In the mid-1980s, Secret Wars was surely the comicbook series that Marvel UK were born to reprint.
In fact, there were two such series awaiting republication for a British audience - Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, and the casually named sequel Secret Wars II.
While they may sound like similar properties, they were in fact quite distinct from each other.
The original US series Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars was 12 issues long, told a complete story with a beginning, middle and end, was set far off in deep space, and featured more or less the same clearly-defined group of super heroes throughout. They were battling an equally clearly-defined group of established super villains, at the behest of a remote god-like light in the sky called the Beyonder, who only very rarely said anything.
Secret Wars II on the other hand, despite being written by the same guy (Jim Shooter), was only nine issues long, set on Earth, and featured a dice-roll of different Marvel characters every month. The Beyonder now had a body, and was struggling to reconcile his omnipotence and omniscience with the imperfections of his new-found humanity. Consequently, he talked a heck of a lot more. Hey - he was now the only main character.
The real curve-ball though, was that Secret Wars II came with 33 additional chapters, thanks to crossovers into 22 other pre-existing Marvel series.
While this was a genius way of cross-marketing the whole Marvel range in America, collecting the entire sprawling story into one continuous British reprint serial was always going to be a challenge, for so many reasons.
The official reading order had been set-out in the backs of the US issues, but this was plainly wrong. Also, by appearing in these other series, the Beyonder would necessarily drift in and out of much longer ongoing storylines that didn't involve him, so how much of those bigger contexts would it be necessary to also present? Then of course there would be the constantly varying writing-style, artwork and page-count.
Not to mention Marvel UK's love of changing things anyway.
In the event, the British reprint of both Secret Wars sagas lasted for an impressive 80 issues, and actually made it all the way through to the end! Well, mostly. If it had all seen print, then it just wouldn't have been Marvel UK. We love them for the weird and wonderful mutations that would emerge in strips that we had long since believed finished.
Those riffs are what this post is celebrating.
2. Issue Guide / Mutation Highlights
Reprints: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #1
Right from the very first fortnightly issue, Marvel UK stamp their own spin on proceedings, which I think was a good idea, up to a point.
To introduce some of the huge cast of characters, the lead strip is preceded by a double-page spread of a Daily Bugle cover (dated February 5, 1984), an editorial, and the first of an intermittent self-parodying two-page UK-originated strip entitled "Marvel's Secret Artist".
However, when the Secret Wars strip finally does get started, it's inexplicably broken-up into two chapters of 14 and 9 pages apiece, separated by "Superhero Secrets" and an advert for next week's issue. Then "chapter two" begins, with a UK-originated recap of how we left events a mere two pages earlier. Huh?
Also, free transfers, background and a separate toy competition form too!
Reprints: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #2-5
Alpha Flight #1-3
The regular features settle-down to include an Alpha Flight back-up strip, full-page fact-files on the many characters, and almost constant hero/villain-related free gifts, which would frequently damage the cover if you attempted to remove them. This is a real shame, because some of the specially-commissioned British artwork that adorns this series is nothing short of stunning…
Reprints: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #6
Alpha Flight #4
Settling down, the comic's title is abbreviated to just Secret Wars, it becomes a weekly, and this issue features a free Kellogg's Corn Flakes model airliner! They're running a bit short on those character stickers, aren't they?
Reprints: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #6-9
Alpha Flight #4-8
Indeed, the free gifts do kind of dry up. Despite a Spider-Man sticker in (well, on) issue #11, issue #12 tries to get away with a "free" pull-out comic of Zoids by Steve Parkhouse! Ooh, let's hope they don't try to pull that fast one again.
Reprints: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #9
Alpha Flight #8
The comic pivotally goes full-colour, features a free fold-out poster (advert?) for Zoids toys, and also launches a regular four-page Zoids strip, which until it's penultimate episode will remain in the centre staples. This positioning is on the one hand irritating because it interrupts the Secret Wars strip, but on the other hand ingenious because it can be easily removed and discarded. As they say, no need to ruin your comic!
Reprints: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #9-11
Publication worryingly changes its name to Secret Wars Featuring: Zoids
Reprints: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #11
Features an unprecedented eleven pages of UK-originated strip material, composed of the four-page Zoids strip, a double-bill return / end for the Marvel's Secret Artist strip, and… a brand-new three page Spider-Man story written by US Secret Wars author Jim Shooter, which the Americans never got? Yes, really. Reviewed in more detail here.
US original on the left, UK reprint on the right - guess what month it is?
Reprints: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #11
Alpha Flight #9
Contains the final episode of Zoids, which for the only time in its run is one page out-of-sync with the centre-staples, making it impossible to remove. The strip could be finishing for any one of a number of reasons. Maybe because it's the final issue of 1985. Or perhaps it was always planned to last for eight weeks. Or maybe the editors needed the space, foreseeing the approaching expansion of the lead strip to fill the whole of each issue.
Zoids was not about to die though and would shortly merge with The Spider-Man Comic to become Spider-Man And Zoids. The Zoids strip therein was initially still written by Ian Rimmer, then later Richard Alan, James Hill, Simon Furman, Steve Alan... and ultimately Grant Morrison!
Reprints: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #12
Alpha Flight #5-10
Secret Wars I concludes, as does Alpha Flight for the moment.
Issue #29 promises that the Secret Artist will be "back soon". Well, all I can say is that that's one very secretive secret artist they have there.
Reprints: Secret Wars II #1
Secret Wars II begins... with no back-up strip!
Faced with squeezing a 25 page strip into a 24 page publication, including cover and editorial, Marvel UK sharpen up their scissors in readiness for what must surely rate as the greatest era of re-editing in their careers. Right from page one, the very first two panels get cut, prompting the rewriting of the story's opening narration in a different hand…
Original US opening narration:
"Beyond time, space, and the myriad dimensions lies another universe, to which our own is as a droplet of water to the ocean. The One Who Is All in that other universe has learned of our universe, and of us… and he is coming here. Now.
Stan Lee presents: Secret Wars II.
He enters our space at a random point, for time and distance have no meaning to him. At unimaginable velocity, he travels through the void…
… seeking one particular galaxy…
… and therein…
… a certain planet…"
UK opening narration:
"Stan Lee presents: Secret Wars II.
Now, admittedly, it can be tough cramming a 25-page strip into just 22, however an alternative solution might have been to have just given the comic another four pages. Why sure, of course that would have cost more money to produce, however this issue also somehow invested in an extra eight full-colour glossy A4 sides for the "free" fold-out poster of the cover in the centre.
While this is indeed an awesome poster (roughly 83cm x 52cm on thicker paper), I doubt that many readers would have chosen it over the remaining three pages of the story that they had actually bought the comic for. Even at half that size we could have had those missing pages.
Or maybe it was just a clever ruse to entice readers who'd already got the US original into paying for it a second time. Hey - I did.
However that can't explain the more entertaining mutation that occurs when Owen and Marsha are watching teevee. See if you can spot the well-intentioned, but apparently misinformed, Anglicisation…
What, did they think that Laverne And Shirley had never aired in the UK or something? I'm just glad that Marsha's bag of "CHIPS" wasn't changed into a bag of "HILL STREET BLUES".
Reprints: Iron Man #197
And so it begins.
Of all the "crossover" issues to reprint, Iron Man #197 is surely the most superfluous. It doesn't contain the Beyonder anywhere, doesn't resolve anything left hanging in the main issue (rather elongating it), and its events are never referred to again. The preceding chapter had even finished with the Beyonder tailing Captain America, surely making those events more logical ones to follow next.
Most unfortunately of all, having reprinted this instalment, Marvel UK were left with so many Iron Man plot-threads hanging that they then invested issues #46, #49, #52 and #53 in wrapping them up. Alternatively, maybe the British Secret Wars was selling so well that they were deliberately trying to stretch it out for as long as possible.
Reprints: Captain America #308
Reprints: The Thing #22
Not an official crossover, but the lone final instalment of the Thing's 14-part adventures on the Secret Wars planet. While the back-story is recapped pretty well, Tarianna's sudden introduction and death sit less comfortably.
Reprints: Fantastic Four #276-278
The Uncanny X-Men #183
Fantastic Four #266
(just the five, mind)
The beginning of what I like to call the first half of the series' "jigsaw period", as Marvel UK cut up existing strips and pasted bits of them back together to make new ones.
In principle, this was absolutely the way to go. In execution, well maybe they got a little too creative. This issue is a good example.
New cover - that little girl is actually the Thing's ex-girlfriend Alicia Masters.
Splash page: Background removed, narration-box resized, repositioned and recoloured, title imported in three pieces from the following issue, credits tweaked to Anglicise 'colors' to 'colour' and add British inker Mark Farmer, British Secret Wars II banner added at the top, and the image has been zoomed-in a bit. Oh yes, and I almost didn't notice, but it's UP-SIDE DOWN!
Other than that, pages 1-3 are pretty well pages 1-3 of Fantastic Four #276.
Pages 4-8 are composed of the top halves of pages 1-10 of Fantastic Four #277. Well, mostly. Right up until the cross-over with Rom #65 when this alteration happens:
Aww, now that has been done rather well, poor Thing.
Pages 9-13 are taken from the opening of The Uncanny X-Men #183, with the addition of the prefix "Interlude:", and the X-Men's return "from Japan" altered to "from the Secret Wars".
Page 14 is the splash page from Fantastic Four #266 from about a year earlier (thanks Herschel) doctored-up with a new thought-balloon containing words from Fantastic Four #277 page 20 panel 2. This transformed the subject of She-Hulk's contemplation from her recent acceptance into the FF, to her imminent departure. Had the next page been printed too, then three panels later Walter Langowski from Alpha Flight would have snuck back in.
Page 15 is made up of the tops of the next two pages from that issue, after a fashion.
Finally, pages 16-18 are, with a few alterations, pages 13-15 of Fantastic Four #278. A few pieces of narration have been adapted or removed, but most shocking is what doesn't get softened from the anti-racism storyline:
Reprints: The Uncanny X-Men #196
With free Transformers sticker album!
Reprints: Fantastic Four #279-284
Secret Wars II #2
Alpha Flight #11
Well, they've done something about the N word this time:
These six issues pick up and complete the Fantastic Four's Psycho-Man story, while chronologically weaving in the Beyonder's encounters with Spider-Man, Power Man and Iron Fist. Most connections are made pretty well, although not all.
For example, in issue #38 we get the impressive opening splash page from Secret Wars II #2, with credits, followed literally three pages later by the splash page from Fantastic Four #280, with completely different credits.
Alternatively issue #39 has no such qualms about accurate crediting, happily swapping back into material from Secret Wars II #2 half way through, as though it had all been masterminded by John Byrne et al.
Issue #41 features a UK-originated splash page from Mike Collins, expertly inspired by and almost word-for-word consistent with the much smaller US panels that it replaces.
It's also this issue that exposes quite how unnecessary this seven-issue detour for the Fantastic Four's Psycho-Man storyline is. The Beyonder interacts with the FF for less than two-and-a-half pages of that. This makes the Hate Monger, and his unseen murderer, appear to be just generic baddies, whose only purpose in the strip is to show how routinely complex life in the Marvel universe can be.
Beyonder: "The multiplicity and disunity of this universe is confusing!"
Reed: "The human condition doesn't often fall into neat, orderly patterns! Tonight for example--! So much happened… so many forces were operating at once--! Frankly, I'm at a loss to account for that mysterious vigilante who destroyed the Hate Monger!"
The following week, issue #42 reprints Fantastic Four #282, which had in the US featured the Beyonder in just one panel, which Marvel UK cut.
Issue #42 also sees the launch of Lew Stringer's half-page super hero parody Macho Man, which will pop up until #79. In the circumstances, I must conclude that Macho Man is, secretly, the secret artist.
Web Of Spider-Man #6 and Amazing Spider-Man #268 were reprinted in Secret Wars II Special #1.
Issues #39 and #41 are filled-out by the final two-part Alpha Flight origin. Now that every member of Alpha Flight has at last been fully introduced to us, it feels as though we can finally get really stuck-in to their present adventures. (this was the final issue to feature Alpha Flight)
Reprints: Secret Wars II #3
Oops, I'm wrong. Five pages get cut to squeeze it in, but a crowd scene that includes the disembodied mute head of Puck from Alpha Flight in monochrome actually survives. Finally a crossover with the back-up strip!
In other black-and-white news, well adverts really, a four-part half-page Biggles serial begins, to be concluded "at your local cinema"! (though inconsistently in Technicolor)
Reprints: The Avengers #255-260
Iron Man #198-201
The Uncanny X-Men #199
Daredevil - The Man Without Fear #223
The second-half of Secret Wars II's "jigsaw period" really concerns itself with four things:
1. Extensively conveying the six issues of The Avengers that surround the Beyonder's three-and-a-half page appearance therein. (conversely, the corresponding two pages of Secret Wars II #3 had both been cut)
2. Extensively tying-up Iron Man's ongoing storylines from the episode reprinted in #33 that didn't even feature the Beyonder. Maybe someone thought that his new costume needed explaining? (after its earlier brief appearance with Puck in #45)
3. Rachel taking on the power of Phoenix, to foreshadow her later material.
4. Daredevil #223. (which like The Avengers #259 & 260 and Iron Man #199 & #200 actually gets an issue to itself)
From this point on, barring double issues, Secret Wars II limits itself to representing just one US issue at a time.
Reprints: Fantastic Four #285
Reviewed in more detail here.
Reprints: Fantastic Four Annual #19
Seemlessly broken into two parts, this nonetheless seems an odd choice for the lead strip. Having in recent months built-up the Avengers' Battle To End All Skrulls storyline, when the big finale happens, it's the Fantastic Four's alternative, more remote, perspective on events that gets printed instead, in which the Avengers only appear at the end. The actual Avengers episode that belongs here (The Avengers Annual #14) was printed separately in Secret Wars II Special #2. Surely the FF's stand-alone annual should have gone in there instead?
Reviewed in more detail here.
From this point on, every issue contains Secret Wars material, as opposed to related stories, barring #68.
Reprints: Secret Wars II #4
In the squeeze to fit 26 pages into 21, Marvel UK make the most of it, cutting out Cindy Adams, a Dire Wraith, Brandy Clark, Rom, the Thing, the Silver Surfer, Captain America… and President Ronald Reagan!
Most tragic though is the loss of three pages that featured the Beyonder meeting former back-up strip stars Alpha Flight, robbing them of any relevance to the title they supported for so long. Consequently their crossover issue doesn't get reprinted either, although after the jigsaw period we can perhaps be grateful.
Reprints: Dazzler #40.
Reviewed in more detail here.
Reprints: The Avengers #261.
Reprints: Secret Wars II #5
With a wraparound cover by Gammill and Morgan to celebrate Marvel's 25th anniversary! Even Alpha Flight make it in. Captain Britain and Heroes For Hire don't.
Reprints: The Thing #30
Borrows its cover from the concurrent Fantastic Four #296, but with Captain Britain and Meggan cribbed from Captain Britain #13 to replace Puck from Alpha Flight peeking out from under the barcode-box bottom-left.
Reprints Doctor Strange #74
Doctor Strange forgets having met the Beyonder in issue #60. The Beyonder forgets the method he used to teach the Human Torch in issue #54.
Reviewed in more detail here.
Reprints: Cloak And Dagger volume 2 #4
Reviewed in more detail here.
Reprints: Secret Wars II #6
Joyously edited down from 25 pages to 21, the chief victims here are the heroes. I mean call me old-fashioned, but I thought that their appearances were one of this comic's biggest selling points. Like in these two panels from the original US printing:
And now, here's that moment again in the subtly abridged UK version:
That's almost two pages gone there, including the crowd of superheroes that this issue's cover comes from.
Perhaps even more regrettably, see if you can spot the difference between the following two versions of a panel from the penultimate page:
What happened there? Did they cross it out, change their minds, realise they'd run out of Tipp-Ex, and stick a photocopy of it back over the top again hoping that no-one would notice? I mean they didn't even correct "it's" to "its"!
Ah well, we did get a free sticker-badge of Spider-Man!
Reprints: Power Pack #18
Already reprinted in Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi #129-132, but now with a free Enchantress sticker-badge!
Reviewed in more detail here.
Reprints: The Mighty Thor #363
With free Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars sticker album!
Reviewed in more detail here.
Reprints: Power Man And Iron Fist #121
More free stickers. What is this - some sort of seasonal holiday upon which gifts are exchanged?
Reviewed in more detail here.
Reprints: Fantastic Four #287-288
Apparently taking Power Man and SHIELD's betrayal of him last issue rather hard, the Beyonder is suddenly in a really bad mood and about to destroy the multiverse.
Reprints: Secret Wars II #7
The Beyonder sits down and has a very long think, presumably about his vulnerability to the power of history last issue, before mellowing and deciding to help everyone by teaching them what their purpose in life is. Whew!
Reprints: The All New, All Daring Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #111
Runs on from the reprint of The Amazing Spider-Man #273 in Spider-Man And Zoids #33-36.
Reprints: The Uncanny X-Men #202
Continuing an occasional trend, this issue conserves space by recycling the splash page as the cover.
Reprints: Secret Wars II #8
Having now fully recovered from his earlier rash decision to destroy the entire multiverse, the Beyonder decides to destroy the entire multiverse.
There is a certain sense that Marvel UK are giving up here. Not just because of the obvious misordering of chapters, but because of the changes that they don't make.
For example, the final page of the US version of this issue had been clearly stated as set following its three crossover issues, so one might have expected the old Marvel UK to happily cut these panels out and re-insert them where they come. Instead they now go down the much easier route of simply relettering that footnote to read "Following our next three issues!"
What a shame that these would not even turn out to be the same three issues.
Reprints: The New Mutants #36-37
Not that these two issues really run on into each other or anything.
Again forgetting his resolve to destroy the entire multiverse, the Beyonder wordlessly returns to his earlier mellow, altruistic self. Then the following issue, for a third time, he decides to destroy the entire multiverse. Oh, fer goodness sake, Beyonder, just make up yer mind!
Reprints: The Amazing Spider-Man #274
Well, most of it. Instead of editing this long issue down, this reprint spills over into Spider-Man And Zoids #41.
Reprints: The Avengers #265
With only four editions left, despite the lack of green on some pages, this issue astounds by actually making some improvements upon the original material.
A pointless flashback of Hercules slaying Antaeus on page 12 is cut. Good call.
A footnote box on page 10 that has no asterisk in the dialogue to refer to it is slickly removed too.
But the coup de grace has got to be the subtle correction that they've made to the final panel…
One, two, three, four, fi... WOW, he's right!
Reprints: The Uncanny X-Men #203
Sadly, we lose the beautiful double-page spread of pages 14-15.
Reprints: Secret Wars II #9
Mephisto tortures the Beyonder by boiling him in brine and letting green razorvines grow slowly through his flesh, before vomiting maggots over his face and watching them furiously eat his body away in agonising pain. But not in the UK. Sorry kids.
And so we reach the final issue of Britain's version of the Secret Wars saga.
The series is an incredible achievement. It lasted the entire course of both series, included a heck of a lot of (often irrelevant) backstory, and the editorial carries a tone of sincere enjoyment throughout.
Allowing for a few hiccups (particularly at the end), the order was obviously thought about, and being a subjective thing was never going to exactly match any one reader's opinion. That's part of what makes it fun.
Sure it's a shame that we missed out on some stuff for so many understandable reasons. Some of the biggest losses would have to be those issues that never got reprinted at all: The New Mutants #30, The Incredible Hulk #312, Rom #72, Alpha Flight #28, The Micronauts - The New Voyages #16 and The New Defenders #152.
In case you were wondering, back-up strip stars Alpha Flight do make it back into the lead strip for the last two issues but, amazingly, still never get a word of dialogue. What was the point of introducing them all to us?
This appears to be one title that Marvel UK really didn't want to cancel, it being ultimately forced upon them by running out of material. If that's true, it is perhaps a shame that they didn't manage to produce a few original chapters of their own for these pages, perhaps being told in half issues with cheaper reprint backup-strips to keep costs down.
Captain Britain was the UK superhero of the day, so eleven pages of his and Meggan meeting the Beyonder could have been quite valid. Surely if Rom and the Micronauts could liaise with the one from beyond in the States, then the Transformers, whose UK comic was routinely printing as much British material as American anyway, would have fitted in nicely. Even, hm, yes, I'll say it, even Zoids.
Not Doctor Who though. That would have just been silly.
Alas, although the Beyonder was obviously popular on these shores, he never quite got a new lease of life here, although he did make it into the final panel of Macho Man in #79.
(panel thanks to Lew Stringer)
Above I've noted various amusing shortcomings in the translation, which I'm afraid at age 14 were just the sort of thing that incensed me. This was a bit of a shame, as I think that 14-year-old comic readers were just the sort of consumers who they were trying to appeal to. I collected the series in spite of itself, basically.
However, today at 39 I consider the British Secret Wars to have been an extremely good reprint series. I don't know if any issue actually made it through completely intact, and have not the inclination to go through checking them all, but on some level, I actually hope they didn't. I now enjoy all the changes.
The first episode of Secret Wars II began with its opening panels getting cut, obviously starting as it would go on.
So, having eclipsed the US series by seven issues, what of Secret Wars II's final page?
Oh, it's really subtle. In order to squeeze in a plug for the epilogue (The Avengers #266) which was about to be reprinted in Spider-Man And Zoids (which would itself be cancelled just six issues later), the bottoms of panels 3-6 were quietly trimmed.
Ironic really. For 80 issues Marvel UK had been fighting their own little secret war, with the strip itself.
3. Individual issue reviews:
Secret Wars Featuring: Zoids #25
Secret Wars II #54
Secret Wars II #55-56
Secret Wars II #58
Secret Wars II #62
Secret Wars II #63
Secret Wars II #65-66
Secret Wars II #67
(Marvel's images in this post are copyright Marvel, and were used according to 'fair use' laws)