A Complete Guide to Marvel’s Galactic Empires
The alien worlds, orders, and entities that have shaped Marvel’s cosmic universe.
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For comic readers who are now beginning EMPYRE, or for fans who want the essential backstory on the major cosmic players in the Marvel Universe, this guide is for you.
Empires unite (or threaten to dissolve) in EMPYRE, the colossal epic that will push Marvel’s Earth-bound heroes to wage war with two titanic alien civilizations: the Kree and the Skrulls. Now aligned under a new leader, these cosmic forces have a fleet assembled, ready, and aimed. The Avengers, X-Men, and even the Fantastic Four will be needed to take down this armada, not to mention the plant-based Cotati that have reemerged to claim their place on the Kree home world.
For the prelude that establishes Emperor Hulking’s ascendancy and reign as Dorrek VIII, we recommend INCOMING! (2019) #1, EMPYRE: FANTASTIC FOUR (2020), or recap issue ROAD TO EMPYRE: THE KREE/SKRULL WAR (2020) #1. “Road To” covers the millennia-old conflict between Marvel’s greatest cosmic challengers, and is available in comic shops now.
EMPYRE will mark the next monumental chapter in Marvel’s galactic canon, a boundless universe that has introduced entities of space-time, alien gods, and ancient races that have battled to secure their place, or superiority, in a crowded cosmos. From the Acanti to the Xandarians, we’ve got you covered here.
FIRST APPEARANCE: UNCANNY X-MEN (1963) #156
Massive space whales. The Acanti have the equivalent cognitive function of an Earth whale, although their physiology is highly evolved. In addition to being able to travel at the speed of light, they have a unique form of communication that uses psionic sound.
The Brood, a little further down our list, have often used the Acanti as vessels, taking over their massive bodies as parasites.
FIRST APPEARANCE: FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL (1963) #6
Bipedal or multi-legged insectoids that inhabit the Negative Zone, an “anti-matter, topsy-turvy dimension.”
The most significant battle starring the Arthrosians, and their overlord, Annihilus, took place in the ANNIHILATION event. The Silver Surfer, Super-Skrull, Ronan the Accuser, and Nova: Richard Rider were forced to unite in the wake of an “Annihilation Wave” that nearly toppled the Kree.
FIRST APPEARANCE: JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY (1952) #85
Tucked at the center of Yggdrasill, or the “World Tree,” Asgard is home to an immortal race known as the Asgardians, worshipped for centuries by the Norse people for their alien advancement. Since Asgard’s formation from a void of nothingness, they have been ruled by an All-Father and All-Mother. Offshoots of Yggdrasill include Alfheim, Heven, Jotunheim, Muspelheim, Niffleheim, Nidavellir, Svartalfheim, Vanaheim, and of course, Midgard.
[RELATED: Reading the Realms]
Thor, the God of Thunder, is perhaps the best-known Asgardian.
FIRST APPEARANCE: SILVER SURFER (1968) #2
The reptilian Badoon are conquerors, closely tied to the Silver Surfer. Strictly divided into a “Brotherhood” and “Sisterhood,” their vast species has the organization to scale full invasions of Earth. The Fantastic Four and X-Men have learned this the hard way, while the future Guardians of the Galaxy encountered their more militarized expansion in the 31st century.
FIRST APPEARANCE: UNCANNY X-MEN (1963) #155
An insectoid race of parasites, the Brood rely on a steady stream of host bodies to implant seeds for the next generation. Brazen and unafraid of Earthlings, the Brood have infested the X-Men’s ranks a handful of times.
Their order follows many of the same systems as an insect colony. Their Brood Queens fulfill the commands of a Brood Empress, the head of their society.
A Brood King Egg was recently discovered in the pages of X-MEN (2019)—stay tuned to see just how much unravels in its wake.
FIRST APPEARANCE: ETERNALS (1976) #2
Little is known about the powerful extraterrestrial beings called The Celestials. However, it is believed that they influenced major events in human history. They also triggered key evolutionary reactions, producing genetic-offshoot races such as the Eternals and the Deviants.
They are to be venerated and feared.
FIRST APPEARANCE: MARVEL SUPER-HEROES (1967) #18
While there are two branches of the Centaurians, Alpha and Beta, both originated on the planet of Centauri-IV. Spiritual and driven by their devout principles, today’s Centaurians embrace a range of approach in their religious devotion.
Yondu Udonta, Guardian of the 31st century, is a Centaurian. A tracker and natural mystic, Yondu wields a mighty bow with Yaka arrows that move according to his whistles.
FIRST APPEARANCE: ULTIMATES (2002) #8
First appearing in the Ultimate Marvel universe, the Chitauri are an elite race of warriors, and, like the Skrulls, are shapeshifters. Their claim to cinematic fame was in Marvel Studios' The Avengers when they launched a full-scale invasion of New York City.
FIRST APPEARANCE: AVENGERS (1963) #133
Pacifistic, telepathic plant life. While the Cotati have assumed a more humanoid shape over the years, they still closely resemble trees.
First evolving and expanding on the home world of Hala, the Cotati share a lot of history with the Kree. They were even the unfortunate bystanders in the Skrull’s Kree occupancy, ancient history that is playing out in EMPYRE!
The Cotati now have the support to reclaim their place, and promise to give the Kree, and the Skrulls, a host of trouble.
FIRST APPEARANCE: AVENGERS (1963) #28
The individuals who comprise the Elders are the last survivors of their respective races, each member having found a means of achieving virtual immortality, as well as mastering advanced technology that made it possible for them to leave their home planets. They often delight in the pitfalls and follies of “lesser species.”
FIRST APPEARANCE: ETERNALS (1976) #1
A race of god-like beings locked in conflict with the Deviants and their originators, the Celestials. Each Eternal has watched civilizations burgeon and die from their domain on Olympia—they are immortals powered by the Celestials’ will.
Their greatest source of power comes from the Uni-Mind, a ritual that often determines the next Prime Eternal. A combination of physical and mental output, the Uni-Mind is actually a composite of several beings. They also serve as a direct channel to the Celestials.
FIRST APPEARANCE: STRANGE TALES (1951) #138 (Eternity); STRANGE TALES (1951) #157 (Living Tribunal)
Eternity stands as the living embodiment of time, an eternal consciousness encompassing the entire universe, above and beyond mere mortals and their trials and tribulations.
When the previous universe died, Eternity was born, unique to the new reality. It and its co-being Infinity encompass all of time and space, embodiments of the universe in forms recognizable to mortals, yet simultaneously existing beyond what they can comprehend. Eternity answers only to the Living Tribunal and while approachable by those who wield great levels of power, the Tribunal is still beyond what would be perceived as a “deity.”
FIRST APPEARANCE: FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #48
Sole survivor of the universe existing before the Big Bang, Galactus is perhaps the most feared being in the cosmos. Untold billions of years ago, he was born the humanoid Galan on the planet Taa, a wondrous paradise of scientific and social achievement; however, his universe was in its final stages, with all matter plunging towards a central point via the "Big Crunch,” collapsing into a new "Cosmic Egg," a sphere of disorganized primordial matter.
Emerging as the Devourer of Worlds, Galactus required never-ending sustenance from planetary sources… uninhabited or otherwise.
He deploys his Heralds, most famously Silver Surfer of Zenn-La, to scout for new planets to sate his hunger. Each Herald is imbued with the Power Cosmic, a transfer of Galactus’ own life source.
Try the famous “The Coming of Galactus!” arc through FANTASTIC FOUR #50. Often cited as one of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s greatest collaborations, this story marked a brave turn for the Fantastic Four. The team begins to unravel after the arrival of The Watcher, and the Silver Surfer’s prophecy about the End of Days.
FIRST APPEARANCE: MARVEL COMICS (1939) #1 (in canon); HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE (2019) #1 (origin)
It’s believed that Homo sapiens cropped up between 200,000-300,000 years ago. On Earth-616, some are super-powered or mutated, most are not. Although, even averagely-powered humans practice innovation and survivalist thinking. They also talk. A lot.
Humans’ complex hierarchies make for great entertainment. Maybe that’s why their planet is visited and messed with so often.
FIRST APPEARANCE: FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #45
The Inhumans are Marvel's most evolved alien race, an ancient species of human blessed with strange and remarkable power. Born from the mutating Terrigen Mists which unlock their full potential, this society has long led a secluded life on Earth's moon in a city known as Attilan.
Central to their culture is Terrigenesis, the procedure that grants the Inhumans’ their power. Now, Terrigenesis has spread to Earth, giving rise to an entirely new wave of NuHumans.
For more on the House of Agon, or the Inhuman Royal Family, try this Marvel Unlimited reading guide.
Start with the WAR OF KINGS, followed by the REALM OF KINGS, an operatic space epic that pitted the rogue Emperor Vulcan (also Cyclops’ and Havok’s brother), against the Inhumans and the Kree. Vulcan nearly broke the Shi’ar people too, assuming the throne with Deathbird, Empress Lilandra Neramani’s corrupted sister.
FIRST APPEARANCE: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1963) #252
The Klyntar, more commonly known as symbiotes, are a primordial lifeform that share an intense empathic bond with their host. Their origin is closely tied to the symbiote god Knull, king of the cosmic abyss. Born of the planet Klyntar, more than a few of their species have spawned off from the whole, seeking out new hosts to spread across the stars.
The Klyntar can bond to any organic substance, although a super-powered host has its advantages. Although they are a malleable, bodiless species, symbiotes are fully sentient.
FIRST APPEARANCE: FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #65
The Kree control one of the oldest and most expansive corners in the conquered universe. Obsessed with genetic perfection and collectivism, their society has long conducted experiments on other races that have influenced their evolution, for example, the Inhumans. They have gone so far as to throw their own empire into chaos in an effort toward unity and total vision. They are ruled by the Supreme Intelligence, a collective consciousness that places rationale above all else.
The Kree’s homeworld is Hala, also their capital planet.
FIRST APPEARANCE: POWER PACK (1984) #1
The horse-like Kymellians have unique magical properties, and a select number from their race ascend as sorcerers. The Power Pack derived their power from the Kymellians after aiding one of their leaders. Their society is particularly interested in the four forces of universal balance: Gravity, Energy, Velocity, and Density.
Recently, the Kymellians entered an alliance with the Badoon, Centaurians, and Dire Wraiths to form a new Inhuman empire. Unfortunately, that was brutally and bloodily dissolved by DEATH OF THE INHUMANS (2018).
FIRST APPEARANCE: FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #205
While not an empire, the Nova Corps are a squadron of galactic peacekeepers and police with representatives from nearly every major alien species. Like the Guardians of the Galaxy, but organized.
Many of the Nova Corps’ records are archived by the Xandarian Worldmind, a supercomputer and keeper of the Nova Force. Xandar, their base of operations, has been invaded and destroyed several times, but the Corps has remained a constant.
See: ANNIHILATION for the Nova Corps’ darkest hour, especially so in ANNIHILATION: PROLOGUE (2006). Don’t worry—the Corps does get back on its feet in recent Guardians’ runs, plus a black ops version emerged in the ORIGINAL SIN event.
FIRST APPEARANCE: UNCANNY X-MEN (1963) #312 (full form)
While appearing to be cold, calculating, and without conscience, the Phalanx are simply part of a hive mind that operates within the Technarchy, a celestial super-body that assimilates information, and lives, into a techno-organic whole.
Still mysterious to many Marvel space-farers, it is known how deadly a Phalanx outbreak can be. Once assimilated into their ranks, the Phalanx link is almost always permanent.
FIRST APPEARANCE: THOR (1966) #131 (full form)
The Rigellians have a complicated identity—they are the descendants of space colonizers, and still share that sentiment of expansion. They are known for being methodical recorders. Although largely peaceful, the Rigellians are ruthless in their search for intelligence, and can perform devastating psychic feats.
FIRST APPEARANCE: X-MEN: EMPEROR VULCAN (2007) #1
The Scy'ar Tal, or the “M’Kraan race,” are the original inheritors of the M’Kraan Crystal, although its power has now been claimed and coopted by the Shi’ar.
Their leader, “The Eldest,” has encouraged retribution against the Shi’ar for this stolen legacy.
FIRST APPEARANCE: UNCANNY X-MEN (1963) #97
The humanoid Shi’ar, closely associated with the X-Men, are ordered by an ancient monarchy of emperors, a lineage now in the hands of the Neramani bloodline. The Imperial Family has an Imperial Guard, an elite force of super-powered warriors with powers of telepathy, super-strength, and even infrared vision.
The Shi’ar gods, Sharra and K'ythri, were once custodians to the M’Kraan Crystal, a powerful space-time relic that played a prominent role in “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” In fact, the Shi’ar consider the Phoenix Force to be a “sister god” in their pantheon of worship. (MIGHTY THOR #18)
Chandilar, the Shi’ar home world, is an extraordinary hub and the planet’s first line of defense.
The complete “Phoenix” and “Dark Phoenix Saga.” ‘Nuff said!
FIRST APPEARANCE: FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #2
The Skrulls form one of the largest intergalactic empires in Marvel canon, with a mastery over science and warfare. Long-time adversaries of both the Kree and humankind, the Skrulls have remained a constant, and steady, presence in the theater of cosmic conflict.
Their Throneworld is not limited to a single galaxy or star system—in fact, the Skrulls have several home planets, and a complex network of allies.
More remarkable than their scope is the Skrull’s ability to shapeshift. They can even alter their mass and physical capabilities, making them ideal spies for inside jobs and subterfuge.
SECRET INVASION rewrote the rules of the Marvel Universe, and changed galactic policing at large, when Skrull imposters replaced key Avengers, bigtime heroes, and world leaders in a carefully staged attack. This insidious takeover left almost every super-team questioning: “Who Do You Trust?”
FIRST APPEARANCE: MARVEL PREVIEW (1975) #11
Residents of the planet Spartax. The empire of Spartax spans several alien civilizations, so its population is quite diverse. Its government is run by a single emperor, although there is contribution by cabinet. Star-Lord’s heritage is heavily tied to the Spartoi—his father was Emperor J'son, a proud ruler whose subjects (unfortunately) rebelled against him.
In GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2015), Peter Quill stepped into his birthright, serving as emperor for a short, not-so great stint.
The BLACK VORTEX saga, a turning point for J’son and all his former alliances.
FIRST APPEARANCE: FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #13
Forever watching, seldom interfering.
Billions of years ago, the technologically-advanced extraterrestrial race known as the Watchers decided it was their duty to help less advanced beings. In a first experiment, a delegation of four brought atomic energy to the planet Prosilicus. The Prosilicans accepted the gift, but used it to develop nuclear weapons. Ashamed, the Watchers vowed never again to interfere in the affairs of other races. They drafted a code of ethics based upon strict noninterference and passive observation that was so strict that if another being were dying at a Watcher's feet, the Watcher would offer no aid.
With their new code established, the Watchers evacuated their home world and relocated throughout the galaxies, each Watcher choosing a solar system where they could observe and mentally record the lives of other races for the sake of eventually sharing it with their fellow Watchers.
[RELATED: Who Are the Watchers?]
The Watcher, Uatu, has been murdered! Who is responsible for this heinous deed, and what vast and costly secrets have they unlocked? In ORIGINAL SIN, Earth’s heroes got their first taste at the mysteries of the universal void when a fallen Watcher set off a chain of devastating revelations.
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