Throughout fiction, one of the most popular recurring plots is the pursuit of power. Readers are fascinating with seeing character seek out more and more power and, of course, discovering whether it is true that "absolute power corrupts absolutely." The problem with too much power is that it takes away from the stakes of the story. You can't really have a lot of drama with an omnipotent hero or villain.
Therefore, what we get instead is a lot of stories where a hero or villain briefly has omnipotence, just long enough for the sake of the story (some are briefer than others). Here, then, is a list of fifteen comic book characters that have had a taste of ominipotence. This doesn't count those characters who are permanently powerful (like Doctor Manhattan or Solar, Man of the Atom), but rather characters who had a temporary fling with ultimate power. While the numbers may count down, it is actually just a chronological list.
15 Red Skull
When you have a character like the Red Skull who is pretty much the personification of evil, it is fascinating to see what would happen if he were ever given a great amount of power. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby addressed this concept by introducing the Cosmic Cube, a powerful object that gave its user ultimate power. Red Skull accessed it and essentially made himself the emperor of the world. Luckily, Captain America knew how to play to to Skull's vanity, so while feigning subservience, Cap knocked the cube from the Skull's hands and things went back to normal.
The Red Skull has accessed the power of the Cosmic Cube a number of times in the years since, and when given control of reality, he has caused some major problems, like when he altered Sam Wilson's past so that he was once "Snap" Wilson, a street hustler, and when he recently manipulated a sentient Cosmic Cube into altering Steve Rogers' past so that he was a member of Hydra since childhood.
14 Doctor Doom
The desire for power has been something that has driven Doctor Doom for many decades now. One of his first famous power-seeking stories came when he absorbed the Power Cosmic from the Silver Surfer in the pages of "Fantastic Four." Luckily, he also absorbed the Surfer's limitations (the Surfer was trapped on Earth back then), so the Fantastic Four were able to defeat him. While that was a classic story, Doom had an even more famous power grab during the 1983 crossover mini-series, "Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars", where Doom defeated the seemingly omnipotent Beyonder after the latter had brought a group of superheroes and supervillains to a mysterious planet to watch them fight. Doom fixed his face and vanquished his enemies, but his own self-doubt kept sabotaging himself and he ultimately lost the power back to the Beyonder.
Most recently, Doctor Doom enlisted the help of the Molecule Man to essentially take control of the Multiverse and make himself God Doom. Once again, though, he was plagued by self-doubt and he actually admitted out loud that Mister Fantastic would be a better "god" than him, which led to Molecule Man making that change for Doom, stripping Doom of omnipotence once again (luckily, he at least got to keep his unscarred face this time!).
In the 1987 "Uncanny X-Men Annual" #11 (by Chris Claremont, Alan Davis and Paul Neary), a mysterious being known as Horde forced the X-Men to break into the Citadel of Light and Shadow to steal the Crystal of Ultimate Vision for him. The journey through the Citadel was a perilous one, as the Citadel tempted the X-Men (and Captain Britain and Meggan, who were along for the ride) with their fondest wishes. The story is a bleak one, as some of the fondest wishes of the X-Men are pretty twisted (like Dazzler is given the choice between being a successful artist, a successful judge or a bag lady and she chooses the one with the least amount of pressure - the bag lady).
It comes down to just Wolverine and he is about to get the crystal when Horde shows up and kills him, because he actually just wanted the X-Men to pave the path for him. However, before Horde can touch the crystal, a drop of Wolverine's blood (from Horde's vicious attack) hits the crystal and Wolverine is awarded the prize of the Crystal. Its powers resurrects Wolverine and he becomes one with the universe. He rejects omnipotence and just returns his teammates back to normal.
Like Doctor Doom, Thanos was always seeking objects of great power. This is because he was driven by a desire to impress Death itself, and he needed more and more power to kill more and more people. This search led him from giant killer spaceships all the way to his own Cosmic Cube. His search came to its pinnacle in the mini-series "Infinity Quest", where he hunted down all of the Infinity Gems from the Elders of the Universe that possessed them and formed the Infinity Gauntlet. Thanos was now the most powerful being in the universe and in the crossover event "Infinity Gauntlet", he quickly proved it by killing half of the people in the universe!
Ultimately, Thanos' old rival (and occasional friend), Adam Warlock, helped Thanos realize the truth - he always knew deep down that he did not deserve ultimate power, which is why he always self-sabotaged himself just like Doom did with his power.
During a point in time when Thanos was dead, his self-proclaimed granddaughter, Nebula, took control of Thanos' ship (Sanctuary II) and legacy. She got in a skirmish with the Avengers and Firelord, who blamed her for the destruction of his home planet. She escaped and showed up on Earth the next time, trying to harness a powerful device that literally caused the universe to repeatedly blink in and out of existence. The Avengers stopped her again.
Once Thanos took hold of the Infinity Gauntlet, he tracked Nebula down and punished her for claiming kinship to him (while not necessarily saying she WASN'T related to him) and turned her into what he described as his most perfect creation - she was not dead but she wasn't really alive. The now zombie-like Nebula eventually managed to take control of the Gauntlet for herself. Thanos tricked her into reversing everything he had done with the Gauntlet, which included erasing many powerful cosmic entities. They all showed up at once and attacked her, not giving her the chance to think straight. Adam Warlock defeated her by then using his connection with the Soul Gem in the glove to force her to drop the Gauntlet. She did a really poor job of being omnipotent.
10 Adam Warlock
Once Nebula lost the Gauntlet, there was a mad scramble for the glove, but in the end it turned out to be Adam Warlock who took a hold of it. He then cleaned up all the respective messes that Thanos had left over from his time of omnipotence and then vanished. When next we saw Warlock, it was in the debut issue of "Warlock and the Infinity Watch." There, Warlock decided that the Gauntlet was too powerful for any one being to possess, so he instead split the gems up with a group of heroes (and one villain) who would each safeguard one of the gems.
Later, it turned out that during his time of omnipotence, Warlock had secretly (a secret even to him) split up the "Evil" and "Good" sides of personality, as the omnipotent Warlock felt that both of those impulses got in the way. Those sides of Warlock, now known as the Magus and the Goddess, formed the basis of the next two "Infinity" crossovers, "Infinity War" and "Infinity Crusade".
9 Hal Jordan
During the "Reign of the Supermen," the evil Cyborg Superman destroyed Coast City, the hometown of Earth's greatest Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. The trauma of losing all of those people caused Hal to essentially snap. Later, it was revealed that Hal had been possessed by a malevolent entity known as Parallax. At the time, it looked like Hal was so distraught with grief that he decided that the only way he could make things right was to get more power. In the crossover "Emerald Twilight," Hal traveled to the home base of the Green Lantern Corps and ended up absorbing the entire Green Lantern Corps power battery. He killed some folks along the way, but he felt that it did not matter, since his plan was to fix everything.
This led to "Zero Hour", where the now nigh-omnipotent Hal (calling himself Parallax) decided to restart the universe to fix everything that went wrong in the world. He was defeated by Earth's heroes. Hal later atoned for his sins by sacrificing himself to restart Earth's sun in the crossover "Final Night." Later (after a brief stint as the Spectre, also a kind of omnipotent being due to literally being God's spirit of vengeance), Hal was resurrected and became human again.
The Joker is not typically who you would think of when you think of omnipotence, but that's exactly what happened in the crossover that took place in the "Superman" titles in 2000 that was called "Emperor Joker." The storyline began with Superman waking up in a world turned upside down, where he and his fellow Justice League of America heroes were now criminals. Meanwhile, supervillains made up the new Justice League. Eventually, Superman's powerful foe, the interdimensional being known as Mr. Mxyzptlk, revealed that the Joker had tricked Mr. Mxyzptlk into giving him 99% of his power!
The Joker would torture and kill Batman every day and then bring him back to life for the next day to start all over again (while letting Batman remember all of the previous days). This drove Batman insane. Superman eventually defeats Joker by taunting him with the fact that he can never actually get rid of Batman, because Joker only exists (in his own mind) in opposition to Batman, so Superman notes that Batman will always have power over the Joker. This distracts the Joker long enough for the Spectre and Mr. Mxyzptlk to swoop in and fix things.
7 Kyle Rayner
When Hal Jordan sacrificed himself to re-ignite Earth's sun, he left over a lot of residual power floating around the universe, and ultimately in a storyline in the pages of "Green Lantern," that power ended up in Hal's successor as the Green Lantern of Earth, Kyle Rayner. In a story just a little bit earlier, Kyle had fought against Oblivion, a powerful villain who turned out to have been created by Kyle's own subconscious. So Kyle had already intentionally dampened his powers, something he fixed when he absorbed Oblivion. When he added in Hal's excess powers, the result was Kyle becoming an omnipotent being known as Ion.
Eventually, Kyle realized that omnipotence meant losing touch with his humanity, so he gave up the powers and used them to recreate the Green Lantern Corps power battery and create a new group of Guardians. Years later, it was revealed that Ion was a being like Parallax that sort of possessed Kyle rather than Kyle turning into Ion.
Genis-Vell, the son of Mar-Vell, took on his father's mantle as the new Captain Marvel. He then bonded with Rick Jones following "Avengers Forever" and they worked together as superheroes. One of Genis' powers, though, was Cosmic Awareness. The problem with Cosmic Awareness is that as it develops, it can pretty much drive you insane, as you instantly know the ramifications of every move you make. That's exactly what happened to Genis, as he was driven mad by all of the knowledge that he possessed, but with that power also came nigh omnipotence. Ultimately, while insane (and insanely powerful), he was convinced by the children of Eternity to destroy the universe, which he does.
Once destroyed, Genis-Vell is, in effect, one with the universe and his insanity subsided a bit and he managed to convince Eternity's children to restart the universe, so Genis recreates the universe just as it was before, only with some slight changes (like how he has a sister, Phyla-Vell).
Dan Jurgens relaunched "Thor" following "Heroes Return." The son of Odin was called back to Asgard once his father died fighting Surtur. Thor now had to take over as ruler of Asgard, gaining him access to the Odinforce as a result. This made him basically omnipotent. While ruling in Asgard, Thor was becoming increasingly worried about being torn from Earth, so he came up with the solution of bringing Asgard down so that it floated over New York City. Soon, people began to worship Thor on Earth and in a powerful crossover, Thor, Iron Man and Captain America got caught up in a controversy involving worshipers of Thor. The battle between the three former friends showed how powerful Thor was, as he even managed to dent Captain America's shield!
Thor's control over Earth grew and grew until he was basically a tyrannical leader. As it turned out, earlier events in the series left Thor incapable of feeling the right amount of empathy for humanity. In a great plot twist involving time travel, Thor's reign over the Earth was stopped before it ever actually began. Soon after was the "Ragnarok" storyline and when the Asgardians were eventually reincarnated, Thor was no longer in possession of the Odinforce.
4 Iron Man
The Illuminati was a group of superhero leaders (each of a unique group, like how Professor X was there representing mutants, Iron Man representing superheroes, Black Bolt representing Inhumans, etc.) who secretly took care of stuff behind-the-scenes over the years. One of these instances was following "Infinity Gauntlet" where they decided to split the gems up (after Mister Fantastic briefly held the omnipotent Gauntlet), with each hero taking care of one. Eventually, though, Parker Robbins, the villain known as The Hood, began to track down the hidden gems and started to put together his own Infinity Gauntlet.
The then-newly reformed Avengers tried to stop Robbins, and ultimately, the only way they could was to use the Gauntlet themselves. Iron Man became the first non-powered Earthling to wield the Gauntlet when he managed to suck the power away from the Hood. He then seemingly erased the Gauntlet from existence, but instead it turned out he was just hiding the gems once again. This time around, though, the Illuminati had the blessing of Steve Rogers.
The Avengers, knowing what the Phoenix Force did when it joined with Jean Grey (omitted from this list since her whole deal is that she's usually its bearer and not just briefly in possession of the power), wanted to destroy it upon learning it was en route to Earth. Meanwhile, the X-Men wanted to see why it was coming first. Their squabble led to Tony Stark building a "Phoenix-killer" that instead split the Phoenix Force into five pieces, which then possessed Magik, Colossus, Namor, Emma Frost and Cyclops.
The "Phoenix Five" quickly turned the tables on the X-Men/Avengers war and soon began hunting the Avengers down (Namor practically destroyed Wakanda in the process). However, when the Avengers defeated Namor, his Phoenix powers were distributed to the other four. When Magik and Colossus were then defeated, Emma and Cyclops ended up with all of their powers. Cyclops was then driven to take Emma's powers, so he basically became Dark Phoenix. He didn't handle that well and even ended up killing his own mentor, Professor X! Dark Phoenix Cyclops was eventually defeated and the Phoenix Force went to Hope Summers after all, who transformed it into something that brought mutants back to Earth, undoing the events of "House of M."
2 Captain America
Following "Avengers vs. X-Men", a new Illuminati was formed, reflecting Namor being on the outs from the group and Professor X being dead. Beast took Xavier's spot and Steve Rogers (who had returned to being Captain America) was now more involved with the group. The Illuminati discovered the existence of Universal "Incursions", where the Earths of other universe were going to collide with their Earth. The heroes had to come up with some way to stop this incursion. Eventually, the only solution that they could come up with was to re-form the Infinity Gauntlet. Naturally, once they did so, the only person that they trusted to wield it was Captain America, who used the gauntlet to push back the Incursion.
However, something went wrong and a bunch of the Infinity Gems were destroyed. In addition, since Captain America could not bring himself to actually destroy the other Earth, the Incursion was only delayed, not halted. The other members of the Illuminati then erased Captain America's memories of the Incursions, as they needed to come up with ways of stopping them and they had to at least have the option of destroying the other Earths on the table, something they knew they would never have if Captain America was involved.
1 Mister Fantastic
The Incursions continued, and basically two groups (a Cabal led by Namor and a group led by the Ultimate Reed Richards, known as the Maker) have been destroying other Earths whenever Incursions occur, to the point where it more or less came down to just the Ultimate Earth and the regular Earth. Those Earths were unable to destroy each other, so this led to a collision and that, in turn with the work of Doctor Doom with Molecule Man (who turned out to be a tool of the Beyonders), resulted in the Multiverse breaking and Doom using the power of the Molecule Man to stitch it together. That is, with Doom as the main god of the remaining, awkwardly put together, Multiverse (now one giant world known as Battleworld).
Reed Richards survived, though, and eventually he confronted Doom. The Molecule Man turned his allegiance to Reed and gave him the power that Doom held. Just as Doom feared, Reed was better at it than Doom. When last seen, Reed (working with Molecule Man and Reed's powerful son, Franklin Richards) was currently busy fixing the Multiverse, one world at a time. So, so far, Reed has handled omnipotence better than anyone!
Which story involving a character temporarily gaining omnipotence did you like the best? Let us know in the comments!