Recent news reports suggest that the villains of the next X-Men film, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, will be Lilandra and her alien Shi'ar Empire. It is obviously still early in the process, so there is a decent chance that when they say "villain," they really mean "antagonist," as the Shi'ar Empire have had a complicated role in comic book history. Sometimes they are allies of the X-Men and sometimes they are enemies of the X-Men. It mostly comes down to who is in charge of the Empire, but even when Professor X was dating the leader of the Shi'ar, Lilandra, the Empire pulled off some shady acts.
Here, then, is a countdown of the most despicable actions of the Shi'ar Empire. Note that we're sticking with intentional acts, as the Shi'ar have been brainwashed and manipulated by shapeshifters in the past. Everything on this list, though, they did of their own accord.
When Lilandra first met Jean Grey (or rather, the Phoenix Force in the form of Jean Grey), she helped Lilandra save the universe from Lilandra's insane older brother. However, as it turned out, saving the universe was not enough to merit any sort of "get out jail free" card from Lilandra after Jean was manipulated by the evil Mastermind into snapping and becoming Dark Phoenix.
As Dark Phoenix, Jean destroyed a Shi'ar warship and an entire planet filled with innocent beings. Due to her actions, Lilandra decided that the Shi'ar would be responsible for killing Jean. Since Jean technically did do all of that killing, this one is the most understandable move on the list, but it still seems unfair that they couldn't come up with a non-lethal solution to the problem ("Jean" ended up killing herself instead).
The Shi'ar ended up getting caught up in a piece of creator back-and-forth that led to them making an odd decision. In an issue of John Byrne's Fantastic Four, the heroes had a chance to kill Galactus when Reed Richards explained that they could not do so, since Galactus was a primal force of the galaxy. Well, when Chris Claremont found out that Galactus was spared while Jean Grey was not, he was irked enough to write in a scene where Lilandra warned Reed Richards not to do something like that again.
Byrne was mad that Claremont used Reed without permission, so he took Lilandra and wrote "The Trial of Reed Richards," where Reed is captured and put on trial for his actions with Galactus, with death his likeliest sentence when he inevitably lost the trial. The Watcher, though, helped prove that Reed was "innocent," with Byrne making Claremont's Lilandra confirm it.
The Shi'ar are flat out obsessed with the Phoenix force, and as a result, it has clouded their judgement on what constitutes normal behavior, which was demonstrated in "The Trial of Jean Grey" storyline in the pages of Brian Michael Bendis' All-New X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy, where the Shi'ar kidnapped Jean Grey to have her stand trial again.
Do note, though, that the Jean Grey in question was a time-travelling Jean Grey from the early days of the X-Men. So this was a teenager who had no connection to the Phoenix Force as of yet. Secondly, the Phoenix force took Jean Grey's place in the original "Dark Phoenix Saga," so it wouldn't even be Jean Grey that you should be punishing. Thirdly, it is nuts to punish someone for what they might do in the future.
In 1992, Marvel began one of the most sprawling crossover event ever, as every Avengers-related comic book title (Avengers, Avengers West Coast, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Quasar and Wonder Man) took part in the 19-part storyline (plus a couple of epilogues). The story involved a conflict between the Shi'ar and the Kree. Since it was war, there were more allowances for some of the behavior, like we won't judge them too much for Lilandra sending her sister Deathbird to (successfully) assassinate the two heads of the Kree government.
However, in an early issue, Shi'ar space activity had incapacitated a space station launched by Earth to study stars. The Avengers showed up to save them and a Shi'ar warship decided to try to kill them all, because they didn't want anyone aware of their position. It was a gross violation of any reasonable war-time standards.
During the X-Men event, Deadly Genesis, it was revealed that Charles Xavier had put together a team of X-Men to rescue his original X-Men (before he went to an international team) and they were all killed. He wiped everyone's mind of that team because he figured that the trauma was too much for them. Years later, one of those X-Men, Vulcan, turned out to be alive and was now more powerful than ever. Vulcan had been a Shi'ar slave in his childhood, so he left Earth to get revenge on the Shi'ar.
Xavier and a group of X-Men followed Vulcan to help the Shi'ar. Instead, the Shi'ar captured Xavier, made peace with Vulcan (letting Vulcan marry into Shi'ar nobility by marrying Deathbird) and let Vulcan try to kill Xavier as part of his wedding ceremony! Xavier had done so much for the Shi'ar, and this was how they repaid him?
One of the things that has been clear over the years is that when there is any sort of intergalactic alliance, the Shi'ar are usually not only involved but typically they will take a point position in the alliance. They are very interested in the general state of the universe (this makes sense, as their Empire is made up of many different planets, so their interest is spread far and wide).
One of the intergalactic alliances that they were part of, though, was during the crossover event, Maximum Security, where they helped to lead an alliance that determined that they would deal with the nuisance of Earth by not only blocking it off from the rest of the universe through a special blockade, but then also turn it into a prison planet for the worst criminals of all the allied races! Total jerk move, Lilandra!
In a lot of ways, the Shi'ar Empire appears to the outside world as a civilized network of interconnected planets, planets that were ostensibly conquered but more like assimilated into the greater glory of the shared Shi'ar Empire. However, for many years, the backbone of that seemingly civilized empire was made up of slave labor.
The legendary space pirates known as the Starjammers all met each other when they were all working as slaves for the Shi'ar. Before he was recruited on Professor X's doomed second X-Men team, Vulcan was also a slave for the Shi'ar (his human mother was raped and murdered by Emperor D'Ken -- you know the Shi'ar is messed up when Katherine Summers' rape and murder doesn't even make this list of the worst things that they've done).
As we noted earlier, the Shi'are are obsessed with the Phoenix force, but while they have done a number of shady things regarding the Phoenix force (and the shadiest is still to come), one of their dumbest was when a Shi'ar Praetor came up with the ridiculous idea of trying to get the Phoenix force to come around before it was ready to emerge, thereby hopefully being in a weaker state and easier to destroy.
As it turned out, when you have infinite levels of power, having less power doesn't really make a difference and the Phoenix force was still too powerful for the Shi'ar. The force headed for Earth to resurrect Jean Grey. The Shi'ar, though, decided to double down on their awful actions by then attacking the Phoenix force on Earth with weapons that wreaked havoc on Earth itself!
Probably the biggest role that the Shi'ar have, universally, is that they are he protectors of the M'Kraan crystal, which is one of the most powerful objects in the Marvel Universe, which could alter the very reality of the universe (it also is the home of the "White Hot Room," which is the base of operations for the Phoenix force and also a sort of afterlife for past hosts of the Phoenix force).
Well, they completely failed in that role in the first storyline involving the Shi'ar, when their insane Emperor D'Ken decided that he wanted to control the power of the crystal himself, and the Shi'ar military and its famed Imperial Guard both tried to help him achieve this disastrous goal. The only reason that this isn't higher is that it is unclear if they knew just how crazy D'Ken was and what his true final goal was.
In general, the Shi'ar actions during "Operaton: Galactic Storm" were normal enough (even though, in a twist, we later learned that Lilandra was being spurred on in her actions during the war by some Skrulls who were hoping to get the Shi'ar and the Kree to devastate each other), but there was one early action by both races that led to some serious, "What the heck?" reactions from the Earth-based heroes.
You see, the Shi'ar and Kree were both using space warps to send their fleets through the galaxy for battle, and one of the space warps was near the Milky Way Galaxy and was using Earth's sun as the power source for the warps, which was de-stablizing the sun. The Shi'ar knew this, but didn't care. This is what led to the Avengers getting involved in the conflict, as the Shi'ar/Kree war threatened to destroy the Earth!
As noted earlier, the biggest deal that the Shi'ar have in the universe is that they are the protectors of the M'Krann crystal. However, as it turns out, they were not even the original protectors of the M'Kraan crystal. In fact, the planet with the crystal on it used to be populated by a peaceful race called the M'Kraan who the Sh'iar then annihilated from the planet.
The survivors regrouped and a thousand years later attacked the Shi'ar. Lilandra learned something about her people then - they did not want a peaceful resolution to the conflict, they just wanted to kill all of their attackers. She was out of step with her own people by being more thoughtful and less bloodthirsty, which taught us all something about the inner darkness of the Shi'ar.
One of their most recent atrocities came in a storyline in The Mighty Thor. You see, Loki visited the Shi'ar gods, Sharra and K'ythri, and convinced them that Thor was stealing their glory, as no one outside the Sh'iar Empire knew who Sharra and K'ythri were, but everyone seems to know who Thor is.
So they force their subjects to first send the Shi'ar Armada to Earth where they will destroy it unless Thor agrees to fight them in a Challenge of the Gods. Throughout the Challenge of the Gods, they keep trying to destroy their own people and Thor has to keep saving them (the theory is that people seem to pray to the gods the most after disasters, so the key is to create a lot of disasters to get more worshipers). The Shi'ar eventually turn on their gods, but it takes embarrassingly long to do so.
As noted before, Lilandra was getting bad advice by Skrulls disguised as advisers during "Operation: Galactic Storm," but that's not necessarily an excuse, is it? She still willfully decided to do the actions, she just had some bad advice. In any event, one of the worst ideas that she had during the war with the Kree was to create the Nega-Bomb, the most powerful weapon in the universe (at that point, at least).
They were almost ready to use it when the Avengers got them to hold off, but then they allowed the bomb to be stolen and dropped on the Kree homeworld anyways, killing billions of Kree people. It won the war, but it was a disgusting action (designed by the Kree Supreme Intelligence as an attempt to kickstart the Kree race, as the survivors of the bomb would be mutated into stronger beings).
We have established that the Shi'ar are obsessed with the Phoenix Force, but that obsession went beyond all reasonable limits when they decided to send a group called the Death Commandos to kill off Jean Grey's daughter from the future, Rachel Grey. They arrived at a Grey family gathering and when they could not find Rachel right away, they went to their secondary goal of slaughtering every living relative of Jean Grey left on Earth, on the off chance that one of them might have a kid like Jean Grey.
Rachel managed to live, but not before they branded her with a tattoo that they could track to make sure they could always know where she was. This was a secret cabal of the Shi'ar not approved by Lilandra, but it's still pure evil.
In Excalibur #46, Nightcrawler meets the charming Shi'ar warrior, Cerise. She explains that she was bored with her life with the Shi'ar and decided to do some exploring of the galaxy and ended up on Earth, where she joined up with Excalibur and began a romantic relationship with Nightcrawler. However, eventually Excalibur learns that she was not just on a vacation but rather she was a wanted fugitive.
The reason why, though, is that she abandoned her crew and left them to die during battle, but the "battle" was really just genocide. Rogue Shi'ar warriors were "converting" backwater planets at the edge of the Shi'ar Empire by slaughtering the people until the survivors would have no choice but to accept Shi'ar rule. Lilandra did not know this was happening and ended it when she found out, but boy, that's still awful that it could go on unabated period.
Do you like the Shi'ar better as antagonists or protagonists? Let us know in the comments section!