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Thursday, 7 May 2015

A guide to Marvel's significant events

We've posted a guide to DC's continuity changing events so I think a guide to Marvel's big events is well overdue.

Marvel's big events aren't about cleaning up storylines or changing continuity, but more about the spectacle, the event itself.  They have a major impact in the Marvel Universe, but they don't necessarily change history (unless the event is specifically about time travel, or changes in reality).

We won't list every single event Marvel has done, but we'll go through the ones that have had the most impact on the current universe.  We'll also include things that aren't necessarily events but are quite important in Marvel's history.  We'll put a logo next to each book denoting the main character or team that the event or storyline deals with.

The titles of each event will link through to the book's Amazon listing (where possible).  You could also buy them digitally from Marvel Unlimited, where you can buy individual issues or a year's subscription and get access to their entire digital archive.  Or you can buy the books from a comic shop - we have a list of recommended shops here.

If you are confused by any of the jargon in this post please have a look at our glossary.

1971: Kree-Skrull War
The Krees and the Skrulls are alien species who are at war with each other.  The Kree hero Captain Marvel (true name Mar-Vell) arrives on Earth and is captured by the Avengers.  A Kree outlaw named Ronan decides to devolve all humans so that Earth can be used as base by the Skrulls.  The Avengers, Inhumans (genetically altered humans), and Fantastic Four all get involved in the Kree-Skrull War.  This story is often referenced in later comics: the two species' mutual enmity is a reliable pillar of the Marvel Universe. 

1973: The Night Gwen Stacey Died
Gwen Stacey was Spider-Man's first love and this arc gave us the first long-lasting death of a major character.  Stacey's death had major ramifications on all future Spidey stories, as Spider-Man just couldn't forgive himself for letting her die.  The story took place over The Amazing Spider-Man 121-122 and formed part of 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2 film. For all that film's faults, the Gwen subplot was handled pretty well.

1980: The Phoenix Saga
The Phoenix Saga deals with X-Man Jean Grey's acquisition of the the Phoenix Force - a sentient and immortal force with the power to unmake the universe.  This led to...

1980: The Dark Phoenix Saga
This has affected all future permutations of the X-Men, as well as being interpreted for X-men animated series and films - The Dark Phoenix Saga.  Jean Grey is a powerful telepath and, when she gains the Phoenix power, all hell breaks loose.  We reviewed this story here.

1982: The Death of Captain Marvel
The Captain Marvel of the Kree-Skrull war discovers that he is suffering from cancer after being exposed to a deadly gas during a battle in the Dark Dimension. [NB: this Captain Marvel is not to be confused with the current Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers, or with DC Comics' Captain Marvel, now called Shazam]. This arc was one of the first to kill off a major hero (as opposed to a girlfriend, as Gwen Stacey was). It was a deeply affecting story at the time and remains so today, mostly due to the fact that he (mostly) remains dead.

1984: Secret Wars
The very first event that started them all off.  A space villain called the Beyonder transports a lot of heroes and villains to a place called Battleworld and, unsurprisingly, forces them to fight each other. The Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-Man and Hulk all have important roles in this.  The important things to come out of it are that Spider-Man finds his black suit (the one that would later bond with Eddie Brock to give us Venom), and the X-Men's Colossus and Kitty Pryde end their relationship.

Secret Wars was followed in 1985 by Secret Wars II.  The Beyonder comes to Earth to achieve enlightenment but ends up working for the mob.  Earth's superheroes are naturally quite suspicious of him and when the earth is threatened they do what they do best and save the day.  This probably isn't the most important thing for you to read.

1986: Daredevil: Born Again
This is one of the most important Daredevil stories.  The Kingpin (a crime boss) sets about destroying Matt Murdock (Daredevil) physically, mentally and spiritually. Murdock rebuilds himself to become Daredevil once more.  This is written by Frank Miller, back when he was good and before he descended into self parody (do not read Holy Terror and only try All Star Batman and Robin once you are more familiar with the DC Universe).

There is an island called Genosha situated off the coast of Africa.  Genosha is wealthy but practices apartheid, enslaving its mutant population.  Five mutants, including Storm, are kidnapped by Genoshan soldiers and and turned into mindless slaves.  Several other X-Men head to Genosha to rescue them and topple the government.  This series had long-lasting effects on mutant-human relations within the Marvel Universe.  After this story, the United Nations gave Magneto control of the island.  In later years the mutant population and infrastructure was destroyed by Sentinals.
Thanos is one of Marvel's cosmic villains.  He was born on Titan and, after falling in love with Mistress Death, he seeks ultimate power.  He collects these things called Infinity Gems and mounts them on his glove - the Infinity Gauntlet of the series' title.  To impress Death he snaps his fingers and half of Earth's heroes die, then he pits the rest against each other.  Thanos and the Infinity Gems had a big part to play in the Guardians of the Galaxy film released in 2014.

This was followed by 1992's Infinity War and 1993's Infinity Crusade (vol 1 and vol 2).  These are about a guy named Adam Warlock who uses the Infinity Gems to create good and bad personas of himself.  In War he creates evil dopplegangers of Earth's heroes; in Crusade his good side (now female) brainwashes religious and mystic heroes into her army, intended to remove all evil from the world.

1994-1996: The Clone Saga
This is a Spider-Man story that went on and on and on.  It has affected every Spidey story since and is referenced often.  Spider-Man gets cloned, along with some of his villains.  People aren't sure who the real Peter Parker/Spidey is or why the clones are turning up.  Characters like Ben Reilly (a Parker clone) and Kaine (another Parker clone and a villain at this point in his history) were introduced here.  Interestingly, the alternate universe, named MC2, followed this arc up with the Spider-Girl series, reviewed here.

1995: Age of Apocalypse
This is an X-Men book about Charles Xavier's son, Legion.  Legion travels back in time to kill Magneto but Xavier saves Magneto's life (they were friends then).  The timeline is changed and Legion vanishes.  An immortal mutant called Apocalypse takes advantage and starts a war on humans. Only one person remembers how things should be: Bishop - another time travelling mutant. This story is going to form the 2016 X-Men movie, called X-Men: Apocalypse.

1996: Onslaught Saga (vol 1, vol 2vol 3 and vol 4)
Charles Xavier has had enough of Magneto's terrorism and finally shuts down his mind. Unfortunately Magneto's anger, grief and vengeance entered Xavier's mind and merged with his negative thoughts, resulting in a new personality called Onslaught.  Onslaught gradually emerges from Xavier and starts wreaking havoc on the world generally, and on the X-men specifically.

2004: Avengers Disassembled
A new writer, Brian Michael Bendis, takes over the series and radically changes the roster and the terms on which the Marvel heroes operate.  Heroes like the Vision, She-Hulk and Iron Man start acting unpredictably and violently.  It is revealed that someone else has been influencing them and the team disband, to reform as New Avengers, joined by Spider-Man and Wolverine.

2005: House of M
The series opens on the destroyed island of Genosha.  The Scarlet Witch is unable to control her reality altering powers.  The Avengers and the X-Men meet to discuss what to do.  Suddenly, the world turns white and everything has changed.  Mutants outnumber homo sapiens, Captain America was never frozen, Spider-Man is a celebrity and is married to Gwen Stacey.  Wolverine is the only one who remembers the world as it was.  When the world is restored to order there are huge changes to the mutant population.  We reviewed this book here.

2006: Marvel Cosmic covering Annihilation (2006), (Annihilation Conquest (2007), War of Kings (2009), Realm of Kings (2010) and Thanos Imperative (2010).
These are a set of quite long-running cosmic storylines involving Marvel's key space characters: Thanos, the Kree race, Skrulls, the Silver Surfer, Ronan the Accuser (as seen in the Guardians of the Galaxy film) and the Guardians themselves.

The Annihilation of the title refers to an Armada of warships wanting to take over the universe.  The above named characters want to stop them.  Conquest deals with the aftermath and more attempted genocides. War of Kings deals with the aftermath of 2008's Secret Invasion and a new cosmic war. Realm of Kings and Thanos Imperative are direct sequels.

2006: Civil War
The American government passes the Superhuman registration act, requiring all powered individuals to operate under a license or face gaol.  Iron Man leads the side in support of the act and Captain America leads the resistance.  It's not a Civil War in the sense that all citizens (powered or not) are fighting, but there's a lot of superhero fights.  This story is forming the basis of the third Captain America film, due for release in 2016.  We reviewed it here.

The Illuminati (a group composed of leaders of several heroic factions) decide that it's too dangerous to let the Hulk remain on Earth so they trick him into leaving and then exile him to a peaceful planet.  Unfortunately, his shuttle goes astray and he lands on a world where he is captured and forced to fight in gladiatorial style battles.  The Hulk escapes and sets about leading the rebels to freedom.

2007: Annihilation Conquest
See 2006's Marvel Cosmic.

2007: Messiah Complex
This is the first of 3 stories to deal with the fallout from House of M.  Messiah Complex sees the birth of the first child with the mutant gene since House of M, causing a rush to find and save or destroy the baby.

2007: The Death of Captain America
After 2006's Civil War, Captain America is taken into custody as per the Superhero Registration Act and is assassinated.  Bucky Barnes takes up the Captain America title.  Nazi villain the Red Skull starts an economic and physical attack on America and Sharon Carter is caught in the crossfire.

2007: World War Hulk
The Hulk comes back to Earth, not best pleased with being exiled, and takes his revenge.

In Civil War, Spidey (Peter Parker) sided with Iron Man and revealed his identity to the world.  Now Spidey's Aunt May has been shot and, desperate to save her, he makes a deal with the devil Mephisto.  Mephisto will save May's life but will change reality so Peter and Mary-Jane (MJ) were never married.  In so doing, he also removes everyone's knowledge of Spidey's secret identity (although it turns out Mary-Jane retains her knowledge). Splitting up MJ and Peter was very controversial and is included here because it made such a big difference to the Spider-Man stories that came after.

An alien race called the Skrulls are infiltrating earth.  They are shapeshifters and over the years have replaced many of Earth's own heroes.  This is the story of how they are discovered and how the fight back begins.  We reviewed one of the tie-ins here.

2009: Messiah War
Cyclops sends his secret X-Force team into the future in search of Cable and Bishop to save the first mutant born since House of M.

2009: War of Kings
See 2006's Marvel Cosmic.
2010: Realm of Kings
See 2006's Marvel Cosmic.
2010: Thanos Imperative
See 2006's Marvel Cosmic.

2010: Siege
This is a sequel to a storyline within the Avengers books, called Dark Reign, which occurred directly after 2008's Secret Invasion.  In it Norman Osborn (aka the Green Goblin, a Spider-Man villain) gains political control and power.  In Siege he invades Asgard, the realm of the Norse Gods.

2010: Second Coming
This is the conclusion to the Messiah X-Men stories.  Cable returns to the present day and the events of this story arc shake up the X titles.

2011: Fear Itself

The Asgardian God of Fear, known as the Serpent, is sowing discord and doubt amongst Marvel's superheroes.  This involves all major characters and a lot of the Norse Gods like Thor, Skadi and Odin.

2011: Schism
Mutants attack the UN building resulting in Sentinels being deployed to protect humans from mutants. Unfortunately, the Sentinels attack humans and mutants.  Cyclops and Wolverine disagree on how to handle this and the X-Men split into two factions.

2012: Avengers vs X-Men
 The Phoenix Force (which possessed Jean Grey way back in 1980) returns to Earth. The Avengers want to destroy it as they think it will destroy Earth.  The X-Men believe it will restore mutantkind to pre-House of M levels.  Fights ensue.

2012: The Amazing Spider-Man: Dying Wish
Doctor Octopus is terminally ill and sets out a plan to save him from death - he swaps his consciousness with Peter Parker (Spider-Man) so Peter dies in the Doc's body and the Doc inhabits Peter's body.  This led to the cancellation of the Amazing Spider-Man series and the launch of the new Superior Spider-Man series.

2013: Age of Ultron
Ultron is a robot created by Hank Pym (Ant-Man).  Ultron  destroys New York.  All heroes unite against him and embark on some time travelling, leading to possible alternate realities.  Has some similarities to the 2015 film. 

2013: Infinity 
Thanos (a cosmic supervillain) attacks Earth whilst the Avengers are dealing with another crisis in space - they are fighting a race known as the Builders who are confronting Earth in response to Age of Ultron.  It was followed by the Inhumanity series.

2014: Original Sin
The Marvel Universe has a character called Uatu who is known as The Watcher.  He's a cosmic being who turns up at key moments in the Marvel Universe to observe events.  In Original Sin he is murdered and Nick Fury leads an investigation to find his killer.  The series ends with Fury dying and being replaced by a younger version of himself.  This wasn't very highly regarded but is important to know about if you plan on buying current Marvel titles.  Another note - Nick Fury in the main universe (the 616) is white.  The Ultimate universe has a black Fury, but that's an entirely different continuity. In the 616 universe, Nick Fury does have a son, Nick Fury Jr, who is black. 

2014: Death of Wolverine
Wolverine has lost his healing factor and only has a few months to live.  This is highly unlikely to be a permanent death.

2014: Axis
  The Nazi villain, the Red Skull, has had Charles Xavier's (Professor X) brain implanted in his head. Together, the two of them become a new Onslaught who uses his telepathic abilities to spread hate across the world.  The Avengers and the X-men battle him. The Marvel editorial team was quite clearly high when they came up with this one.

2015: Secret Wars
This event is due to start in May 2015 and will see the regular (616) universe and the Ultimate universe, plus many other different multiverses, comes together in a place called Battleworld (the same Battleworld from the original 1984 Secret Wars series). Characters who survive will form a new continuity starting in October 2015, making it entirely possible that all events described above are no longer relevant in the new universe.

Marvel has a few different universes which stories take place in.  The main ones are:

  • 616 - The universe in which all above stories take place.
  • Ultimate universe - Launched in 2010, this universe was intended to tell different stories to the 616 reality, or retell 616 stories in a new, more modern manner.  Some series were more successful than others.
  • Zombies - this started in 2005 and has a zombie virus infecting the citizens of this universe.  Many, many series have been created since then, where everybody gets turned into a zombie and goes hunting brains.
With very many thanks to @feemcbee for help compiling this and providing fact checking.

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