Hard-Traveling Fanboys: The Rundown (Marvel’s Secret Wars)

Mild-mannered reporters by day, Greg Phillips and Nick Duke share an intense love of comic books that has made them the Hard-Traveling Fanboys. And with that intense love comes an appetite for the latest news from the comic book world. Each month, in The Rundown, the Fanboys will run down their top news and notes from the comic book world.

Nick: Yeah, yeah, we know it’s been a while since we’ve been around with a Rundown. But, if we’re going to bring it back, it better be for something big, something earth-shattering, something…. universe-ending. And that’s why we’re here to talk about Marvel’s upcoming event, Secret Wars.


Greg: Unlike our previous iterations of The Rundown (you know, back in the Stone Age), we’ll be dedicating the entire column space to this one topic rather than several. The reason is doublefold: 1) It’s that big an announcement (well, potentially, anyway), and 2) We’re lazy.

Nick: Mostly the second.

Unless you prefer the first. We’re not tied to either.

In any event, Secret Wars is what we’re here to discuss. For those who might have been away from comics for a while, it’s important to note that we’re not talking about the Secret Wars of the 1980s. No, this Secret Wars is an upcoming event that reuses that classic title. Story details are a bit scarce thus far, but one thing we do know, and what we’ll spend the majority of our time talking about, is that at the story’s end, the Marvel Universe we all know and love will be no more.

Greg: On the surface, this is nothing short of the most important comics announcement to come from Marvel in decades. Tuesday’s press conference certainly made Secret Wars feel like Marvel’s own version of DC Comics’ multiverse-killing Crisis on Infinite Earths. However, some of the top Marvel decision makers have hesitated to call the event a full-on reboot.

The simple fact is that we just don’t have enough information to determine exactly what the event will be. What we can go on, however, is the overwhelming assumption that this is a reboot. What we know is it’s a melding of the mainstream (or “616”) Marvel U with the Ultimate Universe. It will also involve every alternate universe Marvel has ever explored.

Including this one, bub.
Including this one, bub.

Nick: Yeah, I’m willing to bet it will be a reboot. I think Marvel saw both the successes and failures of DC’s New 52 launch a few years back, and is attempting to avoid some of the criticism from longtime fans by avoiding the dreaded “R” word. But, as the event will merge so many different timelines and universes. I’m going to go ahead and say it — this SHOULD be a reboot. A full-on, honest to God, starting from scratch. No half measures, no picking and choosing. If you want to draw in new readers and are serious about it, then I want to see a Marvel Universe that starts over from Day 1.

Greg: One of the problem areas of the New 52 that played out over the course of time was just that — DC didn’t really go “all in.” In addition to not providing closure to the existing characters and storylines, some titles barely changed while others had their entire histories wiped out. I certainly agree that if you’re going to do a “hard reboot,” you need to be thorough with it.

However, that does create the problem of alienating longtime readers. Marvel head Axel Alonso is adamant that current creative teams have known about this event for quite a while and, thus, have had time to craft their stories accordingly. However, there has already been an outcry from many who are lamenting the fact that their favorite stories “no longer matter.” DC dealt with, and still deals with, the same thing.

Nick: And that’s a criticism that rings a little hollow for me. Stories matter because of the impression they leave on you and the feelings they instill on you. I don’t care if Year One technically never happened in the New 52 or if The Dark Knight Returns isn’t canon — the impact they leave on me is the same. And, in a few months, when my beloved Ultimate universe is no more, the story and journey of Ultimate Peter Parker will still matter to me, regardless of its place in continuity.

Greg: Indeed. It becomes something of an exercise in futility for a comic book fan to be so engulfed in continuity that any perceived or real changes somehow invalidate otherwise great stories. Many consider All-Star Superman to be the greatest Superman story of them all, and it was decidedly outside the happenings of the mainstream DC Universe. I’ve made this analogy before, but imagine how pre-Crisis fans of DC Comics felt when that event happened and wiped out so many characters, worlds and legacies. There was actually a lot of grumbling at the time, but thankfully social media didn’t exist yet, so most of it was contained to the letters pages of subsequent comics.

This caused something of a stir at the time.
This caused something of a stir at the time.

The point is that comics have a long, storied history of reboots, especially at DC. And sure, this is the first official line-wide Marvel reboot, but remember that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby took their own liberties with some of the existing Marvel/Timely characters when they remade the universe in their image in the early ’60s.

It’s a valid point that continuity is a valuable tool in comic book storytelling. Used properly, it can enhance stories in a way unique to the medium. On its own, continuity is not an impediment to new readers. What is an impediment, however, is poor editorial oversight and convoluted events that seem to affect every book across a publisher. DC ran into this issue numerous times over the years, and Marvel has been in the same boat.

Nick: Yeah, one thing I’m hoping for out of this whole thing is a revised publication schedule, one that doesn’t rely quite so heavily on universe-spanning, crossover-heavy event books. It seems like ever since Civil War in 2007, we’ve been on a neverending stream of huge events — Civil War to Secret Invasion to Dark Reign to Siege to Fear Itself to Avengers vs X-Men to Age of Ultron to Infinity to Original Sin to AXIS to Secret Wars. (Gasp.) And I’m sure I’ve forgotten some along the way as well. In any event (ha ha!), the point is it’s time to take a step back and maybe tell a few smaller, more personal stories so that when it finally is time for another event, it’ll have a bigger impact.

Greg: I completely agree. We reached a similar agreement, though on a smaller scale, about the Green Lantern line of books over at DC.

I have to admit I have been waging a battle with myself about this announcement. I have long been a proponent of the two companies trying to be different from one another. I liked the fact that Marvel had this ongoing, mostly unchanged (outside ancillary details like which war the members of the Fantastic Four fought in) history, compared to DC’s, which changed on a major scale at least three times (the dawning of the Silver Age, Crisis and New 52).

Admittedly, some Marvel concepts have undergone a FEW changes over the years...
Admittedly, some Marvel concepts have undergone a FEW changes over the years…

However, allow me to use an example to illustrate why I’ve come to believe this move is necessary. A few months back, a local comic shop was having a major sale on new comics. As part of the sale, he gave away a free copy of Avengers #35. Naturally, I picked it up, thinking it might be a chance to jump on the title, which is one I’d never really read extensively. About two pages in, I was completely lost. By the end of the book, I had no idea why certain characters were behaving the way they were, what had just unfolded before my eyes, and why any of it was important. Instead of making me want to follow the story arc, it made me put the book down and write off any further issues. The effect was similar to the one felt when I picked up the Superman “Final Crisis” tie-in book several years ago. You know, the one where he tries to fix “the hole in forever.”

That's ... that's the one.
That’s … that’s the one.

This event is an opportunity to come back with some more accessible stories that jettison some of the baggage many characters have been saddled with through the years, because God knows I would never want to be a new reader picking up a current issue of X-Men or Avengers. The best Marvel books in recent years, at least in my opinion, have been those that exist largely in their own world — Thor, Hawkeye, Daredevil and so forth.

Nick: I completely agree. Because of my love of all things Asgard, I’ve been picking up Loki: Agent of Asgard since its inception, and all things were going fine. Well, at least they were until the book got tied up in AXIS, the latest event. I’ve only read the brief synopses of AXIS at the beginning of each book, and it left me with a few questions — Why is it necessary to devote an entire event to heroes becoming villains and villains becoming heroes? Hasn’t this been done a thousand times before? Didn’t we just go through this with Superior Spider-Man? Is “World War Hate” really the best name they could come up with? And, most importantly, what in the blue hell is a Red Onslaught?

Greg: It’s something like a Superdoom, I think.

Behold: some 12-year-old's idea brought to life!
Behold: some 12-year-old’s idea brought to life!

Nick: If so, ugh.

Greg: One thing I think Marvel is doing right here, and we alluded to it earlier, is taking a more measured approach to this “reboot.” It shows they monitored and hopefully learned from DC’s bold but inconsistent New 52 initiative. While DC’s move felt very much out-of-the-blue and rushed, Marvel appears on the surface to be working to provide closure to the “old universe,” something DC fans never really got. If Alonso is to be believed, Marvel has also been planning this for longer than DC did and communicating with its creators more efficiently than DC did with its.

Nick: To that effect, some titles will be branded with “Last Days,” and will seek to provide just that — closure. These titles will explore what certain characters do knowing their final days on their respective planets has arrived. So, kudos to Marvel for providing that for its most dedicated readers.

Greg: It really does feel like Marvel’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, and hopefully the “Last Days” titles will give Marvel fans their version of “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”

Nick: But, one thing’s for sure — no matter what shape Secret Wars and the post-SW Marvel Universe takes, these two Fanboys will certainly be there to see what happens. I think we’d both agree that even with all the uncertainty, our interest in Marvel as a whole hasn’t been higher in quite some time.

Greg: That’s a fact, to quote a certain daytime television character I watched a lot as a kid. There is a renewed sense of hope for me about some of my all-time favorite characters, such as the X-Men, that I abandoned in print years ago.

Should you judge Greg for watching "Days of Our Lives" as a kid? Maybe.
Should you judge Greg for watching “Days of Our Lives” as a kid? Maybe.

However, despite my favorable stance on the reboot topic, I do have some concerns. At the forefront is my worry that this will be an excuse for Marvel to bombard us with a litany of tired, predictable origin stories. While some recent stabs at classic origins, such as “Zero Year” in Batman, have been terrific, in general the concept is played out, especially for iconic characters whose origins we’ve seen in multiple media for decades. Spider-Man, I’m looking at you!

There’s no reason these new titles can’t hit the ground running, the way something like Batman did at the beginning of the New 52. Sure, some origin stories would be fine (mainly for lesser-known characters or those who haven’t been overexposed). But please don’t give me yet another origin of characters whose origins have been recently told on the big screen or even in the Ultimate line not too long ago.

Tales from early in a character’s existence are fine, by the way. I just don’t want to go through “Great power/responsibility/etc.” again.

Nick: Completely agreed. There’s a fine line to walk here between starting from scratch and retreading old ground. Call me naive, but after the years of planning that’s gone into this, I feel like Marvel will pull it off.

Greg: I’m looking forward to it. After all, despite the hiccups and the problems, I feel like the New 52 was reasonably successful. If we get titles coming out of this that are as great as the Batman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, All-Star Western and Wonder Woman relaunches were, this will do just fine. And given the level of planning, there’s reason to suspect it might be even better.

Nick: Here’s hoping. Well, that about does it for us this week. But, fear not, as we’ll be back next week. In fact, next week is the fifth Friday, meaning it’s time to go GIANT-SIZED. And trust me, this column won’t be underinflated.


Greg: There’s some topical humor for you.

Anyway, how do you feel about the potential Marvel reboot? Excited? Nervous? Somewhere in between? Let us know via email (GregP@placetobenation.com and NickD@placetobenation.com), through Twitter (@gphillips8652 and @nickduke87) or through the PTBN Facebook page. And if you’re really angry about it, please direct all feedback to PTBN contributor Ben Morse.

Nick: Damn right.