a rabbit hole. According to Comic Book Herald, I should read Hickman’s New Avengers. Now, I’m not sure why there are two sets of Avengers, but fine, I’ll check out New Avengers too. It’s not like I have a life or anything.

But wait. You can’t just read Avengers and then read New Avengers and then read Secret Wars. You need to read them in the correct order, because both series occur at the same time. Fine, tell me the reading order and I’ll try to follow it. Except, it’s not that simple, because in the lead up to Secret Wars, there’s another big crossover event starring Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet, creatively called Infinity. To understand what’s going on there, you have to not only read Avengers and New Avengers, but also Mighty Avengers, Avengers Assemble, Secret Avengers, Avengers European Vacation, etc. If that weren’t confusing enough, this guy has a 15-minute video also explaining the pre-Secret Wars reading order.

Fine, I’m in this for the long haul. I don’t care if it takes one year or five, I will work my way through it and maybe things will start making sense as I go.

So I buy Avengers issues 1–6. Right away on page 1, we are getting a flashback to the beginning of time, and then a monologue with references to things that may have happened in earlier series or things that have yet to happen (it’s not entirely clear), but OK, whatever.

I’m already totally lost. Who are all these people?

Smash cut to Mars, where a crazy yellow guy, his sister, and a robot have terraformed the planet and are throwing flesh-eating terraforming pods at Earth for some reason.

Mars intro

Then, BOOM. The Avengers are on it (the core six from the first movie, which I’m sure is not a coincidence). They fly to Mars and get ready to kick some ass, EXCEPT they are utterly defeated in about three seconds, with the crazy yellow guy, his sister, and the robot capturing everyone except Captain America, whom they send back to Earth. These three continue throwing terraforming pods at Earth while basking in their superior intellect and power.

The Avengers are completely defeated in less than 10 pages. I don’t even know why they bring Black Widow and Hawkeye on these missions.
The Avengers are completely defeated in less than 10 pages. I don’t even know why they bring Black Widow and Hawkeye on these missions.

Captain America gets back to Earth and turns on the Avengers-version of the bat signal, which starts a series of flashback vignettes where Captain America and Iron Man go around recruiting people to join the Avengers in case something bad happens. Awesome.

Everyone shows up to fix the Avengers jet except that one of the new Avengers can literally just teleport everyone to Mars as easily as walking across the room.

Where was this all-powerful god 20 pages ago when the Avengers were getting their asses kicked?
Where was this all-powerful god 20 pages ago when the Avengers were getting their asses kicked?

So they do that and it’s more of an even fight this time, except the robot turns on his insane killing mode and is about to wipe the floor with everyone, when one of the Avengers, whose recruitment story was skipped for some reason, walks over to the crazy yellow guy, his sister and the now-giant robot and says, “Hey, I’m the mother of the universe, stop what you’re doing.”

And so the crazy yellow guy and his sister stop, but the robot says, “No, fuck you,” at which point the mother of the universe (who is named Captain Universe and is bonded to an amnesiac woman apparently), says, “No, fuck you” and totally disintegrates the robot. The end. Earth is saved and the Avengers decide to let the crazy yellow guy and his sister stay on Mars (despite the fact that they just committed wide-scale biological genocide that killed millions of people and were minutes away from killing everyone else on Earth) and the Avengers leave. The arc ends with some creepy foreshadowing insinuating that Tony Stark is death incarnate.

Arc end

And that’s just issues 1–3.

Now, I was willing to overlook a lot of the craziness of that story, except that last part with Captain Universe. How is it that one of the random Avengers who is seen fixing the fucking Avengers spaceship like some random car mechanic a few pages ago suddenly turns into the most powerful person in the universe?

Even the most powerful person in the universe has to go through the Avengers’ hazing ritual.
Even the most powerful person in the universe has to go through the Avengers’ hazing ritual.

What was she doing at the beginning when the Avengers were getting their asses kicked in five seconds and millions of people were dying? If Captain MacGuffin has been loitering about this whole time fixing spaceships until she randomly realizes that she’s the most powerful person in the universe and can obliterate the insane robot in a few seconds, then what is the point of the rest of the Avengers? This is never explained. Maybe if I read Captain Universe issues 1–50 along with New Captain Universe issues 1–35 (and in the process giving Marvel another $500), I would understand things better.

This is why the Marvel movies are a much better medium for these stories. There have been 12 MCU movies to date released over a period of 8 years. That’s a good amount of movies, but with an average of 1.5 movies a year, it’s certainly doable.

What these comics need is some finality. End the story. Let the characters move on, instead of killing them and bringing them back to life when someone throws their body into an ancient-but-recently discovered healing pit in Upstate New York/the Arctic. Let them save the world from a powerful villain and then go off into the sun gracefully (or lose horribly and everyone dies), rather than introducing an even bigger bad from even deeper out in space next issue.

This will obviously never happen because there is no drug corporations like more than an existing intellectual property. But, can you imagine if Superman only had an eight-year run at the end of which he kills Lex Luthor in a mammoth, year-long battle and then there were no more Superman stories after that? Neither can DC, which is why if they actually wrote that story, after a few issues, Luthor would be magically brought back to life by the Anti-Anti Monitor and go on to kill seven other Supermans from alternate realities before the true Superman finally kills him … for now.

After Secret Wars ends in December, the entire Marvel universe is going to be rebooted fresh with the All-New, All-Different Marvel universe with all-new titles and backstories. This presents a golden opportunity for Marvel to bring in MCU fans like me who previously couldn’t figure out how to start reading a Marvel series. I’ll let you know how I make out in my Secret Wars attempt in 2019 when I’ve finally finished all the necessary reading. Hopefully by then, the All-New, All-Different Marvel universe will still be around.

Originally posted on Medium.

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