Marvel Comics had Torch and Sub-Mariner and Captain America crossover with one another back in the 40s. Then, when their modern comics launched in the 60s, the shared universe remained in place with pretty regular crossovers between titles and in the 80s, there were limited series that involved dozens of superheroes, like Contest of Champions and Secret Wars. But Secret Wars II began something new – the “event”. These titles may have had a limited series at the heart of things, telling the main story, but many individual titles would also deal with the ramifications of the story. Some of these, like Infinity Guantlet, remain Marvel classics. Others are somewhere in the middle and are kind of forgotten. Then, there are events like Infinity Crusade that just stink. Some of these sold well but critically, they were lambasted and fans generally don’t look back on them with much fondness.
Secret Wars II
The first Secret Wars series was an absolute blast. A cosmic being known as the Beyonder brings together the most popular superheroes and villains to fight on Battleworld. It’s suitably epic and involves all sorts of alliance changes and exciting fights. It also featured some great artwork. So they rushed a Secret Wars II and the result is pretty bad. This time the Beyonder decides to live as a human leading to really forced lessons and unfunny bits like Spider-Man teaching him to go to the bathroom. It just feels very repetitive, not of Secret Wars but of itself. The same story beats just hit over and over of Beyonder trying something, getting it wrong, allowing himself to be cosmically powerful, then going back to being human. Again and again. The heroes never really have any way to defeat him because he’s an outright god.
How many issues: 9 issue series plus 33 tie-ins.
Who died: Dazzler, some random girl (a prostitute that falls in love with Beyonder). All of the New Mutants. But Beyonder instantly revives them all.
In 1988, Marvel had a crossover where an overall story flowed through most of their titles in the form of an Annual issue. The High Evolutionary was a great enemy for the heroes to battle against individually as he worked to force humanity to evolve. But they tried it again the next year and it was messy. Atlantis Attacks forced characters from Silver Surfer to Punisher into the action and had a convoluted story involving drugs, snake-men, Atlantean villains and snake gods. It just didn’t hang together in a coherent way and the yearly crossover in everyone’s Annual issues just sort of died. Moon Knight watches a man eat a gerbil and wonders why that bothers him. What?!
How many issues: 14 Annuals plus 3 tie-in issues.
Who died: No one important. Just some thugs and soldiers.
Operation: Galactic Storm
In 1971, the Avengers had a really epic storyline where they were brought into a war between two alien races, the Kree and the Skrulls. Great, great story. Twenty years later, the writers of various Avengers books decided to make a type of sequel with a war between the Kree and the Shi’ar (and the Skrulls are manipulating the Shi’ar). It was too bloated across too many titles (20 parts to the story and 9 related tie-ins). Very disjointed and kind of forced. And it relied on some pretty C-level Avengers to be key contributors: Gilgamesh, USAgent, Living Lightning, Starfox, etc. Cap and Iron Man and Thor were there, too, but it didn’t help. It all culminates with Vision and Wonder Man inside a massive galactic bomb, blowing it up in a noble sacrifice. Except the next issue they’re fine because they were “at the center of the blast”. I don’t know how a bomb designed to destroy a galaxy can have a nice little safe zone.
How many issues: 20 issues plus 9 epilogues and tie-ins.
Who died: Kree leader The Supreme Intelligence (later rebuilt), billions of Kree citizens, Kree characters Dr. Minerva and Captain Atlas (shortly thereafter retconned to have survived).
I don’t 100% blame the writers for how bad this story is. It was sort of forced on them. In 1991, the X-Men titles were at the height of their popularity thanks to superstar artists like Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. They and other top Marvel artists then departed to form Image Comics, leaving dangling plot threads in the X-Men books with early plans for a crossover event. The editors and writers decided to push forward and try to make sense of the story threads with the overall idea being to clear up why Cable and Stryfe looked alike and explain if one of them was really the child of Cyclops from the future. Yeah, it’s so convoluted. The story ended up also involving villains Mr. Sinister and Apocalypse and is mired in continuity. Ultimately, it didn’t even clear up the relationship between Cable and Stryfe and the Summers family. That would all be resolved later. So instead it’s just a bunch of villains kidnapping and attacking X-Men with allusions to what’s going on but no clear motivations at the center of the story.
How many issues: 12 crossover issues.
Who died: Apocalypse (he came back eventually). Cable and Stryfe are sucked into a time vortex. They came back pretty quickly though.
Infinity Guantlet was a fantastic limited series. It had slowly laid groundwork in Silver Surfer and now Thanos had a weapon that made him omnipotent. He wiped out half the population in a stroke and the remaining half of superheroes battled him on multiple levels and won through cunning and luck. A quickie follow-up, Infinity War was only okay, introducing evil dopplegangers of heroes. But the third time to the well in as many years was just too much. The art ranges from good to rushed and I don’t blame Ron Lim for that. Writer Jim Starlin had no real time to map this one out, either.
The gist is that Warlock expunged his good and evil sides so that he could use the Infinity Guantlet in a purely logical way. His evil side, Magus, was the villain of Infinity War so his good side, Goddess, is the villain this time. Her plan is to gather cosmic objects of power and remake the world without evil. While figuring out how to do this, she recruits all the “religious” superheroes. And that’s where it falls apart. Has Spider-Man ever been particularly religious? Well, he is now! Just because Thor is a god himself, does that make him “religious”? It’s ill-defined what “religious” means when Vision states all the religious heroes have joined the Goddess. She hilariously just projects a vision of each faith in the sky and the heroes just join right up. My fav is Sasquatch looking at the Star of David. The non-religious heroes are all the scientists of the Marvel Universe. An atheist vs religious debate could be plenty interesting, especially in the context of the Marvel world where beings of cosmic power absolutely exist. Instead, it’s sort of like anyone that has faith in anything are easily duped into working for the Goddess, whose ultimate plan is to wipe out ALL intelligent life. And the atheist heroes unfortunately come off as dicks, too. Heroes squabbling over how to accomplish a goal is fun. Heroes fighting one another with ill-defined motivation is depressing. A lesson Marvel hadn’t learned 20 years later when they did Civil War.
How many issues: 6 issue series, 10 crossover issues with two titles featuring Warlock, 28 tie-ins.
Who died: The Goddess.
Spider-Man Clone Saga
This is a long, long, long story that was really never meant to be. Editorial dictates kept prolonging it until it lasted over 2 years and over 100 issues. Initially, the writers thought Peter Parker’s marriage to Mary Jane had changed him too much from his original nerdy loser and they wanted to reset things. It was suggested that 20 years early Spider-Man had a clone in a quick story – what if that clone hadn’t died? In fact, what if the clone was actually the guy we’d been following for 20 years and the other guy is still out there? They could swap ’em. But fans were pretty bummed out to learn that the stories they’d been reading for 20 years would turn out to be following a clone and the real hero was someone else.
So the writers flip flopped on who was the clone and how this all worked. Meanwhile, there were other clones and major characters like Aunt May and Dr. Octopus were killed as sort of collateral damage. It was so sloppy. At one point the writers were ready to wrap it up only for editor Bob Harras to order them to stretch it out 6 more months so that it didn’t overlap with the Onslaught Saga/Heroes Reborn stories Marvel was promoting as a big event.
It was a meandering story that could not decide what it wanted to do and ultimately killed off the clone, Ben Reilly, confirmed that Peter Parker WAS the real Spider-Man and also brought back Norman Osborn who had been dead for nearly 20 years but then killed him off, too. Disastrous. If you ask a long-term Marvel fan what their worst story was, they’ll mention one of two Spider-Man stories and this is one of them.
How many issues: 136 crossover issues.
Who died: Jackal. Dr. Octopus (later revived from absolute death). Norman Osborn (he later gets better). Spidercide. Ben Reilly. Aunt May (later retconned to be a clone that died). Scrier. Seward Trainer. Lots of clones of Peter Parker.
The Avengers and Iron Man writers really ruined Tony Stark in this crossover. They revealed that Tony Stark had been secretly mind-controlled by time travelling villain Kang and he betrayed the Avengers. They went into the past and recruited Tony as a teenager to defeat his current self. Adult Tony Stark makes a heroic sacrifice and dies. Then teen Tony took over as Iron Man. It was much worse than it sounds. After Onslaught/Heroes Reborn, Tony Stark came back as an adult and the comics just ignored his teenage arc.
How many issues: 25 crossover issues.
Who died: Future versions of Hawkeye and Black Widow. Iron Man kills a future version of Yellowjacket (Rita DeMara version) who time travels back to the present. Iron Man kills Marilla, a nanny. Gilgamesh, although as a god, he somehow returns later. Iron Man kills Amanda Cheney, a publicist. Howard and Maria Stark and their maid all die back in the past. An innocent kid, Skye, is killed during a fight. Adult version Tony Stark.
Onslaught Saga/Heroes Reborn
Onslaught is a villain that doesn’t make much sense, and was really just reverse engineered to create an upcoming storyarc called Heroes Reborn. Basically, Onslaught first battles the X-Men, then the Fantastic Four and Avengers as well. He’s pretty much unstoppable. The heroes learn that he was created when Professor X wiped Magneto’s mind in a fairly recent confrontation. Supposedly parts of both Xavier and Magento’s minds merged and created Onslaught. I don’t know how mental energy creates an actual physical being. Like, where did he first show up? Utah? And his motivations were pretty vague. Something about linking everyone’s minds and he’d control them. Not sure why.
Anyway, the heroes all team up and Hulk rips off Onslaught’s armor, then the non-mutant heroes all enter his energy form which makes him and them all disappear. The heroes are all assumed to be dead. Then they were all given new comics in a fresh continuity, created by former Marvel superstars and then Image talent Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee. No one cared for the updated versions of the superheroes (their line was dubbed Heroes Reborn). Turns out Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman’s super-powerful mutant son Franklin had transported the heroes into a “pocket universe” and eventually they all came back (because Heroes Reborn wasn’t a hit).
There was one good thing that came out of Heroes Reborn. It essentially wiped out the teen Iron Man from The Crossing.
How many issues: 3 issues for Onslaught, 13 for Heroes Reborn.
Who died: A random mutant teen that initially caused Professor X to form a dark side in his mind. Onslaught. Seemingly the Avengers including Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk and more, and the Fantastic Four (revealed at the end of Heroes Reborn that the new versions were the old versions in a pocket dimension and they were returned).
The idea behind this story of the superhero community split over whether or not they should register with the government and be employees or rely on their own judgement is a good idea. The execution was terrible. It cast Iron Man in a very villainous role where he tracked down non-conformists. He jailed them in the Negative Zone. Created a cyborg that killed another Avenger. Pressures Spider-Man into revealing his secret identity to the public which instantly leads to supervillains attacking his loved ones. Hired supervillains to hunt down remaining heroes. Put Captain America under arrest where he was assassinated (he got better). The whole story feels rushed and mean-spirited. It begins when Nitro, a villain who can explode, explodes on a much larger level than ever previously exhibited as the New Warriors try to take him down. He blows up a school full of children. Dark.
It’s basically taking the X-Men’s long-running threat of mutant registration and placing it over all superheroes and having it implemented instantaneously. And then the X-Men sit the issue out! There’s no nuance to Iron Man’s perspective and it really ruined the character for years, making him appear to be a fascist and an unrepentant jerk.
How many issues: 6 issues leading up to it, 7 main title issues, 117 tie-in issues (yes, really), 2 epilogue issues.
Who died: Hundreds of little kids. Goliath. Captain America (he was shot with bullets that sent his mind through time so he eventually returned).
Curse of the Mutants
This is too many issues to tell a pretty small story. Dracula’s son takes control of the various vampire sects and kills Dracula. Then he has a vampire explode in San Francisco, covering people in infected blood. Among those to be turned into vampires is X-Men member Jubilee. The X-Men team up with Namor and Blade and resurrect Dracula who kills his son.
I’m just not convinced anyone cared quite enough about Jubilee to devote 21 issues to her being turned into a vampire and saved from being evil.
How many issues: 21 crossover issues.
Who died: Dracula (the X-Men resurrect him). Dracula’s son. Jubilee, technically (she’s now a vampire).
Avengers & X-Men: AXIS
The story started pretty great. Red Skull had stolen the dead Professor X’s brain and became Red Onslaught. He spread hate through his telepathy and it united the Avengers and X-Men against him. Then things got kinda weird. Pretty early on, the heroes come up with a plan to cast a spell to invert Red Onslaught’s personality, allowing the good part of Professor X somewhere in there to become dominant. It seems to work but we quickly learn that everyone present was also inverted. So now both the Avengers and the X-Men start acting like complete jerks and fighting. It was already not too fun seeing these two teams fight in Avengers Vs. X-Men which ended up casting the X-Men as villains similar to Iron Man’s role in Civil War. But now both sides were jerks. This left a few stragglers like Spider-Man, Magneto and Dr. Voodoo to save the heroes. And they do, eventually. But the story lacked a clear direction and wobbled to its conclusion. It featured numerous artists across the 9 issues. I don’t think the writer, Rick Remender, was too invested at the time. He resigned from Marvel to work on personal projects right as this ended.
How many issues: 7 prelude issues, 9 miniseries issues, 36 tie-in issues.
Who died: Carnage, the super-villain. But he’s been axis’ed so he died a good guy. Honestly, the stakes in the story keep changing because the antagonists keep changing. Anyway, there isn’t much death.