This summer, DC and Marvel are making big efforts to get new readers with fresh superhero stories of all genres. The summer crossover event is a familiar rite for the Big Two of the American comics industry. But where a crossover is usually the sort of thing that only makes a superhero setting more confusing for new readers, Marvel's Secret Wars and DC's Convergence are both promising to leave their setting more readable than it was when they started. By the end of the summer, we're going to have a whole host of brand new characters and comics, as well as the return of lots of old fan favorites in stories fit for new readers.
Why does this need an explanation?
Because Secret Wars and Convergence are still somewhat-to-incredibly confusing if you've been out of the loop for a while, and especially so if you're just looking to start. And it doesn't help that the plots of the two events are unusually similar this year. They both have an overarching story where characters from all sorts of different timelines and time periods of a superhero multiverse are brought into conflict with each other by an omnipotent cosmic entity — illustrated for the audience with a score of tie-in issues featuring characters from various settings meeting up for fights or teamups — that will be followed up by a significant change in the status of the overall continuity and a line-wide reshuffling of which titles are published.
Nevertheless, there's some great stuff going on in the trenches of Secret Wars and Convergence, it just needs to be brought to light. We started with Convergence (still in fine swing as the second wave of its 2-issue miniseries hits shelves this week, along with the first of its free 8-page sneak peeks), but this week marks the kickoff of Secret Wars. Let's dig in!
What is Secret Wars?
In terms of Marvel Comics history, the title of this summer's event is a throwback to the original Secret Wars, a market-testing-driven storyline — intended primarily to sell action figures — in which an omnipotent cosmic being called the Beyonder kidnapped dozens of Marvel heroes and villains and got them to fight by promising the winner that he'd grant their deepest desire. By the way, in Secret Wars 2, the Beyonder came to Earth and took mortal form in order to better understand the nature of desire, and Spider-Man had to teach him how to poop.
If you'd like to know more about that absolutely real, totally not a joke Marvel Comics storyline, I highly recommend that you listen to the Secret Wars episode of the podcast Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men.
In terms of current Marvel history, Secret Wars is a Marvel Comics storyline in which the Marvel multiverse ends. But perhaps not completely: Select moments and places in time have been somehow saved and placed in the same geographic location known as Battleworld. Which moments will be saved and continue on after the event concludes this summer are unclear, but we know two things for certain: Secret Wars is Marvel's way of merging the main Marvel universe with the Ultimate Marvel universe, forever. And that Marvel editorial is firm that this is not a reboot.
In terms of publishing titles, Secret Wars has one main plot line book, appropriately named Secret Wars, running from issue #0 to #8. The bulk of the crossover will happen through a few dozen new miniseries specific to the Battleworld setting, but also some tie in issues with some currently running Marvel books. Unlike DC Comics' Convergence, Marvel's current titles will mostly remain running without pause.
In a move that I'm still not sure whether to call helpful or confusing, Marvel has separated its Secret Wars tie-ins into three categories. Here's the breakdown:
Last Days is the subtitle given to those currently running Marvel titles that are getting tie-in issues to Secret Wars. Each issue will showcase the experience of its core cast as time runs out for the Marvel universe and the world comes crashing down around them. Last Days titles include the likes of Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, Silver Surfer, and Magneto, and the first of them will start to hit shelves next week.
Battleworld titles promise to be the real crossover crazies of the Secret Wars lineup. This is where the different zones of Battleworld will clash, team up, and go supernova for every reader's amusement. The stories here have titles like Age of Ultron vs. Marvel Zombies, the ultimate robots against zombies tale; Ultimate End, a farewell to the Ultimate Universe; Ghost Racers, a story that unites all the incarnations of Ghost Rider; Thors, which does the same for the God of Thunder; and, of course, Runaways, Noelle Stevenson's turn on the "hero team made of teen children of supervillains" idea created and popularized by Brian K. Vaughan and Joss Whedon. The first of them will hit shelves on May 27.
Warzones! titles, like those under the umbrella of Battleworld, take place in the fractured world created when the different times and places of the Marvel universe are forced to share one globe. But unlike the Battleworld titles, at least according to Marvel, Warzones! stories are both more separate from the major events of Secret Wars' plot and will lay the "building blocks for the future of the Marvel Universe." Which of these alternate universe stories stand a chance of surviving? Maybe A-Force, an all-female Avengers team? Maybe Planet Hulk, in which Steve Rogers has managed to survive the gladiatorial combat world by teaming up with Devil Dinosaur? Or a version of Peter Parker and Mary Jane who never had their marriage ripped from history by a demon, in Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows? Or X-Men '92, a comic based on the X-Men cartoon series? The first Warzones! titles will hit shelves on May 20.
So what's kicking off this week?
Secret Wars #1
The final incursion is happening! The Marvel Universe is colliding with the Ultimate Universe, and neither will survive!
Written by: Jonathan Hickman
Art by: Esad Ribic
Cover by: Alex Ross
Do you need to read Secret Wars #1-8 to read any other Secret Wars titles? Almost certainly not. My advice here is the same as with DC's Convergence. Do you like the artists involved? Do you like crazy cosmic crossovers with plenty of punching? Are you a completionist? Then pick it up.
Otherwise, just check out Marvel's own helpful lists of Secret Wars tie in books, complete with a bit of background on the characters and stories. There's one for Last Days, Battleworld, and Warzones! Find the ones that are about characters and by artists you love, pick them up on digital, or tell your comic book shop to reserve them for you. Not sure how to do that? We've got you covered.