Today, Thor: Ragnarok hits theaters to threaten a chunk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with apocalyptic doom. In the comics, however, an apocalypse is not nearly as rare an occurrence as you might think, because the Marvel multiverse has faced utter calamity several times in the past. Here are the 10 best apocalypses that nearly happened—or actually did happen.
As far as destroying the universe goes, Abraxas’ reign of terror back in 2002 was more like a brief annoyance than anything else. While Galactus is in the middle of one of his many deaths and rebirths, the cosmic entity Abraxas emerges and basically starts dicking around, taunting the Fantastic Four with his impending arrival to come destroy the Earth and causing hell by warping bits of realities into each other.
The team goes on a dimension-hopping quest to find the Ultimate Nullifier, an all-powerful weapon that could stop Abraxas, only for them to get betrayed so Abraxas could steal the Nullifier himself. One reality-bending attack over New York City later, Reed Richards uses the Nullifier to kill himself and Abraxas, and essentially wipe out the entire world... only for it to blink back to existence moments later, having reset to a version of itself where Abraxas never emerged. Not the longest lasting of apocalypses, really.
The most recent of Marvel’s Ragnaroks bore all the earmarks of a good apocalypse. The cycle of destruction brings with it death, ruination, and even a good ol’ fire-demon in the form of the hellish entity Surtur. And, unlike many prophesied end times similar to it, Ragnarok did actually happen in 2004... mainly because Thor, the God of Thunder, actually willingly let it happen so he could break the cycle altogether and ensure no more eons of Asgardian deaths and rebirths.
Buuut, Ragnarok is only really Asgard-specific. Asgard does get totally destroyed, sure, and lots of its denizens die, but as far as apocalypses go, it’s fairly small-scale, even if it gets points for really happening.
Marvel loves nothing more than apocalyptic scenarios it can rewrite with nonsense time travel, and the Age of Ultron event in 2013—wildly different from the movie that would eventually borrow its name a year later—had that in spades. Long story short: Ultron takes over the world, decimating humanity and killing countless heroes while his subservient drones patrol the ruined streets of cities across the planet. Surviving members of the Avengers and other teams make their way to a secret bunker in the Savage Land, where they can use a time travel machine to go to the future and destroy Ultron.
This is where it gets weird, because Wolverine decides to just go back in time and murder Hank Pym before he can create Ultron... and in doing so, creates another awful post-apocalypse where Earth is ravaged by an alien war and consumed by magically-powered superbeings. Eventually, Wolverine goes back in time again to prevent his future-past-self (look, it’s complicated) to not go through with his initial very bad plan, and he instead convinces the Hank Pym of the past to create a code that will let the Avengers disable Ultron before his apocalypse can begin in the present.
Speaking of Marvel events where a villain’s violently devastating takeover of the world is undone by time travel nonsense, the legendary 1995 event Age of Apocalypse did exactly that after David Haller, a.k.a. Legion, managed to accidentally kill his father, Professor X, leading to Apocalypse invading the Earth a decade before he was prophesied to. That’s just rude, to be honest.
Anyway, Apocalypse quickly defeats an unprepared humanity, installs himself as ruler and makes select mutants part of the ruling classes, while culling millions of poor humans in regular genocidal campaigns. Everything is shitty, until the Mutant resistance manages to get Bishop to go back in time and stop Legion’s mistake.
So why is this one better than Age of Ultron? Because it was not only the original one of these nonsense apocalypse events, at least Apocalypse sticks to being its own thing instead of turning into another, equally bad apocalypse half-way through. Although having the actual villain Apocalypse also has to count for something, right?
Who doesn’t love a zombie apocalypse? Basically no pop culture entity has managed to escape zombie mania this century, and Marvel is no exception, giving us a gruesomely weird tale where not only does a zombie infection lead to the world’s heroes and villains being turned into brain-hungry monsters, said brain-hungry monsters ultimately use their powered-zombie selves to wipe out humanity, consume Galactus himself, and then use his powers to eat their way across the universe.
Following the first book in 2005, Marvel Zombies was so successful it spun off into its own increasingly ludicrous line of continuations and spinoffs, eventually seeing the somewhat-sentient superzombies create dimension-hopping technology so they could go infect and eat alternate realities. It all got so out of hand that at one point, Uatu the Watcher stepped in to create a time loop that kept the zombie mania contained in two of the many realities it had managed to infect, an endless cycle of undead apocalypses.
Atlantis Attacks was a drab late ‘80s event where the Serpent god Set is stopped from being summoned on Earth-616, the “main” Marvel universe, by the Avengers, Namor, and the Fantastic Four, but 1991's What If Volume 2 #25 imagined an alternate outcome which is arguably much more exciting than Atlantis Attacks could ever be, by imagining a defeat where Set uses specially-enhanced drugs to turn everyone on earth into brainwashed reptilians.
A coalition of surviving heroes attempts to defeat Set and revert humanity back to normal, but finds itself killed by the brainwashed band of female Marvel heroes known as the Brides of Set... who then give birth to giants snakes that eat them and Earth’s mindless human/reptile occupants.
Another great entry in the What If saga, the 28th issue of the alt-reality series’ first run in 1981 pondered an alternate outcome for the infamous Dark Phoenix saga. In mainstream comics continuity, Dark Phoenix kills herself before she overwhelms her former allies in the X-Men, but here, Jean Grey instead gets lobotomized in an attempt to contain the Phoenix Force from harming the world again.
It doesn’t work, Dark Phoenix emerges and is perhaps understandably a little pissed at the whole lobotomy thing, and decides to murder the X-Men. When Jean realizes what’s happened, her anguish incinerates New York, the Earth, and then all of reality. Whoops!
There’s a general rule of thumb that the apocalypse is a depressing event. After all, it is the end times, they’re not usually happy times. So how do you make it even more depressing? You make Frank Castle one of the last people alive on Earth.
Released in 2004 Punisher: The End was part of a loose anthology of apocalypse-themed comics that imagined the final days of various Marvel characters. Frank’s one-shot story cast him as one of the few survivors of a nuclear war that ends civilization. Does Frank Castle help rebuild the remnants of humanity among the irradiated wastelands? No, Frank Castle travels to New York, discovers a bunker filled with the last humans alive, politicians and elite businessmen, and murders them all so they can’t start over and corrupt a new generation of humanity. The last man alive, Frank dies shortly after, succumbing to radiation poisoning. Man, what a bummer.
The End also gave us Marvel: The End, a much grander apocalyptic story which saw most of the world’s heroes die when the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Ahkenaten gets imbued with a cosmic power called the Heart of the Universe, leading Thanos of all people to help rally what’s left of Earth’s heroes to sever Ahkenaten from his misbegotten cosmic power.
Thanos takes the Heart for himself, only for its power to allow him to discover that a fatal flaw in the very fabric of reality itself means the universe is doomed, even after Ahkenaten’s defeat. Thanos uses the heart’s power to become an omnipotent being and ultimately absorb the entire universe into himself in the hopes of resetting everything. Existence dies, but Adam Warlock, conveniently hidden out of Space-Time during the whole “absorbing everything” thing, convinces Thanos to sacrifice himself so that all of existence might be reborn.
All of the above apocalypses were either too grave to remain part of Marvel continuity or, in some cases, so relatively minor in comparison they didn’t actually end up being an all-encompassing end of all things. In 2015, Secret Wars actually had the gumption to destroy the Marvel Universe. In fact, not just one universe, but two!
Set up throughout Jonathan Hickman’s legendary run on New Avengers, Secret Wars operated on the premise that a series of cosmic events called “Incursions”—where the Earths of two alternate realities aligned and smashed into each other, either destroying one planet or wiping out both universes altogether—were increasing, making the destruction of the prime Marvel Universe a rapidly-approaching inevitability. Despite some of the smartest superheroes in the universe sacrificing their souls in an attempt to subvert or delay the inevitable apocalypse, Secret Wars #1 kicked off with the ultimate fatality: not just the destruction of the prime Marvel Universe, but the “Ultimate” reality—home to Miles Morales and countless other beloved takes on Marvel heroes—too.
Sure, but Secret Wars’ end a new reality that was a hodgepodge of both dead universes came into existence, but Marvel Comics as readers had known it for decades was dead and gone. And even with a few straggling survivors making their way over, the Ultimate Universe is truly dead too. It’s hard to find a more effective apocalypse than one that actually really destroys not just one reality, but two.