Sometime during Jonathan Hickman’s ambitious three year Avengers’ epic, arguably seven years if you include his Fantastic Four run, a term emerged among his fans; “In Hickman, We Trust.” Hickman, notorious for his grand plans and often criticized for slowly unraveling them, asked Marvel and their readers to put their faith in him. Marvel did just that when they tasked him with reshaping the entire Marvel Universe. Their end goal was Secret Wars, an event which would destroy and rebuild the Marvel multiverse. Was this trust in Hickman well-placed? Let’s take an in-depth look at Hickman’s grand finale.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Esad Ribic
C. Artist: Alex Ross
Colorist: Ive Svorcina
Production: Idette Winecoor (Issues 2, 4-9)
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos (1-4, 6, 8) & Clayton Cowles (5, 7, 9)
Editors: Tom Brevort & Will Moss & Jon Moisan & Alanna Smith
Editor-In-Chief: Axel Alonso
Articled Edited by: Brian Bradley
Need to Know (Hickman’s Avengers/New Avengers): The Beyonders decided it was time to end the multiverse. They created Owen Reece, the Molecule Man, and split him into an infinite number spread over the multiverse, a bomb to destroy it. In an attempt to counter this, Victor Von Doom created a religion and gathered followers to travel through space time and prematurely detonate Owen Reeces in hopes of saving the universe. This failed, but with Doctor Strange at his side, Doom took on the Beyonders directly and stole their power.
As this was going on, Reed Richards and his Illumunati tried to stop incursions. These were the physical manifestation of the universes collapsing because of the Molecule Man bombs, with Earth as ground zero. When the Illumunati failed to find a nonviolent solution, they split and Thanos, the Mad Titan, created his Cabal (Namor, Black Swan, Maximus the Mad, Terrax, Corvius Glaive and Proxima) and preemptively destroyed other universes. Despite their more brutal efforts, they too failed.
Secret Wars: The final incursion of the Marvel Universe occurred, smashing together Earth 616 and Earth 1610, the Ultimate universe. Reed Richards and Black Panther built a life raft and saved a few survivors from the 616 world (Captain Marvel, Star-Lord, Spider-Man, Thor and a Phoenix-infused Cyclops.) However, Reed lost his family.
Aboard his own life raft, the Maker, a sinister version of Reed Richards from Earth 1610, saved Thanos and his Cabal. Unbeknownst to them, Miles Morales snuck aboard the life raft. Both life rafts became lost in space and time as the multiverse ceased to exist.
Wielding the powers of the defeated Beyonders, Victor Von Doom created Battleworld, a new domain created from the remains of salvaged universes. Here he ruled as God. Stephen Strange served as his second and a coalition of Thors enforced Doom’s laws. Unable to find any trace of Reed Richards, Victor took his place as head of the Future Foundation, married Susan Storm and claimed her children as his own. He dismantled Battleworld’s Fantastic Four, Franklin Storm replacing Reed. He used the rebellious Johnny Storm as the sun of Battleworld and transformed Ben Grimm into The Wall, a structure which separated the “civilized nations” of Battleworld from the Deadlands, a land infested with zombies, the Ultron virus and the Annihilation Wave.
As Doom struggled to keep order of his Battleworld, the Future Foundation discovered the Cabal’s life raft. To confront the Cabal, Doctor Strange awoke the dormant heroes of the 616. The two groups of survivors engaged one another and drew the attention of Doom. Strange scattered the remaining survivors to different corners of the Battleworld at the cost of his own life.
Black Swan rejoined her religious leader, Doom and helped him capture Corvius and Proxima. The Reeds found each other and began to plot Doom’s downfall. They enlisted the two Spider-Men, Star-Lord, Black Panther and Namor to aid in their machinations. The Spider-Men discovered that the Molecule Man was funneling the Beyonders’ powers into Doom. Panther and Namor located an Infinity Gauntlet. Thanos convinced Ben Grimm to stand up and challenge Doom. Maximus united the rebellious Nations of Battleworld. Thor joined the ranks of Doom’s Thor Corps and she rallied his defenders against him.
With the plan in motion, all groups converged on Doom’s castle. A massive Ben tore through Doom’s forces but was stopped by Franklin Von Doom and his Galactus. During the commotion, Star-Lord piloted the Reeds into Castle Doom where he planted a splinter of Groot in the World Tree. Groot, as the World Tree, expanded within Castle Doom and destroyed it. Infuriated, Doom entered the battle and made quick work of Thanos and the rebels. Black Panther and Namor appeared next with the Infinity Gauntlet and an army of the dead to confront Doom.
While the massive war raged on, the Reeds rushed to Molecule Man’s secret holding chamber. There, the Maker tried to kill Reed but Molecule Man killed the Maker instead. Outside in the battlefield, Doom realized it was all a distraction. He teleported to Molecule Man’s chambers for a final confrontation with Reed Richards. To balance the fight, Molecule Man took away Doom’s power. In the end, Reed beat Doom when Victor admitted that Reed would have done a better job of saving the universe and wielding the powers of the Beyonders.
Upon hearing Doom’s confession, Molecule Man transferred the cosmic powers to Reed and undid Battleworld.
In the end, Black Panther used the Time Gem to travel back to Wakanda before the first incursion occurred in the pages of New Avengers #1. He vowed to do the right thing this time around. In the New York of the new Marvel Prime universe, Peter and Miles began their official Spider-tutelage, while in Latveria, Victor Von Doom revealed a non-scarred, smiling face. Somewhere else entirely, with his family and the Future Foundation looking on, Reed used his new powers, along with Franklin’s reality manipulation ability, to rebuild the Marvel multiverse. Together they would map the new worlds they created; not just as scientists, but as a family.
Earth’s Mightiest Destruction: Secret Wars started with a massive death toll. Marvel’s two central universes, Earth-616 and the Ultimate Universe, were destroyed. It was fitting that Hickman and Esad Ribic were the ones to end it since their series, The Ultimates, kicked off this long winding chain of events back in August 2011 that evolved into Hickman’s Avengers run. Hickman’s run on the Avengers books, which began in 2012, served as the basis for the first chapter of Secret Wars. The incursions and the Avengers books seemed to exist for two reasons: to set the stage for the grand finale and to prove that Earth’s Mightiest Heroes could fail. But there was still hope for survival, in both the best and the worst of the Marvel Universe.
Fantastic Foray: Despite his appearance in the universally-panned Fantastic Four reboot, Victor Von Doom could arguably have been 2015’s character of the year. When Reed Richards’ Illuminati failed to save the world during the final incursion, Doom, used the powers of the Beyonders and Owen Reece (the Molecule Man) to salvage pieces of the multiverse.
In the second issue, Jonathan Hickman introduced readers to a newly elected member of Doom’s Thor Corps. Hickman used this Thor as an audience surrogate, to introduce them to the laws and politics of Battleworld, which played out a lot like Game of Thrones in the Marvel Universe. This was an effective way to show the power of Emperor God Doom and how the world was shaped in his image. Doom’s Godhood, and the effect it had on him, would be the crux of this story.
In addition to Doom’s internal struggle, Hickman used Secret Wars to revisit the oldest rivalry in the Marvel Universe. While Doom was rising high, Hickman presented Reed at his lowest. Reed was forced to admit that Doom succeeded where he had failed but Reed found purpose in this defeat.
The Maker, Reed’s evil doppelganger, served as a warning for if he ever became untethered to his humanity, as Doom had done. Through his journey in Battleworld, Reed came to accept that Doom had not taken his family from him and that Victor, in his own way, had tried his best to save everyone. This humbling understanding allowed Reed to evolve and made him determined to take his life back.
The final fight between Reed and Doom perfectly flipped the dueling ideologies of the rivals, this time displaying Reed’s arrogance and Victor’s heroism. In the end, Hickman showed how both characters were forced to accept each other’s strengths, as well as their weaknesses. Doom faced and accepted his own fallibility while Reed learned to forgive and respect someone he hated.
Hickman skillfully laid the groundwork for this finale throughout his epic run as a Marvel architect. He culled the supporting cast of Secret Wars from his time with the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. If this was truly the last Fantastic Four story, then it was essential that allies such as Spider-Man, Namor and Black Panther appear. They all had important roles to play in the series. But while the Fantastic Four stable of characters shined, other characters felt wasted and shoehorned in to fill space. Captain Marvel and two-thirds of the Cabal had little to do, and Cyclops, as well as Thanos, only existed to prove Doom’s divine power when he struck them both down.
The Secret Wars tie-in comics told stories which took place in the different districts of Battleword. Much like some of the characters in the main event could have been omitted, so too could some of these miniseries. Most series had little to do with the main event, except to establish Doom’s tenuous control over his crumbling world.
Artistic Affinity: Hickman’s grand story grew from eight issues to nine partway through its release and his artists still managed to match his epic’s massive scale. Ribic’s artwork was not flawless, his facial work in particular was not always on point, but he put in a lot of work for Secret Wars, which made the delays in publishing worthwhile. Adding the ninth issue required rewriting and reworking some of the earlier artwork, but Ribic still delivered nine beautiful issues within eight months. The last Marvel event penciled by just one artist was Civil War in 2006 and Steven McNiven only produced seven issues in nine months.
The artwork in Secret Wars benefited greatly from the art team’s consistency and decision to not use fill-in artists. Ribic handled the lion share of the artwork, but colorist Ive Svorcina and letterer Chris Eliopoulos played their own pivotal parts. Production artist Idette Winecoor and letterer Clayton Cowles were brought in to provide support on issues which had to be readjusted due to the altered release schedule. Despite the delays, Ribic and the art team still delivered amazing panels up into the final issue. One highlight in particular was the fight between Black Panther and Doom where Ribic artfully captured their reality-altering battle. The checkerboard mosaic of Doom and Reed’s merged mugshots was another emotionally expressive piece of work.
Your Friendly, Neighborhood Spider-Men: Examining the purpose of each survivor, I came to a conclusion. Peter Parker was in this event, almost entirely to help facilitate Miles Morales to the new Marvel Prime universe. Hickman had no time to introduce Miles to the other Marvel heroes, so Peter helped establish Miles’ credentials in order to skip this ordeal. And not only did Secret Wars introduce Miles to more of the classic characters, but it also established that Marvel Prime could handle another hero worthy of the Spider-Man mantle, one approved by Peter Parker Prime himself.
Peter and Miles brought a lot of humor to Secret Wars, and their scene with Owen Reece was probably the funniest in the whole series. It was a vital interaction for Miles, since he was the only person in Battleworld that shared food with the starving Molecule Man. As thanks, Owen Reece brought Miles’ mother back from the dead, as seen in the Ultimate End tie-in series; not a bad bargain for a three week old hamburger.
Everything Lives: So what changed in the aftermath of Secret Wars? Well, Miles Morales is now a part of the Marvel Prime. Most of Miles’ supporting cast make the move as well. The biggest inclusion is the revival of Rio Morales, Miles’ mother. Miles was the one person on all of Battleworld that fed the starving Owen Reece.
It’s my working theory that anybody who appeared in Ultimate Spider-Man and wasn’t a new take on an old character, made it over. That means Ganke, Bombshell, Miles’ family, and we even get Kong over in Starbrand and Nightmask. The one exception to this rule is The Maker is now kicking around in the Marvel Prime, but there’s a caveat; with no Prime Reed Richards, maybe he’s meant to fill the void?
The other big thing is Reed, Sue, Franklin, and Valeria Richards are now travelers of the Multiverse, mapping out the universe as they create it. They’ve got the cast of the Future Foundation with them, but they left Ben and Johnny behind so they could continue their lives in the Marvel Prime. God Reed and Franklin are now the architects of the Marvel Universe, which feels fitting after everything Hickman has put them through. This unfortunately meant the end of the Fantastic Four, but this is comics; nothing is ever permanent.
The events of Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers have been undone, thanks to Black Panther using the Time Gem to go back in time and rewrite them so things work out better (The Eight Months later period replacing the time period of Hickman’s Avengers.) It’s a very Doctor Who solution, but it’s one that works for the most part. Hickman never made his Avengers books a title where characters evolved drastically, he always just used them as they were at the time (Remender made Old Cap, AXIS made evil Tony, and so on.) So erasing the events of his run doesn’t create too many plot holes. The only two I can think of at this time is what replaces Black Bolt releasing the Terrigan Mists in Infinity (possibly the bombing Cyclops is guilty of) and what leads to Sunspot buying AIM and leading the Avengers as he does towards the end of Hickman’s run.
While most of the Marvel Universe has forgotten the events, a few remember. Singularity, Old Man Logan, the Squadron Supreme are all survivors of Battleworld. The last page also implies that Doom remembers his time as God and the experience will lead to him pursuing a more heroic life over in Invincible Iron-Man. The big one is Black Panther, who clearly remembers and creates the Ultimates and a space faring Alpha Flight, in place of the New Avengers/Illuminati. This is fitting, since Black Panther drove the events of Hickman’s run as much as Reed Richards.
Verdict: So did it all work? For the most part, yes. I feel the creators (Hickman/Ribic/Svorcina) succeeded to a greater extent than Marvel did. The Multiverse isn’t gone like was teased, but there were causalities and evolutions and the Marvel 616 as we knew it is gone in place of a brighter Marvel Prime Universe. Everyone involved, from creators to editors to management should be commended. They shared a vision for a new Marvel Universe and despite some hiccups, they stuck with this vision to the end. It was fitting that Marvel’s First Family is the one to save it from the death of everything.
(I actually have a more in depth review of Secret Wars, focusing on the grand accumulation of Hickman’s Marvel career, over at the Mixed Marvel Arts word press account)