In a lot of ways, the ’90s have become overly sweeping shorthand for bad superhero comics, and Marvel’s worst moments from the decade absolutely feed into that reputation. It’s an aimless, desperate decade of stories from Marvel Comics, coming off the highs of Daredevil, Uncanny X-Men and Thor in the ’80s, and spiraling straight into “Maximum Clonage,” bankruptcy, and a Marvel Knights era escape hatch. For every glorious moment of Infinity Gauntlet or Marvels, there were five Marvel events that even nostalgia can’t save.
No sphere of the Marvel Universe was spared either, with the X-Men, Spider-Man and Avengers all wallowing in their own pits of shame for years at a time. Indeed, the sales boom of the ’90s truly marked Marvel’s first obsession with heavily crossed over events, meaning storyline ideas could carry on for years at a time. Of course, there’s still plenty of Marvel to like from this time period, whether it be Hulk: Future Imperfect or our steadfast refusal to acknowledge there could be anything bad to say about Age of Apocalypse. You can’t win them all, though, so take off those nostalgia-hued shades and prepare to see the below events for what they truly are: The worst Marvel events of the ’90s!
15. MAXIMUM CARNAGE
While the never-ending Spider-Man “Clone Saga” gets most of the attention for notorious ’90s Spidey crossovers, we’d argue that “Maximum Carnage” is significantly more disappointing and makes approximately 3,000 percent less sense. In 1993, hot on the heels of Marvel’s success establishing Venom and Carnage as core players in the Spider-Man rogues gallery, Marvel announced a crossover between four Spider-Man titles (Spider-Man Unlimited, Web of Spider-Man, Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man).
“Maximum Carnage” is a great example of a fine concept — Carnage breaks out of the insane asylum and Spider-Man and Venom team-up to stop him. All this was stretched thin across 12 issues. The less said about Demogoblin, Doppelganger, Shriek and Carrion the better, but all Z-list villains are given plenty of screen time in an effort to keep Carnage’s reign of terror in the headlines as long as possible.
14. X-TINCTION AGENDA
“X-Tinction Agenda” has all the makings of a memorable X-Men crossover, but winds up reading like the sad death knell of a glorious era. The crossover brings together Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson writing Uncanny X-Men, X-Force and New Mutants, with art by some upstarts you may have heard of in Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. It’s a changing of the guard on Marvel’s X-Men, setting up the New Mutants for a future in X-Force, and effectively concluding the X-Men’s Australia phase.
Despite the creative talent and potential, find us someone who gives a flying hoot about Cameron Hodge, and we’ll give you a free no-prize. The anti-mutant cyborg leads an attack on the X-Mansion, dragging Storm and New Mutants back to Genosha to turn them into the nation’s economic backbone: mutant slaves. Genosha remains one of the more harrowing metaphors in X-Men lore, but “X-Tinction Agenda” is a mess.
The “X-Men: Onslaught” saga seems like it should be an exciting monument in X-history. After reaching an all-time high in popularity during the early ’90s, the X-Men spent the better part of 1994 and 1995 trapped in the linewide “Age of Apocalypse” event. As a result, the “Onslaught” saga marks the return to the X-Men to the “normal” Marvel reality. Since Age of Apocalypse was so enormous in scope, Marvel took the most ’90s approach to a follow-up: They tried to go even bigger.
Unfortunately, “Onslaught” — which runs well over 50 issues all together — couldn’t match anything from “Age of Apocalypse”, as the narrative spent far too long slowplaying the reveal of the actual villain. Onslaught, of course, was shown to be the all-powerful love connection of Professor X and Magneto. While gloriously 90’s in design, Onslaught completely lacked compelling personality.
12. KINGS OF PAIN
Conceptually, “Kings of Pain” feels like a strangely compelling Marvel plot bot. A.I.M plans to restore the reality-altering mutant Proteus, and use his powerset similar to their beloved cosmic cubes. Ostensibly a 1991 X-Men event, “Kings of Pain” followed the precedent of “Atlantis Attacks” and “Evolutionary War” in running as a crossover through individual series’ annual issues.
Unfortunately, running through New Warriors, New Mutants, X-Force and X-Men, “Kings of Pain” also followed those late ’80s events in terms of nigh incomprehensibility (while blastin’) and inconsequential storytelling. The best thing that can be said about “Kings of Pain” is that Mike Mignola did the covers, but when you consider he does none of the interior art, that’s not much of a sell. As X-events from the ’90s go, you’d be much better off plowing through the rad action of “X-cutioner’s Song”.
11. BLOOD & THUNDER
Our early view of Thor in his very first Marvel crossover shows him violently slapping then wife Sif, and smashing Beta Ray Bill so hard a planet breaks, and things only get worse from there. We enter the crossover with Thor infected by “the warrior’s madness,” which basically means Thor puts a whoopin’ on everyone from Silver Surfer to Adam Warlock throughout. Hot on the heels of Jim Starlin’s “Infinity” trilogy, “Blood and Thunder” feels like a massive comedown.
“Blood and Thunder” is also guilty of the crossover cardinal sin of tie-ins that have very little to do with the actual content of the primary plot. The first issue of Infinity Watch goes right on telling the tale of Gamora, Drax and crew on Monster Island, with only the briefest of connections. Highlights do include Thanos and Odin going toe to toe, but all in all “Blood and Thunder” is a major stayaway.
10. THE MAGNETO WAR
Obviously you can’t base a superhero story’s value on name alone, but great X-gene in heaven does “The Magneto War” sound like it should be awesome. Especially in 1999, when Magneto had either been missing or masquerading as that non-entity hippie Joseph for what felt like an eternity.
As it stands, “Magneto War,” which crosses over between Uncanny X-Men, X-Men and a Magneto War one-shot, focuses a heck of a lot on Magneto’s Acolytes, and worse yet, Joseph. This includes a glorious moment when Professor X refuses the Acolytes entry into the Xavier institute because “I no longer have the compassion to forgive your actions.” For his part, Joseph decides he could do more good as a voiceless part of the electromagnetic sphere (no arguments here), leaving Magneto to rule Genosha and prepare for the devastation of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s opener on New X-Men.
9. INFINITY CRUSADE
Although it pains us to besmirch the good name of Jim Starlin’s “Infinity” trilogy, “Infinity Crusade” is a massive let down. After Thanos Quest and the “Infinity Gauntlet” delivered one of the greatest Marvel Cosmic events in Marvel history, and “Infinity War” gave us an inarguably delightful Doctor Doom and Kang the Conqueror team-up, “Infinity Crusade” dropped the ball on completing the trilogy with a bang.
Thematically, “Infinity Crusade” follows logically from “Infinity War”, with Adam Warlock’s “good side,” aka The Goddess, taking the reigns from the evil Magus as the all-powerful event villain. Unfortunately, “Infinity Crusade” struggles to find space for the Marvel Universe at large, honing in more narrowly in Starlin’s fixation with Adam Warlock. Likewise, after half of the entire Marvel Universe was destroyed in “Infinity Gauntlet” the attempts to continually raise the stakes feel hollow by trilogy’s end.
8. THE MUIR ISLAND SAGA
Continuing the tradition of disappointing early ’90s X-Men events that signaled the impending death-whimper of an era, “The Muir Island Saga” features the return of Legion and the Shadow King. The saga is a mini X-Men “Civil War” with Shadow King possessing the majority of the team and turning them on one another over the course of five crossover issues.
The best thing that can be said about “The Muir Island Saga” is it leaves plenty of potential story on the table for FX’s ongoing Legion TV series from showrunner Noah Hawley. The events of Muir Island are yet another clear reminder that Professor Charles Xavier is a terrible leader and human being, with his plan leaving his only son brain-dead. To be fair, we did get Peter David’s run on X-Factor out of the deal, so why complain.
7. RISE OF THE MIDNIGHT SONS
Ghost Rider and the Midnight Sons is an extreme love letter to ’70s Marvel supernatural horror, simply updated with guns the size of grass-fed livestock. The “Sons” includes the Son of Satan, Morbius the Living Vampire, Werewolf by Night, Jennifer Kale and Ghost Riders Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch. Like virtually all of Marvel’s attempts to breath life into their “dark” literal Howling Commandos, the Midnight Sons is nothing more than a footnote in their ’90s comics output.
Those familiar with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should take note that the Midnight Sons era delivered Darkhold: Pages From the Book of Sin, which was prominently featured (alongside Ghost Rider) in season four. Midnight Sons also ended their brief run with a 17-part crossover titled “Siege of Darkness,” bringing Doctor Strange into the fray.
6. CHILD’S PLAY
“Child’s Play” is an extremely minor crossover in the grand scheme of things, but it’s emblematic of the diminishing returns of both X-Force and New Warriors. Crossing over between eight issues (including Annual #3) of X-Force and two issues of New Warriors, “Child’s Play” introduces a terror group called the Upstarts, led by a stock X-Men villain called The Gamemaster. The new terror group hunts mutants for sport, which is admittedly terrifying.
The problem, of course, is X-Men fans have seen this plot executed in several superior manners through X-history, including the Reavers and menacing lynch mobs in X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills. In its defense, “Child’s Play” does some nice work salvaging original New Mutants like Karma, Dani Moonstar and Magma, all of who had been left to largely wallow in obscurity.
5. THE CLONE SAGA
It goes overlooked in hindsight, but the Spider-Man “Clone Saga” actually gets off to a strong, intriguing start. Starting in 1994, the Spider-Man line of comics reintroduced the character of Ben Reilly, the clone Spider-Man thought he had accidentally murdered during the Jackal’s mid-’70s plot to clone Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy.
Like any good story, the “Clone Saga” then proceeded to keep going and going and going, until suddenly it was 1996 and there was no possible way this story could payoff the mystery of the “real” Spider-Man. Amazingly, the “Clone Saga” is so needlessly dense that it includes its own events inside the main event, with stories like “Planet of the Symbiotes” and “Maximum Clonage” taking place at the same time. As a whole, we’d argue the “Clone Saga” isn’t as awful as its reputation, but boy does it ever belong among wrong-headed ’90s plots.
4. FATAL ATTRACTIONS
“Fatal Attractions” has coasted for a good long while on one memorable idea, and we say that time is over. Yes, the “Fatal Attractions” crossover marks the moment in time when Magneto tore the adamantium from Wolverine’s bones, and Professor Charles Xavier finally decided to wipe Magneto’s mind before he caused further harm. Memorable as that may be, it hardly makes the likes of Fabian Cortez, Exodus, or Avalon even remotely interesting.
As a story, “Fatal Attractions” is most emblematic of ’90s X-Men, and that either sounds tremendously fun or like enough reason to go running for the nearest pillow to cry into. Everyone makes absurd decisions throughout, from Magneto making his “I’m an evil bad guy again!” speech at a funeral to Colossus watching his good friend Wolverine’s metal ripped from his bones and deciding to team up with the guy who did it.
3. HEROES REBORN
As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” and that’s exactly the approach Marvel Comics took with the creators behind Image Comics in the ’90s. The most interesting parts of “Heroes Reborn” are behind the scenes details of Marvel’s bankruptcy and outsourcing of the project to the likes of Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. In other words, any reading about comics that doesn’t actually involve reading “Heroes Reborn.”
Conceptually, “Heroes Reborn” is right on the mark, as Marvel’s Ultimate Universe would prove in spades a mere four years later. The event is an absolute bust though, following the death of Marvel’s Avengers and Fantastic Four at the hands of Onslaught. After all, it’s tough to endorse any sweeping linewide event that interrupts Mark Waid and Ron Garney’s acclaimed Captain America for… Rob Liefeld’s.
2. HEROES RETURN
The best that can be said about “Heroes Return” is that it marked an end to “Heroes Reborn,” and the reintroduction of all the major Marvel players in the same universe. It was Marvel Knights that would truly get Marvel Comics back on their feet entering the 2000’s, but “Heroes Return” was a step in that direction. Peter David’s event narrative attempts to make sense of Franklin Richard’s “pocket dimensions” and how his far ranging powers will impact the Marvel Comics line moving forward.
Unfortunately, the event itself isn’t particularly memorable, apart from Doctor Doom trying to steal Franklin’s godlike powers and literally getting knocked to Counter-Earth as a result. “Heroes Return” is a necessary step correcting the Marvel Universe at large, but it’s also a reminder of the mess Marvel made for itself in the first place.
1. THE CROSSING
Everything about the “Avengers: Crossing” crossover is aggressively bad. Tony Stark goes on murderous rampages due to the influence of Kang the Conqueror, and the Avengers travel through space and time in order to save him (although not his victims). Rather than use this time travel adventure to, say, prevent Iron Man from being corrupted, the Avengers instead grab an alternate reality teenage Tony Stark and try to use him to defeat evil Iron Man and Kang.
There are plenty of questionable plot decisions — turning Janet Van Dyne into an actual wasp for example — but the real permanent damage is done to Iron Man — it’s the revealed that he’s always been under the control of Kang the Conqueror. While there might be plenty of “Civil War” readers who claim this explains Tony Stark’s behavior, it’s one of the most irredeemable turns for the character in Marvel history.
Which of these Marvel events did you actually like? Let us know in the comments!
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