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!

It’s heating up – or icing down, depending on how you look at it – as this week we get into the top twenty issues. Here’s entries 20-11!



20: The Final Night

In a neat twist on the standard event formula, 1996’s The Final Night managed to create a linewide crossover event without the need to have a cacklin supervillain at the heart of everything. Instead, natural cosmic life led to an immediate issue for everyone on earth: a Sun-Eater fell into the Solar System and, well, it ate the Sun. With Earth cast into darkness – and Superman effectively depowered – everybody was affected by this single natural event, creating a new dynamic across every comic and turning the DC Universe into a survival series. Oh, and did we mention the whole thing was by Karl Kesel and Stuart Immonen??

It’s so clever to have this be the cause of an event, because it means the heroes have to demonstrate their resolve without necessarily having someone to punch. Unexpected characters suddenly became massively important for this particular moment in time, whilst the common cause led people like Lex Luthor to suddenly find himself on the same side as everyone they despised. Also, Etrigan the Demon tried to eat everyone’s soul, that prankster. It all led into an important moment for DC, as the former hero Hal Jordan sacrificed himself to re-ignite the sun, in the process kicking off a very long term rehabilitation for a character who’d been a rather maniacal villain. 


19: Secret Wars (1984)

The original, the definitive article, Secret Wars may have been a toy tie-in, but it had a lasting impact on readers. Written by Jim Shooter and drawn by both Mike Zeck and Bob Layton, the twelve-part series collected together a bunch of interesting heroes and a clutch of notable villains, lobbed them off onto a distant planet, and then sat back to watch what would happen. The resulting story is chaotic at best, but filled with unexpected team-ups – Magneto and Wasp, anyone? Doctor Doom inviting Klaw back to his Man-cave? – and really memorable moments. Across the story we saw the creative team break up Colossus and Kitty Pryde, “debut” Spider-Man’s symbiote suit, introduce the Beyonder, and still have time to make Volcana and Molecule Man our new #1 ship.

It’s intentionally (and sometimes unintentionally) very funny, as well, helping bring a new trademark levity to Marvel’s grandstanding stories which you can arguably trace right through to their current MCU “house style”. So many characters got something to do, and it really helped sell some toys. Hey, maybe you should listen to this podcast about it.


18: The Apocalypse War

In any normal event, you might expect to see the hero faced with an impossible decision, a startling moral quandary which will redefine them forevermore. In The Apocalypse War, Judge Dredd is presented with a big red button which will launch nukes that kill millions of people – and he smashes that button SO HARD you don’t have time to blink. That’s the difference that a 2000AD Mega-Epic brings to the table, and The Apocalypse War sets itself out to be the most incredible, gigantic story you’ve ever read. Starting off with a low-key infiltration of Dredd’s home in Mega-City One by the Russians – sorry, “Sovs” – The Apocalypse War spirals out of all credible control as multiple nuclear missiles are launched, cities are destroyed, several major characters are killed off, and the world of Judge Dredd genuinely never recovers ever again from the fallout. It’s easily the single biggest event story in this list in terms of stakes.

But beneath that, lead creators John Wagner, Alan Grant and Carlos Ezquerra never get lost in the devastation and smoke. Their goal is to use the chaos to show us just who Dredd is, and they drill right down into the heart of his heroism, villainy, and fascism in brutal and startling ways. When he slams down on that nuclear option near the end and bombs millions of people, it’s clear to readers that this was the only logical conclusion to this whole thing No other comic could ever be so bold.


17: No Man’s Land

After an earthquake hit Gotham City, the government decided to close off the city – allowing everybody to evacuate who wanted to – but then locking everyone else left inside the city to sort things out for themselves. Over the course of essentially an entire year, factions started to build in the wreckage of Gotham, as various crime bosses carved up areas of the city for themselves, and the police were pushed back into defending a tiny safe zone. The stories published during this massive crossover covered everything from the black market that Penguin set up to villains attempting to take out the water supply, and it made for a really ground-level, desperate feel to Batman’s narrative – and one which took advantage of his early absence in order to build up a string of new characters, including Cassandra Cain, and to rebuild some other characters into more formidable forms. Huntress became a major player, whilst Poison Ivy was overhauled for a more contemporary age.

Sure enough, Batman and his allies started reclaiming the city, but it was a slow and arduous process, leading to an incredible moment when Bane suddenly returned with the world’s biggest gun and started carving up everything he could see, the ultimate in final bosses. But in the end, of course it was left down to Batman and Joker to have one last face-off, which concluded this dour, authentic, innovative event in a suitably downbeat fashion.


16: Knightfall

Oh Batman, the things that you’ve had to deal with, poppet. Before Gotham was hit by an Earthquake, Batman was hit with a backbreaker, courtesy of the aforementioned Bane. It was the startling central moment of Knightfall, an event which carefully built up Bane as a new threat to Gotham City whilst simultaneously deconstructing an overworked and underappreciated Bruce Wayne, leading to an inevitable showdown where Batman was not only completely defeated by a villain… but dominated. Bane broke Batman’s back and celebrated his victory.

That was only the start of things, as Knightfall led into Knightquest and KnightsEnd to form a trilogy where a replacement Batman – Azrael – took over the mantle and subsequently went insane in the role. It all led to the return of Bruce Wayne, as everyone expected, but the actual storytelling proved to be a powerful and shocking way to reset everything readers thought they knew about the Batman series. It pushed the character further than he had possibly ever been pushed before. 


15: JLA/Avengers

Also called Avengers/JLA, this four-part prestige series was exactly what it said: an unlikely crossover between the main superhero teams from DC and Marvel, two rival publishers somehow working together. After a few false starts, Kurt Busiek and George Perez set about on their story, which saw the Avengers and the JLA caught up in a cosmic game between – who else – the Grandmaster and Krona. They send the characters off on various missions to go track down amazing mystical items, but with a catch: the Avengers represent DC’s Krona whilst the JLA represent Marvel’s Grandmaster. Winning the mission means that your universe is one step closer to being destroyed.

After spending some time exploring the differences in how heroes and superpowers are perceived in each of their universes, it all leads into a massive reality-warp and final battle against as many cosmic entities as you can pull out a hat. Ultimately everyone teams up together, Hawkeye saves the day (!?) and everybody goes back to their home universe, having had a darn fun time. It was surprising that it ever happened to begin with: but with Busiek and Perez in charge of things, perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised that the resulting story holds together so well, against the odds.


14: Trifecta

Every week when 2000AD comes out, there’s a serialised Judge Dredd story at the start, followed by three or four other stories which loosely hang around sci-fi, satire, and fantasy. You never know what you’re getting when you pick up any edition of 2000AD, and that’s something which an all-star creative team of Al Ewing, Henry Flint, Si Spurrier, Simon Coleby, Rob Williams, D’Israeli and Carl Critchlow were counting on when they surprised the world in 2012. They were each telling very different stories with their featured characters: Spurrier was looking at undercover policing in The Simping Detective, Williams was taking down a capitalist shark in Low Life, and Ewing was forcing Dredd into a reckoning with corrupt members of his department in the central Judge Dredd serial. All these stories started at different times, featured completely different characters, and seemed completely unconnected

Then at the end of one Judge Dredd story, he literally kicks down the door into The Simping Detective, and readers realised that we were seeing three parts of the same big picture. All the stories in 2000AD were, for the first time ever, combining into one mega-story. It’s not just that this was a completely unannounced crossover event: it’s that it took the opportunity to go big on all three characters. Trifecta didn’t rely on it’s surprise to cover over a simple story: this was a major piece of work, with all three creatives teams putting in incredible storytelling as they brought us the saving of Mega-City One in three parts. Trifecta was a shock, sure, but its lasting impact is just how high-quality it remained across the course of its tricky narrative.


13: Annihilation

An event which fell under the radar a little, but is absolutely adored by the people who were reading it at the time. Annihilation isn’t just the main six-part event, but the entire rebuilding of Marvel’s cosmic franchise, with various writers and artists lifting up a somewhat-flagging portion of Marvel’s output and giving it a sterling new direction. In the run up to Annihilation, several characters like Drax, Nova, Ronan and Silver Surfer were given spotlight stories, each of which worked to make the characters seem a little more rounded-out and contemporary: Drax met Cammi, a young girl who’d change his life; Nova witnessed the entirety of his Corps wiped out, leaving him the only survivor. Big, sweeping changes were made across Marvel’s galaxy, prompted by the arrival of Annihilus and the Annihilation Wave, a massive swarm of ships which raced into the universe and started destroying everything in its path.

Annihilation’s main event is by Keith Giffen (does space even EXIST without Keith Giffen’s hand on the wheel?) and Andrea DiVito, who together take the brilliant opportunity gifted to them by the lead-up to their event and manage to make things even grander. Nothing is off the table, here, and Annihilation seems to affect every single corner of Marvel’s cosmic side as everyone is pulled into the story in some way or other. It feels huge, and that makes things all the more satisfying when the battle ends with a single final, brutal fist-pumping moment which turned Nova into a star.


12: Civil War

Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s story came at just the right time, seizing on Marvel’s dual interests in both pushing their political envelope and making their characters more morally compromised and complicated. That’s not to say that Civil War necessarily succeeded in doing either of those two things, but it certainly did make a lot of loud noises which gave the appearance of momentum. The story sees the American Government introduce a “superhero registration act” after a supervillain blows up a school during a standard fight scene. That means everyone with powers has to register themselves with the Government if they want to continue to operate – at the same time giving away their secret identity, making them an agent of the state, and forcing them to work to a set of rules. Iron Man takes on that side of things, while Captain America wants things to continue the way they’ve always been, and it leads to the superhero community splitting in half.

Across the course of the story Millar has a great time exploring some of the cracks in superhero narratives which nobody really wants to peer inside, whilst also killing off the Black guy and making everyone involved in the story seem like some degree of arsehole. The Ultimate Universe crashed into mainstream Marvel storytelling with Civil War, and it never left afterwards. This was one of those stories which changed Marvel forever: not just because of the narrative changes it brought in, but because of the overall tone it introduced to superhero comics. The registration act may be long-dissolved, but Civil War’s legacy continues to this day. 


11: Multiversity

Oh, Grant Morrison’s in this? Of course Grant Morrison is in this, you dummies. Multiversity is their first entry into the top fifty list, an event made up of standalone stories which somehow all live inside the shadow of a more sinister master arc. A sort-of sequel to Final Crisis, Multiversity follows characters from across various different dimensions as they fall foul to dark and formidable forces, which seem intent on draining the multiverse once and for all and turning everything into their own vision. It’s metatext as you might expect, and various other critics have spent countless coffee-infused mornings trying to pin together all the ways it commentates on the state of the comic book industry as a whole.

But that aside, it’s a story where random characters band together to fight a massive new threat, across a series of one-shot issues drawn by brilliant artists like Frank Quitely, Chris Sprouse, and Jim Lee. Not all of it works, but even the really weak issues still seem to have something to say. It’s an event comic which genuinely wants to change your way of thinking, or at least push you further along whatever your current path may be. It also has talking monkeys, baby robots, an unstoppable cartoon rabbit, and anything else you might casually be interested in seeing. It radiates simultaneous despair and joy about comics, and one issue has Hitler on the toilet. It’s not for everyone.


Come back next week for entries 10 – 1 in our final countdown!