Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]
The character choice for Secret Wars provides some insight into how Marvel is reorganizing itself as the Cinematic Universe's audience grows. Some of the survivors are not at all surprising, such as Spider-Man ... both of them. Miles Morales is able to escape the Ultimate Universe by stowing away in the Cabal's ship and the duo work together to uncover the mystery of Molecule Man. They're collectively the book's comic relief, but it suits the characters. The female Thor has a role, but Captain America and Iron Man are nowhere to be found.
One person who wouldn't have lived through the Incursion a few years ago is Star-Lord, along with a certain other Guardian of the Galaxy who plays a crucial role in the climax. There are points where Hickman kind of has to strain to keep him relevant, but integrating the now-popular cosmic Marvel characters into the mainstream has been an ongoing issue for a while now.
As I mentioned before, Captain Marvel also makes it through, and as a result she ends up in several contradictory tie-ins. There's no way that A-Force and Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps featured the same Carol Danvers, so it's a clue that Battleworld can have more of one person living on it at the same time. One of the few noticeable breakdowns in communication can be seen in Carol's arc in the main book versus the tie-ins. When the "lifeboat" survivors fan out to explore Battleworld, she ends up in Bar Sinister and becomes Mister Sinister's ... hostage? Female clone? Wife? I've tried to figure this out for a while now, and I initially thought it was handled in one of the anthologies, but that doesn't appear to be the case. It's a shame since I would rather have had Carol be able to finish up the plot of Carol Corps and see her break through Battleworld's artificial barriers.
The other letdown is what happens to Cyclops. He arrives on the scene in the first issue of Secret Wars controlling a batch of Sentinels and absorbing a piece of the Phoenix Force into himself. Then he's one of the first heroes killed off after the lifeboat opens. This may have been because Brian Michael Bendis took a very long time in concluding his Uncanny X-Men title and Hickman wasn't sure of what to do with the character. I do think that much of the "anti-X-Men conspiracy" touted by some fans is ridiculous, but this scene doesn't exactly go against their case. There were quite a few X-Men-related tie-ins, but by and large, the only mutant to really be important to the main narrative was Namor.
After years of fights, invasions, and near-genocides against each other's nations, Black Panther and Namor finally get a payoff on their rivalry. The two are forced to work together once the Cabal sets out to take apart what Doom has assembled. This ends up resolving some leftover plot threads from New Avengers; Black Panther's status as King of the Dead becomes relevant, for example, and the Infinity Gauntlet is put back into play. It would have been nice to have a tie-in series focused on the duo (perhaps Atlantis Attacks?). One survivor who does get some extra tie-in exposure is Thanos; he becomes the first to crack the foundations of Battleworld by bringing down the Wall, in the process revealing who the Wall is.
Going back even further, Secret Wars provides the capstone on Hickman's Fantastic Four with the arc of the two versions of Reed Richards. The Ultimate Reed Richards -- now the Maker -- serves as the story's version of the Evil Reeds. He's since made it through to become a powerful threat in Al Ewing's New Avengers. The presence of Earth-616's Reed Richards is what finally destabilizes Doom. It's rare to see Reed so righteously angry, but when he sees what has happened to his wife and children, it's his final rejection of the Council of Reeds' rule of ignoring their families for the "greater good." The duel between Doom and Reed takes the form of a chess match with their faces intermingled as the board.
Said duel is one of several sequences by artist Esad Ribic which broke Comixology when Secret Wars first came out. The ending of issue 1 had so many interlocking and overlapping panels that the guided reading function couldn't figure out where to go. While his work delayed some of the issues, they were worth the wait for his semi-painted style. Ribic also gets the opportunity to draw Doom's maskless face, which I won't spoil. I've noticed that his characters tend to have slack jaws now and then and I'm not sure what happened to Dragon-Man's head, but those are minor issues. Alex Ross' covers are equally beautiful; I also enjoyed the "action figure variants" that turned the issues into fake versions of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars toys.
You might remember that I predicted how Secret Wars would end back when I reviewed the Fantastic Four trades. As it turns out, I was right ... mostly. Franklin and Valeria do help reboot the universe, but it's with the help of their parents and the rest of the Future Foundation. It's a fitting ending for the Fantastic Four until Marvel can work out the studio mess surrounding them and they can get their own book. They aren't the only ones with a happy ending: everyone lives thanks to the universal reboot, and with a family at the helm instead of a god-emperor, the future looks brighter for the whole Marvel Universe. It's a fantastic way to reverse the mantra of "Everything Dies" and a satisfying end to a pretty good crossover.