The world is always ending in comics. Either some alien fleet are invading the Earth or hordes of undead zombies are ravaging the living or perhaps there is an army of Antarctic Nazis wielding Asgardian black magic and giant war mechs. The apocalypse has become just another storytelling trope in comics. But sometimes, the world really does end.
There are some truly dark, harrowing stories involving the end of the world. Sometimes the crisis is undone through the magic of the medium while in other stories the damage is beyond repair. Here are the 10 most devastating times the world ended in comics, ranked:
10 Dark Nights: Metal
This comic is an interesting case study in different ways to end the world. The Justice League battle evil versions of Batman from the Dark Multiverse, and though they just narrowly save the Earth from plummeting into total darkness, they manage to break open the Multiverse in the process.
What makes this series so devastating is not the main story (though this tale of personal and cosmic terror is very devastating all on its own), but rather the way that the different worlds within the Dark Multiverse each ended. One succumbs to the God of War. Another is drowned. A third becomes infected by an AI virus. World after world falls, reminding readers just how fragile reality is.
9 Y: The Last Man
In the first issue of Y: The Last Man, every sperm cell and every mammal with a Y chromosome all die out at once in a single instant. What a way to begin a story! Planes drop out of the sky with their pilots dead. The majority of the US Congress dies off, as does the President. Nuclear submarines lose their whole crews. All in an instant!
What makes this series only second on the list? Half of the planet somehow survives and works to rebuild, to find new meaning in a world without men. It is a compelling story.
8 BPRD: Hell On Earth
The BPRD comics spent years building to a single massive climax, which they delivered spectacularly as the outer gods began to manifest in the world and the organization became absorbed into the UN. Then the series continued. By that point, the world’s end had begun, but most people did not yet know just how bad things were.
The slow build up of the Hell on Earth is what makes them less devastating than others on this list. There are demons, Lovecraftian horrors, ghosts, insane mechanical weapons, and black magic all at work to hasten the world’s end, but it takes a while for the events to unfold.
7 Days of Future Past
This is the story that began the X-Men‘s long tradition of dealing with time travel, alternate realities, and dark dystopias. It opens in the distant future in a world of bombed out cities where mutants have been rounded up into concentration camps. Then the missiles begin to fly, putting an end to the last of humanity.
The rest of the story is a time travel story of the sort that has since become common involving Kitty Pryde going back in time to prevent the dark future from coming into existence. Still, it was incredibly shocking back then to read an X-Men story involving mass detention of people and a nuclear holocaust.
6 Punisher: The End
The Punisher is not a hero. He is a weapon who points himself at those deserving death. No writer has better captured this than Garth Ennis, whose work on the Punisher MAX series delivered some of the darkest stories ever printed by Marvel.
As the story opens, the world is already over. Nuclear war has killed most of humanity. Frank Castle crosses a blasted wasteland, enters a secure bunker where his radiation poisoning is pronounced as lethal, and then proceeds to murder some of the last of humanity, because the generals holed up in the bunker deserve it. Humanity could have a second chance, but Frank has no intention of letting the species live on when the only surviving examples need to be punished.
5 No Hero
Warren Ellis is one of the world’s most recognizable futurists. This makes it particularly bleak that so many of his comics end with the world ending. When a man who spends all day staring into the future keeps saying there is not going to be a future soon, the world should listen.
No Hero is a comic Ellis wrote as part of a thematic trilogy exploring superhero psychology, in this case dealing with how superhumans lost touch with their humanity. The series ends with one character having their spine ripped out and sculpted into a carnal flesh obelisk while two superhumans float in outer orbit, listening to the news broadcasts of the world coming to an end.
4 Crisis on Infinite Earths
This is the crossover event that redefined DC Comics for an entire generation. It is a story of good and evil expressing themselves on a cosmic scale. Two beings of great power exert their will over the universe. The Monitor tries to preserve worlds while the Anti-Monitor devours them.
In this story, classic characters like Supergirl, The Flash, and Earth-2’s Green Arrow are killed in traumatic moments that ended their Silver Age lives. In fact, for decades, Barry Allen’s death would be remembered as one of the few comic deaths where the character stayed dead. New readers may find this comic a bit dated feeling, but it really is a masterpiece and gets better with each re-reading.
3 Marvel Zombies
This is another story that begins with the world already over by the time the story opens. In Marvel’s Earth-2149, an alien crashed on Earth and infected the X-Men, Avengers, and Fantastic Four with a ravenous hunger, turning them into undead creatures that need to eat, despite being dead. In an earlier Ultimate Fantastic Four story, it was revealed that every human on Earth had already been devoured.
The Ultimate Universe’s Fantastic Four and the Magneto of Earth-2149 stopped the zombie Fantastic Four from leading a zombie invasion into the world of the Ultimates. However, Magneto finds himself surrounded by zombie superheroes, outnumbered and desperately outmatched. The story is written by Robert Kirkman, author of The Walking Dead, and it is every bit as ghastly as one could hope for.
2 Time Runs Out
Author Jonathan Hickman began writing Avengers and New Avengers at roughly the same time, tying these two titles together into a single ongoing story. From the beginning of his run, it is revealed the the multiverse is dying. The superheroes who save the world can only do so much in the face of this omniversal threat.
The “Time Runs Out” crossover between Avengers and New Avengers deals with superheroes preparing for the inevitable. Captain America leads a manhunt against Iron Man and the other Illuminati members. Thanos takes Wakanda for himself as payment for destroying other realities to save the Earth. Doctor Doom takes it upon himself to save everyone without letting morality get in the way. This story is bleak and deals with people using all of their resources and agency to try and stop the inevitable. It is harrowing and heartbreaking as the clock runs out on the Marvel Universe.
1 The Walking Dead
The whole of The Walking Dead is one prolonged apocalyptic tragedy that never ends. The world is over before the first issue has come to a finish, but a handful of humans persist, fighting for survival against the endless shambling masses of the dead.
This comic has finally come to an end, but like the lifeless hordes who inherited the world in this dark tale, the popularity of the series will continue to persist and to spread for years to come.
Are you interested in comic books and tales of the apocalypse? If so, you'll love the 10 most devastating times the world ended in comics, ranked!