It seems that every day — and in every issue — comic book superheroes are fighting to avert the end of the world as we know it. <p>Most of the time they’re successful in pulling the world back from the brink, but even superheroes aren’t perfect, and comics have seen dark visions of the future full of plagues, enslavements and sometimes extinction of the human race. In some cases these post-apocalyptic futures are averted thanks to some time traveling antics by heroes, but in some cases the story isn’t about turning back the clock but instead finding a way to live in dystopian times. <p>Next summer, with the release of the movie <i>X-Men: Days of Future Past</i>, we’ll bear witness to a live-action adaptation of one of the most riveting looks at a decimated future, but that Claremont/Byrne creation isn’t the only one out there. We’ve broken out our back issues and came up with the 10 bleakest alternate futures in superhero comics. So gather your survival supplies, because we’re taking you to 10 dire scenarios.
Set in an unspecified date in the then near-future of the late 1980s, Frank Miller’s <i>Batman: The Dark Knight Returns</i> painted a horrific picture of Gotham City falling back to old habits after Batman retires from active duty. Skinhead mutants abound, crime is at an all-time high and the police are only able to protect certain hamlets of the once fabled Gotham City. The broader world picture isn’t much brighter, as the United States and Russia long-simmering Cold War turning hotter every moment. And just when you think Batman’s long-time counterpart Superman might save the day, he’s been subverted to be in direct employ of the U.S. government — for good and for bad. <p>And although Bruce Wayne ultimately comes back into the role of Batman, it’s an uphill climb through <i>Batman: The Dark Knight Returns</i> — and its sequel <i>The Dark Knight Strikes Again</i> — to achieve even a semblance of order in this horrific future.
Launched in 1990 by Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons, <i>Give Me Liberty</i> follows a young girl named Martha Washington as she comes of age in a time where the United States goes through severe turmoil, with the Union fracturing and the dictatorial U.S. president Erwin Rexall ruling with an iron fist. We see everything from genetic-altering of children by the U.S. government, wars over the Amazon rainforests, white supremacist with satellite laser cannon, and an attack on the White House which leaves the lowly Secretary of Agriculture in charge of the government. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the mad faction of the U.S. government headed up by the Surgeon General. <p>Starting in the then-future of 1995 and jumping forward to its ultimate conclusion in 2012, the <i>Give Me Liberty</i> series paints a stark picture of the world falling into madness and briefly clawing its way out before tumbling back once again into something even darker.
Marvel’s Wolverine is like a force a nature in that he’s never known to stop when he has a mission. But in Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s 2008-09 run on <i>Wolverine</i>, it shows the infamous X-Man at his worst. It’s all because of a sinister plot by a gangly group of villains, and their subjugation of Wolverine is only one of their triumphs. <p>Set 50 years in the future, the "Old Man Logan" future sees the United States carved up into fiefdoms lorded over by various villains such as the Abomination, Magneto, Dr. Doom and Red Skull. Heroes, by and large, have been eradicated with the few survivors hiding away or in forced retirement like Logan. The sole remaining hero currently in action is the Hulk, but is a hero no more; instead, the Green Goliath is a brutal dictator and head of a family of in-bred Hulks who do his bidding. <p>Doesn’t sound like a great place to live, whether you’re a hero or an average human, huh?
No, they’re not the mutants you know from Marvel. Nor are they another in a long line of X-Men spin-off teams. The <i>Ex Mutants</i> was a long-running independent series that ran from 1986 to 1993 that followed a future vision of Earth where a full-scale nuclear war left the few survivors homeless and mutated by the radiation and toxins the war left behind. <p>And these mutants aren’t the good kind you know of from Marvel gifted with great powers, but instead physically and mentally deformed oddities – and they’re the last remnants of human civilization. The “Ex-Mutants”, in the case of the series title, are a group of mutant teenagers who are genetically altered to revert back to their non-mutated forms and serve as Earth’s last hope for getting civilization back on track. <p>The series mixes the world vision of the <i>Mad Max</i> films with a human race that looks more like Kuato from the 1990 film <i>Total Recall</i> than normal humans like you and I. Drawn expertly by a series of future superstars like Ron Lim, Rob Liefeld and Paul Pelletier, the <i>Ex-Mutants</i> showed a stark and dark world that no one would want to be born into.
"Days of Future Past" wasn’t the first time a comic series showed a dark future spinning out of current events, nor will it be the last. But this epic two-issue arc in <i>Uncanny X-Men</i> by Chris Claremont and John Byrne is the one by which all others are measured by. <p>In this storyline, a grown-up version of Kitty Pryde travels back from the future with a warning to the X-Men; a warning that they are in the midst of time-altering event which would cast the future down a dark path — her past, their future. In her timeline, the world has devolved down a segregation-ist future where mutants are hunted, imprisoned and killed for simply being born. A rag-tag group of former X-Men are all that’s left, outnumbered to the point that they can’t fight back but can only fight to survive. Sentinels patrol the skies of America, responsibly for the killing of most of the original X-Men and the subjugation of many would-be mutant heroes. <p>Despite its dour look at the future, the world of “Days of Future Past” proved to be popular with fans and subsequent writers for Marvel. The scenario has been adapted for use in three different Marvel animated series, and will the subject matter of 2014’s <i>X-Men: Days Of Future Past</i> movie.
In <i>Irredeemable</i>, writer Mark Waid presented a vision where the world’s greatest hero turned bad. But years before, Waid presented an even darker path — one where the world’s greatest villain won and held the world in his grip. <p>In the early 2000s miniseries <i>Empire</i> by Waid and artist Barry Kitson, a domineering super-villain named Golgoth wins out over this Earth’s heroes and sits on his throne overseeing the entire world. To put it simply, Golgoth is Doctor Doom, Lex Luther and then some. Assisted by a sinister cabinet of officials with titles such as the Minister of Execution and the Minister of War, Golgoth has Earth firmly within his grasp — much to humanity’s discontent. Golgoth maintains order in this dark time through the use of a highly addictive drug called Eucharist, which forces former adversaries and even allies to bend to his will. <p><i>Empire</i> answers the ages-old question of what happens when the superheroes don’t win, and shows a supervillain at the top of his game but still wanting more.
What does the end of the world look like to Garth Ennis? Well, here is your answer. <p>In the great one-shot <i>The Punisher: The End</i>, Ennis and comics legend Richard Corben posit a future where the Punisher has come to the end of the rope — and Earth is right along there with him. This book opens in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust that capped off a bloody third World War and left most of the world’s landscape barren and desolate. <p>By fate, Frank Castle’s incarceration in prison proves to be his only saving grace — shielding him from the nuclear war that happened around the world. After the carnage dies down, Castle beings a murky trek to find a rumored bomb shelter below the ashes of the World Trade Center that reportedly contains the last vestiges of humanity. Wading through the ashes of humanity and the ever-present radiation that will slowly kill him, Castle goes down this path in the style of <i>The Road</i> with a destination to kill the people responsible for the sorry shape the world has ended up in.
The apocalypse isn’t confined to just America, folks. Just ask Judge Dredd. This British-created hero has long lived in a murky future where his word is law, but in the 1984-1985 arc “City of the Damned” inside <i>2000AD</i> we saw a future for him that’s even darker. <p>Thanks to the invention of a time machine dubbed Proteus, Dredd and Anderson are shot forward 12 years in Mega-City One’s future to follow up on a prophecy that the city will be destroyed. When the duo arrives, they find the city already in ruins and the last survivors scared to even talk to them. And soon they find out why. In this future, the remaining Judges of Mega-City One have been turned into vampires that feed on the scraps of humanity that are left. While they try to piece together what happened, Dredd is put face-to-face with an older, zombified version of himself. And oh yeah, he’s blind. <p>Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson ultimately manage to beat back the threat that obliterated Mega-City One and make it back to their own time, but the memory that potential future stayed with Dredd and other judges as a warning of how bad things could be.
Remember <i>War Of The Worlds</i>? Well, imagine if the Martians won. That’s exactly what happens in Marvel’s 1970s serial <i>Killraven</i>. Created by longtime <i>Avengers</i> scribe Roy Thomas and comics powerhouse Neal Adams, <i>Killraven</i> showed humanity living under the thumb of Martian overlords and treated as slaves, entertainment and in some cases food. Marvel’s heroes are decimated, with the last surviving superhero Spider-Man killed in a flashback. With no heroes left, the titular hero Killraven emerges as a rallying cry for his fellow humans, a veteran of the gladiator system Martians created as entertainment. <p>Killraven and his fellow escapees venture across the American continent, seeing the remnants of civilization in New York, Florida and elsewhere. On their tail is a cyborg bounty hunter, the Martian army and turncoat members of their own species. Besides worrying about these outside threats, Killraven’s crew also has to deal with the unenviable task of finding basic needs like food and shelter in a world decimated by the Martian invasion force years ago. For two years Killraven fights an insurgency against the Martian oppressors, and ends up finally succeeding when he unleashes a plague in the Martian’s food supply.
In a dark future where beasts act like men and men act like beasts, DC’s <i>Kamandi</i> was a stunning look into an apocalyptic earth as dreamt up by the legendary Jack Kirby. <p>In the 1970s series, the world is left decimated after a mysterious event called the Great Disaster ravages everything on the Earth’s surface. The events, although never specifics, wiped out modern human civilization and most of the world’s population with it, leaving only small groups of humans in remote corners of the world to survive. With the fall of human civilization though, an experimental drug called Cortexin caused many of the world’s animals to mutate into humanoid creatures with the ability to walk, speech and act just as good (or as bad) as their former human masters. <p>Like some sort of <i>Planet of the Apes</i> offshoot where humanity is ruled by not just apes but all manner of wildlife, <i>Kamandi</i> showed a starkly different future for the DCU where humanity is forcibly dragged back to its stone age roots while also contending with mutated animals that are their equals, and in some cases more.