While the concept of having larger stories cross over between multiple titles was something that existed well before the Marvel Age of comics began in the 1960s, Stan Lee clearly took things to a whole other level by how pervasive the shared universe was within Marvel Comics. While Batman and Superman teamed up every month and the Justice League saw a group of heroes band together, it was still quite a big deal in 1962 for an issue of "Superman" to guest-star, say, the Flash. That was not the case in Marvel Comics, where everyone guest-starred in everyone else's comic book title.
However, having a shared universe is different than having shared company-wide events, so it was not until the 1980s that Marvel introduced the first company-wide crossover event, with "Secret Wars," which just beat DC's "Crisis on Infinite Earths" to the punch. Marvel then went a step further and introduced the first interconnected crossover event with the "Mutant Massacre." The amount of events have exploded since then. We'll now count down the 15 greatest Marvel comics events of all-time. For the purpose of this list, an "event" has to be some sort of crossover, even if it is just a crossover between all of the "X-Men" titles or all of the "Spider-Man" titles (and it has to last at least four issues long).
15 MAXIMUM CARNAGE
In the early 1990s, the "Superman" line of comics, under the editorship of Mike Carlin, introduced the concept of having the four "Superman" monthly comic books essentially tell one gigantic continuous story, while each book maintained its own specific interests. Comics had been interconnected before (like "Batman" and "Detective Comics" in the 1980s), but never this many titles. That approach took on greater mainstream attention when it led to the "Death of Superman" in late 1992.
So, the following year, Marvel got into the act with its "Spider-Man" titles in "Maximum Carnage," a massive 14-part story running through the four ongoing "Spider-Man" comics of the time, plus a newly launched "Spider-Man Unlimited" quarterly series (part of Marvel's sales pitch to keep Ron Lim at the time was having him launch a brand-new Spider-Man anthology -- the royalties were huge). The story saw Spider-Man forced to team up with his old foe Venom to take on the even greater villain, Carnage, who formed a crew of villains and ravaged New York City until Spider-Man and his fellow heroes stopped them. It tested Spider-Man's resolve dramatically, as he was tempted to give in to lethal force and be like Venom.
14 WORLD WAR HULK
One of the biggest surprise hits of the 2000s was "Planet Hulk," where the superhero Illuminati decided to get rid of Hulk once and for all and deposit him on a peaceful alien planet. Instead, his ship got knocked off course and he landed on a gladiator world. Hulk and his fellow gladiators teamed up and eventually conquered the planet. However, as Hulk was settling in to being king of this world (including an awesome new wife), the ship he arrived in exploded, seemingly killing his new bride. He believed that this was one final assault by his old comrades on Earth. So, he and his fellow warriors traveled to Earth to conquer it and get his revenge.
Written by Greg Pak and drawn by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson, the main "World War Hulk" series saw some tremendous action, as Hulk devastated the heroes of Earth. Ultimately, Hulk took things too far, something he realized after he also learned that it was one his own allies, who had blown up the ship in an attempt to force Hulk to become a conqueror and not sit back on his laurels. The Hulk almost literally destroyed Earth, though, before he was finally taken down.
After going with a three-times-a-month schedule with a group of writers who would alternate stories, Marvel changed up its formula with its flagship Spider-Man title, "Amazing Spider-Man," by going to a twice-a-month schedule and a single writer, Dan Slott. A few months into his run, Slott launched his first event, "Spider-Island," and it was a grand success. The concept behind the story was that one day all of the citizens of New York City suddenly found themselves with the same powers as Spider-Man; from heroes to villains to everyone in between, they were all suddenly like Spider-Man.
This turned out to be a plot by the Jackal working with the Queen, as the people were slowly learning that having Spider-Man's powers was only the first stage of a transformation into giant, mindless spiders. So, Spider-Man and the other heroes had to act quickly to find a cure before the entire island of Manhattan was crawling with giant spiders!
12 SECRET INVASION
When the "New Avengers" launched with a mysterious breakout from a special prison for supervillains, there was clearly someone behind the scenes pulling the strings on the breakout. After a few years, we discovered who was behind it all: Skrulls! The shapeshifting race of Skrulls had been planning a long term invasion of Earth and had insinuated themselves into various walks of life before pulling the trigger on the invasion in one massive attack.
One of the areas they took advantage of was Iron Man's security system. Iron Man had recently become the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., so when the whole world was invaded under his watch, that led to him losing his position and being replaced by one of the heroes of the fight against the Skrulls, Norman Osborn! Thus, even though the heroes successfully repelled the Skrull invasion, they set up their own secret invasion, one that led to an evil takeover called "Dark Reign."
11 FALL OF THE MUTANTS
"The Fall of the Mutants" was the second line-wide "X-Men" crossover, but it was unique in that it was more of a spiritual crossover than anything else. The three X-titles, "Uncanny X-Men," "New Mutants" and "X-Factor" did not actually share a story together. Instead, each of the books had a three-month-long story arc that was tied together by the general theme of "death."
In "New Mutants," it meant that Cypher lost his life, making him the first member of these junior X-Men to fall in battle. Over in "X-Factor," the team faced off against Apocalypse and his new Horsemen, led by Death, who turned out to be their former teammate, Warren Worthington, formerly known as the Angel! Could Warren break free of Apocalypse's control? Finally, in "Uncanny X-Men," the team took on the powerful Adversary in Dallas, Texas, choosing to sacrifice their lives to take the Adversary down (luckily, they had friends in high magical places, so their sacrifice was not the end of their story).
10 ACTS OF VENGEANCE
In the early days of Marvel's linewide events in the 1980s, the publisher tended to be slightly more esoteric in its approach. It was not until 1990's "X-Tinction Agenda" that Marvel tried out the "You have to read Chapter X and then read Chapter Y" game. "Acts of Vengeance" was a crossover where there really wasn't a main story that the other books all tied into. Instead, it was a concept that drove everything. The concept was that the biggest villains in the Marvel Universe got together and decided to coordinate an attack on the heroes of the Marvel Universe.
The way they did this was a clever idea where the villains would, in effect, switch opponents. Iron Man's enemies would suddenly attack the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four's enemies would attack Captain America, and so on and so forth. The whole thing was originated by John Byrne. This led to a series of unique battles between heroes and villains (although it seemed like everyone wanted to use Doctor Doom!).
9 AGE OF APOCALYPSE
In 1995, Marvel shocked the comic book world with the "Age of Apocalypse" event. This event was shocking because it was predicated on "ending" all of the X-titles! In a mini-crossover called "Legion Quest," Professor X's son, Legion, went back in time to kill Magneto, as he blamed him for everything that went wrong for his father in the years to come. Instead, young Xavier sacrificed himself to save Magneto. This battle in the past awoke Apocalypse early and he then conquered the Marvel Universe before superheroes began to show up.
Thus, each X-Title relaunched as part of this new altered timeline. So "Wolverine" became "Weapon X," "Uncanny X-Men" became "Astonishing X-Men" and so on, with some other interesting twists along the way. In this new world conquered by Apocalypse, the X-Men were now formed by Magneto in honor of his dead friend. The only person left unaffected was Bishop, because he was from the future (and he was in the past when it all happened). He helped get the X-Men to help him go back in time and fix things once and for all.
Jonathan Hickman had already proven himself as one of the most brilliant writers in comics when it came to balancing multiple storylines at once during his time writing both "Fantastic Four" and "FF," but he took that approach to an even larger scale with "Infinity," with took place in an "Infinity" miniseries as well as both "Avengers" and "New Avengers."
The concept of the event was that the Avengers traveled into outer space to take on the fearsome Builders as part of a powerful coalition of other alien races, as the Avengers see that the Builders' path of destruction through the universe was on a direct course for Earth. While the Avengers were gone, though, Thanos chose this time to attack the defenseless Earth with his new team of powerful allies, the Black Order. While victorious, the battles with Thanos on Earth led to the detonation of the Terrigen Bomb by Black Bolt, which led to the whole world being altered by the Terrigen Mists, with people all over the globe being triggered by their hidden Inhuman ancestry. Thus, new Inhumans began to pop up everywhere.
Marvel's cosmic universe had fallen by the wayside a bit going into the 21st Century, but editor Andy Schmidt wanted to fix that, and it all started with a miniseries by Keith Giffen that revamped Drax the Destroyer. Giffen had previously finished off a "Thanos" ongoing series begun by Jim Starlin, but it was really the "Drax the Destroyer" miniseries that led to the revamp of the Marvel Cosmic line, orchestrated by Schmidt (who went from assistant editor on "Thanos" to lead editor on "Drax").
Through a series of miniseries, we were reintroduced to a few major cosmic figures, including the Super-Skrull, Ronan the Accuser and Nova. They were all dealing with the Annihilation Wave, which was a giant invading force led by Annihilus from the Negative Zone that was quickly tearing through the universe, destroying any planets that were in their path. It turned out that they were being powered by a captured Galactus. So, Nova, Silver Surfer, Drax, Ronan, Phyla-Vell (who became the new Quasar after the original was killed early in the story) and the Super-Skrull all had to team up to take Annihilus down. This was Nova's big moment to shine as he became the hero he was always meant to be.
6 TIME RUNS OUT/SECRET WARS
As soon as he took over the "Avengers" titles, Jonathan Hickman began introducing the idea of "Incursions," which is a hole in the Multiverse (caused by the events of "Age of Ultron") that led to alternate reality Earths ending up in the same place as the main Earth. So the question becomes, "If they collide, it would be devastating, so do you destroy the other Earth to save your own?" The Illuminati eventually said yes when this first came up, but then there kept being more and more Incursions, and they were split over how to deal with it.
This led to a Cabal forming, which kept destroying Earths as they showed up. Finally, the Ultimate Universe Earth proved too difficult to destroy due to Ultimate Reed Richards (hence "Time Runs Out"). So the two Earths collided, which devastated the Multiverse even further, leading to Doctor Doom taking control of reality and forming a new reality. In "Secret Wars," the heroes who remembered the old reality had to fight against Doom to get things back to normal. In the end, Doom ceded control over reality to his old foe, Reed Richards.
5 THE ORIGINAL SECRET WARS
The very first line-wide crossover by Marvel Comics was launched for a simple reason (well, if you think it was meant to also beat "Crisis on Infinite Earths" to the punch just to spite DC Comics, then two reasons) -- to sell action figures. Marvel had cut a deal with Mattel to do a new action figure line and they had to come up with a miniseries to promote the line of toys. "Secret Wars" was that idea.
The concept behind the event (written by Marvel's then-Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter and drawn by Mike Zeck and John Beatty) was that a mysterious being known as the Beyonder brought together Marvel's heroes and villains and basically just made them fight each other for his amusement. It was the perfect set up for a toy line -- all the famous heroes fighting all of the famous villains. And Bulldozer.
Doctor Doom flipped the switch by temporarily stealing the Beyonder's power, but in the end, the heroes defeated first the villains and then Doom, and everyone went back to Earth, although Spider-Man brought back an alien visitor that he thought was a new costume.
4 KRAVEN'S LAST HUNT
It seems like a cheat to have this classic story on the list, and that is why it is not higher (as it just doesn't "feel" as much like an event as the other stories). However, when it was released in 1988, it was indeed a crossover between the three "Spider-Man" titles of the time. It was just a crossover where every part was handled by the same creative team, writer J.M. DeMatteis and artists Mike Zeck and John Beatty.
The idea behind the story was that one of Spider-Man's lesser villains, Kraven the Hunter, finally snaps over his inability to defeat Spider-Man, so he shocks Spidey by actually taking him by surprise and basically having a chance at killing him. Ultimately, he chooses instead to knock him out and bury him alive. Kraven then took over as Spider-Man to prove how superior he was as a hunter, and then as a hero. Spider-Man, who had recently gotten married, managed to break out of his coffin, driven by his love for his wife. Kraven, with nothing more left to prove to himself, then took his own life. It's a powerful look at what drives villains to do what they do.
3 MUTANT MASSACRE
Chris Claremont had a series of stories set involving some characters from the pages of Alan Moore's Marvel UK "Captain Britain" run, but when Moore balked at Marvel using his characters, Claremont had to come up with a new way to get them to the same basic place. This ultimately led to the first interconnected crossover in "Mutant Massacre" (Claremont and co-writer Louise Simonson later reflected that they had basically created a monster). Instead of the Fury from "Captain Britain" killing the Morlocks, Claremont invented a new team called the Marauders. They entered the tunnel home of the Morlocks and began slaughtering them.
The X-Men entered the tunnels to save as many Morlocks as they could, but in the process, a number of the X-Men were gravely injured, leading to a revamped roster in the series. X-Factor also entered the tunnels, which led to Angel getting brutally injured, which in-turn led to him losing his wings. In "New Mutants," the kids dealt with the event from their perspective, as well. This event re-shaped the X-Men and also re-shaped how comics were written from this point forward.
2 CIVIL WAR
The early years of the 21st Century were light in terms of companywide crossovers. "House of M" was the first companywide crossover in a few years in 2005. With the door re-opened, Marvel launched an even more elaborate crossover in 2006 with "Civil War," the main series of which was written by Mark Millar and drawn by Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines.
The story opened with the New Warriors fighting some criminals, one of whom exploded in a nuclear blast, killing the Warriors and 300 innocent civilians, including a number of schoolchildren. This led to the government passing a Superhuman Registration Act, where superheroes would have to register with the government if they wanted to avoid being arrested. Iron Man was the face of this movement. A number of superheroes, led by Captain America, rebelled against giving so much control to the government. The heroes had a series of clashes, with Goliath tragically dying in one of the battles. In the end, public opinion supported Iron Man and Captain America surrendered. Iron Man was then put in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D.. This event had one of the biggest impacts on the Marvel Universe over any other crossover. It dictated the direction of the Marvel Universe for the next decade.
1 INFINITY GAUNTLET
Sometimes, one of the best ways to come out with a special story is if not a lot of people are paying attention to what you are doing. When Frank Miller took over "Daredevil," it was a little-read book, so he could do whatever he wanted. The same thing happened with Alan Moore and "Swamp Thing." The crossover equivalent of that was Jim Starlin's "Infinity Gauntlet," which was mostly an extension of Starlin's classic "Warlock" stories (Starlin had recently returned to Marvel writing "Silver Surfer"). Very few titles agreed to tie-in with "Infinity Gauntlet" at the time, and perhaps that lack of having to serve a hundred masters led to the story being so powerful on its own.
Written by Starlin and drawn by George Perez, Ron Lim and Joe Rubinstein, the story followed a miniseries called "Thanos Quest," where Thanos collected all of the Infinity Gems to create the Infinity Gauntlet, the most powerful weapon in the universe. In the first issue, Thanos killed half of the universe with a snap of his fingers. His old foe/friend, Adam Warlock, was resurrected to lead Earth's heroes in stopping the Mad Titan. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is using this event as the backbone of its future stories, showing how classic it truly is.
What is your all-time favorite Marvel Comics event? Let us know in the comments section!