Monday, April 4, 2011

Secrets of the Secret Wars

The road that led to Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars actually began when Kenner Toys licensed the DC Universe for a boys’ action figure line. Their competitor, Mattel, already had their He-Man action figure line, which was doing very well, but wanted to hedge the bet in case comic book character action figures became the rage. So, they came to Marvel to talk about licensing our characters. One thing they demanded of us was an “event,” a special publication or series to help launch the toy line. I offered an idea that was suggested by a dozen or so correspondents -- usually younger ones -- in the fan mail every day: one big, epic story with all (or many) of the heroes and villains in it. Everyone agreed.

We went through a number of ideas for names for the toy line and series. Mattel’s focus group tests indicated that kids reacted positively to the words “wars” and “secret.” Okay.

Mattel had a number of other requirements. Doctor Doom, they said, looked too medieval. His armor would have to be made more high-tech. So would Iron Man’s, because their focus groups indicated that kids reacted positively...etc. Okay.

They also said there had to be new fortresses, vehicles and weapons because they wanted playsets, higher price point merchandise and additional play value. Okay.

When time came to actually do it, I realized that only I could write it. I was busy enough being Editor in Chief, I didn’t need the additional burden and we didn’t have a shortage of writers, but….

Marvel’s writers at the time, some of the best in the business, were, to a person, very possessive about the characters they were writing. To some extent, that was a good thing, indicating a love for the characters that generally showed in their work. It also led to some intense rivalries and bitter arguments regarding crossovers and guest appearances.  

For instance, once, writer “A,” who shall remain nameless, wanted Doctor Doom to “guest-villain” in the series he wrote. I okayed it, over the snarling objections of writer “B,” who wrote the series in which Doom usually appeared. I would not allow the Marvel Universe to be divided into fiefdoms. But then, writer “B” wrote a story “proving” that the Doom seen in writer “A’s” series was a robot, the intimation being that the real Doctor Doom wouldn’t behave so stupidly. Somehow, writer “B’s” editor didn’t realize what he was up to, and let it slip past.  Writer “A” was furious…etc. 

Allowing any one of the writers to handle pretty much everyone else’s characters in Secret Wars, contemplated to be the biggest, most continuity-intensive crossover ever done, would have led to bloodshed in the hallowed halls.

So, I wrote it. As Editor in Chief, by definition, I was the company’s designated Keeper of the Franchises, and the ordained Absolute Authority on the characters -- all part of the job, at least back then. The writers could (and did) argue with me, and on some occasions talked me into their point of view regarding what Thor, Spider-Man or the X-Men would do or say in a given situation. But, ultimately, it was my call. That made things a little easier. And less bloody. And, because I had the best overview of what was going on in all the titles, working closely with the line editors and writers I was able to keep the continuity tight. And, with their help, I think we managed to work in the things Mattel asked for in ways that made sense and enhanced the story.

Secret Wars was the first mega-crossover. It was incredibly successful. Afterward, mega-crossovers became a staple of comic book publishing. 

For me, it was one of the most difficult and yet enjoyable things I’ve ever done. To this day, when I go to conventions, I’m asked to sign many, many copies. Lots of people tell me that Secret Wars is what first got them into comics. Makes sense. The idea came from the fans. I’m proud to have been a part of it.

64 comments:

niederklopfer said...

Great story sir. You really should turn your blog into a book.

eggrolls said...

"...the snarling objections of writer “B,” who wrote the series in which Doom usually appeared..."

Well, we all know who that is.

Blackpaco said...

Wow! That was some piece of inside info. I'm a huge fan of Secret Wars (though I always wondered why they were "secret"... now I know) and I remember vividly how that cover for the first issue (amazing art by Mike Zeck) blew my mind the moment I saw it. Thank you for something that was, and still is, so good to read.

Blackpaco said...

Oh, oh, oh... I got all the Secret Wars toys Hasbro launched a couple of years ago. They were great, but mostly, because it came with the whole series for a totally new generation of readers... and because I still play with dolls, and this are the best.

Marc Miyake said...

I recently reread SECRET WARS and read SECRET WARS II for the first time. This blog entry would have been a great introduction to a SW reprint collection.

Why was Mike Zeck the artist of the first SW? Given that many fans first got into comics through SW, that series was their first taste of his work - which was the case for me.

What's the story behind the new characters introduced in SW: Titania, Volcana, and the new Spider-Woman (only a year after Jessica Drew's demise!)?

There were a number of big props and sets on Battleworld, but I don't remember anything specifically resembling the toys. Was there any pressure to include playsets and vehicles in the comic?

How did readers react to the unseen Beyonder in the first series and his variable appearance in the second? It's hard to come up with a single design for an ultimate being. Kirby pulled it off with Galactus and Ditko did it with Eternity, but usually such attempts end up like Dominator from BLOOD S.C.R.E.A.M. ("James S. Jackson-Weiss III" and Hoang Nguyen out-Imaged Image. Hope to see you blog about Broadway!)

I AM ERIC BASS said...

"Secret Wars", when I was kid, was my summer blockbuster! It never disappointed, kept you coming back for more. Can't think of a genre of media, and entertainment, that does that better than comics. Thank you , Mr. Shooter.

Piperson said...

I started reading comics around the time of the first Secret Wars. I loved it! You got very lucky with Zeck! He is just amazing and he was in his prime! I'm sorry we didn't see much more of him after that.
I never liked the way toy companies always have to make changes to the existing charters. They always seem gratuitous and never seem to make sense like Dooms new costume. It's OK but it's just not Doom.
I really loved the new Spider-Woman and was sorry no one at Marvel seemed to know what to do with her.
And what about Spidey's new costume? How did this come about?
I thought the Beyonder was a great idea. He always reminded me a little of Michael/Korvac; The God-like being who is just a little naive. Great concept. It was big concepts like these that always made your work so compelling.
Thanks Jim for the reminisce. It's always a pleasure to read.

bmcmolo said...

What great timing - I just re-read both Secret Wars series this past weekend. Both hold up better than I remembered! (And I remembered liking them a great deal)

I often wonder if you and Mike Zeck reminisce about doing Secret Wars. It's probably like Sgt. Pepper's or something - John and Paul and the gang probably never got together much and patted themselves on the back/ swapped memories, but as fans, we like to think of that going on.

I'm curious who writer "A" is - I'll have to cross-reference to what Doctor Doom was up to and where he appeared. (I think subsequent evidence has demonstrated how writer "B" reacts to everything!)

Dean Stell said...

Great post. I LOVED Secret Wars when I was a kid. I had been into comics for a couple of years and thought my head would explode when Secret Wars came out. I still remember that I read issue #3 on a Cub Scout camp-out by flashlight in my tent.

One other thing that I loved about Secret Wars was how it was handled within the other titles with vague non-reveals about things that had happened while they were away (like Colossus' romance).

Recently reread Secret Wars that the only part that went over like a lead balloon was Wolverine's vehement objection to Cap leading the heroes. It is only funny NOW in light of all the filling in of Wolverine's back story.

Bosch Fawstin said...

My older brother brought Secret Wars #1 home one day and it was that comic book that really pushed me to become a serious comic book fan. Thanks, Mr. Shooter.

Pastrami said...

I still haven't ever read Secret Wars. Oops.

It's funny that I've heard people say that Jim has this monstrous out-of-control ego, and yet here he is crediting the fans, and even Mattel a little, for coming up with something that is often attributed solely to him.

Another great post.

Now to track down the Secret Wars...

Donovan Yaciuk said...

Secret Wars is STILL my summer blockbuster! Prior to Secret Wars, all I'd read were Spider-Man comics. Secret Wars introduced me to Marvel's full wealth of characters.

(I'll admit, though, that it took Secret Wars II and the tie ins to actually get me buying the other character's titles with any regularity.)

Without BOTH of those series, I doubt I'd be in comics today. I still reread each of them every year or two, and revel in the nostalgia.

Marc Miyake said...

The comments here show what an impact SECRET WARS made on readers almost three decades ago. I don't want to get into a debate about the Distinguished Competition, but I wonder how many fans got into comics through CRISIS or, if we're comparing toy tie-ins, SUPER POWERS?

I should have been more clear in my first comment. I like how the Beyonder was kept mysterious in SW I and modeled himself after others in SW II. At the start of II, he doesn't know anything about humanity (other than the English language for dramatic convenience), so he wouldn't be able to create a unique body.

When I wrote that "usually such attempts [to design ultimate beings] end up like Dominator from BLOOD S.C.R.E.A.M," I didn't mean to put down the Dominator design. That armor suit was over the top and perfect for the Image parody that was BLOOD, but I'm tired of such heavy metal outfits in serious comics (and not surprisingly none of your DEFIANT or Broadway villains wore anything like it).

The Molecule Man didn't need armor to be cool. I never thought much of him until seeing what he could do in SW, during which he found the love of his life. Sweet. And you didn't simply retell the love story of Korvac/Michael. Sweeter. If the new Solar and Gail get together (haven't read #5 yet - sorry), I don't expect them to follow any previous pattern.

I admire your dedication to innovation.

kintoun said...

Did you know Hasbro has released 25th Anniversary Secret Wars 3.75" comic packs reprinting the entire limited series recently? The weird part is they started the toyline/limited series sequentially with issues 1-3 and then sold issues 4 plus #7-8 in wave 2. So wave 3 included issues 6 and #9-11 while the final wave offered issue 5 and #10-11. That's unfortunate. I bet plenty of kids will read Secret Wars for the first time out of sequence based on this odd decision Hasbro made.

kintoun said...

I just noticed I made 2 big typos above. I meant to write "So wave 3 included issues 6, 9 and 11 while the final wave offered issues 5, 10 and 12.". Hasbro didn't skip any issue but they did offer #8 way before #5 for instance.

Marc Miyake said...

kintoun, I suspect Hasbro doesn't realize that the twelve issues constitute a continuing story. They are treating the SW toy insert comics like other insert comics that are standalone issues.

Fortunately, good comics can be enjoyed in isolation: e.g., Jim's first issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was #2.

smurfpaint said...

The Secret Wars toy line was how I learned the difference between DC and Marvel. I loved those things,.Still got my Daredevil figure at home. The books were very cool at the time but I think I was a bit too young to really understand them.

orbitalshft said...

The first time I saw the Hulk using a crutch, I was blown away. Years before I even knew who you were, I was already a Shooter fan.

kintoun said...

Well, I understand Hasbro's reasoning in part. Popularity always influences case assortments which is why Thunderball, Piledriver, and Bulldozer were each available in different waves. Likewike, young boys supposedly don't buy female action figures so that explains why Spider-Woman, Enchantress, and Storm were separated in the line-up. Of course, these trends are usually misleading. There are literally dozens of different Spider-Man action figures being sold at Wal-Mart on any given day while very few Wasp toys exist. Regardless, I believe Hasbro should realize this nonlinear strategy will have a negative impact on sales.

Andy E. Nystrom said...

I think I can guess which story writer A wrote. If I'm right, it involved another team that writer B is quite familiar with, with the team trapped in a giant arcade-like park.

Pat! said...

"For instance, once, writer “A,” who shall remain nameless, wanted Doctor Doom to “guest-villain” in the series he wrote. I okayed it, over the snarling objections of writer “B,” who wrote the series in which Doom usually appeared. I would not allow the Marvel Universe to be divided into fiefdoms. But then, writer “B” wrote a story “proving” that the Doom seen in writer “A’s” series was a robot, the intimation being that the real Doctor Doom wouldn’t behave so stupidly. Somehow, writer “B’s” editor didn’t realize what he was up to, and let it slip past. Writer “A” was furious…etc. "

LOL! i've read about this story before on many other comic sites! (and even have the issues he's talking about, from both writers)

since mr. shooter didn't call them out, i won't either. let's just say that writer "A" always wrote some uncanny stories and writer "B" always wrote some fantastic ones ;)

Wylodmayer said...

Always loved Secret Wars. Can't say I was a fan of the second one, but, hey, the first one was great enough for two series, anyway, so there you go. Terrific story it had, especially the bit near the end with Doom trying to be magnanimous and Klaw telling him the little bed-time story... just wonderful stuff. Fine, fine comics writing, sir. I still go back to it regularly, to this day, along with the Teen Titans' "Judas Contract" and the X-Men stories leading up to #175. Memories.

Jermaine Rogers said...

Id read comics my entire life...but i was about 14 when Secret Wars came out and it changed everything for me...the way I read comics.
Man, that bit with Galactus standing on a hill with his arms outstretched for hours and hours...and all the heroes freaking out ('what's he doing???') is, for me, one of the greatest single moments in Marvel Universe history...

Classic!

Simon Williams said...

Jim... I can remember how excited I was when i first saw the full page ad for Secret Wars. Unfortunately not having a local comic shop at the time, I didn't get to read the actual story until Marvel UK reprinted it some years later. But when i did finally get to read it, I can honestly say it blew me away!! Not to mention that it featured my all-time fave the Hulk performing what has since become one of his most legendary feats of strength, which is of course when he held up that mountain over his fallen comrades. Absolutely awesome stuff :o)

Scott Bryan, Annabelle's scribe said...

I want to hear why you took Kitty Pryde out of it. She was in it originally but Claremont wanted to have her go to the White Queen's school so that artwork with her in the Secret Wars was changed. What's the full story there?

kintoun said...

That's fascinating trivia that certain Masters of the Universe items were planned to be used for the Secret Wars toyline at one point. It's easy to imagine accessories like He-Man's Jet Sled being piloted by Captain America and maybe the Wrecking Crew all using Stilt Stalkers. How awesome would it be to see Mike Zeck draw Ultron atop Night Stalker or Wolverine behind the seat of a Land Shark?

By the way, I'd be curious to know if Jim read Mark Millar's 1985 limited series which was pitched as "Marvel's Narnia". This project dealt with wellknown Marvel villains like the Mole Man, Doctor Doom, and the Red Skull invading the real world so it's sort of a tribute to that era. In fact, the story begins with the protagonist named Toby Goodman visiting his local comic book store and reacting with enthusiasm to a summary of Secret Wars #9 ("Death to the Beyonder!").

Stephen Fox said...

The "Secret Wars" toys were my first superhero toys. It all started for me with a lone Iron man mistakingly hung next to black socks (style, not ethnic stereotype) in the local Dollar General Store.

I was thrilled to find an unknown treasure in such an unlikely spot. Every week from then on, I'd check back and usually find another figure or two. Who knows why they only got action figures 2 at a time, but each time I plopped down my $2 allowance, I was paid back with bliss. The smell of plastic, the image-shifting shield (why does a guy called "Iron Man" carry a sheild?)...it was the stuff of dreams.

After my many (2-3) years of reading comics, I could now re-enact or create any story I desired. The only decision I had to make was whether I would cut the stupid holster off Iron Man's thigh, or let him carry a wholly unnecessary laser blaster despite already possessing unmatched repulsor tech. I mean, the blaster was cool...but it was really more Han Solo than Tony Stark.

Anyway, thanks very much for the clicking of memories!

Saladin Ahmed said...

"So, I wrote it."

And you did a hell of a job, sir.

Still my favorite comics of all time and an inspiration to my own writing. The balance between epic scale and a dozen different poignant personal subplots, the X-Men's outsider hero dilemma (and Storm vs. Xavier within that), Doom trying to hold onto infinite power with a mortal frame, the gonzo old-fashioned big-budget battles (mountain dropping!), etc, etc, etc.

Taken all together, I don't know that anyone anywhere has written a better 12 issues in the 20-odd years since.

Andrew said...

i've heard the writer A and B story too, and it's a great one. i'm a big fan of both A and B, especially during that period, but i can still see B's objection. Doctor Doom was definitely acting out of character. anyone know how A and B got a long after that dust off, or if they get along now? how great would it be to see A and B team up on a book again? even if it's a train wreck, or maybe especially if it's a train wreck, it'd be a huge seller.

kintoun said...

It's interesting to note the comic that sparked the argument between A and B was voted one of "The 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time" back in 2001. Uncanny X-Men #145 earned position 93 which is surprising because the story doesn't contain the first appearance, death, wedding, or origin of anyone. Aside from Arcade and the Doombot's appearance, the only thing truly noteworthy about "Kidnapped!" is that it's the first issue where Illyana Raspution was given a name.

Kofi Jamal said...

Secret Wars was, is, one of my mini-series and toys of all time. Everything worked out and it was a great read. I didn't know it was based around a toy, but it makes sense. Then again, the toys were awesome. Now I need to read SW again...

arromdee said...

I loved your 70's Legion. I loved Valiant. I loved Broadway Comics, even though I'm the only person who seems to have read them. I loved Solar #5. But Secret Wars?

I may be a few years older than everyone else here and I remember what the opinion of Secret Wars was on Usenet. Everyone hated it. I had only ever gotten a few issues of II myself but from what I read their opinion seemed completely justified. It was gimmicky, it interrupted other comics stories (especially II), and was otherwise basically forgettable. It also pioneered the megacrossover, which was an innovation (ignoring Contest of Champions), but which has proved to be a very mixed blessing, especially now that Marvel and DC have each degenerated into a state of nearly constant crossover.

vollsticks said...

Wow, so you actually took notice of what the "little fucks" wanted?!!? Kudos to YOU sir!

Troy said...

Mr. Shooter I owe you an apology even though it is approximately 25 years too late. I always thought that Secret Wars was a rushed and misunderstood attempt to take away the thunder from DC's impending Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series and your Secret Wars suffered in comparison. To be honest I resented Marvel a little for making it. It was not until now that I realize that if I had to compare Secret Wars to another series it should have been to DC's Super Powers. To your credit that comparison never entered my mind (even though the competing toys should have been a big hint) because the Super Powers mini-series never tried to be anything but a cheap tie-in to a toy line while Secret Wars was so much more than that. Off the top of my head I remember Spidey's black suit debuting in the series and the Thing being replaced by the She-Hulk in the FF; both events had lasting effects on the entire Marvel Universe. Good job sir.

jimshooter said...

Secret Wars predated Crisis by a year.

Steve Jones said...

I'd been reading Marvel for 10 years or more when Secret Wars came out and I thought it was awful but it's now obvious I wasn't the target audience. I'll have to dig it out and re-read it. Anyway, I am enjoying the blog.

~P~ said...

As a long-time Marvel (and many other publisher) reader at that point, I could tell that S.W. was a marketing level initiative, to sell - well SOMETHING (not knowing about the action figure line at the start).

Sure, at the time, it was nearly unheard of for there to be a big cross-ever max-series like that, so perhaps the STORY, of the Marvel Universe was what was being sold.
(Contest of Champions predated it, but was a self-contained 3-issue mini.)

I tried it, and didn't find it to my liking, but was impressed by the multi-title continuity line-up and ramifications (in some titles).
Obviously, editorial and creative teams did well in some titles to make it seem fluid (recalling Avengers and FF specifically).

She-Hulk in the FF? Wow!
The THING staying behind?? What?!?
Black costume for Spider-Man! Very cool!!

But, I will admit to a frustration that SW began what has long been a sad habit at Marvel:

Whenever there is a BIG group event - DOCTOR STRANGE is either noticeable in his total absence, OR is written out via some lame type of "write him off the chessboard" plot point.

Jim,
Any reason Dr. Strange was omitted from such a big to-do?
(Personally, I would have loved a SW Doc figure! lol)

jimshooter said...

Dear ~P~,

The biggest factor was that Mattel had no interest in a Doctor Strange action figure either for the launch or foreseeable expansions. Same with Daredevil. Could I have included them anyway? Yes. But I had a pretty full boat already.

~P~ said...

True enough.
SW was indeed jam packed with just about everyone else.
Having a mega-powerful sorcerer might just have made the whole thing too unweildly.

As for other prominently missing characters; I forgot there was no Daredevil in the story (although Mattel DID indeed make a DD action figure for the line's 2nd wave - along with black-costume Spidey).

Anyway, thanks for the fast reply.
I didn't expect one until tomorrow at the earliest.

JediJones said...

Yes, the first 8 figures Mattel made were featured in the Secret Wars comic. The next 8 figures they made concluded the line and included only one character that appeared in Secret Wars, Spider-Man in the black costume. The others were Daredevil, Falcon, Iceman, Hobgoblin, Electro, Baron Zemo and Constrictor. For some reason they decided to focus on only Spider-Man and Captain America's rogues galleries for the later villains.

Pariah said...

I do agree that Secret Wars 2 wasn't that great and it became very predictable.
although there was some memorable stuff like Spidey teaching Beyonder to pee(lol) and Beyonder turning a whole building into gold for the Heroes for Hire.

I don't blame Shooter or Marvel for rushing out a sequel since there was no indication that Secret Wars was going to be THAT successful since there had never really been anything like that.

Pariah said...

I must admit i still think Secret Wars 1 got it right and noone has ever been able to get it as right.

I could go on and on but it changed so much i mean i remember reading it at the time and i had no idea that Hulk was actually speaking like a normal person but yet he still had some anger issues (that was brilliant whomever wrote it
)but the story was mostly self contained since it transpired off planet you didn't need 50 tie ins to see that Ambush Bug is picking his nose at the source wall.


Everything felt epic the moment when Thor is standing outside the rain of the citadel and doing his Thor thing? epic !

I also liked how there was lasting changes and consequences that was dealt with.

jimshooter said...

We knew from direct sales orders more than a month before #1 of the first SW series that the numbers were huge. Therefore, we planned a sequel immediately, more than a year before SW II #1. We were absolutely not "rushing out a sequel." Rushing had nothing to do with the quality of my work. Yes, I had plenty to do as EIC and writing SW II tested my limits of endurance, but I guarantee you, it was the best I can do. If I'd had more time I would have slept more, but I doubt that the writing would have been better. The artists, Al Milgrom and Steve Leialoha, probably wished they had more time, but artists always do. The main problem there was that Sal Buscema lost us a month.

John English said...

Thanks Jim for the info on my still-favorite comics series ever. I'll echo those who have said that it was Secret Wars that got them hooked to begin with.

And for what it's worth, I love SW2 even better than #1.

Can you shed any light on "Secret Wars 3," that one issue of FF (319 I think)? Was that originally planned for a full series that got nixed, or how did that come about?

jimshooter said...

Thanks for the kind words.

FF #319 came out after I left Marvel. I don't know anything about it.

Stephen said...

As a long-time Marvel fan at the time, I hated SW. it interrupted my favorite stories. I felt obligated to read it because it affected those stories so much. The characters were outside of the environs in which I enjoyed them: Spiderman with no skyscrapers; the FF with no Baxter Building; the X-Men with no danger room; Doom without Latveria and his castle; all without New York City. These things were effectively like characters in the stories. I remember especially having no buildings for Spiderman to swing among just seemed so wrong. If there was one series that drove me away from superhero comics, this one was it. Jim, you presided over some of my favorite stories of all time; Byrne's FF run is still dear to me. But thank you for this explanation, because now it all makes sense. As a previous commenter said, I was not the target audience.

Gregg H said...

I honestly can't see how anyone could se SW I as interrupting anything in even the slightest way. All it did was take up a page at the beginning of an issue with some caption boxes saying "hey! Thor was just gone for a week! If you want to find out where he went, buy Secret Wars!"
In all of the cases, SW could have EASILY been skipped without missing a single beat in the charachters' lives. Even in the case of Spider-Man, all you REALLY needed to know was that Spidey went off to space on an adventure and got a cool new costume. Pretty damn simple to follow. I was like eleven or so when it came out and I had ZERO problem following anything, even with the one year gap in the storytelling between the 'return' issues and the final issue of the series that took place in that missing week.
Jim,
I had one real problem with an otherwise outstanding series. You it with the script in one scene with Hawkeye (Issue 1 I think).
You had Clint coming off like an anti-mutant bigot talking about how they couldn't trust the mutants. That doesn't really fit with the fact that two of his oldest friends were Pietro and Wanda, and another really good friend was the Beast.
Besides that, it was fantastic.

jimshooter said...

Good point. Hawkeye's comment should have been more aimed at the X-Men than mutants in general, since they were still the target of some suspicion at that point. Where were you when I (and the editor) needed you? : )

Gregg H said...

Funny think about that Jim. I actually had the pleasure of meeting you once, somewhere in that general time frame.
It was Jan 27, 1986, and I was almost twelve. My oldest brother brought my into the city to take a tour of the Marvel offices, as aparently you good folks opened up to the public at times.
I actually walked into you as you were coming through a doorway and you were very gracious about it.
I got to speak to you and a few others in the ofice, through very briefly. I remember Bill Stankewitz and I think maybe Al Milgrom.
It was the highlight of my year.

Stephen said...

Greg H: Two words: Fantastic Four. If the Thing was one of your favorite characters off all time, and you specifically loved seeing him destroy New York taxis, etc., then SW took all that away. Sure, you could still follow him by reading another book full of his introspective wanderings, mostly as Ben Grim, on another planet, but no more destroying rooms with his and Human Torch's antics, no more destroying Reed's lab equipment... You get the idea. But my main problem with SW was still that the whole story just seemed off, and it's probably because it was aimed at ten-year-olds rather than 17-year-olds, and I was the latter. Now, I've long since sold off that part of my collection, so it's hard to put my finger on now. The alien world was so featureless... Mister Fantastic wasn't wasting valuable time being fascinated by the local flora and fauna, and the rest of the team therefore wasn't shaking its collective head over his distractedness. Spiderman wasn't preoccupied with making his rent or keeping his job or avoiding the police. And the whole thing about distrusting the X-Men just rang false. The X-Men and the Avengers were practically family!

Anonymous said...

As one of those ten year olds (actually I think I was 11, but close enough) I adored Secret Wars and read it over and over. I spent most of the 1980s in then-West-Germany, and we got our comics a few months later than statesiders. I'll never forget coming home that summer and catching up with Secret Wars - that was one of the best comics-reading afternoons of my life.

(Of course, all those summers are now seen through the hazy glow of nostalgia, so they all seem pretty Dandelion Wine to me now...)

I kind of liked it for specifically the reasons you mention - that it took everyone out of their environment and forced me to consider them in new ways. Like you say, we were coming at it from different demographics, I guess. I can see your point(s).

Imagine if Secret Wars II had been done in a supportive environment. It probably would have come off much differently, but both it (and the New Universe) seemed to cause a lot of resentment among the various creators. I know the New Universe's budget was gutted, so perhaps it's not a fair one-to-one comparison. But I was very excited as a youngster by SW2 - I reread it earlier this year and still think stretches of it hold up very well. Others, not so much.

Neither here nor there (I just like memory lane) but the epilogue to SW2(Molecule Man keeping the world from breaking apart) was one of the first comics I read upon returning from Germany, actually.

- Bryan

Gregg H said...

Stephen
It looks to me like you are making a HUGE mistake referring to the Fantastic Four and the Thing in your argument here. Here is why.

Secret Wars was an EXCUSE to make changes in the status quo of those books. SW in no way, MADE those changes happen. To think otherwise is really kind of dumb. SW wasn't the reason Thing was taken out of FF. It was going to happen anyway according to Byrne.
I repeat what I said earlier.
If you didn't want to read Secret Wars, then as a FF reader all you needed to know was that Reed, Ben, Johnny left for a week, and thet Ben took a vacation so he asked Jen to cover for him.
That was IT!

Gregg H said...

Now if you want to get into the discussion about if having Ben IN NYC and how he HAS to be breaking things in the lab and how he HAS to walk by Yancy street at least every fourth issue, because those are all of the core elements that make you love the character, we can do that.
That is really the key argument behind the problems a lot of fans have with Spider-Man, and exactly what his 'core' is.
If you really think he can't properly exist in a state that is anything other than the luckless looser high school outcast with money and women troubles, then the idea of him growing up, getting married and getting a real job is just not going to work for you.
But if (like me) the real essence is more about how he balances his life as Spider-Man vs Peter Parker (whatever shape Peter's life is taking at that point) and the feelings of responsibility and guilt, then seeing that played out endlessly in the exact same setting and situation, is horibly boring. You want to see Spider man be guilty and angst ridden in new and unseen ways eery month, instead of another issue of him getting picked on by Flash.

As with the Thing. If for you, it is all about tossing taxi's and wrecking the lab and fighting with the Torch, then you are entitled to think that. But that isn't to say that if the book focused on a more introspective 'am I man? am I monster? where do I belong?' stuff then it is anyway INHERENTLY wrong like you seem to be portraying it as.

Stephen said...

Some of the best ever stories involved crossovers and long journeys: Havoc in a Hidden Land; X-Men vs the "Legion"; FF-Counter-Earth-Galactus; Terror in a Tiny Town; the death of Jean Gray; even the very first FF-Avengers team-up against the Hulk. And of course I could simply have chosen not to read Secret Wars. I bought a lot of titles back then that I could have done without (I thought the whole Hank Pym collapse was strange and out of character), but that's the thing: I bought a lot of titles and was heavily invested in the Marvel universe, and Secret Wars was a big deal. I've always been curious about how it was viewed by its creators, because I thought it was so disappointing, and I was frankly surprised to read that Jim was so proud of it and that so many thought it was so good. So I guess I'm struggling to reconcile my low opinion of it with my esteem for Jim. It may just be a matter of demographics. It may be some element of the story. Maybe the art and/or writing were poor.Maybe it was the elements demanded by the toy company; perhaps these simply added up to an aggregate that rang a false note. Maybe it was simply time for me to set aside superhero comics, or at least those written for children.

Maybe I should pose the general question to Jim. Comics are art. Publishing comics is a business. There will always be a tension between the art and business sides. Sometimes the strictures imposed by the business side can present a puzzle with an elegant and artful solution. Jim might think SW is such a case, but maybe the main good of SW is that it brought in a whole new group of fans and thus insured the stability of the business and, therefore, its ability to produce more art. I would be interested to get Jim's take on this. And Jim, I hope you'll gather that I mean no offense or disrespect, and I'm not trying to make this into an argument where I'm right and those who liked it are wrong. I guess I'm more after your mindset at the time. Did you worry that the toy company's demanded elements might alienate long-time fans? Did you worry that, with all your other duties, the quality of the story was suffering? These are the sorts of worries that can plague many of us, and it has been fascinating to get your take on these sorts of issues through this blog, from which I gather, by the way, that you are a thoughtful person who takes the craft of writing seriously. As a writer and editor, albeit of a very different sort, I really appreciate your insights into the process.

Stephen said...

And Greg, one of the FF stories that stays with me is when Ben's time with the Hulk changes him back into human form, and instead of elation, he feels overwhelming melancholy, goes to a bar, and gets in a fight. Reed and Johnny come to his rescue, take him back to the lab, and present him with the exo-skeleton that, for a time, allows him to have both human and Thing form. This is also what he finds on the Beyonder's world, but that solo series following SW just bathed him in ennui and was depressing. And please, keep a civil tongue.

Gregg H said...

Exactly what was uncivil?

As I pointed out (twice I think) is that this is the storyline that the title followed. They used Secret Wars as a jumping off point to get there. I am failing to see why you are blaming the fact that Secret Wars was a mega crossover on what you didn't like about the subsequent direction of the book. I'm pretty sure that nowhere in SW was is stated that Ben HAD to stay on the planet at the end, or any of the other problems you had. That was all really unrelated. It sould like you didn't like that take on Ben in his book (wasn't exactly my favorite either), and you are blaming the wrong guy.

Stephen said...

Calling an argument dumb is neither civil nor logically valid.

The two stories of the Thing were offered as good and bad examples of introspective "man or monster" stories.

Sure, the SW story and its ramifications throughout the Marvel universe are two different things, and perhaps I'm conflating them. But SW was more than a story; it was an event that reached into nearly every title in a way that crossovers rarely did back then, when you could easily follow, say, the storyline of PPSM without benefit of ASM. If you were a Marvel fan, you--I--needed to read SW to keep up. So part of my reaction against SW is that I felt like a sucker for buying it.

And I just didn't like it as a story, and I feel compelled, almost 30 years out of context, to provide a rational explanation why not, when clearly so many, including Jim, disagree. It's no big deal in the scheme of things, but for me, it was near the time when I stopped buying any Marvel titles, whereas I had been buying Marvel comics for what seemed then to be a very long time. I'm trying, as politely as possible, to explain that, not only did I not like SW, but it was part of what turned me, who learned to read with Marvel comics, off of Marvel comics altogether. And Jim's explanation of the origin of SW is consistent with why I was turned off: it was at root a marketing gimmick, and I resented being sold.

I'm older now, and I don't feel the need to ascribe blame, but it's stuck with me. This was the time that First Comics and other independents were new, and they were taking a lot of the readers who had grown up reading the Big Two. Comics have moved from general to fan readership. Marvel went through bankruptcy somewhere in there. To me, SW is a part of this sequence of events, and maybe it was exactly what Marvel needed at the time to build a new audience as it was losing older readers to the independents. But maybe it was part of what drove the older readers away. Maybe series tied into toys and video games actually hastened the narrowing of comics readership. Just throwing it out there. I'm not trying to be mean or petty; I'm just trying to offer some perspective and make some sense of something that was important to me at the time.

jimshooter said...

I did the best I could on Secret Wars I and II. I think it is on a par with my other best efforts. I thought I handled the requirements imposed by the toy company well, pretty logically, pretty seamlessly. The stories are solidly structured, in my opinion. There are bits in there that I think are nice.

It is often said that it was aimed at the younger Marvel fans and new readers. Even I've said that. Of course, I expected that the concept would appeal to those groups, but, the truth is, other than avoiding burdening it with too much backstory/continuity on the many characters, I wrote it as I would any other mainstream Marvel comic book.

With regard to the characters:

For better or worse, while EIC, I had the final say on everything to do with Marvel's characters. They were who and what I said they were, or who and what I allowed the Marvel creators to make them. That was a big part of my job. I was hired to manage and protect those franchises (top priorities due to some extent by the anarchy preceding my tenure). In most cases, I was faithful to the presentation as written by others, because I approved of it, but in some cases, I was trying to nudge certain characters back onto spec, or demonstrate what I had in mind to the regular writers. I did what I did deliberately and for good reasons.

It seems that most people don't understand that. It wasn't Chris Claremont's X-Men, it was Marvel's X-Men, and Marvel hired me to look after them. Same with all the rest of the properties. That said, if you have a Miller on Daredevil or a Louise Simonson on Power Pack or an Ann Nocenti on Longshot or -- you can continue the list as well as I can -- a wise man leaves them alone and lets them develop the characters because their skills are outstanding and their sensibilities are right on. I tried to intervene as little as possible, and I tolerated a lot that I didn't think was quite right, but wasn't damaging enough to clamp down on. I did draw the line at Claremont having the admittedly kinky Morlocks dress Professor X in transvestite bondage gear, at least the first time he tried it. I refused to allow Bill Mantlo to have Peter Parker father an illegitimate child. But I went along with Walt Simonson having Thor become a frog and even Spider-Man getting married. It was Stan who wanted Spider-Man to get married, mostly to create an event for the newspaper strip. Stan asked me whether Spider-Man could get married. Think about that. Scary, huh? P.S. I would have cheerfully gone along with anything Stan wanted and said yes, sir.

I acknowledge that I made some errors in SW. Someone in a comment pointed out a gaff I made with Hawkeye, which no one at Marvel noticed, even editor DeFalco and Gruenwald didn't pick up on.

Regarding the art:

I'm a Mike Zeck fan, and I think he does a lot of things well. Things of great scope and magnitude, however, are not his specialty, as it turned out. He's much better, great, in fact, with single character, up close and personal subjects like Master of Kung Fu and the Punisher. That's why I started doing roughs for him after a few issues, much like those I did at DC for Curt Swan and others, back when. Zeck just didn't seem to be able to wrap his mind around the Galactus/god-level stuff. The layouts helped some. Not enough. And, by the way, the fill-ins by Layton were worse. As a penciler, he just wasn't up to drawing things of epic scale. I love Denny O'Neill's observation that "casting" creators is key. Maybe we could have cast better. Because I was the writer, and it was my policy to defer to the editor on such matters, I didn't weigh in on the choice of Zeck. But I wouldn't have objected anyway. As I said, I thought and still think he's a terrific artist. It emerged as we went along that giant-scale was not in his wheelhouse.

jimshooter said...

On SW II, Bob Budiansky picked Al Milgrom and Steve Leialoha. I thought Al did a good job of telling the story and Steve did a good job with the inks. Some people apparently didn't like Al's slightly cartoony style and wished for a slicker look, more like Silvestri or Nowlan. I'm not as style-conscious, I guess.

To avoid war among the writers, I was the only possible choice for writing the thing, so no latitude there. Whoever else I would have given it to, some others would have been upset. If they were all be upset at me, I was okay with that. What else is new? : )

Did I worry that the story would alienate long-time fans? No. Despite the flaws, I figured most people would enjoy it. Sales results bore out my feelings. Did I worry that the quality of the story was suffering? If, by that you mean my writing, no. That story is as well-crafted, tightly woven and solidly planted as I could make it. Some may not like the concept or the execution, and that is their privilege, but I stand by my work.

Stephen said...

I appreciate your response and viewpoint. Again, I hope no offense was taken, because none was meant.

Douglas Nelson said...

Well I'm another one of those guys who got addicted to comics thanks to Secret Wars.This was mostly due to Spider-Man's costume change but one thing led to another.
I loved Secret Wars and I thought Zeck did a fantastic job. Sometimes less is more.
I liked Secret Wars II but I didn't follow the cross-overs much. I think they weakened the flow of the story. So in comparison the first Secret Wars was better.

What do you think of what Marvel has done with The Beyonder since then? I wish they had just left him alone.

P.S.
When the Beyonder died at the end of Secret Wars II and thus created a new universe--was said new universe the same universe of The New Universe line?

jimshooter said...

I don't know what Marvel did with the Beyonder, but I would rather they left him alone.

The New Universe wasn't supposed to be related to SW or the Beyonder, though I deliberately left that mysterious.

Harry said...

I only remember one New Universe title, "Spitfire and the Troubleshooters", as that was, for a time, the back-up strip for the Marvel UK "Transformers" comic. Can't remember much about it, except for some robotic exoskeleton/suit, which a woman controlled: I blame that more on the fact that there were probably only about 2 issues or so serialised, so I never really got into the story.

Douglas Nelson said...

jimshooter said...
"I don't know what Marvel did with the Beyonder, but I would rather they left him alone."

Oh yeah?
Well let me tell you what they did:
In Fantastic Four (1961) #319 they suggested that The Beyonder had survived Secret Wars II and was living as the god of his own universe. At the end of the story(which was titled Secret Wars 3) it's revealed that The Beyonder and The Molecule Man were two un-evolved parts of a cosmic cube. So they become a cube.

I don't know what was done with him after that but then in New Avengers: Illuminati (2006) #3
the cosmic cube business is dropped and replaced with the idea that The Beyonder is both an Inhuman and a mutant. I guess the Fantastic Four idea was a little better but in the end both were pretty stupid.

Oh well what can you do?

As far I'm concerned Secret Wars II#9 is the end of the story.