In this post, we’re looking at the entire 12-issue Secret Wars series, the first major line-wide crossover event in comics, which expanded significantly on the model of 1982’s Contest of Champions and cast the mold for the subsequent annual crossover event comics at both Marvel and DC. (You can read more on the origin and background of Secret Wars here.)
There are several reasons I’m covering the entire series in one post. First, Captain America is just one of a massive cast of characters, so on average there are even fewer panels in each issue to highlight than in a normal issue of Avengers. Second, I will discuss the actual story even less than usual, making this post a little shorter than it would otherwise be (with over fifty panels to highlight). Finally, this story takes place in a “slice of time” rather than concurrently with the other Marvel books: The heroes involved disappear from their own titles and reappear in the next issue, sometimes with significant changes (such as the black Spidey suit and She-Hulk joining the Fantastic Four), which are later explained as Secret Wars plays out. So it seems appropriate to discuss the story in the same way, all at once among the issues showing their disappearance, rather than each issue with the same month’s issues of Captain America and Avengers (as if they happened around the same time).
We’ve already seen the “extraction” in Captain America #292 and Avengers #242, so let’s see where Cap and his amazing friends ended up, in Secret Wars #1, in an iconic two-page spread courtesy of Mike Zeck, John Beatty, and Christine Scheele (all familiar names from the last couple years of Cap’s own book):
Basically, an all-powerful being named the Beyonder has brought a bunch of heroes and villains to spaceships hovering above his custom-built “Battleworld” to throw down. If you’re curious, here are the bad guys:
Once the heroes are beamed down to the planet, we already see several heroes falling into character: Cap taking command, Wolverine criticizing him for it, and Hulk (at this point, intelligent) defending him.
The heroes question Magneto’s presence on their “team,” and after they drive him away, they get to selecting a leader. It’s no surprise who they eventually choose, though the various arguments and rationales given are interesting, particular those of Reed, Janet, and Professor X…
After Doctor Doom follows Galactus in an attempt to confront the Beyonder, he becomes aware of the magnitude of his power, and decides he must collaborate with Reed. Kang uses an advanced weapon to try to shoot Doom out of the sky, but he survives, and ironically it is Cap’s offer of a hand that turns Doom against the heroes once again, deciding to take the Beyonder’s power for himself.
For my money, Doctor Doom is the central character in this story (as he is, even more so, in the 2015 iteration), but that’s a topic for another time!
In issue #2, the two sides join in battle, and below are just three of the many panels showing Cap fully in command.
After the fight is over, we see Cap praise Reed, who clearly wants to impress the leader (as we’ve seen before)—and we see Reed already developing penal “innovations” that will culminate in the Negative Zone prison well-known from Civil War. (“Compassionate” indeed, ha.)
Later, Coach Taylor gives one of his patented half-time speeches to the team, complete with a heckling smart-ass whom he calmly ignores.
In issue #3, we see Cap, Reed, and the Hulk in their headquarters, monitoring events on huge iPhone screens, while Cap expresses sympathy for Reed’s position…
…andthe Hulk feels otherwise! Nonetheless, Cap reaffirms their improved chances if they work together, which Reed seems somewhat pessimistic about (maybe considering his own mentally depleted state).
In issue #4, the Molecule Man drops a mountain on a group of our heroes, inspiring a rare look of abject fear on Captain America’s face. (And please remember that this is Jim Rhodes, not Tony Stark, thirsting after Captain Marvel.)
Luckily, the Hulk was among them, and he holds the entire mountain from crushing them while the others work on getting them all out (with Cap serving as their eternal cheerleader).
As if things couldn’t get worse, in issue #5 our heroes suspect that Galactus may have set on sights on Battleworld for his dinner. Reed wants to ask him if he’d like the chicken instead, but Cap doesn’t like him taking the risk.
After Galactus rejects Reed’s company, he sends a killer robot down to the planet, and Cap again leads the defense, inspiring admiration from at least one blue-eyed idol o’ millions.
No sooner do they defeat the robot then the villains attack, with Doc Ock fully aware of the role that Cap plays in keeping them fighting (also affirmed by the other Cap).
In issue #6, six of the heroes have a strategy session, with Cap making judgment calls about how to deal with Magneto, one of the wild cards in this secret war of theirs, and then having to explain optimal depletion of limited resources to an intelligent yet frustrated Hulk.
In issue #7 we meet a new Spider-Woman…
…who auditions for the fight, with Cap sounding a bit naive about Doom while Spidey is filing away costume ideas in his head.
Cap tries to dissuade the newcomer from risking her life, but she reminds him that this is war, man!
That sound is the villains’ tank, from which they toss the prone body of the Wasp, whom they discover is dead, making the heroes more determined than ever to strike back… but Cap is the sole voice of reason, explaining that the priority is preparing for Galactus’s attack and considering the possibility of Doom’s machinations behind it all.
Later, Cap mulls Galactus’s inaction, unaware that the devourer must stabilize the planet before he can… well, you know. Field Commander Barton gives him news of a missing She-Hulk, but when her cousin wants to look for her, Cap once again makes the tough call and puts his foot down.
When Hulk presses him on it, Cap sympathizes but again stresses the bigger picture (while also making the case for strong, level-headed leadership in times of emotional crisis).
But soon Cap receives an offer of reinforcements…
…leading him to adjust his strategy in turn, much to the delight of his fellow heroes.
Another bit fight ensues in issue #8, and Cap asks a stupid question to the Asgardian whose name is literally the Enchantress.
Unfortunately for her, those charms do not work on Cap, who has a sweetheart waiting back home—and an iron will to boot. Furthermore, while he’s naturally hesitant to strike a woman, he clearly makes an exception for evil goddesses.
Later, he and the Human Torch finds the nearly indestructible Ultron, and Cap orders Johnny to use his most powerful flame despite the danger to himself. (The shield is great, of course, but I suspect that extreme heat can get around it. At least he’ll save himself a sunburn.)
After the fight is over, the heroes tend to their wounded, with Cap predictably feeling responsible for their losses, especially the Wasp, and this time it’s Reed’s turn to play the supportive friend.
Cap will feel much better soon when the Wasp “wakes up,” thanks to the healing abilities of Zsaji, one of the natives of Battleworld (and the love of Colossus). That should have been the above-the-fold news, but oh right, this happened too.
In issue #9, Galactus finally starts to eat the planet, so a group of heroes head to stop him… Hey! Peter Benjamin Parker! Jonathan Lowell Spencer Storm! I will turn this ship around right now!
Somehow I don’t think Cap will be working with any of the Fantastic Four again for a while after this.
Galactus summons Reed for a chat, flattering him by calling him a “force of the universe” and a “universal champion of life,” but that still doesn’t help Reed solve the trolley problem the Devourer poses:
Join the club, buddy.
Of course, Cap refuses to accept any death without a fight… but first, he extends a hand to the mutant community, anticipating his formation of the Avengers “unity squad” following the “Avengers Vs. X-Men” event.
In issue #10, Doctor Doom manages to steal Galactus’s power—that can’t be good—so the heroes decide to run toward the danger. As Magneto powers the X-Men’s damaged ship, Cap tries to compliment him, but the master of magnetism takes it the wrong way… very wrong… and Cap has to remind him of their precarious partnership.
Logan has never seen a fight he wouldn’t love to join… even a debate, in which he delivers some of Magneto’s usual lines rejecting Professor X’s accommodationist approach to co-existing with humans. He lumps Cap in with this, but Cap doesn’t take the bait, drawing the line at killing even when the cause is just.
Meanwhile, Doctor Doom, possessing the power of Galactus, has attacked the Beyonder himself, and appears as a vision to the heroes, asking them to join him. Only Magneto accepts, but the rest tackle him before he has reach Doom, who then disappears. When Magneto is roundly criticized for trying to join the enemy, it is Cap who comes to his defense.
No word from Logan then, but he does soon join Cap in helping to free the captured villains when the structure holding them begins to collapse.
Logan is surprised to see Cap concerned about wrongdoers…
…but he’s a fast learner, and not too proud to admit he was wrong. (He clearly hasn’t been reading this blog.)
When Doom reappears, fresh from his defeat of the Beyonder and now unscarred and Galactus-sized, Cap once again tries to inspire his team…
…but it may be for naught, as Doom shrinks to normal size and announces the war over and himself redeemed, now on the side of the angels.
So, the story’s over, right? Not so fast—there are still two issues to go, and you gotta figure Doom’s up to something. In issue #11, Doom kills Kang and then revives him, all to paraphrase a little Shakespeare.
Doom offers to grant the heroes a wish, but they turn it down, choosing instead to take their toys and go home… but Cap’s count comes up one short, and we all know how he feels about leaving anyone behind.
Cap thinks of one of his own favorite literary quotes as he searches for Spider-Woman in Doom’s lair…
…but all he finds is a very laid-back Doctor Doom, amidst portraits of his mother.
Doom explains his mother’s plight and his ultimate goal regarding her (the goal that motivates much of his action that is not in the general area of world domination), and Cap is oddly satisfied.
More likely he sees through Doom’s “benevolent son” act, as he explains to his fellow heroes back at the clubhouse, touching on the inevitable present posed by absolute power, especially in the hands of one as vain as Victor von Doom.
No one asked him, but Magneto puts his two cents in, and when Colossus’s opinion is solicited, he speaks up for Doom’s humanity, the possibility of which Cap acknowledges, asking for consensus from the group before attacking Doom. In the end, though, Colossus agrees to pursue Doom, even though it may mean the end of his newfound love (a choice Cap surely sympathizes with).
Before they can act, however, a bolt of force from Doom strikes from above, leaving the aftermath we see as issue #12 opens.
But all is not lost… thanks to some lingering doubt in Doom’s mind, the heroes are revived, although Cap’s shield is still busted.
So once again, Cap faces Doom alone—although, this time, Doom already has his boots on.
Cap challenges Doom’s claims of omnipotence and uses his vanity against him, which seems to backfire…
,…until Cap reappears, each and every time Doom destroys him, either due to his own doubts or the machinations of Klaw, to whom Doom bequeathed some of his power, and who was secretly taken over by the essence of the Beyonder.
Cap strikes a final blow…
…after which the Beyonder reclaims his power completely, restoring Doom to his scarred and armored self, before Doom and Klaw vanish completely.
Too bad about Cap’s shield… if it weren’t for a nifty deus ex machina. (“Wish fulfillment phenomenon” my eye.)
This is some very nice language about the shield’s importance to Cap, as well as the role of his will in helping rebuild it. (Note that the composition of the shield is still yet to be identified.)
Whew… that’s it, at least until Secret Wars II begins in three months, complete with our first look at the Beyonder himself (or, at least, how he chooses to reveal himself). Stay tuned!
Secret Wars (vol. 1) #1-12, May 1984-April 1985: Jim Shooter (writer), Mike Zeck and Bob Layton (pencils), John Beatty, Jack Abel, and Mike Esposito (inks), Christie Scheele and Nel Yomtov (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Secret Wars.