Well, when we ask, you answer, that’s for sure. With the news of Marvel crowd-sourcing stories to include in a 75th anniversary omnibus, we asked you what your top three favorite Marvel stories of all time were. And you answered in droves.
While some people struggled with just including three (we only took your first three when you did that, figuring they were the first ones that came to mind), we got about 200 comments in the first two hours or so of posting. We took the votes with one point assigned to your third place choose, two points for second place, and three points for first. This is by no means meant to be a scientific poll (far too low a number of votes counted, some possibility of repeats, etc.), and while it does seem to largely represent one era, there is enough diversity to see stories fans have loved from the 1960s all the way through to just a handful of years back.
But first, the runners-up. These stories are all clearly fan favorites, with all seven of these honorable mentions coming within just two points of cracking the top ten.
Avengers: Korvac Saga, Infinity Saga/Crusade/War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Old Man Logan, Uncanny X-Force: Dark Angel Saga, X-Cutioner’s Song, “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” (ASM #248)
So hey, check all those out, too. And now, the top ten Marvel Comics stories of all time, according to you, the readers.
# 5 Age of Apocalypse
Marvel teased that they were canceling all the X-Men series, and then they did the insane: they actually did it! Well, for a few months, anyway.
When Xavier’s loony son David Haller aka Legion decides he’s going to make daddy’s dream come true, he transports himself back in time to when Xavier and Magneto are still friends, hoping to kill Magneto and prevent anything standing in Charles’ way. Of course, it goes horribly wrong because they’re still friends, and Charles jumps in the way of the blast, instantly killing him and sending a wave of reality-shifting throughout time. This resulted in the world as we knew it freezing in a crystalline reality bubble while also creating an entire alternate universe. In this new world, Apocalypse rose early, before the X-Men could ever be formed to stop him, and successfully took over the world. The result was four months of alternate-reality comics, complete with the coolest take on Nightcrawler ever, and other fan favorites like a Logan missing a hand, Cyclops and Havok on the other side of the law, Magneto as leader of the X-Men, married to Rogue, with a child, and much more. It was more than just an event, it was the way the entire X-Men line was stuck for that timeframe, and it had real, lasting repercussions that still get revisited today.
#4 Civil War
It beat AoA by one vote. One of the newest stories on our list, Marvel’s Civil War asked the question, “Whose side are you on?”
The story started with a bang (so sorry) as the New Warriors, while trying to subdue Nitro, were involved in the resulting explosion that killed 600, including many children in an elementary school in Stamford, CT. This fast-tracks the Superhuman Registration Act, requiring anyone with powers and abilities beyond that of mortal man to register with the government, revealing their identity and training with government approved heroes if they want to keep using their powers.
Ultimately, this led to Iron Man leading the pro-registration side and Captain America leading the anti-registration folks, with the two sides going all-out in a superhero civil war. There were real consequences with major deaths, Tony Stark eventually becoming Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and immediately afterwards, the death (albeit temporary) of Captain America. It took years for the breach between Cap, Iron Man, and Thor to be repaired.
#3 The Night Gwen Stacy Died
Outside of the death of Uncle Ben, it’s quite possible that Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 are the most important issues in the entire life of Peter Parker. The story said it right there in the title. They spoiled the outcome. They told the truth. This would be “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.”
Norman Osborn, back as the Green Goblin, take’s Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy and throws her off a bridge. Just when it looks like Spider-Man successfully saved her, his webbing caught her ankle - and the sudden stop snapped her neck.
It’s utterly tragic, it was a true surprise, and it utterly devastates Peter Parker in a way nothing since could have. It’s heart-breaking and shocking, and in 1973, it was something that made people look at comic books, especially superhero comic books, a very different way.
#2 Dark Phoenix Saga
The Dark Phoenix Saga, to this day, is the story that all other X-Men stories are held up to. Unofficially, it started way back in 1976, when Jean Grey first came into contact with the Phoenix Force in X-Men #101-108. Then the Dark part hits, from #129-138 in 1980.
It’s a masterpiece of a story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, with truly marquee moments for many individual members of the X-Men. Cyclops battles Mastermind on the psychic plane. Wolverine takes on a seemingly endless stream of Hellfire Club soldiers. Oh, and Jean Grey, as the Dark Phoenix, goes bat-sh** crazy, eats a sun (killing an orbiting planet’s entire population), and it all comes down to a trial for genocide. When Jean manages to gain control of herself for one short moment, alongside Cyclops, she is zapped by a Kree weapon on the moon and killed.
Of course years and many retcons later, we’d see things like this being a clone of Jean’s body, I - look, we’re just not getting into all that. The Dark Phoenix Saga as its own story is a masterpiece and helped establish that Jean Grey shall always rise once more from the ashes.
#1 Infinity Gauntlet
This took the most votes by a wide margin, and the 1991 limited series by Jim Starlin, George Perez, and Ron Lim had it all. This told the story of Thanos having gathered all six Infinity Gems, placing them into his gauntlet and using them to become a godlike being. His goal? To end all life in the universe in order to win over the woman he loves: the embodiment of Death.
And oh boy, did Thanos come close to succeeding. Using the combined might of the Mind, Soul, Power, Reality, Space, and Time gems, Thanos killed half of everyone. Everyone. He killed most of the X-Men, he killed Daredevil and the Fantastic Four, he killed Avengers, and he did it all with a snap of his fingers.
This was the big cosmic event, with the rest of the heroes of Earth (and some from beyond it) trying to stop Thanos from achieving godhood and taking out the other half of life, all while the mad Titan cut a swathe through the Universe, taking out some of its most powerful beings with ease. In the end, it was up to Thanos’s own progeny Nebula to undue what he had done, restoring the dead and putting cosmic entities back in their place.
Of course, that’s far from the end of Thanos’s story, as we’d later have an Infinity War, an Infinity Crusade, and just last year, plain old Infinity. It’s also widely speculated that the story from Infinity Gauntlet will be the basis of the third Avengers film from Marvel Studios. After all, we’ve seen the gauntlet, we’ve seen Thanos, we’ve seen him smirk about “courting Death,” and we’ve identified objects of power in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as “Infinity Stones,” so it’s not hard to do the math. Good thing Nebula is being introduced in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy film, too…