What makes something an “event” comic? Is it the sheer number of issues? The number of characters? The impact on the Universe? Sure, it’s those things, but it’s also a combination of those factors – and more than that, its lasting impact on the readers in the long run. Events like Atlantis Attacks over at Marvel, or Invasion at DC might be remembered fondly; but they’re not seminal works that changed the way comics are made. Okay, maybe some of the books on our list don’t quite fit that criteria, either… But trust us: these are the eleven biggest comic book events – ever:
This is the only title on this list that’s contained in one comic, and it was a tough call to make. But The Great Darkness Saga, written by Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen, with pencils by Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt is – essentially – where every other crossover came from. Preceding what most people think of as the dawn of Event comics in 1985 by three years, GDS pitted virtually every character in Legion of Super-Heroes history against an enemy of enormous power, who was eventually revealed to be DC uber-baddie Darkseid. Though it only occurred in five issues, pretty much every event since has followed its pattern of massive revelations, big character deaths, and giant changes to the status quo.
10. Avengers: Disassembled
Fans are still debating the minutiae of this event, which saw writer Brian Michael Bendis quite literally blowing up the Avengers franchise, only to rebuild it a few short months later. Basically: the Scarlet Witch remembers that she had two kids who weren’t real, goes crazy, and drives the world crazy with her. Avengers die, the mansion is destroyed, and the entire team breaks up. The Event spilled into a ton of other Marvel Comics at the time – and the books are still dealing with the repercussions of the Witch’s madness, six years later. But the most lasting impact was Bendis’ reinvention of the Avengers line, which turned the team from an also-ran JLA, into the most powerful name in comics. Without Avengers: Disassembled, would the entire nerd world be looking forward to an Avengers movie in 2012? We’re guessing not.
9. DC One Million
It’s a formula that sometimes backfires (see Final Crisis), but here, it worked in spades: give Grant Morrison the DC Universe, and let him do whatever he wants. The setup is pretty simple: the Justice League of our era teams up with the Justice League of the 853rd Century to defeat the immortal villain Vandal Savage; and because it’s Grant Morrison, an evil living sun named Solaris. Most of the DC titles at the time “crossed over” by having a special #1,000,000 issue, which showed the future version of their respective heroes. What makes this one so memorable is not the lasting effect (there basically wasn’t any, other than elements of the story that have shown up here and there in comics since 1998); it’s how much fun it was to read. This is one of the few events that’s fun and exciting the second – and third – time through.
Okay, I’ll admit it: this is on here probably only because it’s my favorite crossover of all time. The X-Men crossover basically engulfed the entire Marvel Universe into Hell, transforming the Empire State Building into a gigantic center of demonic power, and mailboxes into pedestrian eating Monsters. But beyond the fun visuals, and the fact that nearly every title being published by Marvel at the time got involved was the sheer coordination of the Event. For nearly an entire year, the X-Men books (The Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants, and X-Terminators) slowly seeded clues to the nature of the Event. Each team was, unknowingly, slowly allowing Hell to invade Earth; but without the accidental actions of all four teams working in congress, the invasion couldn’t happen. Good thing for Hell the X-Men tend to screw up – a lot. Fans nowadays seem to recoil against giant, line wide crossovers like this – but when they’re this well done, we don’t mind.
7. The Infinity Gauntlet
Basically a more refined version of the giant cosmic crossovers of 1985, The Infinity Gauntlet found uber-baddie Thanos gaining possession of the all-powerful Infinity Gauntlet. Since Thanos was in love with the avatar of Death, he decided to offer a gift by erasing half of all life in the Universe… Which didn’t sit well with, um, anyone. Massive fights don’t get much bigger than this, as the entire Universe fought against Thanos, drawn by the able pens of George Perez and Ron Lim (and written by Jim Starlin). The comic was so popular, it spawned two sequels, and an ongoing series. But the original is still the best.
6. Blackest Night
DC’s recent zombie fest (THEY’RE NOT ZOMBIES, OKAY??? Just the reanimated corpses of former heroes and villains who like to eat people’s hearts) makes the list just for sheer hugeness of the event. Encompassing multiple titles, with a build up of over two years, Blackest Night pitted the DC heroes against the evil Nekron, who uses his black rings to bring friends and enemies back to life in order to end all life in the Universe. Basically, he’s the most evil old man in history: he just wants those damn kids to be quiet for once.
5. Identity Crisis
Just in case comics weren’t grim and gritty enough since they were reinvented as a more “adult” art form in the ‘80s, here comes Brad Meltzer’s divisive mystery series. Sue Dibny, one of the most beloved characters in the DC Universe, was horribly burned and murdered. Before the series was over, we were treated to memory wipes, rape on the JLA Satellite, and a seismic shift for the DCU to a more street level, real world view. Whatever you think of the 2004 event (and for the record, we actually think it’s rather good, though didn’t stick the landing), the repercussions have been felt for years.
4. Age of Apocalypse
The extremely popular X-Men event found Professor X’s misguided son Legion traveling back in time to kill his arch-enemy, Magneto. When Xavier dies instead during the attack, time is changed, allowing immortal bad guy Apocalypse to take over the Earth. For several months, the X-Men books were all re-titled and rebooted to reflect the new Marvel Universe timeline. Though it was “destroyed” at the end of the crossover, the alternate universe proved so popular that it’s been revisited in various miniseries, including the currently running Age of X.
3. DC vs. Marvel
…And then there was the time when DC and Marvel just gave up. We’re kind of kidding, but DC vs. Marvel (or Marvel vs. DC) is basically a convention questioners wet dream, pitting the entirety of each Universe against each other in “who would win in a fight?” type battles, and then merging the two for the renamed Amalgam Universe. Various one-shots and miniseries were published around the Event, and though it’s fondly remembered by comic fans, it has had, as far as we can tell, literally no lasting affect on anything. Which isn’t good news for our, “Bring Back Access!” Campaign.
2. Secret Wars
Beating our number one pick to the stands by a year, Secret Wars was – essentially – entirely motivated by a desire to sell action figures. But as a weird side effect, it’s also a damn good story. The biggest Marvel heroes of the time are sent to a planet called Battleworld, and forced to fight all the Marvel villains for the amusement of a cosmic being called The Beyonder. The biggest lasting effect was Spider-Man’s immensely popular black and white costume, which has spawned multiple crossovers and storylines of its own. But we can also remember Secret Wars as the semi-official first Event Comics ever*.
1. Crisis on Infinite Earths
That said, the gold standard is still, over twenty-five years later, DC’s Crisis on Infinte Earths. A massive villain named The Anti-Monitor, who lives in – you guessed it – the Anti-Matter Universe wants to destroy not just all life in our Universe, but all life in every Universe, and every reality. Ostensibly started as a way of simplifying what DC considered an overly complicated continuity and reboot the whole line, Marv Wolfman and George Perez created an epic work of comics. From the heroic death of The Flash, which used to be the manly-man hallmark (“Sure, I’m a dude, but I cried when Barry Allen died,”), to the several epic battles against The Anti-Monitor, this series is bigger than anything that came before it, and really, has never been matched since.
*We’re just going to ignore Contest of Champions for the moment.