Tales of superheroes in space are some of the most expansive, genre-hopping adventures in comics and offer an opportunity for pencilers to let loose.
- Superheroes in space draw inspiration from both ancient myths and early science fiction, allowing for diverse and epic adventures outside their usual realm.
- Crossover between different genres within shared universes expands the scope of science fiction storytelling in DC and Marvel comics.
- Taking superheroes off Earth enables exploration of a wide range of genres and allows artists to showcase their creativity through new character designs and environments.
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Tales of superheroes in space have their origins in the earliest forms of fiction. Characters like Superman, Martian Manhunter, and Star-Lord have their basis both in the myths of old and the science fiction pulps of the early twentieth century. This makes the characters of DC and Marvel well-suited for adventures off-planet.
The shared universes of the two publishers create the opportunity for characters inspired by noir or fantasy genres to become roped into stories usually outside their wheelhouse. The history of crossing genres has broadened the scope of science fiction storytelling within these comics. The stories aim to capture everything from the cosmically mythic tales of Thanos vying for omnipotence to Batman punching the space god Orion in the face.
10 Green Lantern
Alan Moore’s three Green Lantern stories, “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize” from Green Lantern #188, “Tygers” from Green Lantern Corps Annual #2, and “In Blackest Night” from Green Lantern Corps Annual #3, quickly became three of the best GL tales DC ever produced and arguably still have yet to be surpassed. Though his stint was brief, Moore’s unbridled imagination looked to expand the mythos at every turn. He gave readers the planet-sized Lantern Mogo, a Lantern from a species of blind aliens without any concept of the color green, and the horror-filled corpsworld of Ysmault, which gave Lantern lore the apocalyptic Blackest Night prophecy.
9 Cosmic Odyssey
This ‘80s space epic by Jim Starlin and Mike Mignola sees the Justice League and New Gods team up with their nemesis Darkseid to stop an invasion by the Anti-Life Entity, a maleficent cosmic being from another dimension seeking to control the minds of all who inhabit the universe. The League follows the Entity’s moves from planet to planet. Mignola does his usual one-of-a-kind best, with electric action and jaw-dropping cosmic horror, with writer Starlin granting him access to the whole scope of the DCU as his playground. Starlin pairs the grand scale of a galactic conflict with personal differences and distinctive takes on old favorites.
In 1989, Timothy Truman took the Thanagarian mythos of Hawkman and gave it a dirty, hard-edged overhaul. The planet Thanagar is the home base to an interplanetary empire, a colonizing force steeped in racism and class discrimination. Katar Hol, son of the wealthy and guilt-ridden inventor of the Thanagarians’ wingsuits, joins the military police force and is plunged into a world of poverty, crime, and ugliness that supports the high-class living of his upbringing. Truman’s versatile art contrasts the beauty and elegance of Hol’s upper-class origins with the grime and violence on the ground. On the trail of a politically motivated conspiracy, Hol’s idealistic worldview is upended.
Howard Chaykin’s Twilight sees the far future of humanity as it sputters through its depraved and violent end times. Creating a cast out of entirely D-list Silver Age science fiction heroes, Chaykin’s story follows the competing governments and factions searching for a race of aliens fabled to hold the secret to attaining godly power. José Luis García-López is unleashed on the page, doing career-best work with massive space stations and environments, as well as unmatched character acting and costume design. Combined with Chaykin’s expansive world-building, the story has a sense of scope and depth rarely seen in American superhero comics.
6 The Thanos Quest and The Infinity Gauntlet
After his return from the dead in Starlin’s Silver Surfer, Thanos resolves to finally win the heart of his love, Death, and sets out across the galaxy to collect the fabled Infinity Gems. His search, seen in The Thanos Quest, is both an expansion of Marvel’s cosmic landscape and a top-tier fight comic that sees Thanos go toe to toe with the heavy hitters populating that world. The Infinity Gauntlet finds the now space god-level Thanos working his way through the Avengers to the deities holding together the fabric of reality. With explosive art by Ron Lim and George Pérez, Starlin pairs mind-boggling imagery with Thanos’ heartbroken longing and fatal self-sabotaging character.
5 Marvel Cosmic Saga
Beginning with Keith Giffen’s work on Thanos and Annihilation, the villain Annihilus begins a galactic war at the edge of reality, forcing together a previously disparate spread of Marvel’s cosmic characters into one story. In this new status quo, authors Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning continue the saga in Nova, Annihilation: Conquest, and Guardians of the Galaxy. An ensemble cast of characters including the reforming Nova Corps, the Silver Surfer, Thanos, and a new iteration of the Guardians deal with the fallout of the invasion. Unbridled by the continuity of Marvel’s earthbound books, Abnett, Lanning, and Giffen capture a unique blend of grandiose adventure with character and comedy.
4 Thor: The Saga Of Gorr The God Butcher
Spanning from Viking era Scandinavia to millennia into the future, Jason Aaron’s “God Butcher Saga” follows Norse god Thor on the hunt across the cosmos for a killer of gods at three different points in his life. With Esad Ribic and Butch Guice’s painterly images imbuing the tale with a grandiose sense of mythic, Aaron asks thematic questions about power, responsibility, and worship in a world where the gods of religion are proven to exist. The story is full of striking imagery, from pantheons of massive gods to a time machine powered by the blood of dead deities.
3 The Omega Men: The End Is Here
In Tom’s King’s book, White Lantern Kyle Rayner is executed on a live broadcast by the Omega Men. Unbeknownst to the rest of the galaxy, the execution was faked, and Kyle is taken hostage, learning that though framed as terrorists, the Omega Men are a collection of survivors from genocides across the Vega system perpetrated by the Citadel, an alien corporation bent on extracting precious resources from Vega’s planets. Caught up in a space war and a storm of moral quandaries, Omega Men transfers the War on Terror to a science fiction landscape, with artist Barnaby Bagenda’s varied landscapes and sense of tone creating a visual feast.
2 Black Panther: The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda
Following his politically influenced action drama run on Black Panther, Ta-Nehisi Coates drastically upends his own status quo and sends T’Challah into space, where he wakes up in the far future. Discovering an intergalactic empire founded in the name of the Black Panther, T’Challah enters a space opera as good if not better than his adventures on Earth. In addition to the story, the aesthetics receive a painterly look courtesy of Daniel Acuña, his wonderfully rendered movement capturing the slick, fast-paced world of laser beams, ornate costumes, and spaceships. The series caps off Coates’ growth as a comics writer and is just as thematically rich as his first issues.
1 Far Sector
Fantasy and sci-fi novelist N.K. Jemisin makes her comic book debut with the award-winning Far Sector, which sees Green Lantern Sojourner “Jo” Mullein begin her post at the edge of space in an alien city whose inhabitants no longer feel emotion. Captured with beautifully lush penciling by Jamal Campbell, the miniseries sees Jo on the first murder case in the city’s history. The case takes her down the road of discovering faults within the city’s political and economic structure. Jo struggles to find the right thing to do when the problems she faces reveal themselves to be so foundational.
Stories about superheroes are always about the relationship between power and responsibility, and the history of science fiction dealing with politics, social structures, and belief systems makes the two an apt pairing. Taking characters off Earth frees writers up to explore a vast expanse of genres, with planets serving as heightened parallels to home worlds. Likewise, stories of heroes in space allow artists to experiment with new character designs, vehicles, and environments, giving them a unique opportunity to display their talents.