Marvel Comics had an emotional rollercoaster of a year in 2016. The comic universe was fractured and literally reshaped, and fans found their heroes brutally clashing with each other once more over ideologies on how the world should be safeguarded. Death also continued to run rampant, and whomever wasn’t claimed fully… well, let’s just say that they’re very much decommissioned.
With the Marvel Cinematic Universe in full swing as well, it was unsurprising that the comics stood very Avenger-oriented, although the Inhumans did arguably have their biggest year to date. Their latest conflict with the X-Men showed that no matter what, the children of the atom will always have a key role to play in the books. CBR takes a look back at this whirlwind year, which saw a ton of politics, diversity and multiverse drama injected into the status quo, and presents to you the 15 biggest moments from Marvel Comics.
SPOILER WARNING: The below contains spoilers for multiple Marvel Comics titles.
15. THE LIVING TRIBUNAL
“Ultimates 2” #2 by Al Ewing and Travel Foreman saw Marvel’s cosmic landscape drastically altered with the death of the Living Tribunal. Following Galactus’ evolution from devourer to seeder of worlds (aka, the Lifebringer), the team’s complexion took a new turn as he offered them (Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Blue Marvel, Spectrum and Ms. America) the opportunity to become his heralds.
As the heroes analyzed the new order of things, Galactus held council with fellow cosmic entities, Master Order and Lord Chaos, who felt that his new role upset the natural balance of the cosmos. The Living Tribunal, an omnipotent body meant to preserve said balance, heard their case as they asked for Galatcus to be reinstated as a destroyer, or obliterated and replaced by a new devourer. The Tribunal, however, ruled in Galactus’ favor, stating “What was is over. What will be has yet to become,” possibly referring to the rebuilding of the universe at the end of “Secret Wars.” This incurred the wrath of Order and Chaos, and they killed the Tribunal upon realizing that the galactic hierarchy was still being forged in this new reality.
14. BEN REILLY: THE NEW JACKAL
“The Clone Conspiracy” by Dan Slott and Jim Cheung is undoubtedly one of the most cerebral Spider-Man stories in recent years, raising the bar that the “Clone Saga” set years ago. Issue #3 dropped a huge bomb, revealing that Ben Reilly, a Peter Parker clone long-presumed dead, was the new Jackal. It was also revealed that he had been reanimating loved ones from Peter’s life, as well as those belonging to his villains, via the bleeding-edge resurrection capabilities provided by the New U pharmaceutical company. The story further divulged that throughout the multiverse, New U partnered with Parker Industries, only to see things backfire with their patients turning into zombie-like creatures.
Aided by Spider-Gwen and Kaine (another clone), Peter tried to stop who he thought was Miles Warren, the original Jackal, but the Reilly twist threw him for a loop as the latter made him the ultimate offer to bring back Uncle Ben. While that thread’s yet to be resolved at the time of this list’s writing, this revelation compounds what’s been quite a turbulent ride for Spidey, dredging up more questions, which only time (and probably Dan Slott) will answer.
13. THE DEATH OF MAGIC
Capitalizing on a year where Marvel fans were fixated on the “Doctor Strange” movie, Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo brought their dynamic storytelling to Stephen Strange’s quest to save magic in the 616. Earth was attacked by a super-science army called the Empirikul, the remit of which was slaughtering Sorcerer Supremes across dimensions and destroying mystical landmarks and artifacts. This was all part of a crusade against magic, which the Empirikil deemed a means of destruction and oppression.
They turned their gaze to the 616 Earth, weakening its magical repository and leaving Strange struggling to offer resistance alongside fellow mages such as Doctor Voodoo, Shaman, Scarlet Witch and eventual victim, Monako. Issue #10 culminated with Strange confronting and defeating the Empirikul’s leader, the Imperator, in the cellar of his Sanctum Sanctorum, aided by a dark entity Strange kept hidden there. The battle was won, but the war was far from over as Strange thereafter found his spells and magical artifacts severely depleted. This left him in his most vulnerable state for enemies, such as Mordo and Nightmare to later pounce, with magic in the Marvel universe rendered, more or less, dead.
12. AMADEUS CHO HULKS OUT
Super-genius, Amadeus Cho, was usually seen as sidekick to Bruce Banner and the then-Incredible Hercules, but Greg Pak and Frank Cho elevated his status to a whole new level as “The Totally Awesome Hulk.” Following “Secret Wars,” the original Hulk absorbed a lethal amount of radiation during a meltdown event just off of Kiber Island, which Cho extracted into his own body using nanites, becoming a more-controlled version of Hulk.
Cho transformed the Hulk into a carefree, at-times irresponsible hero aided by his sister, Maddy, in missions which included battling the likes of Fin Fang Foom, Enchantress and Lady Hellbender. He eventually found his way to the “Champions,” driven by the need to do good (and given a platform to show off). What made Cho’s actions in saving Banner all the more emotional was that he came up with this solution at a time when Iron Man and Black Panther were so stumped, they contemplated sending Banner to the Negative Zone. In many ways, this scene was heartbreaking, as it showed Banner shedding a tear after realizing the sacrifice that his loyal friend was making.
11. RISE OF THE CHAMPIONS
Following “Civil War II,” the younger generation of Avengers grew disillusioned with how their seniors were operating; with each other, as well as the greater world. Kamala Khan (Miss Marvel) exited, recruiting Nova and Miles Morales to start a new movement. She indicated that they needed to be an ideal, something pure, which attracted Amadeus Cho as the new Hulk, and Vision’s daughter, Viv, in “Champions.”
Written by Mark Waid and drawn by Humberto Ramos, the series is filled with teenage endearment while maintaining the essence of aspiring heroes trying to find their place in the world. The time-displaced Cyclops also enlisted to bolster these new kids on the block, whose big moment of glory came in Issue #3, where they helped facilitate a group of women to save themselves from terrorists in Lasibad. Despite squabbles over who would lead and not understanding the language of the gunrunners, the team made it clear that they were here to help in a new way, and that they were ready for the grand stage. It highlighted the grit, ambition and battlefield maturity these young heroes needed to fix a broken world.
10. THE INFAMOUS IRON MAN
Following the end of “Secret Wars,” Victor Von Doom got a new lease on life. His face healed and no longer on a quest for power, he sought a greater purpose and wanted to make a true impact on the world; not as a God or villain, but as a hero. This led to him helping Tony Stark, whom he harbored a secret admiration for as a fellow genius. When Stark was taken off the table in “Civil War II,” Doom decided to take over his mantle as the “Infamous Iron Man.”
It was a bold move from series creators Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, but one that highlighted just how reformed he was. He blended the mystic arts with science in this new version of Iron Man in what seems to be a genuine motive to affect positive change. However, his heroic ambitions have drawn cynicism from Ben Grimm, now an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as Stark’s A.I. personality. Doom’s rebuffed interest in scientist Amara Perera will also continue testing his resolve, but his true test is yet to come when he meets his resurrected mother and practitioner of the dark arts, Cynthia.
9. THANOS IS DYING
Jeff Lemire added a deep layer of intrigue to the powerful villain in “Thanos” #1 with a final page twist that the despot was dying. Death shared this secret with his son, Thane, who was conspiring with Tryco Slatterus: The Champion and Thanos’ brother, Starfox, to eliminate the Mad Titan, fresh off a violent reclamation of his throne from his former right-hand-man and usurper, Corvus Glave.
In the subsequent issue, Thanos sought out his father, Mentor, who diagnosed him as dying from some sort of God Cancer. As Mentor confessed that there was no chance of saving his son, he also lambasted Thanos’ evil ways, which resulted in a frustrated Thanos killing his father. What made the earlier reveal so bittersweet was the image of pain and anguish seen on Thanos’ face by artist, Mike Deodato. It was a rare moment of vulnerability and self-defeat, which contrasted the sometimes rage-filled and always regal disposition in which we usually see Thanos. With his demise seemingly inevitable, it will be interesting to read how he spends his final days, as Thane’s cabal and the Shi’ar’s Imperial Guard all come gunning for him.
8. THE RISE OF IRONHEART
Bendis continued to make waves alongside Deodato on art when he set the stage for Riri Williams, a 15-year-old engineering student, to take her first steps as Iron Man’s successor. “Invincible Iron Man” #11 delivered the stamp of approval Williams needed as she made an explosive statement as to why she was ready to be his protege. The MIT scholarship genius designed an armored suit similar to Iron Man’s using stolen material from campus. She would eventually don it to flee campus security and fly face-first into a life of crime-fighting. She evades the campus fuzz, but finds a higher calling as she ends up stopping two criminals from escaping prison.
The inmates were driving a truck away from the New Mexico State Penitentiary, but Riri flew down and halted them dead in their tracks with an epic, life-changing punch. This would see Stark endorse her bravery to follow in his footsteps as a superhero. Her duties as Stark’s understudy took a new twist following the end of “Civil War II,” with him now interacting with Riri as an A.I. presence, eager to help her evolve into a force for good in her solo series as Ironheart.
7. DEATH OF WAR MACHINE
After seeing War Machine (James Rhodes) take a major hit with Team Stark in the “Civil War” film, the comics took it one step further, when Thanos mercilessly killed him to exacerbate the tensions behind “Civil War II.” After being offered the position of Secretary of Defense by the President of the United States, Rhodes — never shying away from the line of duty — suited up and flew into battle alongside the Ultimates and Inhumans in an ambush against Thanos.
After the recently-emerged Inhuman Ulysses predicted that the villain would come for a Cosmic Cube at Project Pegasus, Carol Danvers led the surprise strike against the Mad Titan, only to see things fall apart when Thanos tossed Medusa into War Machine, who botched a missile launch and incapacitated She-Hulk. A concerned Rhodes was then caught off-guard, with Thanos administering an explosive, fatal blow to. This failed endeavor proved to be the catalyst that divided Danvers (Rhodes’ lover) and an incensed Stark (Rhodes’ best friend) as to how Ulysses’ predictive powers should be used to police situations, tearing apart Earth’s mightiest yet again.
6. SECRET WARS: CONCLUSION
Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic delivered a rousing finale with “Secret Wars” #9. Following the collision of the 616 universe with the Ultimate universe, Dr. Doom — secretly wielding the stolen power of the Beyonders — used Molecule Man to create and rule Battleworld. This new reality was built from fragments of the destroyed multiverse and contained heroes and villains from the remaining realities. However, Doom’s godhood faced stern opposition with a combined resistance eventually ending the villain’s strained “Doom-topia.”
Molecule Man turned on Doom and aided Reed Richards in their last battle by eliminating Victor’s pilfered godhood and putting them on an even level. They then began working with the rest of Reed’s family, particularly his all-powerful son Franklin, to rebuild Marvel’s multiverse. Black Panther also used the Reality Gem to help save the 616, which was now transformed into the Prime Earth. This became home to Miles Morales and his loved ones, as a gift from Molecule Man to Miles (for bringing him a burger), where he’d now share the Spider-Mantle with Peter Parker. The mammoth event wrapped with Doom (who admitted that Reed would have done better with the godlike power bestowed upon him) unscarred and reformed, ready to make amends and help heal a brave new world.
5. DEATH OF CYCLOPS
“Death of X” (spearheaded by Lemire and Charles Soule) brought the curtains down dramatically on the fate of Cyclops. The Terrigen Clouds were released globally by the Inhumans to increase their population in the wake of “Infinity,” but they were soon found to have lethal effects on mutants (rendering them sterile or killing them via the M-Pox disease). Thus, Cyclops led his people in trying to nullify the effects so that the Terrigen Mists they contained would no longer be harmful. Alchemy was instrumental in his plan as he helped transmute one of the clouds into a substance that was safe for mutants. However, he died soon after due to the poisoning, which caused Cyclops to antagonize Black Bolt, who killed him with a sonic scream.
In actuality, however, this “Cyclops” was a powerful psychic projection created by Emma Frost; the real Cyclops actually contracted M-Pox and died while first investigating the affliction over a year prior. She disclosed to his brother and Avenger, Havok, that this perceived self-sacrifice, and her overall ruse, were orchestrated to make Cyclops immortal in the form of an idea, and to spur the X-Men on in their quest to do anything to preserve their species.
4. INHUMANS VS. X-MEN: FIRST STRIKE
The final page of “Inhumans vs X-Men” #1 (also from Lemire and Soule, with art by Leinil Yu) continued to shake up the established order of things. With the older Beast and the Inhumans finding no cure to help mutants combat the deadly effects of the Terrigen Mists, the X-Men decided to break the truce that was in place. With two weeks left until the extinction of mutantkind, Emma felt that going on the offensive to take out the remaining Cloud was the best course of action, as opposed to seeking refuge in Limbo and waiting to die.
Beast didn’t approve of this show of force, but was quickly incapacitated by Storm before he could inform Medusa’s people. This was the rallying cry to attack. An undercover Magneto subdued Crystal and Gorgon’s squad in the Royal Inhuman Vessel; Jean Grey neutralized Karnak; Fantomex tranquilized the teleporting Lockjaw; and Emma teamed with Dazzler to take down Black Bolt. This left Medusa and Johnny Storm ready to fight and defend New Attilan, which was now being invaded by one of the biggest X-Men contingents ever, ready for all-out war and surely changing the dynamic of both species forever. It remains to be seen at the time of this writing what will happen next, but what has already occurred could change things forever (whatever that means in comics).
3. TONY STARK ENTERS A COMA
At the end of “Civil War II” (written by Bendis and drawn by David Marquez), the conflict between Stark and Danvers reached feverish heights. Stark, in an upgraded War Machine-esque armor, took her on after she tried to “peacefully” bring in Miles Morales, following Ulysses’ vision that the youngster would kill Steve Rogers. Despite Steve and Miles never engaging each other, Stark and Danvers duked it out in grand fashion, with explosions and debris everywhere. Ulysses urged the other heroes to stop their teammates, but it was too little too late as Stark was dealt a blow that rendered him comatose in Issue #8.
In the aftermath, Beast disclosed that his life was saved due to secret experiments he was conducting on himself. These experiments — still of an unknown nature — are the only thing keeping him alive. However, Stark’s essence was preserved in the form of a fully-functional A.I., which communicates with his successor, Riri, and a redemptive Doom. This battle clearly affected the vast majority of superheroes, with Danvers seemingly accepting that Stark was right about Ulysses seeing a possible future and not THE future, as she plotted a course forward for the 616 with the US President.
2. DEATH OF HULK
An early tipping point that pushed Stark and Danvers to war was Ulysses’ vision of a rampaging Hulk, who caused the theoretical death of several Avengers. This led them to confront a baffled Bruce Banner outside his secret lab, where Beast unveiled that he was conducting gamma experiments on himself. Banner became agitated at his comrades’ distrust that he couldn’t control the Hulk and as he raised his voice in “Civil War II” #3, he was killed by an arrow through his head.
Hawkeye (Clint Barton) was revealed as the perpetrator, but was eventually acquitted after it was divulged that Banner had given the archer the means to kill him, should he lose control again. Hawkeye utilized this on the day of the incident as he claimed to see a green glimmer in Banner’s eye, purportedly signaling imminent danger. Stark was furious that Danvers tried to justify the killing, which proved to be one of the first strokes in alienating the youngsters who’ would end up forming the Champions squad. Danvers argued the kill as necessary because of the destruction had Hulk been unleashed, which ultimately won Hawkeye his freedom; but not before it added to the casualty list Danvers was racking up.
1. HAIL HYDRA
Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz set the internet afire with “Captain America: Steve Rogers” #1 and a final page reveal that Rogers was a secret HYDRA agent. After the events of “Standoff” in Pleasant Hill, the Red Skull used Kobik, a Cosmic Cube given sentient form as a young girl, to rewrite Cap’s history/memories and mold him into an evil operative. It was a big twist that drew a lot of attention for subverting such an iconic American superhero, with just two little words.
Rogers’ ensuing schemes included manipulating Hulk and Stark in “Civil War II,” violently silencing Jack Flag and conspiring with fellow agent, Erik Selvig, on how to utilize Baron Zemo to kill Red Skull and restore HYDRA to full glory. Rogers also plotted to have the Chitauri destabilize the world and create the chaos he needs for his HYDRA revamp. Only in this book could fans truly see how deceptive Rogers was, culminating with him trying to manipulate the new and all-powerful Quasar (Avril Kincaid). Watching Rogers’ traumatic past remodeled and his subsequent HYDRA upbringing unfold with such deception definitely made for the year’s most interesting (and divisive) read.
What do you think was Marvel’s biggest moment in 2016? Sound off in the comments!
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