Comics Review – Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman

Secret Wars CoverI have now read Jonathan Hickman’s Marvel comics run from Fantastic Four and FF, through Avengers and New Avengers, the Infinity and Time Runs Out stories, and now finally Secret Wars. What it was all building towards. From that beginning – and especially since page 1 of Avengers and New Avengers, Hickman was doing the work of killing the Marvel Universe – indeed, the entire Multiverse.

If you’re looking for more on those stories, I have the links above. I highly recommend them, and will probably re-read them all in order at some point! But this post is about Secret Wars, which recently came out in collected version. I supported the local graphic-novel-carrying comic shop by ordering it there. Because I totally knew I would be reading it.

RIP Marvel UniverseSo this is going to go into a lot of spoilers. It would have to, at the place it’s at in the story. So quick review… I think I liked all these different story parts for different reasons. I loved the early stuff for its world-building, the crossovers for their world-breaking. I think everything came together for some amazing reveals in Time Runs Out… and then Secret Wars was just kind of what happened next. It was the inevitable place for it to go from there. And because of the scope of the crossover, it feels a lot like there were things that had to be crammed in. But hidden amongst that were some Hickman flourishes, and I enjoyed those a lot too.

Let’s look at it those ways: what happened, what felt lumped in, and what felt like Hickman closing up his stories. Onward to spoiler land!


I meant it about the spoilers – it’s time to get into some of the results of the big reveals of Time Runs Out. Spoiler break!

Doom Messiah

God Emperor Doom

Wow, with the Dune references there. I approve.

When last we left things, it was all falling apart. Valeria had given her father the objective to not lose, and they followed that plan. Built a multiversal escape raft, an arc. So as the last incursion is happening, they’re trying to grab people to save. To rebuild. I’ll get back to that.

Meanwhile, Doom has been busy. He tracked down the cause of the incursions. He’s found that it is himself. Well, sort of. A universe dies when the Molecule Man dies – who was himself created by the Beyonders. The last we saw of him, he confronted them, and there was an explosion, and we find out that the multiverse dropped from several hundred thousand universes remaining… to a few dozen. Not long later, the universe ended.

We find out how Doom did it: he collected a ton of Molecule Men and sent them in as a giant bomb against the Beyonders.

A Better Bomb

And at the moment of collapse, and in the days leading up to it, Doom was at work – collecting pieces of universes, people. Building something that must have come to mind to him thinking about the Beyonders. Building a Battleworld.

Because that’s the plot of the original 1984 Secret Wars: a Beyonder uses his power, collects pieces of different worlds, and mashes them together. Then they fight. And Doom collects the power of the Beyonder and tries to hold it all together.

So there’s a bit of a rehash of that all, but on a much larger scale.

We find out that the comics pick up, in number 2, 8 years later. Eight long years of Battleworld. Of survival of the fittest. And we see that it’s villains who tend to be running the realms – which I guess follows both from that survival of the fittest thinking, and from the fact that it’s Doom in charge.

Villain Lords

Oh, and Doctor Strange, who went with Doom to face the Beyonders… he’s the Sheriff. And the lawmen are a bunch of Thors, wielding a bunch of hammers from collapsed stars because there were a lot of those. And that’s pretty well the world he created.

He picked up a couple of stray places worse than, say, places run by Apocalypse. The Age of Ultron, the world of the Marvel Zombies. Some of the worst alien stuff, like Annihilus and Thanos. He keeps all of these past a giant wall, The SHIELD, and some of the heroes are there. But many of the rest are still at the last incursion site, over Manhattan, fighting out an endless Civil War.

Whoa, we’re getting into a lot of various Marvel universes… that seems like a segue.

What Felt Forced

Surely Hickman didn’t get to pick all of the different Marvel universes saved. After all, most of these got their own comics during the crossover. Written and illustrated by others. So that’s part of it. And what got saved leads to what ends up coming out the other end, into the new Marvel universe. So there must have been some direction there as well.

So while characters like Doom, the Illuminati, the Cabal, and the Fantastic Four were all the sorts of characters that Hickman was always going to include… most of the rest could be someone else’s decision.

The original plan was to save a bunch of scientists and such. You know, Reed Richards made the list. However, that group – being piloted by Black Widow and Spider-Woman – is shot down. So they go to plan B, which involves Manifold (who Hickman reveals has powers only in his native universe, another creation of the Beyonders I think…) finding “the people they need.” The group they pull together feels super, super forced.

The People They Need

the new female Thor, Peter Parker Spider-Man (Miles Morales Spider-Man sneaks into the arc made by the Cabal), Captain Marvel, Star-Lord, and evil Cyclops with the Phoenix Force inside him… by and large, characters who are ending up in Marvel movies. That, and Cyclops, but he helps resolve years of X-Men comics…

And how these characters are used throughout also feels a little clunky and less planned. These aren’t characters who have been important in Hickman’s previous comics. Like, Manifold was… but not really the rest. Captain Marvel, I guess. But even the Spider-Man in Avengers early on was Doctor Octopus.

Really, all the stuff with the realms, with the villain lords and the Thors and everything… that’s all just what’s happening. The day-to-day of Battleworld. And for that stuff, this comic series is not the good place. Any of it that makes it into these pages is like a drive-by, just showing it’s there. For more in-depth, reading the specific titles would be the place to go. I’m thinking I’ll probably check some of them out on Marvel Unlimited.

But no, it was the stuff about Hickman’s ongoing characters that was awesome. Because it’s 8 years later, and the Hickman characters all wake up out of suspended animation… and they end up combining forces to tear it all down and end the reign of Doom.

There was Nothing… Followed by Everything…

There was nothing... followed by everything

It’s the theme that has been running through the comics since – as I found out – Fantastic Four. Hickman has been running with these lines, with this universal origin story, for years. This twist was fun to read, fun to bring that all back together.

We get to see where the Cabal and Illuminati end up, what they do to help make everything happen. A lot of it is just distracting Doom while the real work happens. The real work, being done by the last two Reed Richards’ in existence.

Which, without reading Fantastic Four, I had not quite understood. It’s not that their worlds ended in incursion. It’s that the Reeds all found each other, in the multiverse. And things went badly, and they all died except for the main Reed from Marvel 616… Oh, and at least one other who hadn’t joined them, the Reed from the Ultimate universe. The supervillain called the Maker.

The other Reeds were already dead… but it’s Reed that more than anything seems to tip the scale for an Earth’s survival. So it seems that, of course the last two universes standings were 616 and the Ultimate universe. They each had a Reed still… a fact that would absolutely not have been lost on Hickman, and in fact something he was likely working on throughout.

And if Reed is so important, then so is his nemesis, so is Doom. Doom, who, given unlimited power… steals Reed’s life? He steals Susan, and the kids. He sends Johnny away – to become the sun for an otherwise dark Battleworld! – and he sends Ben away to be the foundation of the SHIELD. Franklin has a pet Galactus that he hangs out with, and Valeria heads up the FF. He has the perfect version of what Doom would want of Reed’s life…

And it’s also just so petty. It makes it all so personal. The universe on the line, and Doom plays house in Reed’s life.

Oh, and I should mention that it’s probably the Richards’ from Marvel 616 – Reed lost hold of them in the final moments of the incursion, and they broke free of the arc. So literally stealing his life, not just stealing a version of it.

Rather than go through all the characters, though, I would say if you’ve read the rest read this. Seeing what happens with each is the satisfying closure that this story brings. It is at once massive and huge, and small and personal about these two figures facing off.

Except there’s this one friend of Reed’s…

Again back to reading Fantastic Four, we get to see T’Challa, the Black Panther, become the King of the Dead. This happened pretty much right before New Avengers started and the incursions, so I hadn’t realized it was so recent. Well, it comes up pretty epically…

Black Panther - King of the Dead

Black Panther breaks the SHIELD, and exerts his lordship over the Marvel Zombies in a Return of the King ghost army sort of scene. Oh, and he has an Infinity Gauntlet. And he takes on Doom himself.

Black Panther leads the interesting role of being a character that they surely wanted to highlight and have live – because of a movie coming up and thus interest in the character – and who is a longer-term Hickman character. Indeed, New Avengers opens with Black Panther in Wakanda, where he finds an incursion.

A moment he returns to, thanks to the Infinity Gauntlet, and specifically the time gem…

Black Panther with the Time Gem

As Battleworld ends, it’s Black Panther we focus on, and he harnesses the Time Gem and goes back to when this all started. Except, this time, without an incursion. I don’t know whether he willed that slice of the universe back into existence or what… By all rights, it shouldn’t still exist. But I’ll bet it’s some of where things pick up in the new comics…

Final Thoughts – where do I go from here?

I said it before and I’ll say it again… I’m probably good with the Marvel comics universe for now. I am okay with the thought that it’s gone, it’s destroyed. As Reed said, everything dies. And I accept that.

I’ve heard that the All-New, All Different Marvel Universe (yep, what it’s being called) is kind of a mess. You have all these survivors from Battleworld – characters from 50 years of Marvel continuity. All meshed together in a new world. So there’s all this various baggage, combined with new stuff. I’ve run into that problem before, that vague feeling that you either missed something or you’re not supposed to know, and you aren’t sure which it is… in fact, that was my initial feeling reading Time Runs Out, since it jumped 8 months on.

I might read some of the other Secret Wars crossover titles, like Peter David’s Future Imperfect or 2099, or finish A-Force. Maybe some of their anthology stories, or 1602. I might go hunting for tie-in stories with what happened in this series, with all the different characters who show up not knowing what’s going on… or the ones stuck fighting over the end, the final incursion.

The other thing I haven’t seen with the new comics, though? I haven’t seen any by Hickman. And it’s feeling more and more like that’s what I’m really there for… so what I’m most likely to read next is Secret Warriors, by Hickman and related to Agents of SHIELD!

Thank you for reading this – and perhaps many – of my reviews of this overall storyline. This is years of comics, a whole lot of threads and characters, and way more than you can easily blog about or review. If you’ve read some of it and liked it, I really do recommend the whole run. It should almost all (except Secret Wars quite yet) be available on Marvel Unlimited now, which compared to the cost of buying all these comics is a steal! Although I might also recommend the library, but I’ve found that a lot of libraries tend to stock a lot of DC and almost no Marvel…

If you’ve read Secret Wars, let me know what you think or if you have any questions! I’d love to geek out about it more.


4 responses to “Comics Review – Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman

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