The House of Very Good Ideas1 of 12
Marvel Comics is barreling toward Empyre, a new crossover epic that draws on Marvel's long history and picks up threads about the Kree and Skrull that go back to some of the publisher's most loved stories.
While it's much too soon to say if Empyre will have the legacy and impact of the stories it draws from - it hasn't even started yet - but before Marvel's latest kicks off, we're looking back at the greatest Marvel Comics stories of all time, as decided through an open vote by Newsarama's readers.
Days of Future Past2 of 12
“Now a Major Motion Picture!”
The original X-Men story "Days of Future Past" was simply two issues of the main ongoing series (take that, 200+ issue events of today!), Uncanny X-Men #141-142. In a dystopian future, mutants have been rounded up into concentration camps; that is, the ones who haven’t been slaughtered. Adult Kitty Pryde’s consciousness travels back in time to stop the assassination of a prominent government figure (in the story, Senator Robert Kelly) by Mystique and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
While she succeeded, and the world was avoided (at least in one timeline), there were some lasting effects. Rachel Summers, a prominent character in today’s X-Men titles, came from that alternate future. So did the hyper-advanced Nimrod Sentinel, which eventually became one of the components of the villain Bastion.
Annihilation3 of 12
In 2006, Marvel Comics decided they were going to ignite the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe. Turning to Keith Giffen to orchestrate it, a mini-series was conceived of, along with four tie-ins, meant to establish characters new and old as major players in the Marvel universe. In fact, an entire Universe-ending threat is stopped completely apart from Earth, and without the knowledge of any of the usual protectors like the Avengers and X-Men.
This opened up a new age of Cosmic Comics for Marvel, with the new Guardians of the Galaxy, characters like Nova, Quasar, and more getting a huge boost. Indeed, the Guardians of the Galaxy movie literally would not have come to pass without Annihilation coming first.
The Coming of Galactus4 of 12
But long before anyone could even conceive of carving out a whole corner of the Marvel Universe devoted to cosmic threats, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created what may still be considered the ultimate cosmic threat: Galactus.
First appearing in Fantastic Four #48-50, and specifically here in that first issue, “The Coming of Galactus!” the godlike being from beyond the stars came careening into the solar system and Marvel’s First Family’s lives. The Silver Surfer also debuted here, and perhaps most importantly to the present-day Marvel stories, the Watcher played a major role. In fact, this is when the Watcher breaks his vow of non-interference - more than once - something he would do multiple times across the next five or so decades.
Daredevil: Born Again5 of 12
There was a time when Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli could basically do no wrong, and 1986-1987 was simply a magical time for the pair, who essentially reinvented major street-level vigilante heroes for both Marvel and DC in the span of about a year and a half.
The pair’s arc together on Daredevil #227-231 (with follow-up issues 232-233) has it all. Romance, intrigue, religion, and of course tons of action. There’s The Kingpin, Ben Urich, Nuke, and Captain America. This story basically tears Daredevil down to virtually nothing, and lets him emerge, “Born Again,” into a better, stronger hero than ever before.
Secret Wars6 of 12
No, not 2015-16's Secret Wars - but the original!
1984. We gotta sell some Marvel toys! Let’s bring everyone together, all the heroes and villains, and we can make a mint off it.
Yes, in a way, this was the birth of the Marvel event crossover - a 12-issue series called Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, that also included tie-in issues of ten other already existing series.
This Marvel event saw the Beyonder plucking heroes and villains off or Earth and onto “Battleworld” - if this sounds like something kids with a bunch of toys would come up with, that’s entirely intentional. The resulting battle saw Captain America, Captain marvel, Hawkeye, Iron Man (Rhodey), She-Hulk, Thor, the Wasp, the Fantastic Four (minus Invisible Woman), Spider-Man, Hulk, the X-Men, Magneto, Doctor Doom, Doc Octopus, Enchantress, Kang, Absorbing Man, Klaw, the Lizard, Volcana, Ultron, Titania, Molecule Man, and the Wrecking Crew all collide in combat.
But aside from this just being a fun battle royal with characters switching sides, huge fights and iconic mountain-lifting moments, there was the introduction of Spider-Woman II, Julia Carpenter, and oh yeah, Spider-Man got the freaking black symbiote suit.
The story saw a sequel almost immediately, along with several homages and references to it over the years. And of course, in 2015 Marvel used a new version of the crossover to relaunch its entire line, and bring elements of its alternate realities into the mainstream Marvel Universe.
Age of Apocalypse7 of 12
Marvel teased that they were canceling all the X-Men series, and then they did the insane: they actually did it! Well, for a few months, anyway.
When Xavier’s loony son David Haller a.k.a. Legion decides he’s going to make daddy’s dream come true, he transports himself back in time to when Xavier and Magneto are still friends, hoping to kill Magneto and prevent anything standing in Charles’ way. Of course, it goes horribly wrong because they’re still friends, and Charles jumps in the way of the blast, instantly killing him and sending a wave of reality-shifting throughout time. This resulted in the world as we knew it freezing in a crystalline reality bubble while also creating an entire alternate universe. In this new world, Apocalypse rose early, before the X-Men could ever be formed to stop him, and successfully took over the world.
The result was four months of alternate-reality comic books, complete with the coolest take on Nightcrawler ever, and other fan favorites like a Logan missing a hand, Cyclops and Havok on the other side of the law, Magneto as leader of the X-Men, married to Rogue, with a child, and much more. It was more than just an event, it was the way the entire X-Men line was stuck for that timeframe, and it had real, lasting repercussions that still get revisited today.
Civil War8 of 12
It beat Age of Apocalypse by one vote. One of the newest stories on our list, Marvel’s Civil War asked the question, “Whose side are you on?”
The story started with a bang (so sorry) as the New Warriors, while trying to subdue Nitro, were involved in the resulting explosion that killed 600, including many children in an elementary school in Stamford, Connecticut. This fast-tracks the Superhuman Registration Act, requiring anyone with powers and abilities beyond that of mortal man to register with the government, revealing their identity and training with government approved heroes if they want to keep using their powers.
Ultimately, this led to Iron Man leading the pro-registration side and Captain America leading the anti-registration folks, with the two sides going all-out in a superhero civil war. There were real consequences with major deaths, Tony Stark eventually becoming Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and immediately afterwards, the death (albeit temporary) of Captain America. It took years for the breach between Cap and Iron Man to be repaired.
The Night Gwen Stacy Died9 of 12
Outside of the death of Uncle Ben, it’s quite possible that Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 are the most important issues in the entire life of Peter Parker. The story said it right there in the title. They spoiled the outcome. They told the truth. This would be “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.”
Norman Osborn, back as the Green Goblin, take’s Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy and throws her off a bridge. Just when it looks like Spider-Man successfully saved her, his webbing caught her ankle - and the sudden stop snapped her neck.
It was utterly tragic, it was a true surprise, and it utterly devastated Peter Parker in a way nothing since could have. It’s heart-breaking and shocking, and in 1973, it was something that made people look at comic books, especially superhero comic books, a very different way.
Dark Phoenix Saga10 of 12
The Dark Phoenix Saga, to this day, is the story that all other X-Men stories are held up to. Unofficially, it started way back in 1976, when Jean Grey first came into contact with the Phoenix Force in X-Men #101-108. Then the Dark part hits, from #129-138 in 1980.
It’s a masterpiece of a story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, with truly marquee moments for many individual members of the X-Men. Cyclops battles Mastermind on the psychic plane. Wolverine takes on a seemingly endless stream of Hellfire Club soldiers. Oh, and Jean Grey, as the Dark Phoenix, goes bat-sh** crazy, eats a sun (killing an orbiting planet’s entire population), and it all comes down to a trial for genocide. When Jean manages to gain control of herself for one short moment, alongside Cyclops, she is zapped by a Kree weapon on the moon and killed.
Of course years and many retcons later, we’d see things like this being a clone of Jean’s body, I - look, we’re just not getting into all that. The Dark Phoenix Saga as its own story is a masterpiece and helped establish that Jean Grey shall always rise once more from the ashes.
Infinity Gauntlet11 of 12
This took the most votes by a wide margin, and the 1991 limited series by Jim Starlin, George Perez, and Ron Lim had it all. This told the story of Thanos having gathered all six Infinity Gems, placing them into his gauntlet and using them to become a godlike being. His goal? To end all life in the universe in order to win over the woman he loves: the embodiment of Death.
And oh boy, did Thanos come close to succeeding. Using the combined might of the Mind, Soul, Power, Reality, Space, and Time gems, Thanos killed half of everyone. Everyone. He killed most of the X-Men, he killed Daredevil and the Fantastic Four, he killed Avengers, and he did it all with a snap of his fingers.
This was the big cosmic event, with the rest of the heroes of Earth (and some from beyond it) trying to stop Thanos from achieving godhood and taking out the other half of life, all while the mad Titan cut a swathe through the Universe, taking out some of its most powerful beings with ease. In the end, it was up to Thanos’ own progeny Nebula to undue what he had done, restoring the dead and putting cosmic entities back in their place.
Of course, that’s far from the end of Thanos’s story, as we’d later have an Infinity War, an Infinity Crusade, and just recently, plain old Infinity.
Infinity Gauntlet was so major that served as the basis of the film Avengers: Infinity War and its follow-up, Endgame.
1 of 12
2 of 12
3 of 12
4 of 12
5 of 12
6 of 12
7 of 12
8 of 12
9 of 12
10 of 12
11 of 12
12 of 12