Secret War is something of an anomaly in the Marvel Universe. The 5 issue mini-series is the first Marvel “war” of the 2000’s, yet it frequently falls outside the realm of the major Marvel events.
Aside from the part where the issues nearly steal their name verbatim from a much better known series in Marvel history, this really shouldn’t be the case. Secret War is one of the more compelling events in Marvel chronology and has far reaching implications, strongly affecting Civil War and Secret Invasion.
I’ve had a few readers ask recently where Secret War belongs in the Marvel reading order, and it’s time we solved the puzzle once and for all – without further ado, here’s the complete Secret War reading experience guide.
When Should I Read Secret War? Before Avengers Disassembled? Before House of M?
The short answer to a reading order placement for Secret War is that you can read the issues after Avengers Disassembled and before House of M.
I’d also suggest reading Secret War before New Avengers.
Technically speaking the publication dates of Secret War (Early 2004-Dec 2005) coincide with both Avengers Disassembled and House of M. Hence the mass confusion and upheaval of governments and order. Nonetheless, much of Secret War is told as a flashback, positioning the story a little deeper in Marvel’s past than it might appear.
The remainder of my Secret War reading guide will dive into each issue and answer continuity questions, or obscure references that might occur. For example, Dr. Doom is conspicously absent from these events despite the strong involvement of Castle Doom. I’ll explain why that is the case.
All of the following will remain as spoiler-free as possible, but if you got what you came here for: Read Secret War!
Secret War: Issue #1
As a whole, Secret War looks at how super villains get/maintain/afford their sweet equipment. For example, the Scorcher (the Scorcher!) is walking around with millions of dollars worth of flaming… gloves. Who makes this stuff and who’s funding them?
Writer Brian Michael Bendis (along with the fantastically compelling, if not quite Alex Ross-ian painted art of Gabrielle Dell’Otto) takes this question and transforms it into a political spy thriller of epic proportions. Published shortly after America’s WMD driven war in Iraq, Bendis’ Secret War takes a look at what it means for a country to maintain diplomacy with a nation that may be funding terrorism right under their noses.
I won’t give away too much, but that nation in the Marvel Universe is none other than Dr. Doom’s Latveria. The parallel is clear: Is Latveria funding super villains reason enough for an American invasion?
Question: When Does Punisher go to Ryker’s?
There’s a moment during the S.H.I.E.L.D. interrogation of Killer Shrike when an agent tells Shrike the Punisher was recently sent to Ryker’s island prison.
The agents are clearly trying to scare Shrike into divulging information about where he got his suit from, but reading that little snippet you wouldn’t necessarily have any reason to be sure the agent wasn’t telling the truth.
Complicating this further is the fact that Punisher does go to Ryker’s at a certain point during Ed Brubakers run on Daredevil (which, coincidentally, follows a 60+ issue run by Bendis).
The catch here is that Brubaker’s run on Daredevil doesn’t occur until well after this first issue of Secret War.
Answer: He doesn’t. This is just a scare tactic used by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
Question: Why is Lucia Von Bardas the prime minister of Latveria and running the country… where is Dr. Doom during this time?
Unless you’re a huge Arrested Development buff, the better question might actually be who the heck is Lucia Von Bardas?
You’re not crazy to be asking, as Lucia Von Bardas is a Secret War creation. According to Bendis’ story, she has been elected prime minister of the country, and is currently (outwardly) on good terms with the United States as a political leader.
Doom on the other hand… well he’s somewhere quite hellish. You can find out exactly where in Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s excellent run on Fantastic Four.
Answer: Dr. Doom’s status as ruler of Latveria has changed within the pages of Fantastic Four (#500-#513). He’ll be back, but for the period of Secret War, Latveria is in the capable hands of the newly created Lucia Von Bardas.
Secret War: Issue #2 (May 2004)
Most importantly, the second issue of Secret War makes it clear that the events take place before Bendis’s run on New Avengers. When Nick Fury’s assembled roster of heroes congregates on the plane, Spider-Man asks if that’s Luke Cage behind them, and good ol’ hammered drunk Wolvie has never seen Peter Parker out of costume.
The other relevant exchange occurs when Nick Fury asks for Captain America’s help, and Cap immediately responds that he’ll contact the Avengers. I think I can safely say I’m avoiding any spoilers here when I suggest this must occur before Avengers: Disassembled.
Why then am I suggesting you read this issue after reading the events of Avengers: Disassembled? Mostly because this particular interaction between Nick Fury and Cap occurs during a “One Year Ago” flashback. When the timeline leaps forward again to “present day” it will be after Disassembled.
Secret War: Issue #3 (Oct 2004)
Question: What is Daredevil talking about with everyone knowing his identity?
For this one, you’re going to want to read Bendis’s concurrent run on Daredevil.
Secret War: Issue #4 (March 2005)
No questions your honor.
Secret War: Issue #5 (Dec 2005)
The conclusion of Secret War doesn’t require any more previous knowledge, but it does set the stage for some future Marvel events. Mostly, Secret War changes the shape of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the role of Nick Fury in the Marvel Universe.
It also, within its final pages, introduces Maria Hill, the S.H.I.E.L.D. commander who will play such a pivotal role in upcoming Marvel events like Civil War and Secret Invasion.
And there you have it. The reading order guide to Secret War. Any questions you still have, points you want to make, or thoughts about the series in general? Do what feels right to you in the comments.