The Best, Worst and Weirdest Alternate Universe Superhero Deaths In Comics
For the past few months, Marvel’s advertising department has been doing their level best to get readers psyched up about the impending “Death of Spider-Man” (buy digital) in various Ultimate comics, and if you ask me, it’s working: The death of an alternate universe version of a character? Who wouldn’t be excited about that?
But really, killing off characters left and right is exactly what Alternate Universes are for. Creators might not be able to ever really off any heroes in the main-line stories of serialized fiction, and even if they do, it doesn’t tend to stick — just ask Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — but in alternate universes, you can go for a full-on slaughter. That’s why today, in honor of the Ultimate Death of Ultimate Spider-Man, I’ve sifted through a stack of What Ifs, Elseworlds and time-travel tales to bring you The Best, Worst and Weirdest Alternate Universe Deaths!
When your talking about characters getting killed in alternate universes, there’s one that’s at the top of everybody’s list that pretty much defined the surprisingly popular sub-genre of parallel-universe murder stories: Wolverine getting vaporized by a Sentinel in “Days of Future Past,” from Uncanny X-Men #141 by the legendary team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne.
Sure, Superman may have died a few times in clearly labeled “Imaginary Stories” in the ’60s and Batman once hallucinated that Robin bit the dust in a story that would surprise everybody by actually turning out to matter 50 years later, but it’s impossible to overstate the importance of this scene to the modern age of Marvel comics. Just look at how it gets brought up again and again and again and again and again, with Wolverine’s bomber jacket getting more hilarious each time.
Really, though, it’s easy to see why it’s such a cornerstone. While he wasn’t exactly the unstoppably popular character that he would later become, Wolverine had been certified as one of comics’ ultimate badasses less than a year earlier with his famous “You had your chance, now it’s my turn” comeback in battle against the Hellfire Club. Here, though, he was getting brutally and effortlessly obliterated by the Sentinels in the middle of his trademark Fastball special — with Byrne’s unforgettable depiction of the flesh being blown off of his unbreakable skeleton — putting a fine point on just what the X-Men were up against. If they failed today, there was no one who could stop this from happening, not just to them, but to everyone. Years later, it’s still an incredible piece of comics.
Now can we please never, ever see it referenced again?
Speaking of dystopian futures things don’t get much grimmer than the future depicted in Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s “Rock of Ages” from the pages of JLA. In a world where Darkseid, the New Gods’ embodiment of evil, has finally achieved his goal of taking over as absolute master of the Earth, most of the Justice League has been killed, including both Superman and the Martian Manhunter, who was murdered one atom at a time as fuel in one of Darkseid’s power plants.
Batman, however, was taken alive so that he can be tortured, which as anyone with even a passing knowledge of Batman knows is an absolutely terrible idea. Sure enough, even though it takes him eight years to manage it, Batman escapes…
…and then blows up the moon.
Or at least, a chunk of the mood housing Darkseid’s zombie factory so massive that the explosion is visible from space, but c’mon, that’s just semantics. Also, he calls Darksied ugly. Dude is harsh.
In retribution, Batman gets Omega Beamed out of existence — not the last time Morrison would write a scene with that happening — but it provides enough of a distraction that Green Arrow and the Atom can finish him off. Darkseid’s protected by a force field, but since he can see (and shoot laser beams out of his eyes), they figure out that the one thing that can get through is light. Pretty handy knowledge when you’ve got a guy who can shrink down and ride a photon straight into a guy’s brain.
Thus, the God of Evil becomes one of the only villains to ever get taken out by a flare arrow. Think about that next time you call the trick arrows lame.
If “Days of Future Past” is the most influential alternate universe story for Marvel, then Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns has a good shot at being the most influential alternate universe story in comics, period. Even though the Batman that returns to action in the story is an older, meaner version that’ll kick you in the stomach hard enough to break your back and break your legs in an operating table a mud pit, he still doesn’t kill the Joker, even though the Clown Prince of Crime has just murdered hundreds of people. Instead, he stops just short, snapping his neck and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.
Unfortunately, the Joker’s plan hinged on driving Batman over the edge to killing and forcing the police to hunt him down as a maniac, so he has to get things done himself.
Seeing the Joker laughing while snapping his own neck in order to frame Batman for his murder isn’t just monumentally creepy, it’s one of the best examples of how far he’s willing to go to ruin Batman in every way he can, a characterization that has bled over into almost every portrayal of the character since.
Of course, mixing the elements of an alternate universe into regular continuity isn’t always a good idea, as we all learned in the pages of Infinite Crisis, which unfortunately wasn’t an alternate universe itself. The setup here goes back to 1961, but since I don’t get paid by the word, the short version is that in order to explain why their heroes didn’t age and why there were guys named Flash and Green Lantern in the ’50s who didn’t have anything at all to do with the ones that were running around in the ’40s.
Thus, DC decided that all the original versions were from different dimension called Earth-2, part of an infinite multiverse of worlds. Then 25 years later they decided that was dumb and got rid of it. Then, 20 years after that, they decided it wasn’t a dumb idea, it just had too many worlds and they should bring them back, but only have a completely arbitrary number of them, except that all the heroes who were originally from Earth-2 were still from Earth-1, except Power Girl.
Anyway, in the process of the multiverse coming back — in a comic that featured the severed arms and gouged-out eyes that The Fans demanded — Superman and Earth-2 Superman teamed up to fight yet another version of Superman, and as ComicsAlliance’s David Uzumeri put it, the original version of the very first super-hero was punched to death by a dude created in the ’80s who had appeared in ten comics and would go on to be the personification of Internet comment threads:
Not exactly a great finish for the original Superman, but hey, at least it cleared up all that confusion about parallel universes! Now who says super-hero comics aren’t accessible?
While we’re on the subject of pointless, blood-soaked crossovers, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up Jeph Loeb and David Finch’s Ultimatum. This thing is a snuff film with super-heroes.
Even just listing off everyone who dies in this thing takes forever: Nightcrawler, Beast, Valkyrie and Dazzler drown, Professor X gets his neck snapped by Magneto (who just walks in and kills him while Professor X waits like he’s read the script), Hank Pym is blown up by the suicide bomber Mulitiple Man dupes who don’t get shot in the face, Dr. Strange is squeezed until his head pops, Angel’s wings are chewed off and his neck is stomped on by Sabretooth, Wolverine gets burned to death explodes for some reason, Magneto is decapitated by Cyclops, Cyclops is shot in the face by some other dude, Dr. Doom gets his head crushed by the Thing, and for all I know, there’s more people who die in this thing that I missed. Hell, I’ve had to read this dumb comic four times for my job, and I didn’t know Dr. Strange got killed in it until just now.
The most famous death in this book, however, is one that’s been accurately described as the most f—ed up panel in Marvel history:
There’s really nothing to add to that. The wasp is killed off-panel and then her corpse — positioned even in death so that she’s arching her back to show off her rack — is eaten by the Blob. There it is.
And then, just to dot the exclamation point on how godawful this mess is, this happens:
I’d call it gore-porn masquerading as a story, but there’s not enough effort put into it to qualify as a masquerade. I’ve got to hand it to ‘em, though, it’s one of the few comics that really lives up to the hype.
Unfortunately, this was the hype:
As hard as it might be to believe after reading the above, it actually is possible to do a story where characters are massacred all over the place that actually has some character and very, very dark humor to it. Such is the case with Garth Ennis and Doug Braithwaite’s Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe, in which… well, you can probably figure that one out from the title.
Set in a world where Frank Castle’s family is killed in a crossfire between super-heroes and villains, the story’s packed wall-to-wall with super-heroes getting murdered, and while most of them just get a simple bullet to the dome, there are a couple of really memorable ones. The X-Men and all of their villains, for instance, are duped into going up to the moon to fight each other with the old “but I thought you sent that note!” trick and then immediately blown up with a nuclear warhead. For my money, though, the best physical comedy comes from the Punisher’s battle with Dr. Doom:
It’s not just the typical Garth Ennis tactic of lampooning the overblown hubris of super-heroes that sells this one, it’s the “KLANG KLANG KLANG KLANG KLANG squitch” sound of Castle finally breaking through Dr. Doom’s armor with a sledgehammer.
C’mon. You laughed.
You wouldn’t know it from reading most of the entries on this list, but death scenes in comics don’t always have to be quite so dark, as Alan Davis proved in JLA: Another Nail. Based on the premise that a flat tire caused by a nail kept Jon and Martha Kent at home on the day that they would’ve found Superman’s rocket, the story’s got its fair share of pretty grim moments — like the Joker’s drawn-out murder of Robin and Batgirl — but there’s one that’s just plain awesome.
It starts with its fair share of darkness: Mr. Miracle and Big Barda have been taken prisoner by the forces of Apokolips, with Barda chained up and forced to watch while their captures torture her husband until he suddenly dies. Before they can turn to her, though, the entirety of the Green Lantern Corps attacks Apokolips to put an end to Darkseid’s evil once and for all.
It goes about as well as you’d expect, but when one of the Green Lanterns is killed, his ring seeks out a replacement, and the only person worthy of the ring’s power on the entire planet… is Big Barda.
That is awesome, but it’s about to get even better: It turns out that Mr. Miracle, the Ultimate Escape Artist, didn’t just die while being tortured, he escaped his own body and bonded his consciousness with something that could respond to his limitless willpower: Barda’s Green Lantern ring:
It’s an incredibly creative blend of two different pieces of the DC Universe into a great moment. And as an added bonus, Davis doesn’t drop the “wedding ring” puns that everyone expected.
We’ve taken a look at the best and the worst of alternte universe deaths, and now it’s time for what might be the craziest, from the pages of — where else? — What If. Considering that it was a comic devoted entirely to showing how stories could’ve gone horribly wrong — except the one where Conan the Barbarian gets stranded in the 20th century and dresses like a pimp with a pet leopard, which is horribly right — it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it delivered way more than its fair share of alternate versions of characters getting killed.
And in the story of what would happen if the heroes had lost in “Atlantis Attacks,” they go all out and kill everybody in a way best described as completely nuts. Mostly because it was based on “Atlantis Attacks.”
If you’re not up on your late-80s Marvel crossovers, I’ll try to sum up: Basically, a bunch of cultists get together to free the seven-headed serpent god Set from an interdimensional prison by giving a bunch of drug addicts a drug that they say will cure their addictions but will really just turn them into snake men, and then kidnap Andromeda, Storm, Dagger, Jean Grey, Sue Storm, the Scarlet Witch and She-Hulk so that Set can impregnate them with his giant snake babies.
I’m not kidding. This was actually published.
Fortunately the heroes managed to prevent this and outside of this What If, it was wisely never spoken of again. So how could they have possibly failed? Turns out it’s all Punisher and Moon Knight’s fault.
That’s right, everybody: Forget about Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, the Silver Surfer, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers: Without Punisher and Moon Knight, nobody can stop this sinister plot.
Basically, their screw-up leads to a bunch of heroes being turned into snake-men, and that’s when the killin’ starts.
You get the idea.
The best bit, though, is at the end, when — in the grand What If tradition — the heroes have been completely defeated and the earth has been overrun by the forces of evil, which in this case are the gigantic snake babies that the heroines give birth to, that then eat their mothers.
Yes: Those are She-Hulk’s legs sticking out of the gigantic evil snake baby she just gave birth to that is eating her.
Now, I know there are those of you out there who are thinking “hey, c’mon, alternate universe stories have value beyond just being places where creators can slaughter characters with impunity! Sometimes it’s nice to see a different take on things, and it’s not like they’re completely obsessed with death!”
And you are wrong. And I know this because I’ve read my all-time favorite alternate universe story, What If #10: “What If The Punisher’s Family Hadn’t Been Killed.”
So, what would happen if the Punisher’s familly hadn’t been killed? Well, as it turns out…
…if the Punisher’s family hadn’t been killed, The Punisher’s family would still be killed.
That is just how What If rolls.