With a new Secret Wars on the horizon, I figured it might be a good time to look back the Regan administration, a time when Jim Shooter was editor-in-chief, Professor X was still alive and nobody had broken Captain America’s shield…  yet.  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #1 awaits!

Writer: Jim Shooter
Penciler: Michael Zeck
Inker: John Beatty
Colorist: Christie Scheele
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Editor: Tom DeFalco
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 75 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $12.00

Previously in Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars:  Thirty years ago, comic books weren’t the endless crossover machines that we know them to be today.  Indeed, in the early 1980s there were still characters who “belonged” to certain groups and never seemed to crossover.  The X-Men and Fantastic Four, for instance, didn’t really interact all that much, and it was a time where Captain America fighting against Magneto was strange and novel.  The series that changed all that came about because Kenner toys licensed Marvel Comics characters and wanted a big ol’ launch story to help them sell their toys.  Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter chose to write the book, featuring the first real high-profile everybody crossover (the earlier ‘Contest Of Champions’ featured only a few of the Marvel heroes in action, most of whom were brand new creations), which was triggered by the appearance of a massive structure in Central Park.  The heroes of New York arrived to investigate, and were summarily teleported away…

…but where did they go?

Blinking back into existence, a dozen-and-a-half of the most powerful heroes of the 616 are stunned to find themselves in their new setting, and take a few moments to gawk at the strange view around them.  They quickly regroup and (at the suggestion of The Wasp, who is generally pretty savvy about such things and named The Avengers, after all) make with the introductions…


That… is a WALL of text.  The exposition-speak is in full effect this issue, thanks to writer Jim Shooter, but at least some of it comes across as naturalistic dialogue.  Before the heroes’ eyes, a second arena appears in nearby space, this one populated by a group of their nastiest foes and also Galactus’ ankles…


I’m not always a fan of Mike Zeck’s art, but Terry Beatty’s pencils really mesh well with him in this issue, and their evocation of classic sinister Kirby Magneto on this page makes me very happy.  As heroes and villains watch, the stars begin to wink out before them, and an entire galaxy is seemingly wiped from existence.  Then, the structures in which they find themselves begin to move…


An entire planet assembles itself out of a patchwork of bits and pieces (one of which, it must be noted, contains the entire city of Denver) a sight that inspires awe in even the jaded mind of Doctor Doom.  There’s also one of the clunkiest lines of dialogue I’ve ever read in my life (“Sorry, butt-head!  I, Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man, wuz watchin’ the show outside!”), reminding me that there are downsides to the Shooter Method of introducing everyone by their full name in every issue.  As the heroes watch the impossible sights outside, a voice begins speaking to them all…


Interestingly, the hero of this summer’s big Avengers sequel is summarily taken down by Galactus in seconds, thanks to a robotic freakout bringing him to the Big G’s attention.  Ultron gets off easy, though, as Galactus follows up by breaking free of the arena to confront the voice from Beyond directly.  The Beyonder warns him (and Doctor Doom, sneaking along in his wake) not to approach, but being a literal force of nature, older than the universe itself, Galactus will not heed…

He is slapped down like a petulant child, and thrown to the surface of the Battleworld almost effortlessly.  The heroes are beamed down soon after, but the presence of Magneto keeps them from making a unified front.  Professor X and the X-Men try to make the case that Magnus may be helpful to them, but Hawkeye and The Wasp aren’t willing to work with the man who recently (as of 1984, anyway) sank a Russian submarine with all hands aboard, an act they deem murder but Magneto deems self-defense and/or an act of war.  Things quickly come to blows…


Before the heroes can really start fighting amongst themselves, Magneto takes his leave, with our heroes quickly trying to organize…


Wolverine isn’t entirely sure about Captain America as leader, but a whole-hearted recommendation from Thor puts even the tiniest X-Man in his place.  I’ve always found it ironic the way this issue breaks down because, while our heroes were bickering among themselves and threatening Magneto, the villains found a hidden fortress, raided its arsenal, shot down Doctor Doom and went hero-hunting, leading us to our big cliffhanger finale…


Now, I’m gonna tell ya the truth here: This isn’t a great comic book.  But, given that it has the job of introducing 20 heroes, a dozen villains, a brand-new antagonist, establishing the stakes of the battle and setting up the first big fight?  It’s a pretty impressive achievement.  More importantly, this issue (and the series to follow) introduces a lot of concepts that are still at the heart of the Marvel Universe today: Magneto’s status as anti-hero gains traction here, as does the conflict between Reed Richards and Bruce Banner; Spider-Man’s new costume leads to Venom and a whole symbiote sub-genre; as well as the seeds of Avengers Vs. X-Men and all that follows.  The new Secret Wars is really only the biggest example of the effects that this series had on the comics that came after, and every summer crossover where everybody fights everybody else is the metaphorical child of the story here.  On that level, then, Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #1 can be judged as a game-changer, albeit one with some seriously wobbly dialogue, art that impresses (especially the panel of a fallen Galactus) even when the story falls apart, but it all kinda boils down to the setup for some fighty-fighty, earning a better-than-average 3 out of 5 stars overall in the telling.  I may not appreciate all of what it foreshadows, but even 30 years older, this one holds up okay.



Some of the dialogue is awkward, and there's a lot of Bronze Age silliness, but there's still some excitement to be had in these pages.

User Rating: 2.88 ( 3 votes)
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About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. This may not be the first Marvel comic I’ve read, but its certainly the one I remember the best. I would go as far as to say that this book made me superhero comics fan. It was backup series in Finnish edition of Spider-Man in 1987-1988 and I was instantly hooked and baffled by it. So many characters, of whom I knew barely half, but it didnt bother me at all, I learned as the series went on. I say it was the perfect book for young me who wanted to know more of these guys: We only had 3-4 ongoing Marvel comics and only Spider-man & X-Men had their own dedicated monthly books, all the rest had to share one book which alternated between several heroes and teams.

    This series also is the sole reason why if anyone says that Dr. Doom isnt the most dangerous man in the Marvel Universe, they are silly and should think again.

  2. “Thirty years ago, comic books weren’t the endless crossover machines that we know them to be today. Indeed, in the early 1980s there were still characters who “belonged” to certain groups and never seemed to crossover.” Boy, thirty years ago, you must have been reading the comics of a different universe than I was, because Marvel comic in the 80s were about nothing BUT crossovers. It is true that only the more popular characters crossed over into other books, but they did it constantly, and worse yet, they might begin an interesting story in a popular title, and then end the series in a cross-over story in an less popular title to force Spider-Man fans to buy an issue of Batroc the Leaper’s Summer Fun Special or whatever the heck they stuck the critical portion of the story in. Secret Wars and Secret Wars II were, epitomized all that was wrong with Marvel comics in the eighties. You need to look at this story in context. At the same time this was coming out, we were getting Elfquest, Groo, Aztec Ace, I Am Coyote, The Badger, Cap’n Qwik and a Foozle, Amerikan Flagg, and dozens of others of great titles a month from small and independent publishers. So what did Marvel do? More of the same garbage, with poor quality art, poorer writing, the merest pretense of a story, and a plot line, such as it was, that quickly fell apart into incomprehensibility. The thing I especially hated was that in the six months or so this dreck was being vomited out from Marvel, the characters, who had supposedly been whisked away to this secret battle world were still appearing in their monthly books as if nothing was going on. The whole concept was one giant cliche, stolen from every other earlier crossover book that had been done. Heroes were put into an idiotic scenario by some mysterious, all powerful agency of some kind (which had never been heard of before) and they had to fight each other senseless before they got around to fighting the villains, and then they all had to team up to defeat the ultimate villain and POOF! Everything returns to normal at the end of the crossover as if nothing ever happened. And this particular variation of it “Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours” had already been done to death by this point. I will admit that there was one good thing that came out of this series – Spidey’s black costume, who turned into one heck of a great character over the years, but the rest of this series was one hunk of steaming garbage. The new “Secret Wars” will no doubt be better than the original, because it couldn’t possibly be any worse. In fact, they could have improved upon the original by simply binding a bunch of blank paper between the covers. I see that mint-condition issues of this steaming pile are selling for $12.00. Save your money, and go play in a pile of used cat liter. Believe me, you will enjoy it more than reading this thing. Can you tell how much I hated Secret Wars back in the day, or should I go on?

    • There’s no need to go on, no. Your low opinion of most comics is well-documented. As for my statement about crossovers, I stand by it, as 1984’s Secret Wars was, in fact, only the second big crossover mess to speak of, after 1982’s Contest of Champions. By the end of the decade, yes, they were regular occurrences, every summer or more often, which led to the mess that was the first half of the 1990s and the near-collapse of the comic book industry when the bottom fell out.

      Also: You clearly don’t actually remember the Secret Wars. The whole setup was that they were on Battleworld for a week. At the end of one issue (for example, X-Men #180), the heroes disappeared, and at the beginning of the next issue, they returned changed (i.e. Hulk’s leg was broken, Spider-Man had a new costume, Colossus was no longer in love with Kitty Pryde, etc.). The series ran 12 issues, and explained what happened during the missing time, much like DC’s later “One Year Later” comics. Rather than being a continuity gaffe, it was in fact THE CENTRAL POINT of the book.

      As for the quality of the book, mileage, as always, may vary…

      • Steve Cramer on

        Yes, some of the “the heroes return” issues were pretty interesting (ex. the black costume, and She-Hulk showing up in an FF costume and looking pretty (and speaking intelligently) for the first time — but with a story focusing on Susan Richard’s very pregnant condition). It’s too bad the actual events on Battleworld turned out to be not very interesting. The mystery of what happened in that week after reading the “return” issues was much more interesting.

        However, in comparison, Secret Wars II (which I skipped, having learned a lesson) really annoyed me for disrupting some good story lines in books like the New Mutants, Alpha Flight, and the FF. *That* series established another annoying precedent of cross-overs. (Was that before Crisis on Infinite Earths? Can’t remember).

  3. Russell Catt on

    I was too young to read this series when it was first published.
    However, I was the PERFECT age to play with the associated the Secret Wars action figure line.
    Man, I loved those toys.

    Thanks for the review.

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