When I was growing up I enjoyed reading Marvel way more than I enjoyed reading DC. There are a few reasons for that. For example, most of the Marvel characters were created two to three decades after the DC characters so they tend to be more complex. Chris Sims over at ComicsAlliance.com explores how that makes Spider-Man a better character than Batman. In short, by the time Marvel was coming out with its marquee characters in the 1960s, the kids who grew up reading comics wanted something a little more adult and complex. And the original hipsters thought it was edgy to read comics in college.
Even more than the complex characters, what drew me in was how expansive and real the Marvel universe seemed. Over in DC, Batman lived in Gotham City and Superman in Metropolis and rarely did they meet. In fact, much has been made of Metropolis and Gotham representing the best and worst of large cities, respectively. It’s also telling that it’s almost “always” night in Gotham and day in Metropolis. Meanwhile, nearly all of Marvel’s heroes operate out of New York City. It makes sense, given that the comic book industry is run out of NYC and they were writing within the city they knew, even if it makes for the occasional joke about how there should be 0 crime in a city with such a hero density. And, in a recent Uncanny X-Men, someone remarked that they’d moved out to the midwest of the USA to avoid the constant destruction of the city when the heroes and villains fight.
At any rate, it’s not uncommon for the heroes to run into each other even when there aren’t events going on. I have the John Byrne Fantastic Four omnibus and Spider-Man makes an appearance in the first story in that collection, for example. But events are exciting to us fans because it’s a chance for the entire universe to get involved.
The first, and biggest, event I ever experienced was Onslaught. This story from the 1990s was the beginning of the end of Professor X’s Marty Stu status within the Marvel Universe. He had recently committed the controversial act of turning off Magneto’s mind. After all, the worst thing a telepath can do is mess around with someone’s mind like that - it’s like mental rape. This caused all of Xavier’s repressions to come out and his mind formed the entity known as Onslaught. Eventually he’s able to make it manifest in the physical plane. He kidnaps Franklin Richards for his reality altering powers, dragging the Fantastic Four into the event. He then takes over Manhattan which ends up involving The Avengers, Spider-Man, and SHIELD. Also, at one point in the story - Hulk.
I really liked how this story was told - it basically bounced around all the X-Men comics: X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Cable, X-Man, X-Factor and so on. And occasionally an issue of Fantastic Four, Hulk, or Avengers. It was generally very easy to follow the flow of the story and, with very few exceptions, the reader was never left wondering exactly where something fit into the story. Most importantly, every issue involved in the event moved it forward. You never felt like you had wasted money on a comic that had “Onslaught” on the cover. But that was nearly 20 years ago. Let’s take a look at what the industry is doing nowadays.
Ever since I started reading comics again in 2011 I have experienced Fear Itself, Avengers vs X-Men, and the mini-event Spider-Island on the Marvel side. In DC I’ve experienced Flashpoint and the Night of the Owls mini-event. Does one company do events better than the other? Let’s start with Marvel.
For someone getting into comics for the first time or getting back into comics like me, Fear Itself was a very confusing event. There was a maxi-series called Fear Itself that contained the main story. There were a bunch of mini-series such as Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force. Finally, the event took place within the pages of regular series like Uncanny X-Men. I know at the end of the day that the comic book companies are just trying to make as much money as possible, but I think doing things this way puts an undue financial burden on the reader. I prefer for the event to take place within the main pages of the series involved because otherwise the reader ends up having to buy both Uncanny X-Force and Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force. I think if characters are involved in an event, they should have to interrupt their usual story. But doing things this way also makes it hard to piece together a coherent story. And, if the point of events is to tell an epic story - the story should fit together as a whole. So when you see the same character seemingly appearing everywhere in a story such that it can’t work in the narrative, you’ve messed up.
The Spider-Island mini-event was interesting because for the most part it took place in Amazing Spider-Man and Venom and it was pretty clear when everything took place. There were also mini-series involved, but in Spider-Island they were mostly just side-stories and could have safely been ignored. Additionally, these mini-series weren’t really annoying or a burden to the reader because they focused on characters that did not have a series running at the time - like Cloak and Dagger. It worked story-wise as well as marketing-wise. We got to see characters we don’t often see and Marvel got to see if there was a demand for them. So that event was a lot more enjoyable for me to read.
Now the main event of 2012 is Avengers vs X-Men. This event seems to be a hybrid between the old style (as seen in Onslaught) and new style (as seen in Fear Itself) and I think it works very well that way. As with Fear Itself, there is a main series called Avengers vs X-Men. Again, I’m not a huge fan of this style vs having the entire story take place within the involved series. However, rather than having a bunch of mini-series that have nothing to do with the main story, all the background details can be found within the involved books. So if I want to see how the X-Men found out that Hope was here or there from the event’s series, I can read Uncanny X-Men. There’s also the AvX book which contains all the fights - allowing the authors to focus the main book on the narrative. I’d prefer if Marvel continued to stick to this way of doing events because, with a few exceptions, I feel like all the comics I’ve bought because of the event have been relevant. I really didn’t feel that way with Fear Itself.
Let’s turn our attention over to DC. The summer of 2011 was a weird time to get interested in DC Comics for the first time. Just as I was getting into the groove, Flashpoint happened. As I learned via Wikipedia and ComicVine’s database, this is something DC does every 20 years or so. With Flashpoint we found ourself in an alternate DC universe where a bunch of things were inexplicably changed. For example, Bruce Wayne died in Crime Alley instead of his parents. DC went the same route as Marvel in the sense of having the event revolve around a mini-series called Flashpoint. However, unlike Marvel, none of DC’s main books were involved - they were busy finishing up their pre-Flashpoint storylines. The bulk of the story of this universe was filled in via mini-series that took place in the Flashpoint universe. At the very least this didn’t offer the same chance for confusion as Fear Itself did with its mini-series AND involvement in the main series. Narratively, however, all the mini-series I chose to collect were merely background information or tangential stories that took place in the Flashpoint universe, but did nothing to further the story. So from a certain point of view it just seemed like a pointless waste of money and storytelling resources. Why did I want to learn so much about the Flashpoint Batman if he was going to cease to exist after Flashpoint? So while I liked how they handled the timeline, the story was a little lacking.
Right now I’m reading the Night of the Owls mini-event. This is essentially the perfect event from my point of view. There is no Night of the Owls event book. If you want the main story, you read Batman. If you want the bulk of the story you also read Nightwing. And if you want the full story, you get all the Batman-related books (except Batwoman and Batman, Inc). Scott Snyder made it clear that you didn’t need to read anything other than Batman unless you wanted to. The timelines all line up and it’s clear when things take place because the writers add a timestamp to each issue. It also shows how everyone within the Bat-Family relates to each other and works together against a common foe. And, as a consumer, I really appreciate this style of event because I don’t need to buy the Night of the Owls main mini-series in addition to continue paying for Batman, Batman and Robin, etc. So it really earns DC a lot of my goodwill.
So how do the events compare and who’s doing it better? In the last twenty years it appears that both companies have moved towards mini-series for their biggest events (Fear Itself, Flashpoint, Avengers vs X-Men) while allowing mini-events to exist within a book or family of books. Marvel tends to try and milk a little more money out of its readers by adding in mini-series that tie into the main story - even if tangentially. DC tends to be a lot tighter - it hasn’t spun out a bunch of mini-series for Night of the Owls. That certainly makes it easier for their readers to be able to afford to read a greater diversity of books. So, for now I’d give the edge to DC for customer friendliness and tighter-fitting events - especially when it comes to mini-events. Also, DC seems to limit their universe-wide events to one per year if not even more sparingly while Marvel has them nearly back-to-back. I’ll have to revisit this topic in a few years after I’ve been through more events to see if they’ve become more similar or dissimilar in their handling of events.