From zombie apocalypses to multiverse-eating villains, DC, Marvel, Image and more have published iconic comics revolving around the end of worlds.
Humans have always been fascinated with the apocalypse. Going back to ancient history, the end of the world was just as crucial to many mythologies as its creation. But as storytelling evolved from oral myths to written poems and books, the apocalypse followed along all the way to the present day.
The comics medium has been no exception to this rule. Some of the most famous and successful comics in history have been set before, during, or after the apocalypse with Watchmen featuring a plot that withheld the truth from humanity, and The Walking Dead revitalizing the zombie genre. Comics published by Marvel, DC, Image and more contain the best apocalyptic stories ever written.
The Terminator films are renowned as some of the best time travel movies ever made, and yet most of its expanded universe focuses on the apocalyptic future. Of all of these, Terminator: The Burning Earth is among the most critically-acclaimed, written by Ron Fortier and featuring award-winning artist Alex Ross in his comic debut.
The Future War is in its final days, and both the Resistance and Skynet are desperate and taking drastic gambles to strike the killing blow first. Skynet plans to finish Judgment Day, carpet-bombing the world with nukes, and John Connor leads a near-suicidal strike on the Skynet mainframe. The dramatic tension and pulse-pounding action in a broken world make the time-travel struggles all the more exciting.
DCeased is one of the darkest stories in all of DC Comics and sees the world destroyed by a zombie virus derived from the Anti-Life Equation infecting most of the heroes and villains. Written by Tom Taylor and with art by Trevor Hairsine and Stefano Guadiano, it features heartbreaking deaths, sacrifices, and emotional reckonings that tear through the DC universe.
Not only is DCeased an amazing zombie apocalypse story in its own right, with amazing fight scenes and drama, but it also features fantastic character arcs for both DC's most famous and less-renowned characters. Everyone from John Constantine to Booster Gold has their own arc, and the story of Superman, Black Canary, Deathstroke, and Poison Ivy are some of the best for a DC miniseries.
Regarded as one of Marvel's best horror comics, Marvel Zombies is different from typical zombie stories. Unlike DCeased, which features what one might call the "typical" zombie in spite of its supernatural origins, the zombies in Marvel Zombies are more like addicts than shambling corpses.
Written by Robert Kirkman and featuring artists Sean Phillips and Arthur Suydam, an alternate Earth is suddenly afflicted by "the Hunger" which begins infecting many of the heroes and villains of the Marvel universe. The zombies largely retain their personalities and intelligence but constantly need to feed on human flesh, and if this need becomes overwhelming, they devolve into a near-feral state. The comic ends with a theme of cosmic horror, as the zombie superheroes end up devouring Galactus himself, as their hunger enhanced by his power leads them to consume entire worlds.
Space Westerns are back in force, and East Of West is here to prove it. Set in a dystopian America, writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Dragotta depicted a world where the Civil War continued for over half a century and devolved into multiple competing factions, only to be ended by the impact of a massive comet in Kansas. These events prophesied the apocalypse, and the four horsemen of the apocalypse arrived to fulfill their respective parts of the prophecy.
But as they interacted with humans, and even formed families with them, the horsemen began to fight among themselves. After Death's family is killed by the other horsemen, Death swears revenge on them and their followers, and now seeks to derail the apocalypse. This combination of religious mythology, fantasy, and western tropes make for one of the most engrossing sci-fi comics of all time.
Jeff Lemire, acting as artist and writer, delivered an amazing art style and compelling narrative that led Sweet Tooth to earn its place in comic history. With a mysterious plague ravaging humanity and animal-human hybrids popping up all over the place, a young deer-human hybrid named Gus finds himself on the run and under the protection of the gruff and aging survivor Jepperd.
The mixture of post-apocalyptic violence, religious themes, and fairy-tale influences make for a wholly unique story. Further distinguished by its gritty art, Sweet Tooth is a must-read for any fan of post-apocalyptic comics.
The X-Men's first foray into changing the future, Days Of Future Past is also one of their most legendary. Writers Chris Claremont and John Byrne and inker Terry Austin depict a hellish future in the far-off year of 2013, where man-made robots known as sentinels forced the population of America into internment camps, separating the humans from the mutants to "protect" them and exterminating the mutants.
The remaining X-Men place all their hopes in Kitty Pryde, gambling that she can use her phasing ability to send her own mind back in time to possess her younger self. Miraculously, the plan succeeds, and Kitty helps prevent what they believe to be the cause of their apocalypse: the assassination of Professor X, Moira MacTaggert, and Senator Robert Kelly. Or is it? The comic never shows the future again, and the readers are left wondering if the apocalypse has been prevented, or merely changed its course.
Crisis on Infinite Earths is one of the most successful and important DC Comics stories ever told and has become the blueprint for event and crossover comics. Written by Marv Wolfman and penciled by renowned artist George Pérez, the Crisis was meant to reshape the entire DC Comics Multiverse, and reset it with a new single universe without just abandoning the old stories, instead giving them a climactic conclusion.
Crisis on Infinite Earths set the standard for crossover comics, and it has since been imitated in both Marvel and DC when resetting their comic multiverses, if not in substance and story, then at least in its style. The gripping emotional conclusion to the stories of so many beloved characters, alongside Pérez's masterful artwork make the Crisis one of the most important events in comic history.
There is no hope left in the world of Y: The Last Man. On July 17th, 2002, every single living organism with a Y chromosome instantly dies, with only two exceptions: Yorick Brown and his pet Capuchin monkey, Ampersand.
The celebrated author Brian K. Vaughan and accomplished artists Pia Guerra, Goran Sudžuka, Paul Chadwick, and Jose Marzan Jr. delivered an instant classic. The first issue alone is filled with tension, as the first panels show the panic after the androcide, only to divert and connect with men and women around the world. Knowing what is coming, audiences dread the reactions of these people they have just come to know, fully aware that all the men will die.
The Walking Dead is notable because it's really just a drama series with a zombie setting, more than it is a zombie story. Its premise revolves around demonstrating what humanity becomes when societal constructs collapse, but more importantly, it shows what we also retain: love, hope, and strength.
Writer Robert Kirkman and artists Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard created what might be one of the greatest post-apocalyptic stories ever told, and was a major player in the zombie renaissance of the mid-2000s. The Walking Dead has arguably become the face of post-apocalyptic zombie genre, even eclipsing its inspirations, Resident Evil and George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead franchise.
Watchmen remains an untouchable masterpiece. Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins created one of the most visually stunning and enthralling stories ever put into comic form due to Moore's attention to detail.
The clock is counting down in Watchmen, and the world is on the verge of a nuclear war. When the United States ace in the hole, the superhero Dr. Manhattan, becomes the victim of a media conspiracy and flees the planet, the Soviet Union seizes the opportunity to invade their neighbors. The world is saved, but only by the manipulations of Ozymandias, who destroys New York City with a monster he created to give mankind a bigger threat to unite against. Is this the price of peace? That's up to the readers to decide.
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Jackson Lockhart was born in 2000 and grew up in central Virginia. He graduated from Manchester High School in 2018, and then moved on to Longwood University where he graduated Summa Cum Laude with a concentration in creative writing. He likes to spend his free time listening to audiobooks, heavy metal, watching sci-fi or anime, reading, writing, playing video games, or spending time in nature like hiking or fishing. He is an Eagle Scout, a black belt in Taekwondo, a Lego fanatic, and a board game wiz, with a full novel he’s working on.