Marvel Events Part IX: Everything Changes

by GregFahlgren

Part IX of my ongoing series examining the major crossover events in the history of Marvel Comics.

By the end of the 90s and into the early 2000s, Marvel (along with the rest of the comic book industry for that matter) was in rough shape. Sales had dropped so significantly, Marvel was seriously considering selling some of its major licences, including the X-Men (that right there should tell you how bad things were). Brian Michael Bendis once described, “When I started at Marvel, they were selling file cabinets in the lobby.”

Now, there is a larger story concerning this turbulent time for comic books biggest and most beloved publisher, but that’s not the point of this series, so I'll just say that Marvel needed to get something going or they may have had to shut down completely. After a some soul searching, they launched the Ultimate Marvel line, which revitalized the company. Again, there is a bigger story there for another time, but that was the first step in a road to recover for the publisher. Back in the main Marvel U, there needed to be a shake up however, and that shake up came when scribe Brian Michael Bendis was put on the Avengers books. This move lead to one of the greatest runs in comic book history, kickstarting a resurgence for the company. The stories featured in today's edition were the starting point of this renaissance, so without further ado, let's get started shall we?

Secret War

Crossing the Line

Our first story takes us deep into the mind Colonel Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD and Marvel’s resident one-eyed super spy. Fury had always been one of Marvel’s more morally ambigious characters, his methods often putting him at odds with the world’s heroes, no matter whether they helped keep the world safe or not. Despite this, Fury has always been on the side of good for the most part, keeping the world safe no matter what methods he has to employ. It is that very principle that Secret War focuses one, and also what leads Nick to make a fateful decision that would change the course of his life and the Marvel Universe forever.

Our story begins when Fury discovers a secret plot by Latverian Prime Minister Lucia von Bardas to fund a group of b-list supervillains to terrorize the American populace. While this doesn’t sound like a big problem (they are b-listers after all), but Fury also learns that von Bardas is supplying these villains with Doom-tech, making them ten times as dangerous as before. Fury goes to the White House to get authorization to overthrow the Latverian Parliament, but the President refuses on the grounds that his administration were the ones who but von Bardas in power, and would not go back on their sponsorship in fear of the political blowback.

This complacency infuriates the Director, seeing it as the same kind of weakness that lead to previous terrorist attacks. Left without any other options, Fury takes matters into his own hands and assembles a team of operatives to strike at Latveria before von Bardas has a chance to complete his plan. His team includes Black Widow, Wolverine, Daisy Johnson, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Luke Cage and Captain America. The details of their attempt are not told exactly, all that is really know is that it was ultimately a failure. In the aftermath, Fury had everyone’s memories erased (sans Johnson and Widow), so no one would know what they had done.

A year later, von Bardas retaliated by launching an attack on New York City, though thanks to Fury’s efforts, no one understood why except for Black Widow, Johnson and himself. The superheroes of NYC rally and defeat the invasion, sending von Bardas and her robot army back to Latveria. After the battle, Captain America demands answers from Fury. They are soon joined by Wolverine and the X-Men, Logan so enraged by realizing Fury had his memories wiped again that he attacks Fury. However, as Logan tears the Director apart, the heroes soon see that the Nick Fury in front of them was a Life Model Decoy. Through it, Fury reveals everything he had done, but regrets nothing, stating that his actions were for the greater good. Though the authorities search for him, they find nothing, and SHIELD is left under the care of Maria Hill.

Secret War was the start of a long series of events for Marvel, Bendis at the helm for most of them. It established Maria Hill as the new Director of SHIELD, and further examined Fury’s ambiguous nature, as well as his place in the larger Marvel U. It also began the road to Civil War, Fury’s actions and the attack on NYC leading many to question the true merits of a superhero community.

Avengers Disassembled

The Unthinkable...

The Avengers. Marvel’s flagship team. The X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Defenders, all great teams with great stories, each one holding a unique and important place the grand tapestry that is the Marvel Universe. However, no team has ever been at the forefront more times and in more dire situations with more at stake than the Avengers. The team has gone through quite the roster changes over the years, members joining and leaving seemingly at will, but no matter who makes up the team, they’ve always been there to protect the world from threats no single hero could ever stand against.

But what would happen if the Avengers were no more? What would it take? And who, if anyone, could destroy the team that has defeated conqueror’s, gods, and alien armies?

Brian Bendis answers these questions with our next big story, Avengers Disassembled. While Secret War was written around the same time and had some pretty dire consequences of its own, Disassembled is the event that started Marvel down a path that no one could have ever predicted.

The story starts as it frequently does for the Avengers as the famed Avengers Mansion, their home and headquarters for over forty years. Jack of Hearts, who appears to be a zombie after sacrificing his life to save Ant-Man’s daughter, approaches the mansion, setting off the intruder alarms. Ant-Man approaches Jack who then explodes, killing Ant-Man and destroying half the mansion. Meanwhile, the Vision crashes the Quinjet onto the site, attacking the survivors with an army of Ultron bots. The surviving Avengers rally and fight them off, but She-Hulk is thrown into a rage and rips Vision apart, destroying him. Elsewhere, Tony Stark is at the UN for an address, and in the middle of his presentation, he begins to act drunk, and threatens threatening the Latverian ambassador despite not having anything to drink. With everyone in disarray, every Avenger that could be found arrives at the mansion just as a Kree warship attacks. After a horrific battle, Hawkeye sacrifices himself to take the Kree ship down, saving the team at the cost of his life.

In the aftermath, Doctor Strange arrives at the mansion’s ruins, and reluctantly announces that long-time Avenger Scarlet Witch is behind the attacks. He explains that following the death of her children, Wanda had become increasingly erratic. Compounding the issue, the use of reality warping powers were slowly driving her insane. In her state, she believes that the Avengers had taken her children away from her, and she will do anything to stop them from doing so again.

Captain America leads a team to reason with her, but her madness had developed too far, and thinking that they were there to take her children away again, she attacks them. In the end, Doctor Strange is able to place her into a hypnotic trance, rendering her unconscious. Magneto comes to take her away for care, admitting his own fault as a father. The Avengers reluctantly let him take her before returning home to pick up the pieces.

Sadly, Tony announces that his drunken tirade at the UN had put his company in financial jeopardy. As such, can no longer fund both the Avengers and maintain control of Stark Industries, effectively bankrupting the team. With no finances to rebuild the mansion combined with the shock of results of Scarlet Witch’s actions, the Avengers reluctantly disband, and for the first time in nearly forty years, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes could not stand as one.

Coming right out of the gate, Bendis and his team reset the status quo for Marvel’s top team. Though many fans were angry at the treatment of Scarlet Witch, this story laid the groundwork for much of the next decade and beyond. In the aftermath, a new team was founded under the name New Avengers, eventually leading to Iron Man and Captain America reforming the original team after a long time apart. However, Scarlet Witch’s story wasn’t finished yet, and soon Bendis would take us into the next chapter, ending with three little words...

Planet Hulk

Exiled

The Hulk has been a force of destruction for many, many years in Marvel. As a reluctant and somewhat unpredictable hero, he was a founding member of both the Avengers and the Defenders, and whether with them or by himself has saved the world many, many times. However, more and more it seemed that Banner was losing control of his alter ego, leading to more destruction, and innocent victims were often unable to get out of the way of the Hulk’s rage.

In the end, the Illuminati thought they had found a solution to the problem. In a painful decision they trapped Hulk on a spaceship, and launched him into deep space, his ship aiming for a uninhabited jungle world where Hulk could finally get what he had always wanted: left alone. Though pained, they took solace in the fact that no one could get hurt by the Hulk anymore, especially himself.

However, things went awry when his ship passed through a wormhole, taking Hulk to the planet Sakaar. The shuttle crashes, and Hulk is immediately set upon by slavers working the for the world’s ruler, the Red King. They fix him with an obedience disk and take him away, imprisoning him in the arena so he can fight for the Red King’s pleasure. In his first fight, the Red King scars him, and the Hulk responds in kind, earning himself a powerful enemy. He meets some friends however, forming a warbound pact with his fellow gladiators in the hopes of surviving the arena and earning their freedom.

Eventually, Sakaar’s resistance offers Hulk a chance to join them, but he declines. In the aftermath, the Red King forces Hulk to fight former Defenders ally Silver Surfer, who had been captured and fixed with a control disk. During the battle, Hulk manages to break Surfer’s disk. Surfer, now free, summons the Power Cosmic, and destroys every control disk in the arena, allowing the slaves and gladiator’s to escape, including Hulk.

On the run, Hulk and his Warbound are pursued by the Red King’s lieutenant, Caiera. During this time, it is revealed that the people of Sakaar believe Hulk to be a prophecised saviour, a claim that the Hulk refutes. Caiera eventually catches up to them, but during a fight with the Hulk, spikes begin to rain down on the local village, mutating everyone they hit and turning them into monsters. Caiera rushes back to the Red King only to discover that he had sent the spikes there. Horrified, Caiera joins the Hulk as he leads a raid on the Red King’s capital. The battle ensues, culminating in one on one battle between the Red King and the Hulk, ending in the former’s death. By virtue of his victory, Hulk reluctantly becomes King and not-so-reluctantly marries Caiera, and together they settle down to rule over Sakaar

But just as peace was settling in, tragedy struck. Elsewhere on the planet, the shuttle Hulk landed in was being transformed into a monument. Unfortunately, its self-destruct sequence activates, detonating its warp core and destroying the capital, killing thousands, including Caiera. Enraged beyond anything he has ever felt, Hulk blames the Avengers for this crime, and along with the Warbound, head to Earth to seek vengeance...

Planet Hulk was the start of a long and successful run for Greg Pak on the book, which saw multiple huge events involving the Hulk and his respective family. What’s unique about this tale is that it barely involves Hulk’s alter ego Bruce Banner at all, Pak telling the story completely through Hulk’s experience, fleshing out the Jade Giant more deeply than he had been in years. This story would lead to several large events for Marvel, revitalizing the Hulk’s status as one of the company’s biggest and most prominent characters.

House of M

Every Wish Fulfilled

When you look at Avengers Disassembled, one might think, “That changes the status quo for Marvel more than anything ever could.” And in the months that followed, one would have been correct. But Bendis and company would follow up on that storyline with an ever bigger and more universe shattering event: House of M.

Since her defeat in Disassembled, Scarlet Witch had been placed under the care of Professor X and Magneto on Genosha. Unable to help her, Professor X holds a meeting with the Avengers, X-Men, and several other independent heroes such as Spider-Man among others to decide what to do about Wanda. The debate goes back and forth, some seeing no alternative but to kill her, while others arguing that they had to find a way to a way to suppress her power and/or insanity, the consequences of every suggestion weighed and measured. Eventually, the group decides that if they are going to do something, they would have to speak to Wanda herself. Before this mega group of heroes arrives at Genosha however, Quicksilver goes on ahead to warn Magneto. Much to Pietro’s, Magneto cannot bring himself to do anything, blaming himself for everything. Quicksilver is left alone with his sister, at loss of what to do. Soon thereafter, the heroes arrive, each one fearing the outcome of this meeting for a multitude of reasons. However, soon after they arrive, the heroes begin disappearing in white flashes, Spider-Man being the last.

The story continues on, and we find our heroes in a new world, a world in which everyone’s greatest desires were fulfilled. The most prominent of these however is that mutants are now the dominant species in the world, ruled over by Magneto and his family, known as the House of M. Somehow though, Wolverine’s memories awaken, and he realizes that this new reality has to be a product of the Scarlet Witch and her magic, likely with the influence of her father. Along with a young mutant named Layla Miller, he seeks out the other Avengers and X-Men, hoping to stop whatever Magneto had used Scarlet Witch to do, and bring back the original timeline.

Together, the heroes go to Genosha and start a massive battle with the House of M. During the chaos, Doctor Strange discovers from Wanda that it was Quicksilver who was responsible for all this, asking her to create a reality where everyone was happy so that the Avengers and X-Men wouldn’t kill her. Meanwhile, Layla reveals to Magneto the truth, and he flies into a rage, nearly killing Quicksilver before Scarlet Witch interferes, decrying her father for wanting this instead of his children safe. Her insanity, anger, and despair combined in one horrible moment as she drew the full force of her powers and uttered the three words that would the fate of the mutant race forever...

“No More Mutants.”

In a brilliant white flash, the world is returned to its normal state, but with one major caveat: The mutant population is decimated, thousands of mutants around the globe finding themselves powerless. Only 198 retained their powers, and were effectively made into an endangered species. The remaining X-Men find Magneto, who is now powerless and filled with despair over his daughter’s actions, blaming himself for the horror he had brought down on his own people. With Wanda and Pietro nowhere to be found, the Avengers and X-Men try to pick up the pieces, the world irrevocably changed forever.

House of M changed the course of Marvel history forever, the seeds sown for a decade of stories to follow across the Marvel U. Along with the decimation (no pun intended) of the mutant population, there were a number of smaller, yet important consequences of Scarlet Witch’s actions. Her magic broke through all of Wolverine’s mental blocks, forcing him to remember everything about his life in horrifying detail. Additionally, it is revealed that Hawkeye might still be alive, though how or in what form was not yet determined.

As game changing as House of M was though, the domino effects were still yet to be felt, as Marvel marched on to an even bigger crisis in the aftermath, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Annihilation

The Galaxy at War

While Brian Bendis was redefining the Marvel Universe at large, Marvel was also making a concentrated effort to expand on its Cosmic books, starting with the famed event, Annihilation.

The story begins with the Annihilation Wave, a massive fleet of warships led by Negative Zone bad guy Annihilus, exploded out of the The Crunch (point in space where the Universe and the Negative Zone meet). Annihilus uses his minions to annex the immediate systems, prompting the Nova Corps to rise up against him. They were overmatched however and along with their home planet of Xandar, were utterly destroyed save for Richard Rider of Earth.

After Xandar’s destruction, Rider, now empowered by the entirety of the Nova Force and becoming known as Nova Prime, allies with Drax the Destroyer and Cammi (a ten-year old girl that Drax has somehow befriended). They head to the next star system where they find Quasar. Together they hold off the Wave the system evacuates. Though they succeed Quasar is absorbed by Annihilus, who inherits the hero’s Quantum Bands.

Wanting more, Annihilus dispatches his Seekers to find the Silver Surfer so that he may gain control of the Power Cosmic. Surfer manages to avoid them, allying with other former heralds of Galactus. Realizing that he cannot allow Galactus’s power to be controlled by Annihilus, he reluctantly becomes the World Eater’s Herald once again.

Elsewhere, Ronan the Accuser is on a quest Tana Nile, the woman who had falsely accused him of crimes that got him exiled by the Kree Empire. He learns that she has allied with Gamora, who now possesses the Power Cosmic and leading a small team of powerful women. Ronan fights them to get to Tana, but it was all a plow by Glorian (one of Gamora’s supposed allies) to siphon their energies to reshape the world of Godthab Omega. However, just as her plan was about to succeed, the Wave arrives, forcing the enemies to unite against it to save the planet. During the battle, Tana Nile is killed, preventing Ronan from ever proving his innocence. Nevertheless, he returns to the Kree Empire after Godthab Omega is saved, violating his exile to warn them of what is coming.

Eventually, Nova Prime, along with Galactus and a host of others form the United Front to stand against Annihilus, who had now allied with the Mad Titan, Thanos. The opposes forces engage in a huge battle, during which it is reported that Galactus and Silver Surfer were incapacitated. Though the United Front battles valiantly, Annihilus uses the imprisoned Galactus as a weapon to finally break and defeat the Front, leaving Nova Prime to send a desperate message to Earth to warn it’s heroes about what is coming.

Afterwards, Thanos discovers Annihilus’s plans to destroy the universe, and moves to betray him. However, he is intercepted and killed by Drax, who then frees Surfer who in turn frees Galactus. Enraged beyond measure, Galactus uses his power to generate the “Galactus event” that destroys the Wave and the surrounding three star systems. With his army destroyed, Annihilus enters into a final battle with Nova Prime, Phyla-Vell and Peter Quill (Star-Lord to all you Guardian fans out there). Phyla manages to steal the Quantum bands from Annihilus, giving Nova the opening to finish him off. In the aftermath, Ravenous, one of Annihilus’s wives and now de facto leader of the Wave, signs a treaty with the Kree, gaining some territory from the Empire. Both sides leave unhappy, foreshadowing that this wasn’t over yet.

Annihilation was the first blockbuster event in the Marvel Cosmic line, and was an instant hit with fans and critics alike. Using nearly every Cosmic based Marvel character out there, it was an unprecedented story that changed the landscape of the galaxy’s politics at large. It is also famous for the destruction of the Nova Corps, leaving Richard Rider the sole Nova left in the galaxy, a move that is still considered controversial by certain fans. Like House of M though, Annihilation was only the start, leading to a long series of massive events for Marvel’s Cosmic line.

Civil War

How did it come to this?

Written by the incomparable Mark Millar, Civil War was the culmination of years of destruction and chaos caused by the superhero community. The attack on New York during Secret War, the events of M-Day, the Hulk’s constant string of devastation, and countless other events were raising public sentiment that these “heroes” had to be brought under control.

The anti-hero sentiment had been building for a while, Earth’s heroes feeling it growing day by day, but leaving it alone, thinking that given enough time, it would pass over. Sadly, it did not, coming to a head when the New Warriors failed to stop a villain team while on camera, a battle which ended with villain Nitro destroying several city blocks and the deaths of over six hundred civilians. This was the final straw, and in response the US Government created the Superhero Registration Act, an act that would require any and all heroes acting within the United States to register themselves. This divided the superhero community like never before, some staunchly opposing the measure, while others whole-heartedly supported it, drawing a line in the sand that if crossed could mean a conflict that once started, there would be no turning back.

On the pro-registration side stood Iron Man, who although he had tried to stop the act initially, saw the good it could do, and threw his weight behind it. Opposing him was Captain America, one of his closest friends and along with Thor, the two men that had led the Avengers together for over forty years. Tony and his allies argued that with the present being what it was, resisting the authorities was counterproductive, and that potential heroes needed training and oversight in order to make sure collateral damage could be avoided. Cap and his allies however countered this argument, stating that the secret identities heroes maintain protected aspects of their “normal” lives, such as family and friends. They also argued that by acting without government oversight or control, they could act quickly and without hesitation against threats normal emergency services weren’t prepared for.

Despite this opposition, the Act went through, and SHIELD was put to the task of enforcing it. This didn’t deter the anti-registration side, who went on tear, defeating numerous villains and leaving them for the authorities to find, proving that they don’t need oversight to operate safely and efficiently. The pro-registration side however won several victories of their own, tracking down super-powered individuals and arresting them to great public approval. The two sides had yet to come into direct conflict with one another though, Iron Man and Cap’s forces staying out of each other’s way. Neither wanted an incident, friends on both sides still hoping that a peaceful solution could be found. But as with most wars, all that was needed was a spark to light the flame.

That spark came from an unlikely source. Somehow, Tony managed to convince Spider-Man to reveal his secret identity, an identity that Peter Parker had worked very hard to keep. This action lead Captain America to form the Secret Avengers with the goal of working against the Registration Act, raising the tensions between the two sides even further than before.

Everything came to a head when Cap lead the Secret Avengers into an ambush by pro-registration forces. Cap argued with Tony, telling him how wrong this whole thing was, and that he should wake up to what he was doing. Tony, despite his own doubts towards his actions, stood firm however, justifying his position despite the logic of Cap’s argument. By the end, both me realized they were never going to see eye to eye, but wanted to avoid a fight. They went to shake hands, seemingly coming to some kind of agreement, but as their hands touched Cap activated a device that disabled Iron Man’s armour, rendering him helpless to stop Cap from levelling him. An all out brawl erupted between the two sides leaving the public in shock at the actions of their heroes. During the battle, a clone of Thor was ordered to help arrest the anti-registration heroes, but instead kills Goliath. While Iron Man’s forces try to get the clone under control, the Secret Avengers escape.

As big as it was, that battle was just the warm up. Spider-Man discovers that Iron Man and Mr Fantastic had constructed a prison to hold the super powered persons that refused to register. Disgusted by how far Stark had gone, Spidey switches sides, telling Cap about what Iron Man and his allies had planned. This all leads to the final battle between the two sides in New York, friends fighting friends in a fight to the finish. By the end, Captain America had Iron Man beaten, but just as he was about to deliver the final blow, New York’s emergency services arrived to intervene, protecting Iron Man from the now wanted criminal. In that moment, Cap realizes what he and Tony’s actions had brought them to, and unwilling to let it go any further, he surrenders himself, ending the Civil War.

Sadly, it wasn’t the end. Within weeks of his arrest, Captain America was assassinated while being escorted to his trial. The superhero community was stunned, the cost of the conflict far greater than they ever could have thought, and every hero on both sides finding themselves questioning what had lead them to this. As for Iron Man, Tony was inconsolable. In a heartbreaking scene, Iron Man is scene talking to Cap’s body, explaining his actions and regrets before declaring tearfully, “It wasn’t worth it.”

The ramifications of this storyline were both immediate and far-reaching. Cap’s death lead to Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, taking up his former mentor’s mantle, as well as becoming the leader of the Secret Avengers. Tony on the other hand became head of SHIELD, while Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman left the Fantastic Four. In addition, the New Avengers went underground, leaving Iron Man to form a new team to replace them with Ms Marvel leading. There was peace however, though if you’ve learned anything by reading this series, is that peace in Marvel doesn’t last long.

Conclusion

Just the Beginning...

As I stated in the intro, Marvel and the comic book industry at large were in rough shape at the beginning of the new millennium. The stories I spoke of in today’s episode however helped get things back on track, beginning a resurgence for the company, and creating some of the biggest and most memorable stories in comic book history.

Thanks for checking this out everyone, and as always, HAPPY READING!!

Read the Complete Series!

First chapter of a series of blogs detailing the Events and Crossovers of the Marvel Universe.
Continuing from Part I, I explore the important cross-over events of Marvel's Silver Age
Examining the major Marvel Crossovers and Storylines from the 70s into the mid-80s.
Returning to the Marvel U, and examining the BOOM of crossover event comics.
Continuing study of the biggest events in Marvel's long history.
Continuing with my special series talking about Marvel's Crossover Events.
Continuing ongoing series talking about major Marvel Events as we hit the mid-90s!
Continuing Marvel's journey through it's major crossover story lines as the company enters the new Millenium.
Updated: 11/17/2015, GregFahlgren
 
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