To date, the biggest, most ambitiously epic comic book crossover event in Marvel history is 2015’s Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina. The series was the culmination of Hickman’s simultaneous runs on Avengers and New Avengers, while also bringing in concepts from his previous work on Fantastic Four, Future Foundation and The Ultimates to the forefront in a sweeping saga that completely destroyed the Marvel Multiverse and reimagined it as a single, composite reality known as Battleworld before recreating the multiverse with plenty of lasting consequences for its iconic heroes and villains.
Here is a complete primer on the crossover event, what tie-ins were the most important and the far-reaching impact it had on the entire Marvel Multiverse.
Throughout his tenure writing both Avengers and New Avengers, Hickman introduced the concept of incursions, with other realities converging and collapsing into one another across the Multiverse. Unwilling to destroy other worlds to save his own, Captain America was mind-wiped by the Illuminati before he could go public with the news until his memory was restored during the events of the 2014 crossover event Original Sin. Captain America sought to stop the Illuminati from destroying any other worlds while the Illuminati continued to pursue drastic measures to save the Marvel Universe at all costs.
Meanwhile in the Ultimate Marvel Universe, Reed Richards had handled his break-up with Sue Storm and the dissolution of this reality’s Fantastic Four poorly, to put it mildly. After taking on the moniker The Maker, Reed became a full-on villain, developing his own genetically engineered race while teaming up with the Cabal, a group of supervillains from the main Marvel Universe. By the start of the main series, only the main Marvel Universe and Ultimate Marvel Universe remained outside of the once-mighty Marvel multiverse, while Doctor Doom tried to see if the limitless power of the Beyonders could prevent the final incursion. The opening issue of Secret Wars would document the cataclysmic final incursion, leading to the subsequent creation of Battleworld.
While the entirety of Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers runs certainly enriches the experience leading up to the start of Secret Wars, the most pertinent tie-in issues to the crossover’s launch are covered in Avengers #35-44 and New Avengers #24-33 in stories labeled “Time Runs Out.” For those curious to see how far Ultimate Reed Richards had fallen setting up his role in Secret Wars, Hickman’s run on the Ultimates is contained within Ultimate Comics: Ultimates #1-12.
Outside of the essential 12-issue Secret Wars series that contains the spine of the crossover, Marvel released several tie-ins focusing on each of the different Warzones — fragments of alternate worlds and divergent timelines that had been reborn as part of the composite Battleworld. Among the most prominent of the tie-in miniseries was Thors by Jason Aaron and Chris Sprouse. After using the Beyonders’ energy to create and rule Battleworld, Doom had the various Thors from across the former multiverse serve as his personal law enforcement agency known as the Thor Corps. Aaron and Sprouse’s miniseries expanded the perspective of the Gods of Thunder on Battleworld, setting up their turn in the main event series.
The most immediate consequence of Secret Wars was that the Marvel Multiverse was completely restored with a few slight alternations. The most visible of these changes was the incorporation of Miles Morales and Ultimate Reed Richards into the main Marvel Universe. Similar to the way Crisis on Infinite Earths reshaped the DC Universe, the characters had their histories revised and developed new memories of having lived on Earth-616 all along before eventually having their memories of the old universe restored sometime later. And while Miles would continue to defend New York City as Spider-Man alongside Peter Parker, The Maker would go on to menace different superheroes, including a new iteration of the Future Foundation and Venom after taking an unhealthy interest in symbiotes.
After restoring the main Marvel Universe, Reed Richards and his family quietly removed themselves from its reality for a time to focus on rebuilding the entire multiverse from a pocket dimension while earning a much-deserved break from their usual superhero shenanigans. The Fantastic Four temporarily disbanded as the Richards family focused their efforts on rebuilding, with only the Human Torch and the Thing returning to the Marvel Universe as their own superheroes while Peter Parker converted the Baxter Building into his corporate headquarters during a brief period where he was a successful entrepreneur. Eventually, the Richards would make their own epic return and the Fantastic Four reformed once again in all its glory back in its classic home base.
Secret Wars used the destruction of the entire Marvel Multiverse as a prologue before putting its true story into motion. The crossover event was a love letter to all the different weird worlds that had appeared across Marvel history, from divergent timelines to alternate realities, and it gave the creative teams the opportunity revisit and remix Marvel’s extensive library of heroes and villains in surprising ways. While its sheer scope may seem intimidating, Secret Wars remains one of the finest examples of an epic crossover done right in the Marvel Universe.
Secret Wars began with the destruction of the Marvel Multiverse, and that cataclysmic event was only the beginning of Marvel's biggest crossover ever.