Secret Wars for Dummies: Everything You Need to Know About This Summer’s Biggest Comic Event

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To say that the history of Secret Wars has a lot of moving parts is a vast understatement: Marvel’s mammoth summer event is a Russian Nesting Doll of moving parts, if Russian Nesting Dolls could time travel and break into the fourth dimension. Writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Esad Ribic’s eight-issue miniseries—set to conclude the Marvel Universe as we know it—lies on a foundation of 77 issues of comics Hickman’s been writing since 2012 in Avengers and New Avengers. These two series have featured scores of orbiting characters, emerging and receding in alternating story arc cycles to solve meticulous mysteries seeded years in advance.

That said, the Secret Wars miniseries, whose first issue debuts today, certainly won’t be impenetrable to those unfamiliar with the twists and turns that preceded it. Comics of this magnitude cater to the curious as much as the converted, and the authors have crafted this event with newcomers in mind. “Secret Wars was designed to be fairly straight-forward,” explains Tom Brevoort, Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of Publishing at Marvel. “If you start with Secret Wars #1 then go into Secret Wars #2, the basic structure of who the players are, where they are on the board and what they are struggling for will be laid out directly and simply.”

Most of the mysteries posed were solved in last week’s Avengers #44 and New Avengers #33. That said, if you’re curious about the building blocks of this event, want to understand what exactly this event will mean for the most popular editorial line in comics and want to learn about one of the coolest, most involved superhero story arcs in recent memory, we’re here to support you. Brevoort, whose maintained a borderline-omniscient knowledge on all things Marvel for decades, generously offers his insight and expertise on the characters and developments.

Secret Wars #1 Art by Alex Ross

Secret Wars: The Simple Hook
Even if you’ve only watched a Marvel movie like Avengers: Age of Ultron without reading a comic, Secret Wars offers a simple, enticing hook: the world is ending for an entire world of beloved superheroes. Done. The universe where such iconic characters including The X-Men, The Avengers, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and The Inhumans fly, fight and love has reached a violent extinction point.

“It’s a relatively simple concept, even to a layman: the Marvel Universe is coming to an end,” Brevoort says. “Everything that we’ve published, every story that any Marvel character has been in—it’s all crashing to a head. Marvel heroes are working frantically to prevent the destruction of everything as Secret Wars opens, and they fail. This is the biggest event we’ve done in terms of its scale. Whether you know and love [the Marvel Universe] from having seen one film, or read comics when you were a kid, or having seen some of the animation, you can understand that it’s the end times and the Marvel heroes are striving to prevent it…but they don’t.”

That failure to prevent the cosmic apocalypse occurs in the pages of Secret Wars #1, but before we address exactly why the Marvel Universe falls into the end times—and who’s responsible—we’re going to look at how this sprawling event influences the other 70 comics that Marvel publishes monthly.

Secret Wars #2 Art by Alex Ross

How Does Secret Wars Affect Other Marvel Comics?
As Secret Wars closes the door on 54 years of publishing history (not counting the time when the company was known as Atlas or Timely), all current series will be involved in the event in some way—some more heavily than other. The only exceptions to this development are Marvel’s licensed books: Star Wars comics, Max Ride, the Stephen King Universe and comics based on Marvel Animation will not partake in Secret Wars. So with the universe ending, does that mean every current comic book will be ending as well? Yes, but don’t use the word “cancel.”

“Canceled implies they sold poorly and we’re ending them,” Brevoort clarifies. “They’re reaching their 616 conclusion, which is to say that the Marvel Universe’s fan designation was 616, because there was a story once that designated it as such. That doesn’t mean that Captain America isn’t selling; it means that Captain America’s 616 adventures are ending here. And then, eventually, as we get into Secret Wars, the new Marvel Universe Captain America book will launch. Who will be Captain America, and what will be the circumstances of Captain America? That is all to come.” So if you do like some of the comics coming out that have been slated for their “616” cancellation, keep in mind they’ll most likely re-emerge after this event concludes, albeit with a potentially different creative team.

This even applies to more character-driven series that might not interact as much with other comics or company-wide crossovers, such as Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. But each comic will be ending gradually in its own time. “We’re not stopping everything quite on a dime. Having a rolling handoff between the old Marvel Universe and the new Marvel Universe is how we are proceeding with this. Even books like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Punisher will get to their 616 conclusion, and then some iteration of them—or some book like them—will emerge on the other side as part of the new Marvel Universe,” Brevoort says.

Click to discover how the Marvel Universe is ending, how Doctor Doom Started his own religion and to learn the secrets of Battleworld.

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