Marvel’s big Secret Wars mega-storyarc is coming soon, and if you’ve been following Jimmy Impossible’s posts, you’ve probably gotten a lot of information on what worlds and zones are going to exist and a few of the more recent steps leading to the start of this epic storyline. But Jimmy hasn’t been reading Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers/New Avengers work from the beginning. I have. Jimmy actually goes out sometimes.
Secret Wars looks to be an epic story in the making, and Hickman’s been setting this thing up for the past couple years. People who skipped those steps and jump right into Secret Wars might feel a little lost since they missed the preliminaries.
So, as a public service, here’s what you need to know from the build-up to Secret Wars. SPOILERS behind the cut.
Hickman’s been building to this event story in two different Avengers-related titles, namely Avengers and New Avengers. At the end of the first Avengers three part arc, Hickman used his narration to state that Captain America and Iron Man were both going to represent different aspects in the same upcoming crisis. Cap would represent life. Iron Man would represent death. With Iron Man spending time with the Illuminati over in New Avengers, that book was the one representing death.
Overview of both Avengers books.
Avengers featured one of the largest Avengers team line-ups in ages, and Hickman managed to actually juggle all of his original team well with one noteworthy exception (Wolverine didn’t get much to do). Avengers was largely traditional super heroics. AIM was a major problem, and the series began with a crisis on Mars. More on that in a bit.
New Avengers dealt with the Illuminati searching for a way to deal with the cosmic crisis of Incursions. Again, more on that in a bit. Incursions were universe killers, and that series was far more philosophical, as the series put traditionally heroic figures into impossible moral conundrums, and showed how well they dealt with a terrible burden entirely in secret.
Of the two, I think New Avengers came off better. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that prior to this, I never cared much for the Illuminati. The group seemed to be made up of either the dullest or driest characters from their respective teams. Iron Man and Dr. Strange were characters I was generally indifferent to. I never really liked Namor. Black Bolt only really works with the rest of the Inhumans. Hickman made the group work for me.
As it is, chronologically, though the books premiered at the same time, the story started in New Avengers.
The Illuminati form
One day T’Challa, the Black Panther, former king of Wakanda, sees a spot of red sky over the jungle. While investigating, he comes across a woman, pale white in skin and hair, black of attire, and a man she calls the Manifold. There’s a second Earth in the sky. The Manifold lets it be known his powers are not working. The woman, Black Swan, tells him that’s because he’s not in his native universe anymore. She kills him and soon after the second Earth is destroyed. The Panther manages to subdue her and takes her to the Necropolis, where he is King of the Dead. Then he reluctantly calls the Illuminati together, a group he in the past refused membership to, but are currently the holders of the Infinity Gems. They are Captain America, Iron Man, Reed Richards, Hank “Beast” McCoy in the place of the deceased Professor Xavier, Black Bolt, and Namor.
Namor is a problem since, during the Avengers vs. X-Men series, he attacked and flooded Wakanda while possessed by a portion of the Phoenix Force. The Panther had sworn vengeance but needs the Atlantean king…for now.
The group eventually learns who Black Swan is: she is one of many, serving someone called Rabum Alal. All of them are female. All of them are the last survivors of their respective universes. Incursions are coming. This event occurs when the Earths of two different universes come onto a collision course. If the two Earths meet, both universes die.
Reed Richards gives a speech early on. He says he accepts that everything dies, but he will not accept dying in this manner. This speech will reoccur multiple times throughout the series from a variety of characters.
Soon after, the Illuminati start dealing with Incursions. They get lucky. They use the Infinity Gauntlet to stop one, but all the gems except the Time Gem burst into nothingness. The Gauntlet was only good once. Captain America then objects to what he figures the others are planning, namely building world-destroying machines. He isn’t wrong. He’s too moral for the group, so the rest of them decide to wipe his memories of the whole thing. Dr. Strange does so and sends Cap on his way.
A second Incursion occurs later, and this time the Illuminati arrive in time to see that universe’s Galactus consuming the Earth to prevent the disaster. They capture his herald, Terrax, and lock him up in a cell next to Black Swan.
The Avengers reform.
Shortly after Cap’s mind wipe, biological weapons appear to be launched from Mars to Earth. Cap, waking up from nightmares of the Illuminati erasing his memories, seeks out Iron Man. Seeing a crisis, they call the Avengers to investigate the sudden appearance of a jungle on Mars, while the projectiles seem to be altering any life they come in contact with on Earth.
The Avengers line-up is identical to the movie: Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. Arriving on Mars, they encounter three beings, a pair of demigods and a robot. The demigods are Ex Nihilio, a male being with life-based powers and Abyss, a female being with shadow-based powers. The robot raised them and is called an Aleph. The trio easily beat the Avengers. Cap is beaten and put back on the quinjet and sent back to Earth as a warning.
Obviously, it doesn’t take. All Cap does is gather the rest of the Avengers he and Iron Man had previously assembled: Falcon, Spider-Woman, Captain Marvel, Wolverine, Spider-Man, former New Mutants Sunspot and Cannonball, a teleporter called Manifold, Shang-Chi, a Hyperion (a Superman-expy), a human Smasher of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, and Captain Universe. Now fully stocked, Cap and Co. easily beat the trio on Mars, destroying the Aleph and leaving the other two to run their jungle for the time being. The trio had created a being of their own, a man that was eventually known as Nightmask. The Avengers take Nightmask with them. Ex Nihilio asks what kind of world they come from that could resist them so effectively.
Cap replies, “It’s an Avengers world.”
A bit more on Ex Nihilio and Abyss. The two were a pair created by a race known as the Builders. Ex Nihilio had told the captured Thor that the Builders are the original sentient race in the universe. And they may be coming back. Before his defeat, Ex Nihlio had launched a series of projectiles towards Earth. Each was intended to do one task normally performed by a living being, such as sentience, self-repair, self-sustenance, and so forth. Five landed in population zones, doing things to the native life there. One landed in the Savage Land. The Avengers know about these six.
A seventh landed in an isolated part of the world. AIM found it. The Avengers don’t know about that one…yet.
Backstory is given for three of the new Avengers after this. All three are at least partially relevant to the future of the story.
- Smasher is the first human to be inducted into the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. Isadore “Dizzy” Dare can act as a liaison between the Shi’ar and the Avengers. Her grandfather was a wartime buddy of Captain America. The Shi’ar appear to have an invasion on their hands that the Avengers assist with. It turns out in the end it wasn’t really an invasion. The invaders were actually refugees attempting to violently take a new home. Someone else had forced them away from their home world.
- Hyperion is the sole survivor of his universe. He tried to stop an Incursion by physically holding the two Earths apart. It didn’t work. He was found by AIM floating in a timeless void until the Avengers rescued him. He will become close friends with Thor.
- Captain Universe is a cosmic force that attaches itself to various people in times of need. The current one is attached to a woman who had been in a bad car accident and lost her daughter. She suffered some brain damage which occasionally shows in Captain Universe. Shang-Chi appears to be acting as a therapist/student for her. She says the universe is dying.
That’s how it all begins.
Next week: Doom gets involved, Black Swan’s backstory, and a White Event hits Earth.