Epic Comic Book Events: How Did the Big Crossovers Start (And Why do We Keep Buying Them?!)
Every year, Marvel and DC Comics have some kind of major Comic Book Events that, at least temporarily, shakes up the status quo if their heroes. It used to be “this year’s event”—now we see two or three a year. At Marvel, in 2019, the X-Men had an apparently universe-changing event with Age of X-Man only to have an even more significant event just one month later with Jonathan Hickman’s Powers and House of X. That’s not including War of the Realms, the big Thor event, and Absolute Carnage, the big Spider-Man event. At DC, we have Doomsday Clock, we just wrapped up Heroes in Crisis, and we’re in both Event Leviathan and Year of the Villain. It’s a lot. It’s a lot of money too. So why do we go for these comic book events so often?
Why We Love Comic Book Events
Too Many Emotions!
You’re supposed to be brothers! (Marvel Comics)
Superhero comics are about telling massive stories that are grounded in human emotion, and a well-done event (hell, even a not-so-well done event) deliver that to an extreme. Take, for instance, Civil War. This was the comic book events of all comic book events, and though the plot focused on the Superhero Registration Act, the story centered on the fracturing friendship of Captain America and Iron Man. Blackest Night might have had Zombie heroes, but it was really about guilt and fear.
It’s not so much that we want to see how they get out of a situation (if they get out of it), it’s that we want to see how they process the changes they go through. Some events completely change a character forever, even if we don’t realize it at the time. Think about Loki before and after Siege. There’s no going back to Loki as a menacing villain, and he’s proved more interesting as a reluctant anti-hero. Some changes are more blatant. One of the great X-men stories, Messiah Complex transformed Cyclops from the “boy scout” to the leader he became—even when he took that role too far. But that came down to one moment: Cyclops telling Xavier to leave the X-Men. It redefined Scott Summers in an emotionally impactful way.
Might as Well Face It, We’re Addicted to Lore
oh snap! (Marvel Comics)
Of course, we love the action and the stories too. These characters are on an endless journey, and we get a new big adventure to see them in. These are the iconic moments. Spider-Man getting his black and white costume in Secret Wars; Batman’s death in Final Crisis. And most of all, Thanos’ snap in Infinity Gauntlet. We crave these moments.
The Comic Book Crossover Events That Started It All
Now, these are not the first comic book events, but they are the two most influential in the industry. One should be no surprise. It’s an event that is still commonly referenced today. The other might be a little surprising.
Crisis on Infinite Earths
There can be only one! (DC Comics)
This DC event is still the foundation of the entire DC Universe, and soon to be a major tv event. Crisis was about sacrifice, and one sacrifice remained the most iconic in comics history, even after he was eventually resurrected: The Flash, Barry Allen. But the reason this event exists is basically for maintenance reasons. Marv Wolfman felt that the DC continuity was a mess (it was) and needed to be reset (it did). So, Crisis on Infinite Earths did just that. It broke the multiverse and unified all the Earths. Crisis showed that comic book events could be universe-shattering (literally) and entertaining. It set the mold for every event after, but it wouldn’t have been possible if a crossover Marvel didn’t happen first.
The Avengers-Defenders War
Yeah, this is how the entire event reads. (Marvel Comics)
Before comic book events were long, complicated, and deep, there was the Avengers-Defenders War. It’s not a good event. Loki and Dormammu trick the two groups into punching each other eight issues. The important thing, however, is that it was told in two titles for four months. There were small attempts at crossing two titles in the past, but nothing on this editorial scale with so many characters. Before this, the Kree-Skrull War did very well, but it was contained to just the Avengers title and took months to tell. Avengers-Defenders War told a story nearly as long in half the time. And the event was successful. It’s still selling well today. All the big comic book events that came after have this hokey crossover to thank.
Epic Comic Book Events: A Long History, A Longer Future
Comic book events are a proven success, so don’t expect them to ever go away. Sometimes the big two will feel the event fatigue and wind down to one for a year, but for the most part, we see banners on every title.
What are your favorite events?
(Featured Image: Marvel Comics)
Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.