War of the Elders of the Universe (1987-1988) Reading Order

The Collector referred to himself as one of the Elders of the Universe not long before his death during THE KORVAC SAGA (1977-1978), but we wouldn’t learn much more about the identities of the other Elders until 1982’s ‘Marvel Super Hero: Contest of Champions’ mini-series revealed the Grandmaster to be among their number when made his bid to rescue the Collector from Death. It was a move that would cost the Grandmaster dearly and it’s one that plays into the War of the Elders of the Universe.

The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition #4 would name the Champion (first seen during CHAMPION OF THE UNIVERSE (1982-1983)), Contemplator, Gardener (first seen during HOMECOMING (1975-1977)), Possessor and Runner as Elders of the Universe. But could there be more? And what happens when all the Elders gather? What’s their agenda? And why could it spell disaster for Galactus?

At this point in time, the Silver Surfer had been trapped on Earth since Galactus created an invisible barrier around the planet as punishment for his betrayal. But the machinations of the Elders is about to draw the Surfer back into a cosmic conflict that threatens to reignite the Kree-Skrull War

Crossover: While the Silver Surfer’s story runs from his own title into the Avengers Annuals, if you’re only interested in the Avengers you can just read those two issues to understand their story.

Must Reads: Story arcs marked with a ✔are must-read stories from this time period, along with any key related stories and often-forgotten tales that are worth a read.

When an issue contains multiple stories, the relevant story is denoted with square brackets. For example [2/5] refers to the second story of the five stories in that issue, so you don’t need to read the other four

  • THE KREE-SKRULL WAR (1971-1972) – The first millennia-spanning intergalactic war ends
  • BEHOLD… GALACTUS! (1981-1982) – Galactus takes Nova as his Herald and promises never to consume Earth
  • THE WAR TO END ALL SKRULLS (1985) – The Skrull Empire is divided

Want to keep it simple? Here’s the chronological reading order without story descriptions, or spoilers:

  • Silver Surfer #1
  • Silver Surfer #2
  • West Coast Avengers Annual #2
  • Avengers Annual #16
  • Silver Surfer #3
  • Silver Surfer #4
  • Silver Surfer #5
  • Silver Surfer #6
  • Silver Surfer #7
  • Silver Surfer #8
  • Silver Surfer #9
  • Silver Surfer #10

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Tile & Isuue NumberSynopsis & First Appearance
Silver Surfer #1The Fantastic Four find the Silver Surfer burning a hole in Earth’s ozone layer in the hopes of escaping the planet. The Surfer is immediately attacked by the Champion who hopes to kill him so he can’t interfere in a scheme devised by the Elders of the Universe. After defeating the Champion, the Surfer learns the Elders have allied with the Skrulls and taken Galactus‘ Herald Nova prisoner. realises that there must be a way to escape Earth if the Elders believe he’s a threat to their plans in deep space. The Thing figures out that the Surfer may be able to leave as long as he’s not on his board. The plan is so simple it works, and the Fantastic Four help the Surfer return to the stars where he immediately approaches Galactus, making a deal to rescue Nova in return for his own continued freedom. The Surfer breaks Nova out of containment and returns her to her master, though he has to talk Galactus out of seeking revenge as he’s a force of nature and that seeking persinal vengeance on the Skrulls could throw off the cosmic balance. With that, Galactus grants the Silver Surfer his freedom…
Silver Surfer #2The Silver Surfer returns to his homeworld Zenn-La where he discovers his love Shalla-Bal has become Empress after the he gave her the power to restore life to the dying planet. As he wanders his home planet, the Surfer discovers a Skrull conspiracy. The former-shapeshifters plan to renew the Kree-Skrull War before their Kree enemies learn of the loss of their powers (which took place during THE WAR TO END ALL SKRULLS (1981-1982)). If Zenn-La will not ally with the Skrulls, they will destroy the planet. The Surfer warns them that Zenn-La is now under his protection. Later, Shalla-Bal reveals she cannot marry the Surfer due to her responsibilities as Empress. He retains his promise to protect Zenn-La but leaves to roam the universe…
Avengers Annual #16Having conquered Death herself, the Grandmaster generates five Life-Bombs at key points in the universe that will end all life and cause a new Big Bang with the Elders as the only survivors. The Avengers appeal to the Grandmaster’s competitive nature and challenge him to a contest for the fate of the universe which he accepts. Small teams of Avengers defeat the members of the Grandmaster’s Legion of the Unliving (made up of facsimiles of deceased friends & foes of the Avengers) and destroy the Life-Bombs, though only Hawkeye and Captain America survive. Hawkeye cheats the Grandmaster in a final game of chance to successfully save the universe, freeing Death who restores the Avengers and permanently exiles the Elders of the Universe from her realm which essentially grants them immortality…
Silver Surfer #3As a reward, the Grandmaster resurrects the Collector’s wife, but she almost immediately dies of apathy. When the Silver Surfer arrives, the Collector lies to him, telling him he and the Champion have no part in the Grandmaster’s plans. The Surfer returns Espirita to Earth. While contemplating the Elders’ possible goals, the Surfer is attacked by another of the members – the Runner – who overwhelms him and leaves him for dead. the former Avenger Mantis discovers him and offers to heal him. When a Skrull ship loses in a dogfight against a Kree ship, the crew commit suicide rather than be captured and allow the Kree to learn of their loss of powers…
Tile & Isuue NumberSynopsis & First Appearance
Silver Surfer #4The Silver Surfer wakes having been healed and is greeted by Mantis (who he met before during THE AVENGERS/DEFENDERS WAR (1973)). Having fulfilled her role as the Celestial Madonna (since THE CELESTIAL MADONNA SAGA (1974-1975)), Mantis is now able to leap from world to world, abandoning her body and growing a new one from indigenous plant life. She was the one who drew the Surfer into the conflict with the Elders of the Universe as one of the few beings capable of stopping them. On Kree-Lar, the Supreme Intelligence discerns that the Skrulls have lost their powers. On Tarakar, acting Skrull Emperor Kylor witnesses the arrival of Jemiah the Analyser of the Celestials. The Surfer and Mantis land on Ego the Living Planet and listen in to the Elders of the Universe who plan to kill Galactus and cause a new Big Bang. Having conquered death, they will be the only survivors of this reality in the new universe. Ego senses the Surfer and Mantis’ presence and they flee…
Silver Surfer #5Mantis offers her love to the Silver Surfer, but he feels unable to return it. The Obliterator interrupts them and kills Mantis. With no hope of physically defeating an Elder who wiped out his entire race and has continued to slaughter his way across the universe for thousands of years, the Surfer transmutes his weapons to glass and strand him on an uninhabited world, taking away his means of killing and his purpose. Mantis emerges in a new body, making the Surfer realise that he cares for her. The Skrulls of Tarakor nuke Jemiah the Analyser to no effect. A Kree soldier disguises himself as a Skrull to confirm the Supreme Intelligence’s suspicions, but he’s immediately captured and tortured. Emperor Kylor announces that the second Kree-Skrull War has begun!
Silver Surfer #6The new Kree-Skrull War begins as both alien races tear into each other. The Supreme Intelligence learns a Skrull trapped in Kree form is working within the Kree ranks and kills Nullet as a warning to the other members of the war council. But it’s actually Chief Coordinator Nenora who’s the Skrull. Skrull Emperor Kylor argues with Emperor Yorak as they both vie for leadership of the Skrulls. The Obliterator tells the Surfer and Mantis of the Elders’ plans to become the equivalent in power of Galactus in the new universe and they are due to meet on planet Earth to prepare for the next stage in their plan. Mantis finally convinces the Surfer to give in to his feelings for her when Shalla-Bal contacts him, asking for assistance against a Kree attack. Surfer chooses to head to Zenn-La and sends Mantis to Earth…
Silver Surfer #7The Silver Surfer makes relatively short work of the Kree Destructoids on Zenn-La. After revealing to Shall-Bal that he’s found love with Mantis, he heads to Kree-Lar to warn the Supreme Intelligence to leave Zenn-La alone. Mantis transfers her consciousness to a new body on Earth, listening in to the Elders of the Universe as they plan to use the six Soul Gems to destroy Galactus (the gems were believed destroyed during THE FINAL THREAT (1977)). The Gardener has Adam Warlock‘s old Soul Gem, the Champion has one and the Trader has two more. The Contemplator is busy bargaining for last gem. The Gardener captures the eavesdropping Mantis whose distress call is picked up by Shalla-Bal on Zenn-La. Meanwhile, the Supreme Intelligence agrees to leave Zenn-La out of the Kree-Skrull War, but refuses the Silver Surfer’s request to leave Earth alone. When the Surfer threatens him, the Intelligence blasts the Surfer with his mind-powered Soul Gem leaving his body lifeless. The Supreme Intelligence refuses to give the Contemplator the gem…
Silver Surfer #8Nenora reports back to the Skrulls, revealing that the Silver Surfer has been taken down by the Supreme Intelligence’s Soul Gem and the Intelligence now needs the gem to influence the blue and pink Kree and keep them from attacking each other. The Surfer finds himself existing in an almost dream-like life within the gem, observed by the Contemplator. The Intelligence channels the minds of the Kree Empire to subdue the Surfer within the gem, but he retaliates and breaks free, ripping the Soul Gem from the Supreme Intelligence’s brow as he exits. On Zenn-La, Shall-Bal tries to mentally reach out to Mantis, but her call is answered by the Gardener instead…
Silver Surfer #9The Elders of the Universe gather to make their move against Galactus, having captured Mantis and kidnapped Shalla-Bal to draw in the Silver Surfer and obtain the final Soul Gem. When the Surfer arrives, he hands over the gem but the Gardener sends the two women in his life careering into space towards a sun. The Surfer saves Shalla-Bal but loses Mantis. Galactus arrives – having been summoned by the Elders’ flare that emulates Nova’s – and the Elders use the Soul Gems to drain his energies by channelling the power of a nearby sun. With no options left, Nova and the Silver Surfer destroy the sun, creating a black hole which sucks the Soul Gems and the Trader, Possessor and Astronomer in. Galactus uses the expelled cosmic energies to recharge and prepare to retaliate against his would-be killers…
Silver Surfer #10Galactus devours the remaining Elders of the Universe – Champion, Collector, Gardener, Grandmaster & Runner – as he would a planet. In return for saving his life, Galactus agrees not to consume Zenn-La. But he must also accompany Nova across space in search of the Contemplator to fulfil his debt to Galactus. Before they fully depart, the Surfer and Nova witness Galactus revert to his true form when Eternity arrives and explains ‘he’ was the one who prompted Galactus’ involvement in recent events in order to save ‘himself’ from the machinations of the Elders of the Universe. On Kree-Lar, with the Supreme Intelligence incapacitated, Nenora has become ruler of the Kree and murders the love of her life – her fellow Skrull Aptak – to cover her tracks. Galactus begins to suffer from cosmic indigestion from the Elders, while Death waits in the wings for a little revenge of her own…

Legion of the Unliving: Most members of the ‘Legion of the Unliving’ are later revealed to be alive, proving the Grandmaster’s Legion to be made up of facsimiles. I’ve include the net appearances and resurrections of the real individuals based on those beings. Any characters not listed remain among the dead.

Elders of the Universe: t’s later revealed that there are even more Elders of the Universe than appear in this story. I’ve included the first appearances of the other Elders below.

Must ReadsTitle, Issue Number & SynopsisEvent / Crossover
West Coast Avengers #25 (1987)
Espirita returns to Avengers Compound, amicably ends her relationship with Hank Pym and departs from the West Coast Avengers (presumably accepting reserve status in the process).
Silver Surfer #11-13 (1988)
The Contemplator allies with the space pirate Reptyl whose crew kidnap Nova; Nenora betrays her fellow Skrulls in an effort to retain her control of the Kree, resulting in the death of Emperor Kylor and his entire fleet.
Silver Surfer Annual #1 (1988)
Mants regenerates on Earth with fragmented memories due to fragments of her psyche having spread through the cosmos during

West Coast Avengers #37 (1988)
Mantis is reunited with the Avengers.
Silver Surfer #15-19 (1988-1989)
When the Elders of the Universe consumed by Galactus threaten his very life, the Silver Surfer flies into the back hole to retrieve the Astronomer, Possessor and trader to help him save his former master; the In-Betweener allies with Death against the Elders and claims the Soul Gems in the hope of using them to destroy Galactus; many of the Soul Gems are divided among the Elders when they use them to wager on the Galactus/In-Betweener conflict.
West Coast Avengers #39 (1988)
The Avengers take Mantis to the Priests of Pama in Vietnam to find out what’s been happening to her; Mantis is attacked by the Cotati Swordsman and cast back into her human body as the Cotati no longer need her.
Silver Surfer #20 (1989)
Mantis returns to America, wishing she could be reunited with the Silver Surfer again; the Silver Surfer begins to get close to Nova, but she spurns him in favour of Firelord.
Fantastic Four #323-324 (1989)
Mantis turns to the Fantastic Four for help in finding her child, but she’s kidnapped by Kang the Conqueror; she’s then kidnapped by Necrodamus whose plan to sacrifice her is thwarted by both Kang and the Human Torch.

Fantastic Four #325 (1989)
First full appearance of Sequoia, the son of Mantis who is destined to become the Celestial Messiah; Mantis is reunited with the Silver Surfer, but leaves her body once more to continue to try to reclaim her son from the Cotati.
Silver Surfer #22 (1989)
Ego the Living Planet returns, attempting to consume the Silver Surfer.
Silver Surfer #25 (1989)
The Skrulls begin regaining their shapeshifting abilities starting with Empress S’Byll; the Kree-Skrull War escalates when Zenn-La is drawn into the conflict; the Contemplator manipulates events behind the scenes.
Avengers Spotlight #24 (1989)
Espirita changes her codename back to Firebrand.
Silver Surfer #30-31 (1989)
S’Byll restores Nenora’s shapeshifting abilities, exposing her as a Skrull and causing her to die of shock; the second Kree-Skrull War ends; the Cotati take control of the Supreme Intelligence and make Clumsy Foulup the Supreme Leader of the Kree; the Cotati kill the Contemplator; the Living Tribunal reveals the Stranger is one of the Elders of the Universe.
New Warriors #1 (1990)
A Genetech experiment inadvertently reinvigorates the dormant corpse of Terrax the Tamer, restoring him to life.
Avengers West Coast #61-62 (1990)
A Swordsman facsimile appears as a member of Immortus‘ version of the Legion of the Unliving.
Silver Surfer #35 (1990)
Drax the Destroyer is resurrected by Chronos to combat the reborn Thanos.
Thanos Quest #1-2 (1990)
Thanos claims all six Soul Gems from the Champion, Collector, Gardener, Grandmaster, In-Betweener and Runner, renaming them the Infinity Gems, defining the purpose of each gem and revealing their origin for the first time; Thanos kills the Gardener and Grandmaster to complete his quest
Quasar #17 (1990)
First mention of the Architect, an Elder of the Universe obsessed with building; the Runner reveals an Elder called the Architect built him a race track; the Architect has never appeared on-panel; it’s revealed that there are numerous other, previously-unseen Elders of the Universe.
 Silver Surfer #51 (1991)
The Silver Surfer convinces Nova not to consume inhabited worlds.
Silver Surfer #44-47 (1990-1991)
Thanos attaches the Infinity Gems to his gauntlet – making it the Infinity Gauntlet – and uses the Soul Gem to remove the souls of the Silver Surfer and Drax the Destroyer, sending them into the Soulworld within that gem.
Thor Annual #18 (1991)
Ego the Living Planet tricks Beta Ray Bill into destroying the propulsion unit Galactus attached to him.
Silver Surfer #48 (1991)
Galactus admits he tampered with the Silver Surfer’s soul to absolve him of any guilt when leading Galactus to any populated planets for consumption; the Surfer regains full access to these memories so that he can live with what he’s done and atone for his actions.
Quasar #22 (1991)
The spirit of Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) visits Quasar to apologise to him on Eon‘s behalf, confirming that Mar-Vell is in fact dead.
Warlock and the Infinity Watch #1 (1992)
The Living Tribunal decrees that the Infinity Gems can no longer be used in unison following he death and destruction caused by Thanos.
Tomb of Dracula #1-4 (1991-1992)
Dracula is resurrected by the demon Asmodeus.
Quasar #37 (1992)
First appearance of the Caregiver, an Elder of the Universe dedicated to nurturing; the real Contemplator returns, explaining that someone had been impersonating him during the crisis with the Elders of the Universe and the second Kree-Skrull War.
Fantastic Four Annual #25 (1993)
Moondragon seeks out Mantis to prove that she’s the superior warrior priestess after having lost her title of Celestial Madonna to Mantis years earlier.
Silver Surfer #70-75 (1992)
Nova and the Silver Surfer begin to get closer, but the compassion he instils in her makes her less useful to Galactus; Galactus replaces her with new Herald Morg who kills Nova, leaving the Silver Surfer heartbroken again.
Avengers #353 (1992)
The Grim Reaper creates his first incarnation of the Legion of the Unliving that includes facsimiles of Red Guardian and a different Black Knight (Nathan Garrett).
Knights of Pendragon #10-11 (1993)
Baron Blood (John Falsworth) is revealed to have been resurrected.
Quasar #47-48 (1993)
First appearance of the Explorer and Judicator, Elders of the Universe dedicated to exploration and crimes to adjudicate, respectively; the Judicator reveals that the ‘Contemplator’ who had been working with the Elders to kill Galactus and took a role in the Kree-Skrull War was actually a Skrull; the Skrull is taken away to stand trial.
Cosmic Powers Unlimited #1 (1994)
Thanos uses the Reality Gem to resurrect Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell), but returns him to death when he’s only met with Mar-Vell’s rage.
Eliminator #3 (1995)
After the Infinity Gems are taken to the Ultraverse (Earth-93060) by the vampire Rune, the existence of a seventh gem – the Ego Gem – is revealed.
UltraForce/Avengers #1 (1995)
The Ego Gem is destroyed by the Black Knight (Dane Whitman) and its essence is spread to the other six Infinity Gems, creating changes in the very structure of the Ultraverse.
Amazing Spider-Man #418 (1996)
Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin) is revealed to be alive (it’s later explained that he survived due to the healing properties of the Goblin Formula, so he never actually died).
Silver Surfer #130 (1997)
The Silver Surfer learns that the real Zenn-La was destroyed by the Other after he became the Herald of Galactus (1947, Earth time); Galactus recreated all of Zenn-La’s inhabitants – including Shalla-Bal – so that the Surfer would have a home to return to one day.
Nighthawk #1 (1998)
It’s revealed that Nighthawk (Kyle Richmond) was not dead and had been in a coma in a hospital as a ‘John Doe’ for many years.
Avengers #10-11 (1998)
The Grim Reaper creates another iteration of the Legion of the Unliving that includes the real Swordsman and Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell).
Captain America #17 (1999)
After previous failed attempts to gain physical form, Korvac is revealed to have returned to the land of the living (having disguised himself as both Kang and Uatu for some time).
Galactus the Devourer #1-6 (1999)
The Silver Surfer defeats Galactus’ merciless new Herald Red Shift who leads him to Earth to consume it; the Surfer and Earth’s heroes defeat Red Shift and the Surfer becomes Galactus’ Herald again to prevent him from devouring the Earth; Mantis is reunited with the Silver Surfer again, though she can’t condone him retaking his role as Herald of Galactus and they part ways; the Silver Surfer, Avengers, Fantastic Four and the Shi’ar combine their forces to end Galactus’ life when he refuses to consume anything other than inhabited worlds.
Avengers: Celestial Quest #1-8 (1999-2000)
Mantis’ psyche is revealed to have manifested as five separate beings, each with a different part of her core persona; a Thanosi acting as the real Thanos murders four of them until the fifth gains all fragments of her persona back again; the Thanosi tries to kill Sequoia, the Celestial Messiah, but he’s protected by the Avengers and reunited with Mantis.
Fantastic Four Annual 2001 (2001)
Without the threat of Galactus to keep him at bay, Abraxas – a cosmic force of destruction and the antithesis of Eternity – emerges from Eternity’s core.
Fantastic Four #49 (2002)
Franklin Richards combines his powers with those of Valeria von Doom of Earth-99315 to resurrect Galactus and recreate reality, replacing all the horrors caused by Abraxas with a universe in which he never existed
Avengers #44 (2001)
Thor also suspects Firebird is immortal, which initially troubles her due to her faith.
JLA/Avengers #1-4 (2003-2004)
Grandmaster manipulates the Avengers again when he allies with Krona of New Earth (DC Universe) to locate 12 items of power between their universes; the Grandmaster pits the Avengers against the Justice League of America.
Daredevil #61 (2004)
Red Guardian (Alexi Shostakov) is revealed to have survived his ‘final’ confrontation with the Avengers.
Captain America #14 (2006)
Bucky is confirmed to have survived the explosion that was previously believed to have killed him; he continued to operate as a brainwashed Russian assassin called the Winter Soldier.
Punisher #5 (2009)
Death Adder is resurrected by the Hood.
Chaos War: Avengers #1-3 (2011)
Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) and the Swordsman are briefly resurrected, returning to their graves after defeating the Grim Reaper.
Secret Avengers #26-28 (2012)
Minister Marvel of the Kree uses the M’Kraan Crystal to resurrect his uncle, Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell), to protect the Kree from the Phoenix Force; Mar-Vell sacrifices himself once again to save Hala.
Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: Black Vortex Alpha #1 (2015)
First appearance of Gara who claims to be an Elder of the Universe (though this has not been proven).
Contest of Champions #1-6 (2015-2016)
A number of the Elders of the Universe compete against each other using superhumans form various times and realities with the element Iso-8 as the prize; Father Time is revealed to be an Elder of the Universe.

Contest of Champions #1-10 (2016)
The Infinity Gems are transformed into the Infinity Stones (to align with the Marvel Cinematic Universe).
Thor vs Hulk: Champions of the Universe #1 (2017)
First appearance of the Promoter, an Elder of the Universe who promotes entertainment events
Asgardians of the Galaxy #1 (2018)
Though he’s officially ‘dead’ and an inhabitant of Hel, Skurge the Executioner is brought to the land to the living, becoming a member of Kid Loki‘s Asgardians of the Galaxy.

Infinity Countdown: Darkhawk #3 (2018)
The In-Betweener is referred to as an Elder of the Universe (even though this is impossible as he was created by Lord Chaos & Master Order).
Avengers #675 (2018)
First appearance of Voyager, an Elder of the Universe and the grandmaster’s daughter.

Avengers #679 (2018)
First appearance of the Challenger, an Elder of the Universe who is obsessed with games and liked to challenge the Grandmaster.
Lords of Empyre: Swordsman #1 (2020)
When Alchemax operatives destroy the Cotati grove in Vietnam, Sequoia goes against his prophesied role as Celestial Messiah and becomes intent on killing all ‘animals’ starting with the warring Kree and Skrulls.

Empyre #1-6 (2020)
Sequoia transforms the Cotati into the Empyre and focuses on killing meat-based life throughout the cosmos; Mantis tries to reach out to her son, but he’s ultimately defeated by the Avengers and refuses to change his stance.

Reading Order ©OmniverseComicsGuide 2023

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