All we know so far about Secret Wars!

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Marvel last night revealed some more info about next year’s big event, Secret Wars. And of course, seeing as it’s written by Jonathan Hickman, it was in the form of an annotated map. Hickman is well known amongst his fanbase for his love of annotated diagrams and pictographs – the current run of Avengers is arguably based heavily on a few simple diagrams, and Image Comics’ East of West even got its own Atlas.

The Avengers roster. Things like this are in every Hickman book.

The Avengers roster. Things like this are in every Hickman book.

After revealing a teaser image of Secret Wars, drawn and painted in Alex Ross’s inimitable style, many were keen to point out three things:

1) “Those are all alternate versions of Marvel heroes!”
2)”Secret Wars has already been used as an event name!”
3) “There are no X-Men or Fantastic Four characters on there!”
(I also pointed out 4) “AGH the horrific clown in the top-right corner!” but that has yet to be explained other than it being Obnoxio the Clown.)
The teaser for Secret Wars. Look at the terrifying clown!

The teaser for Secret Wars. Look at the terrifying clown!

The first two points are valid- there ARE alternate versions of the heroes we know and love. There’s Iron Man 2020 for instance, seen most recently in Uncanny Avengers, and the Iron Avengers, Black Widow and Black Panther from the Earth X trilogy. We also see what appear to be American Dream and Stinger, a female Cap and daughter of Hank Pym respectively, from the short lived MC2 family of books.

And the title “Secret Wars” has been used two or three times before – BUT NOT TECHNICALLY. The first book to put those two words together was technically called Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars back in 1984, but understandably it was shortened and referred to informally as Secret Wars. The second was the less-well-remembered-and-not-as-good Secret Wars II published a year after the first one. Finally we have 2004’s entirely unrelated Secret War from 2004, which is supposedly based on a true story (no really).

The original title we have come to call Secret Wars featured the first appearance of Spider-Man's symbote suit.

The original title we have come to call Secret Wars featured the first appearance of Spider-Man’s symbiote suit.

So all in all, on a minor technicality, the title Secret Wars was never an official title of a Marvel book, but we all just use it as one anyway. Besides all that, the first point I mentioned, the alternate versions of heroes, lends itself to the second point. The original Secret Wars showed almost all the major players of the 1984 Marvel Universe spirited away by the omnipotent Beyonder to Battleworld – a mishmash of land masses from various planets from across the universe – to do battle for the ultimate power. This 2015 Secret Wars though, Marvel revealed, actually involved chunks of different Earths from various alternate realities smooshed together to make a new Battleworld, and that’s where we finally see the how it all connects.

Hickman’s work always tends to deal with “big picture” storylines. Pax Romana deals with the butterfly effect and time travel, East of West deals with the way the world works in a post apocalyptic America, and The Manhattan Projects is a love letter to the scientific pioneers of our world (albeit slightly more psychopathic) and how they changed the world. Basically, in all of these titles, the actions of a few end up affecting – for good or bad – the lives of countless others.

Similarly, alternate worlds is something Hickman and his Marvel fans are no stranger to. His run on Fantastic Four dealt with the multiversal “Council of Reeds” jaunting through countless realities, and Avengers/New Avengers see the Illuminati trying to cope with the ever increasing threat of Incursions – alternate Earths colliding with our own, resulting in the death of both universes. So far this has been avoided (with the main Earth 616, at least) but the threat isn’t going away soon, and we and our heroes are still none the wiser as to why this is even happening in the first place.

Pictured here: Many Reeds. The correct plural is "A Fantasy of Reeds"

Pictured here: The Council of Reeds. The correct plural is “A Fantasticness of Reeds”.

Marvel then began to drip feed us teasers over and over again, containing new twists on classic Marvel storylines/events, beginning with Civil War, and running through Age of Ultron vs Marvel Zombies, Age of Apocalypse,  Future Imperfect, House of M, X-Men ’92 and finally bringing us a simple two words – “Everything Ends”. (I’ll briefly go back to the third point I mentioned earlier – a lot of these teasers feature the X-Men, so it’s unlikely that Marvel is trying to shaft some of their best loved characters just because the movie rights are owned by Fox). “Everything Ends” has pretty much been the mantra of Avengers/New Avengers, as the Illuminati try to stave off the premature death of the Multiverse via incursions, and the Avengers have been trying to figure out what the hell it means when they are told that the “System is broken”.

These covers sparked debate over what the hell Marvel was playing at, but they finally tipped their hand with a short video revealing the new Battleworld, and that each of the teaser images – each from a parallel Earth – corresponded to a different territory in the map. It ended with “All – New” flashing above the marvel logo, further fuelling rumours of a reboot (but that’s a different story).

Today however the map was elaborated upon in an image detailing in (almost) entirety exactly which universe each territory came from. Some of them are familiar, such as the Ultimate Universe, New Quack City (home of Howard the Duck) and K’un Lun (training ground to Iron Fist). Some of them are less well known, such as Marville (from the eponymous satirical comicbook looking at common comic tropes). Others seem to be referencing storylines. King James’ England for instance may be the world we saw in Neil Gaiman’s 1602, an Elizabethan take on the Marvel Universe (incidentally, the whole plot of this book revolved around things happening “too early” – could this territory tie in to Avengers/New Avengers more directly than others?).

Interestingly though, three of the territories are Classified. It follows that if these were heretofore unseen universes, there would be no need to classify them, as we wouldn’t realise their relevance; the fact their names have been redacted leads me to believe, personally, that these are places we have already seen in the past – but what could they be?

Battleworld, the setting for Secret Wars

Battleworld, the setting for Secret Wars.

Secret Wars seems to be the culmination of several years of storytelling by Hickman (despite DC also doing a very similar story around the same time with Convergence). This Battleworld can only logically be (at least, from what we know so far) the result of a particularly disastrous incursion event, possibly resulting in the destruction of all of reality save for this handful of realms – after all, the Everything Ends teaser stated Spring 2015, and everything else says Summer 2015…

Secret Wars #1 hits stores May 2015, written by Jonathan Hickman, pencilled by Esad Ribic, with covers by Alex Ross.

The cover of Issue #1 of Secret Wars (May 2015)

The cover of Issue #1 of Secret Wars (May 2015).