Secret Empire is just around the corner, with its #0 issue coming April 19. As the resolution to one of Marvel’s most controversial storylines – the betrayal of Steve Rogers as a secret agent of Hydra – the expectations and the bar set for Secret Empire are just about as big as any Marvel event has ever had.
Drawing essentially Marvel’s entire line into its tentacles, Secret Empire will take a different approach to Marvel’s last two major events, Civil War II and Secret Wars, with a set length and rotating artists. It also may cap off Marvel’s event cycle for the time being, with Marvel VP of Sales David Gabriel recently asserting that Marvel would swear off such events for “at least 18 months” after the series ends.
But the (big) question remains – will Secret Empire live up to its own hype, let alone deliver a story fans actually want to read? Steve Rogers’ Hydra turn has produced mixed reactions, to say the least, so will the culmination of that story bring things back to a more “classic” status quo?
Marvel has a long history of major events. Since the original Civil War, Marvel has published a company-wide crossover nearly every year – and sometimes more. And while they all make big promises, how many of them have lived up to expectations, or had a lasting effect on the company’s line?
While we can’t answer those questions yet, we can look back at Marvel’s previous events and try to gauge where Secret Empire lies in relation to what’s come before.
CIVIL WAR II
Creative Team: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), David Marquez (artist), et al.
How Many Issues: 9
Hype: The hype for Civil War II was massive, as it coincided with the release of Captain America: Civil War in theaters, and, obviously, invoked the name of Marvel’s biggest, most successful event.
Marvel Universe Impact: Civil War II left something of a giant, smoldering crater in the Marvel Universe, killing War Machine and Hulk, sending She-Hulk first into a coma and then causing her to manifest a more beastly alternate persona, turning Hawkeye into a murderer, putting Tony Stark out of commission indefinitely, and possibly irrevocably changing the character of Carol Danvers.
So yeah, it was pretty massive.
Real World Impact: Thanks largely to the rampant character deaths and changes, Civil War II remained in the news in the entirety of its run. But the impact on characters wasn’t the only effect of Civil War II. With massive artistic delays and a ballooning issue count, the final effect of Civil War II may have led to Marvel’s approach to Secret Empire - and its recent swearing off of further “event” stories.
Creative Team: Nick Spencer (writer), Daniel Acuna (artist)
How Many Issues: 2, including various tie-ins.
Hype: Standoff came about as an Avengers event designed to celebrate Captain America’s 75th anniversary, and promised the return not just of Steve Rogers as Cap, but of a new version of the Thunderbolts.
Marvel Universe Impact: Standoff can be seen as the direct predecessor to Secret Empire, having set up Steve Rogers’ return as Captain America (and his secret Hydra allegiance). Basically the entire thrust of the current Marvel Universe meta-story – Kobik the Cosmic Cube, the Thunderbolts, the army of once-brainwashed supervillains – spun directly out of the events of Standoff. That’s a pretty big feat for a relatively small story. Real World Impact: Standoff brought back the man many consider the “one true Captain America,” Steve Rogers. Media attention for the return was heavy, with the announcement being made on a ABC television special celebrating Cap’s 75th anniversary – but that was nothing compared to the hype storm that followed when Steve Rogers was revealed as a Hydra Agent – a story many fans still can’t bring themselves to accept.
Creative Team: Jonathan Hickman (writer), Esad Ribic (artist)
How Many Issues: 7
Hype: Secret Wars was marketed as the biggest Marvel event of all time. It drew on the legacy of its namesake, the original Marvel crossover, to build up its importance to the future of Marvel’s line.
Marvel Universe Impact: Secret Wars had an impact on the Marvel Universe that could best be described as “massive.” By collapsing all of Marvel’s extant universes and timelines into one reality, Secret Wars added elements of other continuities, such as Miles Morales, the Ultimate Spider-Man, to the main Marvel U, while also taking Marvel mainstays the Fantastic Four off the board. There’s also the little matter of Secret Wars leading to a relaunch of Marvel’s entire publishing line.
Real World Impact: Secret Wars wasn’t quite the massive media sensation Civil War was, but nonetheless it enjoyed big sales numbers, and drew many readers back to Marvel by promising a new world in its wake. Its long delays led to some scrutiny from fans, but did not affect the event’s overall performance in a major, measurable way.
Creative Team: Rick Remender (writer), Adam Kubert, Leinil Yu, Terry Dodson, Jim Cheung (artists)
How Many Issues: 9
Hype: AXIS “inverted” numerous heroes and villains, making them swap sides. It was also the culmination of a story that began in Avengers vs. X-Men, revolving around the death of Charles Xavier.
Marvel Universe Impact: AXIS led to numerous heroes and villains switching sides, including Tony Stark, who became the “Superior Iron Man,” a.k.a. an even bigger jerk to everyone. Though he eventually switched back, some characters, such as villain-turned-hero Sabretooth, did not. AXIS also ended with Red Skull still in possession of Professor X’s brain, much to the chagrin of basically everyone in the Marvel Universe.
Real World Impact: AXIS didn’t have many lasting effects – most of them were undone when Marvel relaunched its titles after Secret Wars. But for a time, many of Marvel’s top heroes, including Tony Stark and Sam Wilson, were outright villains, even in their own solo titles. Kinda seems like small potatoes now.
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-Brian Michael 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 and their conflict with the X-Men, which resulted in the drestruction of the Terrigen Mists, and linewide relaunches for both the Inhumans and X-Men.
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 subsequent 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 continues to pay off, while also influencing Marvel’s film slate.
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 – something that came to a head when he tried to declare war on the Inhumans and was apparently killed. 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 now incorporated Inhumans as well. 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. They’ve now fully integrated into the modern day Marvel Universe, with the young Jean Grey and Cyclops being the only versions of those characters running around.
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 comic books of that year were Avengers Vs. X-Men, with two 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 the “Marvel NOW!” publishing initiative (which continues to inspire new Marvel launches) with great success.
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 parlayed that into a string of solo series from Journey Into Mystery, a stint leading Young Avengers, and his own self-titled series back again as an adult. He even ran for President in Vote Loki.
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 was Secret Avengers, which continued for years – albeit through several relaunches. It also proved to be the last call (kinda) of Loki as a villain, as post-Siege both in comic books and film we’ve seen Loki lean into a more heroic (or anti-heroic) stance.
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 the ultra-successful Dark Avengers and many more new series and one-shots, plus making Norman Osborn a nearly ubiquitous figure within the Marvel Universe. Thematically, there are comparisons to be drawn between Secret Empire and Secret Invasion (and the ensuring "Dark Reign").
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.. It also the upcoming film Captain America: Civil War, and the comic book’s spiritual sequel, Civil War II, which launches this summer.