Top Ten Crossover Storylines in Comic Book History

What is a comic book crossover storyline? Well, it’s a comic book story that travels through at least two (but often more) different titles. For example, the classic Avengers/Defenders War took place between the two titles during the 1970s and is still talked about to this day by loyal fans. A crossover could also have one centric title, with several tie-in issues (think Secret Wars). For this list today, we are looking at my ranking of the greatest crossover storylines in comic book history. This is my list based on the books I’ve read in my life. If you spy any glaring omissions please feel to let me know in the comment section below. Now, without any further ado, lets get on to our list.

#10 – The Scourge of the Underworld (Marvel Comics circa 1985)

How ’bout some muzzle awareness there, hero!

Starting off our list with an unorthodox but nonetheless worthy selection, we have the great Scourge of the Underworld that crossed over numerous Marvel storylines in the 1980s.  The Scourge of the Underworld was the brainchild of Mark Gruenwald, and was created to remove seldom used villains from the Marvel Universe.  Throughout the pages of titles such as Iron Man, The Amazing Spider-Man, Thor, The Avengers, Fantastic Four, and more, the Scourge would kill his victims and recite his trademark line “Justice Is Served”.

Eventually, the story would lead its way to the Captain America title where Mark Gruenwald was the writer.  It was here, in the pages of Captain America #319 that the Scourge would tally his most victims in one book, assassinating eighteen villains in the Bar with No Name.  The storyline would end in the pages of Captain America #320, putting an end of one of the least talked about but memorable cross over storylines of the 1980s.

#9 – Children’s Crusade (DC Comics circa 1993)

Hey kids! Remember jacks?

The Children’s Crusade introduced a very unique format for a crossover event.  It had a dedicated two issue self-titled series that served as the bookends for the storyline, with the events of the story crossing over into the pages of the Vertigo annuals from that year, including Black Orchid Annual #1, Animal Man Annual #1, Swamp Thing Annual #7, Doom Patrol Annual #2, Arcana Annual #1.

The story followed the Dead Boy Detectives investigating recent missing children from a small town in England.  There was an air of mystery, and the reader at times felt like they were peeking behind the curtain of a mysterious new world. The story was choppy at times, but what I appreciated about this crossover was the titles it introduced me to at the time.  As only a loyal reader to Swamp Thing, this was my introduction to books like Animal Man and Doom Patrol.  Although this crossover event is looked back upon by many as a disappointment, I have fond memories of discovering titles that I’d become a fan to this day.

#8 – World War Hulk (Marvel Comics circa 2007)

It’s just like middle school!

Stemming from the conclusion of the very popular Planet Hulk storyline in the pages of Incredible Hulk, World War Hulk was an epic crossover event.  In WWH, we see the Hulk out on a mission for revenge on those he perceived caused the destruction of his adopted city and the death of his pregnant wife Caiera (all as seen in Planet Hulk).   The Hulk cuts a swathe of destruction throughout the Marvel universe, starting epically with a battle on the moon against the Inhumans where the Hulk utters these jarring words as he faces Black Bolt, “I want to hear you scream”.

World War Hulk is a massive crossover that ran in a self-titled limited series, but was also found in the pages of World War Hulk: Front Line, World War Hulk: Gamma Corps, and World War Hulk: X-Men, as well as several other Marvel comics titles.  Before you pick up the 1,304-page omnibus, start with the flagship series and see if it’s too your liking.  If so, check out the entire story.  You will not be disappointed. 

#7 – Forever Evil: Blight (DC Comics circa 2013)

Zatanna is into some weird stuff, man

This one is tough to explain.  From 2013-2014, there was a crossover event at DC called Forever Evil.  Within that event, there was a storyline set within it titled Blight.  This selection is only for the Forever Evil: Blight storyline.  The story crosses over through four different DC Universe titles: Constantine, Justice League Dark, Trinity of Sin: Pandora, and Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger, and has a total of 18 parts. 

Evil is personified within the story arc, and themes of redemption are explored poignantly.  Major changes were promised within Blight, and high prices are paid by the characters involved.  The story absolutely delivered on its promised change, and the results resonated with readers emotionally invested in the characters.  Unfortunately for Blight, it was set within the New 52 universe of DC, which was quickly undone with Rebirth.  Since then, fans have not offered many fond memories of DC’s New 52.  For me however, I enjoyed aspects of the New 52, and definitely the mystical characters such as Phantom Stranger were a high-point in that short-lived era. 

#6 – Infinity Gauntlet (Marvel Comics circa 1991)

Gotta catch ’em… aw, forget it….

The Infinity Gauntlet might just be the most well-known crossover on this list, thanks to the movie franchise.  However, the seeds for The Infinity Gauntlet were planted well before the first issue of the self-titled series ever came out.  Jim Starlin and Ron Lim introduced the idea of The Infinity Gauntlet in the pages of Silver Surfer during their long run on the title.  That idea spilled over into a six-issue mini-series, along with numerous tie-in issues from titles such as: Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Cloak and Dagger, and more. 

The Infinity Gauntlet follows Thanos’ quest to obtain the Infinity Stones which he then uses to infuse the Infinity Gauntlet with the power need to obtain god-Like abilities.  He then uses that power to eradicate half of all life in order to impress Mistress Death, with whom he’s fallen in love.  Any superheroes that remained teamed up to fight this threat in an epic battle for the ages.  Marvel had done other massive crossover events in the past (such as Secret Wars) but this one was their first to truly show the potential Marvel had to tell a grandiose story crossing all major characters within their universe. 

#5 – Batman: Knightfall (DC Comics circa 1993)

Now Batman knows how I feel after a night on a hotel bed

Crisscrossing throughout the three major Batman titles at the time (Batman, Detective Comics, and Shadow of the Bat), Knightfall is to this day considered the greatest Batman crossover event DC has ever produced.  The story revolves around Bane’s determination to “break the bat”.  Knowing he will never be able to beat Batman at his best, Bane frees the inmates of Arkham Asylum in an effort to distract and weaken his foe.  The story comes to a climax in an epic battle that sees Bane break Batman’s back.  With a replacement Batman now roaming the streets, but quickly seeing the decay of his reputation, the true Batman must heal from his injuries in time to not only defeat his foe, but restore his reputation. 

Knightfall had long-lasting ramifications for Batman, and cemented Bane as a key member of Batman’s rogue’s gallery.  Whereas many of the previous installments on this list had storylines written with one main writer, the Knightfall saga seemed to have equal participation from each of the writers involved: Doug Moench, Alan Grant, and Chuck Dixon.  It’s unusual to have so many hands in a story and still have it be so cohesive, but that is indeed the case with Knightfall.  If this storyline sounds familiar, it was indeed used as the basis for the third Chris Nolan movie The Dark Knight Rises.  For my money though, the original source material is far superior.  If you are a Batman fan, I give this my absolute highest of recommendations. 

#4 – House of M (Marvel Comics circa 2005)

Is Scarlet Witch as far beyond mutants as they are beyond you?

Do you want to see how three words can have world-altering results?  If so, then House of M is the storyline for you.  With way too many tie-ins to list here, this was an epic of epics in the Marvel Universe.  If you’re new to this storyline, I suggest just picking up the House of M trade paperback which contains the original self-titled eight issue series.  There’s so much more to explore however, so be prepared to seek out several other trades.  I don’t know if a true omnibus exists that collects everything. 

House of M is the story surrounding the Scarlet Witch and her fragile grip on reality.  Some of the Marvel Universe’s most powerful characters have done their best to try and reign in her reality altering powers, but to no avail.  With her threat growing, discussions devolve to the prospect of having to eliminate the Scarlet Witch in order to protect the planet.  Magneto and Quicksilver play major parts in this storyline, along with just about every Marvel Universe character there is.  I always knew Scarlet Witch was powerful, but never truly understood the extent of her abilities until I read this crossover event.  If you’re a fan the Scarlet Witch from the movies, from the TV show, or simply just the comics, this is the series for you. 

#3 – Crisis on Infinite Earths (DC Comics circa 1985)

And so followed a litany of knockoff “tribute” covers

I think if you ask any comic book reader to name one crossover event, this will be the first one they mention.  Crisis on Infinite Earths was so groundbreaking, so impactful, and so successful for DC Comics that it spawned a series of future Crisis events, such as: Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis.  The genesis of Crisis on Infinite Earths was a plot device to shrink the DC Multiverse into one cohesive universe, making it easier for readers to understand, and to sell a lot of books too.  Massive, and I mean massive events took place, retracting the numerous Earths throughout DC down to one. 

This event was everywhere in the DC Universe. Yes, the main story took place within the self-titled 12 issue series, but you saw over a dozen other DC titles such as: Firestorm, Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Superman and many, many more.  There were so many tragic deaths of beloved characters.  Many of which either never returned to DC at all, or took years to return.  All in all, this story was a massive undertaking that was expertly written by Marv Wolfman, and penciled by George Perez, both of whom I believed delivered the works of their careers within this series.  This is a must read for any DC Comics fan. 

#2 – Blackest Night (DC Comics circa 2009)

What is Green Arrow aiming at? And how is he keeping up with the Flash? *Head explodes*

Blackest Night was a massive storyline that crossed throughout the far reaches of the DC Universe, but stems from the legend of the Green Lanterns.  For longtime readers, the phrase “In brightest day…in blackest night…” will be very familiar.  However, these words were expanded upon within the series to tell of a prophecy whereby the existing color spectrum of emotions in the Green Lantern universe (green for will and yellow for fear) would be joined by five others.  These other emotional spectrums would lead to a War of Light that would destroy the universe.

The main villain in this series is Nekron, who has become the personified force of death.  Along with his Black Lantern ring, he’s reanimating the corpses of deceased superheroes in order to enact the Blackest Night prophecy.  This series has everything you can want in a comic book; grandeur, emotion, epic battles, and lasting effects that still resonate within the DC universe to this day.  Tracking down the entire Blackest Night series may not be easy.  There was an omnibus that contained every tie-in, but at 1,664 pages however, it might be a lot to ask of a new reader.  I suggest reading two trades: Blackest Night (which collects #0-8), and Green Lantern: Blackest Night (which collects GL #43-53).  That will give you the bulk of the major plot points.  If you like what you’ve read, and I am confident that you will, then definitely expand to the other tie-ins that exist.  This is one series that deserves to be explored in its entirety.

#1 – Kraven’s Last Hunt (Marvel Comics circa 1987)

“Muzzle awareness, Kraven!”

Kraven’s Last Hunt follows the titular character’s mission to prove to everyone, but especially himself, that he is superior to what he perceives to be his greatest foe, Spider-Man.  Kraven’s Last Hunt was a six-part story arc that crossed into all three Spider-Man titles at the time (Amazing, Spectacular, and Web Of Spider-Man).  In the very first issue, Kraven captures, seemingly kills, and then buries Spider-Man in a grave.  Kraven then proceeds to adopt the Spider-Man persona, proving to the world that he can be everything Spider-Man is and more.  Unfortunately, it has become abundantly clear than Kraven is insane.  Meanwhile, Spider-Man awakes to find himself buried six feet underground and trapped within a coffin.  For those of you who may be interested in the history of this storyline, I perviously wrote a piece on its genesis here at The Splintering. 

As you can imagine, Spider-Man does escape and it leads to a confrontation you would not expect.  The ending was definitely a shock to all readers.  If you have not read Kraven’s Last Hunt, there is no reason to put it off any further.  At a grand-total of six collected issues, this is the most affordable and shortest crossover storyline on my list.  It is also the most impactful, memorable, and best as well.  Kraven’s Last Hunt is the greatest Spider-Man story I’ve ever read, the greatest crossover story I’ve ever read, and to this day one of my all-time favorite stories.  My absolute highest recommendation.   

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