Secret Wars debuted in May 2015. The epic miniseries centers on the destruction, and eventual rebirth, of the Marvel Universe. When writer Jonathan Hickman first pitched the concept more than six years before, he imagined a dimension-hopping adventure, mixing elements of Marvel’s Exiles and Strikeforce Morituri. Hickman “hacked away at it over the years,” working with Tom Brevoort, Marvel’s Executive Editor and SVP of publishing. He began planting the seeds for Secret Wars during his run on Fantastic Four (2009), continuing through his tenure on Avengers and New Avengers (2013). The story grew over time, eventually impacting the entire Marvel publishing line.
To mark the debut of the Secret Wars hardcover, Hickman and Brevoort shared some behind-the-scenes insight into the making of the series.
Q: Comics history is full of event books that are billed as “Everything Changes!” or “Nothing will ever be the same!” With Secret Wars, that’s literally true. How did it feel as the idea developed and you realized that you were actually going to reshape the Marvel Universe?
Hickman: Well, the way these things work, you kind of have to run the gauntlet of pitching them at these writer retreats that we have. Or creative summits, whatever we’re calling them now. [laughs] If you’ve ever been in one of those, you’ve seen people with pretty good stories get absolutely eviscerated and lose the story that they were going to work on. And you’ve seen stories just come out of nowhere and take over the room, and totally disrupt what everyone was going to do. So at no point in time was I comfortable with the fact that I was going to get to go all the way with this.
I do remember when we got to the summit where it was clear we were going to do Secret Wars, but it wasn’t clear how big it was going to be. And the summit where it became evident that we were deleting everything. We were erasing all the books and doing new books, or different versions of those books, and all of it was on Battleworld and all of that kind of stuff…I remember sitting there kind of going, Holy [expletive], I talked Marvel into blowing up their entire production line.
Brevoort: On the average event story, the mandate that goes out to our editors and writers is: “We’re doing this story. It’s a big story, it’s going to have impact in the Marvel Universe, we want to hit a certain critical mass of having the other books be a part of it.” But you really have the option as to whether you want to play or not. Secret Wars is really the only [instance] within recent memory where there was no option. No matter what you doing, come a certain point around April or May, it was going to stop. And you were going to be on hiatus for at least four months (which turned into much longer, because it took us longer to get finished).
That was really the moment, when it became sort of ratified that yes, we are blowing up the Marvel Universe, and destroying it as it exists. That’s the point at which it became the massive thing that it was.
Q: Thanks to the publicity and all the online discussion, the curiosity factor for people who aren’t regular readers is very high. But, given the scope of the story, it’s not necessarily the easiest jumping-on point. How would you describe Secret Wars to new readers?
Hickman: I think this is your question, Tom…[laughs]
Brevoort: Yep. Yep. [laughs] I think you’re right—up until you get to chapter two. Once you get to chapter two, now we’re in Battleworld, everybody’s on the same playing field at that point. Once you conquer that first opening chapter of chaos and craziness and destruction, I think it gets easier for people after that.
That having been said, the way I would describe it to people is: This starts as the story of the last days of the Marvel Universe. We have two publishing universes, the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe. As those two parallel Earths—the last two—are in collision with one another, the heroes and villains of each Earth strive to save their own world, potentially at the expense of the other. That, at least, sounds like it’d be enough for somebody to get a handle on.
Secret Wars is a beautiful book. [Artist] Esad Ribic and Ive Scorvina, the color artist, did a beautiful job imagining all of this crazy stuff and getting it down on the page. So it looks tremendously good and inviting and awe-inspiring, and that’s almost half the fight. It looks so good that you want to keep turning pages to see what happens next, or just to see what the next thing that they’re going to draw is.
Hickman: There were certainly numerous conversations about whether issue one of Secret Wars should have been the last couple of issues of my Avengers run. But in the end, we thought it would be cooler to start with an awesome cold open that was the End of Everything. It makes sense in the middle of the story, we go back and tell you what all of this meant, how it all happened, and where it all came from. So I think it’s a good choice.
Q: You mentioned the delays in publishing the original series, and the line-wide implications of that. I would imagine there was unbelievable pressure, based on all the moving parts that hinged on Secret Wars. Now that it’s collected, and ready to be seen as a finished work, is the end result what you wanted?
Brevoort: Those pressures are part of doing a big event like this, and certainly no one wants delays. That all having been said, we creatively made the choice to hold the line and make sure that Jonathan and Esad Ribic could get the entirety of the story done, as opposed to what we might have done under other circumstances, which is bring in some other artist to do a portion of the story… But here, the fact that it was all one, holistic story was important, and we wanted to carry that all through.
Now that we’re finished, now that there’s a hardcover, this is the way people are going to read this story from this moment forward. Nobody in the future is going to even be aware of any of the delays or any of the problems. So that was a very transitory problem—a difficult problem to go through, but having held that line, I think the final end result, the hardcover that we’re talking about here now, is a much better piece of work than it would have been.
Hickman: When I went to college, my mother made me take one of those personality profile things where they break down what kind of characteristics you have as a potential student. She was mortified to find out that, not only was I a horrible procrastinator, but I felt no guilt for procrastinating. So I’m really happy with how everything turned out. [laughs]
Q: Part of those schedule changes involved breaking your original issue seven into two issues, seven and eight. Jonathan, you said at the time that you might go back and put things the way they’d originally been intended for the collection. Are there significant differences between the hardcover and what people saw in the published series?
Brevoort: They’re definitely bigger than tweaks. I’ll let Jonathan speak to this, but I was astounded by how different the material [from issues] seven, eight, and even nine is.
Hickman: Did you think it read better?
Brevoort: I knew you were going to go back into it and reflow it, but in the hardcover, there’s only seven chapters. And I was expecting there to be eight. So it was like, “Oh, I see. He went further with this than I thought he would.” That all having been said, I think it works…
Having to take that script and make it into two issues, it’s not as simple as just getting to page 20 and writing “to be continued.” It wouldn’t build properly, it wouldn’t be a proper climax. So Jonathan basically took that script and re-timed it out and reworked all of the scenes so we had an issue seven and an issue eight that both worked. But we both agreed, they’re not as good as the original seven was. This is ultimately sort of like the “director’s cut” of Secret Wars. This is the final version that people should have experienced from the start.
Hickman: Like Tom said, I did make a decent amount of changes. I just really wanted the end of the story to feel like the way it was in my head. I restructured seven and eight back to the way it was. But the big thing that I did that really caught Tom’s eye, I took away the division between issues eight and nine. I just let it be what I thought it was supposed to be, and I’m much happier with it.
—Interview conducted by Jeff Dellinger
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