Retro Trade Review: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars By Shooter, Zeck & Others For Marvel Comics

Contains Marvel Super Heroes: Secret Wars #1-12 (May 1984 to April 1985)

Written by Jim Shooter

Pencilled by Mike Zeck (#1-3, 6-12), Bob Layton (#4-5)

Inked by John Beatty (#1-12), Jack Abel (#8), Mike Esposito (#8)

Coloured by Christie Scheele (#1-10, 12), Nel Yomtov (#11)

Spoilers from thirty-four to thirty-five years ago.

Was there a single more influential or important Marvel series for a young reader in the 80s than Secret Wars?  This title, which was developed around a toy line, gathered heroes and villains that had never met or worked together, and threw them onto an alien world.  It was bright, fast moving, and led to some massive changes, chief among them being the introduction of Spider-Man’s black costume.

I started reading this series somewhere around issue five or six, and was immediately drawn into the scope of it.  There were so many characters I didn’t really know, and I thought that it was one of the most exciting things I’d ever read.  Mike Zeck’s art blew me away, and it was because of this series (and its horrible sequel, which we should never discuss) that I started to explore corners of the Marvel Universe I hadn’t read before.

I think the coolest thing I remember from this book is seeing the X-Men interact with characters that were pretty foreign to them.  I immediately took their side in the conflict, and thought it was so cool to see that heroes didn’t automatically trust one another.  I also came out of this series with a life-long love of Doctor Doom, who Shooter made me care about for the first time.

I fear that returning to this series some thirty years after I last read it isn’t going to go over so well.  I’m pretty sure that Shooter’s writing is going to end up feeling clunky, and the plot creaky. At the same time, I’m hoping I can recapture that same feeling I had way back when.  Let’s see what happens.

This book features the following characters:

Heroes:

  • Wasp (Janet Van Dyne, Avengers; #1-4, 6-12)
  • She-Hulk (Jen Walters, Avengers; #1-8, 10-12)
  • Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau, Avengers; #1-12)
  • Captain America (Steve Rogers, Avengers; #1-12)
  • Thor (Avengers; #1-12)
  • Hawkeye (Clint Barton, Avengers; #1-12)
  • Iron Man (Jim Rhodes, Avengers; #1-12)
  • Professor Charles Xavier (X-Men; #1-12)
  • Storm (Ororo Munroe, X-Men; #1-12)
  • Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner, X-Men; #1-5, 7-12)
  • Rogue (X-Men; #1-12)
  • Cyclops (Scott Summers, X-Men; #1-12)
  • Wolverine (Logan, X-Men; #1-7, 9-12)
  • Colossus (Piotr Rasputin, X-Men; #1-12)
  • Hulk (Bruce Banner; #1-12)
  • Spider-Man (Peter Parker; #1-12)
  • Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards, Fantastic Four; #1-12)
  • The Thing (Ben Grimm, Fantastic Four; #1-12)
  • Human Torch (Johnny Storm, Fantastic Four; #1-12)
  • Magneto (Magnus; #1-12)
  • Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter, #7-12)

Villains:

  • Enchantress (#1-8, 11-12)
  • Ultron (#1-8, 12)
  • Absorbing Man (Crusher Creel; #1-12)
  • The Wrecker (Wrecking Crew; #1-5, 7-8, 10-12)
  • Thunderball (Wrecking Crew; #1-8, 10-12)
  • Piledriver (Wrecking Crew; #1-5, 7-8, 10-12)
  • Bulldozer (Wrecking Crew; #1-8, 11-12)
  • Kang the Conqueror (#1-4, 11)
  • Galactus (#1-2, 4-10)
  • The Lizard (Curt Connors; #1-2, 6-12)
  • Doctor Octopus (Otto Octavius; #1-9, 11-12)
  • Molecule Man (Owen Reece; #1-8, 11-12)
  • Doctor Doom (Victor Von Doom; #1-12)
  • The Beyonder (#1, 10-12)
  • Volcana (Marsha Rosenberg; #3-8, 11-12)
  • Titania (Skeeter MacPherran; #3-8, 11-12)
  • Klaw (Ulysses Klaw; #6-12)

Supporting Characters:

  • Lockheed (dragon; #1-2, 12)
  • Zsaji (#4-12)

Let’s see what happened in the comics, with some commentary as I go:

  • The book opens with a collection of the last few pages of a number of different Marvel series, showing how the heroes ended up in the Beyonder’s teleportation device, in the middle of Central Park.  None of these sequences are credited, although it’s easy to spot art by Ron Frenz, John Romita Jr., Sal Buscema, Walt Simonson, and John Byrne. I’m not going to summarize these in any more detail – they all more or less fit into the same mold.  Byrne went a little further in Fantastic Four, having Sue Richards talk to the remaining Avengers about what happened.
  • The first issue of the miniseries starts in space, where the various heroes we saw enter the thing in Central Park, and some other ones, such as Cyclops, are all gathered together.  Somehow, Magneto is with the heroes, long before relations between him and the X-Men started to thaw. They spot another vessel like theirs, only this one is full of villains and Galactus (the list of who they all are is above).  Doctor Doom immediately starts to exert dominance over this group, while The Thing questions why Magneto is with the heroes. They all look outside the ship as an entire galaxy is destroyed, and then replaced with a patchwork planet.  The villains start to squabble, and Ultron starts to attack them. Doom tries to get the Molecule Man to use his powers, but he is crippled with fear. Ultron catches the eye of Galactus, who absorbs whatever energy drives the robot. The Beyonder speaks to everyone and tells them that if they slay their enemies, he will give them whatever they dream of.  Galactus takes off, wanting to be freed of his hunger, and Doom follows close behind. They fly into the rift in space that Beyonder has opened, but are expelled violently. The ships land on the planet, away from one another, and Captain America begins to take charge. The Wasp leads some aggression towards Magneto, and strangely Professor Xavier and Cyclops speak up for him.  There is almost a tussle, and so Magneto takes off. The heroes debate what to do next, and choose Cap as their leader. Doom awakens before Galactus does, and finds a large facility that the other villains have already taken control of. He enters and asserts his dominance, but then gives up on them and flies off in a vessel he finds. Kang fires a cannon at him, blowing him out of the sky, but also alerting the gathered heroes, who head off in that direction.  They find Doom, who refuses their help, fires at them, and leaves. Just then the assembled villains attack.
  • The fight between the two sides is quick and brutal, with many X-Men being taken down first.  Doom flies to where Galactus still lies, just as he awakens and levitates back to a standing position.  Doom cannot get his attention, so he instead returns to the villains’ base, where he defeats the security systems, and decides to do some work on Ultron.  The heroes and villains continue to fight, and the heroes gain the upper hand, capturing Kang, the Enchantress and most of the Wrecking Crew. Storm goes looking for a shelter, and discovers a massive habitat that the heroes move into.  After they get settled, and we see that Xavier is able to walk around, despite arriving in his wheelchair, Cap arranges for Thor, Iron Man, and the Human Torch to fly around the perimeter so they will know of any future attack. Magneto has found his own base.  The villains return to their base, where they find Doom waiting, with the restored Ultron, who now works for him. The villains agree to put Doom in charge, and he immediately starts ingratiating himself to the Molecule Man, and we see that Galactus is standing on a mountain.  Magneto sneaks into the heroes’ base. She-Hulk and the Wasp chat, as do Mister Fantastic and Cyclops, while Magneto accesses the power core. He is discovered by Spider-Man, who has Johnny call for help. Some of the heroes try to stop Magneto, and he has to flee. The Wasp and the Thing chase him, but Jan gets trapped in a metal ball, while Ben reverts suddenly to human form.  She-Hulk realizes that Jan is missing, and Cap tells everyone that Banner has discovered that a massive storm is headed their way.
  • Magneto watches the storm hit his base, and frees the Wasp, and tries to sweet talk her.  The storm hits the heroes’ base as well, and a giant rock falls off a cliff, threatening to crush it.  Thor smashes it, while other heroes go about their business. Captain America, Mister Fantastic, and the Hulk try to make plans, and learn how to use their video screens to keep an eye on Galactus and their enemies, while also talking about wanting to go home.  Spider-Man does some exploring, and overhears the X-Men talking about leaving, because they don’t feel like they belong. Xavier wants them to go join Magneto, at which point Spidey pops in and accuses them of being traitors. He knocks Xavier down and gets into a quick fight with all of the X-Men before getting away from them.  He rushes to tell Reed what’s happened, but Xavier’s recovered and uses his telepathy to make him forget. Reed and Cyclops talk until the Professor calls him back. The X-Men have found a ship that flies by telepathic command, and Xavier orders them to leave even though the storm rages. Magneto talks to Doom over viewscreen, and rejects his offer of alliance.  He returns to the Wasp, and they start to kiss. Doom has two women in his lab (we have no idea where they came from), and uses technology to give them powers, turning them into Volcana and Titania. He has them test their powers, and then takes them to meet the other villains. Titania tries to start a fight with the Absorbing Man, but he doesn’t rise to it. Molecule Man chats with Volcana, and Owen tells her that he’s going to do whatever it takes to help Doom, even if his therapist wouldn’t approve.  Thor goes to the makeshift jail the heroes have set up (they have the captured villains in suspended animation) and wakes up Enchantress, because he feels like talking to another Asgardian. She opens a teleportation portal for them to go somewhere else. By the next morning, the storm has lifted, and Cap is unhappy that the Hulk didn’t wake him, fearing an attack. At that moment, Doom leads his troops into an attack, and the heroes gather to fight back. The villains have the advantage, and without the X-Men or Thor there to help, they are no match for them.  Doom recovers the prisoners, and decides he should level the base when they leave.
  • The villains watch the heroes’ base explode, and then crawl through the wreckage looking for their remains.  Doctor Octopus spots them across a bay, and Titania throws a giant piece of wreckage at them. The rest of the Wrecking Crew start to do the same, but with smaller items.  Molecule Man lifts and entire mountain range with the same purpose in mind. At the same time, the heroes are making their retreat, with the Hulk and Iron Man carrying their wounded.  Spider-Man wakes up just in time to warn them of the incoming wreckage, which Hawkeye and Iron Man are able to split up and deflect. They notice the mountain range just as it drops on them.  The villains celebrate a little more, although Doctor Doom stays skeptical. Thor and Enchantress are elsewhere, sitting and talking. The Enchantress admits that she has feelings for Thor, and is about to seduce him when they feel the earthquake caused by the mountain range.  He has her teleport him back, where he finds himself surrounded by villains. Doom tells him to surrender, and Thor is disappointed to see the Enchantress turn her back on him. The villains all start beating on him, and he holds his own until Ultron unleashes his powerful new blasts, and Thor appears to be killed.  Next, Doom has Ultron kill Kang for trying to kill him earlier. As the villains leave, we see that Thor is hiding behind a rock. The X-Men continue to fly their ship to Magneto’s base. On board, Colossus misses Kitty Pryde (without noticing that her pet dragon hasn’t been around for a bit), while Rogue worries that she belongs with the villains, and Wolverine itches for a fight.  They arrive at Magneto’s base. Magnus, meanwhile, continues to entertain the Wasp, by making her a comb and offering her food. The X-Men arrive, and Xavier explains he wants Magneto to work with him. Magnus talks about how he wants to kill everyone to get the Beyonder’s prize. It’s at this point that Jan reveals she was only humouring Magneto, and she prepares to escape him. The X-Men step in to help him, for some weird reason, and the Wasp manages to lay them all out, and escape in a craft she steals.  Magneto is about to destroy it, but Xavier stops him, and references Hitler. It turns out that all of the heroes are still alive, but the Hulk is holding up the entire mountain range so they won’t be crushed. Reed uses Spidey’s web-shooters and Iron Man’s armor to cobble together a system that will funnel the Human Torch’s and Captain Marvel’s powers through the Iron Man suit; he also insults the Hulk so he’ll stay good and mad and not drop the mountain on them. They blast a powerful beam in the direction of some tapping Cap hears, and find Thor trying to dig them out.  Captain Marvel heads out to find them a new base or place to stay, and spots a village. Later, the heroes arrive at this alien village, where the people don’t know what to make of them. One woman appears to speak on their behalf, and even uses her healing powers to fix Johnny’s broken bones. Ben doesn’t feel good about the fact that the village is very close to where Galactus is standing, and then suddenly turns back into the Thing (which Reed is suspicious about). Galactus raises his arms, which causes Reed great concern.
  • The heroes are surprised to see Galactus’s massive ship appear above the planet.  The village woman is a little freaked out, and takes Johnny into her hut, where she has him breathe in some smoke with her, that allows them to share images in their minds, and allows Shooter to provide a recap of the series so far.  Johnny learns that her name is Zsaji, and they appear to be in love now. At Magneto’s base, Colossus tries to rest, but keeps thinking about Kitty Pryde. Xavier summons the X-Men to show them Galactus’s ship. Magneto tells the X-Men that they are to prepare a ship, and when they balk at Magneto commanding them, Xavier insists that they follow him.  At Doombase, Owen walks around with Volcana. The Wrecking Crew and Absorbing Man make a crack about him being a nerd, and he gets very angry, wrapping Piledriver in a metal-like substance, threatening the rest, and flying away with Volcana. The villains see Galactus’s ship and worry. Doom is studying it when he is joined by the Enchantress, who tries to offer him love or to fix his face if he could get her home.  He rejects her, and then she teleports away. Magneto tries to feed Xavier energy so he can read Galactus’s mind. Reed Richards tries to speak to Galactus, just as Galactus recognizes the intrusion from the mutants and fires back a psionic blast which rips a hole in Magneto’s base. Reed also collapses. Galactus sends a big robotic construct to attack the heroes while he assembles the machinery that helps him eat a planet, making it clear that he intends to eat the Beyonder’s patchwork world.  The heroes fight the construct and finally defeat it, just as Doom’s forces (not all of them though, the Lizard has been missing for a while now, and Molecule Man doesn’t appear to be with them). While the battle rages, Doom waits in a ship for the right moment. Just as things look bad for the heroes, the X-Men show up to aid them. When Storm summons a large amount of lightning, Galactus is momentarily distracted, an opportunity that Doom uses to fly a vessel into Galactus’s ship. With the X-Men turning the tide of the battle, the villains retreat, teleporting away thanks to the Enchantress.  Xavier calls the X-Men back, and they end up leaving behind Colossus, who was injured, because Xavier claimed they couldn’t move him. Xavier is being pretty imperious with his team. At the village, everyone pulls things together, and when Zsaji tries to heal Colossus, he pushes her away. Instead, she heals Spider-Man, and Peter watches as she starts to make out with Johnny. Then he allows her to heal him. Reed and Cap worry that Galactus is proceeding with his preparations. Doom walks through Galactus’s home, and spots something of interest.
  • The Wasp continues to pilot the ship she stole from Magneto, only with difficulty.  It crashes, but also displays a map that she chooses to follow. It leads her to a swamp, where she is attacked by the Lizard.  On Galactus’s ship, Doom finds a device with a control panel at human size. He uses it to reconstitute some energy he is sensing, which forms into Klaw, who was trapped in Galactus’s ship by Dazzler way back when.  He decides to make use of Klaw to send a message to his troops, while he stays on Galactus’s ship. Klaw surprises the villains, but uses a code to get Ultron to support him. Wasp calms the Lizard down, and offers to treat a wound he has.  At Magneto’s base, Xavier rests, and tries to see what the villains are up to. Enchantress sense him, and blocks his scan, but not before he learns of Doom’s latest orders. Charles orders Rogue, Wolverine, and Cyclops to follow the force Doom has dispatched, which angers Storm, as she is the team leader.  Charles puts her in her place. At the alien village, Colossus continues to rest, and his thoughts turn to Zsaji. She comes to heal him some more, before the Human Torch takes her flying and they make out. Cap organizes some of the heroes into shifts to keep watch on Galactus. She-Hulk wants to look for the Wasp, and Hulk wants to go on the offensive, while Hawkeye feels powerless, and Iron Man flirts with Captain Marvel.  Rhodey worries about the headaches he’s been having. Some of Doom’s troops – Molecule Man, Absorbing Man, Titania, and Doctor Octopus arrive in a field of craters, but before they can do what they came to do, the three X-Men arrive, and a fight starts. In it, Wolverine guts Molecule Man, although it looks like a blast from Cyclops keeps him from killing him. The villains retreat, and Cyclops figures that they were sent there to cause the volcanic cones to erupt.  He suspects that it has something to do with keeping Galactus from destroying the world, so he uses his optic blasts to do the same thing. Wasp hangs out with Lizard in the swamp, when she is suddenly shot. The Wrecking Crew, driving a large tank-thing, scoop up both her and the Lizard. The heroes figure that Galactus is almost done building his device, and worry about what to do. They don’t see that someone is watching them from the shadows.
  • The Human Torch spots a woman on the outskirts of the alien village.  She identifies herself as Spider-Woman, but she is not Jessica Drew. She explains that she is from Denver, and that a whole suburb of that city was brought here (this is presumably where Volcana and Titania came from too).  She shows that she’s very strong, and says she wants to help, but doesn’t explain where her powers came from. The Wrecking Crew drive through in their tank, shooting at people, and the Wrecker throws the Wasp to the ground. The heroes rush her to Zsaji, who doesn’t seem to be able to help her – it appears that she’s dead.  The heroes want to head out for revenge, but Cap stops them, making it clear that it’s more important that they keep Galactus under watch. No one notices She-Hulk storm off. Cyclops’s squad report in to Professor X, who tells them to follow Doom’s squad; he, Magneto, Storm, and Nightcrawler will rendez-vous with them. As Doom’s squad flies, they worry that Molecule Man is dying after being slashed by Wolverine.  Volcana learns of this over a video screen, and makes a promise to Enchantress in return for being teleported to join her “Owie”, although strangely, she doesn’t take any first aid gear with her. Their ship is attacked by the X-Men, and there is a brief fight, during which Wolverine slices off Absorbing Man’s arm when he’s in rock form. The villains manage to escape in their ship, and Storm questions Xavier’s field leadership (but keeps it to herself).  Doom continues to explore Galactus’s ship, but can’t find what he’s looking for. Galactus notices the volcanoes that Cyclops set off, and realizes he needs to fix them before he can eat the planet (although I’m not sure why). He also finally notices Doom in his home, and sends him hurtling to the planet. The villains aren’t sure how to help Molecule Man once they return to their base, and Ultron refuses to help, since Doom hasn’t ordered it. The Enchantress won’t help Volcana any further, and Titania threatens her.  The Absorbing Man turns back to human, holding his severed arm in place, and he’s fine. The Wrecking Crew deal with the Lizard, who is furious with them, and manage to lock him up. Bulldozer heads to his quarters for a nap, but is attacked by She-Hulk, who has broken in. Their fight brings the others running, but She-Hulk takes them all down. Titania finds her and begins to fight with her. Absorbing Man and Doc Ock join her. Enchantress finds Doom, burned and battered, and he appears to have given up. The villains continue to give She-Hulk a beating.  Cap watches Galactus, and Hawkeye comes to tell him that Jen is missing. The Hulk wants to look for her, but Cap insists they keep an eye on Galactus, who is now not moving at all. Cap explains to the gathering heroes how they have to balance their decisions against the greater good. Colossus, walking around, sees Zsaji come out of the hut where Jan’s body is being kept; Zsaji is very weak and pale. Professor Xavier contacts Cap mentally, to tell him that the X-Men will watch Galactus, freeing the other heroes up to attack Doom’s base.
  • The heroes rush towards Doombase, looking to rescue She-Hulk.  The Enchantress, who is very drunk, sees them attack the base. Volcana stays with the injured Molecule Man, and Klaw frees the Lizard from his cell.  Most of the villains are still beating on She-Hulk, but they leave her when they hear the others attacking. Doom, still smoking from Galactus’s attack on him, sits on his bed and broods.  The heroes make their way into Doombase, and start fighting. The Thing turns back into Ben Grimm while fighting the Absorbing Man, but Spider-Woman saves him. Hawkeye shoots Piledriver with his last arrow.  The Enchantress manages to use her wiles to seduce the Hulk, and then tries the same on Captain America, but it doesn’t work. Spider-Man gets into a big fight with Titania. Hawkeye and Grimm find themselves in a room with the insane Klaw and the Lizard.  When some heroes approach Molecule Man, Volcana blasts at them. Iron Man resists her blasts, but MM has protected them in a shield. Mister Fantastic pulls Iron Man away, and burns his hands on his hot armor. Captain Marvel gets inside the transparent shield, and grabs MM, opening his wounds again.  Volcana surrenders to protect him. Spidey tosses Titania out of the base, and she falls to the rocks below. Ultron attacks Cap and the Human Torch when they approach Doom’s room. The Torch goes nova, and melts something inside the adamantium robot. Cap makes his way to Doom, but finds that he’s unresponsive.  Grimm and Klaw are playing patty-cake (seriously). Captain Marvel finds She-Hulk, who is unconscious. Later, Reed’s put the injured in healing tubes he’s found, and we learn that most of the villains are locked up. We see that the heroes have decided to claim Doombase, and Monica and Clint are going to retrieve the Wasp’s body.  Colossus takes the exhausted Zsaji to her hut, and uses the mind-sharing mists to bond with her, learning that the Wasp was in stasis, not dead, and that Zsaji has healed her. We see Clint and Monica react to finding Jan alive and worried about her hair and make-up. The X-Men and Magneto continue to monitor Galactus, and see something surprising.  Reed works on fixing the Iron Man armor, and Rhodey asks if he was surprised to learn he’s black; Reed wasn’t. Thor has had his uniform repaired, and Spider-Man asks where. Thor and the Hulk send him into a room full of equipment, and Spidey guesses as to the costume one. It produces a black ball that sets off his Spidey-sense, before the substance covers him, making this the first continuity-based appearance of his black costume (and, I guess, the symbiote that will be known as Venom).  Professor X surprises everyone with a mental message that Galactus has started eating the planet.
  • Colossus is startled to see Galactus firing up his machine, and feels like that means he should think about Zsaji some more, as she recovers from helping the wasp.  Storm’s assault on Galactus’s machine does nothing, and when the rest of the X-Men attack, he sends these flying drones to stop them. When Cyclops destroys one of the drones, it sets off a massive blast that Captain Marvel, Wasp, and Hawkeye interpret as being the death of the X-Men (I’m not sure why Monica doesn’t go check it out, as she can move at lightspeed).  The heroes at Doombase (aside from She-Hulk, who is still injured and doesn’t appear in this issue) rush to another alien aircraft and head towards Galactus. Hulk admits that he feels odd about getting dumber and not being of much help, while Ben feels weird about not being much help either, until he gets his rocks back. Iron Man is suspicious of Spider-Woman, who he thinks is weird, but also sexy.  Rhodey also appears to be having doubts about not being Tony Stark. Spider-Man is excited to learn that his new suit generates its own webs and responds to his mental commands. Reed, piloting the ship, thinks about how they all got there, and surmises that Galactus is the key to everything. Their ship hits an energy beam and crashes (like every ship in this series), but Colossus catches it, protecting those inside.  They all scramble up the hill Galactus has set up on, and Iron Man manages to blast his machine. Reed suddenly decides that no one should stop Galactus, just as the big guy sends them all flying. The heroes regroup and debate at length; Reed thinks that if Galactus eats the planet, and kills them all, the Beyonder will grant his wish to not hunger anymore, thereby saving trillions of lives. Just then Galactus, his machine, and Reed all vanish.  They are now up on Galactus’s ship, where Galactus shows Reed an image of his wife and son, before they begin to have a conversation we don’t see. Doom, in his cell, comes to his own revelation and employs his suit’s backup power supply to blast his way out of his cell. He ignores most of his lackeys, but goes to free Klaw. The X-Men, it turns out, weren’t killed in the drone blast, and they dig out from under the rubble. They head into the village, where Colossus thinks Zsaji is rushing to him, but instead she goes to Johnny, who blows her off.  The heroes continue to debate when Reed reappears, and explains that he still thinks that they should let Galactus win. Cap doesn’t agree, and as Galactus rematerializes on the hill with his machine, he extends an olive branch to the X-Men and Magneto. The heroes head up the hill again, and we learn that Doom is in the process of slicing Klaw into small slices of solid sound. Galactus pushes back the heroes, but then Reed changes his mind again, wanting to see his baby be born, and starts leading everyone into battle. The heroes begin to focus on Galactus’s machine, but that’s not what Reed wants, and he gets angry when Galactus, weakened a great deal, flies away to his ship.  Reed explains that now Galactus is probably going to eat his ship, and we see it turn yellow and get engulfed in Kirby crackle. Doom anticipated the same thing would happen, and he uses Klaw, who he has made into a series of lenses, to draw the energy from Galactus’s home to him.
  • We see that Galactus is beginning to eat his home, but the energy flows away from him towards Doombase.  Cap sends Captain Marvel to do some recon, and she sees Doom absorbing the power. She communicates this to Professor Xavier, and while Doom works to master his new cosmic abilities, he becomes aware of everything that is happening around him, including the fact that Monica is there.  The heroes try to figure out how to get back to Doombase, and Magneto uses his powers to transport them in a wrecked vessel. As they fly, Magneto and Cap talk, and weirdly Wolverine feels the need to take Magneto’s side when Cap calls Magnus a terrorist. Doom ponders the nature of the Beyonder, and alters his armor to prepare to do battle with this powerful being.  The heroes bust into Doombase, but can’t find Doom. They find Captain Marvel frozen as a hologram, and find Klaw’s decapitated head. Doombase shakes as Doom begins his battle with the Beyonder. The heroes try to watch it on a viewscreen, and to manage the shockwaves from the big fight. Colossus sees that Zsaji and her people are safe, and tries to tell the Human Torch that, but Johnny doesn’t care, calling her a “chippie.”  Doom’s battle with the Beyonder gets crazier, and it looks like the Beyonder, who is depicted as pure energy, is about to defeat him (despite the fact that his armor is designed to somehow absorb this power). At Doombase, Doom’s image appears, asking the heroes to help him crush the Beyonder. He offers great power to whoever will help him, and Magneto is about to accept, but then hesitates. Even still, Iron Man, Wasp, and Hawkeye attack him to keep him from joining Doom.  We see the Beyonder continues to pummel Doom, and then examines him, learning of his past. Somehow Doom is able to activate the machinery in his breastplate. Doombase begins to collapse, and while everyone evacuates, both Cap and Wolverine go to free the prisoners, surprising each other by putting others first. The heroes are surprised when the tremors end, and see a bright light approaching them. It’s Doom, about the size of Galactus. The heroes prepare to fight, but Victor shrinks down and announces that, “The war is over.”
  • Doom informs the heroes that the Beyonder is dead, and that he now has his powers, and that he will not use them against the heroes.  The gathered villains watch this from a distance, and suspect that Doom has betrayed them. This angers the Molecule Man, who uses his powers to fling the heroes away and confront Doom.  Doom tells Owen he is a lot more powerful than he believes, and relieves his mental blocks before flying away. Owen tells the other villains that he is their leader now, and makes a flying ship to take them all to Volcana’s home.  We learn that the heroes survived Owen’s attack; they return to the ruins of Doombase to plan their next moves. The villains all gather in Volcana’s apartment in the suburb of Denver that ended up on Battleworld. Owen decides to take them all home by sealing the suburb and launching it into space.  The heroes notice this, and Spider-Woman worries about her neighbours (it’s interesting how little we learn of her in this series). That night, Colossus thinks about Zsaji, and takes a sky sled to visit her. A glowing light enters the sleeping Hulk, and sends him walking through the halls of Doombase.  Spider-Woman sees him, and thinking he’s sleepwalking, tries to stop him. Instead, the light leaves the Hulk and enters her, sending her into the room where Doom set up his machinery. She approaches Klaw’s sleeping head, and then screams. When the heroes rush to her, she explains that she saw Doom. He restored Captain Marvel to life, took Klaw, and left a note summoning them to the massive new tower he built.  In it, he and Klaw discuss how he must suppress his new powers, and not sleep. Colossus goes to the sleeping Zsaji, and declares his love for her. The rest of the heroes gather, and make their way to Doom’s tower. There, he shows off his power by restoring Kang to life and sending him away. He offers to satisfy the heroes’ greatest wishes as a way of fixing any problems he caused for them, but Cap refuses on all their behalfs.  Outside, they realize that Spider-Woman is missing, and Cap goes back looking for her. He finds Doom lounging in a room he’s decorated with pictures of his mother, and Doom sends Klaw to look for Spider-Woman. She catches him, and the glowing light enters Klaw. Cap and Doom talk about his plans to rescue his mother from Mephisto, and Doom mentions how easy it would be for a stray thought to cause him to destroy the universe. Klaw tells him Cap where Spider-Woman is, and they leave.  Peter and Zsaji spend some time making out under a tree, but then Xavier summons him back to Doombase. Cap updates all the heroes on how he fears that Doom hasn’t transcended humanity, and needs to be stopped. They debate a little, but everyone agrees that he can’t be left with such power. Colossus is the last to agree to fight, and just then, a massive blast rips through the ceiling, and it looks like all the heroes are killed.
  • In the wake of the attack, we see that it appears all the heroes were destroyed.  Zsaji looks afraid. Doom talks to Klaw as he reins in his power again and takes a rest.  In the travelling suburb of Denver, the Enchantress calls forth a water elemental in the bathtub to find out what’s going on.  She learns that Doom has taken complete control and vanquished their enemies. The Lizard goes haywire, and the villains argue about the fact that they don’t think the Molecule Man can get them home.  While Doctor Octopus and Owen argue, the Enchantress lures Volcana to a nearby park. She wants to return to Battleworld, and figures she can call in her favour and use Volcana’s lifeforce to help her teleport that distance.  While Owen and Ock fight, the Lizard tells Owen about Enchantress. He rushes to the park, and just as the Enchantress teleports away, the Lizard jumps on her, so they both end up on Battleworld. He claws her face, and she blasts him, after which she steals his energy to teleport to Asgard.  Klaw sneaks up on the dozing Doom, who awakens and worries about his control over his power. Klaw shows him using holograms that the heroes might still be alive, thanks to a wayward thought of Doom’s. He suggests that Zsaji might have been able to revive Colossus, who in turn used the machines in Doombase to revive Mister Fantastic, who could have done the same for everyone else.  Klaw suggests that this was a subconscious wish of Doom’s, who is goading him into turning the power back on so he can use his omniscience to check. As Doom gets angry, Thor’s hammer comes flying through the wall. Doom almost blows up the whole world, but then regains control. Klaw convinces him to give him some of that power so he can rest. Outside, we see that the heroes are all alive (although Cap’s shield has had better days).  As they prepare to attack Doom’s tower, Klaw creates some monsters and recreates Ultron to fight them. In the middle of the big fight that follows, The Thing starts to turn human again, but then reverses it. The Wasp dismantles Ultron from the inside, and Cap gets past Klaw, entering the tower. He finds Doom. They argue, and then Doom disintegrates Cap. He immediately reforms (Klaw is hiding around a corner, manipulating all of this), and Doom blasts him again.  This happens again, and Doom collapses. Recognizing that he’s losing control, Cap tries to talk him down, and offers his hand in help. At that moment, the glowing light that is the Beyonder emerges from Klaw and takes back all of his power from Doom. Both Doom and Klaw disappear, and the fight is over. The heroes gather for a funeral for Zsaji, and then everyone takes a break. Spider-Man notices that the other heroes are using a different machine to repair their clothes, and we see Xavier picking out a more superheroic outfit than the shirt and tie he’s been wearing.  Reed helps Hulk get a crutch since he injured his leg, and Hawkeye notices how grumpy the Hulk is getting. Dr. Curt Connors wanders into Doombase, having wished for help. Nightcrawler wishes that Lockheed would return to them, and just then he does, followed by another dragon. Reed suspects that wish fulfillment is at the heart of Battleworld; Cap decides to test the theory by using positive thoughts to fix his shield. Later, Reed has devised a device to teleport heroes to the craft that brought them to Battleworld, sure that it will then teleport them back home. The unaffiliated heroes, and Magneto, go first.  The X-Men are up next, but Colossus doesn’t want to go. Xavier talks to him, changing his mind, and then just as they teleport away, the other dragon swoops in, creating some odd lightworks (I remember this got picked up in the issue of X-Men in which they all returned). She-Hulk and The Thing approach, and Ben explains that he’s going to stay on Battleworld, since he can be human there, and that Jen is going to take his place in the FF for a while. The Avengers teleport away, Reed thinks that Ben’s love for Alicia Masters kept him from turning human again ages ago, and then he, Johnny, and Jennifer leave too. Ben sits on a rock.
  • The trade finishes with an essay about the toys that were behind the creation of this title, followed by the original Marvel Age article about the series, and then the usual collection of original pencils and variant and unused covers.

Before I started reading this trade, I commented that I didn’t expect it to live up to the nostalgia I feel for it.  That’s exactly what happened. This series has not held up very well at all. A cosmic being kidnaps a bunch of people from Earth, and tells them to fight each other, so that’s basically just what they do?  There’s not a lot of trying to reach across the aisle, and to find a solution to the very strange predicament they find themselves in.

Most of the characters are given very thin rationalizations for how they act.  You would think characters like Reed Richards and Captain America would do more to try to find reasonable solutions for the situation they found themselves in.  Instead, everyone behaved predictably and violently.

Shooter’s writing is awkward in places, as he introduces new characters without explaining how they got there.  Titania and Volcana are just in Doom’s lab? How did they get there from the suburb of Boulder where they lived?  Likewise, how did Spider-Woman make her way to the heroes? And did Spider-Woman already have her powers and costume when she arrived on Battleworld?  Why did we never even learn her true identity? It’s strange the the heroes just accepted her so easily, and that she kind of never went anywhere for a while after that.

Character work wasn’t, for the most part, a focus of Shooter’s.  Sure, we got some interesting things done with Colossus, Molecule Man, and of course Doom, who we will circle back to, but the other characters were either largely silent (Captain Marvel never once felt like the Monica Rambeau I enjoyed so much back then), or just reverted to the most basic of character sketches (Wasp is basically returned from the dead, and is mostly just concerned with her hair and makeup?).  You’d think, even with a cast of this size, everyone would find time to shine in twelve issues.

One of the things I remembered was the distrust between the X-Men and the other heroes, and I did find that interesting at first, but it actually felt pretty forced, and then just fell away.  I do think that it was interesting that Shooter kept Magneto with the heroes throughout, given that it was still about a year before his trial and the gradual (and temporary) thawing of his relationship with Xavier and the team.  

Shooter has some annoying ticks in this series, most obvious in the irritating way in which he wrote Klaw’s dialogue.  The crazy being of sound, rescued from Galactus’s vessel, is supposed to have gone insane, but instead, he mostly just repeats the final sound of the last word of his dialogue (ogue ogue ogue), and it’s really annoying.  Also, we had Ben Grimm defeat the Lizard by playing patty-cake with him. That is something that actually happened in this comic.

I’d forgotten how much of this series revolved around Galactus, but only until it didn’t.  After Doom stole his energy, Galactus becomes nothing more than a footnote in this comic. His herald Nova ends up finding him off-panel, since he wasn’t needed for the story anymore.

I get that this series was designed to market a toy line, and to accomplish a few set things, like give Spider-Man his new costume, but I still think that the writing could have been better.  When I first read this series, it was exciting to see so many characters together, as that was something that almost never happened (I still have never read Contest of the Champions, the only precursor event that comes to mind).  As a young person, the coolness factor of that, and the sense that the stakes were really high, overpowered any critical thinking about plot and characterization, but now that big crossovers take place a couple of times a year, that aspect of the series has lost all appeal, leaving me with an overly-complicated plot built on, effectively, nothing.

Except for Doom.  Doom became a much more interesting character over the course of this series, as the only person who was able to look at the Battleworld situation as an opportunity to advance his own personal power and ends.  When everyone else is working to win the “war” or protect their friends, Doom is scheming and looking for opportunities, but also looking at the bigger picture. After he gains the Beyonder’s powers, he is torn between the ascension that brings and finally being able to achieve his worldly aims (including fixing his face and rescuing his mother).  Shooter leans into this dichotomy heavily in the final two issues, and it’s interesting that it’s Captain America he has debating him rather than Richards, who knows him well. After this series, Doctor Doom became a favourite character of mine, and I’ve often enjoyed seeing new writers build off the humanizing that Shooter (and, around the same time, John Byrne) did with him.

The other character that I started to like after this series is Molecule Man, but when Shooter wrote Secret Wars II, he made me hate Owen.  I didn’t like him again until Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars remake series, but that’s a whole other column for about ten years from now.

Mike Zeck is one of those artists I will always associate with my own golden age of the 1980s, but I’m afraid to say that his art in this series is not as strong as his runs on Captain America and The Punisher.  His Wolverine looks cool, and I like the way he drew black-suited Spider-Man, but there are just too many characters in this book for him to have done a bang-up job on all of them. There are plenty of action sequences that just look a little too rushed.  The covers, on the other hands, are fantastic, especially in the early issues.

In all, I did enjoy revisiting this title, which did have a huge influence on me as a kid.  It might have been better to leave this to my memory, but reading it again was fun, and took me back to the excitement of getting some of these issues at the comics store, and being excited to wait for the next one.

You can check out my Retro Review archives here.

If you’d like to read this trade, follow this link:

Secret Wars

 

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