Marvel's 'Secret Wars': What Newcomers Need to Know

Is the end of Marvel's comic book universe a good place to start reading?
Alex Ross/Marvel Entertainment

For those not versed in the minutiae of comic books, Marvel Entertainment's Secret Wars is a potentially confounding proposition. For all the publicity about "the end of the Marvel Universe," and this week's revelation that the events of the Wars will lead to the cancellation of 33 series, newcomers looking to jump onboard Marvel's comic line with the start of the series might be wondering what the hell is going on. Here's a quick primer.

What is Secret Wars about?

The opening of Secret Wars is actually the ending of a storyline that's been running in the New Avengers series since the end of 2013. That series established the existence of a cosmic phenomena known as "incursions," which pushed parallel Earths into the same space, resulting in the destruction of both worlds if one of the planets isn't destroyed within a certain amount of time.

Secret Wars opens with the final incursion — the "Marvel Universe" Earth interacting with the "Ultimate Universe" Earth — and, as revealed by Marvel's Tom Brevoort, goes on to reveal that the heroes of both worlds are unsuccessful in preventing the destruction of both. The result is that the worlds as readers know them "end," only to be replaced by the creation of something called Battleworld, made up of fragments of other dimensions, complete with each dimension's version of familiar characters. What happens after that remains to be seen.

Does this mean that he 33 cancelled comics take place on one of the worlds that gets destroyed?

Yes, as do the other series that will continue during the run of Secret Wars, bearing a "Last Days" banner. That is one of three brandings for series that will be tying into the Secret Wars event in one way or another. The "Last Days" designation will denote storylines in the series that will take place before the destruction of the Earth (and, technically, before Secret Wars itself). Series with "Last Days" banners include Ms. Marvel, Magneto and Loki, Agent of Asgard.

The other two brandings are "Battleworld" and "Warzone," both of which denote stories taking place on Battleworld itself during the events of the Secret Wars series proper. According to Marvel Senior VP of Sales, David Gabriel, "Battleworlds" titles are focused on "the core continuity" of the Secret Wars storyline and world, while "Warzones" series are "the building blocks of the Marvel Universe… which are laying foundations for a new Marvel Universe."

Wait — if 33 comics are cancelled for Secret Wars, what are these banners going to appear on?

Because comic book stores, like nature, apparently abhor a vacuum, Marvel has announced more than 30 new series to replace the titles that are disappearing. These new series will take place in the various alternate realities that make up the new Battleworld, and launch from May throughout the summer. The titles already announced are (deep breath): 1602: Witch Hunter Angela; 1872; A-Force; Age of ApocalypseAge of Ultron vs. Marvel ZombiesAmazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows; Armor Wars; Battleworld; Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps; Deadpool's Secret Secret Wars; E is for Extinction; Future Imperfect; Ghost Racers; Giant-Size Marvel: AVX; Guardians of Knowhere; Inferno; The Infinity Gauntlet; Korvac Saga; Marvel Zombies; Master of Kung-Fu; M.O.D.O.K Assassin; Old Man Logan; Planet Hulk; Runaways; Secret Wars 2099; Secret Wars Journal; Spider-Verse; Squadron Sinister; Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde; Thors; Ultimate EndWeirdworld; Where Monsters Dwell; X-Tinction Agenda; X-Men '92; and Years of Future Past.

It's uncertain at this point whether more new titles will be announced for future months. If nothing else, no Civil War comic book has been announced yet, and that was one of the first teases released for Secret Wars last year.

Do readers have to read all of those comics to know what's going on?

It's unlikely, to say the least; if nothing else, the cost of keeping up with all of the Secret Wars titles each month would be overwhelming. (For June, the latest month for which Marvel has released details, it would cost $205.49 to buy all Secret Wars titles — assuming you weren't also trying to purchase variant covers, which could cost more.)

Over the last few years, the "central" storyline for any Marvel comic book event has been limited to the series bearing the event's name, with perhaps another couple of peripheral titles considered equally "essential." Given the "alternate worlds" nature of Secret Wars, it's likely that only Secret Wars will be must-read material for the future of the Marvel Universe, although the "Warzones" branded series might be considered second-tier in that direction.

The bottom line:

Considering both the similarity of the "reality ends" storyline of Secret Wars to earlier DC Entertainment comic books like Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zero Hour, and the fact that common sense suggests that Marvel won't be without a Captain America comic by the time that next year's Captain America: Civil War is released, it's probable that the "Battleworld" setting is only temporary ahead of a resetting or reboot of the Marvel Universe at the end of Secret Wars. If that's the case, then Secret Wars isn't a great place for any newcomer — or someone who's been a fan of the movies but isn't too familiar with the comic books — to jump in. Why start with a temporary version of events with a distorted version of characters that's different than they appear elsewhere in pop culture? It especially doesn't make a lot of sense to jump in with Wars since the event has its origins in a story that's already been running for close to two years by that point?

Instead, the real jumping-on point will be whatever follows Secret Wars. If September brings a reboot, then there's a real ground zero for everyone to start with. And in the highly unlikely possibility that there isn't a reboot, there will always be collected editions and digital back issues to fall back on for the full story of the Marvel Universe.

Secret Wars launches in May.

Read more Marvel SVP Names 33 Comic Book Series Ending as a Result of 'Secret Wars' Event

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