Solve Everything: An Oral History of 2015’s Secret Wars and How It Came to Be

Event comics are designed to change the superhero universe they belong to. That’s their fundamental nature, acting as crescendos to recent, notable storylines. They’re also meant to sell comics, of course, but this usually feeds from that same transformative nature. “This story will change everything,” the marketing for each of these titles tells us, again and again.

The problem is this doesn’t always happen. Many events are just big stories with enough oomph to warrant a more significant focus – or even arcs elevated in hopes of goosing orders – rather than something with actual line-wide significance. The rarity of a true universe-changing event, though, can mean that when they do arrive, they have an outsized impact.

One of those – maybe even the biggest of them all – was 2015’s Secret Wars. This nine-part mini-series from writer Jonathan Hickman, artist Esad Ribić, colorist Ive Svorcina, and letterers Chris Eliopoulos and Clayton Cowles was the culmination of not just Hickman’s preceding Avengers and New Avengers run, but arguably the totality of his time at Marvel up until that point. 39 It told the story of Doctor Doom’s reign as a god on a newly remade Battleworld – built from Incursion points of other, destroyed Earths and filled with new versions of old favorites – as Reed Richards, Black Panther, Namor, and a small group of heroes (and villains) who still remembered what once was endeavored to end Doom’s reign and return the Earth to its rightful state.

It was a monster of a series, resulting in the temporary ending of Marvel’s entire line, the destruction of the Ultimate Universe, the migration of Miles Morales (and others) to Marvel’s primary 616 universe, the sunsetting of the bulk of the Fantastic Four for more than two and a half years, and an array of story points that continue onwards in Marvel stories to this day. It wasn’t just a big deal in theory either. It sold like gangbusters and had a deep impact on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, particularly Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. In short?

Secret Wars changed everything.

This is its story.

The story behind Secret Wars begins at a creative pinnacle for the publisher, when it was a “murderer’s row of fantastic talent,” per Hickman. 40 He was newer to the publisher, in the midst of Secret Warriors and in the process of developing S.H.I.E.L.D.. The writer viewed himself as the guy who was “hitting doubles” at a publisher that was “only doing home runs” at the time. 41

Jonathan Hickman (writer of Secret Wars, Avengers and New Avengers): I specifically remember the first time that Tom (Brevoort, his editor) and I ever uttered the words “Secret Wars.” He called me and I stopped the car and I was in a parking lot, like at the mall, and we were talking about what I could do going forward. I was trying to find a nook and cranny to fit inside of. And I told him, “I want to do Strikeforce: Morituri meets Exiles. That’s what I want to do. I want to do this book where everybody dies every issue, but each issue takes place in a different reality.” (laughs) 42

Tom Brevoort (editor of Secret Wars, Avengers and New Avengers): The event wasn’t the event at first. Secret Wars was an idea Jonathan had for a book, and it was relatively early.

Hickman: It’s a cool idea, right? But, where the hell does that fit in the Marvel publishing line? And that was what Tom’s response was. “I don’t know how we sell that book.” And I was like, “Well, we have to wrap it up in a high concept thing, and I don’t know, call it Secret Wars or something like that.” 43

Brevoort: He pitched me this idea of doing a book that would be called Secret Wars that would effectively be the book that New Avengers was. It would be the Illuminati, and they’d be dealing with these universal Incursions and having these battles and conflicts with these alternate worlds on a regular basis, and that would be the series.

Hickman: Tom was like, “That’s not a bad idea.” I remember at that point, I was like, “that’s not a bad idea.” And so, it just kind of grew out of that in the back of my head.

Shortly thereafter, Hickman found his corner with his acclaimed Fantastic Four run. But the Secret Wars idea was still there, lingering as something that might happen someday.

Brevoort: (Secret Wars) was something on the backburner as things developed. And he planted certain seeds in the Fantastic Four run to set that up.

From Fantastic Four #611, art by Ryan Stegman and Paul Mounts

Hickman: I started angling toward it and then, sometime in the Fantastic Four bits of it, I was like, “alright, I’m building towards a thing.” But it came out of a bizarro Exiles, Strikeforce: Morituri pitch. (laughs)

Brevoort: Almost nobody knows this, but the last issue of his Fantastic Four run 44 would have been the inciting incident to Secret Wars had it not happened in Avengers.

Hickman: It would have been inverted. 45 It would have been a Parliament of Doom story. The whole next chunk of Fantastic Four, if I would’ve stayed on that book, would have been a Rabum Alal and Doom, huge mythology story. It was just the other side of it. And then you would have realized that it was our Illuminati and our Earth.

Brevoort: That story was all about (how) Doom had been knocked into a universe, and he took over the universe. Reed and Nathaniel ended up there and they have a conflict with him, and by the end, that universe is destroyed. And theoretically, had things progressed from there, that would have been the inciting incident that began the Incursions happening.

Hickman: I had pieces of all of that inside the Fantastic Four machine that I built.

That changed as Avengers vs. X-Men was coming together and the powers that be decided it might be a good time to mix things up.

Hickman: That all happened because at a retreat one time, everybody was like, “Do we want to switch it up and everybody swaps books and redo the whole line?” I was one of the first people that was, “Yeah. Fuck it. If I’ve got to jump off Fantastic Four and do something else, that’s cool.” I didn’t know it was going to be Avengers.

Brevoort: When I presented that to him, he basically said to me, “Oh yeah, we can do that. I could come off of Fantastic Four and I’ll just do my Secret Wars book. We’ll just do it as New Avengers.” And that’s what we ended up doing.

Hickman: I like chaos and change and working in that kind of environment. I think it’s very conducive of interesting work.

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