By Hei­di Mac­Don­ald | Jan 21, 2015| Pub­lish­er’s Weekly

30042-v1-197xCom­ic book uni­vers­es are a lit­tle bit easy come, easy go, and in 2015 they are most­ly going. Mar­vel has joined the ranks of the uni­verse smash­ers with a qua­si-reboot in May grow­ing out of an eight-issue mini series called Secret Wars.

The move will see the clas­sic “Mar­vel 616” uni­verse which includes all of your favorites such as the Avengers, the X‑men and Cap­tain Amer­i­ca, meld­ed with the “Ulti­mates” uni­verse which was launched 15 years ago for read­ers who were puz­zled by the thick skeins of con­ti­nu­ity in the reg­u­lar mar­vel Uni­verse. And now they will be one.

Mar­vel exec­u­tive edi­tor Tom Brevoort and edi­tor-in-chief Axel Alon­so announced the move at a Jan­u­ary 20th press con­fer­ence. They explained that the big event is the result of an “incur­sion” recount­ed in var­i­ous Mar­vel Comics, where uni­vers­es col­lide and merge. The result will be Secret Wars #1, to be pub­lished in May where “there is no Mar­vel Uni­verse, Ulti­mate Uni­verse, or any oth­er. It’s all Bat­tle­world,” accord­ing to Brevoort. Bat­tle­world will take char­ac­ters and set­tings from var­i­ous Mar­vel events of the last decade such as Civ­il Wars and Mar­vel Zom­bies and, while the plot details haven’t been released, it’s safe to expect that some of the characters—even heroes—will be pit­ted in bat­tle against each other.

The event will also tie in with toys and games: Has­bro, Mighty Fine, Mad Engine, Funko and Hot Wheels have all signed on as licensees, and Mar­vel Inter­ac­tive will pro­duce video games based on the sto­ry. Mean­while, all of the var­i­ous Mar­vel con­ti­nu­ities will be mashed to make one big Mar­vel universe.

If it sounds con­fus­ing for a new­com­er, or some­one who is just catch­ing up with Thor, The Dark World, Mar­vel is try­ing to make it as wel­com­ing as pos­si­ble. A Secret Wars #0 issue will be giv­en away on Free Com­ic Book Day May 2nd to set the scene. And a Bat­tle­world web­site fea­tures an inter­ac­tive map; click­ing on any of the com­bat areas will allow read­ers to find print or dig­i­tal edi­tions of sig­nif­i­cant sto­ries in both sin­gle issue and col­lect­ed form.

Secret Wars itself is writ­ten by Jonathan Hick­man (MP, Fan­tas­tic Four) and drawn by Esad Ribic (Thor) with cov­ers by acclaimed artist Alex Ross. It’s the third ver­sion of an extreme­ly pop­u­lar con­cept first pub­lished back in 1984 and based on a line of toys. The orig­i­nal saw Mar­vel heroes whisked off to an are­na where Thor had to fight Hulk and so on. It was one of the best sell­ing comics of its day, and a sequel was pub­lished in 1985.

A map of Battleworld, where 'Secret Wars' takes place

A map of Bat­tle­world, where ‘Secret Wars’ takes place

The new Secret Wars comes as comics pub­lish­ing has become much more com­pli­cat­ed in the wake of the increas­ing impor­tance of super­hero films. Mar­vel, which was pur­chased by Dis­ney in 2009, has become the source for such pop­u­lar films as The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcom­ing Avengers: Age of Ultron, all pro­duced by Mar­vel Stu­dios and shar­ing sto­ry ele­ments. While in a recent inter­view with indus­try trade site ICv2, Mar­vel pub­lish­er Dan Buck­ley said that the comics don’t take sto­ry­lines from the films, many ele­ments crossover, and Mar­vel has had a lot of suc­cess in recent years sell­ing graph­ic nov­els that tie in with the film universe.

The absorp­tion of the Ulti­mate Uni­verse marks the end of what was a very suc­cess­ful pub­lish­ing ini­tia­tive for Mar­vel when it was launched in 2000. Giv­en the time con­sum­ing busi­ness of under­stand­ing comics con­ti­nu­ity (many pop­u­lar fan-made blogs and pod­cast are devot­ed to trac­ing the his­to­ry of the X‑men alone), then-pub­lish­er Bill Jemas came up with the idea of a sep­a­rate line of comics rein­tro­duc­ing Marvel’s most pop­u­lar char­ac­ters with new back sto­ries, but no long his­to­ries to bog down new read­ers. The books were instant sales successes—and some Ulti­mate char­ac­ters such as the eye-patched African Amer­i­can Nick Fury have become bet­ter known than the originals.

But even­tu­al­ly, the Ulti­mate uni­verse got as com­pli­cat­ed as the orig­i­nal, and lost most of its punch. In recent years the line has dwin­dled down to one title fea­tur­ing Miles Morales, a teen who becomes a dif­fer­ent Spi­der-Man. Morales has become a pop­u­lar char­ac­ter in his own right and will almost cer­tain­ly have a place in the new Mar­vel along­side Peter Parker.

30044-1Exact­ly what shape the new Mar­vel pub­lish­ing line will take has not been announced. Accord­ing to Alon­so, the line will shrink just a bit, but new series and mini series will be set in the new uni­verse of exist­ing titles.

While nei­ther Alon­so nor Brevoort would go so far as to call this a com­plete line reboot, sim­i­lar to what DC did with its New 52 ini­tia­tive in 2011, it is exten­sive. “This puts an end­cap to decades of sto­ries and we’re start­ing a new era,” said Alon­so. “When you see the scope of the event, you’ll see what we’re will­ing to do.”

Marvel’s move comes just as DC is also launch­ing a line-wide alter­na­tive world bat­tle called Con­ver­gence, a two-month event that starts in April and runs while DC’s staff moves to the west coast. While the shape of the post-move DC hasn’t been revealed, it’s expect­ed that many of the trap­pings of the New 52 ini­tia­tives will be altered. By the end of 2015, both of the Big Two super­hero pub­lish­ers could look very different.

When it comes to comics, no uni­verse is safe.