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After the two-movie collision of franchises that is Avengers: Infinity War and its still-untitled follow-up, what could Marvel Studios do to raise the stakes? Joe and Anthony Russo have an idea, and even if it’s a joke, it’s still a feasible direction.
Asked during their appearance at the Collider-sponsored Avengers: Infinity War screening whether the upcoming Avengers 4 is likely to be their final outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the two directors had a surprising response, with Joe Russo telling the audience — seemingly in jest — that they’d stay away “until they’re ready to make Secret Wars.”
This may need some explanation for those unfamiliar with Marvel’s comic book output of the 1980s.
Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars was a comic book that ran throughout 1984 with a very simple concept: What if the company’s biggest heroes fought the company’s biggest villains, but nobody knew about it? The idea behind the series grew out of the title, which itself came from a toy company: Secret Wars was a tie-in to the similarly-named Mattel toy line, which featured characters like Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America and Iron Man, and was named as the result of market research that suggested that the words “Secret” and “War” scored highly with the target demo of young boys.
From that beginning, Marvel Comics’ then-editor-in-chief Jim Shooter built a story, illustrated for 12 issues by Captain America artist Mike Zeck and Iron Man’s Bob Layton, in which the heroes and villains were both kidnapped by an alien entity to fight for its entertainment, with the winning side gaining their hearts’ desires. It might not have stood up to a lot of scrutiny, but it was nonetheless massively successful, becoming one of Marvel’s top titles, with a sequel coming months after the final issue of the first run. (The toy line, by comparison, flopped.)
While movie audiences might not be ready to meet “The Beyonder” or watch an alien cat lady use her magic healing powers to make superheroes fall in love with her — really, Secret Wars is a strange comic book series — the basic notion of Secret Wars is an idea whose time has finally come.
After all, The Avengers — and, subsequently, Avengers: Infinity War — proved the appeal of gathering a team together of disparate heroes together for a common cause, but the same hasn’t been done on the big screen for villains in more than 50 years (1966’s Batman, I’m looking at you; Suicide Squad doesn’t really count, considering they were doing good despite themselves). The success of Infinity War almost certainly guarantees that we’ll see more mega-epic team-ups from Marvel in the future, so what else really fits the bill of a reason to bring them together again if not having to deal with a literal army of bad guys?
Obviously, the Macguffin behind the Secret Wars would have to be rethought, but that’s what Marvel Studios does — look at the treatment of the cinematic Thanos, the conflict in Civil War or simply the backstory of characters like Thor and Spider-Man for proof. What’s important isn’t why or how there’s a massive superhero/supervillain showdown, merely that the showdown happens at all.
It’s very likely that Russo was joking when he referenced Secret Wars — or, perhaps, referencing the 2015 storyline that reused the title for a story that was, if anything, even more epic in scope with the seeming destruction of the entire universe for Cosmic Reasons™ (It got better, don’t worry) — but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong, necessarily. Hey, Marvel Studios; once everyone has recovered from the Infinity Hangover, maybe it’s time to think about a Secret War or two, after all.
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