Avengers: Infinity War will test the mightiest heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in ways they’ve never experienced before. With the long-anticipated arrival of Thanos on Earth, the Mad Titan’s search for the all-powerful Infinity Stones will see him tear through every superhero introduced so far (over 10 years, 18 movies and counting) in order to claim his prize. There’s no guarantee that all of our favorites are going to make it out alive, but saving the world is what they signed up for, and fans could not be more hyped.
Long-time readers of the comics that inspired these blockbuster movies will tell you that, while Infinity Gauntlet (the event upon which Avengers: Infinity War is based) was one of their greatest battles, there have been plenty of times the Avengers have been beaten, defeated and outright decimated. In fact, there are over a dozen supervillain teams that, throughout the long history of the comics, have wiped the floor with Marvel’s premier super team. From their earliest outings to the modern day, the Avengers have struggled to win when villains team-up to take them down. CBR looks back at those powerful teams that were big enough to take on -- and dominate -- Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!
15 THE BLACK ORDER
Thanks to their affiliation with the Mad Titan, The Black Order will be playing a prominent role in Avengers: Infinity War, despite not actually appearing in the comics that the movie is based on. This elite and deadly squad first appeared in 2013’s storyline "Infinity," a good 22 years after Infinity Gauntlet, but they were so good they quickly made their way onto the big screen.
And with good reason too: these alien mercenaries worked under Thanos to help him invade Earth when he was searching for the Infinity Gems, which were at the time held in secret by different superheroes. Corvus Glaive, Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight, Black Dwarf and Supergiant made short work of the Avengers and nearly succeeded in razing Earth to the ground. If not for Ebony Maw’s betrayal, Thanos may have once again been in control of the Infinity Gauntlet.
Everyone loves a good crossover, and in 2007, Marvel teamed up with IDW to bring us New Avengers/Transformers, a miniseries with a title that needs no further explanation. With the tagline “Assemble and Roll Out,” the unlikely mash-up of Autobot and Avenger led to them teaming up against the evil machinations of Megatron, but not before that staple of crossover team-ups: the misunderstanding that leads to punching!
Yes, it’s tradition for any teams that meet for the first time to suffer from a communication breakdown at first, which in this case led to the likes of Captain America, Luke Cage, Wolverine and the original Ms. Marvel to come to blows with Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ratchet, and Prowl. They were on the verge of having their tails handed to them before the real threat of the Decepticons emerged, and the two teams joined forces to take down Megatron and save the day.
13 JUSTICE LEAGUE
It may seem hard to believe now that the movie franchises are seen as huge rivals, and it’s been a long time since any kind of crossover was made, but there was a time where Marvel and DC allowed their massive universes to share a page. In fact, the Avengers and the Justice League met multiple times, in the late ‘70s and again in the mid-‘90s.
Both occasions sadly don’t live up to the expectations you probably have in your head right now. Much like Alien Versus Predator, Batman v Superman and Scooby-Doo Meets the Harlem Globetrotters, when the Avengers and the Justice League clashed, it was never as good as the sum of its parts. The 1996 crossover was the better, if for no other reason than it led to the bonkers Amalgam Universe, but that’s a conversation for another time.
12 MASTERS OF EVIL
While Infinity Gauntlet may have been the biggest cosmic battle the Avengers have likely ever faced, there’s no denying that the storyline “Under Siege” was one of the most personally tragic battles the heroes ever faced. Regularly cited as one of the greatest Avengers stories of all time, “Under Siege” saw the dreaded Masters of Evil -- led by Baron Zemo -- storm the mansion home of the heroes and procedurally wipe the floor with them.
While the storyline is filled with big, bombastic fight scenes, it’s the quieter moments that leave the greater impact, like the moment Captain America, tied to a chair, can do nothing but helplessly watch the Avengers’ loyal butler Jarvis be brutally beaten to near death. Then there was what happened after the battle, when Cap surveys the damage done, and realizes the villains have destroyed all of his memorabilia from his former life in World War II.
11 SQUADRON SINISTER
First appearing way back in 1969, the Squadron Sinister was a supervillain team seemingly created out of thin air by the Grandmaster to fight against Kang the Conqueror and his team, the Avengers. If you look at the Squadron and see some similarities to a super-team from Marvel’s Distinguished Competition, you’d be more accurate than you know: the creators have later admitted to basing the designs on the Justice League.
Hyperion, Doctor Spectrum, Nighthawk, and Whizzer turned up on the final page of Avengers #69, and over the years have returned to torment and battle Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. As you can imagine from a team based on the Justice League, they manage to go toe-to-toe with the Avengers handily, always making for an entertaining fight.
When the Thunderbolts first came onto the scene, they were presented as a new superhero team to fill the void left by the Avengers in the wake of the Onslaught Saga. It was only on the final page of issue one that fans found out the truth: the Thunderbolts were actually the Masters of Evil in disguise! It was a fun and surprising reveal at the time, one that Marvel kept fiercely guarded against spoilers.
A team of ex (and sometimes current) supervillains trying to dispense justice, all the while being led by one of the Avengers’ greatest foes, Baron Zemo, was never going to end well. Their biggest clash with their superheroic counterparts came in Avengers/Thunderbolts, a limited series that saw them battle when Zemo attempted to siphon off all superhuman power in the world.
Until around the mid-2000s, if you asked any fan who the biggest and best superhero team in the Marvel universe was, they’d tell you the X-Men. It was only when writer Brian Michael Bendis came along that the Avengers started rising to prominence in both the comics and movies, but once they did, they soon left the X-Men behind.
As a sort of cathartic response to that dethroning, the Marvel event of 2012 was Avengers vs X-Men or AVX for short. It was a no-holds-barred brawl that saw the teams fighting over the oncoming Phoenix Force, a powerful entity usually associated with the X-Men. The mutants soon gained the power of the mighty Phoenix and proceeded to rewrite reality in their own image. The day is saved and the world returned to normal, but not without casualties suffered on both sides.
8 DARK AVENGERS
During the late 2000s, while the villains hadn’t exactly “won,” they’d certainly taken over the Marvel Universe, thanks in no small part to Norman Osborn and the “shot heard around the world.” During the final battle with the Skrulls in Central Park after their "Secret Invasion," Osborn, aka the former Green Goblin, managed to be the one to kill the Skrull Queen, sending the media and the country into a frenzy of adoration for the perpetual Spidey-menace.
This new-found fame saw him taking over as head of S.H.I.E.L.D as well as leading a new team of Avengers made of similarly “reformed” villains, like Venom, Bullseye and Daken. This "Dark Reign" lasted for a while and drove the real Avengers underground for about a year. To further add insult to injury, Norman began actively hunting heroes who made his “list,” making it a bad time to be an Avenger.
7 WRECKING CREW
The seriously powerful villains with the seriously silly gimmick, the Wrecking Crew may look like the kind of bad guys that the heroes fight in the first few pages until they get to the real threat, but don’t underestimate them. They were gifted with the godly power of the norm stones by Loki in order to battle Thor, and perhaps their most infamous claim to fame is beating the demigod Hercules nearly to death during the “Under Siege” storyline.
Despite their strength and formidable skills, any guy that uses an “enchanted crowbar” is bound to be mocked just a little bit. The fact that Wrecker throws in with a dude who has a “virtually indestructible” wrecking ball, a guy with an armored helmet and neck brace, and Piledriver, whose superpower is “oversized hands,” and you’ve got a team that’s destined to be underestimated.
6 THEMSELVES/OTHER AVENGERS TEAMS
It’s been a common trend in superhero fiction for the past decade or so now, from the majority of Geoff Johns’ Justice League run to Marvel’s Civil War events, but the greatest threat that seems to have faced the Avengers has been the Avengers themselves. It’s a threat that’s bled into the Cinematic Universe too, with Captain America: Civil War depicting a superhero community torn apart by the manipulations of Baron Zemo.
These epic hero-on-hero brawls have been highly effective in destroying the Avengers, and while there’s always a team in some form or another following these fallouts, it can take a while for the wounds to heal. Following 2006’s Civil War -- perhaps the most popular of these conflicts -- Captain America lay dead, one group of heroes were forced underground and another team were infiltrated by Skrulls.
No, we’re not talking about the street-level heroes popularized by Netflix (although we’ve no doubt that Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Daredevil could give the Avengers a run for their money). Those modern pretenders merely stole the Defenders name from the original superhero team from the ‘70s.
Comprising of Dr. Strange, Hulk, Namor, Silver Surfer, Valkyrie and Hawkeye, the Defenders made for a far more powerful roster than their current namesakes, and when they were first introduced in 1971 it felt like only a matter of time before they clashed with the Avengers. That came in 1973, in the storyline “Avengers/Defenders War,” which pitted both super teams against each other thanks to the manipulations of both Loki and Dormammu. Any team with Hulk, Silver Surfer and Dr. Strange are going to be pretty unbeatable, but the teams figured out they’d been played before any strong resolution was decided.
4 THE ULTIMATES
When the Ultimate line of comics was first introduced by Marvel comics at the turn of the 21st Century, it was designed as a brand new universe of well-known superheroes, unburdened by decades of continuity. For a while that concept worked well, allowing for reimaginings of classic heroes and storylines in a way that was instantly accessible for new readers.
By 2015, however, the universe had become bogged down with its own continuity, as well as a lack of sales from fans who had found a better quality of stories in the main Marvel universe. A fun and unique solution came at the start of Secret Wars, which saw the Final Incursion of multiverses reach its zenith when the Ultimate Universe collided with the 616, an event that destroyed both universes entirely, leaving only the patchwork Battleworld ruled over by the God Emperor Doom.
3 THE GATHERERS
The early ‘90s was a strange time for comics in general, especially for the Avengers, who suffered from a mini-multiversal crisis at the hands of the Gatherers from issue 355 onwards. At that time, the Avengers had an Eternal (superhuman race born of the cosmic Celestials) on the team, in the form of Sersi.
It turns out that, across the multiverse, Sersi has a habit of turning evil and wiping out whole civilizations. This led to a man named Proctor, who traveled from Earth to Earth gathering the lone Avengers that survived the wrath of their version of Sersi. This team, dubbed the Gatherers, consisted of alternate versions of Vision, the Thing and Swordsman. They soon arrived in the 616 to eliminate Sersi, as well as any of their own counterparts that could interfere with their plans.
2 HYDRACAP’S AVENGERS
Ah, who can forget Secret Empire? The controversial line-wide event from 2017 was the culmination of a 12 month-long storyline that saw Steve Rogers replaced with a version of himself that had been manipulated into becoming the Supreme Leader of Hydra. This “Hydracap” had been sowing the seeds of his master-plan for months, and Secret Empire was the result. He had taken over S.H.I.E.L.D, trapped the majority of the cosmic heroes outside Earth’s atmosphere, and shrouded the rest in an impenetrable hell dimension in New York.
With the superhuman community not only left reeling from the betrayal but systematically decimated, Hydra overthrew the Government and gained complete control of America. “Hydracap” leads a brutal version of the Avengers team, consisting of Black Ant, Deadpool, Odinson, Superior Octopus, Scarlet Witch, Taskmaster, and Vision. Some were brainwashed, some were simply lied to, but their justice was efficient and deadly.
1 AXIS INVERTED AVENGERS
Axis was an underrated event from 2014 that shared some similarities with Secret Empire, except the bad guy in Axis was an actual bad guy. Red Skull had stolen Professor X’s brain (he was dead at the time) and used it to become a new version of Onslaught. With that much telepathic power, Red Onslaught instigated World War Hate, a wave of negative, violent emotion across the globe.
This wave of hatred, along with a botched magic spell by Dr. Strange and Scarlet Witch, created an inversion of everyone’s moral axis. Heroes became bad guys and bad guys became heroes. With the X-Men and the majority of the current Avengers roster now darker and more evil, Steve Rogers gathered a team of villains (consisting of Absorbing Man, Magneto, Carnage, Deadpool, Doctor Doom, Enchantress, Loki, Hobgoblin, Jack O'Lantern, Mystique, and Sabretooth) to take on and defeat his former teammates.