Posted - January 9-10, 2012 | Updated : January 14, 2012 | June 10, 2013 | August 14, 2015
It's been some time since the 1984 debut of Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars, but this Marvel Event holds up really well.
If nothing else, Secret Wars is a great way to sample the talent of some excellent creators. Jim Shooter writes it and he hardly writes anything these days. Mike Zeck illustrates most of it and he has long since left the industry. Bob Layton does a couple of issues; these days Mr. Layton is busy with some personal projects.
It was fun enough that Secret Wars was obviously a giant super-hero vs. super-villain slugfest but on close reading it reveals itself as something more - a ballad to one of the best Marvel villains of them all, the awesome Dr. Victor Von Doom. Come with me to the 'Wars', you won't regret it . . .
First, we have a look at the heroes circa mid-80s.
I was already reading comics during the 80s so this panel is very nostalgic to me. It also tells me how unchanging Marvel is - all these heroes are still around, but not like this, not like they were then. The lineup of the Avengers has changed. Captain Marvel is no longer Captain Marvel - Monica Rambeau goes by the codename 'Spectrum' these days with the precious 'Captain Marvel' name surrendered to Carol Danvers. James Rhodes is in the Iron Man armor, Tony is wrestling with his alcoholism at this point. The Hulk has the brain of Bruce Banner - allowing him to function effectively in this group setting. Storm has that different look. It's nice to know that we can go back to see them as they once were, and, in doing so, see ourselves as we once were too. For those of you who are too young. Soak it in. Soak in the history.
And now the villains.
I can't believe how many heavy-hitters are in this group. Galactus. Forget about it. No one beats Galactus. Indestructible Ultron, made of adamantium. Molecule Man. Kang - Kang won't give a good showing but any reader of Avengers Forever knows that this guy is a heavy hitter. Dr. Doom. This guy is going to be the big one for this event. The big one. But the most powerful one - next to Galactus - is the Molecule Man.
The mysterious Beyonder is the author of all this; and, although, wisely, we are never shown the Beyonder, Zeck gives us panels that testify to the power level of this cosmic being. Here an entire galaxy is being snuffed out by the Beyonder.
That panel, together with panels like this ...
Serve to create a feeling of awe around the Beyonder.
So, looking at the villains, we all know they don't play well with each other. Heck, the heroes won't play well with each other given time. The villains, well, that gathering is a time bomb. And whose the first one to pop a fuse?
Ultron. Interesting panel here. In the lower left, running for his life, is Molecule Man. That's amusing - Molecule Man can take out Ultron with a gesture. I love the rendition of Ultron's blast ray - very wide field, looks really destructive. The fact that Absorbing Man is laughing it off just shows the sheer power levels of these villains. Ultron may be an Avengers villain but Absorbing Man is no slouch - he regularly comes up against Thor.
Here's another great 'perspective' style panel. In the upper right, the bright rift with light shining out is the Beyonder's dimension. Below him are two small craft inhabited by our heroes and villains. Just puts things in perspective this panel.
Doom being Doom, he would dare that bright rift. Zeck doesn't disappoint with the panel showing Doom drawing closer to the Beyonder.
If there was an outright physical collapse in the villain side, there is an equivalent sociological collapse in the hero side. Between Human and Mutant.
It won't be the first time Secret Wars will bring our attention to the 'special' place the X-Men have among the family of heroes.
Magneto ends up in the hero side because. like the heroes, he aspires for things for others - in his case, other Mutants. Nonetheless, he is a poor fit, they - with the exception of the X-Men - refuse to accept him and he's not very friendly to humans to begin with. Very early on he separates himself from both heroes and villains. It is noteworthy that during the arguments around this rift, the X-Men find themselves continually on the side of Magneto and shouting out against the Avengers. The Human/Mutant issue is very well delineated in Secret Wars
Captain America (who else?) is elected leader over both Reed Richards (no leadership ability) and Professor X (limited battlefield experiece). All's well that ends well except for Wolverine complaining about it.
Throughout the series Shooter projects a very pro-Mutant and tactless Wolverine, not to mention, very violent. He's just scrappy all throughout. Still very much the savage X-Man during these times, he's mellowed - only a bit - since then. It just occurred to me that Steve and Logan, the first because of the super-soldier serum, the second because of his mutant healing factor, are the oldest heroes here - both of them must be around eighty years old or something.
Both Magneto and Doom, in daring to go close to the Beyonder have been thrown back to Earth.
It is Doom who recovers first. Galactus has obviously borne the brunt of the Beyonder's power. It's worth noting that Doom gets up with absolutely no intention of giving up on his quest to somehow reach the Beyonder. The sheer relentlessness of Doom is the major subplot of Secret Wars.
Doom attempts to muster the other villains but they reject him. So he brings down the whole house over their heads.
Here's a panel showing Dr.Doom rejecting the aid proffered by a surprisingly naive Captain America.
I just love Zeck's linework on the panel above.
Wonderful layout on this panel showing the heroes bracing themselves for a villainous attack. Beautiful detail work on Cyclops.
And here's the panel showing the attack.
Doom, rejected by the villains and rejecting the heroes, goes back to try and enlist the aid of Galactus.
I love the smoke stream coming from Doom's jet pack. It's a quaint touch and perfect, coming from Doom's medieval getup. Two villains should always have a clunky, 19th century feel to them : Doom and the Green Goblin. Where the heck is he by the way? And the Juggernaut too?
Another great panel : She-Hulk vs. the Enchantress
The heroes in front of what will be their headquarters.
It is later mentioned that the whole facility is as big as the city of Chicago.
This panel gives an indication of scale.
Magneto too has his own formidable looking fort.
Doom has been thrown to earth by the Beyonder, thrown out by both villains and heroes alike, but, unlike the loner Magneto, who is content to simmer on his own, Doom is a man obsessed with the power of the Beyonder. He needs allies, he needs the villains, whether they want him or not. So .. .
Doom has taken control of Ultron and made the robot his personal body guard and enforcer. What a master stroke. The villain HQ from where Doom was so unceremoniously thrown out a while ago is now known as Doombase.
The Thing, my all-time favorite Marvel hero, is here. Wonderful panel of him breaking out of some wreckage in pursuit of Magneto.
Magneto has come back to sabotage the heroes' base and will be kidnapping the Wasp in the process. While he's at it, look what he does to Spidey.
Secret Wars has a wonderful demonstration of just how powerful Thor is. The occasion is a storm raging over the heroes' base. It is described as being so powerful that each raindrop packs the wallop of a .44 magnum slug, the thunder can kill an ordinary man and it seems to combine a thousand earth storms into one. Yet who is outside in the rain? Thor. Thor with a big smile on his face. Suddenly the storm tears a boulder the size of a mountain from a nearby precipice. The billion ton piece of rock falls and seems about to crush the base. Thor sees this and thows his hammer.
The upper left panel is special. Remember that the boulder is mountain-sized. Just look at that. The power of Mjolnir.
I'm showing the panel below for the simple reason that you will hardly ever see Iron Man in skates anymore.
Spider-Man is hardly the strongest, or even the most respected Marvel character. But he is number one in a very important way. Spider-Man is Marvel's hottest property. I've seen Marvel take the time out to honor him in the pages of Civil War. Secret Wars is no exception as Spider-Man and the X-Men get into a misunderstanding we get this Spidey-centric page.
Meanwhile, Magneto and his captive, the Wasp.
I'm sure this isn't a case of Stockholm syndrome, it's more a case of two consenting adults, feeling 'lonely', and having an opportunity while the storm rages outside. The beautiful thing about panels like this, is that a younger, innocent, reader, like I was when I first read Secret Wars would interprete this as 'Magneto kissed the Wasp', and that would be that. The older, wiser, reader I am now interpretes it differently - Magneto and the Wasp had their way (all the way) with each other at this moment of Secret Wars. The beauty of it is both the young me and the old me would be correct - the comic allows us to interpret the panels any way we please. Just great don't you think?
I don't see these ladies around these days, but at the time, this seemed like a significant moment : The creation, by Doom, of Volcana and Titania.
Titania, in particular, seems to be in the same strength class as She-Hulk.
The villains attack once again, and this time, the heroes - caught off guard - are unable to withstand them. Look at Cap and the Hulk beat a hasty retreat
The Molecule Man destroys the heroes' base. Or, to put it another way, the Molecule Man destroys a building the size of Chicago. Now that's power. But the Molecule Man is just getting started. Next, he lifts a mountain range. Not a mountain, mind you - a mountain range.
He will drop this mountain range on top of the heroes.
The heroes will survive because . . .
... the Hulk will carry the mountain range. The Hulk is supposed to be class 100, but it looks like that's out the window because, the way I understand class 100 it means you can lift 100 tons (somebody correct me if I'm wrong). This mountain range weighs billions of tons. Billions. I like the other reference phrase used for the Hulk: Omega Level Threat.
This 'mountain range' incident is bringing to the fore the key qualities of some of these heroes. For example, it is Reed Richards' smarts that creates a gadget that could potentially get them out.
And, it is Iron Man's armor that impresses by being able to accept vast amounts of energy enough to blast a mountain-sized hole.
Wonderful drawing from Layton; you can really feel the blast. James Rhodes is right in his assessment of the armor
Kudos to the designer - the absent Tony Stark.
As for the Magneto-Wasp affair
It was only a one night stand. Magneto, you lucky bastard.
Because she can travel in the speed of light, Captain Marvel is a natural for doing recon. I particularly like the layout of this panel as she passes by Galactus.
The way it was done you can actually get a sense of the curving skyscape.
Okay, here is where Secret Wars falls short. See this girl with Johnny Storm?
Here name is Zsaji (pronounce it any way you like - I have no clue). She is a healer but she is supposed to be so beautiful that both the Human Torch and Colossus get infatuated with her. Bob Layton doesn't effectively render her beauty and neither does Mike Zeck. This is a case of the artists just not having the chops to match the script. I'm thinking maybe Keith Pollard or John Buscema.
Galactus has summoned his world ship - his ship, basically.
The most impressive thing about this Layton panel is that the ship is still millions of miles away but it is so big that it covers the whole sky. I first saw this ship in Marv Wolfman's Fantastic Four, a story arc called
From cosmic to comic, let's check up on the villains. Piledriver, one of the wrecking crew, is having a slow day. He sees Molecule Man, and because Owen Reece looks like a wimp, goes in for some old-fashioned bullying. Let me repeat that: Piledriver bullies Molecule Man. Piledriver bullies the most powerful individual in Secret Wars short of the the Beyonder (and, later on, Doom). So what happens? This happens.
Volcana stepping on top of Piledriver's head is just the cherry on top of the sundae.
Now for another funked out panel.
That is vintage Doom isn't it? "Attention servitors of Doom". Hahaha.
Did I mention that the X-Men started to feel that they were feared by the rest of humanity so they separated from the other heroes but are nearby anyway because they choose to protect the very people who hate and fear them? Well, that's what happened. They joined forces with Magneto, who, with Professor X, is trying to contact Galactus psychically.
Look at this picture. As you read Marvel comics don't you notice that these two are, you know. like best friends, even when they're fighting. This is a very symbolic panel. Professor X needs a costume.
Action time! Galactus sends a robot powerful enough to knock down the Hulk.
Who's going to save the day?
And, for the coup de grace, the Human Torch!
The villains attack. Just as the FF and the Avengers are weakening - the X-Men come to the rescue.
Look at the Wolverine-Ultron match up. That makes sense. Wolverine with his adamantium claws can actually slice through Ultron's armor, right? On second thought probably not. Logan simply doesn't have the strength.
I've always said, that in large part, Secret Wars is Doom's story. While everyone else is distracted Dr. Doom, the relentless Dr. Doom, invades Galactus' ship.
Look at how Doom describes his experience aboard Galactus' ship.
The panels are once again not adequate to convey the magnficence that Doom sees - we need Bryan Hitch for something like this.
The Wasp is off on her own and lost. She may be small but look at here firepower.
That Wasp sting totalled an entire vehicle - she's very powerful. Soon, she meets Dr.Connors, alias the Lizard.
I love these panels because of the way Zeck does the layous and conveys movement, plus we also get an idea of the Lizard's strength.
Inside Galactus' ship Dr. Doom manages to reanimate Klaw, the self-styled Master of Sound.
It's a great story : Klaw fights Dazzler. Dazzler who can absorb sound, absorbs Klaw and unleashes him as a power bolt against Galactus. Klaw dissipates within Galactus' ship and is reconstituted by Dr. Doom.
Next we have a bit of X-Men dynamics here. Professor X forms a small reconnaissance team with Cyclops in the lead. This riles up X-Men leader Storm and she goes to have a word with the Professor. Beautiful panel.
So Storm is in the Professor 's face about his decisions and the Professor's response is simple: I'm the boss and I will be followed. Period. Wow. He's right isn't he? The X-Men isn't a democracy. Bosses must protect their authority or risk anarchy. The Professor is right.
In the Avengers and FF camp, plans are being made.
Just look at that. Behind Cap and Reed are the very core of their team's powerbase. She Hulk, class 100. Thing, class 90 + fighting skills. Thor, class 100 + Mjolnir. Hulk, class 100 to start, potentially unlimited class when angered (just check out World War Hulk).
Another comic moment as James Rhodes/Iron Man talks to Captain Marvel.
The price for scoring is taking it on the chin every once in a while.
Those action sequences involving huge players are great for those double page spreads or single page pinups. Smaller skirmishes on the other hand allow the writer and artist to focus on tactics. Take this encounter.
Let's see, on one side is Molecule Man, Titania, Dr. Octopus and Absorbing Man. On the other is Rogue, Wolverine and Cyclops. The X-Men are the definite underdogs here, they're outmanned and outgunned. Titania, the plebe, makes a surprise move and takes out Wolverine early on.
But those magnificent optic blasts really make great equalizers.
That and Cyclops leadership ability; he quickly tells Rogue to move to a flanking position. But . . .
Titania again! For a rookie, she's doing magnificently.
Once, again, the best long-range weapon in this skirmish, the optic blasts.
As the Molecule Man gets involved its game over for Scott but . . .
And just like that the X-Men win. What a great fight. What happens next is a bit of a shock to me. The X-Men are following the Molecule Man's group to find out what they are up to. They glean that the group wants to setup some kind of volcanic explosion - for some reason. They stopped the group. Mission accomplished right? Now they can go back to base. But no, Cyclops, the leader, fires an optic blast into a crater AND ACTUALLY DOES WHAT MOLECULE MAN WAS GOING TO DO. Cyclops actually does Molecule Man's job for him and Scott has no good reason why. The optic blast will start off a volcanic chain reaction. To this day I don't know why Scott; conservative, careful Slim Summers did something irrational and just a little nuts.
Here we have the death of the Wasp. Shot through the heart by the Wrecking Crew.
Secret Wars also features the first appearance of Spider-Woman II (Arachne). She looks great doesn't she?
Here the Enchantress teleports Volcana to the side of the wounded Owen Reece.
I appreciate it when artist take care to do little details like the intricate pattern surrounding the 'teleportation burst' around Volcana. Another thing about this is Dr. Octopus in front of the controls. He's the most intelligent in the group so he gets to to figure out and use the equipment. This is a concept that Secret Wars keeps returning to - the importance of intelligence. It is intelligence that allowed Kang to manipulate the gun with which he tried to assassinate Doom. Doom himself, by virtue of his smarts is able to take control of Ultron and all the alien technology around him. Same for Reed Richards. Throughout the series it can be seen that the smart people are more effective.
Titania really is something else.
Look at her withstand Cyclops' optic blast.
This is an incredible fight sequence : Wolverine cuts off Absorbing Man's arm.
I actually feel Creel's trepidation as he is unsure if his arm will be re-attached once he turns human.
Inside Galactus' ship, Doom is detected, caught, and expelled.
Wonderful panel. Bulldozer goes into action against the She-Hulk.
This Bulldozer is a poor man's Juggernaut.
I did mention Titania vs. She-Hulk would be a good match right? Well here it is and Jennifer isn't doing well at all.
After the 'Galactus' incident, even Dr.Doom feels like giving up.
The FF and Avengers on the attack
The Iron Man armor is carrying a chunk of rock and a bunch of heroes, very impressinve.
Look who takes out Titania in the end - good old Spidey!
This is another wonderful panel: The Torch takes out Ultron. Unbelievable!
Guess who else gets introduced?
The war against Galactus has begun! There is another war though, the war against the deadline and by the looks of these badly drawn Galactus defense drones - the war agains the deadline is being steadily lost.
That's just ugly art right there.
Zeck redeems himself by giving us this great panel of Spidey introducing his new costume.
This everyone attacks Galactus panel could have been much, much better.
This should have been a one page pinup,or even two pages, and the artist should have been given a week just to finish the panel.
Galactus doesn't talk to anybody. Doesn't talk to Doom, not anybody. But he talks to Reed.
Reed is friend to a cosmic god. How cool is that?
By this time Doom has finished with his sulk and he's back with a vengeance, and a plan.
This is the best 'attack against Galactus' panel. The Torch against Galactus.
I love how Johnny's flame is handled. Not as a blast but as a sheet of fire. We all know its ineffective but its great to look at.
This Iron Man assault isn't bad either.
Doom for the nth time,and this time he's successful
Here Doom is absorbing the vast energies of Galactus.
Here are the heroes watching those energies flow to Doom's location.
Doom awakens to levels of power undreamt of.
How many times has this guy been slapped down? Even to the point of giving up. BUT HE KEEPS GETTING UP. The power of Galactus is his but he craves more - the power of the Beyonder himself!
Meanwhile, human and mutant relations deteriorate at its lowest.
Here is Doom challenging the Beyonder himself - iconic panel from Zeck.
Here is the best panel in all of Secret Wars
This is Doom at his worst moment showing his best quality. The quality that made him Dr. Doom in the first place : Tenacity. Relentless, focused, tenacity. I remember this panel and all of Doom's actions in Secret Wars every time I want to give up in my own life. Just keep getting up. Just keep getting up, this panel tells me. And you will accomplish your goals.
Behold, Doom with the power of the Beyonder!
I did mention that, save the Beyonder, the Molecule Man is the most powerful individual in Secret Wars right? Well, Owen Reece has gotten mad at Doom. So now we have Doom with the power of the Beyonder vs. the Molecule Man! Wow!
The fight never happens. Doom is too powerful. For some reason he unlocks the one remaining barrier to Molecule Man - his inability to affect organic matter. Now Owen Reece is more powerful than ever.
With his new found power and confidence, Owen Reece takes all the villains home. I find this panel amusing.
All the villains scrunched up in Volcana's apartment.
It must be wonderful to have super-powers. It must make a person awfully confident. Over confident even. Here is Doom, and he isn't powerful. He's beyond powerful - he's omnipotent and omniscient. The heroes know it, and knowing it they take a vote about whether or not to stop him. The moment the vote becomes unanimous Dooms kills them all.
The End. Not.
One thing I notice about Secret Wars is that we have recaps happening from within the story - not before the story like its done these days. One of the most creative recaps happen when the Enchantress locks herself in Volcana's bathroom and summons a water spirit who promptly does the recap.
Back to Doom, the most powerful man in the universe has a problem: He cannot even sleep for fear of his own power.
Not only that. The merest stray thought can activate his power. Look at Doom's big problem
And just like that the heroes are back.
Why? Because Doom willed it that's why. Willed it subsconciously. It's becoming obvious that Victor von Doom is weilding a power he was never meant to have. He gives Klaw a portion of his power and Klaw creates these monsters that make for fantastic two page spreads
As usual, I always like it when the Thing goes into action.
Here's a rare sight : The Hulk getting wounded by Ultron
And ending up with a crutch!
Another incredible pinup page of the fight against Klaw's monsters
In the end it is too much and the power returns to the Beyonder.
One final major change is the Thing's decision to stay in the Beyonder's Battleworld. This paves the way for the She-Hulk to join the FF and the legendary John Byrne run of the Fantastic Four.
Mike Zeck and Bob Layton did good work but Jim Shooter's script really shines. This story is so good that I wish comics were like movies and somebody would do a remake of Secret Wars. Same script, different artist. I'd love to see this exact storyline being rendered by this generations comic book artists, just to see a different take on an excellent story. No matter, we can always come back to the days of Secret Wars.