If decades worth of Marvel and DC comic books have taught us anything, it’s that true heroes never give up, especially when the fate of the entire planet hangs in the balance. It goes without saying that we wholeheartedly support this dogged commitment to saving the day... except where certain alternate realities are concerned. Indeed, we kinda wish our favorite costumed adventurers had known when to call it quits and stop fighting to salvage these particular divergent worlds.
It sounds harsh, but let’s be real here: while the mainstream Marvel and DC Universes are built on the idea that good will ultimately defeat evil, that’s the opposite of how many of their variant counterparts work. With this in mind, we’ve rounded up a list of the Marvel and DC alternate realities that are downright impossible to fix... and woe betide the poor masked do-gooder who tries.
10 DC: Earth-3
In most alternate realities, it can feel like the odds are stacked against our heroes…but on Earth-3, they actually are. Home to the Justice League’s villainous doppelgangers, the Crime Syndicate, Earth-3 is a place were the natural order itself has sided with evil!
That’s what makes it so heart-breaking to watch the valiant efforts of this world’s greatest hero (a noble incarnation of Lex Luthor) to bring the Crime Syndicate down: because we know he’s destined to fail. Not only does Earth-3 symbolize the DC Universe seen through a mirror (very) darkly, but there’s no amount of polish capable of making it shine even slightly brighter.
9 Marvel: Marvel Zombies
The prospect of a world overrun by zombies is bad enough – but a world overrun by zombies who also happen to be Marvel’s entire stable of superheroes and villains? That’s downright terrifying. It’s also the state of play in Earth-2149, better known as the setting for the various Marvel Zombies outings published over the years.
Seriously: nothing can make this reality better. For starters, Earth-2149’s civilian population is now extinct, so eradicating its reanimated residents is a decidedly futile gesture. What’s more, attempts by external forces like the Ultimate Fantastic Four to do so have only winded up endangering other, uninfected universes, instead, so we can all agree Earth-2149 is best left to its own devices!
8 DC: Multiverse-2
There’s an old saying that goes “Where there’s life, there’s hope”. It’s hard to disagree with that, but we’d argue that the reverse is equally true: where there’s no life, there’s no hope, either. Multiverse-2 falls squarely in this category, as it was completely obliterated before fans even got the chance to see it!
Multiverse-2’s existence was first revealed in The Multiversity limited series, when mysterious (and unfathomably powerful) baddie the Empty Hand casually lets slip that he’s already destroyed it. Since you can’t repair something that no longer exists, it’s safe to say that Multiverse-2 is now a lost cause. Unknown alternate DC multiverse, we hardly knew ye.
7 Marvel: Age Of Apocalypse
Mention Earth-295 to the average X-Men fan and you’ll receive a blank stare in return. But drop the title Age of Apocalypse – the crossover event that took place on said alternate Earth – and their eyes will immediately light up with comprehension.
That’s hardly surprising, though: while the numerical designation of the various Marvel worlds is far from common knowledge, even the most casual of readers will be familiar with one of its most famous irreparable realities.
In fairness, the X-Men exhausted virtually every trick in the book trying to turn things around on Earth-295 – so much so that there was always a glimmer of hope for the future. But in the end, hitting the reset button was the only practical option, and while Jean Grey managed to preserve this reality, its inevitable descent into bedlam implies it’s an intrinsically dystopian environment.
6 DC: Bizarro’s World
The Bizarro World is also known as “Htrae” (y’know, “Earth” spelled backward), so right off the bat, it’s obvious we’re not dealing with a top shelf reality here. Currently designated Earth 29, this cube-shaped world’s society is founded on the topsy-turvy “logic” espoused by its namesake and champion, imperfect Superman clone Bizarro.
That’s what makes fixing Bizarro World such a futile endeavor: from its distorted inhabitants’ point of view, everything is already perfect just the way it is. When the locals vehemently advocate chaos over order, there’s not much you can do to bring about meaningful, long-term change.
5 Marvel: House Of M
Depending on your point of view, Earth-58163 actually represents a marked improvement over the Marvel Universe proper. That’s because this is where the House of M storyline went down – which saw an unhinged Scarlet Witch reshape reality so that the formerly persecuted mutant subspecies now called the shots.
This might sound good in theory, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that with the tables turned in their favor, it wouldn’t take long for Homo superior to start mistreating their one-time persecutors.
Perhaps the ideal solution to this problem would have been to convince Wanda to tweak reality further until a utopian status quo was achieved. But given the inherent risks involved with additional cosmic meddling, sitting back while she reversed her handiwork was undoubtedly the prudent play.
4 DC: Flashpoint
It says a lot about how crummy the alternate timeline presented in Flashpoint is when you consider that the crossover’s protagonist, the Flash, is pretty committed to erasing it from the get-go. No joke: although he does half-heartedly raise the idea of devising a contingency plan, Barry Allen has virtually zero interest fighting for the infernal reality he’s awakened in.
But then, why would he? Thanks to an ongoing war between Atlantis and Themyscira, the UK is a warzone, Europe is underwater, and America is on the brink of catastrophe. So basically, the entire planet is going to Hell in a handbasket, which means the Scarlet Speedster is right to pursue to his reboot-based agenda.
3 Marvel: Earth-4023
Debuting in 2001, Exiles sees its titular dimension-hopping supergroup tasked with rectifying so-called “hiccups” that pose a threat to the integrity of the wider Marvel Multiverse. This effectively positions the Exiles as the foremost authority on fixing alternate realities…and even they gave up on Earth-4023.
Not that you can blame them. Decimated by a planet-wide nuclear holocaust, this desolate world is completely uninhabitable save for its lone occupant: King Hyperion, a psychotic tyrant with powers comparable Marvel’s toughest powerhouse, the Sentry.
2 DC: Dark Multiverse
Up until now, we’ve concerned ourselves predominantly with damned worlds or universes – but what about an entire multiverse that’s quite literally cursed? If such a concept is too much for you to bear, then we strongly advise you to avoid all mention of the Dark Multiverse!
A fundamentally corrupt collection of parallel universes birthed out of every malignant thought and action in creation itself, the Dark Multiverse is as unstable as it is rotten to the core. As such, its countless worlds are doomed to slowly wither and die – but not before their denizens are forced to live out nightmarish lives that make a mockery of the prime DC Universe.
1 Marvel: Punisher: The End
Even measured against the oppressively bleak standards set by the vast majority of modern Punisher comic books, the alternate reality seen in Punisher: The End can’t be topped for sheer nihilistic horror.
In this version of Earth's future – subsequently labelled Earth-40616 – nearly everyone has kicked the bucket after a series of hydrogen bombs were detonated across the globe. Pretty much the only people to survive are the Punisher himself, Frank Castle, and The Coven, a bunker of crooked politicians and dirty businessmen.
Slowly succumbing to radiation poisoning, Frank decides to bump off The Coven before he croaks, and – surprising exactly no one – he succeeds. His mission accomplished, the aged vigilante is consumed by flames, bringing both humanity and this whole sorry tale to a soul-destroying end.