The future is a scary place. That’s what comics would have you believe anyway, with countless timelines presented over the years depicting, death, destruction, and dystopia seemingly minutes away from the world of the present day. That’s all part of the fun though: after all, there’s hardly any drama involved when we all know we’re heading to a perfect utopia, right? The dark, twisted vision of a world yet to come isn’t a new trope, and it’s certainly been a staple of comics storytelling for years now, from stories like "Days of Future Past" and "Old Man Logan" to DC’s Future’s End and all that’s in between (a number of which have been adapted into movies and TV shows, increasing the popularity).
What happens, though, when that dark future affects the characters themselves? There are those worlds so twisted and oppressive that they seep into the very soul of heroes and villains alike, distorting them beyond all recognition. Comics, TV shows and games have all dabbled in these dark visions, which often seem to involve them traveling back in time and troubling their present day counterparts. It is those characters we take a look at today, in 15 of the darkest, most twisted future versions of your favorite heroes!
16 OLD MAN BANNER
When "Old Man Logan" first unfolded back in 2008 (written by Mark Millar with art by Steve McNiven), it would prove to be so popular with fans that it would influence a movie less than 10 years later. As is always the case, however, some things don’t survive the transition from script to screen, and this grisly villain will, unfortunately, remain on the page. In the story, Banner’s hillbilly grandchildren own the land that Logan and his family live on, and when the incestuous hulk-lings murder said family, Wolverine finally unsheathes his claws and goes on an old fashioned rampage.
Once Logan’s carved through the kids, Old Man Banner shows up, stronger than ever and driven mad by Gamma poisoning. He easily beats Wolverine and ends the fight by eating him! Logan regenerates, however, inside Banner’s stomach and claws his way out, bringing a gruesome end to this twisted character.
In the comics, Savitar was a test pilot for an experimental supersonic jet that got struck by lightning and imbued with the power of super speed. In another case of the adaptation straying from the source, however, we’re looking at the version recently seen in The Flash TV show.
In the Arrow-verse, Savitar is the emo future version of Barry Allen caught in a nasty case of causal displacement. A broken loop in the time stream following the death of Iris West caused this version of Barry Allen to become the “Future Flash,” naming himself Savitar after the Hindu God of motion because, and we quote, “God feels no pain.” His plan then becomes to murder the still-alive Iris in order to ensure his continued existence, traveling back to the present and causing havoc to his younger, less-emo self.
This entry subverts the trope a little, as Genocide is a present day threat created from the future corpse of Wonder Woman after her body is stolen by Ares and brought back in time. It happened in the middle of Gail Simone’s run on the series, in a storyline called “Rise of the Olympian.”
Using the powers of both science and magic, Ares imbues the body of Wonder Woman with energy from soil samples, each of which had been plucked from the sites of great genocides across the world; Auschwitz, Darfur, and Rwanda among others. Genocide is resurrected as an agent of war for Ares, and she easily defeats Wonder Woman when they first meet. She also puts her ally Etta Candy in a coma and stealing Diana’s Lasso of truth.
Magus is a classic case of "if you want something doing right, do it yourself." In this case, who better to become your arch-nemesis than yourself? That’s the case with Magus, who’s the evil future version of Marvel’s Space Jesus, Adam Warlock.
Warlock gets two origins of sorts. Originally, he was created by the mysterious Enclave in a classic Fantastic Four issue by Stan and Jack. After he breaks free of their experiments and journeys into space, however, he comes across the High Evolutionary, who bestows upon him one of the Infinity Stones known as the Soul Gem. It’s this act that creates Magus, as in the far off future the Soul Gem has driven Warlock insane, causing him to travel back in time and become the head of the twisted Universal Church of Truth.
In the Young Avengers series, it’s prophesied that Billy Caplan, aka Wiccan and one of Scarlet Witch’s magical sons (maybe), would eventually become the Demiurge: an ancient sentient life force of Earth and future omnipotent force. This prophecy is uncovered by young Loki who attempts to tap into this prophecy to return his own powers.
Later, in Bobby Da Costa’s New Avengers team, Wiccan’s body is invaded by Lovecraftian old God Moridun. This invasion, while initially repelled, leaves enough of a dark presence behind that Billy decides to embrace a new code name -- Demiurge. It’s only when the Avengers from the future travel back in time to stop him that Billy realizes Moridun is still infecting his mind. In the dark future the Avengers have traveled from, Demiurge is nothing but an evil shell for Moridun’s overpowering sentience.
11 TITANS TOMORROW
As you may have already figured out in this list, time travel can be confusing. This is no more true than when you’re jumping around within your own timeline, meeting possible future versions of yourself. That’s what happened to the Teen Titans ,when they miscalculated a time jump and bumped into less-than-pleasant versions of themselves from 10 years in their future.
In the storyline “Titans Tomorrow” by Geoff Johns and Mike McKone, the young supergroup is traveling back from the 31st century when an accident returns them to a dystopian version of their future, 10 years from what they consider the present day. In this new future, the adult versions of themselves have become fascistic, violent vigilantes, so when the present day heroes return home, this revelation causes them to disband, not realizing that it’s their disbanding that sets them on this dark path in the first place.
10 IRON LAD
Another subversion of the trope. Iron Lad, one of the Young Avengers alongside Wiccan, Hulkling, and others, originally starts the series as the team’s resident Iron Man analog. It’s only later that the truth of his origin is revealed: Iron Lad is the younger version of Kang the Conqueror, near immortal master of time and eternal nemesis of the Avengers.
Kang is a confusing character at the best of times, sometimes intentionally so. He originates in the future and has many different versions of himself plucked from various points in his own timeline, that Kang himself is sometimes seen as fighting against his own destiny to become Immortus. Iron Lad, a version of himself younger still, finds out about his blood-soaked future as Kang and travels back in the timestream, teaming up with the Young Avengers to attempt to avoid his destiny.
9 LORD DRAKKON
The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comics from Boom have been fantastic. If you’re a fan of the original series and you’re not reading these issues, you’re really missing out. Saying that, if you’ve not read them yet, maybe skip this one as, yes, we’re about to spoil the identity of the villainous future Ranger, Lord Drakkon.
The main thrust of the series follows the integration of Tommy Oliver as the newly appointed Green Ranger, following his initial brainwashing by the evil Rita Repulsa. Lord Drakkon, however, comes from a future where Tommy didn’t take the Red Ranger’s offer to join the team, instead choosing to run away. This led to him being found by Rita, who twists Tommy into an evil version of the White Ranger and uses him to destroy the Rangers and Zordon, and with no one to oppose him, Drakkon soon conquers the Earth in Rita’s name.
8 BLACK BEETLE
By now we’ve established the trope of a dark future version of a beloved hero, coming back in time to antagonize their past selves. Black Beetle is a unique case, however, as he is a villain that knows you know this, and uses that knowledge against you.
Originally confronting Booster Gold, Black Beetle claims to be a version of Blue Beetle from the future, who’s come back in time to save Ted Kord from death at the hands of Maxwell Lord. Booster Gold gathers the Beetles from the present and travels back, succeeding in rescuing Kord. It’s only then that they realize that this Black Beetle isn’t who he claims: he’s actually a member of the Time Stealers, manipulating the heroes into creating a dark new timeline where his future enemy Jaime Reyes never becomes Blue Beetle.
7 CEO SPIDER-MAN
While there is undoubtedly a portion of the fanbase that considers the current iteration of The Amazing Spider-Man -- CEO of Parker Industries and globe-trotting, gadget-reliant Tony Stark-lite such as he is in Dan Slott’s run -- to be a dark future version of the hero they love, we’re actually referring to the version seen in the 2011 Activision game Spider-Man: Edge of Time.
In the convoluted plot of Edge of Time, current Spider-Man and the Spider-Man of 2099, Miguel O’Hara, join forces against Anti-Venom, Doctor Octopus and a giant time-storm affecting both of their worlds. It all transpires that the CEO of evil corporation Alchemax is an older version of Parker, who’s orchestrated the time-storm in order to undo the mistakes of the past and rewrite history in his own image.
6 BROTHER EYE
This isn’t so much a hero corrupted in the future, as a future corruption of a hero's invention. Thirty-five years into the future of DC’s New 52 timeline, Batman Beyond, Terry McGinnis lives in a world overrun by Brother Eye, a twisted sentience initially created by Mr. Terrific that converts the majority of Earth’s heroes into evil cyborgs. McGinnis travels back in time to stop this apocalyptic future, only to miscalculate and end up five years further on than where he intended.
It’s this dark and confusing 5-years-from-now timeline that forms the backbone of the Future’s End event from 2014. Terry's Batman has to attempt to stop Mr. Terrific from completing the research that leads to the birth of the corrupt Brother Eye, although his attempts unintentionally lead to the very thing he was trying to prevent.
5 PUNISHER: THE END
This may not be the story that comes to mind when you think of the final Frank Castle tale. Punisher: The End takes place in the apocalyptic wasteland left behind after the nuclear holocaust of World War III, and on a list populated by bleak, alternate futures, the world depicted in this 2004 one-shot story by Garth Ennis and Richard Corben is perhaps the darkest of all.
Imprisoned in Sing-Sing when the bombs drop, Frank is sheltered from the blasts by a high-security fallout shelter. When he emerges, he travels to New York and soon comes face to face with The Coven, a group of influential men Frank holds responsible for the war. These men are all that’s left of humanity, but The Punisher does what he does best and kills them all. Because of his own imminent death by radiation poisoning, Frank effectively kills all that is left of the human race.
4 DOOM 2099
The whole 2099 line of Marvel comics from the early '90s is an examination of a bleak, somewhat cynical world not too far removed from our own. Spider-Man 2099 was among the more resilient characters to come out of the era, but Doom is the only character that is the same guy as he is in the present day.
Appearing suddenly in the year 2099, Victor Von Doom soon adapts to his surroundings, figuring out that he disappeared around a century earlier... except he didn’t... except maybe he did? There’s a whole storyline that tries to convince Doom (and the reader) that he’s not the real deal, but he’s soon established to be none other than Von Doom. If we had any lingering doubts, he decides that the best way to save this future world is to conquer, claiming the presidency of the United States relatively easily.
3 INJUSTICE SUPERMAN
The Injustice series of digital first comics (based on the hit game franchise of the same name) is a surprisingly good series and one that isn’t afraid to go to some extremely dark places. Sure, it takes liberties with the core of some of the characters, but only so much as your average Elseworlds tale, so it’s all good.
The Injustice games are set in a future that has been overrun by a fascistic dictator Superman and his closest allies, with only Batman and a handful of other heroes and former villains allied against him. The comics series travels back to uncover just how this twisted world came to be and we see Clark, under the influence of the Joker, unknowingly murder Lois and their unborn child. This sends Superman on a path where the only way he sees a perfect world is if he rules with an iron fist.
2 THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
Widely regarded as a seminal piece of work, Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s The Dark Knight Returns is a grim look into the future of the Caped Crusader, witnessing an aged Bruce Wayne pulled out of retirement for one last fight.
While the story itself is pitch-perfect, the world that Batman lives in is far from where you imagine Bruce to be in his declining years. It absolutely fits on this list of bleak, cynical dystopias, as it would appear that despite all the efforts of Batman in the present, Gotham will only get worse and worse. This version of the Dark Knight is colder, crueler and more jaded by a city driven to madness, and it’s a version also captured in the movies: its overall tone, not to mention the battle against the Man of Steel is a direct influence on 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
1 MAESTRO HULK
The second Hulk on our list, this time a lot less gruesome and a lot more calculating. Created by Peter David and George Perez for the classic Hulk story “Future Imperfect,” Maestro shares some similarities with Old Man Banner in that he lives in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and he’s been driven to madness by Gamma poisoning.
What separates him from (and arguably elevates him above) Old Man Banner is that he’s retained the smarts of Bruce Banner, and taken on the role of malevolent monarch. Also, he sports a cool beard and calls himself The Maestro, so what’s not to love? He’s proven popular enough to make the jump into other books and other timelines, appearing everywhere from Spider-Man 2099 to Secret Wars, and was last seen in the fantastic Contest of Champions series, pitting displaced heroes against each other in a game against The Collector.
Which other twisted versions of superheroes do you love? Let us know in the comments!