By Cyriaque Lamar for io9.com
Comics starring the Avengers and X-Men have a rich tradition of alternate realities — and many of these parallel dimensions are complete hellholes. Here are ten of the worst universes in the history of Marvel Comics. In many of them, absolutely every single superhero you know and love has been put through the meat grinder. Let’s look back warmly at the time the Hulk was consumed by a swarm of cockroaches for eternity.
10.) The X-Men die, world becomes a police state
When: What if Cable had destroyed the X-Men? and What if Magneto took over the U.S.A. (1993)
Cable and Professor Xavier never exactly saw eye to eye ideologically, but this two-part story depicted Cable murdering Professor Xavier, Cyclops, and Jean Grey in a restaurant with a bomb. Way to accidentally kill your dad, Cable!
Anyway, all of the X-Men and X-Force members begin slaying each other, until Magneto takes over the White House. The Sentinels then drop a nuke on Washington DC (killing 99% of the remaining X-Men) and conquer the world, enslaving and/or murdering everyone else. The story ends on a minorly chipper note. Wolverine and Iceman start a new team using the D-list mutants who were not important enough to die, but this story’s still an epic bummer.
9.) Vision becomes a fascist dictator
When: What if the Vision of the Avengers conquered the world? (1990)
In this reality, the robotic Avenger Vision implants himself in every computer system worldwide and attempts to bring global order.
The nations of the world aren’t thrilled by this, so New York City is nuked, almost every superhero kicks it, the Mad Thinker’s androids rule the planet, and Vision takes over the intergalactic Skrull, Kree, and Badoon empires just for laughs. Robot laughs.
8.) King Hyperion’s dead planet
When: Exiles (Mid-2000s)
In the defunct Quantum Leap meets X-Men series Exiles, an insane version of the Superman knock-off Hyperion attempted to conquer Earth, and the ensuing nuclear winter kills everybody. After Hyperion escapes thanks to some reality-hopping shenanigans, the Exiles are forced to toss this invincible malefactor back to his lifeless homeworld.
7.) Hulk is the last tortured soul on Earth
When: Hulk: The End (2002)
After a nuclear war, Bruce Banner is the last man alive. An alien species takes notice and tries to record humanity’s extinction with an indestructible camera robot.
Banner is unable to kill himself, so the Hulk spends his days being eaten by swarms of mutant cockroaches and regenerating forever. Eventually, the Hulk allows Bruce Banner’s psyche to fade into the background, leaving the green goliath alone on our radioactive rock.
6.) The Punisher ends the human race
When: Punisher: The End (2004)
In this one-shot story, an older, incarcerated Frank Castle survives planetary nuclear annihilation in his penitentiary’s old fallout shelter. He emerges several months later and travels to New York City — on the way there, he’s afflicted with fatal radiation poisoning.
Thanks to a gabby prison buddy, Frank has learned of a secret bunker in the Big Apple filled with the last remaining humans: crooked politicians and business executives. Never one to falter before the extinction of the human race, Frank slays them all and slowly disintegrates in the radioactive fires outside. Hooray, human condition!
5.) Juggernaut accidentally kills the last remaining people on Earth
When: What if… starring Juggernaut: the kingdom of Cain (1997)
The dunderheaded Juggernaut kills the X-Men, who aren’t around to stop the Sentinels from enslaving the planet and rendering the biosphere toxic. For decades, Juggs thinks he’s the last person on Earth, until he discovers an underground hideout where the Brotherhood of Mutants are cloistered away. The super-strong doofus breaks down the door to say hello, dooming his company to a painful death by vapors.
4.) Conan the Barbarian is a moron
When: What if Wolverine battled Conan the Barbarian? (1990)
This issue sees Conan and Wolverine accidentally and permanently swap dimensions. Wolverine ends up running around the Hyborian Age with Red Sonja, whereas Conan dooms the universe by hitting Cyclops on the head with a rock. This allows the Dark Phoenix to engulf the entirety of existence in fire, excrement, and death. Definitely one of the funnier apocalyptic scenarios ever committed to the comic page.
3.) Everyone on Earth turns into mindless reptilians and are consumed by giant god serpents
When: What if the Marvel superheroes had lost Atlantis Attacks? (1991)
In this hilarious “the superheroes blunder Benny Hill style” issue, the evil deity Set uses tainted drugs to transform almost everyone (and every superhero) on the planet into moronic snake people. The last remaining superheroes form a supremely bad-ass coalition (think Wolverine, Dr. Doom, Thor, and, uh, Wundarr the Aquarian), but they’re killed or defeated by Set’s brainwashed “brides” (think She-Hulk, Storm, and Jean Grey). Quasar eventually banishes Set to another dimension, and Earth is left to its own idiot snake person devices. That is, until the brides give birth to gargantuan, dimension-hopping serpents and absolutely everybody on Earth is consumed to fuel these hungry reptiles — that’s She-Hulk being masticated at left. Comics!
2.) Dark Phoenix incinerates the entire universe
When: What if Phoenix had not died? (1981)
In regular Marvel Comics continuity, Dark Phoenix commits suicide rather than kill the X-Men and consume the universe. In this reality, Jean Grey is psychically lobotomized instead. This doesn’t keep the Phoenix at bay. She reemerges, slaughters the X-Men, comes to her senses, and burns all of reality like an English muffin left in the toaster too long.
And because absolutely nobody asked, here’s plucky teenage X-Woman Kitty Pryde getting torched mercilessly.
Good moves, Wolverine!
1.) Korvac deletes reality
When: What if the Avengers had become pawns of Korvac? (1982)
This issue sees the god-like Avengers foe Korvac kill Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, resurrect them as his pawns, kill them again to drain their life essences, and then drain the life essences of everyone on Earth. Once every alien species catches wind that Korvac has become the powerful creature in the universe, they send an endless armada of ships to destroy him. Korvac reacts by becoming a giant naked man standing on the planet, mutters an off-panel “fuck you guys,” and fires the Ultimate Nullifier square between the eyes of Eternity, or the anthropomorphization of reality. Universal annihilation, presumably abutted by advertisements for Bubble Yum and Golden Crisp!
BONUS: The slapstick tragedy of Ruins and Old Man Logan (see here).