“The War Begins”
Writer: Jim Shooter
Penciler: Mike Zeck
One thing that’s always excited me is the all-star crossover. As a wee lad, I remember freaking out when I stumbled upon “Yogi’s Ark”, featuring all the Hanna-Barbera characters teaming up. As a teen, I loved the Survivor Series with all its (tag) team-ups. As an adult, I annually freak out over the MLB All-Star Game, featuring NL and AL players teaming up to play some exhibition innings. So it’s no surprise that the original “Secret Wars” is what hooked me on Marvel, as a whole. I had seen various cartoons and comics featuring all the heroes; both individually and as teams; over the years. Yet ALL of them, together in one easy-to-carry package?! Cool, I’m in.
So there I was in the summer of 1984. I was still strictly “GI Joe” and “Star Wars” comics, with maybe an issue of “Avengers” worked in. I started seeing “Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars” pop-up on the rack, but I figured I’d be embarassed to pick it up. Yes, at age 10, I was embarassed that someone might make fun of a KID reading a COMIC BOOK. It wasn’t until I saw issue Secret Wars# 4 at a grocery store that I finally “gambled” and decide to purchase one. I went through the check-out and the clerk said: “Pfft. This is only the second time I’ve ever seen anybody buy a comic book”. Dick.
Whatever… after that embarassment wore off (maybe 6 hours. I was a sensitive little turd), I got to reading…and I was hooked. In issue 4, the bad guys dropped a frickin’ mountain range on the heroes and the Hulk held the whole thing up! They all worked together and made their way out, but things looked bleak. Add in the X-men, off being a-holes, and I scrambled to pick up the next issue! There went my allowance, as I was immediately curious enough to also pick up “Amazing Spider-Man”, “Uncanny X-men”, “Iron Man” and all the others (yes, even “Thor” and “Fantastic Four”). It’s been about 30 years and I still haven’t recovered. Great marketing move by Marvel.
Indeed, marketing was the genesis of the 12-issue Secret Wars limited series. It’s well-known that Marvel crafted the whole project after Mattel came to them to sell toys, lunch boxes and who knows what else. The toys kinda’ stunk and the rest of the merchandise was fairly weak. Not many little kids were into the “Sercet Wars” toy line. Big kids, on the other hand, ate up Secret Wars with big forks, spoons and knives! To this day, it’s very hard to find any modern Comic Nerds who will not speakly fondly of Secret Wars. Simply put, if you were a fan of the “Super Hero Genre” in the 80’s, you liked Secret Wars. Probably a reason why Marvel is planning a new, grandiose, “Secret Wars” in 2015.
The story itself is very straightforward. An all-powerful being, named “The Beyonder” simply transports two opposing teams of heroes and villains to an alien world on the other side of the universe to do battle. Some were lured into a weird space-age arena in Central Park, while others were simply plucked away without warning. It’s a pretty big scorecard, as we’ve got:
- Dr. Doom
- The Lizard
- Dr. Octopus
- The Enchantress
- The Molecule Man
- Absorbing Man
- Captain America
- Captain Marvel
- Iron Man (James Rhodes)
- Professor X
- Lockheed the Dragon
- Mr. Fantastic
- The Thing
- Human Torch
Yes, Lockheed the Dragon gets his own entry. FWIW, this is also my personal favorite “Captain Marvel”, Monica Rambeau, the chick who can turn into light. At first, it may seem like the heroes have the numbers, but consider that it would sometimes take an entire team (or a Team-up or Two-in-One) to fight the villains. Plus, the villains have freakin’ GALACTUS who eats planets. Oh, and the villains also gained a few more recruits as the series wore on (Volcana, Titania and Klaw).
Thus, the Beyonder’s like an All-Powerful Comic Book Fanboy playing with his action figures. He instantly sets up his own patchwork “battleworld”, pulled from chunks of other planets. He simply tells everybody: “I am from beyond. Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours. Nothing you dream of is impossible for me to accomplish”.
While the battle lines are drawn, there are some grey areas. First off, Galactus and Dr. Doom are intrigued by the Beyonder’s all-powerful ways and try to take him out, immediately. Galactus feels the Beyonder can cure his endless hunger for planets and cosmic indigestion. Dr. Doom gets his famous line of “if there is power to be had, DOOM must have it”, so he follows behind Galactus, hoping to usurp the Beyonder’s power somehow.
There’s also Magneto, who was placed with the “heroes”, when he was still very much a villain. He talks about how he’s just defending his race and he’s apparently not considered “evil” by the Beyonder. I’m not sure, but I think this may have been the start of Magneto’s “good guy turn”, where he slowly became an ally of the X-men (for awhile, at least).
Of course, Galactus and Doom aren’t successful in their plans to take out the Beyonder. Everybody else is suspicious about the Big B, but since they’ve come all this way, they may as well fight. Well, after they figure out the whole “who will lead us” thing. This leads to my absolute favorite two-panels of Captain America. Everyone’s bitching about who should lead the heroes and Cap tries to downplay it. Prof. X gives his approval but Wolverine, being his usual asshole self, says Cap’s no big deal. Thor steps in and gives Cap the rub, saying he’ll calmly follow him anywhere.
Just as everyone is seemingly settled in on “Battleworld”, the villains attack and it’s on. Yes, please bring on issue 2!!!
If I remember correctly, everybody plays their roles to the hilt throughout the series. It’s amazing that, with such a gigantic cast and in “only” 12 issues, everybody gets memorable moments and characteristic dialogue. Iron Man develops a crush on Capt. Marvel, Human Torch scores with an alien chick, Lockheed gets laid, the Wasp “dies”, Hulk’s worried about losing his intellect, Wolverine reconsiders alot of things and the Thing keeps reverting to Ben Grimm at inopportune times. There were also some Marvel-wide plot developments that spun out of this: Colossus became smitten with the same alien chick and sorta’ dumped Kitty Pryde, the new Spider-Woman popped up, the She-Hulk joined the Fantastic Four, Rogue finally shed her hoodie/jumpsuit costume and the Thing remained behind on Battleworld.
Oh, and Spider-Man also got a new costume. No biggie.
My only real complaint is that the Wasp is written like a tart or valley girl. She says: “Everybody knows us, because we’re the Mighty Avengers and we’re famous”! Later, she makes out with Magneto and complains about breaking a nail. Yet that was sort of Marvel’s MO with her for most of the 80’s.
Issue 9 also supplies us with The Greatest Dr. Doom Quote I Can Recall:
Klaw: “You narrate your life as you go along, don’t you? Are you being taped?”
Doom: “Why, yes! Every utterance of Doom must be recorded for prosperity!
Doom is awesome throughout “Secret Wars” and this might very well be one of his best stories. After issue 9, he basically takes over the spotlight. When the craptastic “Secret Wars II” rolls around, I don’t think Doom is there… and that’s a shame. I think he had a part in the FF-only “Secret Wars III”, where it was revealed the Beyonder was a rogue Cosmic Cube or something. That’d require I re-read my 1988 FF books and I’m not up for that.
Oh golly— not just this FIRST ISSUE, but this series is a frickin’ blast. Once you start reading it, it gets in your head and you can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a Big Dumb Superhero Story, but darn if it isn’t entertaining, addictive and just overall FUN at a breakneck speed.
Summary: Everybody gets picked up and set to fight in a cosmic Marvel Battle Royal.
Cover Price: 0.60
Rating: 2.50 (Highest rating)