When one thinks of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, one would probably think of Issue #8. A defining issue that depicted the origin of the black costume. Made popular by the amazing Spider-Man.
But if you actually read it, it’s a very interesting story. Not only because it balances the commercial necessity of its existence with entertainment. But it also manages to actually have something to say.
The fact that Secret Wars was really the vehicle to sell toys is evident by Jim Shooter, Mike Zeck, and Bob Layton’s storytelling. Here you won’t find big splash page moments (I think I counted one in the entire 12-issue series). But a lot of wide panels, making sure to fit in as many of these characters as they could. Jim Shooter, who on numerous occasions has made it clear that he prefers the traditional grid format, definitely helped that along. But it still doesn’t make the story less entertaining or what you’re seeing less impactful or beautiful.
The story is simple and convenient enough. The Avengers and the X-Men are transported to a planet for no reason at all, other than because a galactic entity, The Beyonder, wants it so. And to make things even more interesting The Beyonder decides to teleport a bunch of Marvel villains, including Doctor Doom and Galactus.
"I am from beyond! Slay your enemies and all that you desire shall be yours! Nothing you dream of is impossible for me to accomplish!"
And there we have it. Over a span of 12 issues we have minor battles, big battles, crazy scenarios, and downright mayhem. I suppose the main character in these books is probably Doctor Doom. He wants the power of The Beyonder (surprise, surprise) and sees the battle between both sides as a necessary distraction as he plans to get what he wants.
Professor Xavier, Magneto, Reed Richards might make up the next amount of ‘comic time.’ Though Doom is definitely the main antagonist here.
What makes the relevance of issue #8 even more interesting is that Spider-Man doesn’t really do anything. Other than to find his new costume. Sure he helps in situations and is ‘there’ when things happen. But that’s about it.
And that could be the biggest complaint about Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars. There are just so many characters. Even over a span of 12 issues there’s really not a lot of reason for them to be there in the first place. And some of the characters don’t really affect the story too much. Some threads are picked up, such as a possible love connection between Thor and Enchantress. And then they are just sort of dropped a couple of issues down.
And the convenience of the planet merely serves to dust little plot holes under the rug, or try to make things interesting such as the personality change to Charles Xavier as he challenges Storm for the leadership role.
There is an interesting love triangle between Colossus and Johnny Storm, though Storm loses interest quite quickly.
In fact, one could argue that you probably didn’t need 12 issues to tell the story, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t help but smile as I watched the Avengers squabble and eventually fight with the X-Men.
And through that interaction between those two teams, Jim Shooter actually managed to have something to say.
One of the more interesting interactions is between Wolverine and Captain America. Wolverine comments that Captain America is the champion for the American dream…only for his kind. And that those Americans that he protects and fights for actually hate mutants and want them dead. He goes on to wonder if Magneto was perhaps right, that they need to fight back against this aggression.
To which Captain America replies, in typical Captain America fashion, “Nothing justifies terrorism or murder.”
“Terrorists! That’s what the big army calls the little army.”
But by far the most intriguing utilizations of a character probably has to do with Molecule Man. Doom identifies Molecule Man to be the most powerful villain of all of them because he can manipulate organic molecules. But MM is currently in therapy and holds himself back. It’s not until Doom acquires his incredible powers that he releases the mental block from MM and makes him realize his full potential. If that’s not the most sneaky, metaphorical scenario for someone struggling with mental health in the 80’s I don’t know what is.
I sure wasn’t expecting that from a comic book, especially one that is supposed to be about selling toys. And that moment solidified what Jim Shooter, Mike Zeck, and Bob Layton were doing with this book. Yes, we can make money but we can have some life lessons along the way.
And since this thing was made in the early 80’s, I don’t think that message could have been as powerful if a character like Captain America or the whole X-Men weren’t included. That moment really solidified how these two different characters and teams can co-exist in the same universe and have the ideals and principles that surround them. One person’s situation is not always black and white, but you need context to understand it.
But lest I go deeper down this rabbit hole, the whole thing does have a satisfying conclusion. The stakes are there and Doom grabs all the power his heart desired. But of course it was too much. And the lessons learned by our heroes and villains are still a harsh one. Because of that there’s really not a big winner or loser. And that was perhaps the lesson of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars. That at the end of the day, despite your circumstance, the choices you make and the desires you have are what define you.
And be weary of them, because they may be your undoing.