As the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded over the years, the stories have begun to get more and more cosmic in scope, leading up to "Avengers: Infinity War." Along the way, in "Thor: The Dark World," the Collector was introduced (played by Benecio Del Toro, he then had a more expanded role in "Guardians of the Galaxy"); and in the upcoming "Thor: Ragnarok" film, Jeff Goldblum will play the Grandmaster. Both of these characters are part of a unique group of characters who mostly have served as villains over the years called the Elders of the Universe. The Elders consist of powerful beings who are the sole survivors of their respective planets and are marked by having one particular interest that they are each known for, like collecting for the Collector and gaming for the Grandmaster.
The rumor is that Marvel will be introducing more Elders of the Universe in their upcoming films, including "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2." They are likely only introducing one or two more to go along with the Collector and the Grandmaster. However, there are a lot more Elders to choose from. In fact, we thought it would be fun to rank the 15 coolest Elders of the Universe, which will also serve to familiarize you all with the Elders before one or two of them make their film debuts.
15 Ego the Living Planet
This one is extremely tricky, because by most accounts, Ego the Living Planet really doesn't count as a member of the Elders of the Universe. We went into Ego's origins in the past, and while he is the sole survivor of a planet (in his case, an entire solar system, after he merged with a planet following a sun going supernova), he doesn't really fit with the rest of the Elders in that he doesn't have a particular interest that he is known for. However, it is hard to say that he is not an Elder when he teamed up with the other Elders in their plot to kill Galactus in the early issues of the 1987 "Silver Surfer" ongoing series. In fact, in "Silver Surfer" #4 (by Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers and Joe Rubinstein), he even said...
So if Ego says he's an Elder and the other Elders let him hang out with them, it's hard to really leave him off the list entirely, even if it still seems like it was a mistake to count him. For instance, there have been writers over the years who have also called The Stranger and the In-Betweener Elders, when they clearly are not; ergo, Ego's status as an Elder is not on especially solid ground. Therefore, he just sneaks on at the end of the list, only beating out the Elders that we have never actually seen in comics, but have heard their names mentioned; like The Architect and the Grand Astrogator.
14 The Explorer
The Explorer was one of a pair of new Elders introduced in "Quasar" #47 by Mark Gruenwald, Andy Smith and Ralph Cabrera. The Elders were there to see what to do with the cosmic being known as Origin, who had the power to, oddly enough, create superheroes by taking existing beings, creating the events that gave them powers and then planting within their minds ideas for costumes and superhero names. Origin possessed different mortal beings and when they died, Origin would transfer to a new host. Its previous host was an old woman, so when she passed away, Origin possessed a giant intergalactic infant. This caught the attention of the Elders, including the Explorer, an Elder obsessed with being the first to discover things. His interest in Origin dissipated when he discovered that Quasar was already aware of it. The Explorer's impact on the world of comics has been extremely minimal.
13 The Caregiver
A slightly more impactful Elder was the Caregiver, who was introduced in "Quasar" #37 by Mark Gruenwald, Greg Capullo and Harry Candelario. The Caregiver's powers involve transferring empathy to another being, giving her great abilities a soothing presence. She also has healing abilities, and is basically the universe's greatest babysitter. As such, when she was introduced at the same time that Quasar first met the Origin entity (just as it took on the form of the giant infant), she was brought along to take care of it. When her fellow Elders got involved to try to take advantage of Origin 10 issues later, she was a notable dissenter to their plan. At the same time, she made sure to take care of them when they got injured during their confrontation with Quasar over Origin. There are limits to her powers, though, as Quasar turned to her for help when his mother became sick. She told Quasar she couldn't help him, since his mother was not of great enough cosmic significance.
12 The Judicator
Like the Explorer, the Judicator was another new Elder introduced in "Quasar" #47 by Mark Gruenwald, Andy Smith and Ralph Cabrera. As the amount of Elders expanded, writers seemed more and more likely to use one or two of the new Elders as comic relief. That was the case with the Judicator, as she was essentially a cosmic bureaucrat. She showed up with the other Elders to investigate the great power that the being known as Origin possessed. She was there, in part, to establish that she had jurisdiction over the other Elders in terms of what to do with Origin next. When Quasar's missing quantum bands showed up at the same site (he was using the Starbrand for his powers at the time), the Judicator prevented Quasar from retrieving the bands until he first petitioned her to approach Origin. Ultimately, things settled themselves when one of the other Elders was revealed to be a Skrull and Quasar was allowed access to his quantum bands. The Judicator has shown up a few times since, mostly just at official functions.
11 The Astronomer
The Astronomer was one of the new Elders introduced by Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers and Joe Rubinstein in "Silver Surfer" #4. The Astronomer had a telescopic eye that allowed him to see pretty much anything in the universe. A brilliant being, he mostly seemed to use his intelligence to come up with elaborate plots to get what he wanted. The first time readers encountered him, he was helping to plan the Elders' attack on Galactus. When that plan did not work, he and his fellow Elder, the Trader, teamed up for a second plan that involved tricking Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman and the Silver Surfer into helping them acquire a bunch of Infinity Gems (then still referred to as "Soul Gems"), while also intending to get revenge on Galactus (and, in the process, rescue their fellow Elders who had been consumed by world devourer back when their plan to kill him when awry).
10 The Trader
As mentioned in our Astronomer entry, his main partner in crime was the Trader. What the Astronomer had in intelligence, the Trader more than matched in his slyness as a negotiator. In a storyline running from "Silver Surfer" #15-18 by Steve Englehart, Ron Lim and Joe Rubinstein, the Trader and the Astronomer successfully manipulated the Silver Surfer, Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman (then temporarily re-possessed by her evil Malice personality) to do their bidding by going through a series of elaborate bluffs, lies and cheats. The Trader is also equipped with a number of powerful weapons that he acquired over the years in a series of -- you guessed it -- trades. What's interesting is that while the Trader was played mostly for laughs (especially his goofy troll-like design), at the end of the day, he was as devoted to his fellow Elders as he was to anything else, even a good trade.
9 The Obliterator
One of a group of new Elders who were introduced in "Silver Surfer" #4 as part of an Elder plot to destroy Galactus, the Obliterator is a ridiculous character; of course, that, in and of itself, was the intent. Obliterator is a sly parody by Steve Englehart on the idea of cartoon violence. He is a cartoonish thug who carries with him giant guns and has killed millions of people, but he is still a dim-witted buffoon. When the Silver Surfer took away the Obliterator's guns, he fell apart and was despondent until one of his fellow Elders successfully convinced him that he was still the Obliterator even if he did not have his guns -- he just needed to get new ones. His straightforward and destructive nature, though, makes him one of the easier Elders to use as a one-off villain. So, he has that going for him as a character... but that's about it.
8 Father Time
Father Time is a strange Elder. Up until their most recent appearance as a group in "Contest of Champions" #6 (by Al Ewing, Paco Median and Juan Vlasco), Father Time had only made one appearance and it was not necessarily clear whether he was even an actual character or a figment of Captain America's imagination! In "Captain America" #383, Mark Gruenwald, Ron Lim and Danny Bulanadi celebrated the 50th anniversary of Captain America by having Cap try to track down a mysterious figure outside of Avengers Mansion. This being ended up transporting Cap to a mysterious world of American myths, where he encountered Johnny Appleseed, John Henry, Paul Bunyon and even Uncle Sam before finally meeting the man who brought him there: Father Time!
Father Time explained that he was an Elder whose obsession was celebrating the most notable figures in the universe and transforming them into myths. He had chosen the 50th anniversary of Cap becoming a Super Soldier to make him an official myth, as well. Cap fought him off, however, and when he returned to Earth, the "Father Time" he was chasing turned out to be Hawkeye in disguise to get him out of Avengers Mansion while they planned a surprise anniversary party. Up until Father Time's return engagement, it wasn't clear if Cap had dreamed their encounter or not!
7 The Gardener
The Gardener has an interesting place in Elder history, as he was the last Elder to be introduced prior to the concept of the Elders actually being invented. Up until the Korvac Saga in the pages of "The Avengers," the Elders were simply individual cosmic beings. It was during the Korvac Saga that it was revealed they were actually connected to each other as the so-called Elders of the Universe. The Gardener made his debut in "Marvel Team-Up" #55 by Bill Mantlo, John Byrne and Dave Hunt. He was peacefully tending his beautiful garden, using a soul gem to do so, when he was brought into a conflict involving Adam Warlock, Spider-Man and the Stranger. He was forced to help out, and in the process, his soul gem became unable to work on his garden. When Warlock died, though, the Gardener took Warlock's gem and used it instead. Through the years, the Gardner has been mostly motivated by acquiring enough power to maintain his gardens and has not been particularly interested in stories beyond that; although his loyalty to his fellow Elders has still brought him into their various plots.
6 The Possessor
Another Elder who was introduced before the concept of the Elders of the Universe was formalized, the Possessor was not known by that name at first. Initially, he was just Kamo Tharnn, a powerful cosmic being that Hercules and Sif had to defeat in an attempt to gain access to his Runestaff. As we have seen many times over the years, the Elders of the Universe are very much drawn to powerful objects, and the Possessor's Runestaff was a particularly formidable weapon. It brought Jane Foster out of a coma by merging her with Sif, but we later learned that what it actually did was transport Jane and Sif into the Runestaff itself (depending on which one was the dominant form at the time), which was magically the size of a whole world. Once he was established as an Elder when Jane was rescued from his Runestaff, the Possessor became one of the leading schemers within the Elders' ranks, especially during their plot to destroy Galactus.
5 The Runner
The Runner was one of the most peaceful Elders of the Universe, but as we've seen already, the Elders tend to be so loyal to each other, they sometimes let their loyalty outweigh their own best instincts. To wit, the Runner went along with both the plan to kill Galactus as well as a plot by the Gamesmaster that could have destroyed the entire universe! However, while the Runner debuted in the pages of "The New Defenders" (where he befriended Moondragon) and took part in a few other major Elders storylines, he is still best known for the events of "Quasar" #17 (by Mark Gruenwald and Mike Manley) where he pitted the fastest beings in the Marvel Universe against each other in a race. This was an homage to a classic story featuring another Elder that you will see further down on the list, but the "Quasar" race was still a blast, especially when it was won by a mysterious blonde speedster new to the Marvel Universe who couldn't remember his name, except that it sounded like "Buried Alien" (a sly piece of work by Gruenwald to bring Barry "The Flash" Allen to the Marvel Universe after his death in "Crisis on Infinite Earths").
4 The Contemplator
Another Elder who predated the concept itself was The Contemplator, who made his debut in Jack Kirby's “Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles" (which, and this might shock you, was released in conjunction with the Bicentennial of the United States in 1976). Using the name Mr. Buda, The Contemplator sent Captain America on a journey through American history to a number of significant moments, all with the intent of discovering what exactly made America so great. Ultimately, it was upon returning to the present day and seeing a young boy dedicated to his studies in an attempt to bring himself out of poverty that Cap learned the truth -- the true essence of America is the people who hunker down and get stuff done (this moment was #2 on our Most Patriotic Captain America Moments list). Mr. Buda also returned in a charming tale where he showed us the various fill-in Captain Americas over the years. Amusingly enough, Kirby's decision to use the name "Mr. Buda" has led to later artists drawing the Contemplator like... well, Buddha.
3 The Champion
The Champion made his debut in a classic early 1980s Marvel story in the pages of "Marvel Two-in-One Annual" #7 (by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson and a bunch of inkers) where the Champion showed up to test the mettle of the Earth's greatest fighters in, what else, a boxing match. If the Champion won, he would destroy Earth. If he lost, he would spare Earth. While the rest of the world's superheroes tried to work out a plan to defeat the Champion in the event that he won, a number of the world's strongest superheroes got set to battle the Champion. These heroes included Namor, Thor, Hulk, Colossus, Wonder Man, Doc Samson, Sasquatch and, of course, the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing.
The main event took a turn for the worse when Thor was disqualified due to his needing to be in contact with his hammer at all times. The Hulk also refused to follow the rules, so he was bounced. Namor had been disqualified earlier for refusing to participate and Doc Samson had been bounced for not being a true fighter. So it came down to just Wonder Man, Colossus, Sasquatch and Thing. The first three were all dealt with easily and the Champion believed that he had bested the Thing, as well. However, the Thing's "never give up" attitude forced him to survive until the end of the third round. The ref tried to call it at that point, as the Thing was a wreck. The Thing, though, tried to keep fighting. The Champion was so impressed that he decided to spare the Earth. He has showed up a number of times since, but is often shown to be overly reliant on his Power gem giving him strength.
2 The Collector
It's tough to choose from the two main Elders, as they are by far the best of the bunch (and unsurprisingly, the first two to show up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe). For the second spot on the list, we're going with the Collector, who has the honor of being the oldest character (first appearing in "Avengers" #28 by Stan Lee, Don Heck and Frank Giacoia) and the first to reveal that he was part of a group known as the Elders (he revealed this right before Korvac killed him during the Korvac Saga). The Collector first appeared to be simply an old guy who had collected a lot of cool stuff, but over time he was revealed to be more of a cosmic being. As it turned out, his collection originally began as an attempt to stop Thanos. When Thanos was seemingly killed, he then turned his attention to Korvac. However, while his actions sometimes have been positive, for the most part the Collector is still mostly motivated by whatever benefits him the most. And he doesn't particularly care who gets hurt in the crossfire. He is also astonishingly egotistical, which you would have to be if you think it okay to put actual sentient beings into a "collection." The Collector seems to get into the most trouble when he is paired with his fellow Elder, the Grandmaster. Speaking of whom...
1 The Grandmaster
The Grandmaster is one of the greatest cosmic villains in the entire Marvel Universe, in part because his very being explains why he would show up at any given time. In other words, for most villains, you have to come up with a reason for why they're messing with the heroes. Not with the Grandmaster, as he lives for games, so he doesn't need a reason other than, well, boredom. In his very first appearance, he invented the Squadron Sinister (who later influenced the creation of the Squadron Supreme) just to have characters to fight the Avengers. He was also the driving force behind the original "Contest of Champions," where he battled against Death herself. Along with Metron, he helped push the heroes into action during "JLA/Avengers." He most recently was heavily involved in the "Contest of Champions" ongoing series, along with his fellow Elders. One of the most interesting things about the Grandmaster is that he is one of the few villains whose love for the game outweighs anything else. As such, he has been defeated a couple of times over the years by superheroes willing to bet everything on a single game of chance (or, in Hawkeye's case, willing to cheat on a single game of chance). The Grandmaster has been involved in so many fun stories that he is one of the characters whose sheer presence often suggests that you're in for a treat.
Who is your favorite Elder of the Universe? Let us know in the comments!