Captain America leaps into the future this week after Cap was imprisoned in a block of ice and set afloat in the ocean once more in Captain America #697. He’s not moving ahead only a few months or years though; the new story will place Cap far beyond his contemporary setting just like his original freezing. While we aren’t certain exactly what this future Marvel universe will hold for the hero, it has been promised as nothing good. Very few heroes remain and those that do, like The Hulk and The Thing, have been reshaped by calamitous events. Society appears to be on the brink, and Captain America will have to fight to secure the values and ideals in which he believes.
Dystopian futures are a classic plot in superhero comics, and especially at Marvel Comics. In the superhero universe where capes seem more like everyday people and the globe is primarily populated by real countries, cities, and politicians, it’s much easier to see the world going awry. Even with literal gods like Thor and superpowered kings like Black Panther, Marvel seems like the universe where peace and prosperity
To celebrate a new addition to this proud tradition of dystopias, we are looking back at some of the longest lasting and most revered examples produced by Marvel Comics. For more than 30 years this trope has been used in stories of mutants and
Created by: Chris Claremont and John Byrne
First Appearance: X-Men (vol. 1) #141
This is truly the urtext of Marvel dystopias. While “Days of Future Past” only lasted a few issues, it has remained one of the most well-loved X-Men stories ever and features all of the key elements of an alternate Marvel timeline. There are terrible extrapolations from current events, radically different and deceased superheroes, and abandoned cityscapes galore. Though perhaps the single most important element it introduced was the reflection on current comics. The Kitty Pryde who witnesses this story is the same Kitty who exists in mainstream continuity. Rather than letting this world exist in a vacuum, she took her experiences back to the present in order to save the day. In this way the world of “Days of Future Past” becomes a dystopia where lessons can still be learned and heroism can win the day.
Created by: Fabian Nicieza, Andy Kubert, and Ron Garney
First Appearance: X-Men (vol. 2) #40
“Age of Apocalypse” may exist in the same comics as “Days of Future Past”, but nothing could be a greater contrast. While both stories have their fandoms, this alternate Earth was all about scope and spectacle. The change in timelines was an event that took over the complete X-Men line for a summer and has been continued in various forms ever since. It hinges on the single difference of Professor Xavier’s survival of an assassination attempt, without which the world spins into chaos and war. Much of the joy in this series comes from seeing how a truly apocalyptic war changes all of the X-Men cast and how out of control a world with no tomorrow can become. This is one event that lives up to its title.
Created by: Jim Krueger, Alex Ross, and John Paul Leon
First Appearance: Earth X #0
Earth X is a less crazy, more dispiriting future of the Marvel universe. While things are bad, many of the changes witnessed by readers (via a blind Uatu and Machine Man) are saddening in their ordinary nature. Peter Parker has grown a gut and Wolverine and Jean Grey are in a loveless marriage. The special spark of these superhero comics fades in order to create a “realistic” future for Marvel Comics. The many takes on different hero’s futures are surprising, and some of their redemptions even more so. Earth X remains an exceedingly strange comic, and one that offers a unique take on the notion of dystopia.
Created by: Peter David and Rick Leonardi
First Appearance: Spider-Man 2099 (vol. 1) #1
The world of 2099 is an example of why comics in the '90s aren’t half as bad as many people say. While the multiple series started without much of a clear direction, they resulted in some incredible stories. 2099 was originally set about 107 years in the future, and it was a cyberpunk vision of America that was dominated by corporations. With only 81 years to go, many parts of that future are starting to seem prescient. Many of the characters were reimagined versions with only loose connections to their predecessors, but these new iterations of Doom, Spider-Man, and The Hulk have all spun outside of this one dystopia to become important figures in Marvel Comics.
Created by: Mark Millar and Greg Land
First Appearance: Ultimate Fantastic Four #21
There’s nothing more dystopian than a zombie-dominated Earth like the one that first appeared in Ultimate Fantastic Four. In this take on the zombie mythos, characters kept their powers and intellect, but lost their humanity, resulting in some very dangerous man-eating monsters. It was such a popular concept that it spun off into a series of surprisingly hilarious mini-series. This future features all the gore a horror fan could want along with some ironic takes on classic Marvel characters. It is by far one of the most accessible and generally enjoyable futures at Marvel, no matter how bad it gets.
Created by: Peter David and George Perez
First Appearance: The Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect #1
The Maestro has almost become as popular as The Hulk over the past couple of decades, and it’s easy to see why. Everything from The Maestro’s dominant stature to his impressive trophy room make for a great villain. He and his world also reflect the worst nightmares of Bruce Banner, as science destroys the world and the monster becomes truly monstrous. This is a dystopia tailor-made for The Hulk, but one that also reveals why so many characters at Marvel fear the often heroic figure too.
Created by: Mark Millar and Steve McNiven
First Appearance: Wolverine (vol. 3) #660comments
Also known as The Wastelands, the future portrayed in “Old Man Logan” has quickly become one of the most popular dystopias at Marvel Comics. It was a surefire hit when introduced in the pages of Wolverine, stacked with some gruesome reimaginings of heroes and villains in a world gone to hell. This future offers plenty of fodder for the presents, as seen in Old Man Logan, and as its own superpowered Western setting, as seen in Old Man Hawkeye. It is one Marvel dystopia that’s bound to join the all-time greats as we continue to get more stories from this ravaged vision of America.