Marvel Comics held a press conference this week announcing details about "Secret Wars," a company-wide comic book crossover that they promise will change everything.
Promises of change in comics often don't amount to much, but here's why this one just might, with Marvel teasing that it will produce a whole new world for its characters.
"We see this as putting an endcap to decades of stories and starting a new era," said Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso. "And when you see the scope of the event, you see what we're doing, what we're willing to do, this is a place where we're going to be bringing new pieces onto the board and taking old pieces off. You guys will be yelling and screaming, you'll be loving, hating, and in equal measure."
Rival DC Comics has always been quick to have stories designed to streamline their history, with the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" being the most famous one — a story that destroyed the DC Comics universe of the time, birthing a new timeline that gave us the versions of DC's heroes we know today. Several minor and major reboots followed, with the biggest since then being 2011's New 52 (and a tease of another one with this April's "Convergence").
Meanwhile, Marvel still refers back to stories from their early days, beginning with the first issue of "Marvel Comics" in 1939, and more so since the launch of "Fantastic Four" and the interlinked Marvel Universe in the 1960s, led by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Marvel previously launched a line of comics meant to offer a fresh vision of the Marvel characters called Ultimate Comics, but now the worlds of those characters and the traditional Marvel universe are getting combined thanks to "Secret Wars."
"The Ultimate Universe, the Marvel Universe, they're going to smash together," said Alonso. "This is the Marvel Universe moving forward."
"We've never done anything like this, ever," said Marvel senior vice president and executive editor Tom Brevoort. "And what we're going to do to top it, I don't know. Hopefully that will be somebody else's problem."
The stories leading to "Secret Wars," and what is Battleworld?
The story that's been built up so far has to do with different universes colliding into each other — and in the first issue of "Secret Wars," the Marvel and Ultimate Earths collide, with the heroes of those worlds unable to stop it. What's left behind is what Marvel is calling "Battleworld," a patchwork planet with different parts of it inhabited by the characters from different famous Marvel crossovers of the past (you can see some of those past titles in the slideshow above).
Marvel released this video to help you visualize what exactly Battleworld is:
See a map of Battleworld here, showing the different worlds made up of old storylines to be explored in "Secret Wars" (and click to enlarge):
Brevoort described Battleworld as "The little melting pot in which the new Marvel Universe will be created" after the Marvel and Ultimate versions of Earth are destroyed. He said that Battleworld is what Marvel is going to be "during, through and after" the beginning of "Secret Wars."
"Once you hit 'Secret Wars' 1, there is no Marvel Universe. There is no Ultimate Universe. All there is is Battleworld, and a whole lot of empty void," Brevoort said.
"Every single piece of this world is a building block for the Marvel Universe moving forward," Alonso said. "None of these stories are Elseworlds, or What Ifs, or alternative reality stories. They aren't set in the past or the future. They're not set in an alternate reality. They're set in the reality of the Marvel Universe."
It's also a story that uses an old name — the original "Secret Wars" involved an alien taking heroes from Earth and forcing them into battle for the fate of the universe. It remains unclear if the villain from that crossover will play a role here.
Why is Marvel rebooting?
Observers were quick to speculate on some of the behind-the-scenes reasons for the change. Combining the Ultimate Universe with the traditional Marvel Universe would let them incorporate the half-black, half-Latino Spider-Man from the Ultimate line that grabbed headlines a few years ago. It would let them do something different with characters like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, who have been a flashpoint for controversy due to Fox retaining rights in perpetuity to any films based on those characters.
It also opens the door to a longtime comic book trope: Bringing back to life the dead.
"If we were to want to resurrect Gwen Stacy, this would be the place to do it, wouldn't it?" Alonso said.
What do creators and fans think about "Secret Wars"?
Speaking of the death of Gwen Stacy, the writer who pulled the trigger on killing her, Gerry Conway, tells Newsarama that he's on board.
"I think like with any idea, the execution will matter more than the idea itself. The idea of a reset is, by itself, not a bad idea," Conway said.
One who's less on board with it: longtime Spider-Man artist John Romita.
"My guess is new fans will be okay with it, and old fans will grumble," Romita told Newsarama. "I’m not a businessman, but I do know that comic companies, for almost 100 years now, do whatever they can for shock value. They grab attention. Personally, I hate all the goofy things they do. When I was there, I used to fight stuff like this. But you can’t stop them."
Current Marvel writers have been sworn to secrecy about what happens once "Secret Wars" is done:
The lack of certainty about what this all means has led fans to wildly speculate, as well as poke fun at what might happen:
It's a story that's been years in the making.
"Every single time we've done an event, we've always had to be mindful of 'Secret Wars,' and we've had to make decisions based on the fact that we knew that 'Secret Wars' was headed our way," Alonso said.
Brevoort said that Hickman proposed a version of "Secret Wars" years ago, but that vision has since become significantly larger.
"It sounds like typical Stan lee hyperbole — and there's nothing wrong with typical Stan Lee hyperbole — but it is difficult to imagine something that would be larger in scope, in scale, than what we are doing with 'Secret Wars,'" Brevoort said.
That father of the modern Marvel comics world, Stan Lee, tells Newsarama that the reboot is "probably good."
"Anything they do that’s unexpected and different usually captures the attention of the fans," Lee said. "It sounds intriguing to me."
Lee also tells Newsarama that if he were to do it all again, he'd do it basically the same, describing what he did as "the right way to go, and maybe sometimes, even the perfect way to go."
"I liked making the Fantastic Four superheroes without a secret identity. I liked the tragedy of Spider-Man’s origin, the ‘with great power, there must also come great responsibility.’ I thought it was the right way of doing things at the time. And I still like what I’ve done," Lee said. "I can’t think, off the top of my head, of anything I’d really want to change."
What does "Secret Wars" mean for fans?
More details are promised in the weeks to come, with a free preview issue being released on Free Comic Book Day, May 2. While fans wait, they may want to heed the wait-and-see approach advocated by Conway and famed "Thor" artist Walt Simonson.
"Maybe this is coming back out of my old geology days, but I try not to have instant reactions to things and say, ‘Oh my God! That’s terrible!’" Simonson told Newsarama. "My basic reaction is usually ‘let’s see the evidence in the field.’ Let’s come back in a year and see what we’ve got. That will tell the story.”
And for those who say that Marvel is ruining their childhood by messing with the history of their favorite characters, Conway tells Newsarama:
"I would say to them, no, your childhood is still your childhood. There’s a point to be made, and it’s a universal one: We have to see that there’s a difference between what people do today, and what they did yesterday. Yesterday still exists, those stories still exist. Now someone else is getting a chance at a new childhood. And that’s nice."
Watch the full "Secret Wars" live press conference below: