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Friday, October 24, 2014 

CBR sugarcoats the history of Secret Wars

CBR wrote about the first company wide crossover, Secret Wars, and how it changed everything, but they won't admit it became a bad precedent, spawning more non-stop crossovers that have effectively ruined organic flows in mainstream writing:
In this age of constant event stories, another superhero crossover surprises no one. But when Marvel Comics announces a new "Secret Wars" by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribić -- as the publisher did earlier this month during New York Comic Con -- it's something to take note of. The name immediately evokes memories in longtime comic fans of an event -- one of the first true "events" -- that left a lasting narrative and marketing impact on the Marvel Universe. The original "Secret Wars" taught the industry that if a company puts its biggest characters in one series, sales will follow.
Oh, that's basically admitting the product is marketed according to popularity rank of characters, and not according to story merit. So if Spider-Man's prominently featured, that's the sales draw, not Moon Knight.
..."Secret Wars" was another toy-inspired comic, but what made it unique was that the toys in question were based on Marvel's characters. Before Mattel launched its "Secret Wars" line of action figures, comics-based figures had no publishing support. "Secret Wars" was supposed to be a 22-page monthly advertisement for Mattel's new line, but what it became was a model many others would follow. Some people point to "Contest of Champions" as the first true "event" comic, but "Secret Wars" actually had lasting repercussions on the individual characters' solo titles and the Marvel Universe as a whole, a template Marvel, DC Comics and more follow to this day.
If they're saying the companies should've published series based on the toys, I don't see the need for that. Much like the comics, the toys should be marketed on their own terms too. What I don't seem to notice in this article is a note on how well the toys sold, and from what I know, they may not have sold that well at all, much like ROM: Spaceknight and Micronauts, also mentioned in the article, did not sell so well either.

Since they've brought up Contest of Champions, it's worth noting that miniseries by Bill Mantlo, one of the first of its kind from Marvel at the time, had some appalling politics featured in it. A couple of minor characters were notably featured, including Arabian Knight, who made no secret he disliked working with a Jewess, Sabra from Israel; both first appeared in two different issues of the Incredible Hulk at the time. What was annoying about that story is how Arabian Knight's apparent racial hostility - to say nothing of his polygamy (he had 3 wives named Maya, Rana and Almira) - were dealt with using kid gloves. He despises Jews/Israel, and they don't distance themselves from him, at least until he renounces the Islamic-spawned beliefs he's going by? IMO, this was a testament to how poor Mantlo's grip on reality was, ditto his research.
According to Jim Shooter, Marvel's Editor-in-Chief at the time, in addition to requesting that Dr. Doom and Iron Man have a less medieval look, Mattel wanted a comic that featured one big story with an overarching theme that the toy company could build its line around. The series didn't feature any special shields, but it did introduce a multitude of character beats that went on to impact the heroes and villains in the Marvel Universe. It was also the first standalone series which saw its storylines spill into most of the Marvel titles published at the time, both directly and indirectly. Mattel wanted big, and Shooter provided. "Secret Wars" became something far more than a book that existed to push toys on kids; it was a blueprint for a new way to brand and sell books. Lots and lots of books.
Translation: a perfect way to coax people into buying books where they may not enjoy the story inside. A perfect way to exploit everyone's wallets. And Mattel never thought about how inconsiderate this was to readers. Biggest problem: the whole strategy wasn't based on story quality per se.

I also don't get what they mean by Mattel's asking both Doctor Doom and Iron Man have less "medieval" looks. Sure, the former had something like that, but it served to make him look more sinister and mysterious. The latter's armor has been anything but antique-style.
Nowadays, after so many crossover events, fans are used to the concept of their favorite heroes gathering in one place to face a huge threat, but in the 1984, this sort of adventure was a novelty. Yes, Marvel published the "Avengers/Defenders War" in 1973, an event that served as a prototype for many future inter-title crossovers, but there was no core series connected to the event. Marvel also published "Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions" in 1982, but that storyline -- which was relatively similar to "Secret Wars" -- did not impact any of Marvel's other titles. "Secret Wars" presented a core title that fans could consume as well as crossing over into almost all of Marvel's monthly titles.
"Used to"? It's more like tired and bored, though there's still a portion of would-be fans out there who keep wasting their money on these tedious tripes and don't care if it's ruined self-contained storytelling.
Shooter reportedly micromanaged the creators of each of those titles, causing discontent amongst creators who were reluctant to derail their books in order to fit in the E-i-C's pet project. But Shooter was the boss, and "Secret Wars" launched as planned, featuring fantastic art by Mike Zeck and Bob Layton. Fans who wanted the whole story needed to pick up the core series as well as the ongoing titles affected by it. This sales gimmick is familiar to fans now, but in 1984, it was new and innovative, quickly spawning many clones. In fact, DC Comics looked to the "Secret Wars" template for its "Crisis on Infinite Earths," a crossover event that resulted in the entirety of the DC Universe to be rebooted. "Crisis" was much bigger in scope, but it followed the marketing plan and appeal to collectability established by "Secret Wars."
Micromanagement was exactly the problem, and has since continued to affect the Big Two very badly. Why should the creators have to yield to such a problematic idea that's since taken away their freedom in mainstream? In fairness, if it hadn't affected their titles through direct tie-ins, I'm sure plenty of people would be more forgiving, because it's not like they'd have to make hard choices whether they want to buy every single title, even if they're not interested in specific ones. But that's how Shooter went about it, and that's why I can't call it "innovative", when innovation is just what it helped destroy.
As we mentioned earlier, while it was created as a toy tie-in, "Secret Wars" actually had a very real and noticeable effect on much of the broader Marvel Universe. The biggest change was originally a cosmetic one, but it garnered mainstream attention and kicked off dozens and dozens of stories. One of the machines the Beyonder designed and placed on Battleworld was some kind of replicator device that the heroes used to replace their torn costumes. After his familiar red and blue garment was torn in battle, Peter Parker used the device to create new one. Apparently subconsciously inspired by the black suit of a new Spider-Woman (we'll get to her in a moment), Spidey ended up with a new, black suit, one that that has become iconic in its own right. But the old Parker luck was true to form as Peter actually used the wrong machine. Instead of cloth, the costume was in fact a sentient blob of black goo. This new, alien suit led to a lengthy storyline finding Spidey becoming more aggressive as the symbiote attempted to take control of Peter, eventually leading to the introduction of iconic Spider-foe Venom, a villain who became one of the most important and widely recognized aspects of Spider-Man's world.
Most of those "effects" they speak of didn't last long, not even the new Spidey costume, which lasted 3-4 years at best. To be fair, most of the "changes" stemming from Secret Wars were relatively harmless, and went away after awhile. And the miniseries' goal was not to kill off any characters. But today's crossovers and other events have led to severe lack of direction, or worse, they've come to serve as vehicles for killing off any character the editors choose, selectively or otherwise. I think DC may have suffered worse, because a large number of their crossovers featured at least one character death only for the sake of it, like Blue Devil co-star Marla Bloom's death in Underworld Unleashed, where the star implausibly chose to become a full-fledged devil-in-the-flesh, contradicting the original premise entirely. Like Zero Hour, some of these plot devices made no sense, yet this article's writer did not set out to say a word about the quality of writing. As I know, there were a handful of new characters who showed up (Julia Carpenter, Titania, Volcana), but their introductions didn't have to take place in a crossover to work.
The event also featured a temporary power upgrade for Dr. Doom, who stole the Beyonder's might during the final chapters. By having Doom stand out among the villains that went to Battleworld, Shooter further established Doom as the Marvel Universe's premier villain. Other antagonists were soldiers when compared to Doom, who dared to challenge the godlike Beyonder.
Well gee, they didn't have to do this in a crossover to establish Doom as a prime antagonist. Besides, if he lost the power increase afterwards, then I'm not sure how he could continue to be thought of as a premier villain if he lacked the full power he was given in Secret Wars.
...the X-Men's Colossus was so affected by his experiences on Battleworld that he ended his relationship with fellow X-Man Kitty Pryde. This event took both characters in new directions, as fans saw an end to one of the longest-standing romances in the Marvel Universe.
Say what? It didn't last that long; just 4 years at best. They don't mention the real reason Shooter wanted to move away from this was the problematic age difference between Colossus and Kitty in those early years. While that's understandable, I don't see how this couldn't be done in a stand-alone story back in the X-Men sans connection to the miniseries.
All of these character beats were important to the overall tapestry of the Marvel Universe, but it was in marketing where "Secret Wars" biggest impact was felt. The major comic companies and retailers now knew the power of branding. Fans everywhere had experienced a comic storyline in a way that they never had before, and if sales were any indication, they liked it.
But no longer. With the audience for superhero comics drastically reduced, it should be a lot more obvious today they've experienced "event fatigue", and while the sequel to Secret Wars may have sold well enough, it got a much more negative response. At the end of the article, CBR's writer says:
By the time the "Secret Wars" toys were on clearance at toy stores, the comic book market had been forever altered. As we head towards the new "Secret Wars," it's important to remember what the initial event meant to the industry, the direct market and the characters of the Marvel Universe.
And all this is told without specifying how well the toys sold. Were they blockbusters? I'm not sure. Come to think of it, what were the sales receipts on Secret Wars? If they didn't sell a million per copy, it may not be as successful as they say it was. Worse is the writer's disinterest in noting the bad impact Secret Wars had on creative freedom, and may have alienated quite a few writers from Marvel at the time. If they went over to DC though, that's weird, since they went right along and set up their own crossovers, and may have gone farther overboard than Marvel did. This is just the kind of reporting that's ruining comicdom and proving why CBR's one of the most unreliable news sites on the web.

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