Marvel’s Secret Wars are (almost) finally upon us! It’s been a long and winding road to Battleworld, through Multiversal Incursion after Multiversal Incursion, two different Avengers series, an event or two, and the destruction of the entire Marvel Universe, but we made it. Now, if you have no Earthly idea what any of that means, you are not alone. Jonathan Hickman’s epic sci-fi tale of betrayal, war, destruction, and morality that culminates in Marvel’s 2015 mega-event started way back in 2012 with Avengers #1, quickly became part of Hickman’s other ongoing, New Avengers, swerved right into the Infinity event, and has encompassed nearly 100 single comic book issues.
That’s a whole lot of story to catch up on if you’ve missed out, but this primer series should be all you need to understand exactly what’s lead to Secret Wars, what the event is all about, and even includes a brief tour of Battleworld itself. Even if you have kept up with everything up to this point there still may be some things you can take away from this summary, and I’d love any fact-checking you can provide.
We’re on to the third, and penultimate, part of our Secret Wars Primer covering Time Runs Out, the time-jump that pushed everything months into the future, as we continue to travel down the road to Battleworld. Check our Part 1 and Part 2 of our Secret Wars Primer, and be on the lookout for Part 4: ‘A Brief Tour of Battleworld’.
So, Where we’re going we don’t need roads!
(SPOILER WARNING: This is a summary of events occurring in Marvel Comics Avengers, New Avengers, Infinity, and other series/books that could potentially damage your reading experience. Consider yourself warned!)
Suggested Reading Order:
- Avengers #34.1, #34.2, #35
- New Avengers #24
- Avengers #36
- New Avengers #25
- Avengers #37
- New Avengers #26
- Avengers #38
- New Avengers #27
- Avengers #39
- New Avengers #28
- Avengers #40
- New Avengers #29**
- Avengers #41
- New Avengers #30
- Avengers #42
- New Avengers #31
- New Avengers #32
- Avengers #43
- New Avengers #33 (Series Finale)
- Avengers #44 (Series Finale)
I’m going to get into the full, spoiler-ridden summaries of Time Runs Out, the time-leaping lead-up to the big event itself, Secret Wars. But, first a word about reading order. Reading order is an integral part of Hickman’s entire approach to this story. It’s as though Avengers and New Avengers is a single series, with Avengers World filling in the gaps before Time Ran Out. The whole thing was tantamount to a weekly series.
I’m not including either Avengers World or Hickman’s own 12-issue run on The Ultimates in this summary, but they are well worth the read if you want even more background on everything that’s going on in this story. I will, of course, give you everything you need to get to Secret Wars, but the full scope of Hickman’s creative epic literally spans universes.
Eight Months Later
At this point in Jonathan Hickman’s run, the writer leaps the story forward in time 8 whole months, and things have certainly changed. A large group of Ex Nihilo travel the galaxy trying in vain to save what will inevitably be destroyed. Smasher and Cannonball have sought refuge off-world. Starbrand and Nightmask have taken to fighting Builders and other multiversal marauders in deep space. The Savage Land has become a base of operations for A.I.M., those Zebra Kids, Hyperion, and a newly unworthy Thor, all attempting to stop the Multiversal Incursions via technology. Most importantly, however, we see super-intelligent youngster Amadeus Cho who has become the newest member of The Illuminati, as well as new S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Sue Storm and others tasked with the sole mission of hunting down and capturing the now outlaw group known as The Illuminati. I guess the Marvel heroes frown on a group that secretly destroys worlds. And that’s just Avengers #35!
Meanwhile, in New Avengers #24, Namor sits down to dinner with Victor von Doom, and bemoans his new team of world killers/Universe saviors The Cabal as an unmanageable team of psychopaths who have become rather fond of their roles as killers of billions/savior of trillions+. But Namor’s intentions aren’t to fellowship; he needs Doom to reel in The Cabal and take over the role of destroying worlds/saving universes. But Doom turns down Namor in an epic fashion that only Doom could manage.
Here’s where things get interesting as we see two very important parts of the story unfold even further. In Wakanda, The Cabal continue to use the Necropolis as their base of operations, and the Wakandans are not too happy at all that T’Challa is allowing Namor to even live much less work out of their nation. The new Wakandan ruler, Shuri, and The Cabal’s Proxima Midnight even come to blows.
Dr. Doom is revealed to have been working on the Multiversal Incursion problem for some time, as The Thinker, working for Doom, has seemingly built multiversal transportation and mapping technology. But, most very importantly (believe it or not) we see The Molecule Man, a linchpin in this entire story.
And that’s just the first 2 issues!!
In order to not make this epic summary as epic as it could (or perhaps should) be, I’m going to sum up a lot of stuff, only touching on the most important bullet points.
In Avengers #36 we see the Multiversal Avengers assemble for the first time on the Savage Land. The team consists of all the Ex Nihilo, Abyss, Starbrand, Nightmask, Hyperion, and Odinson (unworthy Thor). They head into the Multiverse trying to save the world from Incursions.
New Avengers #25 shows a new Illuminati with Reed Richards, Beast, Black Panther, Hulk/Doc Green, newly added Captain Britain and Amadeus Cho, as well as questionable members Black Bolt, Hank Pym, Doctor Strange, and Iron Man. As outlaws, they are on the run, and Cho is violently interrogated by S.H.I.E.L.D regarding the whereabouts of the other members of the Illuminati.
Avengers #37 shows the scale of this tale on the first page as 5 distinct Avengers teams are represented: S.H.I.E.L.D. Avengers, Multiversal Avengers, New Avengers, The Illuminati, and The Cabal. We learn that an aged Captain America is uncharacteristically emotional about everything going on, and he’s personally taken over as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. as they put everything they have into capturing the Illuminati.We also see that The Cabal has been sanctioned by the United Nations to destroy Incurring worlds in order to save the world. Things, to say the very least, are desperate, urgent, and all-around gloomy.
Finally, it’s revealed to Captain America that Sunspot bought A.I.M., and is using them to solve the Incursion problem. With so much to deal with, Captain America’s number one priority is still Tony Stark and Reed Richards. It’s personal. But, unbeknownst to Steve, his right-hand Sue Storm hasn’t betrayed her husband Reed at all, and is using her place at S.H.I.E.L.D. to help The Illuminati. It’s thick with drama.
New Avengers #26 shows Tony Stark imprisoned by The Cabal, tormented by Black Swan, but un-breaking in his determination to stop the Incursions.Doom continues to try and solve the Incursion problem, as well, alluding to the importance of (I can’t believe it either) The Molecule Man.
Avengers #38 has the New Avengers form again as Sunspot gives all the details to the newly formed team of Sunspot, Cannonball, Smasher, Manifold, Black Widow, Spider-Woman, Shang-Chi, Validator, POD, and the Zebra Kids, making for a really strong team. Shang-Chi, through the power of one of the Origin Bomb sites, has duplicated himself, creating a kung-fu army.
New Avengers #27 and we’re back to the Multiversal Avengers hunting down Incursion causers, like the Black Priests. In The Temple of the Black Priests, the Multiversal Avengers move against the world-destroyers before discovering that Doctor Strange is the new leader of the Black Priests. Thor, now unworthy, uses the Hammer of Thorr (an unworthy version of Mjolnir from an alternate universe) to decimate several Black Priests. It is here where the Multiversal Avengers choose between fighting Rabum Alal or The Ivory Kings, the outcome being important later.Avengers #39, New Avengers #28, and Avengers #40 is a roller coaster ride of the three different Avengers teams (New, S.H.I.E.L.D., and The Illuminati), and the newly appearing Mighty Avengers (Luke Cage, White Tiger, Spider-Man, Blue Marvel, She-Hulk, Power Man, and Spectrum) joining the fray for a 4 team epic Avenger on Avengers battle, culminating in a Sue Storm force field ceasefire and a grand discussion followed by cooperation and peace. The goal: To stop The Cabal.
With everyone working together, including Namor and Black Panther, the combined forces of the Avengers teams allow The Cabal to move to an Incurring Earth, but set up a barrier that does not allow them to escape the doomed planet.
In a final move of revenge, T’Challa stabs Namor for his crimes against Wakanda, and Namor falls to the incurring planet to share the same fate as his Cabal…which is NOT the intended outcome of death (more on that later).
New Avengers #29 gets into the 3rd and final act of this 3rd and final arc of Hickman’s run-up to Secret Wars, and it’s all about the will and ability of the greatest minds of the Marvel Universe. On one side we have Reed Richards, Captain America, and the rest of the Avengers coming to terms with what they know: There will be one final Incursion with another Earth, and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. On another side we have Doctor Doom and his still mysterious actions with The Thinker and the, oh so very important, Molecule Man. The issue ends with Hank Pym coming back from an intelligence gathering mission in the Multiverse, and the huge reveal that The Beyonders are in the game…but, they, of course, always have been.At this point you may want to read Hickman’s run on Ultimate Comics: Ultimates but all you really need to know is that Ultimate Reed Richards is an unstoppable man on a grand mission, and his new grand mission is saving The Ultimate Universe from Incursions.
Avengers #41 opens on the Ultimate Universe and the reveal that that universe’s Reed Richards has been single-handedly, and secretly, destroying Incurring Earths and saving the Ultimate Universe.
Meanwhile, the Galactic Council in the 616-Universe that was established during Infinity (see previous Primers) learns of the Incursion problem and the risk to the entire universe, and makes plans to destroy Earth.
Back in the Ultimate Universe at a recently discovered Incursion site, Reed Richards meets an interesting group of Multiverse hopping castaways, that we know as The Cabal.
New Avengers #30 is all about Hank Pym’s story about his travels through the Multiverse. While his tales of Multiversal warfare between Builders, Alephs, and Ex Nihilii was indeed epic, the important part is the reveal that The Beyonders have killed (destroyed) the Celestials, the timeless, (assumed) most powerful beings in all of creation. The Beyonders are destroying the Multiverse. The Beyonders are the Ivory Kings, mentioned by Black Swan on several occasions.
Avengers #42 build things more, by adding the X-Men to the cause in a sign of desperation against mounting odds, bringing the Guardians of the Galaxy into the fray through the oncoming Intergalactic Invasion force heading towards Earth and the Guardians vow to protect the planet, and more glimpses of the 616 Avengers getting things ready for the imminent threats, as well as the Ultimate Universe’s new Cabal (Reed Richards included) planning for the inevitable.
New Avengers #31 and New Avengers #32 begin to tie-up all of the loose ends Hickman needs tied up, while still providing all the epic reveals you need to get a true payoff from a story this huge.
Doctor Strange and his Black Priests invade the “Door to Other Worlds”, the pocket universe home of the religious zealots known as the Black Swans, and their leader, Rabum Alal, just like Thor and his Multiversal Avengers attacked the Beyonders. As Strange fights his way to Rabum Alal’s inner-sanctum, the Great Destroyer of Worlds, Leader of the Black Swans, and the most mysterious player in the entire story is finally revealed to be the one and only Doctor Doom. He became a god to the Black Swans, because it takes a god to kill a god, and Doom is set on killing The Beyonders.With Doctor Strange taking on Rabum Alal, the Multiversal Avengers sought out The Beyonders, and, in an epic battle, were able to destroy a handful of the god-like beings, only to be overwhelmed by hundreds of Beyonders, killing the entire team. Yes, Thor Odinson is dead! Things do not look good.
Avengers #43 sees the entirety of the combined Avengers teams come to terms with their current plight: An armada of spaceships coming to destroy Earth, the threat of the Beyonders, and a final Incursion looming on the horizon. They do the only thing they can do and ask the only man in the world capable of doing the impossible: Tony Stark. They free him from his prison and ALL of the Avengers are (finally!) back together to save the world. But, is it too late?Avengers #33 reveals all of the mystery behind what exactly Doctor Doom, AKA Rabum Alal, has been up to all this time, and it’s classic Doom.
With the help of The Thinker on engineering duties, and The Molecule Man helping make sense of the Multiverse (among other things), Victor von Doom travels with the Molecule Man to the moment of his change from lowly lab assistant to the character that at one point formed with the original Beyonder, the most integral aspect of this character to the story.Throughout the Multiverse there are different versions of the same characters in different universes. These differing versions resemble each other closely, but are not exactly the same…except the Molecule Man. He is exactly the same in every iteration of the Universe across every reality. The Beyonders used this aspect of the Molecule Man to act as a bomb that could be used to easily destroy the entire Multiverse simultaneously. However, The Beyonders’ original plan for this unique aspect of the Molecule Man’s power-set was to destroy ALL universes at once, a sort of self-destruct mechanism, with a 25 year timer. But, if a Molecule Man dies prematurely, the universe is saved. So, Doom’s plan, given to him by the Molecule Man, was to kill every alternate version of the Molecule Man in every reality to save the Multiverse. The Beyonders started the Incursions to overcome the loss of their Molecule Man bomb throughout the Multiverse. Also, in order to accomplish the goal of killing an infinite number of Molecule Men in an infinite number of universe, Doom became the leader of a cult, which became the Black Swans.
Doom, in his final push to destroy The Beyonders, realizes that his enemies weakness is in their inability to deviate from their own sequential timeline. Rabum Alal confronts The Beyonders, taunts them only as Doom would, and attempts to erase them from time altogether. The outcome is unknown, so we’ll have to wait for Secret Wars to see what happened to Doom.
New Avengers #44 shows the Avengers dealing with everything that’s been coming. Tony Stark’s partial Dyson’s Sphere uses its solar energy collection technology to vaporize the intergalactic fleet in orbit around Earth, while the phased Rogue Planet is used as a shield against the Sphere’s energy beams.
In the aftermath of the fight against the Intergalactic Armada, Steve Rogers finally confronts Tony Stark man-to-man about his lies. Donned in his very own Iron Man Armor, the two allies fight as the last alternate Earth in the Multiverse begins to Incur with their own.
Meanwhile, in the Ultimate Universe Reed Richards lets Nick Fury in on the Incursion problem and the fact that he’s been destroying Earths for months. Richards also introduces Fury to The Cabal and Thanos, who proceed to warn the S.H.I.E.L.D. leader against the next Earth set to Incur with the Ultimate Universe, a world full of “the greatest heroes ever seen,” and tells the alternate S.H.I.E.L.D. leader, “If you want your world to live, we must find a way to kill them all,” setting up the final Incursion, and the final setup for Secret Wars, The 616 Marvel Universe against the Ultimate Marvel Universe.
But What Does It All Mean, Man?!
Where is Doom and what was the outcome of his fight with the Beyonders?
Who will win in the final Fight Between Worlds as the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe fight to be the last remaining reality?
How does all of this lead to what we’ve seen of Secret Wars and the patchwork planet of different realities known as Battleworld?
I’ll try to have all of those answers for you with the 4th and final installment of our Secret Wars Primer: ‘A Brief Tour of Battleworld’.