Event stories have the ability to push characters further than they’ve ever been before; to shock readers with bold narrative choices and grandstanding action sequences; and change the way people think about comics which have been with us for decades. Which comics did our critics pick as the top fifty of all time? Read on to find out, with the list updating every week until we reveal the winner!
Time to head into the list again, with entries 40-31 revealed this week!
40: Blackest Night
If there’s one writer who likes to dig around in the grave, it’s Geoff Johns, a man who never saw a character he couldn’t kill, resurrect, then kill again a few times. Blackest Night was an inevitability, then, a story where he teamed up with Ivan Reis to bring everyone back from the dead one last time for a gory, angry event story where Black Hand creates an army of Black Lanterns to swarm the earth. Most of DC’s current comics seemed to find some way to tie into the main story, which is absolutely massive in size. There were lengthy tie-ins for both the ongoing Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps series, and DC even “resurrected” old cancelled comic book series so they could be part of the whole thing.
It’s an event which grew ever bigger and bigger, at one point even throwing in the Anti-Monitor for some reason – but at the end of the day, Johns made the dubious choice that Black Lanterns would obviously be defeated by White Lanterns, and so the spectrum of light which defined his lengthy tenure on the franchise grew even further. A lot of hands were cut off in the process, but Blackest Night remains interesting at least because it somehow managed to contain its core narrative as it grew ever more out of control.
39: Reign of the Supermen
In 1993 DC killed Superman – was that also an event? I can’t recall at this time – and the DC Universe was crying out for some kind of hero to step in and take his place. Intriguingly enough they got four: Steel, a man in a suit of armour; Cyborg Superman, who seems to have a grudge; Superboy, an arrogant and foolhardy young hero; and Eradicator, from outer space. All four “heroes” claimed to be the new Superman, stepping in to fill the justice-shaped hole where Clark used to do his best work. For several months they were Superman, with their different personalities all reflecting certain aspects of the original – but all of them vastly changed from the man we used to know.
It was the final part of the “Death of Superman” serial which lasted over a year in total, and one which introduced a lot of major changes to the line overall. Not just for Superman: Hal Jordan’s entire hometown was destroyed by the Cyborg Superman, which was a major story for decades afterwards. It was an unpredictable time for fans, but has gone on to be considered one of the defining stories for the Man of Steel.
Joint 37: Amalgam
Yes! Amalgam made the list. In 1996 Marvel and DC agreed to create a new universe together which merged their most popular characters and concepts together in a series of comics released through the last nineties. Bruce Wayne became an Agent of SHIELD, Iron Man and Green Lantern merged into the Iron Lantern, and Lobo… was turned into a duck. It was a crazy time. Published during the major “Marvel Vs DC” event, Amalgam turned out to have a life of its own, and one which arguably outlasted the event it span out from. In total there were something like 24 issues published as part of Amalgam, from a Jonah Hex/X-Men story by Peter Milligan and Adam Pollina through to Thorion of the New Asgods by Keith Giffen and John Romita, Jr.
Will we ever see Amalgam again? Who else could they cross over? Personally I’m rooting for a Nate Grey/Harley Quinn amalgam called X-Mannequin. Trademark Shelfdust!
Joint: 37: Infinity
The forgotten Jonathan Hickman event which sits in the middle of his lengthy run with the Avengers titles, Infinity was pencilled by the remarkable artistic team of Jim Cheung, Jerome Opeña, and Dustin Weaver. The story saw the Avengers – in the middle of a massive expansion away from home – caught out by a surprise attack from Thanos on Earth While the Avengers were busy in outer space trying to fight off a race called “The Builders”, Thanos took the opportunity to attack the relatively-undefended Earth, rightly assuming that the X-Men never get involved in these things anyway. The resulting story featured some really interesting new plot points – the development of the “Black Order” who assist Thanos, and subsequently got picked up for the Avengers movies – and perhaps some ideas which maybe should have had a little extra time to simmer. Where my Thane fans at?
One thing Infinity really helped to cement was Hickman’s status as a writer with a plan: although he managed to put together a complete story with Infinity, it was just as entertaining to see how it fit into his much wider overall plans as it was to read it issue-by-issue on publication. I wonder if any other Jonathan Hickman events will show up in this list.
36: Secret Wars II
Everything has a fan, and you’d do well to remember that. The slightly-less-fondly-remembered sequel to the original Secret Wars saw Jim Shooter and Al Milgrom bring the secret architect of the previous event, The Beyonder, to Earth. But the Beyonder’s goal wasn’t anything massively sinister – instead, he just wanted to find a home, live like a human, and hit on Boom-Boom. All understandable goals, frankly, but clearly hard to achieve when you’re part of a superhero event designed to shift some toys. The fundamentally weird event decided to try all kinds of things as it progressed across nine issues, including explaining why Doctor Doom appeared in the original Secret Wars despite being apparently dead at the time; setting up a one-sided romance story with Dazzler; and trying out Beyonder and Spider-Man as unlikely roommates.
It’s a cult classic, sure. But there’s a lot of things you can call cult classics, aren’t there? It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s any actual good. Secret Wars 2 remains the ultimate “double dare-you” of Kevin Feige’s future career plans.
35: Thanos War
Obviously we’re going to get quite a lot of Thanos as this list continues, but Thanos War remains a unique addition to the character’s biography. Put together by Jim Starlin, the story follows the first time Thanos came into real conflict with humans from Earth – primarily in the form of the original Captain Mar-vell, whose battle with the Mad Titan forms the core of the story. Although Starlin plotted the whole thing, one element of the story which needs to be noted is Steve Englehart’s contribution as scripter for several issues, which brings a bit of much-needed oddity into proceedings, and a fair amount of empathy.
The story brought a few long-term characters into Marvel continuity, including Drax the Destroyer and Moondragon – not to mention Thanos himself, of course. Thanos would go on to try bigger things, but this early story is a neat first showcase for the character, showing him as a genuinely scary and powerful enemy even as Mar-Vell does ultimately manage to turn things around and save the day. It shouldn’t be considered a dry run for Starlin’s future epics – Thanos War is strong enough to stand by itself.
34: X Of Swords
One of the most recent events in our list, X Of Swords was a necessary expansion of the X-Men’s current Krakoan period, giving the characters a little more score for peril and tension, and setting up new threats, allies, and mysteries for them to pursue. It took the form of a contest between chosen X-Men champions and a team of rivals who live on a parallel island to Krakoa called Arakko. The structure of the event is particularly odd, as it starts off by setting up the contest as a very serious fight, and all the characters go off on missions to retrieve powerful ancient swords they can duel with. Once the swords are collected, though, it turns into Richard Osman’s House of Games, and any kind of logic flies merrily out the window as things get delightfully unhinged.
A very unstructured publishing schedule meant that X Of Swords has about ten writers, fifteen artists, and covers 14 issues across ten different ongoing comic book series, and some one-shots scattered in the middle. If you were me, you lost track completely part way through and decided to read it in trade instead, which does seem to be the best tactic for this rambling, self-delighted comic which managed to go big in the wildest way imaginable whilst still providing a meaningful step forward for the X-Men comics as a whole.
You want a bit of Morlun action, eh? Then you’ve come to the right place. Before the high-quality animated film with Miles Morales in the leading role came this semi-inspirational original story from Dan Slott and Giuseppi Camuncoli. Morlun, who has a tendency to try and eat people who put “spider” in their superhero codename, is back at it again, crossing from dimension to dimension in order to get his dinner on, and it’ll take a random mix of established and new Spider-Man spinoff characters in order to stop him. We’re talking Spider-Man 2099, Mayday Parker, Kaine, Superior Spider-Man, and someone called “Spider-Bitch”. Fun game! Guess which Scottish comic book writer came up with HER name?
We also have perhaps one of the most lasting legacies of this story, Spider-Gwen, an alternate-reality Gwen Stacy with a cool hoodie and staying power. So anyway, you got all these spiders, right, and you have this dude who wants to eat them. Throw in a few clones, totems and soul-crystals, and you’ve got Spider-Verse. Yes: I have only read the Wikipedia summary of this one.
32: Acts of Vengeance
A crossover which saw Marvel Comics into the 1990s, Acts of Vengeance had the great idea of performing a shake-up across its line. Rather than continue to pitch the X-Men against Magneto, or the Fantastic Four against Doctor Doom, the story saw the villains decide as a group to switch up and take on each other’s enemies to see if they could do some damage on behalf of one another. Formed by Loki, who is tired of going after Thor, the idea is that unfamiliarity will unseat the various heroes they want to take out, and throw them off their fame. The idea doesn’t work, of course, but you can’t fault Loki for trying something new.
In the process of putting together the crossover, however, what came through for readers was just how much richer the Marvel universe felt than it had before. We were able to see characters behave in new ways, react to unseen new threats, and interact with new allies. It wasn’t a case of every villain being friends, either – put Magneto in a room with super-nazi The Red Skull and just SEE what happens. These were character moments we hadn’t been able to experience before, and it freshened up comics just before they’d enter the 90s, which I’m assured were a golden age for comics with no problems.
31: The Invincible War
Arguably the shortest event in this entire list, The Invincible War took place in a single issue of Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley’s long-running Image superhero series Invincible. The story sees the return of Invincible’s enemy Angstrom Levy, who was thought dead but had actually moved to an alternate dimension (as is the wont of a villain). Levy doesn’t return to the dimension alone, however – in a moment which now seems surprisingly prescient, he brings a bunch of alternate-reality Invincibles, all of whom are evil and all of whom set out to immediately wreck the earth. Cities get destroyed, characters are killed – and just about any famous creator-owned character from Image’s back-catalogue shows up to try and help stop the evil Marks.
Spawn, Savage Dragon, Youngblood, Jack Staff, Shadowhawk, Tech Jacket, Cyberforce, Witchblade – even Madman shows up at one point. If you’re notable, or were created by an Image Partner who likes Robert Kirkman, then you probably showed up at some point here. The issue, which is obviously oversized, then lead into a lengthy “aftermath” storyline, but it’s this single issue which leaves the most memorable mark. Much of the world is destroyed by The Invincible War, which is a remarkably overscaled storyline, and a reminder that when Robert Kirkman wants to go, then oh, he’ll go.
Come back next week for entries 30 – 21 in our countdown!