The current Avengers vs. X-Men event seems like a pretty big deal. In reality, it’s just the latest in a long line of summer superhero spectaculars. These character-heavy, game-changing crossovers have been annual staples for Marvel and DC for decades, and in recent years the Big Two have made promotion of these events a top priority. In 2008, Marvel ran a TV commercial heralding their Secret Invasion, and just last year DC went viral with their promo for the New 52 reboot, even securing space in the advance screenings blocks of major movie auditoriums.
Marketing gimmicks and overused superlatives aside, there have been some genuinely entertaining superhero events that have stood the test of time. The best of these may be important in relation to continuity, or how they change the way comic book stories and characters are handled, but first and foremost they’re meant to be fun, like good Hollywood blockbusters. For this reason you won’t see DC’s seminal Crisis on Infinite Earths on this list. Yes, it was important and ground-breaking, but it was never meant for casual readership. Quite the opposite in fact. Personally, I could give a shit about justifying decades of continuity; just tell a good story and rattle the cages once in a while. These are four-color soap operas, not scrolls of apocrypha.
I’ve also disqualified storylines that were developed specifically within the confines of regular monthly titles. Marvel’s Age of Apocalypse had “event-like” gravity and ramifications, and was a damn good yarn, but it really was just a massive crossover. The events on this list, like this summer’s Avengers vs. X-Men, are built around a central limited series, with story extensions crossing over and tying in with existing books. And hopefully, like the central blocks of each of the events on this list, AvX will be a damn good yarn all by itself.
5. Avengers Disassembled / House of M (Marvel, 2004-2005)
I’m already breaking rule number two. Sort of. The “Disassembled” story was an Avengers family crossover, incorporating the main book’s storyline with plots in Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. The real event took place when series author Brian Michael Bendis connected this story to 2005’s House of M limited series.
Hard to believe now, but there was a time not too very long ago that The Avengers was a struggling, stagnant book. In fact, a decade ago, had you asked the average pop culture enthusiast to name teams of superheroes, you probably wouldn’t get further than The Justice League and The X-Men, maybe Fantastic Four and Teen Titans. What Bendis did for this team, by destroying and rebuilding them, was revelatory. Marvel today features four groups of Avengers, each with its own monthly title, and two monthlies for each of the three aforementioned primary characters (although Journey into Mystery is more Loki’s book than Thor’s). And of course the upcoming movie, and the five Marvel Studios films that have led up to it, have made The Avengers a household word. It started with Bendis.
Bendis displayed a penchant for dialogue, and sharp stories, with a pair of crime series for Caliber in the 90’s. He earned his superhero stripes with Ultimate Spider-Man beginning in 2000. What he hadn’t demonstrated prior to this Avengers stint, was an incredible ability to script team books. It’s not an easy task juggling great dialogue with clever plots all while respecting the ensemble dynamic. Some of the best comic book writers have failed miserably when trying to work with a big cast of big personalities (I’m looking at you, Geoff Johns). The Avengers have had some great stories since Stan Lee first assembled this team back in 1963, but some of the most memorable have come courtesy of Brian Michael Bendis.
This phoenix-esque Avengers burnout sees The Scarlet Witch go crazy and break down her former teammates in every way imaginable. Tony Stark has a drunken meltdown; Vision helps demolish the mansion; and characters like Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Jack of Hearts perish (comic book deaths, which are famously temporary, but still…) Then comes the Scarlet Witchhunt. And House of M.
The Avengers and X-Men may be dueling this summer, but in the summer of 2005 they were united to deal with a common problem: the reality-warping powers of Wanda Maximoff and her less than tenuous grip on reality. Wolverine’s solution: kill the bitch. Cap: now wait a second. But before either has a chance to sway popular opinion, the Witch shows off the full extent of her powers and reshapes the universe into a world in which mutants are dominant, and daddy dearest Magneto rules the roost as the head of the House of M. The epic climax includes the famous last words, “No more mutants,” which has had repercussions in the Marvel universe ever since. Cyclops’s current state of violent mania in Avengers vs. X-Men, actually, has everything to do with mutants’ current position as an endangered species.
The tie-in series and crossovers are fairly worthless, although House of M: Spider-Man focuses on the fun fact that Peter Parker is a celebrity, secretly pretending that he, too, is a mutant and part of the ruling class.
Read: Avengers Disassembled (Bendis and David Finch) and House of M (Bendis and Olivier Coipel) Continue reading Top 5 Comic Book Events of All Time