Brian Michael Bendis has been such a mainstay at Marvel Comics that he’s reached a point he’s starting to pay homage to his own stories from over a decade ago in new and interesting ways. In the early 2000s, Bendis and Gabriele Dell’Otto released the much-hyped (and much-delayed) Secret War, a miniseries which had a number of huge ways ramifications for the Marvel Universe that are still being felt today.
Now, in the pages of Bendis and Stefano Caselli’s Invincible Iron Man, a sequel of sorts to Secret War has begun to play out, one which could have equally massive consequences for the heroes of the Marvel Universe.
Secret War, Singular
Secret War is not to be confused with 1984’s Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter, Mike Zeck and Bob Layton, nor does it have anything to do with 2015’s Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic. Bendis and Dell’Otto’s story unfolded in a 2004 five-issue miniseries about one of Nick Fury’s clandestine operations on foreign soil being brought to light. Over the course of the story, Bendis and Dell'Otto explored the fallout of that discovery and what it meant for The Avengers, a franchise which Bendis would take over not long after the miniseries debuted.
The events of Secret War take place across two timelines. The past timeline saw Fury recruit Captain America, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Black Widow, Luke Cage, Wolverine and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Daisy Johnson for an illegal operation in Latveria to bring down its new head of state, Lucia Von Bardas, who had been funding The Tinkerer and supplying American super-criminals with high-tech weaponry to spread chaos. The present day storyline followed Von Bardas’ reprisal a year later, as she led an army of D-List supervillains in a coordinated attack against those that deposed her.
Secret War pretty much set the stage for the next ten years of Marvel Comics stories, in particular The Avengers franchise. Brian Michael Bendis took over The Avengers with David Finch and blew the team up, rebuilding it as New Avengers with a roster that strongly resembled the Secret War roster. Luke Cage, Spider-Man and Wolverine all joined the storied ranks of Earth's Mightiest Heroes under Bendis, and Daredevil was originally planned to be the true identity of the mysterious Ronin until the reveal leaked and it was switched to Echo at the last minute.
Secret War also saw the downfall of Nick Fury, who had been forced into hiding due to his role in organizing the covert operation. Fury had been Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades and often looked the other way to let superheroes do whatever they needed to do, but his replacement, Maria Hill, was a lot more antagonistic towards the cape and mask community. Hill’s role as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a huge stepping stone towards the Superhuman Registration Act which was already being discussed and drafted in Washington, well before the New Warriors incident in Stamford ignited the Civil War.
As for Lucia Von Bardas, she’s one of Bendis’ early 2000s creations who didn’t catch on quite like Maria Hill or Daisy Johnson. After the attack on Latveria, she was rebuilt as a cyborg and could have posed quite a threat to the Marvel Universe. Her only other appearance of note, however, was as the villain of Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice’s Winter Soldier ongoing series, where she worked alongside The Red Ghost and his Super Apes to thaw out other soviet super-spies and a failed attempt to frame Doctor Doom for an attack on the UN.
So, what does that have to do with the present day and Invincible Iron Man? Well, Bendis has brought Lucia Von Bardas back as the villain of the series' current arc, and the former Latverian Prime Minister is still gunning for S.H.I.E.L.D. in a major way. With Doctor Doom walking the path of angels in sister title Infamous Iron Man, Latveria has become one of the biggest power vacuums in the world, and Lucia Von Bardas has her own group of private mercenaries and costumed super-criminals with which she can wreak havoc.
In the past two issues, we’ve seen Von Bardas attack Sub-Director Carter with a human bomb and send Dr. Carolyn Trainer, AKA Lady Octopus, after S.H.I.E.L.D., with no indication of what her true plan is. However, looking at her previous two attacks on American soil it’s fair to guess that her general aim is destabilization and chaos for the sake of chaos. The most recent issue saw Riri Williams (Ironheart) confront Von Bardas in her home territory, and the next issue will likely bring a big fight. But as we know, Latverian villains are among the most cunning in the Marvel Universe, so it’s likely there’s a larger plan in place that Riri is inadvertently helping along.
What’s really interesting is the potential for two storylines within Invincible Iron Man to converge, because as much as the original Secret War was about clandestine operations, it was also about the a super-tech arms race, which we’ve already seen hints in the current storyline with the return of Lady Octopus. The other big storyline building in the background of Invincible Iron Man is about the Tony Stark AI becoming more and more comfortable with being an artificial intelligence and the possibility that it may decide artificial intelligence is superior to humanity. If those two storylines connect, we may be seeing hints of Marvel’s next big event, and it might end up not being "Secret War II" but rather "Armor Wars III."
Secret War was a story about the post-9/11 geopolitical landscape and how meddling in other countries' affairs can make things worse for everyone. Nearly fifteen years later, the world is a very different place and there are very different stories to be told. Technology’s place as both a personal necessity and a feature of warfare has progressed to realms many never thought possible, and if Marvel and Bendis wanted to tell a story about the intersection of the two, there could be something really interesting there.
The second half of 2017 is going to be a critical period for Riri Williams as she clashes with her rival for the Iron Man name in Victor Von Doom, fights the Secret Empire, and meets up with the cross-time flesh-and-blood Tony Stark in Generations. We all know Brian Michael Bendis plays a long, long game when he plots out his superhero epics, and all signs point to 2018 being an immensely important year for Riri and the Iron Man franchise.