In Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars the Marvel multiverse is destroyed, surviving portions are temporarily stitched together, and a new multiverse is eventually created. For a superhero crossover event, it’s exceptional, and the basis of some plot elements stretch back years. Secret Wars Prelude highlights some of these, focussing first on Doctor Doom, who has a large part to play in the main plot.

We begin with the final three chapters of Marvel’s original 1980s Secret Wars series. While that might not stand up as well today, in the 1980s the ambitious plot was something to be saluted. All prominent Marvel heroes and villains are whisked away to a world controlled by a nigh-omnipotent creature calling himself the Beyonder. This finale concerns Doctor Doom acquiring the Beyonder’s power, Jim Shooter’s plot a clever nod to a 1960s Doom story, and reflecting ideas Hickman will use with greater sophistication. The 1980s Doom is prone to explaining himself interminably, as is almost every other character given more than a couple of lines of dialogue, and Mike Zeck’s art (sample, left) is basic by present day standards. Shooter embeds some interesting ideas, but the needs of the period’s superhero comics ensure none are really explored.

Starting with what’s billed as the final issue of the Fantastic Four, almost all the remaining writing is Hickman’s work. That FF story is a more frightening extrapolation of what Doom would do with ultimate power, yet also a cautionary tale. A chapter of the Ultimates may feature the notable art of Esad Ribic, who’d draw Secret Wars, but it makes little sense on its own, with Thor discovering himself hopelessly outmatched. Far better is Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli introducing Miles Morales as a new variation on Spider-Man. There’s some nice toying with the Peter Parker Spider-Man’s origin, and intrigue about the new version’s background.

The book closes with the three opening issues of Hickman’s 2012 Avengers relaunch, as represented by the book’s extremely ugly cover. It’s these that have the greatest relevance overall as Hickman was specifically guiding the cast toward Secret Wars at the time and it opens with Hickman’s repeated themes of how disappointingly we curate the planet, and the aspirations of science for something better. “Great societies are crumbling all around us, and the old men who run them are out of ideas” claims the Black Panther, starting a complex meditation on ethics and the end of the world. Faced with a threat, what will the self-appointed controllers of humanity’s wellbeing do on our behalf? The answers are intelligent and interesting, and provide a fitting prelude. There’s also some great art from Steve Epting (sample art right).

None of this content is necessary to understand Secret Wars, which stands well enough alone, and as all of it is available in other collections, the list price is steep. As a snapshot, however, of what was drawn together for Marvel’s best crossover event it’s fascinating. The 1980s material is crude, but most of the remainder is idea-packed, if sometimes slow-paced.