Events are a staple of mainstream comic books, with these company-wide crossovers becoming more and more common every year. But while they can be seen as quick cash grabs and ways to grab more attention for books, events offer the chance for readers to be taken on a massive adventure that spans the cosmos and the entire comic book line. From universe-reshaping clashes in the cosmos to wars between heroes over human rights, comic book events have covered topics far and wide on a massive scale.
While the shared universe of comic books has led to crossovers since the 1950s, comic book events did not begin in earnest until the 1980s. In the time since, events have become more and more common place to the point of even being seasonal. That regularity may cause fatigue and frustration within readers, but these events can still thrill in the same ways that big budget action movies can during the summer. When in the right hands, massive action and compelling narratives can intertwine for some of the most memorable moments in comic books. When done wrong, they can be as empty-headed and cash-grabbed-focused as anything can possibly be. And with such massive implications involved in each event, which often spill over into countless other comics, the highs and lows of the story can be nearly inescapable for readers.
The following 10 events are the best and worst in comic books, exemplifying the highs and lows of what the big budget format can do. As a rule, comic books that qualify for these lists involve some level of crossover within their publications. So storylines like The Death of Superman do not count.
Have your own personal choices? Let me know in the comments below!
5. Secret Wars
The latest Marvel Comics event is easily their best in many, many years. That’s thanks to writer Jonathan Hickman’s powerful vision for the event and a story that concludes years of storylines while still being immensely satisfying on its own. In the wake of the Marvel multiverse being destroyed, what is left is reformed as Battleworld – a patchwork world made up of the fragments of destroyed realities ruled over by Dr. Doom, who is possession of godlike powers. But the survivors of the previous reality band together to stop Doom and remake the world in all-out war. Including numerous miniseries to explore the world and a restart of every Marvel title, Secret Wars was truly massive, but didn’t lose its narrative focus in the main series. While major delays in delivery marred the production of Secret Wars, the quality storytelling will last far longer than the memory of the complications.
4. The Sinestro Corps War
The culmination of Geoff Johns’ massive story on Green Lantern up to that point, The Sinestro Corps war was compromised of several one-shot issues and comics that crossed over between the multiple Green Lantern comics running at that point. On one side of the intergalactic conflict was the Green Lantern Corps, dedicated to policing the universe, and on the other side was the Sinestro Corps, who sought to conquer through instilling fear and lead by longtime villain Sinestro. War spilled across the universe, with both sides taking huge casualties and making incredibly difficult decisions in the struggle to win the war. Including heroes Hal Jordan, John Stewart, and many more, as well as iconic villains like Cyborg Superman and the Anti-Monitor, Sinestro Corps War was huge in scope while still keeping a tight and compelling narrative in play throughout in order to stay exciting and satisfying.
For years, the cosmic heroes of the Marvel Universe were left mostly untouched until the resurgence brought by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Laning’s Annihilation, which sowed the seeds of an enormous conflict through multiple miniseres. These comics told the stories of various heroes and villains including Nova, Thanos, Ronan, Silver Surfer, and Drax, who were eventually brought together to fight the evil Annihilus and his Annihilation Wave, which made its way across the universe, destroying every planet in its path. By making the event take its time, readers were able to invest into each character until they were brought together for the humongous battle, giving it greater meaning, which can often get lost in the giant battles that make up most comic book events. The mega storyline restarted the cosmic side of Marvel in a big way, leading to years of interconnected plots that all sprung from the seeds planted here.
2. Crisis on Infinite Earths
The classic comic book event that started them all, Crisis on Infinite Earths was the biggest comic ever created at its publications and it is still one of the medium’s most massive events. When the all-powerful villain known as the Anti-Monitor seeks to destroy every parallel universe that compromises DC Comic’s Multiverse, heroes and villains must unite to defeat their common foe. Working as both an epic event and a reset to DC Comics, Crisis is made up of some of the biggest moments in comic book history and marked a new era for DC Comics. Many of the battles, deaths, and character beats that made up the massive event have become iconic in the medium. While the plot may be bloated and slightly dated, the scope and characters within are still thoroughly compelling decades later. This is superhero storytelling on the biggest scale possible and it’s worth reading for anyone interested in comic book history.
1. The Infinity Gauntlet
Quite simply the greatest comic book event ever created, Infinity Gauntlet is Shakespeare meets Star Wars. While everything you need is contained perfectly within the main series, Infinity Gauntlet’s effects rippled out into other comics just enough to make the event feel important without causing too much unneeded disruption in other books. As Thanos gains control of the all-powerful Infinity Gauntlet, he decides to profess his love to the embodiment of death by killing half of the entire universe in an instant. His power and threat brings together a contingent of heroes led by Adam Warlock, who puts his precarious plan into action across six issues, with everyone from A-List heroes to cosmic beings coming to stop Thanos. But unlike most comic book events, The Infinity Gauntletdelves into the complex character of Thanos, leading to a twisting, turning, and incredibly satisfying story that tops all other events.
5. Final Crisis
Written as the biggest and most important in DC Comics’ long-running line of Crisis events, Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis is just too heady for its own good. Full of ideas like living equations, musical harmony cancelling out evil, and the cosmic weight of good and evil, Final Crisis tells a massive story concerning the end of the universe at the villain Darkseid’s hands, but consists of so many barely connected ideas as to rarely make sense, even during supposedly crucial scenes. Given its insane nature, its difficult to focus on the story at hand, leading to very little emotional or mental investment. While there are some fantastic moments (including Batman’s final showdown against Darkseid), this is the definition of big ambition coming up short. In the end, it’s incoherent and far too messy for its own good, which is a shame since Morrison can write some of the best trippy stories in comics. It just didn’t work here, and on a grand scale at that.
4. Armageddon 2001
What started as an ambition story was quickly ruined by editorial decisions. The secret identity of the villain Monarch (Captain Atom) had leaked during the course of the event, leading to editors deciding to change the character’s identity to the hero Hawk. But this change in the midst of the story meant that every story thread was total nonsense, all sacrificed for the sake of maintaining a surprise. Like most big events, the climax is what ends up defining the quality of the series, so this botched reveal and finale (complete with eye roll-inducing leaps in logic concerning Monarch) made the entire series pointless. In the end, Armageddon 2001 went down as an ignominious, and quickly forgotten, DC Comics event. Years later, the storyline was corrected in a manner of speaking, as Captain Atom took on the villainous identity of Monarch in the Countdown miniseries, but that too was a disastrous comic run. Maybe no more Monarchs for DC Comic.
While Axis was designed to be the culmination of Rick Remender’s work on X-Forceand Avengers over the years, it was quickly turned into a line-wide crossover event. Like other comic events that are suddenly blown up far larger than they were intended, Axis had no real point in the context of its massive size. Despite its nine-issue size, the story of Axisis simply good guys turn bad, bad guys turn good, they fight, and they all go back to normal. That disappointing narrative combined with the conclusion to multiple storylines means that there is little to take away from Axis in the end. With so little to be done in this story and so little that actually came from its end, this is one of the flimsiest events to come along in years. The good guy/bad guy reversal is pretty sloppy and cliche storytelling to begin with, but the lackluster execution here meant that the threads leading up to this ended in a dull thud, rather than a big bang.
2. Age of Ultron
Starting off with a losing battle against the villainous robot Ultron, a desperate band of heroes decides to travel through time to prevent the villain from gaining power. With each trip into the past twisting the present further and further, the story becomes ever more convoluted. But it’s all undone by the end, with only a couple minor changes as a result, which reflects upon the event itself even more poorly than the quality of the narrative in general. While there are tons of insane alternate universes that our heroes travel to that provide potentially new and exciting story possibilities, they don’t add up to much. As a general rule, the worse an event, the quicker it is swept under the rug by the editorial teams afterward. Age of Ultron was brushed aside with no lingering effects in mere months. It’s greatest legacy is that the second Avengers film took it’s name, but absolutely nothing else from this event. Good idea from the studio, the name is the only thing worthwhile here.
The worst comic book ever made is the one that irreparably broke the Ultimate Marvel comic line. Taking place in a long-standing line of comics that take place in an alternate universe, Ultimate comics restarts that entire Marvel line with fresh takes on longstanding characters free of continuity. But when the line was becoming stale, the editorial team decided to shake things up in a huge way with the Ultimatum event. Long story short, X-Men villain Magneto causes massive natural disasters around the world that results in the deaths of millions, including many heroes. Among the casualties? Wolverine, Daredevil, Professor X, The Wasp, Ant-Man, Cyclops, Dr. Doom, and many more. The deaths were cruel, tasteless, and poorly thought out in this thick-headed waste of paper, which simply meant to shock readers but instead alienated them. Left with a bad taste in everyone’s mouths, the Ultimate line limped on for years, but was permanently crippled by the event, which is the opposite of what any decent event should do.