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Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars: A Retrospective: Part 1 of 4
In 1984, Marvel Comics released one of the most important series in its history – Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars.
It was a tale too big for the standard 4 to 6 issue mini-series format of the time, so it had to be expanded into a yearlong super 12-part maxiseries. It must be noted that this was at a time in Comics History before the Big Event storyline and crossovers became a standard staple of the comic book landscape and yearly schedule.
One of the charms of this series is the interactions between the iconic characters. In 1984, the Marvel Universe was still fairly young, barely two decades old. So, other than the occasional Marvel Team-Up or cameo everyone from Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to Marvel’s First Family to the Children of the Atom only really knew each other in passing, brief skirmishes, and 1-off team-ups. So, a lot of the foundation for future interactions in the Marvel U was set up here (at least before the retcons started coming fast and furious).
This is why we get interesting bits like Wolverine questioning Captain America’s leadership. The Avengers and Fantastic Four questioning the X-Men’s motivations because of their association with a known terrorist like Magneto. And, certain heroes vs. villains we could only dream about before, like Wolverine vs. Absorbing Man.
It’s hard to talk about the original Secret Wars without mentioning DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Whether because of competing toy lines (see Mattel’s Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars and Kenner’s Super Powers Collection) or the fact they were major events that would change the landscape of their respective universes for many years to come, like it or not, these two forerunners of the Big Event are tied at the hip. However, 1984’s Secret Wars was not the multiverse retcon/reboot for the Marvel Universe that Crisis was for the DCU. The closest thing Marvel ever came to that was Jonathan Hickman’s 2015 Secret Wars. No, the original Secret Wars was more like writer Jim Shooter and his artists, the great Mike Zeck and Bob Layton, getting to play with all the toys in the toy box.
The Lead Up
It happened all throughout the Marvel Universe. A mysterious giant construct suddenly appeared in Central Park. One by one, the greatest heroes in the Marvel Universe showed up to investigate. Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Avengers, X-Men, and the Hulk all entered this alien building and disappeared. They were gone for months. In the very next issue of their respective series, most of the heroes returned, but changed in some profound ways. More on that in the Aftermath section covered in Part 2.
This was back when continuity mattered in comics so there are several very interesting notes to remember about the heroes involved. At this time in Marvel History, Tony Stark was suffering through his Demon in a Bottle phase, so it is James Rhodes in the armor, not Tony Stark. Captain Marvel at this time is Monica Rambeau (the Odinson’s favorite character to ever take the name), whom modern fans might recognize from the WandaVision series on Disney+. The Invisible Woman was pregnant, so she did not accompany the rest of the FF when they investigated the alien building. Bruce Banner was in full control of the Hulk. Professor X had recently had his mind transferred to a clone body, so he was not confined to a wheelchair. Rogue had only recently turned her back on evil and joined the X-Men. And, Magneto was smack dab in the middle of his Crisis of Conscience arc that saw him included among the heroes rather than the villains.
Secret Wars #1 – The aforementioned heroes and a small army of the Marvel U’s strongest villains including Doctor Doom, Absorbing Man, Ultron, the Wrecking Crew, Doctor Octopus, Galactus, and others, are floating in outer space in separate alien constructs. Suddenly, an entire galaxy is wiped out of existence like chalk off a board and a planet, made from various pieces pulled together from around the cosmos, is constructed before their eyes. A Disembodied voice says, “I am from Beyond. Destroy your enemies and all that you desire will be yours.”
As if that display of power wasn’t enough, the Beyonder easily swats the two most dangerous super villains – Galactus and Doctor Doom – aside as if they were insects. After planetfall, a debate occurs to decide who will lead. This is when the mighty Thor speaks those immortal words, “I do not pledge my allegiance to many of mortal stature! This man I will follow through the gates of Hades!” BOOM! Debate over. It is decided that Captain America shall lead the heroes during this conflict.
The heroes barely have a moment to gather themselves before the villains decide to take the Beyonder up on his offer and attack!
Secret Wars #2 – After surviving the initial villainous strike and taking prisoners, the heroes, and villains, retreat to their respective bases to recoup and reevaluate their situation. Doom, who barely survived his encounter with the Beyonder and an assassination attempt by Kang the Conqueror, also returns to base. The heroes still don’t trust Magneto, and he gives them little reason to as he violently takes his leave, taking the Wasp with him in the process. And, the issue ends with the Thing inexplicably turning back into Ben Grimm?!
Secret Wars #3 – There is a lot of great character stuff going on in this issue. Wasp confronts Magneto. Now there’s a pair you don’t get to see together often, and it’s especially interesting since the meeting ends with a hero/villain kiss. The mighty Thor confronts a massive alien storm and James Rhodes gets to learn what it’s like to be in the presence of a thunder god. We all get to see what it’s like when Spider-Man really cuts loose as he confronts the X-Men about their plans to go join Magneto. Doctor Doom offers Magneto a place in his army which the Master of Magnetism refuses. This is fun because these two arch villains will go on to have many interesting exchanges in the decades to come, including The Fantastic Four vs. X-Men, Acts of Vengeance, and X-Men/FF to name a few.
It is here that we are introduced to two brand new characters that will become mainstays in the Marvel Universe. Doctor Doom seeks to add more muscle to his army by using the power of the alien storm to create the fiery Volcana and the powerhouse Titania. Where did these test subjects come from you ask? Why Denver, Colorado of course. The city of Denver was one of the pieces the Beyonder used to create Battleworld. This detail will come into play a few more times as our story unfolds.
Cyclops, back when he was still a good man, feels guilty for Professor X having to tamper with Spider-Man’s mind in order for the X-Men to make their leave in secret. Mister Fantastic confides in Captain America and Hulk about his stress and worries for the wife with child he left back on Earth. We witness the very first meeting between Crusher Creel and Titania (more on that in the Aftermath section). And, we see early signs that Bruce Banner may be losing his grip and control of the Hulk.
Also in this issue, Thor frees the Enchantress from captivity because, as he puts it, “There are things of which only gods may speak…” And they whisk away through a magic portal to do just that. This congregation of the immortals takes place mostly off screen, but a few years later, we mere mortals are privy to what transpired here in the pages of Thor #383. Thor’s sudden absence plays a role in what happens next as his hammer is sorely missed when the villains mount a surprise attack, leaving us with our third cliffhanger in as many issues.
Secret Wars #3 is jammed packed with so many great character moments. It is a prime example of a writer knowing his subject matter. Not a single hero or villain acts out of character simply to push the narrative along. Instead, Jim Shooter uses each character’s traits, feelings, and thoughts to help enhance the already fantastic situation. And just think, the series only gets better and better from here on.
Secret Wars #4 – We are a third of the way through our tale and it is time for something big to happen and, oh brother where art thou, does it ever.
Every now and then, there comes along a comic book that captures the imagination of the reader and fans and surpasses all expectations of what can be achieved in the four color format. Secret Wars #4 is one of those issues. The cover says it all – “Beneath one hundred and fifty billion tons, stands the Hulk, and he’s not happy!” I love how it has to be 150 billion tons because 100 just wasn’t enough.
The issue opens with the utter destruction of the heroes’ base. Injured and still reeling from the villains’ surprise attack, our heroes are on the run. The incomprehensible abilities of the Molecule Man is on full display as he uses his power over matter to drop an entire mountain range on the wounded heroes! Feeling the planet shutter, Thor and Enchantress return only to be greeted by the villains and the news that the other heroes are dead. There is another great character moment between Thor and the Enchantress, a beautifully executed moment that separates the selfish from the courageous. Then, in yet another display of Mighty Marvel Magic, the thunder god proceeds to take on the entire villain army by himself! After an awesome heroic exchange, the battle ends with what seems like the Asgardian’s demise. But we soon learn this was but a ruse.
Turning the page, this issue just refuses to let up.
Underneath all those billions of tons of rock stands the Hulk! Showing off his own awesome power, the Hulk holds back the crushing death long enough for Mister Fantastic to show off his genius and use Stark Tech, Hawkeye’s trick arrows, Spidey’s web-shooters, and the power of the Human Torch and Captain Marvel to amp up Iron Man’s armor to the Nth degree, allowing the Golden Avenger to blast the heroes free! There’s also a couple of great moments in there where Reed Richards uses the Hulk’s anger in a positive manner and the loud thumps the heroes heard within their rocky tomb was actually Thor trying to hammer his way to them.
All this and we haven’t even touched on the moments where Colossus pines for Kitty Pryde, Doom takes revenge on Kang, and the X-Men reunite with Magneto. Plus, the heroes come upon a strange alien village that resides in the shadow of Galactus, we are introduced to a mystic healer who will go on to play a major role in the events to come, and we end on yet another cliffhanger when Mister Fantastic realizes Galactus is about to devour Battleworld!
Secret Wars #4 may not be the most complicated or sophisticated issue ever released in Comics History, but I’ll tell you what it is in one word. Magical. Secret Wars #4 captures the imagination, awakens that 10 year old inside us all, and reminds us why we love comic books.
Be sure to tune in next week for Part 2 of the Odinson’s retrospective on Marvel Super Heroes Secret War where we will witness even more landmark moments that will go down in Comics History.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell
NOTE: For past entries of the So Sayeth the Odinson blog, over a decade’s worth of comic book and pop culture articles and reviews, click HERE. Also, be sure to check out my novels The Survivors and Autumn Dawn, which were inspired by 1980s horror – HERE and HERE.
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