Darkest Superhero Universes – The Top 5

Super Schadenfreude

Roman Torchwick:You got spirit, Red, but this is the real world! The real world is cold. The real world doesn’t care about spirit! You wanna be a hero? Then play the part and die like every other Huntsman in history!

RWBY “Heroes and Monsters” (Season 3, Episode 11)

Earth is a sucky place to live right now. A deadly plague is ravaging the world, most people have been trapped indoors for weeks, and those in charge are more interested in self-aggrandizing than fixing the problem. But as bad as things are, they could be so much worse.

Most escapist fiction shows the reader settings where heroes can fight back against problems facing their world. But some take a different course and make things as miserable as possible. There are worlds where even the greatest heroes can’t save the day. So in the spirit of taking comfort from others’ suffering, here are the top 5 darkest superhero universes.

#5 DCeased

Lois Lane:It’s hard to explain how quickly someone moving at super-speed can infect the world. Death spreading faster than the speed of sound.”

DCeased

Cyborg is kidnapped by the alien Darkseid, who has learned his programming contains a superweapon called the Anti-Life Equation. To stabilize and extract the Equation, Darkseid bonds it to the soul of a death god called the Black Racer. Unfortunately, the Equation is tainted by the Racer’s soul and turns anyone infected into a berserk zombie called the Anti-Living.

Cyborg escapes and teleports back to Earth, unintentionally spreading the Equation. The virus spreads, infecting most of humanity as well as several heroes and villains within days. Even major heroes like Batman, Green Lantern and Aquaman succumb to the virus. The survivors realize that Earth is lost and construct several arks to evacuate survivors to a new world.

The excrement truly hits the fan once big guns like Flash, Wonder Woman, and even Superman are infected. With Earth’s greatest heroes infected and killing everyone in sight, can the survivors last long enough to escape? 

#4 Hulk: The End

Bruce: “My name is Bruce Banner. I am over two hundred years old, I think. I feel… cold. And I should be dying very soon… I want to. God in heaven, I want to. But he won’t let me.”

Hulk: The End

The End is a Marvel series exploring what might happen in a hero’s final days. Sometimes it would be an optimistic finale with a happy ending. Other stories might have a depressing ending, where the hero goes out with a whimper instead of a roar. But only Hulk’s story is bad enough to land him on this list of the darkest superhero universes.

Set in the far future after a nuclear war, Bruce Banner wanders the devastated U.S.A. as he waits to die. Humanity has gone extinct, leaving him with no company but The Hulk, who constantly denigrates him. Whenever Banner is about to finally die, The Hulk takes control of their body and transforms so that his healing factor keeps them from dying.

To make matters worse, Hulk is constantly pursued by a horde of radioactive cockroaches, which swarm him and devour his flesh when they catch him. Hulk inevitably recovers, a fate that Banner compares to the Titan Prometheus being eaten every day.

Banner finally goes insane and begs the Hulk to let them both die. Hulk refuses and traps him in their mind. He is overjoyed that he has proven to be the strongest creature, but quickly realizes that he is the only one left on the planet. The story ends with a lonely Hulk simply saying that he feels cold.

#3 King Thanos

King Thanos: [to his younger self] “Your quest across time to kill me… to kill death… has failed. I admire your efforts. I do. But try as you might. You see now that none may escape the inevitability of my purpose… now, and always… Thanos wins.

Guardians of the Galaxy #12

The heroes of Earth have always been able to fight off Thanos, but they failed in one potential future. Thanos waited a few decades for the heroes to grow old and feeble before launching a genocidal war against the universe. 

After wiping out all life on Earth, he traveled the galaxy, killing anyone he found. Eventually all that remained of this dark superhero universe were a feral Hulk, the Cosmic Ghost Rider, the Silver Surfer, and the newly crowned King Thanos.

King Thanos yearned to die and join his lover, Death. He brought his past self to the future to kill him. King Thanos murdered the Silver Surfer to summon Death and attacked his past self. Past Thanos defeated the king, but refused to kill him. 

Disgusted by seeing a version of himself that would beg to be killed, Thanos returned to the past and prevented this future from ever happening.

#2 Ruins

Phil Sheldon:Death is everywhere. It’s falling on us all. Let me find an answer before I go. Let me show them all how this happened. Please don’t let me die in this place.

Ruins

Ruins is the antithesis to the critically-acclaimed series Marvels. The story follows Daily Bugle reporter Phil Sheldon as he travels New York City investigating the “Paranormals” who have appeared. But something has twisted this universe. Everything that can go wrong for the heroes does in the worst way possible.

The Avengers are a terrorist organization waging war on the U.S.A. The X-Men and their adversaries are locked in an asylum, maimed, or lobotomized to keep them docile. Anyone with a healing factor turns into a lump of living tumors and cancer. Even non-powered characters like Hawkeye, Nick Fury, and The Punisher are shown being brutally murdered.

Phil is convinced that something happened to make the world this way, but never managed to discover what changed. It is implied that one of the changes was the Fantastic Four dying because Ben Grimm (The Thing) refused to fly their spaceship, but the overall cause remains an unsolved mystery.

Many readers have criticized Ruins for being a bleak, depressing, and mean-spirited attack on the Marvel Universe, but writer Warren Ellis defends the story as a dark parody.

Ruins is certainly the darkest superhero universe that Marvel has ever created, but it’s not as bad as the next one.

#1 The Dark Multiverse

Narrator: The multiverse. A collection of possibilities and realities. A vast landscape of worlds, held back from darkness by the thinnest of barriers. But what is that barrier? A moment. A choice. Between what we know… and what should never be.

Tales From The Dark Multiverse

The Dark Multiverse is the darkest superhero universe. Maybe it’s unfair to put a section of the multiverse against individual universes, but this is what we’re going with.

Debuting in Dark Knights: Metal, the Dark Multiverse is a mirror of the normal DC Universe that is inherently corrupt and twists events to force them down the worst possible path.

Perhaps in one dark universe Batman killed the Joker, only to be transformed into a new Joker. Lois Lane might gain Superman’s powers and begin slaughtering criminals to avenge his death. Even something innocuous like offering a character a pep talk can create a world-destroying tyrant.

The Dark Multiverse isn’t our number one darkest superhero universe because it has a high body count, nor because the setting is bleak. It’s our top choice because it is a multiverse in which a happy ending is impossible. A setting where basic concepts like life, happiness, courage, and love are not only meaningless, but exist only to turn heroes into monsters.

Which of these dark superhero universes do you find the worst? Is there one even more hellish than these? Tell us in the comments.

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