Sometimes, Marvel Studios likes to keep things close to the vest. And other times, they’ll reveal years’ worth of new movies and shows in one fell swoop. That’s what happened at Comic-Con 2022, as Kevin Feige gave fans a full roadmap of Phase 5 and even teased some of what’s coming in Phase 6. Phase 6 starts with the long-awaited Fantastic Four reboot in 2024, and it ends with Avengers : Secret Wars in 2025.
If you’ve read Secret Wars, you know Marvel is building toward what may well be its biggest superhero movie yet, one that can dwarf even Avengers: Endgame in scope and the sheer number of characters involved. But if you’re not familiar with this huge cosmic epic, we’re here to break down everything you need to know about Secret Wars.
The Original Secret Wars
Secret Wars is the name of two separate but somewhat related Marvel crossovers. The original series, officially known as Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, was published in 1984 and accompanied by a popular line of action figures from Mattel.
The basic premise of Secret Wars is that an all-powerful entity known as The Beyonder transports a group of heroes and villains to a remote planet called Battleworld. These captive Earthlings are forced to battle it out for the Beyonder’s amusement. Alliances are forged and broken, and in the end Doctor Doom becomes the real threat when he manages to steal the Beyonder’s power for himself.
Ultimately, these characters are returned to Earth, but not without some lasting repercussions. For example, Secret Wars is where Spider-Man first donned his black costume, not realizing at the time that it was actually an alien symbiote.
Secret Wars proved to be one of Marvel’s best-selling superhero comics in the decades, even if the reviews didn’t quite live up to those sales numbers. Marvel also published a sequel in 1985, but Secret Wars II is widely regarded as one of the worst Marvel crossovers ever published…
…even if it did give us The Beyonder’s incredibly ’80s makeover.
Jonathan Hickman’s Reimagined Secret Wars
While Marvel revisited the events of Secret Wars several times through a limited series like Spider-Man and the Secret Wars and various What If…? comics, that crossover didn’t get a true follow-up until 2015’s Secret Wars. The two books aren’t directly connected, but the newer Secret Wars does feature some of the same characters and concepts.
This Secret Wars serves as the climax of writer Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers saga. The series opens with the complete collapse of the Marvel multiverse, as a series of Incursions have wiped out every universe. All that remains is Battleworld, which in this story is a hodgepodge world built from broken fragments of dozens of different alternate realities.
Secret Wars Gallery: God Emperor Doom Rules the Marvel Universe
The worlds of Old Man Logan, Marvel Zombies, Age of Apocalypse, Days of Future Past and many others now exist as fiefdoms ruled by barons. These barons, in turn, all scheme against one another and curry favor with their ruler, God Emperor Doom. Basically, picture a mash-up of Dune and Game of Thrones with a dash of spandex and you have some idea of what the status quo was like during Secret Wars.
Ultimately, Mister Fantastic and a handful of Earth-616’s finest are able to topple Doom’s regime and restore the multiverse to its original state. But once again, Secret Wars ends with some lasting changes to the Marvel Universe, not the least of which being that Miles Morales and Peter Parker now share the same universe.
Which Secret Wars Is the MCU Adapting?
Marvel may have told us the name of the next two Avengers movies, but we don’t know for sure which Secret Wars is being adapted in Phase 6. If the history of the MCU has taught us anything, it’s that Avengers: Secret Wars will borrow elements from many different comics without serving as an adaptation of any one, single story.
That said, it’s probably safe to assume Avengers: Secret Wars is drawing more from the 2015 comic than the original 1984 series. For one thing, the newer Secret Wars is by far the more critically acclaimed comic, whereas the original was basically just a toy commercial masquerading as a comic.
But more importantly, Hickman’s Marvel work has already been a major source of inspiration for the MCU over the last few years. Hickman’s 2013 comic Infinity introduced Thanos’ Black Order. His Secret Warriors comic introduced Leviathan, the clandestine organization that plays a key role in Agent Carter. And as we’ll explore next, Phase 4 has already introduced another key concept from Hickman’s Avengers comics.
How Phase 4 Has Been Setting Up Secret Wars
While the announcement of Avengers: Secret Wars was a welcome one, it wasn’t necessarily that surprising. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness already strongly advised that the MCU is building towards Secret Wars. Multiverse of Madness introduces the concept of Marvel Incursions, a phenomenon that occurs when two parallel Earths stop vibrating in cosmic harmony and instead begin to collide with one another. When an Incursion begins, the only way to stop both universes from being annihilated is to destroy one of the two Earths.
The Incursions are one of the main driving forces of Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers comics. The latter focuses on the Illuminati’s efforts to stop the Incursions from spreading throughout the multiverse, forcing them to resort to ever more desperate methods to stave off the inevitable. Secret Wars only happens because the Illuminati fail.
The mid-credits scene in Multiverse of Madness introduces Charlize Theron’s Clea and suggests that Incursions will be a long-term problem for the MCU. Don’t be surprised if more MCU movies and shows begin to deal with this plot point as the march toward Secret Wars continues.
We’ll also likely begin to see Marvel introduce some of the key players in Secret Wars over the next several years. Doctor Doom will almost certainly appear in 2024’s Fantastic Four, if not sooner. The FF movie may also introduce Molecule Man, Doom’s immensely powerful and mentally unstable accomplice, and the man who makes Battleworld’s very existence possible.
And finally, we may see one or more versions of the Beyonder in the lead-up to Secret Wars. Hickman’s Avengers revealed that there are actually many Beyonders existing outside the confines of space and time, and they’re the ones at the root of the Incursion problem.
The Kang Dynasty’s Connection to Secret Wars
When it comes to Phase 6, Avengers: Secret Wars is only half of the equation. Marvel will also release Avengers: The Kang Dynasty that same year, a reminder that this time-traveling super-tyrant also has a key part to play in the next several phases of the MCU.
Given how close their release dates are, it stands to reason that Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars are intertwined in the same way Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame were in Phase 3. The Kang Dynasty will almost certainly set the stage for Secret Wars.
So how does Kang factor into all of this? While Kang appears in the original 1984 comic, he’s not a central figure in either version of Secret Wars. This is one area where the MCU looks to be veering away from the source material. We know from Loki: Season 1 that the multiverse was once nearly destroyed in a devastating war between different versions of Kang. One of these Kangs, who calls himself He Who Remains, was able to end the war by compressing the multiverse into a single “sacred timeline” and wiping his rivals out of existence. But thanks to Loki and Sylvie, the multiverse has returned, and with it these many Kangs.
We’ll see Jonathan Majors play one of these Kangs in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and we’ll likely see other versions in Loki: Season 2 and other upcoming MCU projects. Kang is clearly being set up as the next Thanos in the MCU, and it all culminates in The Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars.
The Kang Dynasty is itself named after an Avengers comic book from 2001. That story shows Kang and his son Marcus traveling back to the 21st Century to enslave humanity, and we can probably expect some version of that premise to play out in the movie. Avengers: The Kang Dynasty will likely show us the culmination of this multiversal war of Kangs, one which will leave the multiverse in ruins. And from the ashes of that war, God Emperor Doom and Battleworld will rise.
How do you think Phase 6 will adapt these classic Marvel stories? Is Kang the Conquerer or Doctor Doom the true villain of the Multiverse Saga? Let us know what you think in the comments.
For more on the future of the MCU, learn about the other villains who could appear in 2024’s Fantastic Four and brush up on the history of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’s villain, the High Evolutionary. And be sure to check out our full breakdown of all the big announcements at Comic-Con.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.