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What is going on at Marvel? A PopWatch conspiracy theory

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If you follow comic book news, you might’ve noticed something happening over at Marvel. You haven’t? Let’s review. There’s this:

and this,

and this,

and so forth. All over the internet, whether via Twitter or through the comics press, Marvel has been teasing us with new art hearkening back to classic crossovers, from The Infinity Gauntlet to Civil War to a Days of Future Past homage called Years of Future Past, all of which are being presented with varying degrees of fidelity to the original. Some, like Civil War, are extremely faithful: an idealogical struggle between Iron Man and Captain America, with Spider-Man caught in the middle. Others, like The Infinity Gauntlet or Planet Hulk, suggest remixed takes on the classic stories. And then there’s the plain crazy ones, like Age of Ultron vs. Marvel Zombies, which makes next to zero sense. All of them, however, are teasing a Summer 2015 release window.

This all started on the first night of New York Comic-Con, when Marvel announced it would be revisiting the grandaddy of big Marvel crossovers: Secret Wars. As was noted at the time, the company refused to say much other than that this would be the culmination of current Avengers and New Avengers writer Jonathan Hickman’s massive three-year plan (he likes big plans) for the characters. Since Hickman’s run is all about a grand and seemingly inevitable threat to the multiverse, and because the teaser image (featured at the top of this post) showed off several different incarnations of Marvel heroes in combat, the popular theory casts Secret Wars as a grand, multiverse-spanning epic that will feature universes in which classic Marvel events are either still unfolding as they once did or unfolding very differently. The reason Secret Wars gets to be the big tentpole? Because it was announced on a stage at a private event, and the others were not.

In an attempt to learn out anything beyond my own conjecture, I reached out to Marvel with a few questions. I didn’t expect them to actually explain anything, but maybe they’d give a few pointers: Are there clues hidden in these images? Is the order significant? Did Tony Soprano get whacked? You know. Hints.

“STAY TUNED!” was the official response. Because of course it was.

Having done my due diligence as a reporter, I can now present my own theories about what the hell is going on at Marvel. [The writer moves stage left, and pulls back curtain to reveal a crazy conspiracy wall.]

First: One cannot stress enough how important the multiverse is in the Jonathan Hickman era of Avengers. It’s pretty much the central conceit. Something is sifting through the multiverse, and Earth is always the “incursion point:” the place where two universes meet. An incursion will always end in the ultimate destruction of both earths—unless one earth is destroyed in a given window of time, allowing the other to live. (If this sort of thing interests you, you can get the gist by reading Hickman’s run on New Avengers. For the whole picture, you’ll need to read Avengers as well—and maybe the Infinity crossover).

Second: Marvel and DC have been imitating each other since the dawn of time. This is just something you’re going to have to trust me on.

Third: This is the year that Grant Morrison’s long-gestating superhero opus The Multiversity finally began; the third issue’s out this week. The Multiversity, besides being the capstone of Morrison’s meta-mad genius oeuvre, has a really unique structure: instead of being a traditional miniseries that starts with The Multiversity #1  and ends with #9, it’s a series of standalone “first issues,” each featuring a different Earth(s)—with the exception of the two bookend issues and a guidebook.

Here’s how it all comes together: Secret Wars, is, as most of the internet believes, a massive, universe-spanning crossover spinning out of the events of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers stories. But Secret Wars will borrow the structure of The Multiversity, with a number of one-shots from a memorable crossover from Marvel history that either informs or is changed by events that kick off the series. It will be Marvel’s version of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the seminal DC Comics story that wiped the continuity slate clean and allowed creators to cherry pick or completely change the origins and circumstances of certain characters in order to build a richer, more accessible universe—something that Marvel has never, ever done before.

But is it really that big of a line to cross? Because if there’s one thing that the big two comic book publishers love more than a crossover, it’s a reboot.

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