Comic books are somewhat of a niche aspect of storytelling. Only hardcore fans of the heroes would ever actually read them. While this was fine for what it was, companies had to come up with ways to bring in average consumers to take a look at what comics had to offer. One way they did this was by killing off major characters like Superman and Batman. Other times, they relied on massive crossovers where superheroes would team up to fight other good guys or go toe to toe with some evil force. Thus spawned the tradition of having powerful wars within comic books.
Understand for the purposes of this list, we are defining a superhero war as an event that brought the attention of multiple superheroes that are fighting a normally unbeatable bad guy or another team of superheroes. The group that forms together also must be different than just the staple Avengers or Justice League (teams only having Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman will be excluded here). Legitimate wars are also fair game here. That said, origin stories for certain teams coming together are also valid.
Over the years, writers have been thinking of different ways to pit heroes and villains against one another, and it has garnered some bombastic results that have brought many people into the comic world- that was how I got into comic books at least.
Without further ado, enjoy our list of 15 superhero wars that will blow your mind.
15. The Outsiders War
The story of Oliver Queen has made the leap from the pages onto the small screen and the minds of the casual fans these days. However, what if I told you that there were other forces that put Oliver Queen on the island and it would come back later to haunt him? That’s the premise of The Outsiders War: one of the best Green Arrow comics to date. Fan favorites like Shado return for this arc.
In it, Green Arrow learns powerful secrets about his father Robert and learns about a group called the Outsiders. An ancient history is also uncovered, revealing different clans centering around different weapons. These clans were heavily involved with Ollie’s past, and it was up to him to figure out just what was going on. At the same time, the villain Komodo surfaced with a team known as the Outsiders to cause major damage. Due to his hatred for Oliver Queen, he began a war with the Emerald Archer that involved the ancient clans, the Outsiders, and everyone who allied themselves on the side of good. The stakes are higher and more is learned about the Green Arrow than ever before.
Comics are known to toy with the idea of different realities, and this can yield some powerful results in the end. One of DC’s greatest examples of an altered continuity is with Flashpoint. In this story, Barry Allen can no longer take the grief of losing his mother and goes back in time to save her. In the process, though, he changes so much about the future that he not only loses his powers, but nearly destroys the world in the process.
Flashpoint pitted Aquaman and Wonder Woman against each other- both of them with separate armies that were at war with another and placed the Earth as their battlefield. Meanwhile, there were a group of rebels including the likes of Grifter, Shazam, and Etrigan that sought to stop the war altogether. Together with a much different Batman, the Flash even formed a de facto version of the Justice League that intervened in this war as well. All of the battles together culminated in one of the most tense finales known to comic history, which all ends with Barry running as fast as he can. Makes you think less of that one episode of Flashpoint that the CW did, huh?
Those that follow my works know that I have a big love for the many versions of Spider-Man. Spider-Verse remains to this day one of the most fascinating comics Marvel has put out. When a conflict necessitates the unification of heroes from different dimensions, you know you’re in for a treat. When a Peter Parker from Earth-311 is absorbed by the villain known as Morlun, he declares that he will kill all versions of the spider with his family at his side, known as the Inheritors.
This spawns a brutal war between the Inheritors and every Spider-Man that had appeared in a comic book before that day (and then some). Fan favorites like Spider-Man 2099 and Spider-Man Noir were there for the rally, but also some oddball choices like Cyborg Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man (from the TV show) were also there. Spider-Verse doesn’t shy away from some brutal conflict either. It is a war in every sense of the word; there are intense fights and painful casualties as well. Some of our favorite versions of Peter Parker bite the dust in this story. If you’re a fan of Spider-Man and want something exciting, Spider-Verse is worth a read.
12. World War Hulk
Marvel’s Illuminati is full of some of the most arrogant superheroes known to the Marvel Universe. After an incident with Bruce Banner caused him to Hulk out and destroy a lot of property, the Illuminati decided to exile him from Earth. Hulk ended up on the planet Sakaar, where he became a gladiator and ended up saving the entire place from certain destruction. However, an unfortunate circumstance involving the shuttle created by the Illuminati caused his new wife to die, Hulk decided to return to Earth with a vengeance.
Equipped with his gladiator, Hulk brought together many of his warrior friends on Sakaar and went on a journey to Earth. He then proceeded to fight many Marvel heroes before demanding an audience with the Illuminati themselves. You can imagine the war that ensued after that. Many of Marvel’s heroes on Earth became desperate, even the always-calm Doctor Strange. The conflict escalated to the point where Stark attempted to put all of Manhattan in the Negative Zone. Seeing the Hulk get revenge on the arrogant heroes who exiled him in the first place is one of the most satisfying things ever seen on the pages, just in case you were wondering.
11. Justice League: War
By the time many of us were old enough to read and understand comics, the stories of the Justice League were very old. We had all heard the legend about how they came together to fight Starro and then some. It was only a matter of time before DC decided to reboot the universe in the aftermath of universe-changing events. They used this as a catalyst to retell the story of how the Justice League came together, and it was quite exciting.
After some parademons begin appearing all over the Earth, Batman, the Flash, Wonder Woman, Superman, Shazam, Cyborg, and Green Lantern all play their part in discovering what’s going on. Each of them is then led to the leader of Apokolips, Darkseid. Recognizing that this alien was stronger for any of them to fight individually, the team has to work together to rid the world of parademons and Darkseid himself. After seeing the convoluted history of the entire League for many years, Justice League: War was a refreshing re-imagining of how the Justice League would come together. It would also be the foundation for many exciting stories in the New 52.
10. Trinity War
Pandora’s Box is never any good, and any time it shows up in any story, you know that it’s going to be bad. Think of this object in Trinity War as the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. Everybody was fighting over it and all of the superheroes appeared in it for this event. The Justice League, Justice League of America (controlled by ARGUS), and the Justice League Dark were all present to figure out what to do with the box, but ended up fighting each other in the process.
Eventually, an intervention from magic users like Madame Xanadu and the Phantom Stranger are required. Unfortunately, the box causes more fights to occur between all of the heroes. Brother turns against brother before they ever realize what the actual box does. In the wake of this event, a hero known as the Outsider also comes into the mix, stating that he really knows what the box is used for. Alliances are tested and relationships are broken down as the conflict escalates into an all-out war between these three teams. The ending then leads to the escalation of another conflict.
9. Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos
According to Stan Lee, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos was created after his publisher stated that Lee and Kirby could sell a comic book even with the most ridiculous title. What makes this story so interesting is that it isn’t a bombastic battle between superheroes. Instead, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos is about World War II and the real conflicts that occurred at the time.
The comic follows the adventures of Sergeant Nick Fury (yes the same guy who would eventually become the director of SHIELD) throughout the war of all nations. The series was full of all the tense action you would expect from something taking place in World War II, and it provides a lot of the background you need to to understand why Fury does the things he does in the future. Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos (try saying that five times fast) was well-received by many of its readers and is a beloved story to this day. The Howling Commandos would later make an unnamed appearance in the MCU as the team of soldiers who fought alongside Captain America in Captain America: The First Avenger.
8. Civil War
You knew this one was coming. One could argue that Civil War was created with an image in someone’s head of all of the Marvel Universe’s greatest heroes going head to head in an amazingly colorful battle. After an incident involving an inexperienced team of heroes leads to a catastrophe where many people lose their lives, the government decides that it’s time to restrict the activity of metahumans with the Superhero Registration Act.
The basic premise is that Tony Stark, having dealt with the guilt of his actions for all of his life, agrees with this decision while Captain America, seeing this as an obstruction of freedom, doesn’t. The two are then put at odds and all of the Marvel heroes are split down the middle. Tony Stark leads a team of registered heroes who are assigned by the government to bring in Captain America’s group of Secret Avengers. Unfortunately, the conflict escalates as these two teams seek to fight one another. Lives are lost and moral values are utterly destroyed. Even classic teams like the Fantastic Four are broken up in the wake of this divisive issue. It all ends with some serious ramifications on the Marvel Universe.
7. Infinity Gauntlet
Due to the upcoming release of Avengers: Infinity War next year, the Infinity Gauntlet and Infinity War storylines have become more cited in pop culture today. While there is a lot to love with Infinity War, we’ll be focusing on the Infinity Gauntlet storyline. This is the original story that sees Thanos collecting all of the Infinity Gems so that he can use the Gauntlet to destroy the universe and impress Lady Death. Once this happens, it’s up to the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and everyone else in between to work together and take him down.
The saga begins with Thanos having the Gauntlet in his control. He then starts his rampage by immediately destroying half of the lifeforms in the entire universe, which destroys many of the X-Men and Avengers off the bat. Those that survived then band together to hatch a plan in order to take down the Mad Titan himself. With the leadership of Adam Warlock, they take to the stars to finish the war against Thanos. Despite their teamwork, he puts up a brutal fight which results in even more casualties throughout the saga. It’s a seemingly unwinnable fight and we love every minute of it.
6. Injustice: Gods Among Us
Another powerful war coming from an alternate reality, Injustice: Gods Among Us tells the story of a different version of Superman going power crazy after he was tricked into killing his wife. Superman decided to take over the world and put an end to all of the violence. However, Batman sees right through his plan and decides that it’s up to him to prevent the Man of Steel from becoming the next Adolph Hitler.
In many ways, Injustice: Gods Among Us is DC’s answer to Marvel’s Civil War. However, the stakes are much more dire, with an entire reality at stake and many DC heroes losing their lives in the process. New battle lines are drawn and people find themselves in unlikely allegiances. The conflict eventually brings in Gods, the Green Lantern Corps, and just about every powerful magic user you can think of. It ended up with Batman creating a dimensional portal to bring in heroes from a different universe entirely. Originally a game, this storyline gained its own comic book series, which will be expanded on when Injustice 2 comes out later this year. Are you hyped for it?
5. Crisis on Infinite Earths
The DC Universe had been going on for a long time, and readers found it difficult to keep up with over 50 years of continuity. Because of this, the writers felt that it was time to clean house and order things back into a much simpler timeline. And thus spawned Crisis on Infinite Earths, the most game-changing event to ever come out of DC Comics. Wars don’t have to take place among armies, sometimes they are just the result of one powerful being getting out of hand.
In the DC Universe, an entity called the Monitor watches over the Multiverse and upholds order and rules. However, a malignant counterpart called the Anti-Monitor comes from a previously unknown dimension to destroy various realities. It was then that all of the DC heroes from every universe had to come together in order to take down this being. Unfortunately, the Anti-Monitor proved to be so powerful that numerous heroes lost their lives, were placed in different dimensions, or were permanently sucked into the Speed Force. Crisis on Infinite Earths was such a big war that DC continuity is often regarded as pre-Crisis and post-Crisis. That conflict would be amazing to see in a movie someday.
4. Secret Wars
What happens when a cosmic entity comes to Earth and decides to have some fun? You get Marvel’s Secret Wars. A being known as the Beyonder travels to Earth, interested with all of the different superheroes that exist. He then takes all of them to a planet he calls Battleworld and instructs them to fight one another with the winner being given everything that they desire. Just the premise of all of the Marvel heroes fighting each other is interesting enough, but Secret Wars also garners some powerful developments for characters like Spider-Man, the Thing, and Kitty Pryde.
This would not be the only time Secret Wars and Battleworld would make an appearance. In 2015, Marvel would relaunch Secret Wars as a way to reboot their universe. In this story, Marvel heroes are pulled from different dimensions and placed into Battleworld once again, this time created by Doctor Doom. The various characters we’ve known and love then have to work together, battle other heroes, and change reality in order to stop Doom and restore the Multiverse. As a heads up, things don’t go back to the way they were. You’ll just have to read it to know what I’m talking about.
3. Darkseid War
After the New 52 launched and Darkseid became the first and most threatening villain of the Justice League, it was only a matter of time before he would appear again to clean house and wreck shop. The leader of Apokolips desired more power and wanted his revenge after the Justice League humiliated him in Justice League: War. Because of this, Darkseid became a New God and chose to try and control multiple worlds and brought a new war to the Justice League.
What was impressive about this comic is that it takes many unexpected turns. First off: Darkseid straight up dies fairly early on. However, his actions on the Multiverse had many ramifications which ended up with the Justice League becoming the New Gods. After his death, there were still plenty of Parademons roaming the universe which the Justice League had to intercept. Each member of the League then had to deal with their own problems as the Gods were all out of whack and it led to some discoveries about themselves that would shape the rest of the DC Universe. Batman even learns the identity of the Joker.
2. Blackest Night
Comics love to kill characters off, there’s no secret about that. However, most of the ones that have died have been brought back in some form or another. That’s why Blackest Night is so amazing: it punishes the DC Universe for resurrecting all of its characters. Among the Lanterns, there was a faction known as the Black Lantern Corps that was revived by Nekron. He put the Black Hand in charge and told him to go to work. At that point, Black Rings floated down from the heavens and placed themselves on all of the DC characters who were dead to become Black Lanterns. The rings also affected those who had died and been resurrected. Blackest Night quickly became one of the most terrifying and hopeless comic events that ever existed. Many living heroes and villains are given power rings to be able to fight the Black Lanterns, and even the Yellow Lantern Corps joined forces with the Green Lanterns to combat this horrible evil. The story culminates with yet another Lantern faction being birthed, and it’s remains a triumphant moment even today. If Warner Bros. has any doubts as to which direction to take their inevitable Green Lantern Corps movie, this is it.
The crossover to end all crossovers. How many times were you in the park talking about how Batman could beat Captain America, or how Superman could take down the Hulk? All of those questions and more would be answered in the deal of Marvel and DC that resulted in the fan service comic, JLA/Avengers.
An interdimensional being creates a way for both the Avengers and the Justice League to travel to each other’s worlds. A few misunderstandings and manipulations by cosmic beings lead to the teams despising one another. Each of them were told that they need special artifacts in order to save the day, and that puts them at odds. The Justice League and the Avengers undergo one of the greatest battles of all time, and answers many of the age old questions we’ve held from our childhoods.
Like most conflicts of this magnitude, it was only the result of cosmic beings having a disagreement and wanting to get the drop on the other. In hindsight, it’s quite disappointing, considering the amazing things that the Justice League and the Avengers could do, but the fact that these two legendary teams were on the pages together and fighting is just so perfect.