Without comics, the MCU wouldn’t exist. If he does not hesitate to move away from it to create his own story, the starting point of each of his films and series remains nevertheless anchored in its original material. Thus, each month we will try to focus on a comic that could serve as a basis for a past or future work of the cinematic universe, without spoilers, and to give you the desire to deepen.
This Wednesday, a few weeks after the announcements of Marvel Studios at the Comic-Con in San Diego, we talk about the future of the MCU as starting point for the Secret Wars of 2015.
“Avengers Assemble”, Cap and Mjolnir, the Trinity vs. Thanos, the final battle, “I am Iron Man”… Released in 2019, Avengers: Endgame was the culmination of 22 interconnected films forming what is now known as the MCU’s Infinity Saga. It has marked the landscape of the modern blockbuster and is to date undoubtedly the most imposing film of the franchise (in the duel with Infinity War? We’ll let you make up your mind).
And yet, it is certainly not on the side of the movies that you have to look to find the craziest crossover ever imagined in recent years, but in the comics. In 2015, Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars proved that the House of Ideas was still capable of producing classics with excessive ambition, at the height of other stories such as Infinity Gauntlet (1991) or Civil War (which we will surely talk about again).
First observation before getting to the heart of the matter, there are two story arcs that bear the name of Secret Wars (not to be confused with the Secret War of 2004, yes it’s complicated). The one from 2015 is actually a tribute to the first one from 1985, which is still considered to this day as the first true crossover of Marvel.
Some story elements will also be taken up by Hickman, such as the concept of the Beyonder, even if he completely rearranges it to favor his narrative. In 1985, Secret Wars had been imagined by the editor-in-chief of Marvel to sell toys (the Mattel company had just bought the rights to the characters) and thus imagined itself as a huge gathering of heroes and villains in Dantesque fights. 30 years later, the ambition of his successor is quite different: to destroy the Marvel universe, pure and simple.
Architect: Jonathan Hickman
The fundamental man to carry out this project is then called Jonathan Hickman. Writer of the Fantastic Four series from 2009 to 2012, then the Avengers and New Avengers series, he gradually lays the foundations of his final mega-crossover, thus somewhat following the development of the MCU, from Iron Man to Endgame. Each mini-event organized by Marvel in the comics is then used to lay a new stone to Hickman’s building.
It takes concepts and obscure characters to build the fundamental elements that lead to its final goal, such as the Man-Molecule (if you do not know him, it is normal) which plays a primordial role in the story. He used the Avengers vs X-Men event (2012) and its aftermath in the Axis miniseries to create a first split among the Avengers.
In the Avengers series, he focuses on the battles of the main team as new threats emerge in the universe, while the New Avengers series follows the secret actions of the Illuminati, a team composed of the most influential earthlings (we find Reed Richards, Black Bolt, Professor X and then the Beast, Namor, Black Panther and Doctor Strange, Captain America, and Iron Man having been ejected).
Extremely referenced and complex, Secret Wars is not the best story to offer a beginner in comics. It is based on a plan spread over several years, and the series that lead to the crossover is rather essential to understand everything. But let’s get to the story itself. For several years, therefore, Hickman places his pawns to achieve the destruction of the multiverse, introducing the essential concept of incursions.
Worlds collide, which can lead to the destruction of one or both of the universes concerned, pushing the Avengers in two directions. The main team will try to understand who is behind this phenomenon, while the Illuminati are convinced that they can find a solution to stop the incursions.
Several dramatic events lead to splits within the different groups: the Illuminati explode after a confrontation between Captain America and the rest of the gang, then Namor decides to go it alone, being the only one morally capable of destroying entire universes. More arrogant than ever, Iron Man finds himself isolated from the rest of the Earth’s heroes and is eventually captured by Thanos and his Black Order.
All this to say that while the multiverse itself is collapsing, the main heroes of the Marvel Universe (Earth-616, as in the MCU… which is not very logical but let’s move on) are hardly able to make a common front. While the last incursion opposes the universes 616 and 1610 (the Ultimate Earth, where Miles Morales lives), a surprising actor will save what can be. His name? Doctor Doom.
A mortal among the immortals: Doom
Doom (or Doom in VF) is the sworn enemy of the Fantastic 4 since their debut in the 60s. He is the evil double of Reed Richards, extremely intelligent, but also calculating, cold, and above all, very pragmatic. We said it last month for Gorr, what makes a good villain is his motivation. He’s not a brute, he’s a bruised scientist. The scars on his face that force him to constantly wear a metal mask lead him to harbor a sick jealousy against his best opponent, especially around his wife, Sue Storm, aka the Invisible Woman.
While the incursions ravage the multiverse, Doom also sets out to find a solution to solve the problem, and discovers the culprits, superpowered ancient beings called the Beyonders (the circle with the 1985 story is closed). These are also scientists who have been manipulating life and death through the multiverse since its inception (in other words, they are the gods of the Marvel Multiverse).
The incursions and the end of everything are thus gigantic and morbid experiments conducted by these strange creatures. Accompanied by the Molecule Man, Doom hatches a plan to destroy the Beyonders and seize their power before it’s too late. He manages to save the remains of what was created and brings together entire sections of universes on a single world, Battleworld, of which he becomes the Emperor (it was a good feeling).
Secret Wars, at least the main series, is centered initially around the new role of Doom, who wants to direct his subjects. He is a god, mortal turned immortal, but continues to question himself and thinks he is unworthy of his status, declaring in particular that he is “a poor God”. Thus, when a small group of survivors of the last incursion, led by Reed Richards, set out to overthrow him, the conflict between the two enemies takes an extremely personal turn around the question of failure and common sense.
Doom is convinced that he made the right choice and saved creation, while subsequently focusing on effectively governing his new kingdom. Does Richards know he has to stop her, at all costs but is it out of necessity or just hatred? One of Marvel’s biggest crossovers becomes one of its most intimate stories, a magnificent confrontation between two of its central figures in the midst of the chaos that Battleworld is becoming.
Everything dies, only Secret Wars remains
Around the main series consisting of 9 issues gravitate multiple series taking place in different corners of Battleworld. The strength of Secret Wars is also to be able to keep the readers of the many Marvel series invested after the (albeit temporary) stop of these. Thus, for fans of Spider-Man, we have the mini-series Renew his vows, where Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson have married again and are parents of a little girl, those of Wolverine can follow Old Man Logan without being too disoriented.
This also allows writers to revisit classics from the Marvel universe, such as House of M, Civil War, or Marvel Zombies. In all, we find an impressive number of 48 mini-series that come out at the time of Secret Wars, spread over the year of publication of the main series. Some crossovers are criticized for their lack of ramifications with the rest of the shared universe, here, all the series that Marvel published then are temporarily stopped to make room for these new titles.
It’s a risk, but it gives real depth to Secret Wars, which is not simply reduced to the conflict between Doom and Mister Fantastic but also is the story of a myriad of characters embarked on adventures where the rules are new. For the writers, often entangled in the terrible continuity that has lasted for almost 80 years, it is a godsend, which allows them to explore things and do a little of what they want in this gigantic sandbox.
From a strictly business point of view, it is also a success, since Marvel orders spinoffs after the end of this status quo (typically Renew his vows is so successful that a regular series takes shape and is published between 2016 and 2018).
Reboot successful or relative failure?
His ambition is crazy certainly. But what is the real impact of Secret Wars in the long term? Comic book readers know that nothing really lasts in this world where the status quo is sacred. At DC, we have been able to carry out reboots that allow an easier gateway for new readers when continuity becomes too complex: this could lead to Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, or more recently to New 52, a total overhaul of DC publications (reduced to 52) after Flashpoint in 2011.
Marvel’s ambition at the beginning was undoubtedly to follow a similar path to its competitor. The teasers released in 2014 focus in particular on the birth of an All-new Marvel Universe (understand a brand new Marvel universe), the objective being to separate from a continuity that has become cumbersome and focus on its most popular publications. Yet, seven years later, it is clear that all this has not happened. You only have to read the Spider-Man comics released since to understand that the sacrosanct continuity has not been buried, quite the contrary.
Secret Wars does result in some changes, one of the most notable being the introduction of Miles Morales into the main comic book universe and the destruction of the Ultimate universe, but they are far too small compared to the scale of the event. This raises another problem at Marvel, with minimal risk-taking and a willingness to do “what pleases” instead of doing “what needs to be done.”
From a complete reboot planned at the base, Secret Wars becomes a gigantic crossover to change a few things later and bring the general tone of the new universe of the films of Marvel Studios, the little brother turned Hollywood superpower.
Is it a failure? Not completely, but more of a missed opportunity to really shake things up. As an additional sign, Marvel is resetting the numbering of its series again in 2018 with a relaunch called Fresh Start (or new beginning). The particularity of Secret Wars is that it has almost already earned its status as a classic of modern comics, unlike many crossovers published by Marvel in the 2010s.
With its three-year story arc, great ideas like Doom in God from the Multiverse, and many cult moments (many of you must have seen the fight between Doom and Thanos), it has carved out a place for itself among Marvel fans, and its adaptation into the MCU is anything but a coincidence.
What can we expect from the MCU’s Secret Wars?
Endgame is currently the biggest crossover in the MCU, but also the second film in history at the global box office and an event that has marked fans around the world. Secret Wars was therefore almost the only viable option to dethrone him. But how can Kevin Feige adapt it in a very different universe than the comics?
The MCU has laid the groundwork for the best film of Phase 4 (purely subjective opinion): Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, released in May and directed by maestro Sam Raimi. The appearance of the Illuminati (one of the few clever cameo moments in recent years) is far from trivial and has given comic book readers another opportunity to ignite.
The movie introduces the concept of incursions, taken directly from Hickman’s story (which suggests that the MCU will adapt the 2015 version rather than the 1985 version). If we follow the post-credits scene (with Charlize Theron in the role of Clea), Doctor Strange 3 should be another important step in the race to Avengers: Secret Wars, already dated for 2025.
This is another element to take into account: the end of the Multiverse Saga is coming very quickly, in three years. It remains likely that the film will be postponed to the following year (it will be necessary to carefully follow the start of the fourth Spider-Man film, but also the crisis that is currently shaking the special effects industry), but the possibilities to set up the plot are not endless.
Fantastic Four, the first film in Phase 6, is expected to continue to lay pieces of the puzzle, presumably introducing Doctor Doom into the MCU. The question of the villain will be central, because, for the moment, we are moving more towards a face-to-face with Kang the Conqueror than with Doom. Avengers: Kang Dynasty will be released just before Secret Wars (and we already know the director).
Good news and less headache to manage: Steve Rogers and Tony Stark do not take part in the main story of Secret Wars, only in the prologue. Marvel has already introduced characters who play a role in the comics, starting with Shang-Chi or Namor who arrives (when we tell you that everything is planned).
What will be the Avengers team? Who will be the villain? Will we see the X-men? What can we expect in terms of cameos? What role for Spider-man, whose rights still belong to Sony? Will we have a complete reboot of the MCU? In short, many questions, but few answers to give at the moment.
We will surely know more with phase 5 which will begin after Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. But there is little doubt that Marvel Studios will tackle its biggest challenge with this adaptation of Secret Wars, which can be the biggest crossover in history in the cinema or a simple wet firecracker …
After a break of a few years, Jonathan Hickman is back in business and continues his work as an architect at Marvel. Since 2019, he has tackled the X-men and completely redefined their mythology in House of X/Powers of X. As with Secret Wars, its work is long-term, and its final plan has yet to be revealed.
Panini Comics recently decided to publish in a new edition the entire arc of Secret Wars, including the Avengers, New Avengers, and Avengers: Time runs out series, as well as of course the event itself. For those who have never read comics, it is a reading that may seem difficult, with many elements of mythology, but Secret Wars remains enjoyable, if only for the magnificent drawings of Esad Ribic (already at the maneuver on the saga of the Butcher of the Gods) and Doctor Doom in a white suit sitting at the foot of the World Tree.
You can also find all the announcements of Marvel Studios at San Diego Comic-Con by going here for the movies, and here for the series. Avengers: Secret Wars will be released in theaters on November 7, 2025.