As a general rule in comics, villains are just about the most important part of superhero lore. They provide motivation, determine the stakes, jump start plot, and initiate narrative and character progression. But the omnipotent god of all serialized fiction is the almighty status quo and villains actually winning a pivotal, final battle would severely upset the natural order of things. Especially if that villain continuously ups the ante to the point where all of human existence is threatened by their master scheme. After all, how are comics supposed to generate excitement and interest if everyone the hero fights for is dead?
But for the sake of storytelling and character development, many villains have come frighteningly close to offing the human race several times in comic book history, be it through special comic events, plotlines, or simply because that’s what they do. And while readers and in-universe citizens alike are thankful for the heroes that manage to stop these outrageous threats to existence, it can be existentially terrifying to realize how very close to armageddon these sadistic super-criminals consistently bring the human race. With that in mind, here are 15 villains who brought humanity to the brink of utter destruction.
15. SUPERMAN (RED SON)
In Mark Millar’s alternate earth, Superman lands in the Ukraine instead of Kansas and becomes a living weapon and propaganda machine for the Soviet Union instead of America, decisively tipping the scales of the Cold War in the opposite direction. Succeeding Stalin as Soviet Premier, Superman initiates an Orwellian regime that allows him to dominate and subjugate the human race, leaving the US as the sole capitalist stronghold in the world.
Teaming up with Brainiac, Superman reluctantly invades America and is only stopped from establishing his tyrannical rule over humanity by a small, taunting note from President Lex Luthor that reminds Superman of his failings and causes him to see, for the first time, just what kind of a negative effect he’s had on the human race. If not for this note, Superman’s oppression of Earth would have been complete.
14. BLACK ADAM (52: WORLD WAR III)
Black Adam is certainly a malicious threat in the DC universe, but his evil mission is typically dominance and control of the human race, not it’s destruction. After the murder of his family, however, Black Adam goes on a serial rampage that sees him traveling the globe and destroying any living human that gets in his way. His genocidal warpath takes him from his home country of Bialya to China, actively murdering military personnel and superheroes between his massacres.
Martian Manhunter places his kill count in the millions before he even leaves Bialya. The crisis is ended when J’onn mentally disables Adam, giving the then-Captain Marvel time to hit him with the magic lightning that returns him to human form. The effects of this event were far reaching and the message it sent to the heroes and civilians of the DC Universe was clear: Don’t mess with Black Adam.
13. ULTRON (AGE OF ULTRON)
Ultron was so successful in conquering Earth and destroying humanity that the only way he could be stopped was by Wolverine and Invisible Woman traveling back in time to prevent him from being created. After returning to the present from a future where Hank Pym’s AI creation Ultron has taken over reality, Wolverine unceremoniously kills Pym.
It is only when they return to the future they came from that the two of them realize that Ultron’s control over their reality went so deep that even without him the world was decimated, this time by the witch Morgan le Fay. To fully free the world from destruction, they have to go back in time again, stop their past selves from killing Pym, and give Pym an algorithm to kill Ultron in beta. Just to stop one genocidal robot from destroying humanity.
12. MAGEDDON (JLA: WWIII)
Grant Morrison wanted his last story arc for the JLA title to be memorable so he decided to create Mageddon, a massive living weapon used by ancient and unknowable gods, to give the DC Universe its greatest threat of all time. Taking the shape of a giant ethereal head, Mageddon slowly inspires animosity and violence on whatever world it drifts towards, letting its inhabitants kill themselves off in war before destroying the planet outright.
This was its plan for earth and, due to interference from Lex Luthor’s Injustice Gang, nearly succeeded. After several heroes sacrificed their lives, nuclear war was averted, and everyone on earth is given temporary superpowers, the Justice League is able to distract and disable the cosmic warhead. Superman absorbs Mageddon’s anti-sunlight battery just before the human race destroyed itself.
11. DARKSEID (FINAL CRISIS)
Darkseid has long desired conquest over earth as he perceives a portion of his Anti-Life Equation to be somehow intrinsically tied to the planet and its people. Final Crisis was seemingly his ultimate assault on planet earth, involving the assassination of his son Orion, Darkseid becoming a black hole, and Superman using a miracle machine to summon an army of Supermen from alternate realities.
Ultimately, Darkseid is destroyed by Superman but not before he condenses earth into an event horizon, sends Batman back in time with his Omega Beams, and releases the all-consuming and corrupting Morticoccous virus. The devastation he wrecks cannot be understated and the fact that the DC Universe continues to exist after earth was literally pulled into a black hole is nothing short of physically impossible.
10. NEKRON (BLACKEST NIGHT)
The final boss at the end of DC’s “Blackest Night” event, Nekron is the physical manifestation of the esoteric concept of death. After raising an army of dead heroes and villains to serve as his minions, Nekron kidnaps the Guardians of the Universe in order to summon and kill the Entity, the sentient manifestation of life. If Nekron were to succeed in murdering his opposite, all living things in the universe would simultaneously die.
Thankfully, Sinestro and, following his failure due to his all-encompassing ego, Hal Jordan bond with the Entity and turn Nekron’s Black Lantern Corps against him, including Black Hand, Nekron’s tether to the physical plane. Without his anchor, Nekron is successfully banished, but he has arguably come the closest to wiping out humanity in the DC Universe.
9. IMPERIEX (OUR WORLDS AT WAR)
It would take something truly threatening to force the heroes of earth to enlist the help of the Apokoliptan demi-god Darkseid, but such was the case when the celestial conqueror Imperiex chose Earth to be the launching point for conquest of the universe. When the galaxy-destroying Imperiex drew close to Earth, several heroes sacrificed themselves to crack his alien-tech armor and give Darkseid a chance to strike a killing blow.
However, Braniac interfered and stole Imperiex’s power for himself, keeping the deadly threat alive. It took Superman, Darkseid, Steel, Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman, and Martian Manhunter to formulate and enact a plan to push Brainiac and Imperiex back in time to before the big bang, leaving them to be destroyed by the creation of the universe. Though he ultimately failed to destroy Earth, Imperiex’s victims include entire galaxies. Earth got lucky more than anything else.
8. PARALLAX (ZERO HOUR)
Zero Hour was DC’s answer to their notoriously fluctuating timelines. Following the destruction of Coast City, Hal Jordon adopts the power of Parallax, later revealed to be the physical manifestation of fear. With his new power and accompanying madness, Jordan tried to rewrite the entire DC timeline to prevent his misery. Though due to the machinations of virtually the entire DC roster he was unsuccessful, Jordan did manage to throw time irreparably into flux, forcing a new big bang at the beginning of time to restart the universe.
What’s particularly scary about Zero Hour was not that a former hero nearly unwrote the human race from existence, but there are some hints that he may have succeeded to a certain extent. Several of the tie-in comics ended around this period with mysteriously blank or dark pages, indicating they were simply removed from the timeline.
7. CHAOS KING (CHAOS WAR)
You know humanity is in danger of being wiped out by a cataclysmic event when the first few pages of the comic title involve the entire race being knocked unconscious. Chaos King imitates this mass sleep so he can go to war with Earth’s gods, backed by an extra-terrestrial army, unobstructed by earth’s heroes. His ultimate goal is to wipe out the universe so that the goddess Athena could remake a better one.
Fortunately, Hercules, Thor, Silver Surfer, and a few other non-humans are able to combat him and they resurrect several heroes and mutants to help them. Eventually, Hercules sacrifices his powers to seal Chaos King outside of reality to stop him. The victory was substantial considering that Chaos King had removed most of earth’s defenders before the crisis even began.
6. CIRCE (WAR OF THE GODS)
Perhaps Wonder Woman’s most dangerous and cunning enemy, Circe, the Greek goddess of magic and mayhem, unleashed her ultimate plan in the “War of the Gods” storyline. To achieve her goal of becoming the most powerful goddess, she pits the various ancient mythological pantheons against each other at the expense of humanity. Each pantheon of gods is manipulated into trying to recreate reality to reflect their unique ideologies.
Circe even manages to unmake Wonder Woman while coaxing the Olympians into destroying the Earth. If the heroes of humanity were unable to convince all the gods they had been deceived, the resulting war for supremacy would have wiped away the slate of existence. Fortunately, the gods were receptive to the humans’ warnings and turned on Circe before it was too late.
5. GALACTUS (THE GALACTUS TRILOGY)
Perhaps the most iconic world-killer in the Marvel Universe and one of Jack Kirby’s most distinct creations, the cosmic destroyer known as Galactus made his first appearance in Fantastic Four #48 when he and his herald, the Silver Surfer, begin his destruction of Earth. This involves Galactus constructing a special planet-destroying device while the Watcher helps the Fantastic Four to convert Silver Surfer.
Together, they steal the Ultimate Nullifier, a weapon capable of destroying Galactus, from the eater of worlds’ home planet. Mr. Fantastic threatens Galactus with the weapon which causes an immediate deescalation of conflict and Galactus leaves earth alone just before he completes his planet-devouring machine. Though he was driven away fairly easily in the grand scheme of things, how close Galactus came to activating his device should scare everyone in the Marvel Universe.
4. ANTI-MONITOR (CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS)
Crisis on Infinite Earths was DC’s grand solution to solidifying their vast multiverse of ‘what if?’ stories, and it was all caused by that vast entity of entropy the Anti-Monitor. With the ultimate aim of destroying the multiverse, the Anti-Monitor was capable of blowing up all but five of the infinite universes in his initial assault against all material worlds.
Over the course of the rest of the Crisis, the heroes of the remaining Earths watch as several more of their worlds are consumed by nothingness. Finally, after the noble sacrifices of several notable heroes, the Anti-Monitor was defeated and the rogue Guardian Krona inadvertently locks him within the anti-matter universe while a single earth adjusts itself to accommodate the remnant characters from dead worlds.
3. APOCALYPSE (AGE OF APOCALYPSE)
Held up as the god of mutants, Apocalypse’s rise to power and genocidal capability came about through Legion’s ploy to kill Magneto before he could turn on Charles Xavier. His mission backfired however and Xavier was killed, Magneto remained a good guy, and Legion ceased to exist. With the world’s most powerful telepath and chronopath taken out in one move, Apocalypse sets his schemes into motion to establish mutants as the true inheritors of earth.
Once mutant supremacy is established in North America, Apocalypse begins his genocide of humans. While various factions, both human and mutant continue to oppose him and some characters from his world are transported into the regular 616 continuity, Apocalypse continues to slowly consolidate his power and threatens the existence of the human race.
2. ALEXANDER LUTHOR & SUPERBOY-PRIME (INFINITE CRISIS)
After spending decades in an ageless, paradise pocket dimension with Earth-Two Superman and Lois Lane. Alex Luthor convinces a volitile and emotional Superboy-Prime to literally punch a hole in reality, kickstarting Infinite Crisis. After leaving their private dimension, the villainous duo kidnap several heroes involved in the Crisis on Infinite Earths to power a machine which will allow Alex to manipulate alternate realities, which he plans to use to mold and combine worlds to create an ultimate, perfect world.
Over the course of the resulting war, Superboy-Prime kills several heroes, nearly destroys Oa, and the Supermen from Earths One and Two fly Superboy-Prime through Krypton’s sun. Finally Luthor and Superboy-Prime are stopped, but not before they cause irreparable damage to DC’s continuity and timelines, putting every version of the human race at extreme risk.
1. THANOS (INFINITY GAUNTLET)
There have been several occasions where the MCU’s big bad nearly wiped out humanity to flirt with mistress Death herself, but he never got closer than the story line where he first wielded his signature weapon: the Infinity Gauntlet. Once he has assembled all six of the mighty Infinity Stones and affixed them in his glove, Thanos casually wipes out half the universe with a simple snap of his fingers, demonstrating not only his pathological desire to appease Death, but the full measure of his cosmically enhanced power.
To keep him from destroying earth, Adam Warlock and Silver Surfer lead a cosmic army of various champions and heroes into battle against the mad titan. His reign of terror only ends when he transcends mortality and becomes a celestial being, leaving his gauntlet to be fought over and ultimately dismantled by the Living Tribunal. But still…half the universe…gone…just like that.
Are there any other despots that almost killed the universe? Let us know in the comments!
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