In May 1984, Marvel Comics published Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars issue #1. The comic was to be the first entry in an epic 12-issue crossover event, featuring 36 Marvel characters.
The comic was conceived as a tie-in with toy company, Mattel. Mattel had plans to work with Marvel, to produce a range of action figures and playsets, but would only do so under one proviso: Marvel must produce a comic to help promote the line.
After discussing their request with Marvel’s editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter, Shooter came up with Secret Wars. The comic would see many of Earth’s mightiest heroes and villains whisked away to an alien planet, known as Battleworld, to take part in a ‘secret’ war overseen by the mysterious ‘Beyonder’.
With the idea in place, and Mattel on board, Shooter worked with artists Mike Zeck and Bob Layton, to bring Secret Wars to life. The event book would then run for a full year, stretching from summer ‘84 to summer ‘85, and become Marvel’s first major crossover.
Although Secret Wars was not met with the best critical reception upon release, with some readers pointing out its simple premise and limited storytelling, it was a huge success when it came to sales. The book was an instant bestseller, became a milestone event for the publisher, and now stands as a nostalgic fan-favourite tale, for those who followed along in the ‘80s.
Of course, those who check out Secret Wars now, might not see what all the fuss is about. These days, Marvel crossovers happen with increasing regularity, and as noted above, the writing in Secret Wars isn’t particularly strong.
However, look again and you’ll understand why Secret Wars deserves its place in Marvel history. It has many things going for it, from great artwork to the introduction of new characters, as well as a couple of ideas that would create new stories for the Marvel Universe moving forward.
So, to celebrate the continued legacy of Secret Wars, today I am taking a look back at the comic to focus on its highlights. Below are the 18 best moments from this epic Marvel mini-series!
First up… when you’re a comics publisher promising a HUGE event, you need to deliver on that promise, and Secret Wars sure delivered within the first few pages of issue one, with a splash page featuring a whopping 21 characters! Sat under the bold heading, ‘The War Begins’, were Captain Marvel, Captain America, Storm, Mr. Fantastic, The Wasp, Cyclops, Hulk, Professor Xavier, Thor, Wolverine, The Thing, Iron Man, Rogue, Spider-Man, Magneto, She-Hulk, The Human Torch, Lockheed, Hawkeye, Colossus, and Nightcrawler!
This splash of all the heroes, not only made it clear to the reader that Secret Wars was set to be a big adventure, it was also something new. Marvel readers were used to seeing their favourite characters appear in each other’s books, but nothing quite like this.
Loss of power
With any big event story, it’s always important to mix things up a little, to upset the status quo, and Secret Wars sure did that (see Spidey’s costume change below). But one of the most notable ways of changing things around a little came in issue two, when the Fantastic Four’s, Thing lost his powers!
As a side effect of being on Battleworld, The Thing had the ability to transform out of his rocky exterior and return to his human form as Ben Grimm. He couldn’t control this transformation, so it proved problematic during battle, but for a short period of time, The Thing was Ben again.
As noted above in the introduction, Secret Wars brought together 36 Marvel characters for this ultimate slug-fest, but did you know, that not all of these characters were established heroes and villains? Yep, Marvel used Secret Wars as a way to introduce three new characters into the Marvel Universe, beginning with two villains in issue three.
The villains were Volcana and Titania! The circumstances of their introduction were a little vague, with the characters largely just appearing out of nowhere, but they became a part of the crossover event and remained throughout the story.
OK, onto this next ‘best moment’ and it is reserved for a stand-out cover that appeared on issue four of Secret Wars. The cover depicted the Marvel heroes sandwiched between two pieces of rock, with only the Hulk keeping everyone safe.
So, what was all this about then? Well, in issue four, the Molecule Man threw a mountain at the Marvel heroes, in an attempt to crush them. However, the Hulk and Iron Man manged to hollow out a small gap for everyone to sit within, then the Hulk kept the mountain from caving in.
The cover not only summed up a key plot point, it was also an attention-grabbing piece. You put a cover like this on the shelves of a comic book store, and you have customers reaching out for it!
Every war has casualties, right? Well, Secret Wars was no different, and beginning with issue four, the comic served up its first death.
The first character to lose their life was Kang the Conqueror! He died at the hands of the robotic villain, Ultron, under the strict orders of Doctor Doom.
Way back in issue one, Kang tried to kill Doom, but failed. Doom didn’t forget, waited patiently, and when the time was right, it was curtains for Kang!
OK, so technically it wasn’t, as Kang was later revived in issue eleven. However, he sat out a huge chunk of Secret Wars, and was technically dead… for a while.
A UK exclusive
And now for something slightly different – that you may or may not know about.
Due to the popularity of Secret Wars in the US, over in the UK, Marvel UK decided to print a Secret Wars comic of its own, to cover the epic story. The comic essentially republished the story in its entirety, only with one key difference: Marvel UK Secret Wars (as it was known) stretched the original 12-issue story out to a whopping 31 issues!
The UK comic extended Secret Wars by breaking down each issue into two parts, and then later into three parts. Each segment was then accompanied by a back-up strip or two (Alpha Flight, Zoids, Iceman), to round out the page count.
So, why am I telling you all this? Because, as a result of the additional nineteen issues used to tell Secret Wars, Marvel UK had to commission a number of original covers for their extra comics.
One of the original covers is the superb Lizard/Wasp design (seen above), which appeared on issue eleven of Marvel UK Secret Wars. Pretty creepy and/or exciting, right?
The death of an Avenger
As already highlighted, Secret Wars was keen to upset the apple cart and introduce a few shocks. And one of these shocks came in issues six and seven, with the death of The Wasp!
In issue six, The Wasp was shot in by Doom’s team of villains. Her body was then taken away, and delivered to Captain America’s team in issue seven, devastating the heroes in the process.
Now, for those reading along in ‘84/‘85, the death of an Avenger was pretty big stuff! It’s just a shame then, that the whole situation was resolved so quickly!
The Wasp didn’t die and she returned in issue eight. However, for a couple of months, it did seem as if her fate was sealed.
I mentioned earlier that two new villains were introduced into Secret Wars, well, a new hero popped up too, in the form of Julia Carpenter, the mysterious black costumed Spider-Woman. Following a ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ silhouette cameo in issue six, Carpenter made her first full appearance in issue seven, to become a new Marvel hero.
But unlike Titania and Volcana, there was a proper explanation for Spider-Woman’s sudden appearance. According to Carpenter, she was in Denver, when the Beyonder used part of a suburb to create his Battleworld, which in turn dragged her into the fight!
Now, you may be wondering why all these new characters were female? Well, this was at the request of Mattel.
The toy company wanted Marvel to introduce more female characters into the mix, so they could turn a few of them into action figures. Marvel was fine with this idea and used this as the perfect opportunity to invent new female characters.
Thing is, despite the request from Mattel, neither Spider-Woman, Titania, nor Volcana were turned into toys. In fact, out of the three waves of Secret Wars toys produced by Mattel, not a single figure was female.
Still… the Julia Carpenter Spider-Woman was introduced into the Marvel Universe, and she proved to be a great character!
An iconic cover
Another ‘best moment’ and yep, you spotted it, it’s another cover! This one is for issue eight, which showcased Spider-Man in his swish new black costume!
Recognise it? You should – this is a very iconic comic book cover.
I’ll go into detail about the costume momentarily, but for now simply marvel at how good this cover looks! Once again, this was (and still is) a stand-out piece of artwork, that leapt off the shelves of comic book stores, and into the hands of eager readers.
Spidey lets loose
I’ll keep this one simple: Issue eight: Spidey v Titania!
In this issue, the two foes engage in a brawl, with Spidey keen to tear Titania down a peg or two. Here’s the dialogue from the fight:
Titania – “When I get you I’ll… aggh!”
Spider-Man punches Titania.
Spider-Man – “All you’re going to get is frustrated …and eventually, thrashed!”
Sticking to the ceiling he punches Titania again with double fists.
Titania – “No! It’s not fair! Uhh!”
Spider-Man – “But, if we were fighting in a broom closet, that’d be fair, right?”
Spider-Man leaps to the ground and grabs Titania by the leg, causing her to lose balance.
Titania – “Stop it! Stop it! Stop..!”
Spider-Man – “You ought to be happy, cuddles! You aspired to be a bully, and, man, you’re a classic!”
Spider-Man – “You talk tough and nasty when you’ve got the upper hand..”
He throws Titania across the room.
Titania – “Yahhh-h-h!”
Spider-Man – “..but when you’re losing.. well, that’s when the whining little wimp-ette inside comes spilling out!”
Titania is unable to grab onto anything, and is thrown clean through a wall. She falls from a great height to the ground below, hitting the surface with a “THWOOM!”
Titania – “N-not… fair…”
Titania – “Nnnh!”
Titania loses consciousness.
Spidey’s new suit
Yet more Spidey, and this time with a focus on that black costume!
In issue eight, the heroes made use of advanced Battleworld technology to recreate their costumes, after they became torn in battle. Spidey followed suit, headed toward one of the machines, and attempted to recreate his famous red-and-blue costume.
But instead of his familiar suit, a small black substance appeared before his eyes, quickly spread across his body, and covered him from head to toe. This substance became his new costume, it looked very cool, and pleased him greatly.
But what Spidey didn’t yet realise was that this substance was not created by the same technology used to recreate all of the other costumes. This substance was alien in origin, and it had just made Peter Parker its host!
Secrets of the symbiote
Following the introduction of Spidey’s new threads in issue eight, issue nine offered up a few additional details about the black costume. You see, not only did the costume look good, it could produce webbing without the need for Spidey’s web shooters, and it could change size and shape at will, to suit Peter Parker’s desires.
While Peter Parker wouldn’t discover the real truth about the costume until much later (outside the events of Secret Wars), a few panels of detail helped to pave the way forward for more stories to come about this alien costume… which would later become known as the alien symbiote… and then Venom!
She-Hulk has things covered
Back to Marvel UK’s Secret Wars again, and another great original cover from issue fourteen. On this occasion, She-Hulk was given the chance to shine!
And the cover appreciation continues with issue ten of the US Secret Wars comic, which was yet another fantastic cover. And in my opinion, arguably the greatest of them all.
This striking cover was kept simple, and featured what appeared to be a battle-damaged Doctor Doom. The tagline read: ‘Against the Beyonder… to the death!’
Behold the face of Doom!
Oh, look, Doom has reappeared on this list once again, and this time it is thanks to a bold, clean, and (maybe) shocking splash page from issue 11. It was shocking because the face of Doom was revealed… and he looked very handsome!
You may wonder what this was all about, so let me explain.
Ordinarily, Victor Von Doom has a badly scared visage, which is a result of an accident from his youth. And because of his unsightly appearance, he almost never takes his mask off.
However, after duking it out with the Beyonder (and winning), Doom was granted limitless powers. He then used these newfound abilities to adjust his appearance, resulting in this rare image of a flawless Doom.
The ultimate cliffhanger
If Doom’s stunningly handsome face wasn’t enough to shock readers, then the final page of issue eleven certainly was. It featured the death of all the heroes!
Having gained the power of the Beyonder, Doctor Doom had become omnipotent, and this was something that truly worried Captain America and his team. Should Doom decide to wield his abilities in the wrong direction, the whole universe could be in trouble.
Keen to avoid this eventuality, all of the heroes gathered together to debate the next course of action: To de-power Doom. They agreed that this action would only be taken if everyone agreed it was the right thing to do.
But little did the heroes know, that Doom was privy to their conversation. As soon as they agreed to attack him, he got in first, sending a force of energy raining down upon them, killing them all and leaving readers with the mother of all cliffhangers!
But you can never keep a good hero down, and very soon Captain America’s team returned (did you expect anything less?) And as for their resurrection? It was signalled by the appearance of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir.
A new Fantastic Four
And finally, after spending a few issues losing and regaining his abilities, The Thing decided the best thing to do was to remain on Battleworld once the war was over. The Thing opted to stay behind, to get a better handle on his powers, leaving the Fantastic Four without its fourth member.
For about two seconds…
…because The Thing had a replacement who is willing to complete the awesome foursome, and that replacement was She-Hulk!
Jennifer Walters, aka the Sensational She-Hulk stepped up to the plate and became the newest member of the FF. She joined the team following the events of Secret Wars, and even though should would eventually step down, she remains a fan-favourite member to this day.
And there you have it – the 18 best moments from Secret Wars! Whether you love the book or you’re indifferent about it, Secret Wars sure did pack a punch!
Anyway, thank you for stopping by It’s A Stampede! to read this post about Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars – I hope it proved useful. For more posts, be sure to check out the recommended reads below.
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