Each month I'm revisiting one of the big comic book crossovers of the last few decades. For my broad rules on what counts for consideration, see here.
If you’ve discovered superhero comics generally, and Marvel comics in particular, within the last ten years, it might come as a bit of a shock to discover there was a time when Brian Bendis wasn’t basically in charge of everything. But before he took over (and ended) The Avengers with the highly controversial Disassembled storyline ten years ago this summer, Bendis was best known for his extended run on Daredevil and as the only writer to date on Ultimate Spider-Man. (He’s still now, several re-titlings and a lead character swap later, the only writer of it.) Both of those were outstanding runs, but were well away from the core of the Marvel Universe - two series no one really expected greatness of anyway. Taking on The Avengers was a massive leap into the heartland. Destroying the Avengers as his first act took enormous nerve and an even greater show of faith from the Marvel powers-that-be.
In truth, “Earth’s mightiest heroes” were not at their best at this point. A series of unfortunate runs had knocked a lot of their shine off, and in terms of perception, the book wasn’t viewed as anything like the flagship it had frequently been. So a shake up was overdue, and Disassembled was that shake up - the so-called “Avengers’ worst day” - when as a result of psychosis, The Scarlet Witch ended up warping reality and killing a number of the team. Out of Disassembled, Bendis launched The New Avengers, and from there he created the direct path to Marvel’s first crossover in many years that followed what’s now the standard ‘central series with tie-ins through the regular line’ model.
Meanwhile, on the company’s other leading franchise, the X-Men had been radically rethought by Grant Morrison, and were around a year into an era-defining extended outing by Joss Whedon. Xavier’s School had gone public as a mutant establishment, a global mutant population well into the millions had been established, shifting mutants from oppressed minority to a significant presence, and generally, even though Morrison threw in a multi-million mutant massacre in his very first arc, the world was looking about as good as it ever did for the X-types. Which obviously meant they were due for something terrible…
Cue House of M.