With so many time travelers and dimension hoppers, the DC Comics Multiverse is full of horrifying possible futures. While these alternate worlds are a hallmark of the superhero genre, DC’s terrible tomorrows are especially heart-breaking. A large number of these timelines are predicated on the failures of some of the most famous, inspirational figures in comics. Whether Superman, Batman, and DC’s other paragons of morality broke bad or failed in the face of ultimate evil, these are worlds where the good guys didn’t win. Even if DC’s heroes re-emerged to save the day, these futures are memorable for subverting the hope and the optimism that helped define the DC Universe.
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With teases of new dark worlds in DC’s crossover Dark Days: The Forge, CBR is taking a look back at some of DC’s most brutal possible futures. For this hardly comprehensive list, we’ll be pulling examples of parallel worlds and dark timelines from comics, film and TV. Since there are so many parallel realities in the DC Multiverse, we’re only going to be looking at futures that grew out of a recognizable version of a modern DC Universe. That means we won’t be including worlds based around alternate histories or the Crime Syndicate’s earth, where evil versions of DC’s heroes always ruled.
15. KINGDOM COME
Over four issues in 1996, the world of Kingdom Come became one of DC’s most famous alternate realities. Created by Alex Ross and Mark Waid, the series featured a dark future where a deadly new generation of antiheroes had replaced DC’s icons. When their recklessness caused a devastating nuclear explosion in the American Midwest, older versions of Superman and Batman led an effort to stop Magog and his antiheroes.
With a deep knowledge of DC’s history and Ross’ lush fully-painted artwork, the series was a critical and commercial success and served as a stunning critique of the grim antiheroes of the 1990s. Although many of that world’s characters died by the end of that initial series, the world has been revisited a few times, most notably in The Kingdom, a 1999 miniseries. This world’s Superman traveled to the main DC Universe in 2007 and briefly joined the Justice Society.
14. BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER
For the most part, Batman Beyond showed that the DC Animated Universe had a fairly bright future. While it had its share of problems, most people were able to lead normal lives in a technologically-advanced society. Despite that, this world was home to one of the Joker’s most horrifying schemes in the 2000 direct-to-video animated feature, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.
Although its original release was heavily edited, the uncut version of Curt Geda’s film revealed the final fates of the Joker and Tim Drake, the DCAU’s second Robin. After Drake’s Robin was kidnapped and brainwashed into becoming the Joker’s sidekick, he killed the Clown Prince of Crime. However, thanks to a microchip implanted in a young Drake’s skull, the Joker was able to digitally possess the former Robin as an adult. Although Terry McGuiness’ futuristic Batman prevailed, this film helped flesh the DCAU’s future on a chilling note.
13. DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s Dark Knight Returns revolutionized superhero comics and will likely always stand as one of the most important Batman comics ever published. In the essential miniseries, a grizzled Bruce Wayne came out of retirement to take back the streets of Gotham and continued his war for justice against a gang of Mutants, a re-emergent Joker and a government-controlled Superman.
Since that miniseries was published in 1986, Miller and other creators have revisited Dark Knight Returns with projects like 2001’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again and 2015’s Dark Knight III: The Master Race. From Kryptonian attacks to the oppressive leadership of a Lex Luthor and Brainiac-created president, this world was a harsh reality protected by grizzled versions of Batman and his allies. In a cruel, cynical twist, heroes like Superman and Dick Grayson were corrupted or misled into becoming dark reflections of their famous selves.
The cynical world of Dark Knight Returns and its sequels was a major inspiration for Zack Snyder’s 2016 slugfest, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. While Batman and Superman have traditionally been the “world’s finest” duo, both works found reasons for the two heroes to fight.
Although Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne already thought Henry Cavill’s Superman was a threat, Batman’s “Knightmare” vision helped fuel their conflict. In this extended sequence, Batman envisioned a future where Superman and the forces of the evil space god Darkseid ruled a devastated Earth. Against a backdrop of broken cities, erupting fire pits and arid wastelands, Batman and Superman both killed indiscriminately in what seemed like a prolonged conflict. Thanks to a warning from Ezra Miller’s time-traveling Flash in that same scene, the fight to keep that world from happening will likely be a part of Snyder’s Justice League, set for release later this year.
11. JUSTICE LEAGUE: ROCK OF AGES
Whether he’s on film or in comics, Darkseid is arguably the most dangerous villain in any version of the DC Universe. While the ruler of Apokolips briefly took over DC’s main Earth in the 2008 crossover Final Crisis, he conquered another reality’s Earth in the 1997 JLA story, “Rock of Ages,” by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter. In that time-twisting story, the Justice League fought Lex Luthor’s new Injustice Gang in the present day while battling the forces of Darkseid, 15 years into a dark future.
In a world where Europe was reduced to a smoldering fire pit, Earth’s population had been rendered docile by the mind-numbing Anti-Life Equation, which was broadcast on a constant loop. With the help of some present day heroes, a handful of Justice League members led a small resistance force and defeated the villain moments before the universe was destroyed.
10. ARMAGEDDON 2001
Although the year 2001 doesn’t inspire the imagination like it did in the early 1990s, Armageddon 2001 still stands as one of the more comprehensive looks at the possible futures of the DC Universe. In that 1991 crossover led by Dennis O’Neil and Archie Goodwin, one heroes killed DC’s other heroes, became the villainous Monarch and ruled the future with an iron fist. In a Terminator-esuqe story, the time-traveling Waverider traveled back to the modern DCU to stop Monarch from ever rising to power.
To figure out which hero would become Monarch, Waverider looked into the various alternate futures of Superman, Batman and their allies. While several of those futures had some dark moments, the minor, violent hero Hawk became Monarch after the death of his partner Dove. After briefly playing a major role as the villain Extant, he died in 2000, ironically, a few months shy of 2001.
9. BATMAN RED RAIN
In a story that seems shockingly obvious in retrospect, Doug Moench and Kelley Jones turned Batman into a vampire in the 1991 one-shot Batman: Red Rain. In that initial story, Batman gained vampiric abilities and killed Dracula, but remained a fairly heroic figure.
That changed in the title’s two sequels, 1994’s Batman: Bloodstorm and 1999’s Batman: Crimson Mist. In the first sequel, the undead Batman fought the Joker and Gotham’s newly vampiric crimelords. After the death of Catwoman, Batman asked Alfred to stake him through the heart to stop his bloodlust. In Crimson Mist, rampant crime forced Alfred and Commissioner Gordon to revive the vampire Batman once again. After Batman decapitated most of the villains in Arkham Asylum, Alfred, Gordon, Two-Face and Killer Croc teamed up to stop the Dark Knight. After those villains were slaughtered too, Gordon, Alfred and the undead Batman all died for the greater good.
8. SUPERMAN: AT EARTH’S END
Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth is one of Jack Kirby’s most memorable DC creations. In the 1970s series, most of humanity died in a Great Disaster, and super-evolved animals took their place at the top of the food chain. While that cult classic series ended in 1978, a version of it was revisited in 1993’s Kamandi: At Earth’s End and 1995’s Superman: At Earth’s End.
In that first miniseries by Tom Veitch and Frank Gomez, an adult Kamandi and a 150 year-old Superman worked together to defeat the forces that caused that world’s apocalypse. Superman took center stage in the follow-up special. In that critically derided story, Superman used giant guns to help a gang of humans fight mutated bat creatures, Nazi clones and a creature made from Bruce Wayne’s bones. Despite Superman’s impressive beard, this is widely considered to be one of Superman’s worst adventures.
7. JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE SUPER SEVEN
In the DC Universe, alien invasions aren’t that uncommon. While the might of Justice League and its allies is usually enough to turn them back, a pair of 1994 annuals looked at a world where DC’s heroes fell to alien invaders called the Horde. These aliens turned humanity against its heroes by threatening to kill 1,000 humans for every superhero sighting and 5,000 humans for every time a superhero fought back. In the ensuing conflict, the Green Lantern’s home Coast City was destroyed.
In Karl Kesel and Brock Hor’s Adventures of Superman Annual #6 and Kesel and Greg Luzniak’s Superboy Annual #1, Earth’s surviving heroes formed the Super Seven. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Superboy and a robot Lex Luthor led a final charge against the Malazza-Rem invaders. Everyone except Superboy, Green Lantern and Luthor perished, and Superboy took Superman’s name after they toppled the aliens’ leaders.
6. TITANS TOMORROW
In the world of “Titans Tomorrow,” another world’s Superboy evolved into another, far darker version of Superman. Created by Geoff Johns and Mike McKone in 2003’s Teen Titans #17, the Titans of Tomorrow were adult versions of the Teen Titans who became their world’s primary heroes after the Justice League perished in a “crisis,” ten years in the future.
With the United States split into two factions, the Titans of Tomorrow ruled mercilessly, torturing and executing their enemies. Although the modern Titans were briefly trapped there, they returned to the present, dedicated to preventing that world’s existence. In 2008, the Titans of Tomorrow and their Titans Army visited the modern era, where they fought the Teen Titans before teaming up against Starro the Conqueror. Although they ultimately returned to their home, the future Tim Drake and Miss Martian seemingly inspired their younger selves to form the Titans of Tomorrow
5. JUSTICE LORDS
While the Titans of Tomorrow became fascist rulers in their world, another world’s Justice League became the tyrannical Justice Lords after the death of the Flash. In “A Better World,” a two-part Justice League story, the DC Animated Universe started to fall apart when Lex Luthor was elected President of the United States. After he killed the Flash, Superman killed him to stop a world war, and the rest of the Justice Lords seized control of the Earth in a tale partially inspired by The Authority.
In the Dan Riba-directed episodes, the Lords traded places with their main universe counterparts and tried to use their violent methods in the League’s world. Although the League ultimately beat their corrupted counterparts, the Lords incursion helped give Amanda Waller and her allies the political capital to form Project Cadmus and Task Force X, the DCAU’s Suicide Squad.
4. BROTHERHOOD OF THE BAT
Using his considerable resources and intellect, Batman has successfully beaten a few plagues in his time, and did it twice in 1996 alone. One year earlier, another world’s Batman wasn’t so lucky. In 1995’s Batman: Brotherhood of the Bat, by Doug Moench, Jim Aparo and a legion of veteran Batman artists, Ra’s al Ghul killed Batman and took billions of lives by releasing a worldwide plague.
After moving to Gotham City, he tried to exterminate all crime in Gotham City by forming a League of Batmen by using Bruce Wayne’s old rejected designs. However, Tallant Wayne, Batman and Talia al Ghul’s son, infiltrated the group and took down his grandfather. In Moench and Mark Bright’s 2001 sequel, Batman: League of Batmen, Talia and Tallant led the League of Batmen in final confrontation against a more demonic Ra’s al Ghul to save what was left of the world.
3. DAMIAN WAYNE’S GOTHAM
Although Batman and Talia had children in a few different realities, a version of their most famous son, Damian Wayne, was the lone protector of a fallen world in 2007’s Batman #666. In that story by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert, Damian was the Batman of a world ravaged after 15 years of war and climactic disasters.
While Damian sold his soul to give Gotham City some measure of protection, he used deadly methods as Batman. In order to kill Damian and bring about Gotham’s destruction, Michael Lane posed as a new Batman, killed several crime bosses and brought a group of Arkham Asylum’s most violent inmates to a climate change conference. After revealing that he had covered Gotham in explosive traps, he detonated one and gutted the imposter. Although Commissioner Barbara Gordon tried to shoot him, Damian reaffirmed his commitment to Gotham until the end of the world.
2. THE NEW 52: FUTURE’S END
Another one of Batman’s most famous heirs, Batman Beyond‘s Terry McGuiness, finally made his way into the DC Universe with the time-traveling 2014 crossover The New 52: Future’s End. With work from Giffen, Brian Azzarello, Dan Jurgens, Jeff Lemire and a massive team of artists, tat crossover ran through 2014 and 2015. In the main story, McGuinness traveled back in time to prevent a future where the techno-organic entity Brother Eye turned heroes like Wonder Woman and Superman into gruesome cybernetic monstrosities.
Although McGuiness started 35 years in the future, he arrived five years too late to keep Mister Terrific from creating Brother Eye. After McGuinness’ unexpected death, an older Tim Drake continued his mission, but ultimately couldn’t keep Brother Eye from taking over the future. Over the course of Drake’s short starring stint in Batman Beyond, Brother Eye was defeated in the future and McGuiness’ true fate was revealed.
1. INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US
On the surface, there aren’t many differences between the Justice Lords and the plot of NetherRealm Studios’ 2013 game Injustice: Gods Among Us. In both, one bad day turned Superman into a killer and inspired DC’s other heroes to help him conquer the world. However, the intensity of Superman’s betrayal is what makes Injustice stand apart. In the acclaimed blockbuster game, Superman and his Regime waged war against Batman and his team of objectors.
Over 200 digital-first issues of an impressive comic adaption, creators like Tom Taylor and Brian Buccellato have expanded on the history of this universe in shocking, often heart-breaking detail. While that world’s Batman and another dimension’s Justice League were able to topple Superman’s Regime, the population of Metropolis, the Green Lantern Corps and dozens of familiar characters all met brutal ends. As the recently-released Injustice 2 suggests, this world’s darkest days might not be over yet.
Keep it locked to CBR for the latest in comics news until the end of the world. Let us know what you favorite dark DC future is in the comments below!