Comic events are all the rage today, but it wasn’t always like that. Since Action Comics #1 hit the scene back in June 1938, superheroes have been the bread and butter of the comic book industry. During the intense highs and the very lows, companies could always rely on superheroes to save the day. Today comic book companies rely on event or tent pole mini-series to help pad sales. Events have really taken off in the past decade, but where did this all begin?
It was not uncommon for team books to exist even back during the Golden Age of comics (1930s to early 50s). The idea of taking several big heroes and slapping them together in one comic almost always assured increased sales. This was how the Justice League was originally created in 1960. Long before that, the very first crossover ever was with Timely Comics’ (later became Marvel Comics) The Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner in Marvel Mystery Comics #8-9 (June/July 1940). Crossovers were smart, and certainly increased sales, but the idea of an actual event comic series wasn’t used until much later, and for a completely different reason altogether.
In 1984, Marvel Comics wanted to have a strong toy presence. DC had been making loads of cash with their deal with Kenner, who licensed DC characters for their toys. Mattel had Master of the Universe, and wanted to extend their branding with Marvel toys. At the time the Editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics was Jim Shooter, and he came up with the idea of having just about all the heroes and enemies of their entire comic line come together in one giant “event” that would change the very fabric of the Marvel universe. Naturally they would directly link this to the toy line they were having made for them by Mattel. That’s how Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars was conceived. That little piece of history is almost forgotten in today’s multi-million dollar events, but the original point behind all of this was to make a successful line of toys. Nifty, no?
Secret Wars would become an instant sales blockbuster. It also had a major impact on the future of the Marvel universe and all the characters in it. Spider-Man would get his black costume, which eventually led to the creation of Venom. There would be other significant changes made to the lineup of the Avengers, Uncanny X-Men, etc. Needless to say, this was revolutionary stuff back in ’84.
The twelve issue series wrapped up in April 1985, and was quickly followed up with another massive event the same year, Secret Wars II. Sadly it wasn’t quite as successful or had as big an impact. This was mainly because the first issue was released in July 1985, which means not as much thought was put into it. The point here is that the seeds for the future were firmly planted.
Not to be outdone, and seeing the tremendous success Marvel had with Secret Wars, DC Comics followed suit and released their first major crossover event called Crisis on Infinite Earths in April 1985. Seeing that Marvel was able to make major changes to their universe and fans flocked to it, DC decided to simplify their over 50 years of continuity by streamlining all their changes into this one storyline. From that point forward, much like Marvel, the company’s future would be solidified.
Events have been used at least once every decade since these two early examples, but when Marvel decided to pit hero against hero in the huge 2006-2007 event, Civil War, comics broke ground and achieved new heights. Not only was this the single most successful comic mini-series released in the last decade, but it had the biggest impact any event has had since the 80s. It also laid the groundwork for all future events to come, from both Marvel and DC. After Civil War Marvel and DC have relied on huge comic events every single year.
Last year DC rebooted their entire comic line ending with the Flashpoint event, and Marvel pushed forward with Fear Itself, which led into this summer’s Avengers vs. X-Men. Needless to say, comic events are the new norm, and while the lasting ramifications aren’t anywhere as finite as they were years ago, they still bring in the readers and more importantly, the big bucks.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this little trip down memory lane. I plan to start covering the biggest events in comic history over the next few days and weeks for those interested in seeing where the comic industry came from, and where everything is heading now. It’s hard to believe that it was the toy industry that completely changed the comic industry forever. That’s one secret that really did change everything.