A long time ago in, what seems from this vantage point, a Galaxy far, far away Marvel Comics under the editorship of Jim Shooter published Secret Wars it was a big epic storyline conceived so that a bunch of Marvel’s premier heroes could do battle with some of the nastiest bad guys in comic book history. It was a series that preceded DC Comics Crisis on Infinite Earths however Secret Wars was in no way comparable to DC’s wonderful masterpiece.
Writer Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars just might be comparable however, a super long form, for superhero comics, storyline that kinda took shape in the writers run on the Fantastic Four and the spin-off series FF (Future Foundation) but really got moving in the writers run on The Avengers and New Avengers.
Here was a truly apocalyptic tale, one that couldn’t be easily resolved by super people smashing something or even by a bunch of super geniuses thinking of a solution to the problem of the end of Earth, of all Earths throughout the vast Marvel multiverse. In a way it was less grand than DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths but it felt more epic, it felt more mythic.
Comic book writer Grant Morrison wrote in his book Supergods, my favourite book, that superheroes are the modern age’s new myths and legends they’re Herakles and Jason re-imagined for an age of wonders, because let’s face it we live in an age of wonders okay we don’t for the most part recognise that we do, or embrace that we do, but we really do and it’s a shame, I think, that we don’t celebrate this age of wonders.
In addition to writing Supergods Grant Morrison in some, but not all, of his superhero comic books touched upon the grand epic mythic-ness of superheroes for me the prime example is his work for 2000 A.D. in the form of Zenith that eventually led to a tale featuring dozens of superheroes from across multiple Earths forging together to stand against the horrors of the Lloigor, kind of Lovecraftian multi-dimensional space gods or cosmic monsters.
Marvel Comics hasn’t really, in my opinion, embraced the idea of their characters being mythic in nature the characters tend to be more down to earth than those appearing throughout DC Comics. They have a variety of psychological problems, nearly all of the superheroes are flawed, have mental health issues, make disastrous mistakes but in the end they tend to triumph over evil while at the same time receiving a hard time from their family, friends, the general public and the authorities at large.
Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars puts an end not only to the mundane everyday lives, character and behaviour of Marvel’s superheroes but also to both the Ultimate Universe and Earth-616 (the Marvel universe I’ve always known and loved since first picking up an issue of the Fantastic Four by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee).
Hickman weaved a story that led to the destruction of numerous Earths and thus their universes has it had been established that Earth really is at the centre of the universe, all universes, and somehow binds the universe together to destroy an Earth is to save, or destroy, a universe. The Illuminati (Reed Richards, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Namor, the Beast and Iron Man) actually do doom several Earths to save their own while Captain America’s Avengers make attempt to put an end to The Illuminati all of this end of the multiverse doom and gloom leads to Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom confronting the orchestrators of Earths dooms The Beyonders multi-dimensional all powerful beings that unfortunately in the hands of one comic book artist looked like baked potatoes in suits of poorly rendered armour.
While the last remaining Earths 616 and Ultimate fight each other for survival Doom and Strange stood down The Beyonders and with (A LOT of) help from Molecule Man defeated the creators of the Marvel Multiverse and Doom took it upon himself to try and save some semblance of reality.
Thus was born the new Secret Wars, Doom became a God, or THE God, and created Battleworld an amalgamation of various Marvel Universe realms and realities including X-Men ’92, Age of Apocalypse, Spider-Island and many others.
Reading Secret Wars issue by issue became something of a joke the series expanded several times and gaps between issues meant that when Marvel Comics re-launched their entire line the final issue of Secret Wars hadn’t been published. It didn’t matter much to me, I’m pretty easy going, and enjoyed the comics for what they were regardless of out of phase continuity and unresolved larger plot lines.
Today, Thursday 17th of March 2016, was comic book day, for me, this meant a short, two minute, walk to my local comic book store and the purchase of this week’s comic book goodies, the purchase of which manage to keep me sane, maybe. I happily bought Phonogram volume three, Grant Morrison’s Nameless, Warren Ellis’ Blackcross and Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars and what an absolute joy it was to read from beginning to end Hickman’s mythic tale.
There are a lot of good ideas within the confines of the Secret Wars trade if I were to sum up the collected series using just one word I’d choose awesome, yes it’s a word often used out of context these days but in this case, and for me a forty four year old bloke who still loves Marvel Comics, Secret Wars is truly awesome, indeed I dare lay claim that it is AWESOME! I like the emphasis capital letters add to a word, the gravitas the grandeur.
The book begins with a re-cap that let’s a reader know what’s been happening deaths of universes, Reed Richards trying to save a small group of those he determines are worthy, clever superhero science types and their families, but it all goes badly wrong people are lost, including Reed’s family and while all this is happening Doom dares confront and defeat The Beyonders saving millions and stealing Reed’s wife, and fathering Reed’s children.
Though Doom is a super genius he’s also possessive of a super ego so the world he remakes is completely flawed and bound to eventually fall. Naturally there’s a big old conceit in this re-creation of the Marvel Earth some bright spark, perhaps Jonathan Hickman himself, ventured forth the idea that this new world of God Doom should be named Battleworld, much like the world from the original Secret Wars series, but this world would contain multiple variations of our most beloved characters torn from the pages of cherished storylines for example from the X-Men books there’s Age of Apocalypse; E is for Extinction; House of M; Inferno; Old Man Logan; X-Men ’92; X-Tinction Agenda and Years of Future Past, multiple versions of the X-Men, which I had a problem getting my head around, there are other problems with the spin-offs, in the main series, Secret Wars, it’s established, by Doctor Strange, that this Battleworld is only eight years old and that only he, God Doom and Molecule Man remember the previous realities the spin-off titles chose not to recognise these established facts and make reference to greater lengths of time having passed and even have characters remembering the past realities. It was a flaw in the overall cross company story arc that kinda let it down, it could have been handled so much better and really delved into the mythical nature of these superhero stories I enjoy so much.
Fortunately Hickman’s writing manages the mythic and builds a world that is far more interesting than other writers managed to make use of. For instance there’s the entire death of Earth 616, the 1961 – 2015 birth and death date felt like a punch in my nuts when I first saw it and immediately a great sadness swept across my entire being. I have only known two people, in the entire world, longer than I have known, and loved, Earth 616 its death left me sad for many days, it was a sadness that I experienced upon re-reading that birth and death date, but I managed to get over it far quicker, because as you probably know the Marvel Universe isn’t dead it’s alive and kicking a shade different than before as though Marvel Comics took inspiration from DC’s revamp of Batgirl.
Still powerful stuff something I’d known, and loved, for forty of my years suddenly ceasing to exist. We are strange creatures, we humans, we can feel sadness at the end of fictional creations, the death of unreal people, but turn a blind eye, bury our heads in the sand, to real life tragedies. The Syrian Crisis for example, the administrators of our nations, perhaps at the behest of their lords and masters, are choosing to abandon the last vestiges of whatever humanity they possessed and allow refugees, women and children, fleeing a warzone to die without hint of dignity or by lifting a hand to help those desperately in need and no matter how many ordinary people do something to help it won’t be enough because only our governors can save those desperate lost peoples. Our governors can save us all but choose not to.
Immediately after the death of Earth 616 we’re offered the first fantastic idea of this new Secret Wars, Battleworld is policed by God Doom’s powerful Thor Corps, multiple versions of Mjolnir exist and those deemed worthy are plucked from their homes to see if they can wield the blessed hammer, if they can they become a Thor, detectives, security, God Doom’s enforcers and army. It’s a brilliant concept that should have been used in the regular, all new, Marvel Universe but so far has not.
I was pleased, as a fan of Hickman’s Future Foundation stories to see the super science kids used throughout Secret Wars, they’ve been a breath of fresh air to the Marvel Universe but only Hickman seems capable of using them properly, here in this series the kids, and Dragon Man, are investigators, explorers, philosophers and super scientists tasked with figuring strange things out. Again, and for me, a series featuring the kids exploring the new Marvel multiverse would be a smashing idea, get Jonathan Hickman to write it and Esad Ribic and Olivier Coipel to take turns illustrating story arcs of the comic book and I’d be most pleased.
Hickman pours out some great ideas in Secret Wars, Battleworld is run akin to a medieval fiefdom. The Shield a greater version of the Great Wall of China protects Battleworld from the threats from the Deadlands, Marvel’s Zombies, the Annihilation Wave and the many different versions of Ultron. Molecule Man is the source of God Doom’s power.
Naturally God Doom knows, deep down, he’s made a flawed ridiculous world and that his hold upon it is tenuous at best, Doom, like Thanos, is the biggest threat to his plans of power it’s as though he wills himself to fail before he’s even made a grab for ultimate power. It’s an interesting idea that a person’s uncertainties, ego, arrogance and ignorance are the causes of their downfall. I like it.
God Doom watching everything fall apart senses a hidden hand pulling the strings and at first he believes this hand to belong to the Black Panther enveloped as it is within an Infinity Gauntlet but during their brief battle, reminiscent to that of Mad Jim Jasper’s and The Fury’s in Alan Moore and Alan Davis’ Captain Britain, only nowhere near as good, God Doom defeats the Black Panther but too late realises that the hand behind his present misfortunes belongs to his oldest and most hated enemy Reed Richards.
At the end of the series with God Doom defeated Reed’s son Franklin becomes the creator, not only of the Marvel Universe but the multiverse, bringing into fictional being the idea that Franklin Richards controls the Marvel Universe. Not only does Reed, with the power of Molecule Man at his disposal, recreate the Marvel multiverse, alongside his son, he also manages what God Doom could not restoring Doom’s face.
It’s a beautiful ending to an AWESOME story, the Future Foundation with guardians Reed, Sue and maybe Molecule Man go off to catalogue, reference and explore the all new Marvel multiverse and Hell that’s a series I really, REALLY, want to read in comic books and see onscreen at a cinema or maybe as a TV series it could be America’s answer to Britain’s Doctor Who only on a grander more epic scale.