Marvel crossover events have become a thing to expect every year especially with the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe bringing in more and more fans to the comic book platform every year. These events have become so popular that it makes sense that one of its most groundbreaking storylines known as Civil War was used as the main plotline for Captain America: Civil War. Now I know what your thinking. Why is he talking about Civil War? This is a review about Secret Wars. Well, it’s simple. Without Secret Wars there never would have been Civil War
Secret Wars was the first true crossover event that put a whole bunch of Marvel heroes and villains and had them duke it out. It had been attempted a year prior, in a three-part story called Contest of Champions but it wasn’t a true crossover. It basically showed every character possible and then handpicked a couple and had them compete in a mediocre challenge. The story was very basic and it wasn’t anything to get excited about. However, despite a few minor flaws, Secret Wars did it right.
Overall Secret Wars is a great story but like most things, it does have a few problems, mainly due to the time period in which it was written. Now first of all the whole point of the story was to sell Marvel toys so nobody expected the story to knock your socks off but the writers created a masterpiece. It starts off very basic, a bunch of heroes and villains find themselves on a mishmash planet constructed by various parts of other planets called Battleworld. The heroes find themselves on one side of a battlefield while the Villians are on the other.
To list who is involved, on the side of the heroes we have three members of the fantastic four, Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch & Thing, the Invisible Woman is absent because she was heavily pregnant with baby number 2 – that’s not a joke. Captain America, Iron Man (James Rhodes, not Tony Stark as he was ruining his business by drinking heavily – again that’s not a joke) Thor, Hawkeye, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel and Wasp of the Avengers are present. Then we have Rogue, Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Lockheed the Dragon and Professor X as members of the X-Men. To round out the team Spider-Man and Hulk and also the questionable siding of X-Men villain Magneto being present on the heroes side. Not a bad team.
Now on the villain’s side, we have Doctor Doom, Kang the Conqueror, the Enchantress, Doctor Octopus, the Lizard, Ultron, and Galactus. Not a bad start but the next bunch are questionable. We have the Molecule Man, Absorbing Man and the Wrecking Crew which consists of Bulldozer, Piledriver, Thunderball, and Wrecker. These villains may have been much popular in that time period but I do find myself questioning why other great Villians like the Mandarin, Red Skull or the Sandman weren’t used. Even the addition of the Hobgoblin who in the year prior had been kicking up a fuss in Spider-Man’s comics for the past year may have been a nice addition.
Eventually, a new Spider-Woman joins the side of the heroes and the villains get Klaw, Volcana, and Titania but that comes much later in the story.
Looking across the battlefield and analyzing each team they all hear a voice from above that states “I am from beyond! Slay your enemies and all that you desire shall be yours! And that’s it, the war begins. Goodies versus baddies. It’s all very generic in the first half of this 12 issue epic. There are a few plot points thrown in followed by a battle and this formula continues for quite a bit and to some readers, especially reading this thirty years later, may not be impressed. However, I advise you to keep at it and you will see that the story takes a hard left turn and veers off in a completely different direction especially in the final act of the story.
Now I must warn you if you’re a Spider-Man fan and are reading this story for the first time because it is commonly known as the story where Spidey famously finds the black symbiote suit, which as many know eventually leads to the creation of the villain/anti-hero Venom. You may be disappointed for 2 reasons. First of all, the way in which he gets the suit is so fleeting that its barely noticeable and secondly, the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is more of a secondary character in this story which is understandable due to the number of characters in the story. He has a few standout moments but the key players in this story are Captain America, Mr. Fantastic, Magneto and the X-Men.
The same can be said on the side of the villains too, Galactus poses a threat in one issue but Doctor Doom is the main villain throughout the whole story and this is one of the stories that shows readers why he is rated as one of Marvel’s most deadly villains. Sadly, there is a lot of wasted potential in this story. First of all, villains like Doctor Octopus, Ultron, and Kang the Conquerer are nowhere near as dangerous as they were often depicted in previous stories and there is a strange moment where you almost feel sorry for the Lizard. Its almost out of character for him and I don’t believe they ever showed that side of him again. (Correct me if I’m wrong).
Now one of the best things about re-reading this story, especially with the knowledge of future events in the Marvel timeline is the hostility between the X-Men and the Avengers. The X-Men go off on their own and align themselves with Magneto which later leads to an argument about the Avengers being heroes that judge mutants the same as everybody else and treat them as outcasts. This would be touched upon again decades later in the Avengers Versus X-Men crossover event which changed the arrangement of both X-Men and Avenger Teams but it’s nice to see this idea was actually planted way back in the 80’s and grown over time.
There are some great ideas behind this story, for example, the Beyonder placing Magneto on the side of the heroes indicating possibly for the first time that Magneto isn’t your stereotypical villain as he has good intentions but his actions and methods label him as the enemy. The actions of Doctor Doom also show why he is considered more dangerous than other villains and how his thirst for complete power has been instilled into from his weakness and events from his past that he couldn’t control.
This story may be a little dated and fall short in some places but if you read it knowing that this was Marvel’s first attempt to bring all of their heroes together you will appreciate that they did a remarkable job. This was the blueprint in which they improved upon that led to such great stories such as House of M, Civil War, and Secret Invasion. It was also the first time that one of these stories would impact each character once the event had passed in major ways, this too would also lead to later events creating massive changes in the Marvel universe.
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