1984 was an important year for comic books. This was the year that launched the mega crossover event, a staple of comic books that is still with us to this day. Funnily enough, we owe (for better or for worse) this universe changing event to one simple thing, toy sales.
Marvel had gotten word that DC Comics was launching their own lineup of action figures called Super Powers. This was the early 80s, prime time for action figures, and Marvel wanted in on that.
They worked with Mattel who, in product testing, came up with that kids tested really well to the words “secret ” and “Wars” so it was a no brainer that this is what the event would be titled.
Along with the toys, they realized that they could make more money if a comic book was developed alongside the toy release, and Editor Jim Shooter had been getting letters from young fans about them doing a huge event with all the heroes and all the villains. And so the wheels were put into motion on this grand experiment.
Jim Shooter wrote the 12 issue maxi series, which ran from May 1984-June of 1985, in which otherworldly entity The Beyonder takes groups of earths mightiest heroes (half of the Avengers, X-Men, most of the Fantastic Four) and a random group of villains (Doctor Doom, Doctor Octopus, The Lizard, The Wrecking Crew, Enchantress, Kang the Conqueror, and Ultron.). He pits the two teams against each other, declaring the winner to get their hearts desire.
In the April issues of the comics affected, the heroes disappeared into a mysterious structure in Central Park, and then in the next issue they returned, altered by this unknown conflict, which was played out over the course of the next year.
Some of the changes affected by the story were Spider-Man’s new black costume, which would later be revealed as an alien symbiote, and become the villain/anti hero Venom. She Hulk also switched teams from The Avengers over to Fantastic Four while The Thing stayed in the Battleworld planet for a year.
The story itself still holds up as one of the great stories in comics, but one thing that doesn’t hold up is it’s continuity with the rest of the books, which is a shame, because of how much I wring out Marvel for for being all disjointed nowadays not like the cohesive nature of the Marvel Universe in the old days, and I admit that this book, when put in the context of the other books in play, it’s laughable.
Such as, in the issues of Fantastic Four spinning out of this tale Sue Richards is pregnant and having complications from the baby (who was conceived while her and Reed were in the alternate dimension the Negative Zone) and Reed consults experts in radiation like Walt Langkowski (Alpha Flight’s Sasquatch) , Bruce Banner, and they need to secure the help of Doctor Octopus, whom Reed gets out of a mental hospital, with no mention at all or any indication that these two were just on another planet together.
It goes on further, with She Hulk lamenting that she never got the chance to mix it up with Dr. Doom, who was believed dead at the time in the main book, and was the villain for toy selling purposes in Secret Wars, but she did see him there.
And also, The Hulk’s presence in this issue further shows the disconnect between writers
as in The Hulk’s own book, he had started to lose control once more of his savage nature, and was sent on a story that wrapped up months later with Hulk going full savage and being teleported to another dimension by Doctor Strange.
These snafus aside, Secret Wars was a classic of comic book storytelling which helped establish the current crossover trend, the effect of which was felt most impactfully a year later with DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths.
So, from this point on, for better or worse, we would see more of these mega events from all over comics, some great, some bad, but all because a comic company wanted to get in on the toy business.