Marvel Ruins: An Exercise in Cynicism

Ruins book cover
Cover of Ruins.

There are some works that do read as though the people behind them have an axe to grind not just with readers but the characters themselves.

A clear example of this is “The Boys” by Garth Ennis. Much has been said about the mean-spirited portrayal of superheroes in The Boys comic which found a way to make every superhero a homosexual(derogatory), a drug addict, an abuser, or completely pathetic.

But before The Boys, there was Marvel Ruins and it in many ways was what its successor couldn’t be by virtue of using name-brand heroes not pastiches.

In the beginning, there was darkness.

Marvel Ruins was created as a parody of Marvels, which was understood as a “lighter” story even though it delved into darkness on its own merit. But while Marvels was a celebration of what made comic stories good, Marvel Ruins sought to show audiences exactly how bad these universes could be.

Comic strip

One thing you cannot take away from the series. As a whole is, the art style is immaculate. It really does convey a true sense of despair, disgust, vileness, and sickness.

Illustrated and Colored by Terese Nilsen, Cliff Nielsen, and Chris Moeller. It is a story that truly is carried by its art. It just blows the writing out of the water. Even if there was no dialogue in the story, you can still feel the visceral sense from the illustrations coloring the paneling that this is a world of just bleak antipathy.

Plot?

Characters

The story takes place in an alternate timeline to the mainline Marvel universe, and can be best summarized as “everything went wrong“. This isn’t a few bad breaks, this is a universe governed by Murphy’s Law.

Ruins is framed as a story being researched by the Daily Bugle reporter Phil Sheldon. He goes around meeting with various characters and learning of how things got so bad.

Marvel is often derided for its playfulness with scientific reality. After all, well, Marvel is willing to explain its universe. It doesn’t take too long, for it to very clearly be disassociated from any sort of real science, even if it is able to touch upon some things. Ruins instead plays it the other way where the scientific experiments as ridiculous as they are, fail badly. This is most notable in issue 2 where the Fantastic 4 being hit with radiation in outer space doesn’t grant them superpowers it instead kills them.

The bleakness of this universe is heavily implied to be traced back to that one incident because, for a long time, the Fantastic 4 were the first family, not just of Marvel but of comics themselves. Able to introduce and start long-running publications for so many characters. Most notable of which is Spider-Man who got his start in a Fantastic Four comic.

Ruins

So maybe things would’ve been better even for unrelated characters if they lived?

While the story just sort of delves into darkness and depressing endings for characters, we know and love or twist them into the most horrid forms of themselves. Whether this is Bruce Banner, just being a mass of pulsating tumors, or Jean Gray being a prostitute who is killed by Nick Fury before he kills himself. The Avengers being blown up by the US government. Wolverine, being poisoned constantly and dying constantly from the adamantium skeleton he has. Johnny Blaze committed suicide, setting his face on fire. The Silver Surfer ripped his own chest open. What purpose do these deaths serve? Well it’s a bad universe isn’t it?

This is a dystopia from the world of Marvel. But it is unlike the world of Marvel. It is a world without hope. It is a world where every horrible thing that could go. Wrong does go wrong? Characters who are briefly mentioned such as Daredevil, for example, are killed as children because of the nature of their origin stories.

Many characters are just quickly written into being cultists or cult members. The black panther party is named dropped only for T’challa to be imprisoned due to his affiliation with them. Which is the best possible story related to him? If only because he doesn’t immediately die. Galactus a physical God in the Marvel cosmology, himself is dead.

This is a universe that makes no sense.

So, what does it say? What does it say when Bucky Barnes is a cannibal fascist in Oklahoma? What does it say when NorthStar and Aurora are fused at the elbow and her brother is dead? What does it say when the Enchantress is an adult film star? Things are bleak? Isn’t this sad?

In the end, what remains?

Ruins

A question oft debated is the point and purpose of Superheroes as characters and as a genre. There’s been endless discourse about the fascistic nature of “heroes”. It is not a stretch to say some of the more grounded heroes operate like extra-judicial police and that they’re framed as always in the moral right shows a deference to the idea of Justice being a matter of the right people having unquestioned power to stop bad people. Ruins disregards that sort of analysis in its opening issue with the Avengers being killed by a missile by the U.S. government to stop their California secessionist attempt.

We don’t learn much about the politics of the Avengers or their goals. Just that they were revolutionaries, in the French sense of the word, and that they’re dead.

You can’t delve deep into the nature of a story like this. A story where every character dies for no real purpose outside of shock.

Where every character is at the mercy of an unknowable God that is the Government. To bring the Marvel universe to heel this universe exists to remove what makes a superhero comic, a superhero comic. This instead becomes a story about disease, about failure, about what if everything was awful?

The allusions to politics that exist in the story don’t really give life to any sort of coherent ideology. It is a story that exists to say” Man. Wouldn’t this be messed up if it was real?” And yeah, if this was the main line universe of Marvel, no one would read it outside of those with a bile fascination.

However, it doesn’t draw any conclusions from that edginess. It’s a world of evil and wickedness, reminiscent of Berserk, where the God of the world is evil. This is a universe within Marvel. Where everything went wrong, everything was bad. Any heroes that did or do exist are dead, dying, or evil.

So what is this article meant to say?

With a story like this, it would be easy to say, don’t read this book. But, nobody read the book and it’s decades old at this point. That’s not the goal. The interest in this story is more than that. If you only take one thing away from this story, take away from is the question of, “How dark is too dark when we look into a story?”

Comic strip

Many jokes were made in the 2010s about grim dark edginess. But when we think of “edgy” there’s still ironically a sense of hope behind those characters and stories. A character has agency, A story has a purpose. At a fundamental level, we can read and digest and discuss these elements even if the story has a metatextual purpose there’s still something for us to grasp. Misanthropic, nihilistic works such as the video game, Hatred, for example, still have, at their heart, something for you to finish the story for. Whether it is a high score, to see the end of the story, or even just to see the comeuppance against their villain protagonist but, Ruins doesn’t have that.

Ruins is filled to the brim with story after story after story of, “This bad thing happened and then this other bad thing happened”, and it repeats itself and repeats itself and repeats itself and repeats itself and it lulls you into this apathy towards the story. Because how can you care about anything if you know the next page is only going to be worse?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Posted on by
She/They Black Queer writer currently living abroad. Working on games and making art.
Edited by Siothrún.

Want to write about Comics or other art forms?

Create writer account

47 Comments

  1. Gina
    0

    These comics aren’t really that well written, however the artwork is pretty cool.

  2. Hogan
    0

    One thing worth saying is that Marvel can tend to be pretty dark, it’s just that their characters tend to exhibit more positivity to counteract that darkness. One of their heroes literally died of cancer. Permanently. DC, while it may have some whacky comics, does tend to keep dark themes consistent until the conclusion – and even then there’s usually some form of temporary consequence.

  3. Araceli
    0

    Reminds me of the watchmen.

  4. Leach
    0

    Just found new inspiration for my dark fantasy!

  5. Daniel
    0

    It’s a horrifying spin on the Marvels comics but it’s such a turn in the opposite direction that it’s almost comedic in a way. Here’s these beloved really well made comics that won a lot of awards and then here’s the comic that is literally the complete opposite of those comics in the most horrifying way. Even the titling of Ruins was a spin on the Marvels.

    • Aracely
      0

      This is a comedy in a sense that the story is so stupid and needlessly edgy to point it becomes hilarious. Not to mention the art is too good and overly dramatic for a story this stupid.

  6. terry
    0

    This and powerless are my favorite marvel story.

  7. Ponce
    0

    This is how I imagined Hell, when I was kid and still had such beliefs. Never-ending misery.

  8. Joker
    0

    Ruins is the example of old marvels having balls. This and punisher max is best marvel ever did, But all good things come to an end.

  9. Luciana
    0

    Interesting, reminds me a story marvel did a few years later “Bullet Points”, basically the same thing just not so depressing.

  10. Siothrún

    Great piece! It was a pleasure to edit, and it’s making me want to check out Ruins for myself, using your article as a lens for appreciating it! Thanks for the piece!

  11. The Marvel Ruins comics may not seem like they have a central theme, but at the end of the day, the theme is that sometimes there is no hope. We constantly see stories where there is hope even in the dimmest of circumstances, and this comic line completely flips that idea on its head. It is something new, and while I agree it could’ve been written a little bit better (rather than essentially being a laundry list of how messed up each of our beloved characters became), it still offers what every comic offers: something entertaining to read.

  12. Ortiz
    0

    Imagine being sat on a plane and as you try to strike up a conversation with the person next to you they just start melting and having a psychotic meltdown. That’s Marvel Ruins.

  13. Jaylee
    0

    I will never understand why people who hate Superheroes insist on writing Superheroes. There are other genres.

  14. Burton
    0

    Marvel ruins terrified me as a 7 year old NYer.

  15. Wood
    0

    I think that despite everything, the fact that bruce still saved rick despite the ungodly consequences— is oddly heartwarming. in the darkest marvel universe, there’s still people who do the same selfless thing they always do.

  16. Rubio
    0

    it would’ve been funny if everyone in this verse suffered except Peter.

    It would have implied that if Peter doesn’t suffer then the rest of the universe has to

  17. Emel
    0

    I loved it, doesn’t hold back on the bleakness, I eat stories like that. Possibly darkest Marvel story I can recall, tho there are other ones up there, like FF #605.1

  18. Hill
    0

    I personally call this the “Reality Ensues” world. Because pretty much everything that happens is exactly what would happen in the real world with a lot of these superheroes.

  19. Smith
    0

    This comic was great I only wish it was way longer.

  20. Kamryn
    0

    I get that it’s a parody of Marvels. But if you think about it, it’s also how it would be if you think about it. The Hulk would be a walking tumor. Frank Castle would die on a mission quickly. Wolverine would be cancerous, along with Spider-Man. Fury would be a crazy man. Nobody has that much experience without going crazy or having PTSD. The thing that turns me off is the addition of gods. I did like the Thor gag. But Galactus & Surfer kind of turned me off because of the setting and feeling of the story. It worked for Thor, but it didn’t work for the actual gods.

  21. leeh
    0

    Nice article. Made me read. It had a way too abrupt of an ending. It was almost like the writer thought they were gonna come up with something profound to wrap it all up eventually but it was just nothing.

  22. Valu
    0

    I don’t know if this is a hot take but I’ve never really been a fan of Ruins. The art is beautiful and there are some very well written aspects. I.E. the Kree and some of the X-men and Avengers stuff, more specifically the historical stuff, but ultimately, even with the art, the story is just dark for no reason, which I guess is the point. But even then, it’s sort of a point without a point.

    • Rocco
      0

      It’s the opposite of marvels. To appreciate beauty you have to see ugliness. I see this as a reminder that everything can go wrong, and to appreciate the small miracles in our lives just as much as the big ones.

  23. Princess
    0

    Ruins wouldn’t be memorable if it weren’t for the art.

  24. Ghoul
    0

    The ending made me feel so defeated. I wanted Phil to finish his book before dying. We spend all this time seeing this death and depression so he can write this book. I got hopeful he would find an answer by the end but then he just dies, in an alley with no one bating an eye at it. It makes you feel powerless as all Phil’s hard work flies away. I genuinely cried the first time I read it. Great comic but it really messes you up. I guess the comedy part comes from the end and seeing all that be for nothing. It’s a cosmic joke no one finds funny.

  25. Logan
    0

    Probably one of the worst comic books ever written. Total garbage and disgusting.

    • Diet
      0

      Just because a comic is disgusting doesn’t mean it’s bad.

    • lucas
      0

      That comic is depressing garbage.

  26. Lover
    0

    What if marvel ruins is the real world and all of the marvel comics are made by someone in marvel ruins writing about what he wants the world to be like even though its not actually that way.

  27. Angel
    0

    Kinda feels like edge for edges sake.

  28. Deven
    0

    Ive heard that the Hulk was based on Chu Chulain which was a Celtic “superhero” who would transform by turning himself inside out…

  29. Jacoby
    0

    All we have to do is pray that Disney leaves it well enough alone…

  30. susan
    0

    This comic is gross. Glad I never read it. Keep it in the vault to never see the light of day again.

  31. maddoxx
    0

    Ruins reads like a universe-hopping scp fan story in the best way possible.

  32. Aracely
    0

    I really really really wish they made a short film on this story but they won’t cause they’re soft.

  33. maaays
    0

    Welcome to the real world, hurt everyone around you.

  34. iama
    0

    I always thpught Marvel was too campy and now i’m sittin here afraid to go to sleep. lol

  35. leah
    0

    This is really surprising to me that this was even allowed to be made. This is the stuff of nightmares.

  36. Joanna
    0

    I hate this comic so much. As I see it, Ruins is a piece of spite fiction from someone who hates superheroes that’s a spit in the face of Marvels and makes The Boys look like a substantial and deeper piece of fiction by comparison and it’s reputation as the comic people talk about to say “ooh it’s so edgy, isn’t that cool?” Just gets my bile churning, Ellis has put out way better stuff than this.

  37. Areli
    0

    These comics are basically “What if we remove plot armor in this universe?”.

  38. Eliana
    0

    Ruins is closer to being our real world than any traditional marvel stories are.

  39. Saul
    0

    Ruins is something you should not read when depressed.

  40. Jakob
    0

    Instead of garbage like “Morbius” and “The Marvels” etc, they should make this into a movie.

  41. Nathen
    0

    100 % Marvel Daredevil: Redemption. It’s brilliant.

  42. davud
    0

    To me, Ruins is Marvels’ companion piece.

  43. Mays
    0

    Marvel version of watchmen.

Leave a Reply