To date, the Secret Wars the limited series is considered a landmark story in Marvel Comics history. It actually had nothing to do with its content, which was generally considered lackluster compared to most of the publisher’s other works at the time. Instead, the series is the most highly regarded (with DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths) for pioneering the concept of the comic book crossover event. Ironically, the creation of this genre-changing comic had nothing to do with comics.
Secret Wars exists because Marvel is trying to carve out a place for itself in the toy aisle, even before its name to this business venture. This generated more revenue than Marvel expected, as the popular publisher realized just how committed fans were to collecting every issue of their first-ever crossover event. Much to the chagrin of diehard collectors, this feverish acquisition would have started in a comic strip intended simply to promote a line of toys.
Marvel’s Secret Wars Was Engineered by Marketing
As mentioned, Secret Wars was not planned by Marvel’s creative team, but rather by the needs of the toy industry. In the early 1980s, toys were a huge market with children, with the majority of cartoons of the time attesting to this. One of the earliest examples was masters of the universe, a cartoon that is little more than a giant advertisement for Mattel’s toyline of the same name. Likewise, DC Comics had struck gold with Kenner’s Super Powers action figure collection, leaving Marvel desperate for a slice of the pie.
Mattel agreed to create a toyline based on the Marvel characters as long as there was an accompanying comic that promoted the characters. It was the same logic used for the cartoon / toyline of masters of the universe, applied to a comic book in order to play to Marvel’s strengths. The other major request was that the title had something to do with the words “secret” and “wars”, as marketing had discovered that these buzzwords were well suited to children. The storyline featured major Marvel heroes and villains transported to an alien world to do battle, so it only made sense to use the most popular and common characters from the superhero universe.
This was the first event of its kind, as it attracted a whole host of big name players from across the Marvel Universe. Not only would Marvel’s titles be affected by the events of secret wars, but the industry as a whole would make it an annual mission to chase after its monetary success.
Secret Wars had a big impact on the development of Marvel Comics
Secret Wars‘ Marketing-driven narrative has resulted in the introduction of several interesting and now iconic concepts to the Marvel Universe. Most notable of these was Spider-Man’s black alien suit, which allowed Mattel to easily make a “new toy” from the same mold. This costume would later link up with Eddie Brock to become Venom, adding the mythos of the symbiotes to the world of Spider-Man. New female characters such as the villains Titania and Volcana, as well as a new version of Spider-Woman were introduced into the story simply to bolster the toyline, although no toys were ever produced for them. Titania will make her live-action debut soon, proving the longevity of some of the characters introduced in the story.
Marvel saw how financially successful Secret Wars was and begin to “replicate” it by doing annual crossovers and events. Some of them would be on the same scope as the original comic book series, involving nearly every major Marvel hero and their books. Others would be contained in respective book families, such as the Slaughter of Mutantswhich spread throughout the x-men comics, as well as Power supply and Thor. Line-wide crossovers usually happened at least once a year, acting as summer blockbusters in comic book form. By having different books related to these storylines, Marvel (and DC, for that matter) could guarantee increased sales for finalists who wanted to have every chapter of the epic. It also made the Marvel Universe feel more interconnected than ever.
This arguably fueled the speculative boom of the 1990s that lifted comics to even greater heights before nearly killing the industry for good. Whether his legacy is seen as positive or negative, it is undeniable that Secret Wars had a dramatic impact on Marvel’s business and creative model going forward. Given that crossovers such as the current “Banner of War” storyline are still going strong at Marvel, it seems the real war will always be with readers’ wallets.