A few months ago, Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, became the new top cop of the Marvel Universe after performing a killshot on Skrull Queen Verenke, the big-bad of the last Marvel event Secret Invasion. Now, the fictional cosmos is secretly being ruled over by the "Cabal", a Anti-Illumuniti consisting of Norman, Emma Frost, The Hood, Doctor Doom, Loki, and Sub-Mariner; their dastardly rule is being enforced by H.A.M.M.E.R.(which stands for nothing, apparently), the organization that replaced S.H.I.E.L.D. after it was dismantled by the United States. Thus, the heroes of Marvel enters the darkest days of their superhero careers.
The Dark Reign banner placed on the bulk of the Marvel Comics' covers are indicators of the general storyline the universe in general is taking, not necessarily a comic crossover in and of itself. It is a recent tactic undertaken by Marvel, which started after Civil War, with "The Initiative" general storyline. Taking a step back and looking at the general idea in all honesty, I think i rather like it. It's simply an extension of the concept introduced by Marvel in the Silver Age...the concept of an permanant "cross-over" universe, where Thor would fly by in an Amazing Spiderman story, or the X-men would hear about the Baxter Building being flown into space in their book, reflecting current events in the Fantastic Four book as well. I don't usually think of the need to collect every "Dark Reign"-bannered book, however...only the ones that i like the story.
And what a story it is. One of the funniest reactions I've seen from people is the disbelief that the fictional people of the Marvel Universe would instantly rally around Norman Osborn, a known murderer and maniac, and place him on a pedestal as hero of the people. However, this is only consistant with the Marvel Universe seen from the beginning of "Civil War"...a universe where people would instantly blame heroes(for plot sake) instead of the villain who blew up 600 people, and rally behind Ironman when he(OOC and illogically character-wise) goes after his friend Captain America with extreme prejudice, use villains, lock up his allies, and create clones.
So, Norman Osborn being the new sheriff in town? Is that really hard to believe after "Civil War"?
Anyway, Norman Osborn is the new top cop of the world, taking Ironman's place. This happened not just because of the killshot, but because Stark's various creations, such as the Starktech that ran the bulk of electronics in the Marvel Universe, as well as the Fifty State Initiative, were both compromised by the Skrulls. Thus, Tony Stark's fall from grace, from most beloved of the world...to most wanted. Before Tony was released from his employment, and after SHIELD was dismantled, Norman wanted the list of superhumans that revealed their identities to the government in "The Initiative" general storyline. However, Tony destroyed all the databases that possessed this knowledge, keeping the list only in his noggin. Thus, Norman declared Tony a fugitive, putting the Golden Avenger on the run.
Tony is really a fugitive at wits' end. He's lost his Extremis abilities(which gave him nearly godlike abilities over technology), and without much resources at his command, is back to using old Ironman suits. He is joined in his flight by Maria Hill, a prominant Bendis character created in "Secret War" and "New Avengers", while his old friend Pepper Potts, who is intially left in charge of Stark's failing company, gains an Ironman-esque suit of her own. In the present World's Most Wanted arc of "Invincible Ironman", Ol' Shellhead has battled Jim Rhodes and Sub-Mariner, both deployed in one form or another by Norman Osborn.
Meanwhile, Osborn, while putting together HAMMER with his new assistant, Ms. Hand, decides to create his own Avengers. He recruits Bullseye and Moonstone from his previous team, the Thunderbolts, and gives them the costumes of Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel(original costume) respectively; Daken, Wolverine's son introduced in Wolverine: Origins, is given the role of his father. Sentry and Ares, hangovers from Ironman's Initiative Avengers' team, the Mighty Avengers, stay on: Sentry out of fear for his mental condition, and Ares, because he likes to fight. Grant Morrison's creation Marvel Boy, reintroduced into current Marvel canon in "Secret Invasion", is recruited as Captain Marvel. Venom, also a member of Osborn's Thunderbolts, is given something to assume the form of the black costumed Spiderman. And lastly Osborn, figuring this team would need "a soldier and a knight" to lead them, ultilizes the Ghost's powers of intangibility to unlock a storehouse of Tony Stark's armors, paint one red, white, and blue...and takes on the identity of Iron Patriot, a representation of both Ironman and Captain America.
Meanwhile, the NEW Avengers...picking up the pieces after the Skrull invasion...are hit with even more chaos. Luke Cage's and Jessica Jones' baby, at the end of Secret Invasion, had been kidnapped by a Skrull disguised as Edwin Jarvis, the Avengers' butler. After searching in vain for the Skrull, Luke, in desperation, turned to Norman Osborn for help. The deal with the devil resulted in his baby being found. However, Cage instantly reneged on his deal, beating both Bullseye and Venom to a pulp with a crowbar while in Avengers' Tower(now Osborn's hq). Clint Barton, Ronin, later goes on national television, telling the public of Osborn's misdeeds as the Goblin after the announcement of Osborn's Avengers. The New Avengers consider attacking Avengers' Tower, but instantly decide against it. They instead try to set a trap using power dampeners, hoping to lure the "Dark" Avengers to an isolated area. Instead, they are ambushed by The Hood and his gang, in yet another battle between the two forces.
Osborn sets up the "Cabal", a villianous version of The Illumuniti, a secret gathering of Marvel's greatest superhumans that decided the direction of the superhuman community. Introduced in the Sentry Arc of New Avengers, they consisted of Reed Richards, from Fantastic Four; Professor X, from X-men, representing the mutant community; Tony Stark, representing the Avengers; Sub-Mariner, representing Atlantis and the ocean; Doctor Strange, representing magic; and Black Bolt, representing the Inhumans. This group was inadvertingly responsible from World War Hulk, when they sent Hulk off-planet via trickery(see events of WWH and Planet Hulk). They later broke up completely when it was discovered that Skrulls had infiltrated the secret group via Black Bolt.
"The Cabal", introduced at the end of Secret Invasion(literally) works in the same way. The very first mission of the Dark Avengers was to rescue Cabal member Doctor Doom from an attack from Morgan Le Fay. The Hood, representing street crime, is the current main enemy of the New Avengers, as well as generating waves in Daredevil. Loki is manipulating events in both Thor and Mighty Avengers(ironically and purposely creating her own Avengers), while Emma Frost and Namor will be linked to Osborn's version of the X-men.