The big summer comics crossover events have been a bit odd this year. (Let’s ignore the fact that I’m in the southern hemisphere and so crawling into a deep freeze during these so-called summer events). The similarities are baffling, and they all seem to involve the publishing equivalent of an eight-year-old smashing together all of their super hero toys for eight to ten weeks straight and charging a couple of hundred bucks for it.
They all seem to be running on variations of the same premise: Universes collide. Epic hilarity ensues.
In the case of Marvel’s Secret Wars event, this is literally the premise: all of the various universes and timelines in the extended Marvel multiverse (where they keep their spinoff continuities, aborted timelines, alternate realities and so forth) have been colliding over the past few years like a Newton’s Cradles on the Beyonder’s office desk, until the two popular ones are all that’s left. So they fight.
At the same time, DC is two very similar events more or less in parallel. The first, of less relevance here, is Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, which in typical Morrison-esque batshit craziness attempts to pit every obscure character ever included in a DC comic, including multiple versions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and so on, into the same cross-reality showdown with a weird ontological conspiracy that threatens to infect all reality including the one occupied by the readers of Multiversity. The series is also a magic ritual designed to make itself happen, or something. (Don’t ask – it’s metacommentary piled on top of metacommentary piled on top of all the drugs Morrison consumed in the nineties.) It’s cool, and so Morrison that you’ll either embrace it with all your heart or shy away like Dracula from crossed garlic presses.
DC’s second event is called Convergence, in which cackling-evil-genius Braniac conspires to bring back all the old DC continuities that they wiped out a few years ago in the just-awful Flashpoint event, in order to have them fight one another. First of all, it’s an odd sort of decision for DC to make to be running two more or less completely independent and incompatible cross-multiverse events at the same time, but at this point in the post-New 52 DC I just have to kind of shrug. I can’t pretend to understand what’s going on over there these days. The premise of Convergence is a thinly-disguised excuse to reunite some of DC’s greatest creative teams with the titles that made them famous (Greg Rucka writing Renee Montoya as the Question is exciting, though I haven’t seen much else that I care about) as all the old continuities crawl from the woodwork.
But something about it has left a bad taste in my mouth – or rather, nothing about it has removed the bad taste in my mouth that started with the New 52 and drove me firmly into the Marvel camp. So screw Braniac’s ridiculous plot involving bottle cities. Let’s talk Secret Wars.
Marvel’s original Secret Wars series in the 1980’s was one of the early examples of the big summer event. In it, a godlike being called the Beyonder summoned a bunch of heroes and villains to his arena-planet called Battleworld to fight. Everybody obligingly fought, except Doctor Doom who took the opportunity (correctly) to overthrow the Beyonder, steal all his power and rule as Doom Omniscient. Which was pretty awesome if you were a teenager when you read it, as I was.
That Secret Wars series was dumb but fun. (The less said about the sequel series Secret Wars II, in which the Beyonder comes to Earth to learn what it is to be human, the better. Except you should know that it was very fucking awful and don’t make the mistake of reading it because ugh).
Which brings us to this year’s Secret Wars, in which Marvel blows up all its toys.
(SPOILERS FOLLOW for a series of comics you are very likely not planning to read)
The backstory: Ever since crazed philosopher-architect Johnathan Hickman started writing the Avengers a couple of years ago, the writing has been on the wall for the Marvel universe(s). Due to some great cosmic misalignment, that probably has something to do with all the time travelling that the X-Men do all the time, universes have been bonking together in pendulous mutual annihilation. “Adjacent” Earth’s have been forced to occupy the same position, such that if one or the other is not destroyed inside an eight-hour window, both are destroyed. So far, so apocalyptic. The Avengers and the big brains like Reed Richards and Tony Stark and T’Challa have spent the last couple of years running around trying to find a cure, but so far no dice.
Now, only the official Marvel Universe (designated the “Earth-616” continuity) and the Ultimates Universe (“Earth-1610”, home of the post-millenial hard-edged reboot of Marvel’s most popular characters, which among other benefits originally gave us the Samuel L. Jackson version of Nick Fury) remain. And as Secret Wars #1 begins, they merge.
Recsue plans are enacted. Evil schemes are initiated. Various heroes make “it’s us or them” calls and launch attacks to destroy one Earth or the other.
Everything dies (!)
…except that Secret Wars is an eight-issue mini-series with about forty or fifty related titles, so what’s going on?
So it turns out that Doctor Doom has once again stepped up to the plate. Through some insane sorcery-science machinations I don’t plan to investigate, which probably relates all the way back to the eighties when he briefly possessed the power of the Beyonder, Doom has created a new Battleworld, a cobbled-up eggshell of a reality held together by force of Doom’s will alone.
Doom is the All-Father now, bizzatches. Pay fealty or he’ll kick your arse into the zombie-zone. Doom’s will is enforced by an army of Thors (aw yeah). Doom’s laws are administered by Sherrif (formerly Doctor) Strange. Doom brooks no insurrection, scheming or likewise bullshit.
Battleworld is divided into conveniently isolated zones (like World-of-Hulks, or fake-mythic Britain, or This-is-where-all-the-Spider-characters-are Island) and ruled over highly-recognisable Barons who pay fealty to Doom. Captain Britain is the boss of the Avalon area. Tony Stark runs Technopolis and a different version of Tony Stark runs The Warzone, where the Civil War event never ended. Mister Sinister runs a creepy zone full of clones of various Summers brothers and multiple Misters Sinister.
Yeah, maybe don’t visit those last couple of places.
Delightfully, She-Hulk is the Baron of Arcadia, which looks like Brooklyn by way of Wonder Woman’s Paradise Island, where female super-heroes protect ordinary citizens from (apparently) horrible dinosaur-sharks. (That one comes from G. Willow Wilson’s A-Force mini-series, which I can honestly recommend as great fun).
Each of the zones in battleworld corresponds with some event from Marvel’s past continuity. For example there are various zones tied up with X-men events of the past, like Age of Apocalypse, House of M, Inferno, E is for Extinction etc). Without looking, I’m guessing there’ll be a version of Wolverine in each one, even though he was already dead by the time the main Earth-616 continuity ended.
At the edges of the world, Doom’s put up a big wall to keep out the denizens of various less-salubrious Marvel continuities, like the one full of zombies and another one full of Sentinels hunting mutants in the future.
On this Shield, exiles and insurgents are banished to stand as protectors for the rest of reality. No, no, it’s totally different from The Wall in Game of Thrones. Honestly I have no idea where you got that idea.
(My head canon for this is that Doom was a huge Westeros fan before everything went belly-up, which honestly is just one more reason for George R R Martin to hurry up and finish the series. You don’t want to keep the God-Messiah Doom hanging, do you?)
So, having blathered about it for some time, what’s the verdict?
Secret Wars Issue one is a big, continuity-dependent free-for-all with helicarriers smashing into buildings, heroes and villains you may or may not recognise being heroic and/or getting killed off, and various geniuses putting desperate schemes into last-minute action. Taken by itself, it’s a dog’s breakfast that is barely comprehensible. But of course it’s not meant to be, since it’s the culmination or four or five years worth of interwoven plots from across two separate publication lines. Frankly, understanding everything that’s going on without a doctorate in Marvel continuity is probably out of the question. That said, it’s easy enough to pick up the gist – the stakes are as high as stakes go, not everyone is going to make it, and shit is, like, super-real.
Issue Two, on the other hand, is a work of insane genius. The army of Thors. The court of Doomstadt. Mister Sinister vs Captain Britain. Some weird stuff where evidence of the previous universes, which contradicts the doctrine of Doom as absolute divine author, is discovered and covered up.
It’s all great. I’m on board for the rest of the run. Even though I think it’s very likely that the series will end with a disappointing just-one-universe reboot (as the great DC universe-consolidation event of the early 80’s, Crisis on Infinite Earths, did), the sheer weirdness of the way Marvel has completely upended 50+ years of continuous storytelling is quite breathtaking.
Convergence can go jump. Sorry DC.
I’m in for the glorious, delirious, smash-those-dolls-together insanity of Marvel’s Secret Wars.