Marvel Cosmic: The Greatest Space Epics

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From the moment that a group of shape-shifting Skrulls landed on Earth to eliminate the Fantastic Four ahead of a Skrull invasion (which was promptly spoiled by merely showing them drawings of monsters from Earth comic books to prove to them that Earth was too dangerous to ever invade), the Marvel Universe was one that had a very healthy interest in stories outside of the planet Earth.

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In their famed "Journey Into Mystery" back-up story, "Tales of Asgard," Jack Kirby and Stan Lee regularly told stories about adventures that did not involve Earth at all. Jim Starlin expanded the scope of Marvel's cosmic universe in the 1970s. Since then, there have been a number of amazing comic book stories that were set primarily in outer space instead of on Earth. Here, we spotlight the most amazing of these space adventures (note that having the stories set primarily off of Earth eliminates "Dark Phoenix Saga," "Coming of Galactus" and "The Korvac Saga," among many other great stories).

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Thanos Imperative
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Thanos Imperative

Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's tenure as the architects of Marvel's cosmic stories was nearing close in 2010 with the release of their final crossover, "The Thanos Imperative," drawn by Kev Walker and Miguel Angel Sepulveda (the release of this event came with the cancelation of their two major cosmic titles, "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Nova"). At the end of the "War of Kings," a tear was created in space-time and it opened up the "Fault," which was a portal to a whole other universe known as the Cancerverse. This was a world where Death had been completely conquered, but a world without death obviously is not really a world at all, it is a terror.

The Cancerverse version of the Avengers traveled to the main Marvel Universe to seek out Thanos, because while Cancerverse Mar-Vell (who led the team) was the Avatar of Life, Thanos was the Avatar of Death. In the end, unsurprisingly, Death won out. However, Star-Lord and Nova sacrificed themselves to stay behind and trap Thanos within the Cancerverse while also making sure that it was cut out from the rest of the universe.


War Of Kings

Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's previous crossover event was "The War of Kings" (drawn by many artists, but Paul Pelletier drew the main series) which saw the Inhumans head to the Kree homeworld both to embrace their Kree heritage and to also take control of the Kree Empire. They achieved this through marrying Crystal of the Inhumans to the Kree ruler, Ronan the Accuser. Meanwhile, Gabriel Summers, the psychotic third Summers brother known as Vulcan, had recently taken control of the Shi'ar Empire. A group of X-Men had remained in outer space to work with the Starjammers to try to dethrone Vulcan, while the exiled former head of the Shi'ar Empire, Lilandra, had found refuge with the Kree.

However, Vulcan sent Gladiator and the Imperial Guard to attack the Kree and capture Lilandra. Gladiator did his duty, although he loathed his new emperor. Thus began a new war between the Kree and the Shi'ar. Lilandra tried to persuade her old friend, Gladiator, and she eventually got through to him. Tragically, though, Lilandra was then murdered by a rogue terrorist in Darkhawk armor. In the end, Black Bolt defeated Vulcan, but Vulcan set off a bomb before he died that seemingly killed Black Bolt and opened up a tear in space and time itself. Gladiator became the new head of the Shi'ar Empire.


Operation Galactic Storm

The initial war between the Kree and the Shi'ar took place in the epic crossover event, "Operation: Galactic Storm," which took place in all of the "Avengers" related titles for three months in 1992. When star gates used for transportation during the war were destabilizing the Earth's sun, the Avengers called together as many of their members as possible divided them into three teams on three separate missions. One would head to the Kree homeworld, another to the Shi'ar homeworld and the third would stay on Earth just in case anything happened back home.

While on the Kree homeworld, however, Deathbird of the Shi'ar assassinated the Kree emperors, making things unsafe for the Avengers there. As it turned out, the whole conflict was orchestrated by the Supreme Intelligence as a way to force the Shi'ar to use the powerful Nega-Bomb that they had been building for the conflict. The bomb was stolen and then detonated over the Kree homeworld, killing billions.

However, the survivors mutated and evolved into superior beings, which was the Supreme Intelligence's plan all along. The Avengers (who managed to survive through the efforts of their teammate Sersi) debated over what to do with the Supreme Intelligence. One faction decided to just kill him, so they did, driving a further rift between Captain America and Iron Man over superhero ethics.


Trial Of Galactus

The "Trial of Galactus" is a strange storyline in that it took place over a number of years and it was interrupted by a number of stories between each part of the overarching narrative. However, it was collected into one of Marvel's first mass market trade paperbacks as "The Trial of Galactus," so that's how we'll count it, as well. The story began with Galactus once again attacking Earth. However, this time the heroes of Earth not only stop him, but also they're in a position where they could have killed him if they wanted to. Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, though, realized that Galactus was a force of nature that should not be extinguished, so he instead set Galactus up with a new herald, Nova, who would keep Galactus from occupied worlds.

That did not last long, however, and Galactus ended up devouring the Skrull throneworld. This led to a group of worlds gathering together, arresting Reed Richards and putting him on trial for his actions in protecting Galactus. Reed (in a trial attended by John Byrne, writer/artist of the series at the time), successfully made his "Galactus is a necessary part of the universe" argument, so he was freed.


Secret Wars

"Secret Wars" was a year-long maxi-series that coincided with a popular line of toys based on Marvel's heroes and villains. Jim Shooter came up with a plot line (drawn by Mike Zeck and John Beatty) that would explain why all of Marvel's heroes were fighting against all of Marvel's villains. As it turned out, a powerful being from Beyond, later known as The Beyonder, summoned most of Marvel's heroes and villains to a planet that he had created called Battleworld. He then told everyone to fight with each other and the victors would get whatever their hearts desired.

This, of course, led to a fight between heroes and villains. However, factions opened up among the heroes and the villains. The X-Men sort of split off and kept to their own, Galactus decided to try to devour Battleworld and Doctor Doom split off to see if he could steal Beyonder's powers. The heroes ultimately defeated all of the villains (especially once the X-Men came to their senses and joined the other heroes) and everyone managed to stop Galactus. Doctor Doom, however, succeeded in stealing the Beyonder's powers and made himself a God. A remnant of the Beyonder possessed Klaw, though, and picked away at Doom's ego until the heroes defeated him and the Beyonder got his power back. The heroes and villains were then returned to Earth.


Annihilation Conquest

After the events of "Annhilation," Peter Quill, Star-Lord, helped build up the defenses of the Kree Empire. Unwittingly, however, he opened up the Kree to an attack by the technological creatures known as the Phalanx, which led to "Annhilation: Conquest," written mostly by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (although prequel miniseries were written by other writers) and the main series was drawn by Tom Raney. The Phalanx quickly conquered the Kree Empire and they then revealed that they were being led by none other than Ultron! Their plan was to attack Earth next.

Quill and a small group of heroes and outcasts banded together to take on Ultron and the Phalanx. This storyline is famous for being the one that first banded Quill together with Gamora, Rocket Raccoon and Groot. They all worked together, along with Adam Warlock and Phyla-Vell (the new Quasar) to take down the Phalanx and Ultron. In the end, the heroes formed a new team - the Guardians of the Galaxy!


Thor Mangog

For years during the mid-1960s, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Vince Colletta had been doing the "Tales of Asgard" back-up stories that we mentioned in the introduction of this article. These back-ups introduced a number of fascinating concepts, including the Norse mythological idea of "Ragnarok" (the end of the gods) and the bizarrely awesome idea of the Odinsword, a sword so gigantic that only Odin could lift it, but if he took it out of its scabbard, it could destroy all of Asgard.

Finally, in "Thor" #154-157, all of these ideas that Kirby, Lee and Colletta had been introducing in the back-ups came together for one massive epic as the super evil, super powerful being known as Mangog had escaped the prison that Odin had put him into and now planned on heading into Asgard and unleashing the Odinsword. The problem is that Odin was in the middle of his regenerative "Odinsleep," so he was unable to help. It was up to Thor and the warriors of Asgard to stop Mangog or die trying, and a whole lot of them did just that, as Mangog was as powerful as an entire alien race. Luckily, Odin woke up in the nick of time.


Final Threat

Jim Starlin had more or less finished his initial stint at Marvel Comics by 1977, but he still had some loose ends to tie up with his characters during his run on "Warlock," so Marvel's then-new Editor-in-Chief Archie Goodwin got him to wrap up the story in two odd titles, "Avengers Annual" #7 and "Marvel Two-in-One Annual" #2. The story, best known by the title "Final Threat," saw Thanos attempt to put together the soul gems into one super-powerful gem that could destroy whole solar systems. Captain Marvel, the Avengers and Warlock got together to stop Thanos, but along the way, Pip the Troll and Gamora were both murdered. Warlock himself even died at the end of the first part.

The Avengers had destroyed the giant power gem, but the remaining soul gem that Thanos had was enough to destroy the Earth's sun. Thanos then captured the heroes. The second part brought Thing and Spider-Man into outer space where they rescued Captain Marvel and the Avenges. Through the help of Warlock (whose soul was now in the remaining soul gem), they defeated Thanos who was killed by a burst of Warlock's soul power. Starlin managed to kill off the heroes and the villain from his "Warlock" run, all in one epic tale.


Annihilation Marvel Comics

After Keith Giffen got things started with a miniseries starring Drax the Destroyer, editor Bill Roseman, Giffen and writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning helped to form a new look at Marvel's cosmic heroes through the crossover event "Annihilation." There were a few miniseries that led into the main storyline. One of them, "Nova," established Richard Rider as a powerful cosmic hero. The miniseries led into the main "Annihilation" series by Giffen and artist Andrea Di Vito, where the various Marvel cosmic characters teamed up against Annihilus, who had created an "Annihilation wave" of powerful ships that was cutting a swath through the universe.

Thanos had allied himself with Annihilus, but ultimately decided he was a nut and didn't want to have anything to do with him. He planned to release Galactus, who Annihilus had captured and turned into a giant power source. However, before he could do so, Drax couldn't help himself and killed Thanos. Eventually, Galactus was freed and he turned the tide against Annihilus. In the end, Phyla-Vell and Nova defeated Annihilus, with Nova delivering the fatal blow.


Planet Hulk

The Illuminati had grown tired of the destructive rampages of the Hulk on Earth, so they came up with a plan where they would send the Hulk into outer space where he couldn't hurt anyone. The problem was that his ship was knocked off course and they were all too caught up in the events of "Civil War" to notice their mistake. The Hulk instead landed on a gladiator planet.

The Hulk became the world's most popular and powerful gladiator and he decided to team-up with his fellow gladiators to overthrow the sadistic Red King, who ruled over the world. In the end, even as they successfully won their revolution, the Red King tried to get his revenge by activating a device that would tear the world apart. What he didn't know is that the Hulk is pretty damned strong, even managing to hold the world together just by himself. Sadly, the Hulk's victory was short-lived, as his queen (and his unborn child) were seemingly destroyed by the ship he came here on. One of his allies presumed that it was sabotage by his former Earth friends, so Hulk decided to head back to Earth for revenge (but that's another story).


Eternity Saga

The "Eternity" Saga is a hard one to quantify, as there are plenty of stories within the saga that take place on Earth, but we feel the majority of the story is in other dimensions. Steve Ditko's final "Doctor Strange" storyline began with the Dread Dormammu and Baron Mordo teaming up against Doctor Strange. During the storyline, Doctor Strange seeks out and meets Eternity for the first time, the embodiment of the universe! He sought out Eternity to prepare himself for the battle with his two greatest foes.

Throughout the story, Strange is in and out of different dimensions, especially Dormammu's Dark Dimension where Strange actually fights Dormammu in one on one combat. The mysterious Clea played a big role in this story, as her betrayal of Dormammu on the behalf of Strange kicked off this storyline. Eventually, Dormammu decided to take on Eternity himself in battle and the result was some of the trippiest artwork that you'll ever see, as Ditko said goodbye to the title in an explosive finale (which finished with Denny O'Neil on scripts after Lee left the book with a few issues to go).


Surtur Saga

New "Thor" writer and artist Walter Simonson was a big fan of the Kirby/Lee/Colletta years, especially their "Tales of Asgard" stories, so he mined that material for the villainous Surtur. Slowly but surely, through a pounding "Doom" that was repeated over and over again, louder and louder, until we realize that it was Surtur building his ultra-powerful Twilight Sword, which he intended to use as part of his invasion of Asgard. It is probably the most famous building of anticipation for a villain in comic book history (Simonson's wife, Louise, and her fellow "Superman" creators would borrow the approach for their slow introduction of Doomsday before the "Death of Superman").

Much like his idols Kirby and Lee, Surtur's approach on Asgard was like a much bigger take on the Mangog Saga, as Surtur was this gigantic, seemingly unstoppable force. In the end, Thor, Loki and Odin all had to join forces to stop Surtur (with the iconic bit where they each ran into battle exclaiming their reason for fighting. "For Asgard!" "For Midgard!" "For myself!") and Odin seemingly sacrificed himself to end Surtur once and for all.


Kree Skrull War

Like "The Eternity Saga," the "Kree/Skrull War" a good deal of the action actually takes place on Earth. We think that there's just barely more story off-world than on, so we're still counting it for the list. The concept behind "The Kree/Skrull War" is that the Kree and the Skrull are caught up in an interstellar confrontation, with their battle carrying over to Earth without any of its residents even having a say in matters. Roy Thomas, writer of the story, compared it to how little tiny islands off the coast of Japan suddenly found themselves caught up in the major battles of World War II.

In this war, Captain Marvel, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are captured by the Skrulls, taken into outer space where Mar-Vell is forced to build a projector that could wipe out the Kree race. The Avengers, meanwhile, head into space to track down their teammates. Vision showed his growing love for the Scarlet Witch by becoming enraged by her capture. When the Kree Supreme Intelligence sparks a power within Rick Jones that leads to him creating phantoms of Golden Age heroes, he uses them to help the Avengers defeat the Skrulls and save their teammates. Neal Adams and John Buscema were the main artists on this story.


Magus Saga

After proving himself with "Captain Marvel," Jim Starlin was then given the chance to work his magic on Adam Warlock, first in the pages of "Strange Tales." Then, when things were shown to be improving, he was able to bring Warlock back to his own title. The concept behind the storyline was that Warlock ran afoul of a powerful religious group that was led by a being known as Magus, who seemed to be, well, Warlock himself! As it turned out, it was Warlock from the future.

Starlin introduced a striking supporting cast for Warlock in this story, namely the loutish Pip the Troll and the dangerous Gamora ("the deadliest woman in the universe"). Most impressive was probably how Starlin took his old creation, Thanos, and made him almost an anti-hero. Thanos and Warlock worked together against Magus. Starlin's solution for the Magus problem was brilliant and it is one he would re-visit back in "The FInal Threat." Starlin's "Magus Saga" was very advanced for the time, with themes of religion and power being discussed in a way that few comics would at the time.


Infinity Gauntlet

Years after leaving Marvel, Jim Starlin returned and promptly brought Thanos back to life and set the mad titan off on a quest to collect all of the soul gems (now called Infinity Gems) to form the Infinity Gauntlet, a weapon that would give him control over the entire universe. From their perspective within the Soul Gem, Warlock, Pip and Gamora knew that things needed to be done to stop Thanos, so they also came back to life, along with Drax.

They were too late to stop Thanos from getting hold of the gems and the Gauntlet, so the first thing he did as a tribute to the love of his life, Mistress Death, was kill half of the universe. However, they were able to gather the remaining heroes of Earth and formed a plan to stop him. Eventually, Warlock succeeded in stopping Thanos due to how well he had grown to know him over the years. The "Infinity Gauntlet" miniseries was drawn by George Perez, Ron Lim and Joe Rubinstein. It will likely form the basis of the next "Avengers" film.

What's your favorite Marvel outer space epic? Let us know in the comments section!

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