It’s a great couple of months for watching superheroes punch each other. We’ve just received Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and May is set to bring us a massive hero smackdown in the form of Captain America: Civil War.
Movie fights have so far been toned down for the sake of that all-important PG-13 rating, but comics through the years have been subject to no such restrictions. Here are some of the most bone-breaking, tooth-smashing, spine-ripping fights in comic book history.
Unsurprisingly, quite a few of them involve Wolverine.
Here are the 10 Most Brutal Fights Between Superheroes.
10 Batman vs Superman (The Dark Knight Strikes Back)
Just to get this one out of the way, Batman and Superman have come to blows a few times during their shared history and tens of thousands of times in angry comic book forums. The Dark Knight Returns has perhaps their most famous bout, and a lot of its imagery is reused in Batman V Superman. In terms of sheer brutality? The winner has to be the sequel comic, The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Not quite as popular due to its meandering plot and bizarre twists, it nonetheless gave us a somewhat more satisfying clash between an older Batman and a Luthor-controlled Superman.
Donning a pair of Kryptonite gauntlets, the Dark Knight lays into the Man of Steel in a brutal fight down in the Batcave, which ends with Superman being beaten to bloody pulp to the rage of fanboys everywhere. It doesn’t quite have the same finesse or emotional scale as their previous fight, but at least this time Bats manages to take down Superman without masses of tech, or having to dramatically fake his own death.
9 Flashpoint Paradox: The Final Battle
Once again, Flashpoint wasn’t the most popular arc in history, given how it reduced Wonder Woman and Aquaman to paper-thin villains and the whole thing was so dark it made it difficult to care about anyone. The animated film still brought the story to life in spectacular fashion, culminating in a massive battle between the two opposing sides that left pretty much everyone either dead or about to die. Wonder Woman impales Billy Batson, Aquaman has his arm lasered off by Kal-El and is later stabbed in the spine by his former lover, Grifter is turned into an Amazonian pincushion and in the midst of it all, Zoom sadistically beats The Flash to within an inch of his life.
Near the end of the battle we see legions of massacred Amazons and Atlanteans, with two Aqualads and one Aquagirl lying dead, Black Manta suffering from a severe case of being shot in the face and Cyborg dismantled and broken while his heart steadily stops beating. Then Batman shoots Zoom through the head and Captain Atom explodes, dooming most of the world to death by nuclear explosion. It wasn't a very fun comic.
8 Magneto Tears Out Wolverine's Adamantium
Most people celebrate anniversaries with dinner. If you’re a comic book character, your anniversary is commemorated by way of a massive crisis that leaves you devastated and your world changed forever, as was the case for the 30th anniversary of the X-Men.
Magneto assembles his acolytes and begins to wreak havoc on the Earth, causing the X-Men to suit up (sans Colossus, who’d temporarily joined the bad guys) and head to his floating fortress to engage in all-out war. Wolverine vs Magneto - which, as we see above, has somehow happened on more than one occasion without complete disaster - goes better than you’d expect, with Logan managing to gut the Master of Magnetism and leave him with severe wounds. This is when Magneto’s common sense and general villainy kick in, and he goes so far as to rip every scrap of adamantium from Wolverine’s bones in a harrowing scene that leaves Wolverine close to death.
The fight only ends when Professor X decides that this is crossing some sort of line (because everything up until then was just your garden-variety Magneto mischief), furiously wiping his former friend’s mind and leaving him a brain-dead husk. Naturally, neither stayed in their respective states for long, but we still learned exactly what both Professor X and Magneto will do if they’re pushed too far.
7 Batman vs Bane
This dark moment for Batman was adapted into The Dark Knight Rises, but even live-action couldn’t quite capture the sheer brutality of his fight with Bane. The fact that we got Tom Hardy just sort of bouncing Christian Bale off his knee didn’t really help.
Batman was forced to fight Bane after a drawn-out campaign of exhaustion that left him utterly spent. Returning to Wayne Manor for a rest after pulling quadruple hero shifts, Bats instead found himself face-to-face with a triumphant Bane, who dominated in their fight and eventually shattered the Dark Knight’s spine, leaving him disabled and unable to continue as Batman. Not only was the panel itself filled with real agony, it was a bold move to have a long-standing superhero completely defeated and broken enough to retire, supposedly for good.
The title of Batman was taken up by mega-gritty Azrael for the time it took for Bruce Wayne to recover, which was mercifully longer and more drawn out than the movie method of "stretch with rope, spine all better."
6 Superman vs Doomsday
At least Batman managed to recover from his fight with Bane, no matter how implausible the method. The appropriately titled Death of Superman arc had Superman fighting a foe just as powerful as him: Doomsday.
After landing on Earth and laying waste to Earth’s greatest heroes (though conveniently not killing any of them), Doomsday clashes with Superman and their battle rages all the way to the center of Metropolis. After numerous attempts from other characters to help in the fight, all of them fail, and Superman and Doomsday each deliver one final blow that kills both of them instantly, with the Man of Steel mourned by all, even those who didn’t particularly like him.
While nowadays we tend to think of comic book deaths as the equivalent of taking the weekend off, at the time, Superman’s death was a shocking twist, especially with how destructive the final battle was to Metropolis and how they managed to kill off a hero who was basically the embodiment of truth and justice (and sometimes the American Way). He also managed to stay "dead" for three years, which in comic book time is about two ice ages.
5 Logan Slaughters the X-Men
If there’s one thing comic book writers love besides skin-tight outfits and fake deaths, it’s a dystopian future. Most of Earth’s heroes wiped out in gruesome fashion, the bad guys winning and some wacky time travel mishaps as a wizened future version of a character attempts to change the timeline and undo all the nastiness.
Old Man Logan has spades of the first two, but not much in the way of the third: we get Logan living alone in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where America (always America) has been divided up by conquering supervillains. Almost every hero in the world is dead, and as we learn in the story, especially the X-Men.
Decades before the story begins, when the world’s supervillains were just getting themselves organized, there was a massive attack on the X-Mansion. In an effort to protect the students, Wolverine brutally slaughtered each and every one of the intruders… only for the illusion to fade, revealing that he’d actually been murdering all of his fellow X-Men. We don’t see much of the fight, but we do get a look at the gory aftermath, with all of the X-corpses lying dead and bloodied and Logan utterly devastated and broken at the thought of what he'd done. It’s the incident that causes Logan to sheathe his claws forever…or at least until the most dramatic point in the story when he’s ready to start gutting folks again.
4 Wolverine vs The Hulk (Ultimate)
Speaking of Wolverine and… general violence, the Ultimates universe has a present-day Wolverine going up against The Hulk. This one has been more fiercely debated, since one has strength beyond super-strength and the other can heal from practically anything and has weapons that can damage Hulk’s skin.
Ultimate Hulk sets this debate to rest by taking the practical option; after a short fight, he tears Wolverine clean in half. It’s not the longest of bout in history, but it doesn’t have to be; The Hulk just does exactly what he needs to do to end the fight, which just so happens to be separating Wolverine’s legs from the rest of him. In case you were wondering, the exact sound of Wolverine being torn in two happens to be "rrriiiiiiiip!"
For the record, the two also came to blows at the conclusion of Old Man Logan, which features Hulk eating Wolverine. He then violently kills Hulk by bursting out of his chest. Somehow, we get the feeling that these little encounters aren’t going to make it into any mainstream movies.
3 Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe
As you may have guessed from the title, it’s best not to think about this one too much. The entire comic is just stuffed full of Deadpool shenanigans and set in an alternate universe where the merc with a mouth is more or less allowed to kill anyone. Naturally, he kills everyone.
His first batch of kills are the Fantastic Four; undeterred by Sue Storm exploding his head with a forcefield, Deadpool then goes on a massive killing spree across the multiverse. After killing many, many versions of iconic heroes in increasingly over-the-top fights, he then goes on to kill the people writing the story and then to the "Ideaverse," where the inspirations for classic heroes make their home. Of course, he kills all of them as well. The final part of the "Killogy" (seriously) gives us the mainstream universe version of Deadpool, who takes on his more-murderous counterpart among piles of alternate Deadpool corpses until the crazed "Dreadpool" is finally eliminated. It's all very over-the-top.
2 The X-Men and The Ultimates vs Magneto
After whoever was in charge of the Ultimates universe decided that things just weren’t panning out, they instigated a tactful solution: a big wave kills loads of people. This did not go down well with critics or readers.
The perpetrator turns out to be Magneto, who in this universe is somehow much more of a jerk than his mainstream version, and who caused the wave with the aid of Thor’s hammer. Not satisfied with killing millions (though he did manage to drown this universe’s version of Dazzler, who was just the worst) Magneto murders Professor X and carries out devastating terrorist attacks across the world. Everything comes to a climax when the surviving X-Men and Ultimates converge on his base, and the gory spectacle includes Angel being mauled to death by Sabretooth and Magneto ripping the adamantium out of Wolverine’s bones, which this time kills him for good. Finally, Magneto is forced to surrender, which Cyclops accepts by blasting his head clean off his shoulders (he doesn't accept). To be fair, he had it coming.
1 Avengers vs X-Men/The Phoenix Five
Getting back to that bad future trope…while all comic book universes have ‘em, the X-Men in particular seem to be facing a rotating roster of about 150 apocalyptic scenarios. One of the many gave birth to the character of Cable, and the Avengers vs X-Men crossover has him returning from yet another desolate future with the aim of preventing it from ever happening. This plan involves taking on the entire roster of Avengers, which he proceeds to do in short order.
Cable manages to take them down one by one, first shooting down a plane full of prisoners and confronting them on the ground. While he’s eventually defeated, the brawl escalates into the Avengers and X-Men going at it on the moon, because for whatever reason all the X-Men’s most important battles get moved to the moon.
And just when things don’t seem like they can get any worse, the Phoenix is split into five fragments, creating the enormously powerful Phoenix five, who each become stronger when one of their number falls. This leads to a massive battle with all of Avengers AND the X-Men versus Cyclops as the cosmically-powerful Dark Phoenix, as the world itself begins to burn. Sure, it’s incredibly gratuitous and drawn out...but the scale doesn’t get much bigger than this.
Any other superhero battles deserve to be on here? Let us know in the comments!