Marvel Cosmic Events: Explained
Who’s fighting who? Our comics guide for must-read space sagas and alien battles.
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OUR GUIDE TO MARVEL’S GALACTIC EMPIRES!
The Kree. The Skrulls. The Shi’ar. The Inhumans.
When you enter the arena of cosmic conflict, you know you’re not alone. In Marvel’s corner of the universe, several alien species have gone to war to control their sector of the stars. But intergalactic war requires allies as well as enemies, especially when your invasion expands to faraway planets or undiscovered quadrants.
Alien warfare and imperial struggles are common in Marvel’s intergalactic affairs. But keeping up to speed on which aliens are feuding and which battles are brewing has proved challenging as more players enter the fray. That’s where this guide comes in—it’s our primer on the top cosmic events that have influenced the Marvel Universe, both on Earth and in the vast reaches of space.
And, all of these curated events are available to read on digital comics mega-archive Marvel Unlimited, so you have a one-stop destination for all your space-set stories!
MAJOR PLAYERS: ANNIHILUS, GALACTUS, NOVA: RICHARD RIDER, QUASAR, MOONDRAGON, SILVER SURFER
The most significant battle starring the Arthrosians, and their overlord, Annihilus, took place in the ANNIHILATION event. The Silver Surfer, Super-Skrull, and Ronan the Accuser were forced to unite in the wake of an “Annihilation Wave” that nearly toppled the Kree and the Heralds of Galactus.
Not the Nova Corps. Their ranks were completely decimated by Annihilus’ hordes, except for the surviving Richard Rider. An uneasy alliance was reached by event’s end between the Kree and Ravenous, something of a “war god” from Annihilus’ Negative Zone.
MAJOR PLAYERS: NOVA: RICHARD RIDER, THE PHALANX, ULTRON, STAR-LORD, QUASAR, ADAM WARLOCK
In the wake of ANNIHILATION, the galaxy was devastated. The Nova Corps still hadn’t been rebuilt on Xandar, and Richard Rider was out on his solo mission. Until the Kree home world was invaded by the Phalanx, now being led by Ultron. Then, a resurrected Star-Lord went off-world to lead a ragtag team into battle that included Mantis, Groot, and Rocket...
Adam Warlock and Phylla-Vell. And us readers—this event brought together the modern-day Guardians of the Galaxy.
AVENGERS: CELESTIAL QUEST
MAJOR PLAYERS: THE AVENGERS, MANTIS, VISION, THE COTATI, THANOS
When the Celestial Madonna known as Mantis sent out a space-spanning SOS that was received by the Vision, the Avengers’ resident android gathered an elite squad of heroes—including Thor, Scarlet Witch and Silverclaw—to come to her rescue. But what happened when the Big Bad gunning for Mantis turned out to be the nigh-omnipotent (and Death’s main squeeze) Thanos?
After trying to claim Mantis and her son Quoi, Thanos was felled by the Avengers… temporarily.
AVENGERS: KREE/SKRULL WAR
MAJOR PLAYERS: MAR-VELL, THE KREE, THE SKRULL, THE AVENGERS
A conflict of star-spanning proportions—with Earth caught in the crossfire! Those eternal intergalactic enemies, the merciless Kree and the shape-changing Skrulls, once went to war—with planet Earth situated on the front lines. But what good are even a dozen super-powered Avengers against the vast military machines of two of the great empires of the cosmos?
Featuring the trend-setting artwork of Neal Adams, the Kree/Skrull War is acknowledged as one of the most important sagas in Marvel cosmic canon. Guest-starring the Fantastic Four and Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D.
While it wasn’t a good look for the Skrulls, neither side was defeated. The key to peace, not outright victory, was with the expatriate Kree Captain Mar-Vell—and his human host, honorary Avenger Rick Jones.
“AVENGERS: THE FINAL HOST”
MAJOR PLAYERS: THE CELESTIALS, THE AVENGERS, LOKI
Steve Rogers. Tony Stark. Thor Odinson. The big three reunited for AVENGERS (2018)—and just in time to save the world from the 2,000-foot-tall space gods known as the Celestials!
As Black Panther and Doctor Strange battled for their lives deep within the earth, Captain Marvel faced death and destruction raining down from the skies in the form of the “Dark Celestials.” And you’ll recognize their master puppeteer.
[RELATED: Meet the Avengers of "Final Host"]
Ghost Rider: Robbie Reyes. And the Avengers.
MAJOR PLAYERS: THE SPARTOI, THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, THE X-MEN
Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde stole the ancient Black Vortex in this crossover epic, a relic which offers dimensional power to anyone who peers within. Peter's father, the deposed emperor Mister Knife, wanted the Black Vortex too—and coincidentally so did the son of Thanos! To keep their prize safe from mounting threats, Peter and Kitty relied on all their allies—including Captain Marvel, Nova and the time-torn original X-Men.
The planet Spartax. The Black Order’s Ebony Maw gained a new cosmically-powered overlord too.
DARK PHOENIX SAGA
MAJOR PLAYERS: THE SHI’AR, THE X-MEN, IMPERIAL GUARD
Gathered together by Professor Charles Xavier to protect a world that fears and hates them, the X-Men had fought many battles, been on adventures that spanned galaxies, grappled enemies of limitless might, but none of this could prepare them for the most shocking struggle they would ever face. One of their own members, Jean Grey, gained power beyond all comprehension when she became host to the Phoenix Force… and that power corrupted her absolutely! In this gut-wrenching event, the X-Men were forced to decide if the life of the woman they cherish was worth the existence of the entire universe, as determined in a trial by combat against the Shi’ar Imperial Guard.
[RELATED: 7 Things That Really Happened in 'The Dark Phoenix Saga']
Nobody. After a now-famous battle on the Blue Area of the Moon, Jean Grey sacrificed herself on behalf of the Shi’ar, the X-Men, and all living beings.
MAJOR PLAYERS: THANOS, THE BLACK ORDER, THE AVENGERS, THE ILLUMINATI, THANE
To save the world from ever-greater dangers, the Avengers got bigger in 2012. But when the oldest race in the universe marked Earth for destruction, it was time for Captain America to think grander still.
As the most powerful Avengers team ever assembled headed into space to join an intergalactic alliance against the ancient Builders, an old enemy deemed their home unprotected. Thanos unleashed his forces on Earth in a brutal chapter of his endless quest for death. But even a world without Avengers had its defenders. Among them, the secret cabal of history-shapers known as the Illuminati—a group rife with internal conflict that was already confronting another planet-ending crisis. As Earth's Mightiest Heroes waged war on multiple fronts, their battle for Infinity threatened to descend into Inhumanity.
The Illuminati, but not without luck and the careful manipulation of Thanos’ son, Thane.
MAJOR PLAYERS: THANOS, NEBULA, ADAM WARLOCK, ALL OF EARTH’S HEROES
Playing out across INFINITY GAUNTLET (1991), INFINITY WAR (1992), and INFINITY CRUSADE (1993).
All of Marvel's top heroes starred in these epics of cosmic proportions, where they were forced to stop the Infinity-fueled threats of the Thanos, Magus (Adam Warlock’s wrathful counterpart), and The Goddess (Adam Warlock’s “benevolent” counterpart)—all of whom had been infused with near-omnipotent power thanks to the Infinity Gems.
Start with the SNAP! heard round the universe in 1991’s INFINITY GAUNTLET. Thanos destroys half of all universal life when he completed his Infinity Gauntlet. For his mad, tyrannous climb to the top read THANOS QUEST too.
Adam Warlock and Earth’s heroes. Nebula is a pivotal player too, especially when she briefly gains the Gauntlet for herself. For Warlock’s guardianship of the Infinity Gems, try WARLOCK AND THE INFINITY WATCH (1992)!
MAJOR PLAYERS: KORVAC, THE BADOON, THE AVENGERS, THE ORIGINAL GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Michael Korvac was your average computer technician of the 31st century. But after punishment at the hands of the Badoon, he became the ultimate cyborg, and enemy, of the future.
Fleeing through the timestream from the pursuing team known as the Guardians of the Galaxy, Korvac had established a secret presence on present-day Earth in the self-created persona of the mysterious Michael. Through such an unassuming guise, Korvac contemplated the elements of a universe he wanted to command. Yet, for all of Michael’s subtlety, the Avengers still caught wind of his cosmos-conquering scheme, drawing the two titanic forces into inevitable conflict.
The Avengers defend present-day Earth from a “Utopian” makeover, in the award-winning saga by comic legend Jim Shooter!
After what can only be described as a slaughter, Korvac self-imploded from guilt and doubt, sealing his own doom. In a final act of redemption, he brought the Avengers and Guardians back to life.
MAJOR PLAYERS: THE WATCHERS, THOR, S.H.I.E.L.D., IRON MAN, HULK
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. In this incredible whodunit, Nick Fury led a cosmic manhunt to the far corners of the universe to find out just what was stolen from the Watcher’s lair. And, just when the Avengers thought they’d cornered their murderer, the Marvel Universe's greatest secrets were spilt, unleashing a torrent of aftershocks for Thor, S.H.I.E.L.D., and even two founding Avengers.
The event that gave us the Ten Realms of Asgard and deemed Thor unworthy!
This is a murder mystery. No spoilers.
MAJOR PLAYERS: THE PHALANX, X-MEN, X-FACTOR, X-FORCE, WOLVERINE, CAMERON HODGE
While appearing to be cold, calculating, and without conscience, the Phalanx are part of an alien hive mind that operate within the Technarchy, a celestial super-body that assimilates lifeforms into a techno-organic whole.
In this milestone X-event, anti-mutant bigots resurrected this life-sucking nightmare. But their creators soon learned that the Phalanx were uncontainable… and far more than they bargained for.
When the Phalanx captured the X-Men, the remaining X-teams were forced to split into three groups—one to save young mutants from the Phalanx’s clutches, one to prevent their foes from contacting their home world, and another to rescue the core X-Men. But even with the aid of the rogue Phalanx unit Douglock, these three mutant super-groups were stretched unbelievably thin.
The X-Men emerged victorious (but not unscathed) from this battle against the machine mind.
MAJOR PLAYERS: GLADIATOR HULK, THE WARBOUND
This 2006 epic by Greg Pak, Carlo Pagulayan, Aaron Lopresti, Jason Keith, Chris Sotomayor, and more, stranded the Hulk on the far-flung planet of Sakaar, a savage landscape ruled by a corrupt emperor with a violent appetite. And Angmo-Asan’s favorite palate cleanser? Contest duels, ideally to the death.
Fans of Marvel Studios' Thor: Ragnarok, will see clear parallels in this arc, from Hulk’s Warbound comrades Korg and Miek, to his fame as a gladiator. Although in the comics storyline, Hulk’s banishment to space is no accident—the final destination is.
Following a Gamma bomb incident that nearly took Las Vegas off the map, then-members of the Illuminati, including Mister Fantastic, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Professor X, sentenced Bruce Banner (and his unruly alter ego) to exile in space. The initial plan was to ship off Hulk to a peaceful planet free of sentient life… but a wormhole set his shuttle on a new course.
You can read the full backdrop leading into PLANET HULK in issues #88-91, or else dive right in.
The Green Scar. The Eye of Anger, the World Breaker. AKA Hulk. You know who didn’t win in sequel event WORLD WAR HULK? All of Earth.
REALM OF KINGS
MAJOR PLAYERS: THE INHUMANS, THE KREE, THE SHI’AR, IMPERIAL GUARD
The sequel to the WAR OF KINGS, a bit further down our list.
In the final confrontation of the WAR OF KINGS, the wicked Vulcan and the Inhumans’ Black Bolt both disappeared in a violent explosion. And though that epic conflagration brought sudden order to the Shi'ar and Kree galaxies, it also ripped open a wound in the stars a galaxy wide.
In this dynastic struggle to the top, three imperial orders emerged as power players for the cosmic realm: Medusa and the Inhuman Royal Family, Gladiator and the Imperial Guard, and Hiro-Kala, son of the Hulk. All of these empires stared down the dangerous threat known only as “the Fault” in their own unique ways... or else died trying.
[RELATED: Inhuman Royal Family]
Stay tuned for the THANOS IMPERATIVE.
MAJOR PLAYERS: SKRULLS, HUMANITY
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?”
While in the grips of this paranoia, Earth's heroes banded together to fight off an armada of Skrull ships carrying an army of super-charged alien warriors. Traitors were exposed and lives were lost as the shape-shifting zealots laid claim to the planet, and only by compromising their ideals did the heroes stand a fighting chance.
Skrull Queen Veranke was killed at the end of this event, an unlikely save from none other than Norman Osborn. Riding on the accolades of this public feat, Osborn established himself as the leader of H.A.M.M.E.R., an intelligence branch that replaced S.H.I.E.L.D. following their Skull infiltration. Founding Avenger Wasp lost her life in this event too, a shocking heartache that gripped the Super Hero community.
MAJOR PLAYERS: THE INHUMANS, THE FANTASTIC FOUR, QUICKSILVER
SON OF M told how Quicksilver stole the precious Terrigen Mists from the Inhumans and how Black Bolt retaliated by declaring war on humanity.
When we pick up with SILENT WAR, the aftermath of Quicksilver’s theft has led the Inhumans to launch an attack on planet Earth. The groundbreaking Gorgon led this charge, causing old friends to become deadly enemies as the Fantastic Four scrambled to defend New York City.
While fully concluded in SECRET INVASION, the seeds were planted to suggest that Black Bolt’s unhinged brother Maximus had taken over the Inhumans from within. The truth was far more complicated, but the Royal Family was destabilized, almost irreparably too.
MAJOR PLAYERS: THANOS, ADAM WARLOCK
The continuation of “the Fault” storyline from REALM OF KINGS.
When the dangerous and mysterious fissure known as the Fault re-opened, the dark forces of a rival universe where there is no death poured through to claim ours.
Nova, the Silver Surfer, Quasar, Gladiator, and more of the greatest cosmic champions lined up in an all-out stand against the invaders from the Fault. But it proved more than they could handle. Luckily, Star-Lord and Rocket had a plan. A crazy plan called… Thanos?
When Thanos became interested in fulfilling his debt to Death instead of righting the universe, Star-Lord and Nova acted quickly to subdue him. The casualties are still high in this one—and the Nova Corps suffered gravely.
WAR OF KINGS
MAJOR PLAYERS: THE INHUMANS, THE KREE, THE SHI’AR (MORE SPECIFICALLY, “EMPEROR” VULCAN), THE IMPERIAL GUARD
The prelude to the REALM OF KINGS.
In this operatic space epic, the despotic Emperor Vulcan (also Cyclops’ and Havok’s brother), went throne-to-throne 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.
Featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy, Darkhawk, the Starjammers and more cosmic favorites, the WAR OF KINGS was a battle that nearly ripped the universe asunder. And it all started with a wedding.
Those reading X-MEN (2019) will know that Vulcan was recently restored to life. As for whether he still has that tyrannical ‘tude? Keep reading.
Continued in REALM OF KINGS. By event’s end, Vulcan seemingly met his match in Black Bolt, although the fallout claimed the Silent King too. As a result, Emperor Kallark, AKA Gladiator, assumed the Shi’ar throne. The major aftermath was the first appearance of “the Fault” too.
WAR OF THE REALMS
MAJOR PLAYERS: ASGARDIANS, MIDGARDIANS (YES, EARTHLINGS), MALEKITH, LOKI
Asgard. Alfheim. Heven. Jotunheim. Muspelheim. Niffleheim. Nidavellir. Svartalfheim. Vanaheim. There once came a battle when all Ten Realms fell to Dark Elf Malekith and his army, except one: Midgard. Home to Thor's beloved humans. Home to heroes and gods alike.
In WAR OF THE REALMS, Midgard burned. All Hel broke loose in New York City as Malekith’s invasion unfolded across the globe. And with Earth's forces overwhelmed, Black Panther, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Jane Foster, Doctor Strange and more took on a desperate gamble that changed, and claimed, lives.
The Asgardians. Thor was enthroned as the new All-Father following his takedown of Malekith, ushering in a new age of peace between the realms’ many beings and peoples. Loki got his own throne too, becoming the reckless ruler of the Frost Giants.
[RELATED: Top 10 ‘War of the Realms’ Moments]
Pick up EMPYRE #1-4 today, written by Al Ewing and Dan Slott with art by Valerio Schiti, at your favorite local comic book shop or digitally today!
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