Every week, a secret cabal of Marvel staffers gathers to discuss the best of the best when it comes to the House of Ideas.
The old adage "strength in numbers" has never been proven more true than the Marvel Universe in 2009.
As the forces of darkness began to conspire, heroes on Earth and beyond found themselves banding together more closely than ever before as much for survival as prosperity. Check out the groupings and alliances the Secret Cabal found most impressive over the past year.
For each team you get the quick rundown as well as a special spotlight comic courtesy of Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.
As always, these picks reflect the personal choices of the Secret Cabal, not the official opinion of Marvel or Marvel.com, and can be considered subjective at best. Enjoy!
Roster: Wolverine (leader), Warpath, Wolfsbane, X-23, Archangel, Domino, Elixir, Vanisher
Why They Make The List: After adding a couple fresh faces in Domino and the not-so-willing Vanisher, X-Force ventured thousands of years into the future where they aided Cable in rescuing the possible mutant messiah, Hope, from the clutches of Stryfe and their former ally, Bishop. Upon their return to the present day, X-23 managed to thwart the Leper Queen's terrorist plans and escape the nefarious Facility while her teammates regrouped from their time-hopping escapades. Now with Utopia under attack from the undead army of Selene, X-Force faces perhaps their greatest challenge as they prepare to storm the newly-rechristened Necrosha and take the battle to the Black Queen herself.
Spotlight Comic: X-FORCE #9 (2008)-Domino joins the team!
9. THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Roster: Star-Lord (team leader), Bug, Cosmo, Drax, Gamora, Groot, Jack Flag, Mantis, Martyr, Major Victory, Moondragon
Why They Make The List: The foremost team of the Marvel cosmos saw a revolving door of membership this year as the Guardians of the Galaxy said hello, goodbye, and sometimes hello again to nearly a dozen heroes, warriors and talking animals. All hands were definitely needed onboard, though, as the group found itself divided and battling on multiple campaigns, including on the frontlines of the Kree-Shi'Ar War of Kings as well as in an era-spanning adventure with another team of Guardians. Sadly the year ended with several Guardians perishing in order to stop Adam Warlock from fully transforming into The Magus, but in a universe where raccoons and animate trees form lasting bonds, anything is possible for tomorrow.
Spotlight Comic: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #13 (2008)-The Guardians team with the Starjammers in a War of Kings tie-in!
8. THE INHUMANS
Roster: Black Bolt (king), Medusa (queen), Crystal, Gorgon, Karnak, Lockjaw, Maximus, Triton
Why They Make The List: 2009 proved the most trying of times for the Inhuman Royal Family, as their triumphant conquest of the Kree Empire could barely be celebrated before they found themselves in a vicious war with the Vulcan-led Shi'Ar. This War of Kings would drag the Nova Corps, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Starjammers, Blastaar and more into the conflict before it ended, but ultimately the sacrifice of Inhuman monarch Black Bolt in battle with Vulcan brought about the war's end and victory for his people. Now Marvel's strangest family, led by their queen, Medusa, faces an uncertain future among the stars, but one they are tackling head-on.
Spotlight Comic: WAR OF KINGS #2-The Inhumans lead the Kree into war against the Shi'Ar!
7. THE SECRET WARRIORS
Roster: Nick Fury (leader), Quake, Druid, Hellfire, Phobos, Slingshot, Stonewall, Eden Fesi
Why They Make The List: The Marvel Universe has seen its share of teen teams before, but nothing like the Secret Warriors. These kids are growing up way too fast, and that's just the way Nick Fury needs it to be if they're going to help him save the world. Less than a year into their existence, the Warriors have already fought off the hordes of Hydra, uncovered a massive conspiracy within S.H.I.E.L.D., and had their first catastrophic injury in Slingshot. As Fury gets closer to the truth, things will only get deadlier for the Secret Warriors-which makes it nice that they have an adolescent God of Fear on their side!
Spotlight Comic: SECRET WARRIORS #1-Nick Fury mobilizes his new team!
6. THE AGENTS OF ATLAS
Roster: Jimmy Woo (leader), Gorilla-Man, M-11, The Uranian, Venus, Namora
Why They Make The List: As the year kicked off, Jimmy Woo and his team had only recently settled into their role as undercover criminals working to clean up the vast Atlas Foundation; the Dark Reign complicated things a bit as the Agents had to play along as accomplices of Norman Osborn in order to keep the illusion going-and collided with the New Avengers in the process-but they pulled through nicely, albeit not on the Iron
Spotlight Comic: AGENTS OF ATLAS #6 (2009)-The Agents reunite Namora with her cousin, Namor the Sub-Mariner!
5. THE HOOD'S GANG
Roster: The Hood (leader), John King, The Answer, Blackout, The Blood Brothers, Chemistro, Controller, The Crimson Cowl, Crossfire, Doctor Demonicus, Griffin, Grizzly, Doctor Jonas Harrow, Jigsaw, Madame Masque, The Night Shift, Razor Fist, Scarecrow, Scorcher, The Wizard, The Wrecking Crew and various others
Why They Make The List: Even some of Marvel's greatest villains-including the likes of Magneto, Baron Zemo, the Wizard and more-have had trouble keeping large groups of their brethren on the same page for more than a heist or two in the past, so the sheer length of time that The Hood has been able to hold his sizable crew of ne'er-do-wells together deserves a tip of the hat (or hood). This year, Parker Robbins managed to face down some internal coup attempts from The Controller and Doctor Jonas Harrow, find a new source of power free from Dormammu's influence, and of course join Norman Osborn's inner circle all while his criminal consortium continued to run wild.
Spotlight Comic: NEW AVENGERS #46-The Hood and his crew ferret out a Skrull infiltrator during Secret Invasion!
4. THE NEW AVENGERS
Roster: Ronin (team leader), Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Spider-Woman
Why They Make The List: The group of Avengers who opposed Super Human Registration have had no easy run the past few years, but Norman Osborn's ascension to power made this last one tougher than ever for Earth's Mightiest Underground Heroes. While veteran Avenger Ronin-aka Clint Barton, formerly Hawkeye-took firm reins of a team bolstered by the addition of Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird, the true Spider-Woman and the new Captain America, they continued to face the ongoing threat of The Hood as well as the demonic Dormammu and of course their Dark Avengers counterparts. While they may have made some missteps here and there, the New Avengers ultimately continued their heroism unabated and took the offensive against Osborn, regardless of the consequences.
Spotlight Comic: NEW AVENGERS #51-Doctor Strange returns as the Avengers join the search for the new Sorcerer Supreme!
3. THE X-MEN
Roster: Cyclops (team leader), Professor X, Iceman, Angel, Beast, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Rogue, Magneto, Psylocke, Dazzler, Gambit, Northstar, Emma Frost, Armor, Pixie, Cloak, Dagger, Namor
Why They Make The List: It's been awhile since the X-Men have had an uneventful year, but 2009 upped the ante yet again for Marvel's mightiest mutants as they attended to a full schedule of conflict, discrimination and moving (again). Not long after settling in San Francisco and becoming the toast of the town, Cyclops uprooted the Children of the Atom-and any other mutants who needed a place to stay-to Utopia, an island off the coast of California that formerly served as Magneto's asteroid base and had been sitting at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Speaking of the Master of Magnetism, he was only one of the intriguing new members to join the ever-growing team line-up, as Namor, Cloak and Dagger all signed up as well, while Psylocke, Rogue, Gambit and others returned to the fold. In between all that shuffling of faces, the X-Men found time to hand Norman Osborn's Dark Avengers their first major loss, a feather in any cap to be sure.
Spotlight Comic: UNCANNY X-MEN #508-The sinister Sisterhood intrudes on the X-Men's lives!
2. THE CABAL
Roster: Norman Osborn (leader), Doctor Doom, Emma Frost, The Hood, Loki, Namor, Taskmaster
Why They Make The List: When Norman Osborn assembled the most powerful, intelligent and malevolent minds in the Marvel Universe to serve as the behind-the-scenes crew of puppet masters to assist him with is Dark Reign, it seemed like a perfect match made in hell-and one we knew from the start would combust in the most spectacular of fashions. Any meeting of the Cabal was a pleasure for the posturing and tough guy/gal talk alone, as there's no way you get Doctor Doom and Loki alone in the same room without the threats flying, let alone adding in x-factors like The Hood, Emma Frost and the ever-erratic Namor. There was no way Norman could run roughshod over these egos for long, secret weapon or no, but we were impressed by what he was able to accomplish and then enjoying our front row seats as it all came crashing down.
Spotlight Comic: SECRET INVASION: DARK REIGN #1-The formation of the Cabal!
1. THE DARK AVENGERS
Roster: The Iron
Why They Make The List: 2009 was certainly the year in which it was good to be bad. Under the subversive leadership of Norman Osborn, a group of former Thunderbolts and other assorted unrepentant criminals and killers-plus a God of War and very confused Sentry-became the most beloved heroes in the Marvel Universe while the real good guys hid in basements, balling their fists in rage. While the Dark Avengers certainly made for a bad ass group when it came to actual fighting proficiency and deadly effectiveness, we found their explosive interpersonal dynamics-be it the rivalry between Bullseye and Daken or Moonstone's seduction of Captain Marvel-as well as the generally unstable psyches populating the team-Venom can't stop eating people, Sentry has psychotic episodes on the regular and we won't even get into Norman-to be what made them oh so intriguing. Let's put it this way: When Ares is the most stable guy on your team, you've got a car wreck we wanna watch.
Spotlight Comic: DARK AVENGERS #2-Norman Osborn leads his new Avengers on their first mission!
To find a comic shop near you, call 1-888-comicbook or visit www.comicshoplocator.com
Not a subscriber to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited yet? Join now!
Download episodes of "X-Men: Evolution", "Wolverine and the X-Men", "Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes" and "The Super Hero Squad Show" now on iTunes!
Check out the official Marvel Shop for your favorite Marvel Heroes!