Looking Back Monday!

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These days, huge events are so constant that you probably can’t even remember a time when “event” comics were not something that happened every year.  Characters just had guest spots in each other’s series for a quick “blow to blow” – the non-dirty kind.  A quick tussle or two and then the respective heroes were back to their own titles.  The more organic events are some of the most memorable, The Infinity Gauntlet, Planet Hulk and others, but the forced events – the ones that were more fabricated for other reasons lay to the wayside… except The Secret Wars.  The first event of it’s kind – Marvel pulled all the A-listers for this one!  Hulk, Spidey, Thor and Iron Man – they are all there!  That’s not all either – they had biggest baddies too – Doom, Kang, Ultron, Galactus!  How does this story hold up over time?  Read on, my friends…

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Why did Marvel decide to take the biggest heroes of the time and put them on a “Battle Planet” together to duke it out with a fierce group of baddies?  Well, you can say it started with revenge.  Not violent or malicious revenge – but revenge.  Let me explain, around the time of 1983 Mattel came to Marvel to ask about making a toy line from some of their characters – but only because they had just lost the bid on making the DC characters to Kenner.  Mattel didn’t just want to make action figures though – they needed something more – a REASON to make all these characters from molded plastic.  Having their own comics series was not enough, apparently.  Mattel told Marvel that they would love to make figures from their characters as long as they created an event for all of them – and that event had to be called “Secret War” because they tested that phrase out on adolescents and they seemed to respond favorably to it.  That was all it took –  kids liked the words “Secret” and “War” so that was what it was to be called.

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Who am I?  You don't get out to Colorado often do you?  I am the talk of the town there!

Who am I? You don’t get out to Colorado often do you? I am the talk of the town there!

Mattel couldn’t care less about the plot or the specifics of the story – they just needed something to tie them all together.  They also asked for some re-designs of the classic costumes so that making the toys would be easier (not to mention cheaper) as they could use the same bodies for multiple characters.  Changing the current costumes was something Marvel was readily able to do, which led to one lasting change to the MU – Spider-Man’s black costume.  The story, for better or worse, also led to some of the most memorable scenes in Marvel Comics history including one where the Hulk held up an entire mountain side saving his fellow heroes.  It showed just how ruthless and devious Doctor Doom could truly be and how little human life meant to most of the villains.  It also showed us how terrible Jim Shooter was at writing a realistic love story between heroes – and even a worse writer at the tried and true bachelor that Johnny Storm was.  He successfully made the Wasp one of the most annoying characters in the whole saga – and that includes all of the villains – which is tried and true to her grating personality from the 60’s.

I am so used to hearing this from women when I drop my trousers...

I am so used to hearing this from women when I drop my trousers…

While the story had a few memorable moments – most of the story, including the mysterious ring leader, the Beyonder, is forgettable.  Reading it again 20 years after my initial delve into this story I was shocked I forgot some of the little tidbits in there – for example: when the Beyonder ripped pieces from all different planets to create the Battle Planet he also ripped off Denver, Colorado from the Planet Earth.  Colorado?  How odd – because it coincidentally housed a yet to be discovered heroine named “Spider-Woman” – but not the already discovered Spider-Woman…

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Not to mention, the Hulk had Bruce Banner’s brain for the duration of the series – although he could feel him slipping away and the savage persona coming out.  Overall, if you haven’t read it, you have to read this for yourself (bad lingo and all) as it is the first event of its kind for Marvel – if you have read it – you have to read it again just to grasp what I am talking about!

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The unfortunate part of it all is that Mattel was so stingy on producing toys for this line that, not only was it a merchandising failure, but we never even had a Hulk (or any of the larger characters) action figure to look back on!  There is a Constrictor figure (even though he never appeared in the mini) but good luck snagging one below a c-note.  Ultimately, Mattel didn’t give the attention to this line that it deserved and it quickly was cancelled.  But because of this pairing we were treated the start of “event” comics – which, for good or bad, love them or hate them, have given us some of the biggest and memorable moments in Marvel history.  So, what did you think of this historic event?  What do you remember – in your opinion – does it hold up over time?  As for me, it gets a grade of C+

One of the best "continuation" stories of Secret Wars - this is a must read!

One of the best “continuation” stories of Secret Wars – this is a must read!

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8 responses to “Looking Back Monday!

  1. I will always view this story line through the eyes of myself at the age I was when it came out. I realize the writing was not the best but my memories of the story and the figures are fantastic. I remember my best friend and I going to the corner store almost every day hoping for the next issue to come out. Between the two of us, we had the entire story (whoever had money would buy the next issue). This story will always be great in my mind. I refuse to look at it differently – call it holding onto my youth or something … I don’t know. We also got the action figures and played with them until the paint came off. The only disappointing thing of the entire SW saga was the lack of a Hulk figure. I looked for one well after the story and figures were done, assuming I had just missed it at the store.

    http://www.jadegiant.com

    • I know what you’re saying JG – but I am telling you – this is a tough read to get through nowadays. Especially since the writing has gotten so much better!

      Don’t get me wrong – plenty of good came out of this event… so you have to take the bad with the good

    • It has been a few years since I read this but I will give my thoughts. It was not half as bad as I had expected to be. Not a great story but not a terrible one just average. Some of Shooter’s dialogue was sounded bad. That was probably his weakest skill in this story. And I agree that worst part of the plot was the Wasp Magneto romance with some of the worst dialogue of the entire min series. Captain America is the best developed character in this series. It is odd however that he would suspect Dr Doom’s motives before Reed Richards. If anyone should have noticed that the first thing Doom did with his power was restore it should have been Richards himself.
      The did go on longer than it needed to and would have been better with only 7 or 8 issues.

      On the Hulk’s involvement. The mountain scene was referenced in a early issue of Planet Hulk. I am not sure which one. You should post some pictures of that issue on here. In the letter page of the early Hulk 300s the editor said that Banner’s loss of control was not just due to Nightmare but what happened during Secret Wars. I could not really understand that. Nightmare was already involved prior to this and there was nothing personally affecting Bruce in this mission. What are your thoughts?

  2. I hear you! I just put on the nostalgia lens when reading every 10 years or so

  3. Pingback: Guess Who Was Behind the Classic Secret Wars? | Bruce Banner Fan Site

  4. Ratchet, I have to correct you. The year was 1984. I was too young to read at the time but having read and talked about these stories with many people the year should be 1984. The tag and the text say 1984

    There was quite a bit of information that was new to me about Mattle and their relationship with Marvel. They came up with the idea of black costume? That certainly affected later Spider-Man stories for years in ways they never would guessed at that time.

  5. They released everything in 1984 Zeno – but Mattel approached Marvel about this event the year prior (1983) – and that info comes straight from the Secret Wars Omnibus.

    Also, Mattel wanted some costume changes so that making the toys would be easier – hence Doom’s getup in this series – but Marvel wanted to make this series special so they decided to change Spider-Man’s costume. And as a side note – Marvel held a contest to change Spidey’s costume and a 12 year kid came up with the black costume idea. He was paid $225 for his design – that later became Venom – and one of the most memorable alternative costumes ever!

  6. Pingback: Guess Who Was Behind the Classic Secret Wars? | Philip Tomlinson

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