Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #123

This is the one-hundred and twenty-third in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and twenty-two. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.

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COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Marvel launched Secret Wars in an attempt to beat DC to the punch with a company-wide crossover.


It was my pal Jim MacQuarrie's birthday the other day, so I thought it would be nice to do an urban legend this week that Jim personally asked me to confirm and/or debunk awhile back.

Jim made the following contention:

Marvel and DC staffers talked to each other. Gossip circulated. Marvel and DC executives played golf together. Crisis on Infinite Earths was in the planning stages for a long time before Secret Wars was begun. Marvel rushed theirs to market to try to steal DC's thunder.

I put the question to Jim Shooter (Editor-In-Chief of Marvel at the time, and writer of Secret Wars) himself, recently, and here is what he had to say:

This is the sequence of events: Kenner licensed DC's heroes for toys. Though Mattel had He-Man, just in case comics-hero-based toys got hot, to compete with Kenner, they came to Marvel seeking a license. The Mattel people were ambivalent about licensing our characters, however, because they were less well-known than Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman et al. Licensing, for those who don't know, is seldom motivated by the quality of the properties--it's all about EXPOSURE. Q-scores. Mattel asked us to come up with something special to generate more interest in our characters. The fact that we were outselling DC more than two-to-one wasn't enough.

I proposed to Mattel that we publish a giant mega-crossover story, a "maxi-series," involving all the major Marvel heroes and villains. No one had ever done anything like that before. It wasn't really my idea. Every day in the fan mail, we'd get a dozen or so letters suggesting exactly that. Mattel liked it. At their behest, we called the series "Secret Wars," because their focus groups found that kids responded well to those words.

We began work on Secret Wars well more than a year before DC began Crisis, and in fact DC was NOT planning a "big, company-wide crossover" till after they found out about [Secret Wars]. Back in those days, comics folks from all companies hung out together, played volleyball together, played poker, etc. You couldn't keep secrets if you tried--and we didn't really care if DC knew what we were doing. We didn't think it would make any difference. Crisis was a response to the huge success of Secret Wars. (BTW, because of the way the Direct Market works, we and everyone else knew the numbers were gigantic well before the first issue of [Secret Wars] came out.) The last issue of Secret Wars came out the same month--maybe even the same week--as the first issue of Crisis. It wasn't because they were holding back, or it took them longer.

It's interesting that Shooter basically echoes some of Jim's statement (the whole "everyone talked" thing).

In any event, while Shooter stating the above is certainly not 100% proof, I think it sounds convincing enough that I'm willing to go with a true false here.

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