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Off The Page: Secret Wars (1984)

By Patrick McNair Nov 7, 2016 - 7:12 PM print

At the heart of any comic is the conflict between good and evil. Heroes and villains with opposed ideological differences, which generates the drama of the story. Most of the time, comics aren't trying to espouse any particular philosophical concepts in regards to "good" and "evil" and are more focused on entertaining the reader, so that they will come back in anticipation of the next thrilling issue. The heroes and villains fight for they believe in, making the drama so compelling, by seeing which side will win out. That's what Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter had in mind when he conceived the mega event, Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars , (usually referred to as Secret Wars ): a huge battle royale, featuring virtually every Marvel hero and villain in the ultimate battle of good versus evil. Secret Wars also posed a philosophical debate into how a cosmic entity, detached from our reality, would view mortal beings; perhaps seeing itself above the petty differences of ordinary individuals and regarding itself as the concluding arbiter in order to resolve said differences.

The Setup:

A being of immense power, known as the Beyonder, transports the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe to Battleworld to engage in the final battle between each faction. The Beyonder promises the winning team anything they want, however, marooned on an alien world, can the heroes and villains coexist before they destroy each other?

The Players:

The Avengers
Julie Carpenter/Spider-Woman
Doctor Octopus
Bruce Banner/Hulk

Fantastic Four
Molecule Man

Peter Parker/Spider-Man Doctor Doom

The Breakdown:

The idea for Secret Wars was that of Marvel Editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who collaborated with toy manufacturer Mattel to create a Secret Wars toy line. Rival company Kenner had experienced huge success with Star Wars merchandising and believed that superheroes would be the next big fad, licensing the DC heroes. Mattel sided with Marvel for similar merchandising opportunities, interested in the characters, but only if Marvel would create a publishing event tie in to drum up publicity. The title of the comic (and the resulting toy line), was the result of multiple focus groups, determining that children responded positively to the words "secret" and "wars" (undoubtedly influenced by Star Wars). After some compromise, it was decided that the comic event would be called Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars . The event ran for 12 issues, published over the course of a year from 1984-1985.

Our heroes find themselves trapped on a spaceship, out in the vast cosmos, with no idea of how they got there. They observe another ship, one filled with villains, who again have no memory of how they arrived. Both groups watch in shock and awe as a galaxy is suddenly destroyed and in its place, a single planet is formed, known as Battleworld. A mysterious voice introduces itself as the cosmic entity, the Beyonder, who has taken the heroes and villains, against their will to compete in the ultimate battle between the two factions. The Beyonder declares, "I am from beyond! Slay your enemies and all that you desire shall be yours! Nothing you dream of is impossible for me to accomplish!" On the villain’s ship, Galactus senses that the Beyonder speaks the truth and demands that he remove Galactus’ hunger for planets, although the cosmic being repels Galactus’ advances, much to the amazement of both heroes and villains. The Beyonder transports both groups to different areas of Battleworld, which has been stocked with alien weapons, technology and bases for both teams. The Avengers question Magneto's presence, as he had initially arrived with them, much to the ire of the Master of Magnetism, who departs the group to explore Battleworld. The heroes and villains have several battles, including each other (the X-Men decide to remain a separate unit, following dissension with the Avengers, going so far as to use telepathy on Spider-Man to make him forget spying on a secret meeting the X-Men had. Furthermore, team mentor Professor Xavier finds that he able to walk again and takes a more active role in the X-Men, much to the chagrin of current leader, Storm). New villains Titania and Volcana are created by Doctor Doom and the second Spider-Woman, Julia Carpenter is introduced to the heroes.

Galactus successfully summons his world ship and begins plans to devour Battleworld. The heroes come together to fight the Devourer of Worlds, disabling his energy transfer device, but decide that Galactus should win the fight as he is the only being remotely capable of standing up to the Beyonder. Doctor Doom hatches his own plan to steal the Beyonder's power, which he succeeds at. However, this eventually proves to be a ruse from the cosmic entity, since Doom finds it increasingly difficult to contain the immense power, before the Beyonder takes it back by possessing various individuals to get to Doom. Following a battle that leaves his costume in tatters, Spider-Man looks for a machine to create a new outfit (upon hearing Thor’s comments) and finds one that produces a black orb, forming around his body to create a new black suit, unaware of its nefarious purpose (Spider-Man believes that he must've been subconsciously thinking about Spider-Woman suit, which was very similar). Following a final assault on Doombase, the heroes defeat Doom and he, the Beyonder and Klaw (whom the Beyonder was possessing) all disappear. The ship that brought the heroes to Battleworld is still in orbit and is able to transport the heroes’ home. Everyone returns to Earth, with the exception of Ben Grimm, who while on Battleworld, was able to change between his human form and the Thing. Saying goodbye to his friends, Reed Richards and Johnny Storm, Ben contemplates an uncertain future on Battleworld.


Secret Wars still holds up today as a fun, self-contained story. Considering that the comic was born out of corporate desires for a toy line, the series works on a creative level. Since the story ran for a year, there is a lot to unpack. There are several significant character developments, most notably the introduction of Spider-Man’s black suit, which would eventually form the foundation of the villain, Venom. Other developments include She-Hulk temporarily replacing the Thing on the Fantastic Four and Colossus breaking up with Kitty Pryde, ending a long standing romance between the pair. A sequel, Secret Wars II was published a year later, following the Beyonder visiting Earth. A new Secret Wars event was released in 2015, featuring the return of Battleworld, as the result of the merging of several universes that would go on to reboot the Marvel Universe as All-New All Different Marvel. The Secret Wars storyline was adapted, with several changes from the comic in the Spider-Man animated series in the 1990s and a What If? story detailed the heroes’ fates after being stranded on Battleworld for 25 years. Secret Wars was an ambitious project and writer (as well as Editor-in-Chief) Jim Shooter did a fantastic job of keeping the wheels moving, publishing 12 issues over the course of a year, under tight deadlines. It's well worth reading, despite its length and gives a fascinating insight into how a "god" can create the ultimate battle of good versus evil.

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