Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Fit to Be Tied In: A History of Marvel Crossovers and Events - Part 1: Secret Wars and Annual Events

Welcome to the first of a multipart series breaking down the history of Marvel’s many crossovers, from 1984’s Secret Wars to 2015’s Secret Wars. For the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at the highs and the lows of the company’s biggest events, the stories that had you saying everything from “Oh man, the Watcher just showed up; this must be important” to “I don’t care who’s in it, I’m not buying this Moon Knight Infinity Crusade tie-in issue.”

The original Marvel crossover event series, 1984’s 12-issue Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, came about because Marvel needed a toy line. Then Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter has been on record as saying Mattel wanted to produce a toy line for Marvel, but only if Marvel could tie it to a publishing event. Also, focus-grouped children really like the words “secret” and “wars.” So Shooter and artists Mike Zeck and Bob Layton crafted a story that was the rough equivalent of what happens when my 3-year-old pulls out his Imaginext figures: All the good guys and all the bad guys fight each other.

The wars start after an entity called the Beyonder pulls a whole bunch of good guys and bad guys to a place called Battleworld and makes them fight. Among the heroes are Monica Rambeau, Storm, Captain America, Mr. Fantastic, the Wasp, the Hulk, Cyclops, Professor X, Wolverine, Thor, the Thing, Iron Man, Rogue, Spider-Man, a not-yet-converted Magneto, She-Hulk, Hawkeye, Colossus, Nightcrawler and the Human Torch. Repping the bad guys were Galactus, the Enchantress, Ultron, the Absorbing Man, the Wrecking Crew, the Lizard, Dr. Octopus, Dr. Doom, Kang and Molecule Man.

Amid all the fighting, a few significant things happen. Spider-Man gets a new black costume you may be familiar with. Colossus falls in love with an alien and subsequently breaks the heart of Kitty Pryde, who was too young for him anyway. The Thing decides to hang out in space for a while, and She-Hulk takes his place on the Fantastic Four. Subsequently, Alicia Masters starts dating the Human Torch, but it’s later revealed “Alicia” was really a Skrull named Lyja.

A sequel the following year by Shooter and Al Milgrom saw the Beyonder come to Earth, tick off Mephisto, work as a mob enforcer and hit on totally ’80s mutants Dazzler and Boom-Boom.

The next companywide crossovers would take place in Marvel’s annuals – double-sized, multistory issues that come out once a year with their own numbering sequence. In 1988 and 1989, the annuals told one sweeping story across a vast number of books. The following three years, they were broken down into groups of three to five.

Marvel’s 1988 crossover was called “The Evolutionary War.” The main baddie of the war was the High Evolutionary, a guy in a pink metal suit who lives on a mountain and likes to experiment on people in the name of evolution. As evolution-based Marvel villains go, the High Evolutionary ranks pretty low on the list, certainly below the big guy in the blue armor who’s obsessed with survival of the fittest and the albino with the red diamond on his forehead and the fringed cape who commands an army of cloned Marauders.

Speaking of Apocalypse, "The Evolutionary War" actually begins in X-Factor with the High Evolutionary arguing philosophies and fighting with En Sabah Nur. It goes on to include the Punisher, Silver Surfer, New Mutants, Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, Web of Spider-Man, West Coast Avengers, Spectacular Spider-Man, Avengers, and, finally, the 1980s sitcom alien, Alf. Guys, Alf met the High Evolutionary. Not only that, his Highness tried to tie the explosion of Alf’s home planet, Melmac, to the Phoenix Force.

Marvel tried a second companywide annual crossover in 1989 with “Atlantis Attacks,” a story about a ridiculous plot to revive an ancient serpent god that at some point involves the underwater kingdom of Atlantis. “Attacks” upped the ante from the Evolutionary War, consisting of 14 books to the previous story’s 11 (not including Alf). Books involved include Silver Surfer, Iron Man, Uncanny X-Men, Amazing Spider-Man, Punisher, Spectacular Spider-Man, Daredevil, Avengers, New Mutants, X-Factor, Web of Spider-Man, West Coast Avengers, Thor, and Fantastic Four.

1990’s annuals were broken up by family. “Days of Future Present” crossed over Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants, and Fantastic Four. “Lifeform” crossed over the Punisher, Daredevil, Incredible Hulk, and Silver Surfer. “Spidey’s Totally Tiny Adventure” traversed the three Spider-Man books. And “The Terminus Factor” crossed over Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Avengers, and West Coast Avengers.

1991 gave us “The Von Strucker Gambit” (Captain America, Daredevil, Punisher), “The Korvac Quest” (Fantastic Four, Thor, Silver Surfer, Guardians of the Galaxy), “Kings of Pain” (New Mutants, New Warriors, Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor), “The Vibranium Vendetta” (the Spidey titles) and “Subterranean Wars” (Avengers, Hulk, Namor, Iron Man, West Coast Avengers).

Finally, 1992 saw “Shattershot” (Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force), “Return of the Defenders” (Hulk, Silver Surfer, Namor, Dr. Strange), “The System Bytes” (Punisher, Daredevil, Wonder Man, Guardians of the Galaxy), “Assault on Armor City” (Iron Man, Darkhawk, West Coast Avengers), “The Hero Killers” (the Spideys and New Warriors), and “Citizen Kang” (Captain America, Avengers, Thor, Fantastic Four).

In Part 2, we’ll tackle the X-crossovers of the 1980s and early 1990s, from the "Mutant Massacre" to "The Muir Island Saga." Expect the X-books to take up an outsize portion of this series.

Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.

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