When World War II was ravaging half of the globe during the 1940s, readers generally went for escapist fare. After the war was over, though, stories about war were suddenly fair game and, starting in the 1950s, war comics were all the rage, with creators like Joe Kubert, Robert Kanigher, Jerry Grandenetti, Ross Andru and Russ Heath continuing to weave fascinating yarns about war well into the 1980s (Marvel even got into the action with “Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos”).
When superheroes took back control of the comic book landscape during the late 1960s, we began to see the war comic approach appropriated for superhero comics. Ever since the early 1970s, it has been common for superhero comics to have “wars,” with Marvel Comics being particularly fascinated with that term. Here, then, are the 15 greatest superhero wars of all-time (note that “war” has to be in the title of the story, so no “Operation: Galactic Storm” or “Annihilation”).
15. EVOLUTIONARY WAR
The final spot on our list was a tough call between DC’s “Our Worlds at War,” Jonathan Maberry and Scot Eaton’s “Doomwar,” Dave Gibbons, Ivan Reis and Marc Campos’ “Rann/Thanagar War” and the story we ultimately chose for the last spot, Marvel’s “Evolutionary War.” “Evolutionary War” was the first of its kind, a company-wide crossover where each comic book that crossed over was just a chapter in one big story. “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and “Secret Wars II” tied into nearly every title of their respective companies, but the titles maintained their own individual story, with the events of the larger story being almost a background element. Not so with “Evolutionary War,” which was also the first company-wide crossover to take place in Annuals.
The Evolutionary War was about the High Evolutionary deciding that he had to make sweeping changes to the Earth to help its evolution along. This brought him into conflict with a number of superheroes in various ways until finally, he upped the ante with an Evoltionary Bomb that could have changed all of life on Earth. Luckily, a ragtag team of Avengers stepped up to stop him, with Hercules seemingly sacrificing himself to save the day.
14. WAR OF THE GODS
George Perez’s epic run on “Wonder Woman” came with the company-wide crossover, “War of the Gods,” which was designed to coincide with Wonder Woman’s 50th anniversary in 1991. The basic set-up for the story is that Circe is intending to kill Gaea, the god of Earth, and to do so, she first has to distract her greatest enemy, Wonder Woman. Therefore, Circe manipulates all the various gods to go to war with each other while also framing the Amazons for attacks on the United States in order to trick the U.S. into declaring war on, and invade, Paradise Island.
The biggest battle was between the Roman Gods (represented by Captain Marvel) and the Greek Gods (represented by Wonder Woman), but all the major gods of myth played a role in the event (which is also notable for Grant Morrison’s self-insertion character, The Writer, joining Suicide Squad and getting killed). Many prominent Greek gods would lose their lives before the war was over.
13. CIVIL WAR II
When a new Inhuman named Ulysses shows up and reveals that he can tell the future, this leads to Captain Marvel and many superheroes embracing the new information that they have due to Ulysses’ power to help them stop awful events before they happen. Iron Man, though, does not think that they should mess around with this, as he thinks that punishing people before they commit a crime puts the heroes on a slippery slope to fascism. When War Machine is killed and She-Hulk badly injured while using information from Ulysses, Iron Man gets even more involved, choosing to kidnap Ulysses to see if he can even be trusted.
Things take another turn when Ulysses shows everyone a vision of the Hulk killing everyone. The heroes track down a seemingly “cured” Bruce Banner and Hawkeye kills him, as he insists that Banner was turning into the Hulk. Ulysses then has a vision of Spider-Man (Miles Morales) killing Captain America (Steve Rogers) and Iron Man cannot let Captain Marvel take down another hero over a vision. They fight and Iron Man is hurt so badly that he goes into a coma. Ulysses then transcends mortality and leaves Earth behind, with the whole pre-cog crimefighting coming to an end.
12. CHAOS WAR
After the events of “Ragnarok” around the time of “Avengers: Disassembled,” the Norse gods were seemingly dead. The Japanese god Amatsu-Mikaboshi tried to take advantage of the weakness of the pantheon of gods due to the Norse gods’ absence by attacking the Olympian gods planning to then try to take over the entire pantheon of gods. That failed, but they hung tight, planning a future chance.
As it turned out, Amatsu-Mikaboshi was really the Chaos King, a being who lived before there really was an existence at all, and the Chaos King wanted to bring back that set-up. Using an army of alien gods, he attacked the gods of Earth and managed to temporarily destroy Nightmare, thus trapping most of the heroes on Earth within their dreams. He then wiped out the afterlife itself, leading to the Earth to be overrun by dead people. Luckily, there were enough dead heroes to team-up with Hercules, Thor, Silver Surfer, Galactus, Sersi and Amadeus Cho to stop the Chaos King’s evil plot.
11. SECRET WAR
In many ways, the basis for much of the stories that would come for Brian Michael Bendis in the Marvel Universe began with the miniseries “Secret War,” which Bendis did with artist Gabriele Dell’otto. The story involved a massive attack on New York City by a mysterious villain and a cadre of supervillains. They first attack (and almost kill) Luke Cage, and no one can figure out why. Eventually, they discover that a year earlier, Nick Fury had recruited Captain America, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Daredevil, Black Widow and a new S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Daisy Johnson for a mission into Latveria where they would stop Doctor Doom’s successor from accessing Doom’s technology and giving it to a bunch of supervillains for an attack on Earth. After the mission (which was not sanctioned by the government) ended with the villain seemingly dead, Fury wiped the memories of the non-spy heroes (so not Black Widow or Daisy’s).
Now, a year later, the surviving villain wants revenge. The heroes stop her, but they could never trust Nick Fury again. He quits S.H.I.E.L.D. and puts Maria Hill in charge. The New Avengers soon form, made up of basically the same heroes who starred in this series.
10. INFINITY WAR
At the end of “Infinity Gauntlet,” Adam Warlock took control of the fabled Infinity Gauntlet and put right what Thanos had put wrong when he had control over the cosmic weapon. Knowing that he could not destroy the Infinity Gems that made up the Gauntlet, Warlock instead formed a group of heroes to guard the gems so that they could not be put together again. They were called the Infinity Watch. However, before he got rid of the Gauntlet, Warlock did not realize that his mind had used the ultimate power of the Gauntlet to split off the good and evil side of Warlock’s personality, to keep everything but logic from influencing him.
That evil side became the Magus, and in the crossover event, “Infinity War,” he attacked Earth with an army of evil duplicates of the heroes of Earth. His plan was to get the Infinity Gauntlet for himself and so the Infinity Watch had to give up the gems in an attempt to stop him. This was the second of Jim Starlin’s famed “Infinity” trilogy (“Infinity Gauntlet,” this and then “Infinity Crusade,” where the heroes have to fight Warlock’s “good” side).
9. WAR OF KINGS
Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning became beloved by fans of Marvel’s cosmic characters following “Annihilation” by their intricately plotted stories involving Marvel’s cosmic characters in their two titles, “Nova” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” One of their most intricate ones was the complex “War of the Kings,” which saw various galactic empires running afoul of each other. The Inhumans had recently decided to go into outer space and embrace their connection to the Kree by essentially taking over the Kree Empire (with Crystal of the Inhumans entering a political marriage with Ronan the Acusser, the leader of the Kree).
Meanwhile, the Shi’ar Empire had been taken over by Gabriel Summers, the insane mutant villain known as Vulcan. Vulcan began a war with the Kree when the Kree took in former Shi’ar Empress, Lilandra. They first assassinated Lilandra and then all hell broke loose. In the end, Black Bolt of the Inhumans ended up killing Vulcan, but not before Vulcan seemingly killed him, as well. Gladiator of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard took over the head of the Shi’ar Empire.
8. AVENGERS/DEFENDERS WAR
A slightly lesser-known tradition in Avengers history is the “two villains fight against each other, with the Avengers being the proxies of one of the villains” set-up, which Roy Thomas debuted during his first run on the “Avengers,” in which the Avengers became pawns in a battle between Kang and the Grandmaster, with the Squadron Sinister being the Avengers’ direct foes. Steve Englehart picked up where Thomas left off, only he expanded the approach to two titles, as Englehart was then writing both the “Defenders” and the “Avengers.” He had Loki and Dorammu pit the two teams against each other in the pursuit of the pieces making up the dreaded, powerful magical object known as the Evil Eye.
Hawkeye, amusingly, had only recently left the Avengers and now found himself fighting against his friends as a member of the Defenders, who had been tricked into putting together the Evil Eye by Dormammu, so Loki then warned the Avengers that the Defenders were trying to put together a powerful device that probably should have been left alone. After a number of battles (including an epic Thor/Hulk fight), the heroes ended up teaming up and taking on the combined forces of Loki and Dormammu.
7. WORLD WAR HULK
After the Hulk went on one rampage too many, the secretive group of superheroes known as the Illuminati decided to help their friend, the Hulk, as well as the Earth, by tricking the Hulk onto a spaceship that they would send to a peaceful planet where he could live out the rest of his days in tranquility. However, the spaceship was knocked off course and the Illuminati were too wrapped up in the events of “Civil War” to notice. The Hulk landed on a Gladiator planet that he eventually took over and finally found happiness on. Then, of course, his ship exploded, killing his new wife.
The ship had been sabotaged, so the Hulk assumed it was by his old friends. He set off to Earth with his new gladiator army to gain revenge on the heroes who had betrayed him. In the end, the Hulk almost destroyed the entire planet, but then he found out that it was one of his fellow gladiators who had sabotaged the ship, as he was worried the Hulk would become too contented if he didn’t have an enemy to fight.
6. SECRET WARS (2015)
The reformed Illuminati discovered that the Multiverse had been weakened by so much time travel over the last few years that now so-called “Incursions” were occurring, wherein an alternate Earth was about to share the same spot in the universe as our Earth. The heroes of Earth decided to destroy the first Earth where this happened, but then incursions kept coming and the heroes couldn’t bring themselves to wipe out other innocents just to save themselves. Therefore a group of “villains” began destroying the Earths for them. Finally, though, the Ultimate Universe’s Earth showed up and no one could destroy it in time, so the two worlds combined with each other.
Doctor Doom took control in the resulting explosion to sort of make himself God in this new smashed-together reality. Eventually, some of the heroes who survived the creation of the new Multiverse teamed up to stop Doom, who would give up the ultimate power to Reed Richards, allowing Richards to fix everything that had happened since Doom took control.
5. ARMOR WARS
Iron Man had just defeated the armored villain, Force, when he made a shocking discovery – Force’s armor was based, at least in part, on Stark’s own armor designs! The shocked Stark decided that he could no longer see his technology used against him and that the only way to make sure that it wouldn’t happen was for him to go out and remove all traces of his technology in the armored heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe.
No one really objected to this plan in the early stages of the story (which was written by David Michelinie and Bob Layton), but that was when Iron Man was concentrating on villains. Eventually, he turned on heroes with his technology, as well, as he didn’t want villains to be able to capture an armored hero and figure out how to make armor that way. His actions turned him against Steve Rogers and the Avengers, but Tony’s stubbornness carried him to a victory.
4. SECRET WARS
One day, many of the world’s most prominent superheroes and supervillains were transported to a mysterious planet called Battleworld (made up of smaller parts of different worlds) where a mysterious powerful being known as the Beyonder told them to fight each other, explaining that the winner would get whatever they wanted. This led to some major battles, as the villains naturally attacked the heroes (of course, Galactus also tried to just eat the planet).
Eventually, though, after the villains were defeated, Doctor Doom took on the Beyonder himself and amazingly won! The heroes now had to wonder what to do with an omnipotent Doctor Doom. Their only answer was to fight him, even if that seemingly meant instant death from above. Invented as a tie-in to a line of action figures, “Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars” defined the companywide crossover (debuting just before “Crisis on Infinite Earths” did the same for DC Comics).
3. SINESTRO CORPS WAR
Sinestro was originally one of the greatest Green Lanterns of all-time. However, he soon became so obsessed with maintaining law and order in his sector (which had his home planet in it) that he became a tyrant. When he was ousted by the Green Lantern Corps, he became their dedicated enemy, using a special yellow power ring to fight against them. Meanwhile, over the years, the impurity in the Green Lantern Corps battery (that made its users vulnerable to the color yellow) turned out to be a being named Parallax who possessed Hal Jordan and turned him evil.
Now years later, a host-less Parallax and Sinestro team up with some other major villains to form the Sinestro Corps, a group where the ability to instill great fear outweighed the ability to overcome great fear. The two Corps battled each other in a series of brutal fights, before the Green Lantern Corps code was altered to authorize lethal force against the Sinestro Corps. As it turned out, though, it was the power of hope that did more damage to the Sinestro Corps than lethal force did.
2. CIVIL WAR
After the New Warriors were killed in an explosion during a fight against a group of supervillains, an explosion that killed hundreds of civilians including a bunch of schoolchildren, the United States government began to push a Superhuman Registration Act, insisting that all superheroes submit their secret identities to the government and go in for training. Spider-Man became the poster boy for the act when he revealed his secret identity while working on Iron Man’s Pro-Registration side.
Captain America led the Anti-Registration side and the two groups of heroes would fight each other repeatedly over the next few months, with one of Cap’s “Secret Avengers” being killed by a clone version of Thor created by Tony Stark, Reed Richards and Hank Pym. In the end, the public sided with Iron Man and thus Captain America surrendered into police custody (and was promptly assassinated). Stark created a new era of superheroes in the Marvel Universe.
1. KREE-SKRULL WAR
The granddaddy of all superhero war stories came out in the early 1970s and it was the brainchild of writer Roy Thomas, working mostly with artist Neal Adams (but also other artists like Sal Buscema and John Buscema). The idea behind the event was that the Kree Empire and the Skrull Empire were now at war with each other and they were carrying over their fights to the outskirts of the universe, with their battles now directly impacting Earth.
To deal with this, the Avengers decided to get involved in the war itself, which turned out to all be part of a plot by the Kree Supreme Intelligence to access the so-called “Destiny Force” within Rick Jones, as he used those hidden powers of Rick to defeat the Skrull Empire in one fell swoop, as he erased their ability to shapeshift. This storyline is famous for resolving the mystery of a mission Skrull operative who had not been accounted for in the first appearance of the Skrulls in “Fantastic Four” #2.
Which comic book war is your favorite of all-time? Let us know in the comments section!