On May 7, Marvel Comics readers will enter into the publisher’s next major event: Original Sin. Readers already got a first taste with Original Sin #0, which acted as a prelude and stage-setting issue, but it won’t be until #1 hits that we’ll begin the learn the details of the event and the fallout of the murder of Uatu the Watcher. Disregarding the various tie-ins and companion series, Original Sin is scheduled as 8 bi-weekly issues, making it larger than the previous Infinity event series but taking place over a compressed four-month schedule charting the whodunit. It starts as an investigation to ferret out the killer of the Watcher, but promises to expose secrets the cosmic being kept about heroes and villains.
But what makes an event series a big deal, And what exactly is an ‘event series’ to begin with? All comic series, both finite and ongoing, must have events to actually have a story, but so-called ‘event series’ are seen as a crossroads of all a publisher’s major players, all acting and interacting in a story larger than their own individual stories. It’s intended to be a high stakes drama putting heroes against overwhelming odds -- the comic book equivalent to a summer blockbuster movie, exceeding the scale and scope of any regular series.
Another facet of ‘event series’ has been the promise, sometimes unspoken and sometimes marketed squarely so, that the event of the ‘event series’ will be the catalyst for a change in the status quo of that comics universe at large. They’re essentially promising change; and even if the changes the event brings about are eventually changed back in subsequent events, readers are looking for something new, even out of their old favorite characters.
Original Sin is the latest in a long line of Marvel events beginning with 1982’s Contest of Champions, but unlike that and other series like Infinity, this upcoming event promises not to be about armies but about murder, motivations, and secrets within the hearts and minds of Marvel’s top characters. With that in mind, we’re taking stock of recent event series in Marvel’s past comparable to Original Sin and deliberating about their end results and how they might have changed the larger comics marketplace around them.
Creative Team: Mark Millar (writer) and Steve McNiven (artist)
How many issues: 7
Hype: If you don't remember the "I'm with…" banners that dominated the Internet during Civil War, there's a good chance you never went online in 2006.
Marvel Universe Impact: Civil War promised lasting change to the Marvel Universe and it delivered, dividing the Avengers between the pro-registration Mighty Avengers and the considerably more rebellious New Avengers. Civil War also led to the temporary death of the most famous Captain America, Steve Rogers, the seemingly permanent death of Dr. Bill Foster (Goliath), and prompted Spider-Man to unmask himself to the world — an unfortunate decision which led to a series events ultimately culminating in the magical dissolution of his marriage with Spider-Man: One More Day.
Real-World Impact: Commercially, Civil War is one of the biggest industry hits of the past decades, with four of its issues in the Top 10 bestselling comic books of the 21st century, according to Comichron.
AVENGERS VS. X-MEN
Creative Team: Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman (writers); John Romita Jr., Olivier Coipel, Adam Kubert (artists)
How many issues: 12
Hype: Avengers Vs. X-Men was positioned as Marvel’s biggest event in decades – both in a cast featuring its two largest hero franchises at odds, as well as the number of issues and the massive rotating cast of writers and artists who made the book. It sold itself on the same conflict as Civil War which earned it millions – hero versus hero – and reaped similar rewards.
Marvel Universe Impact: The X-Men books were already at a breaking point with Schism, but Avengers Vs. X-Men saw those cracks turn into fault lines with mutantkind’s resident leader Cyclops on the run as a fugitive, terrorist, and murderer. On the Avengers not much changed for the winners, but it did subsequently lead Captain America to establish a joint mutant/hero squad in Uncanny Avengers, which has become Marvel’s highest selling Avengers title. Another profound ripple of Avengers Vs. X-Men in the long-run is Beast’s decision to bring the founding X-Men back to the future from the past in All-New X-Men, which has proven to be a sales juggernaut.
Real World Impact: Avengers Vs. X-Men coincided with the release of Marvel’s The Avengers film, and was an ideal pairing to see Marvel’s two major franchise at odds. Six of the Top 10 selling comics of that year were Avengers Vs. X-Men, with 2 of the remaining for being post-AvX spin-offs. Created in the wake of DC’s “New 52” revamp, Marvel dominated the conversation in comic stores with Avengers Vs. X-Men and set the stage for “Marvel NOW!” with great success.
HOUSE OF M
Creative Team: Brian Michael Bendis (writer) and Olivier Coipel (artist)
How many issues: 8
Hype: Like Avengers Vs. X-Men, House of M also starred the Avengers and the X-Men, and was specifically billed as New Avengers interacting with Astonishing X-Men — as both were hot properties for Marvel at the time, with the former written by Bendis and the latter from the high-profile team of Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon (and future Avengers director) and Planetary artist John Cassaday.
Marvel Universe Impact: Oodles. Nine years later, the ramifications of House of M (which actually began in 2004's "Avengers Disassembled") are still seen in current comics, with the resentment felt by mutants in general to Scarlet Witch as seen in Uncanny Avengers as well as the long-term effects of Wolverine remembering his past memories. And while it's par for the course for a character to die during one of these events, in this one Hawkeye actually came back — and is now one of Marvel's most visible characters, as both an Avenger (in comics and film) and in his own critically-acclaimed series.
Real-World Impact: House of M sparked the "Decimation" era of Marvel, which resulted in miniseries like Son of M and Generation M, showing the reaction of Marvel's depleted mutant population.
Creative Team: Jonathan Hickman (writer); Jim Cheung, Jerome Opena & Dustin Weaver (artists)
How many issues: 6
Hype: Infinity was built on the idea of Thanos returning conquer the universe, but for the world at large he was already here thanks to his cameo in Marvel’s The Avengers. Marvel used that, and the character’s track record with previous events like Infinity Gauntlet, to usher in a swath of new villains, both for his army, and the secondary villains of the piece, the Builders.
Marvel Universe Impact: Infinity was intended to be the first major event in the post-Bendis era of the publisher’s flagship Avengers franchise, and it cemented Jonathan Hickman’s role as Marvel primary Avengers storyteller. Story-wise, no major hero deaths came out of Infinity but it did serve to transform its long-suffering “cosmic” line of titles into the wheelhouse of the core Marvel Universe. It also seeded the forced evolution of the Inhuman race into the just-released Inhuman series.
Real World Impact: Infinity didn’t dominate comic shelves the way Avengers Vs. X-Men did a year prior, but it didn’t have to for it to be considered a success. It was all about forging what it had done so far and building new characters, and it achieved both those goals. Infinity #1 ruled the roost in August 2013, and all five of its issues sold above 100,000, even at $3.99 a pop. But its effects are still coming, as it connected the cosmic to the core Marvel U as seen in Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova and Captain Marvel, and that should pay off more in years to come.
Creative Team: Brian Michael Bendis (writer) and Leinil Francis Yu (artist)
How many issues: 8
Hype: Tons. Foreshadowed for years by Bendis, Secret Invasion inspired everything from Marvel house ads encouraging fans to "embrace change" to paper Skrull masks being handed out at conventions.
Marvel Universe Impact: Like many of these types of events, Secret Invasion took players off the board (Wasp), but the shape-shifting, body-switching nature of the plot allowed them to bring one back (Mockingbird). The end of the story set the stage for the next year of Marvel stories, with Norman Osborn — the criminally insane Green Goblin — rising to power as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. successor, H.A.M.M.E.R. Although his appearance in Secret Invasion is brief, it successfully transitioned Osborn from being a Spider-Man villain to being one of Marvel’s overall Big Bads.
Real-World Impact: The ensuing "Dark Reign" dominated Marvel titles for most of 2009, birthing Dark Avengers and many more new series and one-shots, plus making Norman Osborn a nearly ubiquitous figure within the Marvel Universe.
Creative Team: Brian Michael Bendis (writer) and Olivier Coipel (artist)
How many issues: 4
Hype: A reunion of the House of M creative team, Marvel promoted Siege with several teaser images that pointed quite directly to the story's plot: The fall of Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers.
Marvel Universe Impact: Though only four issues, Siege packed in plenty of destruction, with a death toll including Sentry, Ares and Loki. The latter was resurrected, but in childish, "Kid Loki" form, and has parlayed that into a string of solo series from Journey Into Mystery, a stint leading Young Avengers, and now his own self-titled series back again as an adult.
Real-World Impact: Siege begat a new initiative from Marvel, "The Heroic Age," which included an across-the-board relaunch of the Avengers franchise. Among the new series introduced were Secret Avengers, which continues to this day – albeit through several relaunches. It also proved to be the last call (for now) of Loki as a villain, as post-Siege both in comics and film we’ve seen Loki lean into a more heroic (or anti-heroic) stance.
AGE OF ULTRON
Creative Team: Brian Michael Bendis (writer); Bryan Hitch, Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco, Butch Guice, Alex Maleev, David Marquez, Joe Quesada (artists)
How many issues: 10
Hype: Effectively the swan song of Bendis on the Avengers titles (for now),Age of Ultron promised an unbridled look at what would happen if Ultron – the robotic despot created by the Avengers – beat Marvel’s heroes and ruled the world. The series itself was teased for several years before it was formally released, due in part the extra time needed for Hitch to illustrate the first five issues.
Marvel Universe Impact: Much in the same way Uncanny X-Men’s “Days of Future Past” and the later Age of Apocalypse event series provided an apocalyptic alternate view of what the Marvel universe could be, the first half of Age of Ultron showed Marvel heroes cut down and on the run while the second half showed the consequences of time travel and changing past events to prevent the earlier scenario of Age of Ultron. Heroes died in the opening issues of Age of Ultron, but their deaths were rendered mute as it was an alternate universe by the end of the series. As far as its effects on the Marvel Universe moving forward, the most immediate was providing an avenue for Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane’s creator-owned character Angela from Spawn to jump to the Marvel Universe. Her travel was made possible by cracks in the space-time continuum as a result of the heroes meddling with their past, which led to other time-spanning and universe-crossing debuts in modern Marvel U such as Spider-Man 2099 and Galactus jumping to the Ultimate Universe.
Real-World Impact: The most lasting effect of Age Of Ultron is perhaps that Marvel Studios has co-opted the name as the subtitle for the next Avengers movie. Writer/director Joss Whedon says that the movie itself will not be adapted in anyway from the comic event, however. As far as the comics work goes, it spun off the ongoing series Avengers A.I. featuring a somewhat-rejuvenated Hank Pym, as well as kickstarting a subsequent event, Cataclysm, in the Ultimate comics line.
Creative Team: Matt Fraction (writer) and Stuart Immonen (artist)
How many issues: 7
Hype: Like many an event series before it, Fear Itself was teased with a series of cryptic images, some reflecting events as they literally happened within the story (like Cap's shield breaking) and some much more metaphorical (like Spider-Man looking at depressing TV news outside a store window).
Marvel Universe Impact: Fear Itself appeared to claim the lives of both Bucky — at that point, Captain America — and Thor, but things aren't always what they seem; Bucky returned shortly after as Winter Soldier, as did Thor – seemingly moments after Fear Itself’s last gasp.
Real-World Impact: Bucky's (apparent) death led to the return of Steve Rogers as Captain America on a permanent basis, for the first time since his (apparent) demise post-Civil War — and as things turn out, this all happened right before the release of the Captain America: The First Avenger live-action film.