Marvel Comics have been in a funk as of late, with their market share dropping beneath that of DC Comics after surpassing them in 2016. You’d think that with the number of people seeing Marvel Studios films that they’d have the comic book game on lock, but clearly that hasn’t been the case, at least as of yet. The thing about it is that they are actually getting an influx of new readers and because of that they decided to reboot the entire 60 year history of the books so people didn’t feel too intimidated to buy their books (as a lot of their OG books were in the 700’s), that was great for new readers (and sales, as collectors love #1 books) but it definitely rubbed the long-time readers the wrong way. Another thing that has been rubbing everyone the wrong way is the sheer amount of cross-over events that have been taking place lately. It feels like every couple months there’s a massive event that takes place in the Marvel books that “changes everything”, something that DC has stayed away from. That’s not to say that every crossover is or was bad, in fact even some of the more recent ones have been pretty amazing reading. They just tend to lose their impact when they occur every couple of months. So, let’s take a look at the top 15 Marvel Comics crossover events throughout the years!
15. Civil War II
The most recent entry on this list, Civil War II was the sequel (of sorts) to the extremely well received original Civil War crossover, which was released in in 2006. The first Civil War was an extremely big deal, as it was an all-inclusive crossover that pitted hero against hero in a way that Marvel fans had really never seen before (at least on that scale) and there were real stakes (with characters dying and Spider-Man actually revealing his secret identity to the masses (which was a terrible idea)). 2006’s Civil War pitted Iron Man (and friends) against Captain America (and friend) but 2016’s Civil War II changed things up by having Captain Marvel fight… Iron Man. Instead of the heroes fighting over the Superhero Registration Act, Civil War II had the heroes split over what to do with an Inhuman who could see the future. The series was negatively impacted by some drama behind the scenes at Marvel, as the cross-over started out strong but progressively got worse as it went along thanks to that drama impacting the release schedule of the books. It ended poorly, with the last chapter actually getting the worst critical reception of the entire run, which was really unfortunate as, again, the first chapter was pretty well received. Unlike the original Civil War, the stakes just didn’t feel important (despite some character deaths) and so it ended up feeling like yet another cross-over that changed nothing and was released just to create hype and thus… Money.
14. Original Sin
As you will see on this list, a lot of Marvel’s crossovers have a great premise and starting chapter(s), but they typically end up feeling hollow and without real stakes and thus end up collapsing under the weight of their own hype. Sadly, Original Sin is one of those crossovers, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a terrible crossover (it did make this list, after all). It starts out with an amazing premise, with someone murdering Uatu (The Watcher) and stealing his eye(s), with The Avengers (and Nick Fury) and Black Panther investigating Uatu’s home on the moon and Wakanda respectively. Beyond that, the murder was also investigated by Ant-Man, Punisher, Doctor Strange, Emma Frost, Moon Knight, Winter Soldier and Gamora (of Guardians of the Galaxy). It basically was a “whodunit”, or at least it was billed that way, but it ended up not being about that as much as it was about what they ended up seeing in his eye and a lot of additional nonsense about characters that people really didn’t care about (The Orb and Doctor Midas). The biggest knock about this crossover was that most people figured out who the killer was about halfway through the event, which sort of took away any drama or suspense. Despite that, though, this crossover did have some of the better content in recent memory, especially when the different characters were exposed to the power of The Watcher’s eye and were thus able to learn secrets about themselves.
13. Acts of Vengeance
While people now are sick of crossovers that involve (or require that one reads) all of the different titles in the Marvel universe, it was something that people hadn’t seen before the release of Acts of Vengeance back from December of 1989 to February of 1990 (X-Tinction Agenda notwithstanding). The company-wide crossover was based mostly on the Avengers and Fantastic Four and basically was the first event of its kind as it really didn’t have a main story, but rather had a concept that affected multiple titles. That concept was that all of the big bads in the Marvel Comics universe decided to use their critical thinking skills and band together to attack the main heroes. The promotions played on the fact that the event would have villains from one comic book essentially attacking heroes from another book, oftentimes those were heroes they’d never met before (like a Spider-Man villain attacking Thor from the Avengers, for example, meaning you could have someone like Doc Ock attacking Thor, something people had never seen before). Basically, the crux of the event was that the villains would switch opponents, which was a first in the industry and made for one of the more memorable events in Marvel/comic book history.
12. Fall of the Mutants
The second major crossover in the history of the X-Men books, “The Fall of the Mutants” was a really different sort of crossover. Instead of the existing X-books in Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants and X-Factor sharing a story together, they actually ended up all having a story arc that shared the same theme. That theme was death and the arcs all lasted over three months! Each book handled this differently but it actually ended up creating one of the most memorable story arcs in the history of the X-Men. Ironically, that arc wasn’t actually in the Uncanny X-Men but rather in X-Factor, where the team faced off against Apocalypse and his horseman, one of which represented Death. The mutant that represented Death was actually an original member of the X-Men in Angel, who became Archangel while with Apocalypse! Beyond that, the Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants both dealt with death differently, but it was the X-Factor arc that really made a mark on Marvel canon.
Infinity was a brilliant story arc written by comic book legend Jonathan Hickman (who became a legend while writing for both Fantastic Four and FF), who took his experience with those titles and expanded upon it while creating Infinity. The crux of the story is that Thanos ends up attacking earth while it’s essentially “defenseless” as the Avengers had left the planet to stop the Builders from basically destroying earth. What really makes a crossover event great is the stakes and this event definitely had high stakes and a lasting impact on the Marvel universe. With the Avengers gone and Thanos running amok with his Black Order, the remaining heroes were essentially the X-Men and Inhumans. So, SPOILER ALERT, the leader/king of the Inhumans, Black Bolt, ended up detonating a terrigen bomb to save the earth but in doing so he essentially created countless Inhumans around the world. Before that, the process of creating an Inhuman was a highly selective and sacred situation, but afterwards essentially Inhumans were popping up around the world in a situation similar to Mutants. That’s something that definitely changed the Marvel zeitgeist and wasn’t dissimilar to what Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD did on their show. That’s how you know an event is successful!
10. World War Hulk
Arguably the most popular Hulk storyline of all-time, World War Hulk was basically a continuation of the hugely (and surprisingly) popular Planet Hulk storyline. In that story, essentially the Illuminati, which was at the time Doctor Strange, Reed Richard/Mr. Fantastic, Tony Stark/Iron Man, Namor, Black Bolt and Professor X, decide to send Hulk to an empty planet where he’ll be unable to hurt anyone but basically will be able to live a great life. Professor X was absent from that decision and Namor objects to it, but he is overridden and they end up sending Hulk to space (for destroying Las Vegas). His ship accidentally ends up on the wrong planet and he initially fights his way through the planets gladitorial system and eventually ends up ruling the planet and finding a bride. As he and the people are celebrating his marriage and the fact that he is a good king, the ship he arrives in explodes, killing his wife (and unborn child, IIRC). That angers Hulk in a way that no one had ever seen and World War Hulk is basically Hulk at his strongest returning to earth and taking on… Everyone. This is the “Worldbreaker” Hulk that people refer to online as he literally almost destroyed the entire planet before he was taken down by Iron Man’s satellites. However, this shows that Hulk is one of the, if not the, strongest character in Marvel’s comics and seeing him at that level is a must for every comic book reader.
9. Secret Invasion
Secret Invasion was an eight-part series that ran from April through December of 2008. The story basically involves a long-term invasion of earth by the Skrulls, who are able to shapeshift and thus ended up impersonating many of the heroes in the Marvel Universe over the course of YEARS. The tag-line Marvel used to promote the event was “Who do you trust?” and that ended up being very apropos the inability to know if one character was actually talking to the real other character created a ton of paranoia and uncertainty on top of the other problems they had to deal with. The backstory to this crossover is pretty esoteric, though, which is nice as it’s sort of rewarding for the people who have read all the titles up until this point. The fact that it’s one of the last crossovers to do that isn’t coincidental, considering it was released the same year as the first two Marvel Studios films in Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk.
One of the more exciting aspects of the news that Disney acquired Fox is the fact that Marvel Studios now has access to all of the characters from both The X-Men and The Fantastic Four. While people aren’t really pining for another Fantastic Four film, they are really interested in the villains from the Fantastic Four’s universe. Among those villains is Annihilus, the bug-like villain who typically resides in the Negative Zone and rocks the cosmic control rod. His biggest moment (perhaps) came during the Annihilation arc, which was part of Marvel’s attempt to reintroduce a lot of it’s cosmic entities to the masses. It all started with a Drax the Destroyer miniseries that included (and reintroduced) Super-Skrull, Ronan the Accuser and Nova. Those characters all ended up having to deal with Annihilus and his Annihilation Wave, which basically was this gigantic invading force that he lead from the Negative Zone. It was quickly taking over the entire universe and destroying planets left and right thanks to a captured Galactus (another great get by Disney), and it took the teamwork of a lot of cosmic characters (both good and bad) to stop the invasion. Again, considering all the (cosmic) characters that Marvel Studios now (finally) has access to, Annihilus is a must read for those of you who aren’t that familiar with that aspect of Marvel Comics as it’s looking like the future of the MCU is going to be super cosmic.
7. Mutant Massacre
The word “Stakes” has been used a few times in this list and there may be no more stakes changing crossover than 1986’s Mutant Massacre. Involving mostly members of the X-Men, X-Factor, Thor, The New Mutants, Power Pack and Daredevil, the Mutant Massacre was a surprise hit for Marvel, boosting the sales of all mutant-based books. It actually sold so well that it could be blamed for the annual mega-crossover events that Marvel gets criticized for as it’s success ended up prompting the annual (mutant based) crossover events that took place afterward. The event introduced the Marauders, a group of supervillains that are essentially mutant assassins and prompt the crossover itself by slaughtering the subterranean group known as the Morlocks. They almost completely wipe out the Morlocks before the X-Men and X-Factor arrive, sparring the remaining Morlocks but not without consequences. Angel ends up being crucified by the Marauders while Colossus, Shadowcat and Nightcrawler are all seriously wounded. Sabretooth, a member of the Marauders, also gains entry to the X-Mansion and destroys Cerebro, which is obviously super important.
6. Kraven’s Last Hunt
Kraven’s Last Hunt is a comic arc written by J.M. DeMatteis and drawn by Mike Zeck in 1987 and is one of the most popular and beloved Spider-Man storylines ever. Kraven, whose only power is that he’s good at hunting, feels that the most dangerous and challenging prey is Spider-Man himself, who is still rocking the black suit that he acquired during Secret Wars (thus making him extra powerful, and unstable). While some would argue that this isn’t really a cross-over, it actually took place over all three Spider titles at the time, originally published in Web of Spider-Man #31-2, The Amazing Spider-Man #293-4 and The Spectacular Spider-Man #131-2. Beyond that, the story was handled by the same people across all three titles, something that helped with continuity and quality, obviously. The logic behind the story was that they wanted to take one of Spider-Man’s lesser known villains and have him “snap” from his inability to defeat Spidey. The background to this story is really interesting as DeMatteis actually pitched a similar story to Marvel about Wonder Man and to DC about Batman (having The Joker defeat and bury Batman alive). Both were rejected and so he basically ended up changing the story to fit Spider-Man and Kraven, who eventually defeats Spider-Man and buries him alive. The story also heavily focuses on Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage, which helps make it more emotional.
5. Secret Wars
Secret Wars was as 12 issue series that was basically created for one reason, to sell toys. Jim Shooter, then editor in chief of Marvel said: Kenner had licensed DC Heroes. Mattel had He-M-Man, but wanted to hedge in case superheroes became the next big fad. They were interested in Marvel’s characters, but only if we staged a publishing event that would get a lot of attention, and they could build a theme around. Fans, especially young fans often suggested to me “one big story with all the heroes and all the villains in it”, so I proposed that. It flew” And fly did it, as Secret Wars not only involved the most characters (heroes and villains) of any crossover up until that point, but it also had pretty big stakes considering that it introduced Spider-Man’s black suit, which lead to Venom, which lead to Carnage, which lead to all the symbiotes. So, while some people look down on Secret Wars (and prefer Secret Wars II) because of the “Why” behind it, it doesn’t really matter as it’s amazing regardless.
4. Age of Apocalypse
If you were to ask any Millenial what the biggest crossover event was in Marvel Comics history, nine out of ten would say Age of Apocalypse. It was a HUGE event that had real stakes, namely in that it ended all of the X related titles in one fell swoop. The build-up to the event was an event in and of itself, in that it followed Professor X’s son, Legion (who has his own television show right now) went back in time to kill Magneto but ended up accidentally killing his own father instead. The ramifications for that were huge, as without Professor X there was no X-Men, which meant that Apocalypse ended up taking over the world as there was no one to stop him. That changed everything, obviously, as characters like Wolverine were completely different (he was known as Weapon X (again) and only had one hand) and some good characters ended up being bad. What was extra crazy about it was the fact that it occurred in earth-616 (which is the “real” world in Marvel Comics), at least at the time, as it was later retconned to have happened in another universe (which sort of takes away from its impact).
3. Maximum Carnage
While most people think that Kraven’s Last Hunt is the best Spider-Man story, most Millenials would argue that Maximum Carnage takes that cake (easily, I might add… I mean, where’s the Last Hunt video game for Sega Genesis?). Maximum Carnage is the film that everyone wants, as it involves one of the most insane characters in Spidey’s rogue gallery, Carnage (obviously). In the books, Carnage is the symbiote that was born from the Venom symbiote (the black “suit” that Spider-Man acquired during Secret Wars and eventually removed and fought once it found Eddie Brock (among others)) and attached itself to Cletus Kasady, an insane serial killer. He’s actually so crazy and vicious that Venom aligns himself with Spider-Man (and others, like Black Cat) in the hopes that they’ll be able to stop Carnage and his team of baddies (including people like Doppleganer and Carion). Maximum Carnage was also the first example of a crossover that extended into other mediums like video games, which helped people who didn’t even read the comics become familiar with the general storyline. As stated above, a lot of Spidey fans are hoping for a Maximum Carnage film, but with Sony making a Venom film outside of the MCU, it looks like that’s not going to happen.
2. Civil War
Civil War II made the list above mostly because it’s associated with Civil War, one of the most amazing and all-inclusive crossovers in the history of comic books. Civil War pitted Iron Man against Captain America (before the first Iron Man film) and included almost every known character in Marvel Comics. After the villain Nitro explodes in Stamford, Connecticut and kills a bunch of children, the United States government decides that it’s had enough of superheroes and the collateral damage that their battles create and thus they decide that all superheroes must register with the government, rescind their secret identities and basically either work for the government or retire. Now, obviously not every hero agrees to this and that’s the impetus for the Civil War after that disagreement leads to fights, which leads to people taking sides, which leads to an epic battle. There are a lot of stakes in Civil War, as well, with Spider-Man going on television and telling people that he’s Peter Parker (J. Jonah Jameson’s reaction to which is worth the price of the book by itself) and Goliath’s death thanks to “Thor” (a fake Thor android that Tony Stark and others built, which brings the real Thor back to beat Stark to within an inch of his life). It’s just a great event, obviously, as it was the (loose) basis for the Marvel Studios film, Captain America: Civil War.
1. Infinity Gauntlet
There are crossovers and then there’s Infinity Gauntlet. Now, it may not be fair to compare Infinity Gauntlet to other crossovers as Infinity War has basically been the basis for the entire first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From the first Avengers to Thor: The Dark World, from Guardians of the Galaxy to Doctor Strange, some of the Marvel Studios films have basically had a McGuffin that is actually an Infinity Stone (known as an Infinity Gem in the books). Those stones are going to be collected by Thanos, the purple guy in the chair from Guardians of the Galaxy, in next years Avengers: Infinity War and all of that is (loosely) based on the crossover event to end all crossover events. The story goes that Thanos has acquired all six of the Infinity Gems which makes him more powerful than basically any other cosmic entity, he does this in part to impress Death, who he is madly in love with. The feeling isn’t mutual, even after Thanos kills half the universe with the snap of his fingers. Even after Thanos defeats every surviving hero, every remaining cosmic entity and even after he becomes reality itself. While the ending is a bit disappointing, it’s still such an iconic crossover event and it’s going to become even more iconic come the next two years as they are releasing Avengers 4 a year after Avengers: Infinity War, as they both pertain to the Infinity Gauntlet.