The secret history of the secret history of the Marvel Universe

Marvel Comics just revealed that Captain America’s shield has a secret history that may be tied to a secret, evil organization.

But revealing big secret histories around parts of Marvel Comics lore that we think we know in and out is par for the course for the Marvel Universe – and we’ve got receipts to prove it.

So put on your thinking caps, and get ready to absorb the secret history of Marvel’s secret histories.

Secret Heroes

The Sentry #4 cover

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

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Marvel has a long (secret) history with lost heroes – characters retconned into their continuity with the conceit that they were unknown for decades for a variety of reasons.

There’s Omega the Unknown, who debuted in the ’70s and has had several revivals, including just this year.

Then there’s the Sentry, a character who had an entire secret life in the Marvel Universe that was erased, retconned, restored, and sorta reconciled – the story of the Sentry is a secret history all its own.

There’s Adam Brashear, the Blue Marvel, whose life as a secret, cosmically powerful superhero could fill its own entire book of secret history. 

And of course there’s Isaiah Bradley, the secret Captain America whose story was told in the MCU, in the show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

 Secret Generation 

Agents of Atlas #1 cover

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The Marvel Universe officially kicked off with 1961’s Fantastic Four #1 – but since then, numerous characters from the years prior to the start of Marvel Comics, when the publisher was still known as Timely Comics and then Atlast Comics, have been grandfathered in – often through secret histories.

And we’re not just talking about the well-known heroes of the ’40s such as Captain America, Namor, and the Human Torch.

The well-known Agents of Atlas originally consisted of revived characters from the Atlas era of the ’50s such as Jimmy Woo, Namora, Gorilla Man, and Marvel Boy. And even they aren’t the first such team, as the so-called ‘Monster Hunters’ of the ’90s Marvel Universe title consisted of Namora (the same one from the Agents of Atlas), Dr. Druid, Ulysses Bloodstone, Makkari of the Eternals, and a Wakandan hunter named Zawadi, combining characters from before and after dawn of the Marvel era.

Then of course there’s the recent Avengers 1,000,000 BC, a concept which has retroactively introduced modern Marvel ideas like the Phoenix Force, Starbrand, Ghost Rider, Black Panther, and more into a secret, prehistoric superhero era. 

 Secret Aliens 

SHIELD: Infinity cover

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It’s hard to track exactly how alien races have altered the history of the Marvel Universe, but the idea of extraterrestrial influence on humanity is a long running trope in Marvel Comics.

First came the Celestials, godlike beings who seeded life on Earth and created two opposing metahuman species – the Eternals and the Deviants – who have secretly guided human history. The Celestials have returned time and again to manipulate the Earth, often threatening to destroy what they created.

Then there were the Brood, whose attempted invasion of the Earth during ancient Egyptian times led to the formation of two secret groups; the Spear, who later became Hydra, and ‘the Shield,’ who evolved into – you guessed it – Marvel’s top spy agency SHIELD. But the original Shield was a centuries-old secret society whose members included Leonardo DaVinci and Sir Isaac Newton in their long history.

And of course, there’s the Kree, the alien empire who used their technology to jumpstart human evolution and created the Inhumans, the hidden civilization of metahumans whose DNA was secretly implanted throughout human society until recently, when a massive Terregenesis caused many Inhumans’ latent abilities to awaken.

Secret X-Men

X-Men: Deadly Genesis #4 cover

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When the original five X-Men were captured by the mutant island Krakoa, Professor X assembled a new team including characters who have since become longtime mainstays including Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler, to rescue his original students.

But that wasn’t the first replacement team Xavier assembled. He first sent another, ill-fated group of students headed up by the third Summers brother Gabriel Summers, AKA Vulcan. 

(The Summers family, also including Cyclops, Havok, and Corsair, could almost be the subject of their own ‘secret history’ encyclopedia).

More recently, longtime X-Men ally Moira MacTaggart was revealed as having her own secret mutant history, having lived no less than 10 separate lives in 10 separate timelines. This led her to eventually help found the current mutant island of Krakoa (the same one from before), before recently turning on the X-Men and mutantkind in general.

 Secret Clones

Spider-Man Unlimited #7 cover

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Spider-Man has a clone. Well, he has a lot of clones. But primarily, there’s Ben Reilly, a nearly perfect clone of Peter Parker who has replaced Peter as Spider-Man on multiple occasions. 

That’s where the “secret history” part comes in. See, when Ben was first introduced, he believed he was the genuine article, and Peter was the clone. This turned out to be false, and Peter Parker became Spider-Man again after Ben’s death.

But clones have a way of sticking around, and Ben recently returned, once again filling in as Spider-Man while Peter Parker was gravely injured. 

Though Peter has recovered and returned as Spider-Man, Ben suffered a breakdown that led to changes in his powers along with the adoption of a new, apparently villainous identity: Chasm.

 Secret Affair 

Amazing Spider-Man page

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Widely considered one of the most devastatingly tragic and seriously disturbing stories in Spider-Man’s history, the tale ‘Sins Past’ seemingly revealed that Gwen Stacy had an affair with Norman Osborn, resulting in Gwen giving birth to a pair of rapidly aging twins shortly before her death at Norman’s own hands.

The twins turned villainous, revealing their progeny to Spider-Man in an attempt to destroy him, before disappearing from Marvel canon nearly forever – until a recent story fully retconned Gwen and Norman’s “secret history” with the revelation of yet another lie.

As it turns out, the twins were actually clones created by Norman Osborn to destroy Spider-Man, meaning that he and Gwen never actually had an affair. But weirdly enough, ‘Sins Past’ wasn’t the first attempt to inject a weird sexual affair into Spider-Man’s past… 

Secret Trouble

Trouble #4 cover

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The 2003 limited series Trouble was not just Marvel’s attempt to reinvent the romance genre in comic books, it was an attempt to subtly subvert Peter Parker’s family history by insinuating there was a secret web of sexual angst between his father, Richard Parker, Richard’s brother Ben, and their respective spouses Mary and May.

While the story never explicitly stated the last names of the characters, the intent was clear. Taking some odd cues from Dirty Dancing, Trouble found the teenage foursome dealing with teen pregnancy after Richard (or ‘Richie’) begins an affair with May behind Mary’s back, impregnating her.

The story ends with Mary and Richie raising May’s baby, while May and Ben reconnect – the bigger implication being that Peter Parker’s Aunt May is actually his mother, while the woman he knew as his mom was her long-suffering friend who raised Peter to protect May from the wrath of her heavily religious parents.

To say this “secret history” hasn’t joined the larger canon may be an understatement. Still, it has a slight nod in Spider-Man: Homecoming when Aunt May refers to “sneaking out of the house” as a teenager.

 Secret Agent 

Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD #1 cover

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Saying Marvel’s top super-spy has secrets may be like calling the wetness of water a newsflash. But in recent years, the true extent of Nick Fury’s secret life has been made clear, and there are hidden aspects of his past no one expected.

From his secret son Nick Fury, Jr., to his ‘Caterpillar file’ of potential metahumans which he secretly trained, to his life on the moon as the “Man on the Wall” staving off alien threats, Nick Fury’s skeletons aren’t just in his closet – they’re in his shower, sitting on his couch, and raiding his fridge.

How did Nick accomplish all this? Well, he’s had plenty of time to do it. His Infinity Formula made him effectively immortal, and combined with liberal use of LMDs, he was able to be in many places at once.

 Secret Friend 

Captain America #11 cover

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Steve Rogers’ original time as Captain America ended tragically with Steve being frozen in ice for decades, and his young sidekick Bucky apparently dying.

But as it turns out, Bucky was saved by nefarious forces and turned into the ultimate assassin, the Winter Soldier. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Bucky lends his codename to the well-loved film Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which also tells the tale of his death and rebirth.

Bucky’s time as the Winter Soldier is itself a “secret history,” tying into the hidden lives of other heroes including Black Widow, Nick Fury, Wolverine, and more.

Speaking of Wolverine…

 Secret Weapons 

Marvel Comics Presents #74 cover

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Wolverine’s life story may be the mother of all secret histories in the Marvel Universe thanks to his extra-long life as a soldier, secret agent, samurai, and so much more – and of course his lost memories and implanted delusions.

Though much of Wolverine’s secret history has been revealed, a significant portion of his origin – and the reason for his missing and altered memories – ties into the Weapon X program, itself a major secret running through numerous aspects of the Marvel Universe.

In fact, Weapon X is just one iteration of the so-called Weapon Plus program, which, in its various forms, has ties to the origins of not just Wolverine, but Captain America, Fantomex, Deadpool, Sabretooth, Luke Cage, and more.

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