Cover by Gabriele Dell'Otto
After spending decades in contemplation of the subject, it has become clear to me that the first two Secret Wars series occupy a unique and central place in the history of the Marvel Universe. The first issue of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars shipped in January of 1984 and the final issue of Secret Wars II shipped in December of 1985 - two years precisely during which the entire line was preoccupied, in one way or another, with the threat of the Beyonder. In the real world, of course, the two Secret Wars were just crossovers - two of the very first, yes, but followed by many to come. But in-story the scope of the Secret Wars had not, until 2015, been equaled. So while there may have been bigger or better crossovers published in subsequent decades, "in story," to the heroes themselves, the stakes were never higher, nor the repercussions as deep.
Rather than Secret Wars being "merely" a single crossover, therefore, it would be more correct to say that everything else Marvel has ever published has been a Secret Wars tie-in. Allow me to explain.
In 1987, Jim Shooter was fired from Marvel comics. The Secret Wars franchise - and the Beyonder as a character - were Shooter's creations. As soon as he was gone the company immediately set about dismantling his legacy. Before his chair was even cold they demolished his New Universe initiative, having his pet creation Ken Connell blow up his hometown of Pittsburgh, setting in motion a chain of events which would eventually lead to the already-ailing line's death in 1989. (This pattern should be familiar to anyone who followed the long decline of Marvel's Ultimate line, which never recovered from 2008's controversial Ultimatum series [which, similarly to The Pitt, launched a soft reboot with the destruction of a major city - in that case, New York], and was finally put to rest in the pages of . . . 2015's Secret Wars.) Special rancor was reserved for the Beyonder. IN 1988 Steve Englehart was in the middle of his excellent, if ill-fated run on Fantastic Four when the word came down that the Beyonder needed to die. As Englehart explains in his annotations to the run:
Editor Ralph Macchio had always hated Jim Shooter's Beyonder, and asked me to write the guy out of the Marvel Universe. I did not hate the character so I wrote him out with, I hope, some heroism and grandeur.You can't blame Englehart for the debacle of Fantastic Four #319. He was the bag-man. I believe based on his own testimony that he tried his best to be done with the matter as well as he could. He had no investment in the Beyonder or the Secret Wars either way.
But unfortunately, he did his job a little too well.
Cover by Ron Frenz and Joe Sinnott, middle finger by me
Ah, Fantastic Four #319, the so-called "Secret Wars III." Long have I hated you. Your existence these past 27 years has been for me a never healing canker, a wellspring of bile and revulsion. You were born of spite and midwifed by regret. It wasn't enough simply to kill the Beyonder, you see. Not only did the Beyonder need to die, he needed to be wiped from existence - and not just wiped out of existence, but the entirety of the Secret Wars completely retconned.
Like I said: Englehart was very good at his job. The storyline that ended with the Beyonder's erasure was the climax of a multi-issue storyline partially designed to wrap up a number of loose ends, not merely from the Secret Wars, but stretching back to the very beginnings of the Marvel Universe. If you can discount the end result, it's a remarkable run. Who built the Savage Land? Where do Cosmic Cubes come from? What the hell was up with Bill Mumy and Miguel Ferrer writing Comet Man in 1987? The answers to these questions - as well as a few tantalizing hints into the origins of the Celestials and even the resolution of the first Kree / Skrull War - were, as it turns out, bound up with the origins of the Beyonder . . . and the Beyonders.
Art by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott
The trail starts a few years earlier, before the first Secret Wars, all the way back to the (second) death of Adam Warlock, in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 . Three years later the character known as Her (originally Paragon, later Kismet, created by Len Wein, David Kraft, and Herb Trimpe; first appearance in The Incredible Hulk Annual #6 ), the second artificial offspring of the same Enclave that created Adam Warlock (originally known as Him, created by Lee & Kirby; first appearance in Fantastic Four #66 ), set out to resurrect Adam Warlock in order to mate with him and spawn the race of genetically perfect superhumans that the Enclave had dedicated their lives to creating (Marvel Two-In-One #61 , written by Mark Gruenwald). The problem was that Adam Warlock had been buried on the High Evolutionary's Counter Earth (the duplicate Earth for whose sins he had died, before he was resurrected the first time as a Christ-analogy, with the Hulk as his John the Baptist (Incredible Hulk #178 ). And this was a problem because when they ("they" being Her, the Thing, Alicia Masters, Starhawk [of the original Guardians of the Galaxy, then marooned in the 20th century], Moondragon and the High Evolutionary himself) went to find Counter Earth, they discovered it had been stolen, by a group of Pegasusians called the Prime Movers of Tarkus (Marvel Two-In-One #62 ) (no relation, I'm sure).
The Prime Movers were themselves merely hired hands, however, having been contracted by the Beyonders to steal Counter-Earth, for their own mysterious purposes. The High Evolutionary (created by Lee & Kirby, first appearance The Mighty Thor #134 ) - well, he's an interesting fellow. On the one hand, he's probably the most powerful baseline human Earth has ever produced, a "normal" (as in, non-mutant, non-Inhuman, non-Eternal) man who by dint of technology and genetic manipulation elevated himself to the level of a cosmic power. But on the other, he's also pretty much insane, due to his mind being fried after having been up and down the evolutionary ladder dozens of times. He's very unpredictable. On any given day you have no way of knowing whether or not he'll be a kindly father figure, a genocidal eugenicist working from the same playbook as Apocalypse, a reluctant but dedicated galactic defender, or a dude trying to make it with Shanna the She-Devil (as one does). So, when confronted with the theft of Counter-Earth at the hands of the Prime Movers (Marvel Two-In-One #63 ), he did pretty much the opposite of what you might expect: nothing.
Art by Jerry Bingham and Gene Day
Long story short, the Thing punches the green guy a couple times and they let the group go down to Counter-Earth briefly, where Her tries and fails to resurrect Adam Warlock (an attempt which may have worked, had she possessed Warlock's soul gem, then in the possession of the Gardner, where it would remain until 1990 and the publication of Thanos Quest). But more importantly, the High Evolutionary accompanied the Prime Movers to meet the Beyonders, in the hopes of . . . well, I'll let him explain, as he does here to Dr. Bruce Banner, one year later, in Incredible Hulk # 266, written by Bill Mantlo.
Art by Sal Buscema
It's worth pointing out that the scene of the High Evolutionary's encounter with the Beyonders - the first "appearance" of the Beyonders - has only ever been shown in flashback. The flashback was expanded later during the Evolutionary War (in the backup to Avengers Annual #17, written by Mark Gruenwald), which also gave us the first-ever visual representation of anything connected to the Beyonders (this would also remain, until 2014, their only visual representation).
Art by Ron Lim and Tony DeZuniga
The High Evolutionary was never a stable dude to begin with, but this was the beginning of what would be many decades of mental problems (only exacerbated when he witnessed the birth of a Celestial a while later in the pages of Thor #424). But back in 1981, in the aftermath of his run-in with the Beyonders, his first priority was to kill himself as quickly as possible - and to his credit, suicide by Hulk is a pretty baller way to die.
Art by Sal Buscema
It didn't stick, obviously. He came back seven years later and triggered the Evolutionary War, an attempt to forcefully speed-up the evolution of humanity to catch up with the Beyonders (which actually makes sense in the Marvel Universe, where you need to remember that evolution doesn't work the same way as it does here). But even though his brief encounter with the Beyonders would mark him forever, for the moment he recedes into the background of this story.