Top 15 Rivalries

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Comic books are filled with rivalries. Some are friendly, like Archie and Jughead, and some are… not so friendly. While the friendly ones are fine, and can often inject plenty of drama into stories, it’s the really vitriolic ones that grab our attention and are typically the ones we remember the most fondly. With that in mind, below are my top 15 rivalries in comics. Plenty of these rivalries have had backstories fleshed out after the first time we saw them, like our first entry, but for ‘first altercation’ I’m going with the first published fight or confrontation between them, and not the backstories that were later filled in.

Who makes up your favorite rivalry? Did they place on the list? Let us know!

15. Wolverine Vs Sabretooth

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First Altercation: Power Pack #27, Uncanny X-Men 212-213 (‘Mutant Massacre’) (1986)
Why They Make the List: To say these two have a complicated past is as much of an understatement as saying “there sure are a lot of terrible Adam Sandler movies”. From their days as Team X operatives to their Weapon X days to the numerous battles they’ve had since Wolverine joined the X-Men, these two have bathed history in each other’s blood. Both armed with claws, heightened senses and healing factors, they can tear each other apart for days at a time without a clear winner. Sabretooth generally gets the edge because he is faster and stronger than Logan, but the old adamantium claws have won the day for Logan more often than not. Like most of the best rivals in comics, Sabretooth is the cracked mirror version of Wolverine; the worst-case scenario for how the hero could have turned out. Their first fight is still probably their best, with amazing artwork by Alan Davis.

 

 

14. Thor Vs Loki

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First Altercation
: Journey Into Mystery #85 (1962)
Why They Make the List: Sometimes the best rivalries come from two characters that were intensely close, but somewhere along the line their paths diverged in opposite directions. That’s Thor and Loki to a ‘T’. Growing up very close as brothers, Loki’s discovery of his true origin, combined with his mischievous nature, sent him down a path that would find him most often labeled an enemy of Asgard, and as such, an enemy of Thor. Their relationship has gone through a lot of changes, and while it is often murderously contentious, they do, on some level, genuinely care about one another, and that’s one of the reasons their rivalry is so great. Loki is always pulling some devious bullshit or another, and while Thor usually finds himself in a position to just smash Loki’s head flat, he doesn’t, because while they are often the most bitter of enemies, at the end of the day Thor just wants his bother to stop being a dick and be his brother again.

 

13. The Flash Vs The Rogues

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First Altercation
: Various
Why They Make the List: The Reverse Flash/Zoom is definitely the most dangerous of Flash’s expansive list of awesome villains, but there’s something about the Rogues that make the Flash’s whole universe better. They are so fully fleshed out, especially thanks to Geoff Johns, and they have such distinct personalities and interpersonal relationships that they stand out above most villains. It doesn’t hurt that they are generally treated almost like supporting cast members and are nearly always present in the book in some form or fashion. Personally, I think they peaked at the end of the Wally West Flash era with the Johns/Kollins/Porter stuff, but the good news is that these guys have been around for decades and will be around decades from now, and it’s a good bet they’ll still be tormenting the crap out of the Scarlet Speedster, whoever he or she may be, and still being fan favorites.

 

 

12. The Teen Titans Vs Deathstroke the Terminator

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First Altercation
: New Teen Titans #10 (1981)
Why They Make the List: It takes a special kind of asshole to beat up kids, much less try to kill them. It also takes a special kind of asshole to sacrifice your own kids to try to beat up or kill other kids. It ALSO takes a special kind of asshole to seduce an underage girl and turn her into a weapon. Combine all three and you get Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke the Terminator, the most dangerous killer in DC comics.

Since his introduction he’s been through a number of changes, but one thing seems to remain the same: Deathstroke realllllly hates the Titans. The feeling is entirely mutual, too. The Titans have suffered heavy losses due to this one-eyed psycho, and despite the fact that they have spent their teens fighting literal demons and maniacs like the Joker and Lex Luthor, nobody gets under their skin like Deathstroke.

From a reader’s standpoint, the relationship is mutually beneficial; being able to stand up to and sometimes even beat Deathstroke really makes the Titans look more capable and awesome, especially when Deathstroke is then allowed to, for instance, take out the entire JLA singlehandedly (see Identity Crisis). And the Titans’ reactions to him, and the sheer menace his presence brings to the title, builds the mystique around him, as well. And the inclusion of his son, Jericho, and his daughter, Rose, into the Titans’ ranks over the years just fuels the personal nature of their rivalry.

 

 

 

11. Batman Vs Ra’s Al Ghul

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First Altercation
: Batman #232 (1971)
Why They Make the List: This one started off as a rivalry between the world’s greatest criminal and the world’s greatest detective- Batman’s version of Holmes vs Moriarty. Since then, it has grown more and more personal: the two are practically family, as Ra’s is the grandfather of Batman’s son! While there is a great deal of respect between these two it is the begrudging respect given to the quality of their opponent, not that either respects the other as a person or how they go about doing what they do.

Time and time again Ra’s and his League of Assassins has attacked and attempted to conquer Gotham, the Justice League, even the entire world, and every time Batman is there to turn them back. While their relationship is very different than any of the relationships Batman has with any of his other foes, it is still every bit as likely that one of them will eventually be forced to kill the other as they are the definition of unstoppable force (Ra’s) vs. immovable object (Batman).

 

 

 

10. Rick Grimes Vs Negan

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First Altercation: The Walking Dead #100 (2012)
Why They Make the List: These two maniacs were on a ‘there can be only one’ collision course from the moment Negan introduced himself to Rick and his group- and to readers- by callously murdering Glenn Rhee, one of the most beloved members of the cast, the subjugating our heroes and making their lives complete nightmares (y’know, on top of the already constant nightmare that is living in the zombie apocalypse).

Negan and his Saviors were the epitome of how shitty people can be when there are no rules. He may not be as relentlessly evil as the Governor was or as cunning as Alpha and the Whisperers, but Negan had his shit together unlike any other villain in all of the Walking Dead, and he made sure Rick new it at every turn. It was incredibly satisfying to see the culmination of their rivalry in the “All Out War” arc, and even more satisfying to see Rick’s revenge.

 

 

9. Daredevil Vs Bullseye

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First Altercation: Daredevil #131 (1976)
Why They Make the List: You could easily put Daredevil/Kingpin here, and maybe I should have since he is probably DD’s biggest villain, but there’s something about the pure hatred between these two that I latch onto. Maybe it’s the idea that a blind guy can make the guy that can’t miss actually miss, or maybe it’s the history of Bullseye attacking and/or killing DD’s girlfriends, or maybe it’s just the combination of two really cool characters with really cool costumes beating the shit out of each other. I dunno. What I do know is that Bullseye brings out the best/worst in Daredevil and vice-versa. Bullseye is a sadist and gets off on how scared everyone is of him, so of course the guy that torments his every waking moment is the man without fear. The one guy that won’t- almost can’t, he’s so goddamn stubborn- be afraid of him. Any time these two square off is must-read.

 

 

8. Green Lantern Vs Sinestro

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First Altercation: Green Lantern Vol 2 #7 (1961)
Why They Make the List: These two really don’t like each other. The amount of bad blood between them could fill an ocean or two. It’s a shame, too, because they started out as mentor and mentee and eventually became very close friends. When Sinestro turned on the Guardians Hal took it as a personal betrayal, and when Hal fought against him for the Guardians Sinestro took it as a personal betrayal, and these hotheaded idiots have made the universe their battleground for years ever since. Sinestro is responsible for the Parallax entity possessing Hal and forcing him to murder Lanterns and Guardians and turn on his Justice League friends, Hal in turn killed Sinestro before dying himself, and because it’s comics they’ve both been resurrected and immediately began escalating their personal vendetta. Sinestro building the Sinestro Corps and declaring war on the Green Lanterns? Mostly because he’s still pissed off at his friend. Hal breaking almost every law the Lanterns had and endangering himself and others to do whatever it took to stop Sinestro is really because he feels so betrayed by his friend that he makes it his business to feel personally responsible for stopping him at all costs.

Their rivalry keeps escalating, too, as seen in the Sinestro Corps War, the Blackest Night, the Brightest Day, the War of the Lanterns, or any other major event involving lanterns. These two just can’t stop one another and can’t stop dragging the rest of the universe into their never ending (at this point) blood feud.

 

 

7. Spider-Man Vs Dr. Octopus

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First Altercation
: Amazing Spider-Man #3 (1963)
Why They Make the List: While the Green Goblin may Spider-Man’s biggest nemesis, and Venom may be the cracked mirror “Reverse Flash” Spider-Man, Dr. Octopus is essentially the worst-case Spider-Man. He’s what Peter Parker could easily have been had he been bitten by the spider as an adult and not as a teen, or had he not had Uncle Ben and Aunt May in his life. Octavius was much like early days Peter; he was an outcast, socially awkward, picked on, and fascinated by things the average joe couldn’t understand or had no interest in understanding. Unlike Peter, who was able to use Spider-Man to work out some of his anxieties and develop a small circle of friends, Otto turned into a sour, bitter man who, when given tremendous power, immediately turned to selfish pursuits and violence.

As a supervillain Ock is also a bit of a shattered mirror of Peter. Unlike Peter who uses his scientific acumen to help everyone he can and to save lives, Ock uses his scientific acumen to threaten and hurt people and to get as much for himself as he possibly can.

Their relationship really went into new territory during the Superior Spider-Man, which sadly Doc was forced to forget at the end of that story. Their traditional rivalry remains, however, and there are precious few opponents that cause Spidey more of a headache than the Devious, Dastardly Doc Ock!

 

 

6. Fantastic Four Vs Dr. Doom

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First Altercation
: Fantastic Four #5 (1962)
Why They Make the List: Marvel’s first family rightfully has Marvel’s greatest villain, the unstoppable Dr. Doom! Their rivalry goes back even to before they were super powered foes, as Doom and the Fantastic Four’s leader, Reed Richards, were college students together and had a fierce academic rivalry that directly led to the ever-growing rivalry between the FF and old metal mouth. Seems Dr. Doom just can’t bring himself to admit that smarty pants Reed Richards is even smarter than he is, and he will never stop going to crazy lengths to destroy Richards and his family to prove it.

Doom’s Iron Man-level armor and mastery of sorcery more than makes him a match for the FF, despite him being outnumbered (which he counters with an army of robots, and a regular army, because the dude is the monarch of an entire nation). But despite this he can’t ever quite seem to achieve his goal, because once again ol’ Stretcho and the gang keep foiling his plans. Even when he became the God of all existence in Secret Wars and could do ANYTHING Doom made Susan Richards his wife and Reed’s kids his kids, and when it was revealed to him that Reed was alive the nearly omnipotent Doom feared for his Godhood, and rightfully so.

Doom’s honor (which he takes seriously, even though he’s a huge, huge douche) dictates from time to time that he come to the aid of Richards or his family, like when he delivered their youngest daughter, Valeria, or helped Reed and the Future Foundation stop the Council of Reeds (seriously, you have GOT to read Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four). But make no mistake, the most dangerous man on Earth has one goal and one goal only: destroy Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four.

 

5. X-Men Vs Magneto

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First Altercation: X-Men #1 (1963)
Why They Make the List: They may be staunch allies these days thanks to the unity of the mutant nation of Krakoa, but that was far from always the case. There was a very long period of time in which Magneto routinely tried to murder the X-Men and was considered far and away their greatest foe. In fact, their rivalry was so strong that it still places this high on the list despite them not being enemies for at least a decade now.

Whether it was trying to steal nukes to threaten the humans, attacking with his Brotherhood, trapping the X-Men in a volcano, turning Colossus against the X-Men, pulling the adamantium metal off of Wolverine’s skeleton/claws and OUT THROUGH THE PORES OF HIS SKIN, or any other number of acts of war, Magneto was the most cunning, ruthless and outright powerful foe the X-Men had, and that’s really saying something considering out of everyone at Marvel they probably routinely go up against the nastiest customers.

The master of magnetism and his war for mutant kind and his war against Xavier’s X-Men has been adapted into every form of media imaginable. Novels, cartoons after cartoon, about a hundred terrible movies, and oh so many video games. It’s crazy; despite it being an entire generation since he was their main villain if you asked pretty much anyone who the X-Men’s biggest villain is, I would bet anything that the majority of your answers would be Magneto.

 

 

4. Superman Vs Lex Luthor

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First Altercation: 
Action Comics #23 (1940)
Why They Make the List: The ultimate match up of brains vs brawn and good vs absolute dickhole, Superman vs Lex Luthor is always must-read or must-watch. While the rivalry might not be as bloodthirsty (at least on Superman’s end) as some of the other ones on this list don’t be fooled; these guys really don’t like each other. For Lex it’s a matter of jealousy and xenophobia. He doesn’t trust Superman because he’s different and Lex is afraid of him (though he would never admit it), and he is such a complete egomaniac that the idea of Metropolis looking to anyone but him for salvation is unthinkable, and the fact that this ALIEN do-gooder is always getting in his way and then getting the love and adoration from the small-minded masses that HE DESERVES is utterly maddening. It cannot stand. So, the smartest man on earth spends all of his considerable resources and precious time not working to improve the world or solve the seemingly unsolvable problems the planet faces (which would get him the adoration he wants so badly) which he probably could do, he schemes up ways to lash out at others beneath him to make himself feel better about being a baldie with an inferiority complex and he devises ways to try to kill the man of steel.

On Superman’s end it’s frustrating to watch this brilliant guy limit himself so much and it’s annoying that he keeps getting in the way of things getting better, especially since he could so easily just MAKE them better. While Superman represents the very best ideals we strive to live up to and represents hope for a better today and tomorrow, Lex Luthor is a bag of assholes that prioritizes wealth and power over all else. He’s just a selfish, used diaper of a person, and let us not forget his proclivity for stealing baked goods!

Let us never forget

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Spider-Man Vs Green Goblin

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First Altercation:
Amazing Spider-Man #14 (1964)
Why They Make the List: Rivalries don’t come much more personal than this. The Green Goblin is the father of Peter’s best friend, Harry. Peter and the Goblin’s alter ego, Norman Osborn, both know who the other is under the mask. Peter uses this knowledge to stop Osborn’s schemes, Osborn uses this knowledge to destroy Peter’s life at every chance he gets. The Green Goblin is responsible for the death of Gwen Stacy, Harry Osborn (indirectly), Peter and Mary Jane’s unborn child, the kidnaping of Aunt May, the entire clone saga, the death of Ben Reilly, the death of Flash Thompson (when he was the Red Goblin; it’s a whole thing)… a lot of long time heroes have at least that one villain that you go “I get you don’t want to kill people, but that guy should probably die”, and while Spidey actually has a few of those (looking at you, Carnage) it’s hard to argue anyone should be in front of Norman Osborn in that line. The guy’s attraction for going after innocent people to hurt his son’s best friend is downright creepy, as is his hair. In fact, the goblin get up might be the least creepy thing about Norman, and that’s one of the best things about this rivalry. It’s not Spider-Man vs the Green Goblin, or rather, it’s not JUST Spider-Man vs the Green Goblin. No, this thing between them is every bit as much Peter Parker vs Norman Osborn. Inside or outside of their costumes these guys are among the very best of enemies.

 

2. Captain America Vs Red Skull

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First Altercation: 
Captain America Comics #1 (1941)
Why They Make the List: Man, what a great superhero Captain America is. It’s World War 2, you’ve created the ultimate symbol for American values and military might, and you need to give him a good villain, as the guy already smacked the living daylights out of Hitler right out of the gate. How about if the Nazis had their own Cap? But instead of the best of us, he’s the worst? Like the absolute, very worst? The guy other NAZIS look at and go ‘man, that guy’s nuts’. Also, let’s give him a death mask like a blood red skull with bulging eyes that’s literally just made of nightmares. Cap and this bug-eyed psycho have been at each other’s throats since 1941 (well, with a few decades’ worth of time out due to suspended animation), and for them it doesn’t get much more personal. Sure, when he was first unfrozen Cap was obsessed with Zemo, but that was because he was fighting Zemo when he got frozen and when Bucky was thought dead, and also because he assumed this facially challenged shithead was long dead. But, sadly, ol’ Skully-poo was right back up and at ’em, going after everything from occult objects to using fringe science with A.I.M. to cosmic cubes to get one over on our buddy Cap, and has never stopped since. Even when he’s dead, or thought dead, his poison has so deeply rooted in others that he has kept around that Cap’s never really not fighting him. Whether it’s Hydra, or the likes of Sin, or Crossbones, or the Serpent Society, or…. you get the idea… they all want to carry on the Skull’s twisted mission, which is essentially that of the Third Reich: everyone else is inferior and must be destroyed and conquered. Shockingly, Captain America seems to always have a problem with this.

 

 

1. Batman Vs The Joker

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First Altercation
: Batman #1 (1940)
Why They Make the List: These guys have been doing this for over 80 years now, and it’s been rough between them the entire time. Batman should have killed this psycho clown long, long ago, but it’s a serialized medium so he stays alive (ha). The Joker has not only terrorized Gotham for decades now (coming up on a CENTURY!), but he has taken more from Batman and the protectors of Gotham than anyone else. He crippled Barbara Gordon, he tortured and murdered Jason Todd, he killed Jim Gordon’s wife Sarah Essen… you get the idea. There is no shortage of stories with these two going to war on one another, and somehow it is always entertaining. Sure, it helps that Batman is arguably the best hero in comics and the Joker is probably not that arguably the best villain, but the real appeal in these stories is the idea that the Joker could escalate things again at any time. Who will it be next? Whose death will Batman carry like a weight around his neck next, all because the Joker thought it would be funny? This element of ‘the Joker is like a walking time bomb’ really adds something to their encounters that Batman’s other villains just don’t quite have, and while it’s fun to see the Joker go up against other characters to see how they try to deal with him (particularly the Bat family characters that have to deal with him without Batman around) it just isn’t ever as fun as it is with Batman (as Joker himself would gleefully tell you).

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