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.
10. X-Men: Days of Future Past
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.
In 2006, Marvel Comics decided they were going to ignite the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe. With writer Keith Giffen was tapped to conceive a limited series - along with four tie-ins - intended 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 comic books for Marvel, with the new Guardians of the Galaxy team that became the basis for Marvel Studios' film franchise, as well as huge boosts for others like Nova and Quasar. Indeed, the Guardians of the Galaxy movie literally would not have come to pass without Annihilation coming first - having redefined Starlord, Groot, and Rocket, and bringing that group of heroes together in the first place.
8. Fantastic Four: The Coming of Galactus
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 the lives of Marvel’s First Family. 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.
7. Daredevil: Born Again
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 some ancillary work in #232 and #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.
6. Secret Wars
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 stories in ten other concurrent ongoing titles.
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, Doctor 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 royale 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.
5. X-Men: Age of Apocalypse
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.
Then Xavier’s son David Haller a.k.a. Legion decides he’s going to make daddy’s dream come true by transporting himself back in time to kill Magneto and prevent anything standing in Charles’ way - even if those two men were friends at the time. 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 ripples - or rather, tsunami waves - of reality-shifting throughout time. This resulted in the world as we knew it freezing in a crystalline reality bubble, and also creating an entire alternate universe following these new events. 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.
4. Civil War
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 a B-list villain, were involved in the resulting explosion that killed 600 (including many children in an elementary school) at Stamford, Connecticut. This fast-tracks the Superhuman Registration Act, requiring anyone with powers and abilities beyond that of a mortal man to register with the government - thereby revealing their identity, with the caveat that they must train 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.
Marvel loved this story so much it was adapted to film in the blockbuster Captain America: Civil War, and led to concurrent comic book sequel, Civil War II.
3. Amazing Spider-Man: The Night Gwen Stacy Died
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, takes Gwen Stacy - Pete's girlfriend at the time - 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, and a true surprise - devastating Peter Parker (and many readers) 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.
2. X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga
"The Dark Phoenix Saga," to this day, is the story that all other X-Men stories are held up to. The first seeds of it began 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 four years later in #129-138.
A masterpiece of a story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, this epic continues truly marquee moments for the team - as well as many individual members. 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.
Over the course of the next few years (and several retcons), some of the pivotal moments would later be backtracked to bring back Jean - and the Phoenix Force - but 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.
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. Here, the story of Thanos finally assembling all six Infinity Gems and placing them in his gauntlet to become a godlike being - and what comes next - is told. 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.
Do you have a favorite Marvel hero? He killed them too.
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 Marvel U, 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’ story, as we’d later have an Infinity War, an Infinity Crusade, and eventually just a plain ol' Infinity to revisit these events.
Infinity Gauntlet was so major that served as the basis of the films Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame.