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Top Five Marvel Superhero Heroic Stands Against Insurmountable Odds

Top Five Month continues (check here to see an archive of all the top five lists featured so far) with a guest bit from my buddy Brad, who wrote this one for me a couple of years ago, but I’ve never had the chance to share it with this blog’s audience, so here ya go! The top five Marvel superhero heroic stands against insurmountable odds, as determined by Brad Curran!


One of the reasons why I like Marvel’s superheroes more than DC’s is that they have a real tenacious streak in them. It feels like they have to work for their victories. I don’t get the same feeling from the DCU’s pantheon of gods. Superman and Batman never seem like they’re really in danger, while there’s always a possibility Spider-Man will get the shit kicked out of him in a given fight. Of course, none of these characters are ever in any danger, what with that revolving resurrection door and all, but I can suspend my disbelief a lot better with the Marvel characters. Here are five of my favorite reasons why:

5. Spider-Man vs. the Juggernaut

This is referring to the “Nothing Stops the Juggernaut” two parter by Roger Stern and John Romita that Wizard mentions a lot, from what I’ve seen in between bouts of ignoring them. They’re right about this one. This is pretty much the only time that I can remember the Juggernaut living up to his unstoppable reputation, as he methodically destroys everything in his path on the way to kidnapping Madam Web, and only Spider-Man can stand in his way. It’s a titanic battle that ends heart wrenchingly, with Spider-Man taken to his limit but vowing revenge. And that’s just part one. Spidey’s last ditch effort to deal with Juggernaut’s threat doesn’t use the cop out I remember from most of his X-Men appearances (ie, get his helmet off!), and this really feels like an epic, life or death struggle. This, along with “The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man”, are the two best reasons why Stern deserves to be remembered as one of the best Spider-Man writers in the history of the strip.

4. Daredevil vs. the Hulk

This is from an issue that Frank Miller and Klaus Janson drew, which was written by Roger McKenzie. What is it with hornhead and getting nearly beaten to death in order to do the right thing? He does it very well. He’s like John Cena, except most of the audience doesn’t hate him. Maybe Cena needs to be turned in to a broody ninja with an evil Greek ex-girlfriend.

Anyway, wrestling wankery aside, this another damn great story/horrific beating for Daredevil, who tries very hard to lend Bruce Banner a hand, and winds up having to try to and stop a rampaging Hulk single handedly. The ending, the Hulk leaping off, a tormented look on his face, still resonates with me to this day.

(Picture courtesy of Jason Sacks)

3. Daredevil vs. Namor

Stan Lee and Wally Wood doing widescreen fight comics about 30 years before they were in vogue. Well, not really, but this is easily up there with the most intense fight scenes that the subsequent 30+ years have produced. This is also up there with anything Frank Miller ever did with the character. Because, in a single issue, Daredevil shows an amazing amount of tenacity in his attempt to stop Namor from declaring war on the surface world (again); so much so that old point ears comes to respect him and calls the whole thing off, showing a good deal of nobility on his part. Of course, being a Daredevil comic, Matt Murdock winds up being Namor’s lawyer, too, which leads to a great scene where Lady Dorma shows up in court wearing a fish bowl on her head. But never mind that; this issue is all about the fight, and what a fight it is.

2. Captain America, shieldless, against Thanos, who was wielding the Infinity Gauntlet

This stands out to me as the ultimate in defying the odds. Cap knew he was going to die. He had no defense. Thanos had godlike powers, with which he slaughtered every other superhero who had stood against him. But Cap still wouldn’t back down, no matter what the cost, because it was the right thing to do. Now, his noble sacrifice wound up being meaningless in the grand scheme of things, since Warlock got the gauntlet eventually and hit the reset button, but that is still one damn powerful scene, isn’t it?

(Picture courtesy of Chris Sims)

1. Spider-Man lifting the machinery to save Aunt May

Yes, it’s a Spider-Man sandwich. Or Spider-Man bookends.

Anyhow, Duh. The single greatest “overcoming insurmountable odds” scene in superhero comics ever, Steve Ditko rendered Spidey’s struggle in the intensely operatic way that only he could, and Stan provided matching dialogue. The zenith of one of the best superhero runs in history.

That’s the list!

Agree? Disagree? Let us know!


I agree with most of those, but where’s the first fight between the Fantastic Four and Galactus? I thought for sure the “Galactus falls” moment would have earned it number one.

Good Topic.
How about the X-Men vs. Proteus. Proteus pretty much wiped the floor with everyone, including Phoenix, before Colossus put him down

My vote goes to Busiek & Perez’s Avengers run, the arc where they take on an entire army of Ultrons was really impressive.

Johnny Kwango

July 10, 2008 at 1:55 pm

I thought Spidey vs Firelord from the DeFalco/Frenz era might have been worth an honourable mention.

I can’t speak for Brad, but I think the Firelord fight was kinda dumb.

It was like a bad remake of the Juggernaut fight, though less believable.

for shame! you left out Luke Cage vs. Dr. Doom (and his defenses) in Latervia!!! still fun choices overall.

Does Doctor Doom vs the Beyonder count?

(I’d put Captain Britain and friends vs Mad Jim Jaspers up there as well)

Mario di Giacomo

July 10, 2008 at 2:36 pm

Gotta plug Skurge vs Hel. ALL of Hel.

If those aren’t insurmountable odds, nothing is.

Considering that the Cage-Doom fight ended with, “You broke though my armor by punching it a lot! Ingenious! No one’s ever tried THAT before!” — yeah, the odds in that one were clearly pretty darned surmountable. Luke didn’t even break a sweat.

That said, he does get major points for addressing Doom with, “Where’s my money, honey?”

Man, I get choked up at the merest mention of the death of Skurge. Now, THAT was good comics.

When I saw the topic, I immediately thought, “If Spider-Man lifting the machinery isn’t #1, this list is worthless.” Very glad to see we agree. :)

How is Cap shieldless in that bit from The Infinity Gauntlet? He’s clearing holding it in the first 3 panels.

Sorry, John, those panels are the only ones I found online. Later on, Thanos destroys the shield, but Cap holds in and continues fighting.

I would replace Cap vs Thanos with Cap vs Michael Korvak. But, that’s just me.

The rest of the list I completely agree with. And, I also agree that while DC has oftentime tried to do a “heroic stand against insurmountable” scene, they usually fail by either using a B or C list hero, or just plain doing it wrong (IMHO)


Vincent Paul Bartilucci

July 10, 2008 at 3:19 pm

I’m with Mario and buttler.

The Executioner holding the bridge Gjallerbru is the absolute coolest moment in Simonson’s cooling than cool run on Thor.

That Cap/Thanos moment is legendary, no doubt about it. Possibly the source of the ultimate “Steve-Cap or Bucky-Cap” question – which would be “can you see Bucky-Cap doing this…?”

The answer to that is usually “only on the paid area of his website,” Dragon.

one of the best superhero runs in history.

No, THE best superhero run in history. No single run or character has been so often imitated (and unsuccessfully at that, no one could truly duplicate that magic, not even Lee/Romita) as Lee/Ditko Spider-Man.

Great choices.

Can you do the Top Five DC Superhero Stands Against Insurmountable Odds? I think it would be a hell of a challenge.

The way Spidey finally trapped Juggernaut was really memorable to me, too: http://tkincher.com/images/spidey-vs-jugger.gif

Number five should be number two, but other than that, good list.

Off the top of my head, the Connor Hawke/Atom against Darkseid from JLA’s Rock of Ages stands out.

That was a simulation, that doesn’t count!

It was super awesome, though!

Oh yeah, the Connor Hawke/Atom fight with Darkseid WAS awesome actually and does count as against all odds. Good call!

Brian, what was a simulation? The Hawke/Atom/Darkseid fight?

I wonder, would Mageddon count as a DC example of winning against insurmountable odds? I’m a little iffy on it…he was certainly talked up as insurmountable, but in execution he did go down kind of easily. I was a little disappointed.

I never read Crisis on Infinite Earths, but I assume those odds seemed insurmountable considering all the casualties?

Oh right, it wasn’t a simulation, it was in the FUTURE!

Sorry, I was confused with the earlier issue where they had a similar scenario as a simulation to test possible new members with.

I hadn’t read most of the stuff you guys pointed as being excluded in 2006. I still haven’t, actually. I always hate it when all the money I spend on comics still feels paltry and I have massive holes in my nerd history. I also like that the Cena reference isn’t that dated.

My favorite is FF #25 when the Thing goes up againts the Hulk after the rest of the FF have been taken out. The last three panels in that issue is why the Thing is Marvel Comics best character.

What about the X-men vs the Imperial Guard in a fight to determine the fate of Phoenix in Uncanny X-men #137? That was easily the first one I thought of.

Skurge in Simonson’s Thor should be top 5 material if not #1

While I don’t speak for Brad, I presume he was thinking that it was strictly Marvel Superheroes, which is why Skurge is not on the list.

That’s why the thing is titled “Marvel Superhero Heroic Stands Against Insurmountable Odds.”

But otherwise, sure I bet Skurge would make it.

Shouldn’t Thing versus Champion (Marvel 2 in 1 Annual 7) at least merit an honorable mention?

A good DC example would be the Titans vs. Trigon from the Baxter series. Except, they didn’t really defeat him, it was all due to Lilith and Raven’s magic rings…though they did get the crap kicked out of them.

How about Uncanny X-men # 150? The X-men vs. Magneto…what made it great was that the X-men didn’t have their powers, but Magneto did, and knowing that even with their powers he could probably wipe the floor with them, but they still took him on anyway.

At some point there gets to be rediculous odds and it’s really silly for the hero to even bother. The Cap/Thanos seemed really stupid. I remember a Titans comic with Trigon. Nightwing’s the last one standing and he throws one of his exploding disks at Trigon (who at this point is as big as a building).

Also hard to believe that Wolverine didn’t have one of these spots.

“What about the X-men vs the Imperial Guard in a fight to determine the fate of Phoenix in Uncanny X-men #137? That was easily the first one I thought of.”

Or later in that story, when they put everything they’ve got into defeating the Guardian of the M’Kraan crystal, only to find out that was the FIRST guardian, and that for every one they defeat, another one twice as powerful will take its place. And of course, they have at it against the second Guardian.

Reading that story as a kid, it was the first time I ever thought to myself “holy crap, how are they ever going to win this one?”

Not that I disagree with any of the five items listed here. All worthy of recognition.

I think you have the stories mixed up, Teebore…the first time they fought the Imperial Guard and the Guardian of the M’Kraan crystal, it was circa Uncanny #107-109, I believe…

Hmm, that bit with the more and more powerful guardians or doorkeepers comes up in a story told in Kafka’s The Trial, too. I wonder if the X-Men bit is a superficial borrowing from Kafka’s parable, or if it goes back much, much farther. I wouldn’t be surprised to find something like that in the Arabian Nights.

Although a story homaging both the Legion of Super-Heroes and Franz Kafka — that would be something I could get behind.

lorin helller

July 11, 2008 at 8:40 am

Instead of just Cap vs. Korvac, I’d go with ALL of the Avengers versus Korvac and being slaughtered, with the most memorable and painful death (in my opinion) being that of Wonder Man’s.

Yeah, that is the cool thing about the Marvel heroes, they’re the underdogs more often than not. With DC you get a guy that has all the superpowers you can name versus a bald scientist.

I say it again, the cool thing about Post-Crisis businessman Luthor is that at least he was able to frustrate Superman by fighting in a different arena.

As for the list, you have to add some of the cool Avengers stories from the 70s written by Jim Shooter. Korvac being the most famous, but also Count Nefaria and Graviton.

The X-Men were almost always overwhelmed-but-still-fighting in Claremont stories. So maybe it’s hard to pick just one moment.

Many of Simonson’s stories where Thor was under the Hela curse would qualify. And Iron Man fighting Firepower in the climax of the Armor Wars too.

Yeah wwk5d, I was thinking of the 107-109 “Phoenix Saga” issues, which obviously occurred before the fight for Phoenix’s life at the end of the “Dark Phoenix Saga” in issue 137.

For whatever reason, when I read Rik’s comment I thought of the Imperial Guard fight that preceded the Guardians of the crystal, despite the fact that issue 137 was clearly specified…

Anyways, I heartily agree with the endorsement of the Avengers/Nefaria battle in the 70s; I remember being wowed by that too. And for whatever reason, Graviton always seems to end up in those “he’s so powerful, how will the heroes prevail?” type stories; in my mind Graviton is synonymous with “heroes battling against overwhelming odds.”

Damn gravity! Will we ever escape your evil clutches?!?

Jason Langlois

July 11, 2008 at 11:55 am

The Legion versus Darkseid in the Great Darkness Saga, I think, would count for the DC side.

The Supergirl vs. the Anti-Monitor should also count, from Crisis on Infinite Earths.

The Legion versus Mordru at the end of Earthwar, would be another candidate, I think.

Bernard the Poet

July 11, 2008 at 11:57 am

Really liked Doom v Beyonder and The Executioner v Hel – shame they are not included on a technicality.

Also, for those who have mentioned that DC don’t do insurmountable odds, I think you are overlooking the obvious. Lex Luthor. For 70 years, that boy has been fighting an Earth-bound god and been soundly beaten for his trouble. Yet he never gives up.

I love Lex Luthor. Watch Superman 2 again, he makes you proud to be a human.

Bernard, no one said DC doesn’t do insurmountable odds at all, just that it’s hard to find SUPERHERO HEROIC stands against insurmountable odds at DC. If you are including villains, than almost all DC villains face insurmountable odds as they are usually ridiculously outclassed by the heroes. I’d say the Flash and Superman villains especially. A guy with sneezing powder and some gag items (Trickster) going up against a guy who runs at light speed? Some fat middle aged guy (Prankster) going up against Pre-Crisis Superman? In general I find DC’s villains to be very inspiring and brave.

I never read the great Darkness Saga, but despite how powerful Darkseid is, is he really an insurmountable threat given the combined power level of the whole Legion of Superheroes? He’s never a cakewalk, but I don’t picture him as being insurmountable unless there were special story circumstances that handicapped the heroes that I don’t know about.

If I were to pick a Wolverine fight:

Wolverine vs. Hellfire Club during Dark Phoenix (issue 133, maybe?) – the X-Men had been defeated in minutes. Wolverine had to claw his way up from the sewers, then find a way to free his team.

T., I think post-Kirby Darkseid’s power level is always “the highest.” No matter what heroes oppose him, he is always (or nearly always) depicted as more powerful than all of them. Unless he’s fighting Orion, who was destined to destroy him.

Darkseid: This one goes to 11.

For a DC one, I think Connor Hawke versus the Key in JLA might be a good choice.

Has Doomsday suffered enough villain decay to make Superman versus Doomsday not count?

If you allow outside DC media, there’s the “Patriot Act” episode of JLU, which is the Seven Soldiers of Victory versus a Shaggy Man stand in. Or “Initiation”, which ends with Green Arrow versus Brimstone, a giant robot that had already taken out John Stewart and Captain Atom.

I love that Key story in the JLA, but I don’t think the Key really counts as “insurmountable.” Isn’t he just an old muscular guy with a key shaped weapon and no real powers to speak of? It was a definitely not an easy victory, but I wouldn’t call it “insurmountable.” I do agree with those JLU episodes you nominated though.

For the DC list, I’d put Karate Kid (with a broken leg) vs. three Daxamites, from the end of the first year of the first Waid Legion reboot on the list, certainly.

Any number of possible choices out of Crisis on Infinite Earths, too, with my pick being the Flash story in #8.

For a DC list, I’d definitely put Batman vs. the White Martians, Batman vs. Bane, Prince Gavyn vs. the Anti-Monitor’s wave of nothingness (literally the most insurmountable odds possible), and J’onn J’onzz vs. Libra’s new Society.

I’d say the Losers vs. the wave of nothingness edges out Gavyn as even more insurmountable. But my favorite of that wave of heroes raging against the void as actually Ultraman of the Crime Syndicate. I loved his attitude of, essentially, “Oh well, if I’m going out, I’m going out fighting.”

Jason Langlois

July 11, 2008 at 3:31 pm

“I never read the great Darkness Saga, but despite how powerful Darkseid is, is he really an insurmountable threat given the combined power level of the whole Legion of Superheroes? He’s never a cakewalk, but I don’t picture him as being insurmountable unless there were special story circumstances that handicapped the heroes that I don’t know about.”

Darkseid had absorbed the power of Mordru (see EarthWar saga, where Mordru fights the Legion to a standstill) and Time Trapper. He had enslaved all of Daxam and was using the billions of them as his army of conquest. He has his Servants of Darkness, which include a clone of pre-Crisis Superman, a clone of Orion of the New Gods and a clone of a Guardian of the Galaxy… he’s pretty insurmountable, really. But the Legion fights on, against the odds because that’s what heroes do.

Buttler, I see what you’re saying about the Losers, but Gavyn’s moment, at least as shown later in Robinson’s Starman, was amazingly moving. So was the reaction of his people. I was actually also going to put Ultraman’s stand against the void as well, but it said superheroic, so I didn’t.

The old Crime Syndicate was so much better than the new ones we’ve seen. I loved Morrison’s Earth-2 OGN, but the characters I don’t care for as much, and aside from Syndicate Rules, nothing else good has been done with the CSA since COIE.

I suspect that Wolverine didn’t make the list because he *is* insurmountable odds.


Vincent Paul Bartilucci

July 12, 2008 at 9:04 am

Since DC doesn’t do this kind of thing as often, a better DC counterpart to “The top five Marvel superhero heroic stands against insurmountable odds” might be “The top five DC superhero ‘Here comes the Cavalry” moments.” Y’know, that moment in the story when everything looks bleak and then, suddenly, Superman (or whoever) appears and you know some villain’s getting a horrible beating.

For example, the moment when Superman realizes that Batman has infiltrated the White Martians’ lair? That’s a “Here comes the Cavalry” moment.

The moment when Batman and Robin succeed in removing the Black Mercy from Superman? That’s an HCTC moment, too.

And while it doesn’t appear in an actual comic book, “General Zod, would you care to step outside?” is just about the most giddy HCTC moment I can think of. And I don’t even like Superman!

Bernard the Poet, it’s a strange thing when you have to root against the hero to find an example of unsurmontable odds. But maybe that is one of the reasons why I find pre-Crisis Superman a bit smug and self-righteous. He is so damn powerful that you get an urge to root for Luthor!

The prime DC examples of this stuff are the Teen Titans and the Legion, I suppose. But then again those are very Marvel-style DC comics.

Darkseid had absorbed the power of Mordru (see EarthWar saga, where Mordru fights the Legion to a standstill) and Time Trapper. He had enslaved all of Daxam and was using the billions of them as his army of conquest. He has his Servants of Darkness, which include a clone of pre-Crisis Superman, a clone of Orion of the New Gods and a clone of a Guardian of the Galaxy… he’s pretty insurmountable, really. But the Legion fights on, against the odds because that’s what heroes do.

Wow, pretty insurmountable all right. I stand corrected.

The prime DC examples of this stuff are the Teen Titans and the Legion, I suppose.

New Teen Titans were only halfway like Marvel comics…they had the insurmountable odds part down, they just could never win against them or even put up a semi-decent showing really. Actually, they rarely fared well against challenging but surmountable odds either. A guy with nothing but heightened reflexes, a staff and some muscles routinely bitchslapped them at will. Nameless henchmen were the only villains they seemed able to handle.

Man, the DC hating on in this thread! But the list is about Marvel, so it’s all good. For this DC fan, it was very interesting and informative. If Marvels heroes are good at fighting it out when the chips are down and the odds are against them, then perhaps DC’s heroes are better at figuring it out before the odds are against them or in order to turn the tables. So how about a Top 5 Superheroic “Aha!/Turn the Tables” Moments in the DC Universe list?

I’ll suggest with one that’s already been mentioned elsewhere: Batman figuring out the White Martians’ secret in Morrison’s JLA.

For a DC list, how about Batman versus Superman, the entire Gotham Police Department and the National Guard at the end of Dark Knight Returns??
Or Blue Beetle and Booster Gold vs Doomsday??

Well,it’s a very good list. But I hope you guys also remember the last confrontation between Morlun and spidey. Yes, the one from the “evolve or die” story arc. Spidey does beat Morlun up, but to no avail. Morlun doesn’t even break a sweat, and thrashes Spidey. Spidey then gets a second wind and beats Morlun up, again, to no avail. Now that was a good fight. What do say guys. And Brian, why don’t you come up with this same list, with like a place for 25? :)

This is old, but shame on you for comparing my favorite comic book character with my least favorite wrestler lol

Wow, i dont read a lot of comics, but when i saw this title top 5 heroic stand..’, the first thing that came to my mind was exactly that spider-man where he is lifting the metal that fell on him. Plus with all the water that starts to flood the place. And its number 1! Lol

Just dropping in 8 years too late to note:

Nebula ‘hit the reset button’, not Adam.

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