Comic book crossovers are all kinds of awesome. There’s no denying that. There’s something endlessly entertaining about throwing a bunch of superheroes and villains together and watching the sparks fly. Some of the best stories ever written have been big crossover events, and it’s an effective way to up the stakes and make everything feel more epic. Oh, and it also sells a ton of comic books. That’s pretty important too.
But unfortunately, for every good comic crossover event, there’s about four bad ones. As you may have guessed from the title, it’s these terrible ones that we’re focusing on for this list. Marvel has put out some genuinely classic crossovers in the past, but they’ve released their fair share of over-hyped turkeys, too. So, join us as we take a look through The Big M’s Hall of Shame and present you with the 15 Worst Marvel Crossover Events Ever.
15. Civil War II
Our first entry on this list is the most recent. When the first Civil War was released in 2006, it felt like a big deal. Superheroes drew lines in the sand. Allies became enemies, enemies became allies, and the notoriously private Spider-Man revealed his identity to the world in support of Tony Stark’s pro-registration movement.
2016 brought us Civil War II. This time, it was Iron Man vs Captain Marvel, as opinion over what to do with a precognitive Inhuman splits the heroic universe down the middle. The arc started strongly, but behind the scenes, complications led to the creators falling behind schedule. Critical reaction got steadily worse as the series rolled on, with the last chapter getting the worst write-ups of the entire run. Put simply, while several important characters were killed or changed by the events, it was hard to get a feel for the stakes. Nothing felt like it mattered. Civil War II should have been something special, but it ended up as just another run-of-the-mill event that over-promised and under-delivered.
14. Maximum Carnage
For comic fans of a certain age, Maximum Carnage was one of the first big events that got them hooked on superhero comics. Carnage returns with a mini army of villains and they go on a kill-crazy rampage across New York. Spider-Man and Venom share an uneasy alliance and team up to take down Cletus Kasady and his gang of motley murderers. There was also a well-loved video game based on the event, ensuring that Maximum Carnage would always have a special place in the memories of the nostalgic.
However, looking back at it now, it doesn’t hold up nearly as well. ’90s comics don’t have the best reputation when it comes to quality or coherent storytelling, and Maximum Carnage is plagued by many of the same problems that comics of its era are known for. It’s overlong and scrappily plotted, wasting appearances from Iron Fist, Captain America, and Deathlok. While it has its fans, it’s not the best story Marvel have produced by a large margin, despite having all the symbiote on symbiote action you could ever want.
13. Original Sin
Like many crossovers on this list, Original Sin has a great starting premise: Uatu the Watcher has been murdered. Nick Fury and the Avengers investigate Uatu’s moonbase, while in Wakanda, Black Panther chases down his own leads to the crime. Original Sin was hyped up to be a cosmic murder mystery, but it wasn’t really about that. Many fans guessed the twist ending several issues in, draining all the intrigue from the story.
Original Sin ended up getting a very mixed reception. Both sides agreed that it was one of the weirdest crossovers Marvel had done up until that point. That isn’t necessarily a negative thing, but it certainly ended up disappointing a ton of fans who were hoping for an Agatha Christie-esque caper in space. It isn’t all bad, though. The comic also gave us the incredible chalk and cheese pairing of Doctor Strange and The Punisher. Their interactions are gold, and serve as proof (if any was needed at all) that we need a buddy cop MCU movie starring these two ASAP.
12. Secret Invasion
Secret Invasion should have been really cool. It was basically like The Thing in the Marvel Universe. Shape-shifting Skrulls have infiltrated superhero teams the world over, and nobody knows who to trust. That’s plot dynamite right there.
Unfortunately, the execution is where it fell apart. The pacing was slow and trudging, and brave readers who managed to slog through were rewarded with some underwhelming reveals and little else. The worst part is that the build-up to the event was great. Seeds of mistrust were sown, and it seemed like any of our favorite heroes could actually be an extraterrestrial spy working for the other side. In what should have been an epic tale of superhero teams falling apart due to clandestine sabotage and mistrust, we trod water, and the whole thing ended up with a big Skrull armada attacking New York and being destroyed. Norman Osborn ends up being seen as the all-conquering hero, and is essentially given the keys to national security. Osborn seizes this power and sets up the Dark Avengers, his handpicked team of supervillains posing as heroes like Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Wolverine.
Chris Claremont’s legendary run on X-Men imbued the series with the great characterization, diversity, and emotionally hard-hitting stories that made Charles Xavier’s squad of mighty mutants more popular than ever. However, not everything he touched turned to gold. Case in point, Inferno.
After the death of Jean Grey, Cyclops is broken. Over the course of many issues, he slowly shakes himself out of his funk and eventually meets Madelyne Pryor. The pair fall in love, marry, and go off to live in Alaska. It was a fitting stepping-aside for the character. However, when Marvel decided to resurrect Jean Grey and bring back the classic X-Men, Cyclops dumped his wife and kid to snap on the spandex once more and be with his old lady love. No matter how you slice it, that’s pretty villainous.
Inferno tried to smooth this over with a sneaky retcon. Now, Madelyne was a clone of Jean Grey and, on top of everything else, she was also the Goblin Queen, one of demonic realm Limbo’s first undercover emissaries trying to take over Earth. See kids? Cyclops isn’t a bad guy! He fell in love with his girlfriend’s clone and she became super evil anyway. Problem solved.
10. DC Versus Marvel
DC and Marvel may seem like bitter enemies, but they’ve worked together a surprising amount of times. One of their combined efforts was DC Versus Marvel, a title that pitted the two companies’ incredible rosters against each other. As this was the ’90s, gimmicks ruled supreme. This time, the losing universe would cease to exist. The outcome of the big fights was also determined by a fan vote. And therein lies the problem.
In what universe does Lobo lose against Wolverine? This one apparently. Fans love “who would win?” arguments, but even ardent fans of Logan will admit that he doesn’t stack up to the insanely powerful Lobo. Worse still, most of their fight was off-panel, which felt like an extra kick in the teeth.
Later on, Batman took on Captain America and Storm and Wonder Woman went at it. The writers had to plan for each outcome, which meant that there was no real creative drive to the overall story, and it was just a flimsy frame for fan-pandering smackdowns. DC and Marvel have managed some excellent crossovers in the past, but this ain’t one of them.
9. Maximum Security
At its core, Maximum Security isn’t the worst idea. Alien civilizations get pissed at Earth’s heroes constantly involving themselves in cosmic matters and they group together to designate Earth as a prison planet, fit for housing the worst scum the universe has to offer. Best of all, Earth’s watchful warden is Ronan the Accuser, who orbits around the planet in a spaceship.
The wheels started to fall off when it came to the execution. The event involved a ton of comic books, so many that you’d have to take two jobs to afford them all. Not only that, but a lot of them filled in big gaps to the main narrative, meaning that if you hadn’t read, for example, Black Panther Vol. 3 #25, you would have missed out on important backstory. All crossovers are guilty of this to some extent, but the tie-in issues are meant to enhance the story that’s already there, not prop it up from falling flat on its face.
8. Secret Wars II
The original Secret Wars was created purely to sell toys. Toy manufacturers were interested in doing a Marvel line and needed a big event to tie it to. Thus, Secret Wars was born, and all of Marvel’s most marketable heroes got in on the action. However, just because it was one big toy commercial didn’t mean that it was bad. The story proved to be solid, and the whole thing was a big success.
Then Marvel tried it again the next year. Talk about diminishing returns. After making Marvel’s mightiest fight, The Beyonder travels to Earth and basically takes a walking tour of the planet, with fleeting cameos from superheroes and villains along the way. The god-like Beyonder starts off like an innocent child, but learns more about how human (and superhuman) life works. It’s an odd fish-out-of-water tale that doesn’t quite work. For instance, he’s taught to use the bathroom by Peter Parker. We’re not making that up. That’s a thing that happens.
Beyonder eventually falls in with a bad crowd and becomes corrupted by their influence. He’s soon ego tripping hard and decides that Earth is his for the taking. Instead of the heroes taking center stage, Secret Wars II follows the boring Beyonder through every trite revelation and story twist before ending on a surprisingly dark note in which Molecule Man kills the Beyonder as a baby.
The Avengers/X-Men AXIS crossover event aimed to flip the Marvel Universe on its head. The premise boils down to Red Onslaught using his psychic powers to “invert” the Marvel Universe’s heroes and villains. Crucially, their personalities are reversed, meaning that they became the exact opposite of who they are. Heroes turned bad, villains turned good and some were stuck in the middle.
AXIS did a disservice to its characters by making these “inversions” into simple caricatures. Practically all the heroes turned villains are selfish power-hungry jerks, with all their differences and nuances forgotten about. Dr. Doom arguably got the worst of it. He suddenly becomes a snivelling apologist for his past actions. Victor Von Doom is a fascinating case study. He’s a complex, layered villain who truly believes he’s saving the world. He’s the hero in his own mind. When the morality switch is flipped, he devolves into a one-dimensional joke and it’s legitimately disappointing to say the least.
Many people still blame Ultimatum for the death of the Ultimate universe. This is rather unfair, as there were a lot of factors that went into the decision to can it, but it probably is fair to say that Ultimatum certainly didn’t help matters. Many were quick to criticize how simplistically written and unnecessarily gruesome it was. In an effort to cram as much as possible into this last big blow-out Ultimate event, the gore factor had been amped up several notches, and heroes were meeting grisly ends left and right.
Perhaps one of the most shocking scenes from the story is Blob feasting on the Wasp’s intestines, remarking that she “tastes like chicken”. In the next issue, Hank Pym flies into a rage grows to giant size and returns the favor, biting the Blob’s head off with his colossal jaws. Doesn’t that sound like fun? That’s not even the half of it.
Even by comic book standards, the women are also drawn with ridiculous proportions. Captain Marvel in particular looks like she has a side racket smuggling beachballs. It all feels cheap and sleazy, and it’s a shame that the Ultimate universe basically ended after this point, with low interest and sales finally sealing its fate.
5. Heroes Reborn
In the mid ’90s, Marvel’s sales were tanking on anything that wasn’t X-Men or Spider-Man related. Their solution was to bring back several of their former artists (and founders of Image Comics) like Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee and get them to relaunch several of their flagging lines like Captain America, Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and Iron Man.
The decision somewhat paid off. Marvel certainly shifted more comics (including the highest-selling Avengers comic ever) but the relaunches didn’t fare nearly as well with the critics. One of the most obvious flaws is the ugly and ill-proportioned art, which gave us the infamous image above of a surly looking Captain America looking like he’s swallowed a refrigerator. While sales were boosted for a while, they didn’t last, and nowadays, Heroes Reborn is looked back on as a cringeworthy time for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
4. One More Day
Do we really need to say anything about One More Day at this point? The series is universally reviled, and its name still causes a sharp intake of breath from anyone unfortunate enough to have been around at the time. It’s often referred to as the worst Spider-Man story ever, and it’s hard not to agree considering what we’re dealing with.
Marvel was apparently unhappy with Peter Parker being married to Mary Jane and decided to end it. However, instead of the couple divorcing and agreeing to go their separate ways, Mephisto, Marvel’s answer to the Devil, is involved. Aunt May is slowly dying and Peter becomes desperate to save her. He begs people like Tony Stark and Doctor Strange for help, but to no avail. Pete’s eventually approached by a little girl, who turns out to be Mephisto in disguise. Mephisto states that he can save Aunt May, but at the cost of Peter and MJ’s marriage. In the end, Mary Jane makes Mephisto a mystery offer he can’t refuse on the condition that he puts Peter’s life back to how it was before. The deal is done and the status quo is restored. Spider-Man’s identity is once again a secret (following its reveal in Civil War) and Peter is back to being free and single, waking up alone in his bed at Aunt May’s house. It’s dumb, uninspired, and more than a little insulting.
3. Avengers: The Crossing
Now we get into the unholy trinity of bad Marvel crossovers. First up is Avengers: The Crossing. For some reason, Tony Stark starts killing women to protect a secret. It turns out that he’s been working for Kang the Conqueror and he’s actually a bad guy. The Avengers decide that the best way to defeat Tony is to travel back in time and grab a teenage Tony Stark to help defeat his older self.
The event was full of nonsensical decisions. For instance, the Wasp gets turned into a giant wasp and is apparently fine with it. Tony’s turncoat act doesn’t make any sense either. Why has he been a traitor all these years? What motivated him to do it? Your guess is as good as ours, because there’s no explanation given. There are also characters like Yellowjacket II and Gilgamesh thrown into the mix with no rhyme or reason. When they die, it’s meant to be a tragedy. However, most readers were still scratching their heads trying to figure out who any of these characters were. It was all a confusing mess that tainted Tony Stark, killed him, and replaced him with a younger version of himself for no good reason. Thankfully, pretty much all of The Crossing was retconned out of canon in the years following.
Hoo boy, this one is a real stinker. Before we get into it, here’s the elevator pitch. After Professor X wipes Magneto’s brain, he becomes possessed by the dark parts of Magneto’s consciousness. This literal meeting of the minds creates Onslaught, a sentient being with near-limitless power and a bad temper.
What started as an X-Men tale soon ballooned to include nearly all of Marvel’s usual suspects. The mediocre narrative was already spread thinly, but was stretched to breaking point with unnecessary hero appearances and plot contrivances. As a villain, Onslaught is just an overpowered baddie. He has no interesting qualities or characteristics that make him unique or special in any way. The Onslaught event is often blamed for causing the comic book implosion in the ’90s, and while it wasn’t solely responsible, it is a handy example of everything wrong with comics of the era. It’s bloated, somehow both over and underwritten, and it needed a bunch of background reading to extrapolate any meaning from the event. Put simply, it sucks.
1. The Clone Saga
Ah, The Clone Saga. The period in comics that makes Spider-Man fans wince and cringe in equal measures. For the blissfully unaware, The Clone Saga was a long running crossover event that ran through all the Spider-Man comics. And when we say “long-running”, we’re not kidding. The whole thing ran for three years. It was revealed that the Peter Parker that everyone knew and loved was actually a clone, and that the true Spider-Man was some dude named Ben Reilly aka the Scarlet Spider. The first few issues were a sales success, so Marvel ordered an extension, and that’s when things really took a turn for the worse.
The Clone Saga had so much padding and so many needlessly convoluted plots that it’d give you a headache trying to sort it all out in your mind. Fans were none too pleased that Peter Parker was revealed to be the clone, and the story kept introducing new twists and characters at such a rate that it was hard to tell what the story was. Also, Norman Osborn was brought back, despite nobody wanting him to return. The series was eventually allowed to die, but not before it had done some serious harm to the Spidey brand and pissed off a lot of fans in the process.
Feel free to ignore Tom Holland’s opinions on this one, Kevin Feige.
Did we miss any other misfires from Marvel’s crossover history? Let us know in the comments.
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