Jonathan Hickman has been building up to something big for the Marvel Universe for the entirety of his run on Avengers and New Avengers. His 'incursions' -- alternate realities colliding and wiping each other out -- were the driving force behind Infinity and the splinter that divided the Avengers in Original Sin; they now form the backdrop to his books as they skip to a new status quo under the 'Time Runs Out' banner. There was always a plan.

Now we know the culmination of that plan. As announced at a Times Square event for New York Comic-Con on Thursday evening, Hickman's Avengers runs will end in May 2015, and he'll be joined by artist Esad Ribic on a year-long epic event book called... Secret Wars.

No, for real. Secret Wars. Maybe they don't know that the name's been used before? No-one tell them. They've been working on this for ages; they'll be so disappointed.

The first Secret Wars was published in 1984-85, and written by then-editor-in-chief Jim Shooter with art by Mike Zeck and Bob Layton. The event was conceived as a way for Marvel to launch a line of action figures; the name combined two words that tested well in focus groups. Kids love secrets. Kids love wars.

Even the plot was a blatant toybox conceit; what if an all-powerful kid took all his favorite action figures and made them fight? So the Beyonder was born; a godlike naif who smooshed heroes and villains together on the bedroom carpet he called "Battleworld." Stories don't get much more transparently commercial, but the series struck the chord that it was designed to strike, and the series is viewed with nostalgic affection by many.

Calling this new story Secret Wars seems needlessly confusing, but it hints that there may be a connection to that original other story of exactly the same name. The Beyonder, being from beyond, could well be behind the incursions. Mind you, Brian Michael Bendis suggested during his New Avengers run that the Beyonder is actually both an Inhuman and a mutant rather than actually being a godlike child from beyooooond, but that could be a bluff. (Please let it be a bluff.) Bendis also wrote a 2004-2005 series called Secret War, which had nothing to do with Secret Wars, yet helped set up Secret Invasion. Which also had nothing to do with Secret Wars. Maybe 'secret' is the pumpkin spice of events?

The new Secret Wars is no less commercial than its predecessor; Marvel has already announced several merchandising partners, including collectibles company Gentle Giant, trading card and games maker Upper Deck, retailer Hot Topic, terrifyingly unstoppable bobblehead juggernaut Funko, and toy maker Hasbro. The original Secret Wars toy partner was Mattel, but Mattel is on the outs with Marvel's parent company Disney, having lost the massively popular Disney Princess license only last month.

Specific details of the plot of the new Secret Wars series have not been released, but a poster/cover collage by Alex Ross suggests that a clash of alternate realities is definitely on the (collectible trading) cards.

The image shows characters from a host of established Marvel universes, including the Ultimate Universe, the New Universe, the MC2 Universe, Marvel 2099, Marvel 1602, the Mangaverse, the Supreme Power and Squadron Supreme universes, Earth X, and even the long-dormant Shadowline universe of "mature" heroes, published by Marvel's Epic imprint in the late 90s. Presumably they're all going to fight. The new versions of Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor are all present, as are the classic versions. The characters are notably Avengers-centric, with no X-Men or FF characters on the board (and barely any women). Somehow Obnoxio the Clown is in there as well.

Now, sure, this looks like some kind of catastrophe or "crisis" on a hard-to-precisely-count number of Earths, and that's exactly the sort of gallimaufry that leads to reboots in certain fictional worlds. Marvel editors have always strenuously denied that they plan a reboot, basically boasting that reboots are a sign of weakness. I would speculate that a hard reboot remains very unlikely at Marvel, but an event that allows the publisher to switch a few things around and maybe softly shuffle a few characters? That wouldn't be a big surprise.

The first Secret Wars was the event that launched all the epic superhero comic events that followed. Fingers crossed, this might be the one to end them.

(It won't be.)

More From ComicsAlliance