We're well into the second act of Marvel’s latest event, Avengers/X-Men: Axis and has displayed a strange union of some of the company’s most iconic heroes and villains such as Carnage, Hobgoblin and Loki.
How are such strange befellows possible? Well, thanks to an “Inversion” spell that has been cast throughout the Marvel Universe, the moral compass for many key characters has been realigned. And that’s how you get a lifelong serial killer like Carnage fighting on the side of good.
So while readers try to make sense of how the Marvel Universe has been “inverted,” we thought we’d revisit the comic book industry’s 10 most unlikely alliance that actually happened. To quote the great Peter Venkman, “Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!”
10. The Age of Apocalypse X-Men
From: "Age of Apocalypse"
Marvel gave its X-Men fans a collective heart attack in the mid-90s when it very suddenly, without warning, rebooted its entire X-Universe and set it in an alternative timeline where Charles Xavier was dead, Magneto was leading the X-Men in his former adversary's name, and the evil Apocalypse had taken over the world and was killing all of those who opposed him.
The ultimate screwiness of the “Age of Apocalypse” concept first became tangible in the X-Men Alpha issue, when a young mutant is under attack by Apocalypse’s goons, and the group that arrives to rescues her is a mish-mash of heroes and villains working together (i.e. Magneto, Sabertooth, Quicksilver and Nightcrawler). As the story marched onward, the reader discovers a lot of the alliances and allegiances of the prior timeline had been tossed out the window in favor of this whole new alignment of good and evil.
Those who were more comfortable with the “old guard” of heroes and villains were likely relieved when “Age of Apocalypse” proved to be just a four-month arc, and the original timeline was restored upon the event’s completion.
9. New Gods/Darkseid
From: Cosmic Odyssey
Ever since both worlds were created by Jack Kirby as part of his Fourth World saga in the 1970s, the New Gods of New Genesis and Darkseid of Apokolips have been at war with each other. Given Darkseid’s well-known desires to take over the universe, it’s hard to believe that he would ever enter into any kind of alliance with the New Gods, but that’s exactly what happened during Jim Starlin and Mike Mignola’s Cosmic Odyssey miniseries in 1989.
In this story, New Genesis and Apokolips unite over retrieving elements of the deadly Anti-Life Equation. Highfather, of the New Gods, recruits members of the Justice League, such as Superman, Martian Manhunter and Batman, to join their group to find the shattered pieces of the ALE because if pieced together, it would pose an enormous threat to the entire universe. And despite the League’s resistance in standing by a sociopath like Darkseid, they all, sorta, kinda get along, at least until Darksied demonstrates his true, evil intentions (surprise, surprise).
From: Infinity War
Similar to Darkseid in Cosmic Odyssey, Thanos unexpectedly finds himself aligned with all of the Marvel heroes he had previously tried to kill during the epic Infinity Gauntlet miniseries, in order to fight a common enemy in the sequel, Infinity War.
By this point, writer Jim Starlin had already started the transition process of Thanos from full-fledged diabolical villain, to an ever-so-slightly softer anti-hero while scripting the Warlock and the Infinity Watch series. But Thanos lines up side-by-side with the likes of Captain America, Thor and Hulk in Infinity War to assist the heroes in their struggle against Walock’s dark future self, Magus. In an even bigger shock, by the end of the series, Thanos questions whether or not he is becoming a “hero.” Who would have thought a self-proclaimed nihilist would even care?
From: Thor #353
There has historically been a lot of resentment between half-brothers Thor and Loki over the years, but when faced with the potential end times of Asgard from the fire demon Surtur, even the spiteful Loki was able to put aside his differences and align himself with his rivals.
The coming of Surtur, which is memorably captured in the front half of Walt Simonson’s run on Thor in the 1980s, forces Loki to recognize that there’s not much fame and glory in being mischievous and malicious in a dead world. Plus how would he ever rule over Asgard if there was no Asgard to rule over? So while Thor is fighting “for Midgard,” and Odin is fighting “for Asgard,” Loki fights “for myself.” And together, the trio defeats Surtur.
From there, this uneasy alliance quickly ends and within a handful of issues, Loki is busy transforming his half-brother into a frog. Good times.
From: Amazing Spider-Man #361-363
Venom was first introduced in the late 1980s as a criminally-insane anti-Spider-Man – a villain whose sole purpose was to physically destroy Spidey (and then eat his brains, liver or any other organs you could think of). So it was quite a shock when Spider-Man and Venom teamed up in the early 90s to fight an even greater lunatic, Carnage.
Carnage was spawned from Venom’s symbiotic costume, bonding to a deranged serial killer named Cletus Kasady. After Carnage introduces himself to the world in Amazing Spider-Man #361, Spider-Man believes the only chance he has in defeating him is by recruiting the help of Venom, who as Eddie Brock, shared a prison cell with Kasady. Making things more awkward is the fact that Venom is currently living in contentment on a deserted island, under the belief that he had killed his long-time opponent. When Spidey shows up, Venom is none too pleased, but eventually agrees to the alliance to fight the greater threat in Carnage.
The union does inevitably flame out, but Venom and Spidey would pair off again a short while later as part of the “Maximum Carnage” storyline. By that point, Venom has evolved into a bonafide anti-hero.
5. Doctor Strange/Doctor Doom
From: Doctor Strange/Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment
The once megalomaniacal Doctor Doom has undoubtedly softened his edges in recent years, even fighting alongside the his arch rivals, the Fantastic Four in some stories. But his alliance with the “Sorcerer Supreme,” Doctor Strange in the Roger Stern/Mike Mignola original graphic novel, Triumph and Torment was definitely a head-turner when it happened in 1989.
What makes this union most fascinating is how Stern and Mignola frame each of these characters – demonstrating just how similar Doom and Strange are at their very cores. Doom selects Strange to accompany him in a showdown with the devil, Mephisto, over the possession of Doom’s mother’s soul. And while Doom is seemingly willing to stop at nothing to get what ultimately wants, his more human, altruistic side eventually shines through in the dramatic climax of this story. As such, the reader winds up respecting both Strange and Doom once this wonderful graphic novel is finished, a testament to just how amazingly Stern’s script colors each of these characters.
4. Superman/Lex Luthor
From: Superman #164
Not a traditional team-up by any stretch, this 1963 storyline from Edmond Hamilton and Curt Swan sees Superman and Lex Luthor create a sorta, maybe alliance to save an acrid planet from drying out. The story starts out, typically enough, with Luthor scheming against Superman, challenging him to a battle on a planet where his powers would be sapped by a red sun. If Luthor wins, he would be freed from prison while Superman would be left behind to rot.
Once the duo arrive on the planet, things get real interesting. The inhabitants of the planet hail Luthor as a hero, who in turn promises to find their barren world a water source. Supes and Luthor engage in battle, and it appears like Lex might actually win, before surprisingly surrendering to Superman. On the trip back, Luthor asks Superman to grab some ice from another planet in order to deliver it to the acrid one to serve as a water source. Upon delivering the ice, Superman notices how highly Luthor is regarding by the planet and comes to an understanding that perhaps his mortal enemy let him win their street fight in order to continue to be revered as a hero.
3. Green Lantern/Sinestro
From: Green Lantern New 52 Reboots
While Sinestro has evolved over the years from one of the most nefarious villains in the DC Universe to a character with more anti-hero qualities, it was still an interested choice by writer Geoff Johns to build the company’s New 52 relaunch of Green Lantern around a lengthy Hal Jordan/Sinestro alliance.
What starts off as a potential Sinestro redemption arc instead transforms into a battle that pits Hal and his former adversary against the Guardians of the Universe. Still, despite all of the layers of betrayals and double-crossing, it’s impossible for either Hal or Sinestro to completely turn their backs on their ideals, especially when Sinestro has an opportunity to exact revenge on the Guardians and Hal seemingly has an opportunity to stop Sinestro from giving in to his villainous intentions.
From: Brave and the Bold #191
Batman and Joker, mortal enemies by all accounts that will be forever linked by their hatred for each other, have actually teamed-up with a bit more frequency than one might expect. DC’s Brave and the Bold series, which was a team-up book for the bulk of its duration during the 60s, 70s, 80s, was one of those titles that occasionally paired these two off, with Brave and the Bold #191 arguably being the most famous Batman/Joker team-up to speak of.
In this issue, which was written by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn with art from Jim Aparo and Gene D’Angelo, Batman is begrudgingly tasked with clearing the Joker’s name for a crime he allegedly didn’t commit. When another one of Batman’s famous rogues, the Penguin, is seemingly murdered by the Joker on live TV, the Joker pledges his innocence and works with the Caped Crusader to expose a larger plot by the Penguin (who of course faked his death).
1. Captain America/Red Skull
From: Captain America #444-448
Not a typo, Captain America and Red Skull, who have a blood feud dating back to the Golden Age of comics, actually found themselves working side-by-side during the opening arc on the fan favorite Mark Waid/Ron Garney run on Captain America in the mid-90s. When Waid and Garney took over on the book, Marvel was still in the midst of following in the footsteps of DC’s “Death of Superman” and “Knightfall” storylines by shaking up the status quos of many of their most iconic heroes (i.e., the Spider-Man “Clone Saga”). As such, Cap was on the verge of death, when he’s miraculously saved by an unexpected source – the Skull.
What makes this get-together even more of a stunner is the reasoning behind it. The Red Skull revives Captain America in order for the two of them to take down Adolf Hitler. That’s right, the spirit of the fascist dictator who first gave the Skull a job back during WWII has been captured by the Cosmic Cube. And the Skull is worried that a Cosmic Cube-powered Hitler would be a bad idea.
Cap’s uneasy alliance with the Skull naturally comes back to haunt him, as the team-up is captured on camera by the U.S. government and Captain America is stripped of his red, white and blue regalia as a result by the country he has always served.