Super Reads? You are soaking in it. This is the feature where I read some comic or another and then spoil the hell out of it for you. Today, I'm tackling Secret Wars #1. Let's see how well I do.
This might go without saying but to the unitiated:
There are Spoilers ahead.
So you've been warned. Proceed with caution.
Before we get crazy with Secret Wars, I think we should discuss at least some of the build up for this event. Chances are, more than a few of you went into Secret Wars blind, without reading any of Jonathan Hickman's work on Avengers and New Avengers. You'll probably be able to follow it because it boils down easily to "THIS IS THE END OF THE WORLD" but I can at least TRY to expand on WHY the world is ending.
Just off to the side in a pocket of whatever that no one else can see live a bunch of creatures called the Beyonders. They are also nicknamed "The Ivory Kings." Remember the Beyonder from the original Secret Wars and it's sequel? He was a kid. The adult Beyonders are complete jackasses who have decided to end all life everywhere and because they're awful, they've worked out a terribly complicated way of doing it.
The Beyonders made a living time bomb in every universe. That bomb's name is Owen Reece. Molecule Man. And it turns out that every Molecule Man is identical with a shared consciousness. Worse? Molecule Man KNOWS he's a bomb that will kill everything.
So he came up with a plan that basically boils down to Doctor Doom travelling across reality and killing every Molecule Man. To hide himself from the Beyonders, Victor Von Doom took on the guise of Rabum Alal which, roughly translated from Ancient Phoenician means "Charts with Circles are Awesome." Since killing infinite Molecule Men all by himself would be... impossible... Doomy formed a religion to help him out. Because religions are all about killing.
This went on REALLY well for a number of years but it turns out that killing a multiversal constant like the Molecule Men also ended up causing Incursions. An Incursion is when two Earths from two different universes slip into the same space and time. When this started, if the two Earths remained in this state for eight hours, they would both be destroyed, taking their respective universes with them. If one Earth was destroyed before the eight hours were up, both universes would be allowed to live (though I suspect that was just a happy lie and the universe with the destroyed Earth would follow into destruction).
A while back, Reed Richards and his pals in the Illuminati found out about these Incursions and started trying everything they could to stop the accelerated death of Earths, Universes, and everything in them. They lost most of the Infinity Gems on their first attempt. Later attempts would take chunks out of their souls as they eventually had to destroy an Earth to save their own.
Meanwhile, Doctor Doom had killed enough Molecule Men and started enough religion to get a sense of the real enemy and with fellow Doctor, Strange, beside him (along with a mostly mad Molecule Man), he went to face the Beyonders.
The confrontation led to the immediate destruction of "hundreds of thousands" of universes leaving "less than two dozen" left. And things were still proceeding apace as Incursions continued to eat at the remaining universes. By the beginning of Secret Wars, we're pretty much down to two remaining universes: The regular Marvel Universe that we know and love/hate and the Ultimate Universe that was really cool back in the mid-2000's and is now a place where Miles Morales' Ultimate Spider-Man comic happens.
The Earths from these two Universes are known as Earth-616 and Earth-1610 respectively. Even though the official rules state that if one Earth dies, the other gets to live, no-one in story has any real expectation that they'll survive.
Reading through Secret Wars and witnessing the end of almost everything, you might be asking yourself: "Where the hell are Iron Man and Steve Rogers?" Well, they are busy kicking the living crap out of each other. Or, if we're being totally honest, they've probably gone from shooting and punching each other to having fan-fiction inspired angry hate sex. Off panel, of course.
But seriously, Tony Stark and old man Rogers are not friends. Because of the long and arduous unravelling of their friendship in the pages of Avengers and New Avengers, Tony and Steve have made their fight during Civil War look like a sensible argument between two reasonable adults. At this point, their ideals and priorities are so at odds that Steve Rogers left the defense of Earth in the hands of others just so he could put on a suit of armor and go smack down Tony Stark one last time. Granted, he's got a little bit of history leaving his post during crucial moments.
Hopefully you've got a better sense of what is going on. If not, all you really NEED to know is that universes are ending, old friends are dying, and the bad guys are the Beyonders.
Secret Wars #1
Writer & Designer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Esad Ribic
Color Artist: Ive Svorcina
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Assistant Editors: Jon Moisan & Alanna Smith
Editors: Tom Brevoort with Will Moss
In this issue: The Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe end with only sixty or so survivors escaping utter destruction aboard a specially designed life raft.
• Doctor Doom faces the Beyonders with his pals Doctor Strange and Molecule Man.
• The Ultimate Universe attacks the Marvel Universe with Helicarriers and Ultimate Iron Man.
• So, yeah, they aren't going to win.
• The life raft is prepared at the Baxter Building and everyone waits for the longest five minutes ever for the transport to arrive with passengers.
• The Marvel Universe heroes defeat almost all of the Ultimate Universe's forces.
• But that's just round one.
• Ultimate Reed Richards opens up his City and unleashes a terrifying second wave.
• Heroes die. The Transport is destroyed.
• Using Eden Fesi's transportation powers and a specially designed machine, a new group of passengers is selected and teleported directly into the life raft.
• This includes Star-Lord, Thor, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, and a Phoenix-powered Cyclops.
• Death and rebirth? Check.
• The life raft is launched.
• Two universes die.
• Reed Richards' family is lost to a hull breach.
Back in New Avengers #33, the good Doctor Doom confronted the Beyonders. At his side were Doctor Strange, Sorceror Supreme and member of the Illuminati, and the mostly crazed but seriously powerful Molecule Man. This issue begins by replaying that event but with new captions telling us that the light you might see when you die is God and He's been with you the whole time.
We don't see how that played out HERE but in New Avengers #33, it led to the destruction of... a metric buttload of universes.
In this here comic, we skip that and get a whole page dedicated to this block of text
THE MULTIVERSE IS DYING.
ONLY TWO UNIVERSES REMAIN.
TODAY, EARTHS COLLIDE.
Moving right along, we join Ultimate Nick Fury and Ultimate Hawkeye at the Ultimate Triskelion, HQ for Ultimate SHIELD in the Ultimate Universe (Earth-1610). You can tell it's the Ultimate Universe because everyone is managing to speaking using both upper-case and lower-case letters. In the regular Marvel Universe, it's all-caps all the time. Everyone is shouting.
Nick Fury is gearing up SHIELD for war because the Maker, the Ultimate Universe's evil version of Reed Richards, has told him all about the Incursions and Fury wants to make sure that the Ultimate Universe is the last Universe standing. Metaphorically speaking. He BELIEVES Evil Reed Richards because the Maker showed Nick an Incursion event. Whatever Reed Richards is hiding from General Fury, the threat of universal destruction is real.
Fury and Richards are having one last pre-battle con-fab where Reed assured Nick that this is the final Incursion. Reed isn't at the Triskelion. He's calling in from The City, a domed structure hanging out in Manhattan that houses the Children of Tomorrow (rapidly evolved super-humans) and the Cabal (an evil version of the Illuminati comprised of Thanos, Namor, Maximus, Black Swan, and others-- most everyone from Earth-616).
When this tele-call is over, SHIELD launches every Helicarrier and whatever else they can get airborn to fight for their right to live. The Maker gets busy with his other plans. A quick conversation with the City (yeah, it's sentient) reveals that while earlier Incursions have lasted eight hours, we're at sudden death overtime and this one won't even last an hour. One of Reed's allies, Thanos, questions him about his honesty with Nick Fury.
Because he WASN'T being honest. At least not fully. There's no winning. No Earth gets to live, here. No universe survives. All there is, is death.
The Maker lied because it would get Fury to fight and buy Ultimate Richards and the Cabal time to finish their "real objective." I guess even though death is inevitable, Reed and company are still planning. Scheming.
Over in the regular Marvel Universe (Earth-616), Good Reed Richards did the exact opposite. He and the Illuminati told the truth. The Universe is good and over. It was the world's leaders that lied to their people, telling them to remain calm and let the situation be resolved. As the sky fills with Helicarriers from an invading Earth and the final Incursion gets under way, Reed remarks that no-one believed the leaders of the world. Politicians, right?
People panic. They should. There's a battle happening and it's all over Manhattan. While some heroes are rushing into the fight, others, like Spider-Man, are handling crowd control and life-saving. Sure, it's the end of the world but someone like Spidey's still gonna go out a hero.
Our heroes have a good reason to prolong this fight. They're also working on a contingency plan. In Secret Wars #0, we saw the building of a life raft capable of saving sixty or so people. The ship is built and housed inside the Baxter Building but it's still being loaded with supplies for the unknown journey that awaits.
Supplies they've got. People? That's another story. Sue Richards calls in to the transport. It's still making it's way through Manhattan and as I've already said, that area has become a war zone. On board are Black Widow, Spider-Woman, the Beast, and the scientists and workers that are to be all that remains of the human race when... well, when everything else is done existing. You'd think they would already BE at the Baxter Building and getting ready to take off but saying good-bye to everyone and everything you've ever known just isn't as easy as checking a box. In fact, two scientists bowed out, content to die with their loved ones rather than live without them.
The transport is still five minutes out.
Back at the Baxter Building, Reed and Black Panther begin the countdown to launch. Avenger Eden Fesi, Manifold, is strapped into a special device. This is the Illuminati covering their bases. If the transport arrives, Even will join everyone else on board. If it can't make it, Manifold has the power to teleport in alternate passengers. The device is capable of selecting replacement passengers they might need to fill up the life raft and Eden's teleporting powers will do the heavy lifting to get everyone here in time for launch.
Well, we've got five minutes to waste so let's look in on the battle. The Ultimate Universe is pretty sparse on super-powered combatants but at least they've got an Ultimate Iron Man and his amazing Iron Man Six mech. That makes up for regular-flavored Iron Man missing out on this issue. As Ultimate Iron Man tries thinning the Marvel Universe combatants, he ends up lighting buildings on fire and endangering the locals.
That's why you have Spider-Man on crowd control. I love that they have him saving lives instead of simply fighting. He's not alone. Luke Cage and Iron Fist are on the ground and helping people.
Speaking of not being alone, the Avengers aren't alone in fighting Ultimate SHIELD. The Guardians of the Galaxy land and Star-Lord orders Rocket and Drax to take out the Iron Man Six Mech. The Amazing X-Men are here, too. Storm and Thor (the current female one) tag-team and lightning strike down one of the many Helicarriers. On another front, Sentinels show up to... hey? Do Sentinels help or hurt in this kind of situation?
That's exactly the kind of question Captain America (the current Sam Wilson one) asks Iceman and it's exactly the kind of question that's difficult to answer. These Sentinels are from Nation X and they're being led by Professor Summers. Cyclops. No one's really sure if he's friend or foe.
You know who's completely outmatched at this point? Ultimate SHIELD. Drax and Rocket have taken out Iron Man Six. Colossus has fastball-specialed the Hulk into the Triskelion. He's followed by She-Hulk and Pod (Aikku Jokinen), each tearing their own hole in the Ultimate SHIELD Headquarters.
Ultimate Nick Fury and Hawkeye are still inside the Triskelion but communication with their remaining Helicarriers and Ultimate Iron Man is out. Fury can still contact Ultimate Reed Richards, though, and tell the evil genius that the game is up. They've lost the war. If Ultimate Richards wanted to maybe blow up the other Earth, now would be the time.
The Maker (that's still Ultimate Reed) has a belittling speech that he delivers to General Fury while the Marvel heroes finish toppling the Triskelion (and, hey, that's the Ultimate X-Men looking on with dull surprise faces!) Fury and SHIELD were entirely successful. They were never going to win. They just needed to buy some time. Now, the Maker can complete his real objective.
The City opens. Reed tells the City to launch the doomsday weapon and to send some Children of Tomorrow along with it. Y'know. For killing people.
As the second force makes it's way to the regular Marvel Universe version of New York, we see that Miles Morales, the Ultimate Spider-Man, has climbed up the dome and is looking inside the opening. What does he see that surprises him so? That is another one of those "good questions" that I hope is revealed. Eventually.
The second wave from the Ultimate Universe is much more successful than the first. The Children of Tomorrow take care of Black Bolt of the Inhumans which is no small feat. One of their larger ships charges right into Avengers Tower, destroying the building.
Man, that's like the third Avengers Tower to be destroyed.
The heroes of the Marvel Universe are failing. The world is ending. Wilson Fisk has sent out an email to all of his villain buddies saying that if this is the end of everything, they might as well meet up in a bar and watch the heroes lose. He's buying. After all, you can't take it with you. So, in an unnamed bar, a group of super-villains like the Absorbing Man, Scorpion, Bullseye, Norman Osborn, Kingpin, and Sandman drink their beverages of choice and watch a big screen television, cheering as Avengers Tower topples.
And in walks the Punisher. He's got a lot of bullets and he'll spend his last moments making the world a little cleaner.
Although... let's face it. This is a group of super-villains with the Absorbing Man and Sandman in attendance. Sure, it's badass to show up with a gun and be the Punisher but chances are REAL good that bullets won't save you from getting murdered by those two. So how this scene plays out is up to you.
But the Punisher totally dies right off-panel.
Speaking of dying... remember that tranport carrying the world's hope for the future? It ALMOST made it to the Baxter Building before the Children of Tomorrow destroyed their ship and all of the people inside (including Black Widow, Spider-Woman, and the Beast). So we've got a life raft ready to fly but no passengers.
Black Panther activates the machine that Manifold is strapped into. This will gather the people needed to maintain the human race. It'll fill the ship. But it will also hurt.
There are a lot of moving parts to this conflict and one of them were those Nation X Sentinels being led by Cyclops. Scott Summers had the Sentinels maintaining a defense perimeter while he prepared a very special package. Now, the package has opened and inside is the Phoenix Egg. Cyclops reaches out and retakes the powers of the Phoenix.
Which, normally, would be a phenomenally bad idea but we're dealing with the end of everything here so what the hell?
The Guardians of the Galaxy are off fighting the Maker's Children in another part of Manhattan. They're about to take a casualty. Rocket gets laser beamed straight through. It's a large beam. Seriously, they killed Rocket. I know pretty much everyone is doomed and all but it's still more sad than you'd expect. Star-Lord issues some orders, trying to save Rocket's life but then he's teleported away.
More people are teleported out of the combat zone. Thor, Spider-Man, and Captain Marvel are all transported out of the combat zone. Captain Marvel was still fighting Ultimate Iron Man at the time. This is amazing because Ultimate Tony Stark was still alive and holding his own against Carol Danvers. Last Ultimate standing!
I guess he was that at the START of this.
In the Baxter Building, the Fantastic Four and Black Panther board the life raft, leaving Manifold still connected to his pain inducing machine. Eden wants to continue grabbing as many people as he can.
Nevertheless, the life raft launches out of the Baxter Building. In the City, the Maker watches while talking about stealing ideas and improving upon them.
One of the last passengers Manifold transports to the life raft is a Phoenix-powered Cyclops. Right when he was delivering a speech about how ideas can't be killed.
What CAN be killed is an Earth. We won't really see much more from any one outside of the ship, Black Panther tells Reed that the world is starting to break up. Now, this ship just has to survive.
While it's flying between the two doomed Earths, the life raft takes a hit from the crackling energies leaping from planet to planet. It's a bad hit. The whole section behind Reed and Black Panther gets separated from the craft. The life raft nearly lost its pilots.
It did lose every other member of the Fantastic Four, including Reed and Sue's children.
Black Panther writes them off as lost and starts to console Reed but Mr. Fantastic knows better. Sue Richards is the strongest member of the FF and is holding the separated portion of the life raft in one of her nigh unbreakable invisible forcefields. All Reed needs to do is reach out and grab them. It's got to be quick because lowering the ship's shields even in this one section is going to be dangerous as hell.
It takes five grueling seconds to lower to shields and by then, it's too late. The shield lowers just as Sue's force field fails. Reed reaches out in utter grief. Captain Marvel grabs Mr. Fantastic and orders Black Panther to get the shields back up. Reed's stretched out hand manages to make it mostly back in before the shields raise but I think he might have lost some digits.
I'm also sure that he doesn't care. If he could have saved his family he would have given so much more. Sure, I joke sometimes about how absent from his family's life Reed is. He gets carried away with his work but it's times like this that you realize just how much Reed loved his wife, his kids, his family. As a husband and father, this is a scene that really tugs at those emotions because it drives home just what everyone has lost. Because it's everything important.
And so, the two final Earths die. Along with them go their respective universes. Everything goes white and for one panel we see Doctor Doom's mask. Then darkness. And Reed Richards loses his hope for the future.
"My entire life I believed in better days ahead.
I believed in tomorrow.
I hid that belief in my hear-- a stronghold against a world that devours hope.
But now the walls have fallen.
I have been overrun.
And I hope...
The Marvel Universe was created in 1961 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They were joined by creators like Bill Everett, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, Werner Roth, Wally Wood, Roy Thomas, John Buscema, John Romita, Gene Colan, Jim Steranko, Marie Severin, Neal Adams, and so many more. These people built a world where heroes, even ones with feet of clay, could save the world. Daily. Pre-Wheaties. And even when they didn't, their adventures and journeys were treasures. I know that there will be another Marvel Universe replacing this one and that it will borrow, HEAVILY, from the first one. But there's a finality here and it's both awesome and sad. Thanks, guys. It was a hell of a ride.
Anyone want to buy some longboxes of comics? They're probably not in continuity anymore.