The Avengers: They assemble, they stand in circles and they punch giant alien menaces in the face. Even Infinity War, which is being portrayed as the darkest of all of the Avengers films, still seems like a fun ride, brighter and happier than say, Independence Day. Except, like Independence Day, the Avengers stories told in the comics often involve entire cities being destroyed, the world irrevocably changed and the heroes emotionally broken. That's fun in its own morbid way, so let's look at some of the grimmest Avengers comics you (probably) won't see adapted for the big screen.
Infinity War will throw the might of every Avenger against Thanos and honestly, we all expect some casualities. But what would happen if the Avengers lost, full-stop? That's the idea behind "Thanos Wins" by Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw and Antonio Fabela.
Unlike the other titles on our list, this one doesn't deal heavily with the Avengers themselves, because the story begins long after the superheroes -- all of them, and even Earth itself -- fell at Thanos' hand.
Thanos has been positioned as the ultimate big bad. While we haven't really seen him in action yet, the movies have pretty much implied he's Satan, except purple, and with a weirder family life. He wants to kill literally half of the universe, at minimum, and is willing to do anything to reach his goal. The movies haven't shown his motivation, but the comics sure do -- and it's Death. Yeah, check that capitalized D. Death is a pretty, pale (of course) woman who Thanos is in love with, and will do anything to be with, include ending the entire Universe.
Which is what happens in Thanos Wins. See, the story follows Thanos being teleported into the future, where King Thanos asks him for help. Young Thanos finds that Old Man Thanos has killed everyone in the Universe, making a throne of Galactus' head.
The only holdouts are a loony cosmic Ghost Rider formerly known as Frank Castle and a feral Hulk that King Thanos has been keeping as a pet.
Young Thanos has been summoned to help deal with the Silver Surfer, who comes at the pair of Thanoses (Thanii?) wielding Mjolnir. It doesn't go well for the Silver Surfer.
You'd think that this would be the best possible future for Young Thanos, but it's actually something of a nightmare. To become so weak as to beg for help is as pitiful an existence as Thanos can think of, and so he returns to his own time determined to make sure this future never comes to pass. As it turns out, even when Thanos winds up the literal last person in the entire universe, having killed everyone else, he decides he could do better.
When the Avengers first came about in the Ultimate comics universe, they were called The Ultimates. Remember, this was the aughts and we were all real cool and edgy back then. Eventually the Ultimates disbanded, and a new secret black ops team was created (again, we were all real cool and edgy). This new team featured Blade, Punisher and a merciless Captain America, all headed up by Nick Fury. They call themselves the Avengers, which... actually fits them a lot better than it does the original Avengers.
Because this is a comic book, the Avengers eventually split into two teams -- the New Ultimates and the Avengers. And then, they fight. What else would they do?
Normally these kinds of brawls amount to about as much as two siblings screaming "no you are" at each other. But this time, there's an actual casualty. While Captain America is fighting Nick Fury on a bridge, Spider-Man swings by to help out. Spidey's senses kick and and he throws himself into Cap, catching a sniper rifle shot to the side.
The assailant is the Punisher, who is so horrified by his accidental actions that he instantly tries to commit suicide by cop. Don't worry, though, Frank Castle is okay -- the War Machine blows up the bridge and everyone gets away to fight some more.
Except Spidey. He finds out that the Green Goblin -- who in the Ultimate universe is a a superpowered, fire shooting, unkillable monster -- is heading to kill his family. Wounded, with the Avengers still throwing dirt at each other, he goes to fight Goblin. In the end, Spidey perishes, Cap gets slapped in the face, and the Avengers stand around going, "Dang, that... that didn't work out too well. Ah, better luck next time!" That about covers typical comic book crossovers for you. Everything but the part where a teenager dies.
Ultimatum isn't just one of the darkest Avengers stories, it's one of the darkest stories in comics, period. Another tale in the Ultimate universe, the story unfolds after Magneto has lost his children... and gained Mjolnir. In a ridiculous-even-for-comics move, Mags uses Thor's hammer and his own magnetism to reverse Earth's polarity, causing tsunamis to rise up and destroy several major cities, including New York.
You know who lives in New York City? Just about every single Marvel hero! The casualty list for Ultimatum is enormous, and it includes Nightcrawler, Beast, Dazzler, Daredevil -- and that's just in the first tidal wave. It only gets worse gets worse. See, Magneto is also working with a bunch of other supervillains, including the Blob, who takes advantage of the chaos and uh, eats Wasp.
The deaths continue to pop off left and right. Ultimatum is the Ultimate unvierse's fire sale, and everyone must go. After seeing Wasp die, her sometimes-lover Ant-Man turns Giant and eats the Blob. Dormammu pops Doctor Strange's head like a grape. Wolverine gets vaporized. Magneto gets his head blown off by Cyclops, who himself gets his head blown off in the epilogue. After all was said and done, Doctor Doom still went unpunished. Knowing that the Fantastic Four's archrival manipulated the events that started Ultimatum, The Thing made a trip to Latveria.
It's one of the most bleak, unrelentingly miserable comics ever written, and it's ostensibly an Avengers comic. Only here, when the Avengers avenge things, they mean that with all of the darkness that word conveys. The comic makes Sin City look pleasant. In the end, the heroes haven't won, the villains haven't won, and most everyone is dead or psychically broken. Can't wait to see the MCU adapt this one!
Once, there was a comic called Marvels. Two killer creators, Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, told the tale of the Marvel Universe from a grounded perspective -- a reporter who had lived through and seen it all -- and it was beautiful, wondrous, and powerful. Then... there's Ruins. They both depict basically the same story, except the original is a beautiful souffle and Ruins is a bunch of rotten eggs festering on the floor.
We all know that the story of the Marvel Universe is impossible, but Ruins shows just how horrifying it could be if it were brought closer to "our" world. Captain Marvel is dying of cancer in an internment camp. Peter Parker is a radioactive, cancer-ridden stalker. What about mutants? Oh, they're locked in prison by Wilson "The Kingpin" Fisk, who has a solid idea on how to deal with their powers: destroying their body parts. Say goodbye to your eyes, Cyclops. Sorry about the lobotomy, every psychic on the planet.
Bruce Banner has it pretty rough too. The gamma radiation that turned him into a giant green monster in the regular Marvel Universe instead warps the "Hulk" into a hideous living blob of flesh and bone.
Wolverine, isn't even that lucky -- his skin falls off his body in chunks, due to a bad reaction to the adamantium.
Oh, the Avengers? Don't worry, they're here too -- as a sort of terrorist group who die in the opening of the book. Johnny Blaze set himself on fire and died. Professor X is evil and taken control of the world. The Fantastic Four all ate it. Thor is a drugged-out cult leader. Hawkeye was executed, Black Panther is in jail, Bucky is a cannibal. You get the idea.
This isn't the downer ending for the Avengers, this is the downer ending for the entire Marvel Universe and every single one of its heroes. This is including the reporter, who dies alone in an alley after Spider-Man gives him cancer.
But maybe the darkest chapter in Avengers history came during in-canon comics.
When you hear of a group named The Illuminati, you don't typically think, "Save me from this burning building!" Instead, you probably imagine elites deciding the fate of the world in a shadowy chamber, working to control everyone and everything. That's exactly what the Illuminati is in the Marvel Comic Universe, except that it consists of geniuses like Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Black Panther, Namor, Beast, and a couple others. They're the good guys! Sort of.
The story kicks off in Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting's "New Avengers," then the aforementioned cabal discovers that different "multiverses" are colliding, with Earth as the point of incursion. It works, practically, as another Earth appearing in the sky and slowly crashing into the prime Earth -- resulting in both multiverses being destroyed.
Except... the Avengers are here. They'll stop it, right? Heh. See, the Illuminati don't tell the rest of the Avengers for a long-ass time, because they're trying to saving the world themselves. Turns out the ways they want to go about saving the world isn't very nice. In one case they let Galactus eat a planet on an incursion path.
Another time, Stephen Strange turns into a demon and kills all of the alternate Earth's heroes (who are Justice League pastiches). After which time, Namor sets off a bomb on the alternate Earth, killing everything on it. Namor murdered an entire Earth.
In a fun twist, it turns out the incursions are actually unstoppable, and every single bad deed that the Illuminati and associated heroes did, including destroying an entire planet not unlike their own, was all for nothing.
Meanwhile, Captain America -- who was momentarily working with the Illuminati, before they wiped his mind after he took a stand against planeticide -- takes the Avengers still loyal to him, what's left of SHIELD, and hunts down the Illuminati -- who have at this point teamed up with Thanos!
The entire story ends with Captain America and Tony Stark punching each other to death, as the final two multiverses... end. So it's pretty much Civil War, except not at all, and a thousand times worse. Oh, and did we mention, the Infinity War directors want to do this flick next? Sounds like it would be even bleaker than, well, Infinity War.