When Guardians of the Galaxy first graced our screens in 2015, a whole new legion of fans was exposed to the wider Marvel Cosmic Universe. For the first time, moviegoers saw that there was more to this franchise than guys in metal suits, a big green monster, or an old fella with a shield. Thanks to Star-Lord, Gamora and the gang, we all caught a glimpse of a galaxy teeming with life, and it’s an exciting universe to dive into. With Thor: Ragnarok on the way and the arrival of Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, it’s clear that Marvel Cosmic is here to stay.
Of course, comic book readers have known for decades that the cosmic side of the Marvel universe is where the truly epic moments happen. From the creation and extinction of entire civilizations; the birth and death of ancient Gods; Galactic battles for the fate of all eternity and one giant, purple dude that likes to eat planets, all are laid out on the page. Here, CBR dives into the biggest books and the most epic issues, looking at those occasions that make the hair stand up on the back of your neck and your jaw drop at what you’re seeing. Behold, the 15 craziest Marvel cosmic moments!
15. HULK HOLDS A PLANET TOGETHER
The “Planet Hulk” storyline is an epic in every sense of the word, that starts with an Illuminati of characters (including Iron Man and Mister Fantastic) sending Hulk off into space as a way of dealing with his wanton destruction, to him going on a Gladiator-esque rise from slave to king on the alien world of Sakaar. It’s so good it’s inspired the Hulk’s upcoming appearance in Thor: Ragnarok.
We all know that the angrier Hulk gets, the stronger he gets, and in “Planet Hulk” his rage knows no end. Dubbed the Worldbreaker, his journey culminates in a fight against the current ruler of the world, the Red King. When the king tries to detonate the planet, Hulk leaps down into the core of the world and holds the tectonic plates together with his bare hands.
14. DRAX RIPS OUT THANOS’ HEART
Drax is a single-minded character. While in the movies this manifests in him taking everything said to him literally, in the comics, his singular focus is squarely aimed at one character: Thanos. That’s due to the fact that Drax was created solely to destroy the Mad Titan. Thankfully for him, he succeeds, in the fan-loved 2006 event Annihilation.
In the storyline, the Negative Zone invades the Marvel Universe with an Annihilation wave of destruction, led by Annihilus. Thanos, seizing on any opportunity for power, allies himself with the alien despot. In the galactic conflict that ensues, Thanos plans to betray Annihilus by releasing the captured Galactus; however, before he can do so, Drax separates himself from the other heroes and seizes his moment. In an epic page-turn, he punches his fist through Thanos from behind, clutching his still-beating heart in his hand.
13. THE COMING OF GALACTUS
This was the original cosmic event. Capturing the essence of Stan and Jack at their peak, “The Coming of Galactus” or “The Galactus Trilogy” back in Fantastic Four #48-50 set up the hallmark of what every good cosmic event — arguably every Marvel comics event period — would be judged against. Even after over 50 years it still stands the test of time.
Rolling from one adventure to the next, the Fantastic Four just get done introducing us to the Inhumans before moving on — in the next panel — to introducing the Silver Surfer gliding through the cosmos on a quest for a new planet for his master Galactus to consume. What follows is a truly timeless battle for the salvation of all mankind against a genuinely unbelievable and seemingly insurmountable foe. Throw in The Watcher, breaking his vow to never interfere with humanity, the invention of the Ultimate Nullifier, and the Surfer’s discovery of humanity and you have a story built to last.
12. GROOT DESTROYS THE BABEL TOWER
Annihilation proved so popular as an event that there was a sequel close behind, called Annihilation: Conquest. In it, old X-Men villains and Borg-like Techno-organic beings The Phalanx team up with Ultron to continue where Annihilus left off. They nearly succeed too, spreading their Transmode virus throughout the galaxy and controlling the entire Kree army.
It takes the forming of a brand new team of heroes to defeat this menacing galactic threat: The Guardians of the Galaxy! Yes, Annihilation: Conquest sees the forming of the version of the team that most influenced the movies, and they sure start with a bang. Infiltrating the enemy stronghold, Groot, aided by Mantis, grows inside the tower until he starts to break it apart, then he sacrifices himself by setting himself on fire, exploding the enemy base from within (don’t worry, Rocket rescues a piece of him, just like in the film.)
11. DARK PHOENIX ABSORBS A STAR, DESTROYS A PLANET
Perhaps the most seminal X-Men event ever written, “The Dark Phoenix Saga” was the basis for the abysmal X3: The Last Stand movie and a (reportedly) more faithful adaptation in 2018 with the release of the 13th installment in the movie franchise, X-Men: Dark Phoenix. It’s perhaps unsurprising to hear, then, that this story stands up as a genuine classic and its influence is felt throughout the X-Men comics to this day.
In Uncanny X-Men, Jean Grey was steadily becoming more and more powerful, especially after “dying” and being resurrected by — and imbued with the powers of — the immortal cosmic Phoenix Force. Hunted by the Hellfire Club, the Shi’ar, and even her own teammates, one of the biggest moments comes when Jean, as Dark Phoenix, absorbs the power of an entire sun, causing it to go supernova and obliterate an entire planet and its billions of inhabitants.
10. THANOS KILLS HALF THE UNIVERSE
This is the second appearance of Thanos on this list, but by far his biggest moment. How could he ever hope to beat the time he gathered all of the Infinity Stones (known as gems in the comics) into the fabled Gauntlet and used it to wipe out exactly half of all life in the universe with a snap of his fingers?
As is customary with the Mad Titan, this was all in an effort to win over the affections of his amorous obsession: the physical manifestation of Death. Not only that, but this was just the start of the epic saga of The Infinity Gauntlet. Whether he’ll be as powerful as this in the upcoming movie adaptation Avengers: Infinity War is anyone’s guess, but there’s no way this moment wasn’t going to make the list.
9. APOCALYPSE TWINS KILL A CELESTIAL
An often overlooked run, Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers ran for 27 issues, kicked off the “Marvel Now” era in 2012, and is filled with genuinely epic and shocking moments. The series opens with the Red Skull stealing the probably-still-warm corpse of Charles Xavier (dead following the Avengers vs X-Men event,) implanting his brain into his own head to gain the Professor’s telepathy powers, and the series only gets crazier from there.
The following arc sees Kang the Conqueror kidnap The Apocalypse Twins — children born to Archangel and Apocalyptic Horseman Ichisumi — and raise them in the far future. They return to the present fully grown, with plans of conquest. These plans involve manipulating Thor into imbuing the Asgardian ax Janbjorn with deity-slaying powers, which they then promptly use to kill a Celestial — an ancient cosmic God — and bring about the apocalypse. Now that’s epic.
8. BLACK BOLT VERSUS VULCAN
War of Kings is yet another cosmic event that followed in the footsteps of Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest, this time focusing on a Game of Thrones style battle for galactic dominance amongst some of the biggest political players in the Marvel Universe. It centered around Vulcan, long-lost brother of Scott Summers (AKA Cyclops,) leading Shi’ar forces against the Kree Empire, themselves led by the Inhumans.
In what would be an ownership rights nightmare, it’s unlikely we’ll see a battle between an X-Men villain, surrounded by Fantastic Four characters and against the MCU’s Inhumans on our screens anytime soon, but in the comics, it played out fairly well. It culminated, rather predictably, in a fight between Vulcan and Inhuman king Black Bolt, the latter using his immense vocal powers to destroy the ship they were battling in, seemingly killing them both and creating a tear in the fabric of space.
7. ANNIHILATION WAVE OBLITERATES NOVA CORPS
We return to the Annihilation event for the next entry on our list, and a moment that helps to illustrate just how powerful this other-dimensional threat truly is. The Nova Corps used to be just like their movie counterparts, seen in Guardians of the Galaxy as a major Galactic peace-keeping force. Note the term “used to be.” Now there are hardly any left, and it’s all thanks to the Annihilation Wave.
Annihilus invades with his wave of enemy forces through “The Crunch,” the weak point between the Marvel Universe and his home of the Negative Zone. In an attempt to plan a coordinated retaliation, the Nova Corps gather on their homeworld of Xandar to prepare for war. While there, however, the Annihilation Wave descends, and in a stunning display of force, obliterates all but a handful of Nova Corps members. To this day the Corps has never fully recovered.
6. NEGA BOMB DETONATION
Running over a staggering 19 issues in early 1992, “Operation: Galactic Storm” is a semi-sequel to the “Kree-Skrull War” of the early ’70s, except this time it’s a conflict between the Kree and X-Men adversaries the Shi’ar. Caught up in the cosmic battle between warring empires, the Avengers split into two teams in an attempt to resolve the war and save Earth, which is threatened by this galactic conflict. It’s soon discovered that the Shi’ar have used Kree technology — including the powerful Nega Bands of the now deceased Captain Marvel — to create a powerful Nega Bomb.
Despite the Avengers’ attempts, the bomb is stolen by Skrull agents and detonated, killing billions of Kree and crippling their empire. It turns out that this entire conflict, including the explosion, was orchestrated by the Kree Supreme Intelligence as a way of jump-starting their evolution, but even this cannot diminish that shocking scene.
5. GALACTUS DEVOURS THE SKRULL HOMEWORLD
Man, there are a lot of home worlds getting destroyed on this list! Running through Fantastic Four comics in the mid-eighties, this story is commonly known as the “Trial of Galactus,” but it’s actually Reed Richards facing galactic judgment. Stumbling across a dying Galactus, Reed does what he believes to be right and saves the cosmic entity’s life. By doing this, however, it allowed the Devourer of Worlds to do what he does best, and he consumes the Skrull homeworld and all seven billion inhabitants.
It’s a fascinating story and a retelling of an old philosophical dilemma on a cosmic scale. Through Reed’s trial, we learn the origin of Galactus, so for many reasons this has become a vital chapter in Marvel’s cosmic story. It all hangs on that one epic moment, however, and Reed is held responsible for the destruction of a planet and the near extinction of an entire race.
4. DOCTOR DOOM STEALS THE POWER OF THE BEYONDER
What initially started out as a glorified advert for an upcoming line of action figures, 1984’s Secret Wars became one of the best selling comic series of its time, and became a blueprint for all other comic book events that came after. It was the first of its kind: a 12 issue series that saw all the major Marvel superheroes come together to fight a universal threat.
The threat in question was the Beyonder, a godlike being that abducted several heroes and villains (the popular ones that would make great action figures,) and forced them to fight on his newly created Battleworld. His biggest mistake was including Doctor Doom on his list, as Doom quickly constructs a machine made from the technology Galactus uses to consume planets, and steals the powers of the Beyonder for himself. When life gives Doom lemons, he… well, he becomes an all-powerful cosmic god. Because Doom.
3. DEATH OF THE WATCHER
Original Sin, the controversial summer event of 2014, saw all of the biggest retcons — sorry, secrets — of the Marvel universe exposed to wreak havoc on the lives of the heroes. From the forgotten sister of Thor and Loki, to Tony Stark’s hand in creating the Hulk, to the second person that the radioactive spider bit after Peter Parker, all was “finally revealed.” How did this come about? Why, thanks to the murder of the Watcher, of course!
A classic mainstay in Marvel events, Uatu the Watcher lived on the Blue area of the Moon and watched humanity grow and evolve over the centuries, never interfering except when things get really serious (like the arrival of Galactus, above.) His murder is shocking enough, but it gets even grislier when his eyes are subsequently stolen. They’re then used to reveal the previously mentioned secrets, because that’s what eyes do?
2. THOR, ODIN AND LOKI VERSUS SURTUR
If we were ranking comic runs with the most epic moments crammed in between their covers then Walt Simonson’s run on Thor would undoubtedly take the top spot. Spanning five years and over a thousand pages, his run introduced characters like Beta Ray Bill and saw battles on such a scale that have never been seen before or since.
One such battle was teased and built up from the opening moments of Simonson’s run. The arrival of Surtur the Fire Giant was foretold so well that when he arrives it’s already a seminal event, and when Thor, Loki and Odin all join forces to thwart the destruction of the Nine Realms, it doesn’t get much better. Throw in a panel that captures the essence of all three characters in a single battle cry — Odin: “For Asgard!” Thor: “For Midgard!” Loki: “For Myself!” — and you have one unforgettable moment.
1. THE FINAL INCURSION
One of the more recent entries on the list, this moment effectively destroyed both the classic (or 616) Universe and the Ultimate Universe in a single, earths-shattering collision. The culmination of over three years of storytelling across multiple Avengers books (not to mention various tie-ins, mini-events and spin-offs), Jonathan Hickman’s tale of multiversal collapse will surely come to be regarded as one of the grandest, most ambitious stories in Avengers history.
What started as an attempt by a secret Illuminati of heroes (the same ones that shot Hulk into space) to uncover what was causing Earths from different dimensions to collide and wipe out entire universes, ended in the inevitable: two lone universes remained, and their collision could not be avoided. Secret Wars #0 saw the incursion of the 616 and Ultimate universes, and the futile battle to prevent it was epic from start to finish.
What were your favorite moments in Marvel cosmic comics? Let us know in the comments!
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