Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars
12 issue miniseries
May 1984 – April 1985
Writer: Jim Shooter
Penciller: Mike Zeck/Bob Layton
Inker: John Beatty
Jim Shooter, Editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, was prompted by fan mail to create a story similar to Marvel’s first limited series, The Contest of Champions. Originally called Cosmic Champions, Shooter saw this series as the fulfillment of the Marvel Universe’s destiny (Comics Interview, August 1984). The series was renamed the Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars and was tied in to a Mattel line of action figures and toys.
This series was a financial success and would spawn a sequel, Secret Wars II. It would also later inspire more limited series involving most of the Marvel Universe’s heroes, such as The Infinity Gauntlet, The Infinity War, and The Infinity Crusade.
The Secret Wars featured a mysterious, omnipotent being, calling itself the Beyonder, who was intrigued by humanity and the concept of good and evil. The Beyonder whisked away the more prominent heroes and their villainous counterparts to a world that would be their battle arena.
The heroes kidnapped by the Beyonder were: Wasp, She-Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Professor X, Nightcrawler, Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, Cyclops, Colossus, Lockheed the dragon, Hulk, Spider-Man, Mr. Fantastic, Thing, and the Human Torch. The villains were Galactus, Dr. Doom, Kang, Enchantress, the Wrecking Crew (Piledriver, Wrecker, Thunderball, and Bulldozer), Lizard, Dr. Octopus, Absorbing Man, Ultron and the Molecule Man.
The Beyonder plainly set the ground rules for this competition: “Slay your enemies and all you desire is yours”. Galactus, who was not amused at being kidnapped, confronted the Beyonder. Galactus had been, until that point, the most powerful cosmic being in the Marvel Universe and was batted aside effortlessly by the Beyonder. The heroes and villains, intimidated by Galactus’ defeat, began to play the Beyonder’s little game.
In early 1984, the characters of the Marvel Universe were undergoing a lot of changes: Jim Rhodes had replaced Tony Stark as Iron Man; Bruce Banner’s intellect controlled the Hulk; Professor X could walk and joined his X-Men in battle; and Susan Richards was expecting her second child.
These changes were good subplots that added a bit of depth to a rather shallow story line. Rhodes had the Iron Man image to uphold and he became conformable with his new role. Professor X came into conflict with Storm, who refused to be overruled as leader by her teacher who lacked battle experience. Reed Richards worried about Sue and their unborn child.
Unlike The Contest of Champions, The Secret Wars had an impact on the core Marvel titles: the Thing’s departure from the Fantastic Four and subsequent replacement by the She-Hulk; Spider-Man’s new costume, that would turn out to be a living creature and become a deadly enemy called Venom; Colossus’ romance that forever changed his relationship with Kitty Pryde. The Secret Wars as a whole prompted a closer relationship between the characters in the Marvel Universe.
This series established Captain America’s leadership in the Marvel Universe and the respect the other heroes had for him. Dr. Doom showed Molecule Man the full extent of his power which established him as a major power in the Marvel Universe. This series also introduced several new characters, such as Titania and Volcana, who where created by Dr. Doom, and a new Spider-Woman who joins the heroes.
The Beyonder’s battle world setting removed heroes from their usual locales and allowed them to engage in an all-out battle with little collateral damage or concern about civilians getting hurt.
I didn’t really like John Beatty’s inks. They seem a little heavy and choppy. However, I liked Mike Zeck’s penciled art so much I eagerly hunted down his run on Captain America. Jim Shooter’s script is unspectacular, but he tries his best to build a story around a weak, action-driven plot.
One of the most spectacular (and one of the more unbelievable) events occurred in issue #4, when the Molecule Man dropped an entire mountain range on the escaping heroes. The Hulk managed to hold up part of the mountain while Reed tinkered with Iron Man’s repulsor rays to tunnel them a way out.
The Secret Wars #8 was the best read simply for its fan appeal. The heroes finally took the offensive and attacked the villains: Captain America took down the Enchantress, just after she subdued the Hulk; Spidey dished out a humiliating defeat to Titania; and the Human Torch defeated Ultron with his nova flame.
How the villains were chosen wasn’t explained, leaving the impression that Shooter had added the most physical villains (such as the Wrecking Crew), but even then, that’s a questionable theory, with so many of the Hulk’s foes not included such as the Leader, Abomination, and Rhino. Galactus’ presence was strange especially when Byrne had strongly emphasized in Fantastic Four #261 that Galactus was a neutral cosmic entity!
Interestingly, Dr. Strange, Power Man, Iron Fist, the entire roster of Alpha Flight, Daredevil, Namor, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Moon Knight were some of the more prominent heroes left out. Kitty Pryde was originally included in the promo material, but later removed as one of the series’ plot points involved Colossus falling in love with someone else.
Another great Shooter catalyst was putting Magneto among the heroes. Magneto was slowly making the transition from a megalomaniac to simply a maniac. A few years later, Magneto would actually become the headmaster at Xavier’s Institute. This plot point was a great source of conflict with the X-Men who had to reluctantly defend Magneto from the scrutiny of the other heroes. Also, another interesting twist was the Magneto and Wasp romance.
The manner in which the series was released was a bit awkward. The heroes were taken in one issue of their respective issues, and returned the following issue, while the series itself ran a full year. When the heroes returned to their regular issues, all the changes that would happen at the end of The Secret Wars were revealed, but had yet to happen in the actual limited series.
Here’s a look at some of the Secret Wars toys. I guess Baron Zemo was a last minute drop from the villains’ roster.