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!
Let’s cross the halfway mark this week, as we reveal entrants 30-21!
Little bit of Keith Giffen to strengthen the public resolve, nothing wrong with that. Although scripted by the mighty Bill Mantlo of Darkstar fame, Invasion! was a Keith Giffen production, which drew together some of the various comics he was working on at the time. If you’ve ever wanted to see Todd McFarlane draw the start of a story which Giffen himself goes on to finish, then you’ve come to the right place. The story sees alien race The Dominators (who I won’t show in any images here, they seem racist) gather together a bunch of other evil aliens for a combined assault on earth, with each race sent after a different part of the planet: some of them go after the Amazons in Themyscira, some head to Gotham, and one group decides to go depose Castro. Interesting choice, there.
Although the main series is only three issues, this was a massive, sprawling thing, going off in some completely random directions. The main story, though, remains a cornerstone to the DC Universe as it stands today: it introduced the meta-gene, which explains how so many people have superpowers. Despite getting an Arrowverse adaptation, it’s a lesser-known event, perhaps, but is one of the few “clean” and accessible events in DC’s considerable library. Aliens invade, aliens get defeated, and Superman is great. Neat and simple! Unlike…
29: America’s Best Comics: Apocalypse
This one needs a little explanation, because it’s as much about the behind-the-scenes as it is about the actual story itself. Which, tends to happen when comic book critics think about Alan Moore, the man who was in charge of the “America’s Best Comics” imprint at Image. Jim Lee ran Wildstorm, an independent comics company, throughout the 90s. Lee used it as the means to publish his own comics like Stormwatch or WildC.A.T.S., and he also found he could use it as a pitch to give Alan Moore space to make new comics. Moore took Lee up on the offer, and “America’s Best Comics” was created, with Moore writing all the comics within that particular line. It played into his particular interests – particularly as it picked up on pre-existing 1940s comic characters he could reinterpret and do something new with. Moore created all kinds of comics in this little space he’d created, including Tom Strong and Promethea.
In 1999 Jim Lee sold Wildstorm to DC, without telling Moore – who had sworn off that particular publisher after they screwed him over on Watchmen. Yeah, Alan Moore wasn’t going to write any more comics for ABC if it meant he was putting money in the hands of DC, so he instead decided to cancel his entire line and write in an apocalypse which’d end the whole thing. That apocalypse took up the final few issues of Promethea, with issue #32 being a particularly complicated thing unsuitable for the colourblind where the protagonist directly speaks to the reader about the nature of endings. So it was an event both caused by and commenting on real-world goings-on, and I’m sure that’s all very lovely.
28: Messiah CompleX
Right, back to proper comics. Messiah CompleX was the start of the X-Men finally escaping from the whole “Decimation” storyline which took up about a decade of real-time shelf space. The story starts with the first new mutant being born since House of M made that an impossibility, leading to a thrilling chase between different groups to get to the child first. Whether they wanted to save it, kill it, or do something else with it (looking at you, Mr Sinister), this crossover took the form of a chase story, something which felt like a welcome acceleration of pace for the X-Men franchise. It played into the hands of the various creatives involved, as well: Mike Carey could lead the way, Chris Yost and Craig Kyle could cause mayhem, Peter David could play around in the sidelines, and Ed Brubaker could also be there.
It all led to actual mayhem in Scotland, with the double-barrelled approach of Humberto Ramos and Chris Bachalo bringing the most chaotic final battle imaginable. Yes, Messiah CompleX made a massive mistake with Bishop, but it also gave the X-Men a reason to exist again as a franchise, giving them story ideas that’d last for the next few years and regenerate several characters who sorely needed a new direction.
27: World War Hulk
In a just world, Greg Pak would have written several amazing mega-stories featuring the Hulk, which gave the character an exciting new depth which could develop him out for years to come. Oh wait: that’s the world we lived through, because Greg Pak has written some incredible Hulk stories over the past decade or so. His biggest was World War Hulk, his revenge saga in which Hulk returned to the Earth he’d been banished from in order to get satisfaction on the people who had expelled him off-world. At the time, readers weren’t quite sure how much they could side with Hulk: but when you read it now, oh, do you ever side with Hulk. There are slight annoyances along the way – with Thor unavailable, the final battle is between Hulk and The Sentry, which wasn’t really what anyone wanted – but this is such a meaty, satisfying way to conclude a long-term story.
With an on-form John Romita Jr drawing the devastation, World War Hulk feels visceral and crunchy, buildings exploding and Hulk snarling as he smashes the heck out of all those snotty Marvel characters nobody really likes. Mr Fantastic? Smushed. Iron Man? Crushed. Dr Strange? Mashed. In their place, Pak elevated characters like Amadeus Cho and Hercules into starring roles, and we were all better for it.
26: Sinestro Corps War
A breakneck event which escalated and escalated to incredible speeds, Sinestro Corps War remains a hugely entertaining popcorn event today, a rollicking rollercoaster through the cosmic parts of DC Comics. Before the franchise got really overloaded with colours and spectrums and rings, this event saw villain Sinestro assemble a single rival Corps to the Green Lantern Corps – the Yellow Lanterns, powered by fear – and head on over to conquer Earth, as Sinestro likes to do. His choice of teammates, however, was probably one of the single biggest villain groups ever seen: Parallax, The Anti-Monitor, Cyborg Superman and that twerp Superboy all put on a yellow ring and caused absolute chaos across Earth, drawn by artists including Ivan Reis and Patrick Gleason.
As was the tradition for writer Geoff Johns at the time, every Lantern got something to do: Kyle Rayner had to break free of possession, John had to confront his demons, Guy had to step up as a leader, and Hal had to handle everything else. It all led to a vastly entertaining story, delivered by a core creative team of reprehensible people.
25: Infinite Crisis
Okay, let’s get it all out the way at once, then. Published just before Sinestro Corps War, Infinite Crisis was Geoff Johns’ first major attempt to cram every piece of DC minutia into a mega-event, and won him his first “Crisis” story in the process. Handily he was joined by Phil Jimenez, an artist who not only knows the meaning of the word excess, but gloriously embraces it, as they combined for a story which threw absolutely everything at the reader, to baffling effect. Everything was in turmoil and everybody was involved in some way: but at the core, the problem lay with the Trinity. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman just weren’t friends anymore.
That somehow managed to lead to a story where Superboy Prime punched a load of heads off people, the Golden Age Superman showed up and had a horrible time of things, while the Joker melted someone’s face off with acid. It was an early step into DC’s worst excesses of “dark and gritty” storytelling, with Johns at the helm for most of it. The heroes went away at the end of Infinite Crisis, and it’s hard to say if they ever properly came back. Infinite Crisis changed the editorial mindset at DC, for better and worse.
24: House of M
If Infinite Crisis changed DC, then House of M definitely changed Marvel Comics. Brian Michael Bendis and – him again – Olivier Coipel were our creative team for a story which managed to break Scarlet Witch as a character potentially forever. After having several breaks with reality, Wanda eventually was pushed into creating a new universe – one where mutants were loved, and she could unite her family into “The House of M”, and spend all her time with her devoted husband and charming children. Everybody got what they wanted, which was a fairytale world where Gwen Stacy was still alive, Steve Rogers was retired, and Carol Danvers was popular for once.
The only problem is that if you ask Wolverine what he really wants, his answer is “the truth”, and he emerged as the only person with any memory of the world they left and the world he was in now. Across the course of the story, he slowly broke down everyone with the help of a deus ex machina popular new character called Layla Miller, and it all led to a big fight with the fate of reality at stake. Although House of M is remembered for what it did to Marvel Comics – which is to say, reshape it in the form most pleasing to EiC Joe Quesada – the majority of the story is much different to how it’s remembered. It has a strong start, a controversial end, but a lot of talking in the middle. It was massively important to Marvel Comics as a whole, but Bendis would go on to write stronger stories.
The Jim Shooter fanbase WILL NOT BE DENIED! The 1993 Valiant Universe crossover Unity proudly leaps into the top fifty list, and could arguably be called the least-well-known story to make the list as a whole. That speaks to the quality of the story, perhaps, which ran through 1992 across the entirety of Valiant’s line, all overseen by Shooter himself. Interestingly enough it’s another reality-changing storyline, with the outright villain of the event being Mothergod, who wants to rewrite reality. That brings her up against everyone – from Turok to X-O Manowar, Archer & Armstrong, and Solar, Man of the Atom.
The “Unity” is her vision of a restored universe, which she manages to half-complete, although with plenty of cracks in place. It’s from those cracks that the other heroes realise what’s going on and team up into an alliance to restore things: it’s basically House of M with a stronger central viewpoint, and perhaps a greater grasp on thematic complexity. Across 18 issues we get a real understanding of Mothergod and why her plans can’t be allowed to succeed, whilst Shooter (alongside writer Bob Layton and artist Barry Windsor-Smith, both of whom were also editors at Valiant at the time) concluded things in a shocking, unpredictable and permanent way. Reality changed not just in the present – but the past and the future were both rewritten by the time the story came to an end. Cult classic, perhaps, but Unity remains a singularly impressive project.
22: X-Cutioner’s Song
A lot of events are about new villains suddenly showing up with a new agenda and plan to take over the Earth, but what about a villain who shows up and sets up a megabase on the Moon? Whole new territory! In X-Cutioner’s Song, which may be the most 1990s story of all time, Stryfe shows up to terrorise the Summers family. He’s not the only one though – in the build up across the storyline, we have Apocalypse and his horsemen, Mr Sinister, the Mutant Liberation Front, the Dark Riders… and that’s not including the inter-X-fights like the amazing battle that takes place between DILF squadron leaders Cable, Bishop, and Wolverine halfway through.
The story is grand and epic in all the best ways, exaggerating itself in scale every few issues to include all the active X-Men teams of the time, upping the stakes until you end up with Cyclops and his family in a fight to the death on the Moon, with Cable’s identity itself up for debate right until the end. Full of small moments which make the big moments even more exciting – remember how Boom Boom gets her jaw broken halfway through and it doesn’t stop her from talking at all? – it doesn’t forget that the X-Men are more interesting when they get to be characters rather than parts of a great narrative engine. X-Cutioner’s Song is a story which starts with Xavier being shot and ends with the Legacy Virus being introduced: it’s staggering in size, but wholly compelling throughout.
21: Fear Itself
What are you going to do when Fear Itself comes to town? Matt Fraction’s time as a Marvel architect had more epic highs and lows than the typical game of American football, with each project having a chance of being something incredible or something terrible. As such, he developed a bit of a reputation for not being able to pull off the big one, to take an important event and make it work – and so when Fear Itself came out, people were ready to overlook it. In the years since it came out, however, I’d suggest that Fear Itself genuinely is not as bad as people would have you believe – and in fact is a terrific, forgotten event in Marvel’s canon.
Backed with Stuart Immonen’s artwork, the story sees a long-forgotten evil Asgardian show up, the God of Fear. His influence spreads across the planet, building on existing fears about job security, housing, healthcare and immigration which already had Americans worked up. A series of hammers were also involved, although they were less important than the rising fear sweeping the globe, which affected not just humanity but the superheroes – Odin, in particular, spends the entire series in terror, which is surprisingly effective. It all leads to a big fight scene of course, but if you overlook the superhero elements of the story, there’s something compulsive about Fear Itself. There’s much more to it than “hammer bros versus asgardian superheroes”, promise.
Come back next week for entries 20 – 11 in our countdown!