The Marvel comic book multiverse collapsed in upon itself in Summer 2015. As the various worlds ended, a new one was forged by its all-powerful god, Doctor Doom. This new world — Battleworld — drove a summer’s worth of of spin-off stories as Marvel cancelled every one of their regular books and replaced them with a series of quasi-sequel limited series.
Confused? I was. When Battleworld came out, I was annoyed. I don’t think that Marvel needed a DC-like Crisis on Infinite Earths, but I do understand why they’d want to reshuffle the print universe to bring it in line with the Marvel Cinematic one. From a functional perspective, I was frustrated because I simply couldn’t figure out what I should be reading.
Marvel loves its universe-spanning events, but usually you can figure out how they fit together by following one of their many punch lists. Not so with Battleworld. There were some core titles related to the event, but it wasn’t clear how the myriad of spin-off titles connected to the main ones.
I wasn’t going to spend $4 a book figuring that out, so I gave up and decided I’d read it all on Marvel Unlimited (Marvel’s digital subscription service) in a year when all the myriad titles showed up there.
I’m glad I did.
Battleworld is a sprawling event, and the reason why it’s difficult to figure out the connections is because there are very few of them. The key bit is that Dr. Doom reforged the multiverse as “Battleworld”, knitting together pocket kingdoms based on just about every major Marvel storyline from the last 40 years. They’re largely thematic sequels — same characters, same world setup, but a different story, set against the backdrop of Battleworld. Examples include Armor Wars, Old Man Logan, Years of Future Past, Planet Hulk, and Future Imperfect.
The inhabitants know they are in Battleworld, and they know that Doom is their “God” … but they are unaware of the universe that existed before their current one. It’s not the first time we’ve seen Marvel attempt this sort of limited run, alternate reality sort of thing — they did it twice with the X-Men: Age of Apocalypse envisioned a world in which the mad mutant overlord conquered the world, and House of M posited what would happen if mutants were revered, not feared. The Avengers got their taste of alternate realities with Age of Ultron (whose timeline-altering plot shared nothing but a name with the movie). This is the first time the reboot happened universe-wide though, and the first time they Marvel didn’t return to their original timeline.
So how did it work out? Surprisingly well. The mashup of different Marvel milieus is refreshing and I enjoyed revisiting some classic storylines … though not the ones I expected to like.
A Few Favorite Titles
Having read a few dozen Battleworld comic books, I can safely say a trend has emerged: the more familiar I am with the source material, the less likely I am to enjoy the re-imagined title. This was particularly true with the X-Men — the comic books I know best — because the rebooted titles didn’t really feel like they needed to be revisited. Inferno, Days of Future Past, X-Tinction Agenda — these were all great storylines back in the day but I felt like their time was past; the Battleworld versions felt like distant echoes.
Where Battleworld worked best was when it went gonzo, creating its own mash-ups that really only made sense in the context of the limited series. The best of the quasi-sequel storylines leveraged that energy, making for some very enjoyable reads.
Secret Wars: As massive comic event titles go, Secret Wars is a pretty good one. It involves two factions of survivors from the old multiverse (heroes led by Mr. Fantastic, villains led by Thanos) who arrive in Battleworld. Naturally they’re all shocked to find that Doom is considered a god here and immediately start opposing him. The first few books focus on the groups struggling to come to grips with the situation and they’re enjoyable reads. The later books start to rely on events happening in other titles, and that’s when I started getting confused. Clearly there were machinations happening in the other realms that led to the inevitable confrontation with Doom, but the books don’t do a good job of telling you where those stories happened. It doesn’t distract too much from the story, which ends on a suitably high note, but it is annoying.
Planet Hulk: Steven Rogers, with his best pal Devil Dinosaur, quests through the gamma-infused wilderness of Hulkland trying to find his lost friend, Bucky Barnes.
Hail Hydra: Captain America’s adopted son, Ian Rogers (the biological son of Arnim Zola), finds himself in an alternate New York ruled by Hydra. He has to confront a version of himself that was raised by the insane Zola, and figure out a way to oppose the all-powerful hydra.
Weirdworld: Imagine Conan the Barbarian lost in time and space and you’ve got Weirdworld. The main character is Arkon the Magnificent, a barbarian king who’s questing for his lost realm of Polemachus. It’s got dragons, ogres, underwater apes, men men of crystal, Man-Things and all manner of other awesome weirdness.
Ultimate End: The story of the end of the Ultimates universe, Marvel’s alternative timeline (and the one that inspired much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe)
Marvel Zombies In their own comics, the Marvel Zombies were an undead plague that consumed their reality … and then began infecting other universes. In Battleworld they’re trapped in a dead zone located behind a massive wall. Elsa Bloodstone, a monster slayer from a line of monster slayers, is stationed on that wall. She ends up venturing into the dead lands to rescue a child. The book’s more about Bloodstone than it is about the zombies, but I liked the Blade-like mashup of zombie horde and sworn monster killer.
Old Man Logan: An alternative version of Wolverine — one who was tricked by a super villain into murdering the rest of the X-Men — survives in a post-apocalyptic world in which the bad guys won. He escapes from there and begins stumbling his way through the neighboring micro-realities. It’s a grand tour of Battleworld, and a good way of learning about the different realms.
Thors In Battleworld, Thor is plural. The Thor Corps are charged with upholding Lord Doom’s law; this comic is a police procedural (Thor procedural?) in which the Thor corps investigates murders happening across Battleworld.
Star Lord &* Kitty Pryde Call me crazy, but I just want to see Kitty Pryde (aka Shadowcat) happy. Star Lord, leader of the guardians of the galaxy, is one of the few people to survive the end of the multiverse. That makes him an anomaly … and Kitty Pryde’s job is hunting down anomalies. Hijinks ensue.
And the rest
Then there’s the stuff that doesn’t quite work. This list could be longer, but I want to give some of the titles that I didn’t initially like — Years of Future Past, Runaways — a second chance.
X-Tinction Agenda: The original run of X-Tinction Agenda was a 1990s-style, over-the-top crossover. In this sequel, Genosha — the mutant homeland that was nuked in the original comic run — is still around and run by the liberated mutants. A plague has broken out, and Alex Summers gets the bad idea to go and attack the X-Men in order to capture Triage, a mutant with healing powers. It’s an awkward setup and I didn’t feel compelled to read beyond the first issue.