With in-fighting between heroes, deaths of loved ones, and heroes trying to protect those who fear and hate them, the Marvel Universe can be a tough place to live, but that’s just scratching the surface. For some characters, Marvel is so grim and depressing that nihilism seems like the only way to view the world.
Here are some of the bleakest moments in Marvel history. Which do you think was the darkest?
Mr. Immortal Can’t Die No Matter How Much He Tries
One of the biggest jokes in the Marvel Universe is the existence of the Great Lakes Avengers. This team of milquetoast Midwesterners has been laughed at by the Avengers, the X-Men, even the Champions, but they keep coming back for more. That said, they’re horrible heroes, as one of their members, the Grasshopper, lasted with the group for a matter of seconds before dying.
Their leader, Mr. Immortal, doesn’t have that problem. He has the unique ability to return from death no matter how he dies and to watch those who die near him go to the afterlife.
In GLA #1, readers learned he’d always had these abilities, watching his mother die in childbirth and his father die in a fire he started as a child, and after his first girlfriend left him, he killed himself. Again, and again, and again.
Even after he adjusted to his powers, faux suicide became his go-to coping method. Cosmic beings even told him he’ll still be alive and alone with the last sun burns out. Fun, huh?
In the End, There Will Be Only Hulk
The Hulk is the strongest one there is, but one day he’ll be the weakest one there is. In fact, he’ll be the only one there is. In the Marvel one-shot Hulk: The End, readers learn that when all life on the planet Earth is long dead, only the Hulk will remain, finally having achieved what he wanted all those years: to just be left alone.
You’re alone now Hulk, how do you like it? Sucks to be you.
Ruins: Everything You Loved About Marvel, Only More Depressing
The world of Ruins #1-2 is best described with only three words: “everything went wrong.” Writer Warren Ellis created this dystopian parody of the 1994 classic Marvels mini-series to show just how bad things could be. In this world, Johnny Blaze didn’t make a deal with the devil, but his life was so bad that his final stunt involved lighting his own head on fire while biking off a ramp.
Bruce Banner mutated after exposure to gamma radiation, but his body continued to sprout tumors until it burst from the inside out.
All mutant powers come with terrible side effects, leading Mystique to uncontrollably twist into a Cronenbergian nightmare, Nightcrawler to eat his own tail, and Quicksilver to need amputation to stop the shaking. Galactus died in this book just because.
The Age Of Apocalypse Sucked For Mutants And Humans
In a reality without Charles Xavier and before the modern age of Marvel, the ancient mutant Apocalypse took over the world. By Apocalypse’s decree, only the fittest could survive – that meant every mutant fought for survival, every human was tread upon, and any lucky superhumans had to beg for scraps. The worst of this world appeared in Generation Next #1-4 and X-Universe #1-2.
Here we see human work camps with internees like kindly old May Parker and innocent little Illyana Rasputin, and human refugee camps under assault by traitors like the blind assassin Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil. This world was so bad that its greatest heroes, Magneto’s X-Men, willingly died under a barrage of nuclear bombs after defeating Apocalypse.
The Fantastic Four Make The Age Of Ultron Even More Depressing
In the Age of Ultron storyline, perennial Avengers foe and numerically-obsessed robot Ultron finally succeeded in killing almost all life on Earth. This necessitated superheroes calling in their reserves, so the Fantastic Four abandoned their deep-space mission to help their Earthbound comrades, leaving their children, adolescent Franklin and pre-kinder Valeria, behind on their spaceship. Knowing this may be a suicide mission (and it was), each team member left a goodbye message for the children in Fantastic Four #5AU.
Among the notes, the Thing claimed to have created their worst enemy Doctor Doom (he didn’t, but he died thinking he did), and Reed Richards told his children there is no God and they won’t go to Heaven. Sure, you’d expect a scientist like Reed to have a pragmatic view of death, but just a few years earlier THE WHOLE TEAM MET GOD. Seriously, they met the big guy, and he looked like Jack Kirby. Plus, Reed’s known people who have been to both Heaven and Hell.
Doom’s whole origin was based around visiting Hell. Plot holes aside, the team went to their deaths, except Sue Richards who stopped Ultron with time travel but became trapped in the new reality. So where does that leave the kids? Alone in a spaceship lost in space and time and with no Earth to return to. Great way to end a story, Marvel.
Rachel Summers Had The Worst Childhood
In the seminal storyline “Days of Future Past” from Uncanny X-Men #141-142, readers saw the bleak Sentinel-filled future that forced humanity into martial law and mutants into death camps. The worst of it, however, fell on Rachel Summers. The daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey, Rachel was kidnapped as a child and tortured by the government until she could be turned into the first Hound, as seen in Excalibur #52. As a Hound, she was made to hunt down other mutants and watch as they were killed, or worse, turned into Hounds.
That’s how she spent her teenage years, helping mutilate the ones she loved. She escaped, and eventually made a home for herself in the present of the Marvel Universe, but she never stopped having flashbacks to those years of servitude.
Thanos Has Loved Death For Thousands Of Years
The most nihilistic thing in Marvel is the lover of Death. Thanos, the purple-skinned, craggy-chinned, big bad of the Marvel Universe, does not wish to rule the universe or get revenge or any other petty supervillain goal; he simply wants the woman of his dreams to love him, and he’s dreamed of Death since the day he was born.
The Thanos Rising mini-series revealed Death was his imaginary friend since childhood. He was so obsessed, he dissected living beings (including his mother) to find out more about how things died. As an adult, his friend Death said she would love him if he gave her gifts. He began by killing off every child he’d sired, and ultimately, by the now-famous Infinity Gauntlet storyline, he killed half of all the living creatures in the universe to prove his love to her.
The metaphysical embodiment of Death is a fickle mistress, however, as she’s often spurned his love. This drove Thanos to suicide, but she rejected him, ensuring he would never truly court Death.
Marvel Zombies: The Horror That Created Itself
The phrase “Marvel zombies” once referred to die-hard fans, but it now refers to one of the most disturbing stories in Marvel history. The zombies themselves first appeared in Ultimate Fantastic Four #21, and between that and the subsequent Marvel Zombies mini-series, we see Spider-Man eat Mary Jane and Aunt May, Hank Pym slowly dissect Black Panther to enjoy eating him over the course of several years, dozens of heroes eating Galactus, stealing his power, then using it to consume all life in their universe. It was a veritable smorgasbord of death.
It all began when an alternate reality version of the Superman-clone Sentry turned up, infected by an unknown plague. In the follow-up series, Marvel Zombies Return, we learn the last remaining zombies of their universe, Earth-2149, infected the heroes of another universe, called Earth-Z.
The last remaining zombie of that world, the Sentry, was sent back in time into the dimension of Earth-2149, thus causing the very doom that created them. A multiversal necromancing ouroboros.
Earth X Is the Future, If The Future Destroyed All Happiness
After the amazing Marvels mini-series and the memorable Kingdom Come mini from DC, artist Alex Ross decided to take a crack at the future of Marvel with Earth X and its various follow-ups. In this version of the future, everyone on earth was either mutated horribly, possessed by parasites, replaced by robots, mind-controlled by a perverted teenage emperor, or suffered a complete mental breakdown.
As the stories progressed, problems for the inhabitants of this reality only worsened, but the ones who got it worst were the Eternals. God-like immortal beings, they were immune to the various scourges faced by humanity, but at some point, before everything went to hell, they were caught in a massive explosion elsewhere in the solar system, with each Eternal trapped in super-resistant Vibranium.
They were discovered by the Inhumans in Earth X #3, still alive and still in weightless metal tombs, and they were just left there. Forever.
Nothing Can Die In The Cancerverse, But Life Isn’t Worth Living
There’s too much death in this list. How about a place where no one can ever die? Your puppy hit by a car? Grandma too old? It’s okay! In the Cancerverse, everyone lives forever! Only one catch: all creatures have ancient Lovecraftian horrors living inside them.
In the regular Marvel Universe, when the iconic hero Captain Mar-Vell died of cancer (in the highly praised Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel), he did so with dignity. In the Cancerverse, the Many-Angled Ones offered Mar-Vell a deal to save his life, and he took it at the cost of everyone else’s soul. After life began to burst at the seams of this reality, a tear in space allowed them to seep through into the regular Marvel Universe, giving them a chance to spread their cancerous life to all reality!
Captain Marvel Learned His Comic Was Cancelled Because Fans Didn’t Like Him
Okay, so you know Captain Marvel right? No, not the little kid from DC. No, not the woman who’s getting her own Marvel movie. The other one. Well, one of the other ones. Genis-Vell was the son of Captain Mar-Vell, respected Marvel superhero. Against all odds, he got his own comic by writer Peter David and it was great! Sure, sales weren’t that hot, but the critics loved it. Still, sales are important, so much so that Marvel even tried a horrendous “U-Decide” campaign to pit David’s outstanding book against Bill Jemas’s Marville trainwreck.
Even so, the axe finally came down with Captain Marvel #25. In true Peter David-fashion, the end was meta. Genis met Eulogy, the cosmic entity of endings, who told him that people didn’t care enough about his adventures, so they were going to put him away.
What’s worse, he learned some of his supporting cast would later die off, and that when he finally died, it wouldn’t matter. With Carol Danvers now in the role of Captain Marvel, it seems like Eulogy’s prediction came true. Harsh.
What If The Avengers Actually Cared That A World Was Blown Up?
There are too many depressing, nihilistic, and grim What If? stories in Marvel to list them all here, so let’s just pick one. In 1993’s What If? #55-56, the Avengers lost “Operation: Galactic Storm.” The original storyline was a rather forgettable tale meant to coincide with the then-topical Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. In that story, the home world of the alien Kree was nearly destroyed by the Kree Nega-Bomb. Despite some sadness, the heroes then called it a day and didn’t think much about the deaths of billions of aliens again.
In the What If? version, the tables were turned. The Kree succeeded in using their bomb on Earth, and that was something the surviving Avengers did care about. The story oscillates between Avengers grieving over their loss and seeking revenge for the wrongs they faced. In the end, the last vestiges of humanity become nomadic heroes, righting wrongs in the name of a dead world.
The Deadpool Apocalypse Is Not One People Saw Coming
Sure, there had been Marvel Zombies, and sure, there was a reality in which Deadpool killed everyone in the world, but what about a world in which there were nothing but zombie Deadpools? Such was the case of Night of the Living Deadpool, in which the George Romero-style end of the world has occurred, and Deadpool is the only remaining hero.
Ultimately unable to stop the undead horde, Deadpool drinks some strange chemicals and allows himself to be eaten to death, only to be surprised when each zombie that bites him turns into Deadpool, complete with good looks and winning personality. The Deadpool virus then spreads among zombies in Return of the Living Deadpool, but omnipresence has gone to his heads, so the Deadpool army seeks out living human survivors, kills them so they can become zombies, then infects them with the Deadpool disease. Grim.
Eventually one of Deadpool’s many selves stops his other selves, but by that point, most of the human population is gone.
No One Cares That Slapstick’s Life Is A Living Hell
Slapstick first appeared in his own self-titled goofy, light-hearted, parody comic. He was your average teenage class clown who was granted extra-dimensional gloves to become a living cartoon and fight evil, or at least nogoodniks. He was off to a good start, even getting his own “rookie card” in 1993! And then he was just forgotten about. At some point, behind the scenes, he lost his ability to become human again.
By the time he turned up in The Initiative, he’d gone fully insane. He almost beat his teacher to death in Avengers: The Initiative #5, but no one ever learned the truth, and scarier, no one cared. By the time Deadpool recruited him for Deadpool & the Mercs for Money, he was hiring prostitutes to dress up as girls he knew and randomly killing people. Now he has his own series again: think anyone will care now?
Longest Run Of Incredible Hulk Ends With Suicidal Bruce Banner
Peter David ended his monumental 12-year run as the Hulk writer in spectacular fashion. In Incredible Hulk #467, Hulk watched impotently as his wife Betty died of radiation poisoning. Afterward, Bruce Banner just… gave up on life. Most of the issue involves descriptions of various suicide attempts by Bruce. Sometimes his friends stop him, but more often than not, the Hulk stops him.
And don’t misunderstand; the Hulk is just as depressed about Betty’s loss as Bruce, he just won’t let them die. By the end of the story, decades have passed and the Hulk is still out there, and Bruce is still depressed. That’s how David’s run ends, but the last few pages of the book are by the next creators, and Betty’s death is instantly reversed, negating the entire story. Oh well.
Deadpool Kills Every Story You Ever Loved
Everyone knows Deadpool breaks the fourth wall, right? He is half in his own story, and half aware he is a story. But in one reality, Deadpool finally snapped. With a little nudge from the villain Psycho Man, Deadpool finally had enough of being a comic book character and just killed every other Marvel hero and villain, as witnessed in Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe. He roasted Howard the Duck, murdered the children of Power Pack, and even grossed out Arcade, who loves killing kids.
In the follow-up, Deadpool Killustrated, Deadpool decided to kill the literary characters who inspired modern comics, so he traveled through realities to murder Tom Sawyer, the Little Mermaid, and Mowgli, along with hundreds of others. Although he’d already killed the writers of his own book (or an alternate reality version thereof), there were still more characters to kill, so he decided to find the Deadpool that inspired him, and fought the Marvel Universe Merc with a Mouth in Deadpool Kills Deadpool, but even after all was said and done, he remained at large with his multiversal deathwish.