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The most impactful Marvel comics events of all time

image from Secret Invasion
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Marvel Comics is about to revive the title of its seminal 1996 event Heroes Reborn in May for a new story that celebrates the spirit of the original for its 25th anniversary.

Meanwhile, Marvel Studios is preparing a new Disney Plus streaming show based on Secret Invasion, in which numerous Marvel heroes were replaced by shapeshifting Skrulls who were invading Earth.

Marvel Studios and Marvel Comics have made a habit of creating new takes on old stories, including making films and new events based on some of the biggest world-changing tales they've told over the years.

Both Secret Invasion and Heroes Reborn rank as some of the most impactful Marvel events of all time - but what are the rest? We'll count it down right now.

Honorable mention: The Infinity Gauntlet

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Early on in The Infinity Gauntlet, it seemed as if it would be the series that would change everything – half of humanity was dead! Natural disasters had altered the very world our characters lived in! – but everything was reset by series' end, with the only lasting effects being that a new Warlock series could be spun out of the whole shebang. A masterclass in the whole "No change, just the illusion of change" thing.

A spiritual follow-up, Infinity, promised more lasting change - while Thanos and the gems were still a part of the story, the biggest fallout from that event was the unleashing of the Terrigen Mists and unlocking the powers of thousands if not millions of latent Inhumans.

10. Fear Itself

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2011's massive event series Fear Itself featured developments that certainly felt big at the time, and by the final issue of the series, Bucky (who was Captain America at this point) and Thor were still dead, and Paris was a city of stone statues instead of people.

And then came the three epilogue issues that, one by one, undid each of those things. Cleaning up after itself or a statement on the impermanence of death in superhero comic books? Potentially both, as the writer Matt Fraction told Newsarama at the time: "Death in superhero comics is meaningless. It's the escape. It's the resurrection. That's the story. These issues were kind of the chance to focus on that under the microscope, once all the pyrotechnics were done." 

9. Secret Invasion

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It's tempting to suggest that ending the then-long-running thread of "Who Do You Trust?" and "Maybe one of these characters is an alien shapeshifter" is enough to make the end of Secret Invasion an important event in and of itself.

In terms of narrative, though, the series moved Tony Stark away from the position of power that he'd been in for months, and placed everything in the hands of Norman Osborn, heralding a period where the bad guys really had won... Well, at least until they started messing everything up for themselves.

The title of this series, if not its entire premise, will be adapted for an upcoming Disney Plus MCU show.

8. Secret Wars

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This is a tough one, because it wasn't the end of Secret Wars that changed everything, but the start. Still, that's what you get when the entire series is essentially a 12-part flashback to explain away the changes already seen in everyone's regular book.

She-Hulk in the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man's black costume that would later turn out to be Venom are two changes that may not have stuck forever, but ended up becoming surprisingly welcome additions to the canon. Less so, that giant dragon girlfriend for Lockheed, of course. Thankfully, 'Rocky Grimm, Space Ranger,' didn't make a come back when Secret Wars was revived in 2015 - but he did end up back in space with the Guardians of the Galaxy.

7. Schism

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Unusually, Schism was an event book that existed for the sole purpose of the end result: Splitting the X-Men franchise in two. And yet it worked, and in the process refreshed the franchise in a way that nothing else had managed since the days of Grant Morrison.

It wasn't just the clash of ideologies that surprisingly came to life, but the characters presenting those ideologies. 'Wolverine as Teacher' made perfect sense, even as it seemed counter-intuitive, a sign that something has gone right.

6. Avengers vs. X-Men

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Aside from the death of Charles Xavier – like we've never seen that before – and the criminalization of the 'Phoenix Five,' what exactly did Avengers vs. X-Men achieve for the larger MU?

Well, in theory it ushered in an era where the X-Men and cosmic characters were brought further into the wider Marvel Universe, which ended up being a quieter, but more meaningful change to Marvel than we normally see from these event books.

5. House of M

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"No More Mutants." 

With those three words, the Scarlet Witch upended the X-Men franchise in a seemingly out-of-nowhere denouement to the alternate world series, reducing the mutant population of the Marvel Universe to less than 200 and beginning a race against extinction that finally came to an end a decade later.

House of M rewrote the Marvel Universe - literally - creating a place where mutants were in charge under the leadership of Magneto. The fallout of the event had massive ramifications on both the X-Men and Avengers for years to come, and set up plot points still referenced in both franchises today.

4. Mutant Massacare

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Mutant Massacre wasn't an event crossover in the way that we understand them today – where was the core limited series? Why no 'Mutant Massacre' banner on the covers of the tie-ins? – but it certainly had the kind of impact that a crossover such as 'Maximum Security' could only dream of.

This storyline marks the end of the X-Men's stay at the Xavier's school for close to 100 issues, the deaths of a handful of familiar faces, new members joining different teams, the end of Warren Worthington III as the Angel and a more somber tone for a franchise already known for its dourness.

3. Onslaught

Hey, remember that time when a crossover ended with the Marvel Universe devoid of some of its most famous characters? Now, we can look back and say that the absence of the Fantastic Four, Avengers, and their respective members was only a temporary thing, but at the time that was far from a known fact, meaning that the 'Onslaught' saga genuinely did have that feeling of having changed everything in real ways, possibly forever. 

Onslaught has made a couple of comebacks, including as 'Red Onslaught,' a twisted manifestation of Xavier's powers in Red Skull's body - a nightmare that finally ended in 2017 - when Xavier's stolen brain was destroyed, and his consciousness later resurrected in Fantomex's body. 

Xavier is now back whole, helping lead the newly formed mutant island of Krakoa.

2. Civil War

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Oh, Civil War, how you changed the Marvel Universe. There was that whole "You work for the government or you're a criminal" thing, that whole "Now no one gets on with anyone else" thing, the skillful creation of a second Avengers book for the first time since West Coast Avengers, but more importantly, it changed the Marvel Universe by changing the tone of the Marvel Universe.

Even though House of M's decimation of mutantkind came earlier, it was Civil War that felt as if it actually had an impact on the style and content of all of Marvel's line for months afterwards, setting the pattern for events that followed.

And Civil War is the Marvel event that just keeps giving, not only as the inspiration for Captain America: Civil War, but in 2016's comic book sequel, Civil War II.

1. Secret Wars

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Déjà vu? Not exactly. See, this entry is about the second event to use the title Secret Wars.

The fallout of the newer iteration of Marvel's first-ever crossover event had the Ultimate Universe ending completely, with aspects of it, including Miles Morales and the Triskelion, folded into the mainstream Marvel Universe, along with the world at large thinking the Fantastic Four are dead while they rebuild the multiverse. And the aftermath that this run precipitated: the killing of Marvel's oldest character, Namor.

While the in-universe consequences stemming directly from Secret Wars are, on their own, enough to give this event a spot high up on this list, the real-world implications are even more staggering. In the wake of it, the entire Marvel Comics line was put on hold while tie-ins explored the various aspects of Battleworld, only to see every single Marvel comic book relaunched with a new #1 as part of the "All-New, All-Different" Marvel Universe.

The new universe very closely resembled the old one, making this less of a reboot and more of a retooling, but it's likely as close as the venerable company will ever come to fully rebooting its universe.