Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

Delving into What-If Scenarios

Ruins is not just a dark and disturbing Marvel comic; it is also a fascinating exploration of tragedy and the human condition. The comics delve into what-if scenarios, such as what if Wolverine became a savage creature devoid of humanity, consumed by his animal instincts, or what if Captain America transformed into a deformed and mutated figure that symbolizes the betrayal of the ideals he represents.

Everything that could go wrong will absolutely go wrong, and usually in the bloodiest way possible. Originally published in two separate issues, Warren Ellis later collected them into a single volume in 2009. A parody of Kurt Busiek’s Marvels series, this black comedy tells a story that deals with tragic or disturbing subjects in a humorous way. It is ironic because Ruins itself is not funny at all and does not present itself as a comedy.

Instead, it is a very dark and gritty tale, almost hard to believe that Marvel agreed to publish it. Unlike DC, Marvel is usually more cautious when it comes to telling its dark stories, although there have been darker Marvel comics, such as Marvel Zombies and Dark Ages.

Lasting Impact on Readers’ Minds

However, Ruins may be the darkest comic Marvel has ever published. First released as a parody of Marvels, it ran from January to April 1994 and was a tremendous critical success, winning numerous awards including the 1994 Eisner Awards. It not only resonated with fans but also became one of the most memorable comics of all time. At the time, Marvels stood out from other comics by presenting Marvel’s iconic heroes in a more grounded and human light.

Despite being distinct from Ruins, Marvels has also had its darker moments. Warren Ellis, the writer of Ruins, is a British comic writer, novelist, and screenwriter known for his trademark social and cultural commentary on transhumanism. He began his career in 1986 with a British magazine called The Adventurer and has since worked on famous titles such as Moon Knight, The Authority, and Hellblazer.

In addition to his comic work, Ellis has also written for TV shows like Castlevania and was one of the original writers for the survival horror game Dead Space. The artwork in Ruins is surreal and otherworldly, creating the sensation of being trapped in a dream or nightmare. The visuals in the story are haunting and leave a lasting impact on readers’ minds.

Constant Misfortune

Admittedly, Ruins does not contribute to the Mythos and lacks a concrete story. It consists of snippets depicting the twisted fates of various heroes, which some readers felt were overly exaggerated and forced. Just a year after Ruins, Marvels was released, and it connected with readers for its semi-realistic portrayal of the Marvel Universe’s iconic heroes. In contrast, Ruins relied on the shock value of its connection to surprise readers and make a lasting impression.

Witnessing our beloved characters endure pain and misfortune is bound to evoke a reaction from us. The artwork for the cover of the first issue was done by Terese Nielsen. She created both covers in the style of the original Marvel comics, giving the impression that Ruins served as a twisted companion piece. The cover depicts Phil interviewing a group of heroes lying on the ground.

Ironically, the heroes in Ruins are rarely seen wearing their costumes. As we delve deeper into the comic, it becomes increasingly clear that something is amiss. Ruins is a world of death, where even the universe itself seems hostile towards its inhabitants. Existing in this universe means suffering from constant misfortune.


The premise of Ruins is that the accident that created the heroes of the Marvel Universe instead leads to gruesome mutations and agonizing deaths. If our familiar world is the Ruins, where heroic figures traverse through horrors unseen, then even a small misstep or a stopped heartbeat is a world of ruin. It would be more accurate to describe the Ruins as a distorted version of the Marvels universe.

In the Marvel Multiverse, the Earth of Ruins is designated as Earth-9591. The first page depicts the protagonist of the story, Philip Sheldon, witnessing the explosion of the Quinjet after being struck by a Patriot missile. The events in Ruins unfold at an incredibly rapid pace. Additionally, Phil, who is also a significant character in Marvels as a former employee of the Daily Bugle, loses an eye in Ruins as he does in the Marvels series.

While the origin of how he lost his eye is revealed in the series, it remains undisclosed in Ruins. Thus, we can assume that he lost his eye in a similar manner. For various reasons, Phil cannot help but theorize that things are not as they should be. The Marvels were meant to bring greatness to the world, but something went awry.

The Man in the Iron Mask

Phil decides to write a book and embark on an investigation into the potential superheroes within the universe. In this universe, Anthony Stark never made it to Vietnam but was in California attempting to meditate. When he is injured by shrapnel from a grenade, he saves himself using his immense wealth and technological expertise. In the newspapers, he is known as The Man in the Iron Mask.

Other heroes like Hank Pym and Doctor Strange join him. However, instead of the Avengers as we know them, they form a group of revolutionaries plotting to overthrow the American government. The Avengers no longer exist, and we see US soldiers wielding Captain America’s shield and Thor’s Mjölnir. Phil believes that the universe is in the midst of the Marvels age but senses that something is amiss.

He believes that by interviewing individuals who have been “touched by the psychic,” he can uncover clues about their true identities or purpose. While reading a newspaper article about Matt Murdock, he discovers that instead of becoming Daredevil, Murdock died from his injuries, providing a somber and realistic portrayal of the Man Without Fear’s origins.

Grotesque Body Horror

At a bar, Phil encounters Wolverine, whose adamantium skeleton has turned his blood into a poisonous substance. His skin has grotesquely deteriorated, showcasing extreme body horror. Ruins pushes the human body to its absolute limits and beyond. As Phil requests orange juice from the bartender to take his pills, the photographs he observes reveal the prevalence of misfortune in the universe.

Phil also learns about Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, both founding members of the Black Panther Party. Seale is an engineer, activist, and writer, heavily influenced by the teachings of Malcolm X. He strongly opposed the Vietnam War and was one of eight individuals indicted by the US federal government on conspiracy charges related to anti-Vietnam War protests during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

This group became known as the Chicago Eight. Seale’s trial garnered significant media attention, and he was charged with 16 counts of contempt of court, ultimately sentenced to three months in prison for each count, totaling four years. Newton, a revolutionary and political activist, led the Black Panther Party and established over 60 community support programs for marginalized black youth, including initiatives like sickle cell anemia testing and food banks.

Phil in Nevada, Near the Cree Reservation

On August 22, 1989, a man shot and killed Newton. The motive for Newton’s murder is disputed, as the assassins initially claimed to be self-defense. However, he speculates that he may have killed Newton as a way to advance to the Marxist prison gang. Along with Seale and Newton, T’Challa des Wakandas was arrested after becoming a member of the Black Panther Party. We see California Military Advisor Iron Man executing Hawkeye, holding someone’s head as if he were going to rip it off.

We also see Wanda, a former member of the Avengers, turning herself into the federal government. It is implied that she made a deal with the FBI and betrayed the Avengers, possibly leading to their deaths. Next, we see Phil in Nevada off the Cree reservation. The reservation sits in the middle of a nuclear test zone, serving as both a punishment and a reminder of the species of warrior that society was once proud of.

None of the kids on the reservation had any idea why they were there. To make matters worse, the few children that were born lived in this harsh environment. Cree does not teach kids about their failures. We can see it as a metaphor for the Cree camp.

The Need for a Radiation Suit to Enter the Camp

It draws parallels to WWII concentration camps and internment camps for Japanese nationals in the US. Here, Phil is there to interview a Cree spokesperson. He needed a radiation suit to enter the camp. We get a full look at Cree one, Mar-Vell, who was the first Captain Marvel. His half of the face seemed to melt down to the bone. With long, wispy strands of hair hanging down the good sides of his face.

Phil stared shamelessly. For the first time, he saw up close an alien figure. The alien is full of shame and cancer. Like Phil himself, the mutant cataract blinded half. Mar-Vell has burning questions and one good eye. He asked what had happened and how they had come to such a state. Both sat down, and Phil told Mar-Vell about his plans to write a book. He mentioned that he did not have much time.

At this point, we do not know what he meant by that. Here too, we learn about the Cree’s failed invasion of Earth three years ago. Everything was going well until they saw a dead silver humanoid spinning above the Earth. It is an extraterrestrial, closed biology with no need for an atmosphere.

The Silver Surfer

Maybe he had gone mad and wanted to know how it felt to breathe again. The beings radiate energy, and a powerful cosmic force is beyond their experience. It disrupted their cloaking array. The silver humanoid that Mar-Vell was referring to was the Silver Surfer. Before becoming Galactus’ slave, the Silver Surfer was once a human. The loss of sensation was driving the Silver Surfer crazy.

In vain attempts, it made him tear open his own lung to feel alive and breathe again. The energy from the Silver Surfer’s corpse causes the Cree’s nuke to explode. It resulted in some of the survivors escaping in escape pods. Mar-Vell comments on early human nuclear experiments. While Cree does not get the drug to survive, he notes that humans do have a sense of humor. Mar-Vell reveals that they all have cancer.

The soldiers refused to commit their deaths, forcing them to burn the bodies in piles. At one point, Mar-Vell felt that humanity had shown mercy. However, that belief is no longer valid. In an article, members of the president’s secret service did not usually push his wheelchair. It is clear that something is wrong. The White House Press Office is not silent on the matter.

Potential Threats

In other news, President X has authorized a new airstrike in police action. In the universe, Professor X is the president of the United States. Ruins depicts the version of Professor X as cruel towards his fellow mutants. As a kind and friendly character, he contradicts the typical portrayal of himself. Next, we see Phil in Washington, D.C. He met Nick Fury or Colonel Fury from the universe.

Between them, there is tension. Phil mentions that if his name is back in public, Fury will shoot him in the head. Fury commented on Phil’s recent activity. He questioned why he had spent his last days on this cross-country trip. With both wearing the same clothes and an eyepatch over their left eye, they were nearly identical. Phil explains that he is writing a book about his findings. However, Fury punches him.

He thought Phil was trying to implicate him as one of the Avengers. In the universe, the government is hunting down and executing the Avengers. Phil assures Fury that he is not accusing him of anything. He also wrote about “different.” Fury mentions that he has not seen Captain America in a long time and ponders how everything seems wrong.

God is Dead, but Remember Her Baby’s Name

Suddenly Fury became erratic. He pointed a gun at Phil’s face. It is revealed that Phil’s book is called Marvels, which is ironic considering the state of the world. Fury shoots a dog bunny in Phil’s back, revealing his acceptance of the evil world. During the war, he tells Phil that Captain America introduced him to cannibalism, shocking Phil with such a revelation. Just then, a teenage prostitute named Jean Gray approaches them.

In broad daylight, Fury shoots Gray, revealing the mutilation and violence that is sweeping the country. Fury reveals that surviving what is to come requires becoming a mutant. Later, Fury decides to end his own life, shooting himself in front of Phil. Although moments earlier, he had mentioned the agency’s desire to read Phil’s book. The sudden turn of events confused Phil. The narrative shifts to Phil in Chicago, knocking on a boarding house.

A woman with a sick-looking baby opened the door. The woman offers Phil a message from her baby. She said that God is dead but do not forget her baby name. She screamed Daimon Hellstrom’s name, indicating that her baby would be the Messiah one day. Hellstrom is a character that first appeared in the Ghost Rider comic book in the early 1970s.

Creation of Hellstrom

After the success with the comic, Lee proposed a comic in which Satan himself starred. However, Roy Thomas, creator of the comic, felt that readers might be hesitant to read about the Devil. So they did a comic about Satan’s son, Hellstrom. In the story, Phil knocks on apartment doors looking for someone named Rick Jones. Initially, Rick pretended to be someone else. As soon as he realized it was Phil, he let him in.

Marlo Chandler, Rick’s wife, was lying half naked on the floor. Often appearing as Hulk’s sidekick and sidekick, Rick has long been a character in the Marvel Universe. In 1988, Marlo made his debut in The Incredible Hulk 2nd Volume. She is married to Rick and occasionally hosts Lady Death. Rick invites Phil to tell his story, mentioning that the CIA is after him. During their conversation, Rick takes morphine.

His deteriorating appearance suggests that he may have cancer. Rick begins to tell what happened in Arizona, where he met Bruce Banner. The tumor filled him and turned into an abomination instead of the Hulk. Rick’s narrative suggests that something is wrong in this world. Phil realizes that things are not as they should be.

Discovery of Punisher’s Body

After leaving Rick’s apartment, Phil finds the body of Frank Castle or the Punisher. Phil, aware that time is running out, is determined to find out the truth before it is too late. He wanted to understand what caused this dark and suffering world. The first problem ends with Phil’s plea to find an answer. He avoided death in such a desolate place. In the second issue, Phil is on the plane and sits next to Mystique or Raven Darkhölme.

Mystique experienced intense pain, struggling to control her strength. Her face started to melt, and she screamed in pain. This version of Mystique has dissociative identity disorder and requires medication to control her transformation. Phil witnesses a protest against President X, where one of the secret servicemen pushes him on a chair. Magneto, disguised as an old man, is carrying a device that looks like a bomb.

Undercover officers moved President X to the same place, thinking it was a threat. In the universe, Magneto appears as a hippie struggling to control his powers. Metal objects started flying around, causing chaos and destruction. Then, the story shifts to a secret mutant prison in Texas that Kingpin runs. The Kingpin’s job is to make sure the mutants in prison cannot use their powers.

Mutilation of Mutants

He mutilated them, rendering them powerless. Revealed as Charles Xavier, President X visits the prison. His presence adds to the suffering of the mutants. The prison operates under his orders, showing that this version of Xavier is not a benevolent leader. The scene shifts to Quicksilver, who is left disabled due to his amputation body. Phil questions the Kingpin about why he imprisoned the mutants.

He explained that it was the president’s order, wanting to keep them locked up and hidden. Later, Phil rests by the pool and contemplates a broken world and the plight of paranormal beings. A little girl approaches him and offers him flowers, reminding him of the importance of small moments of kindness and friendship in the midst of darkness. The issue also introduces Dr. Donald Blake, a cult leader who believes he can channel Thor through his body.

Additionally, Emma Frost, who runs the Next Generation Church and performs operations on children to unlock their psychic abilities. In the second issue, Phil continues his journey. He pondered over the disturbing things he had witnessed. In the final issue, the shift in art style provides a colorful and stylish visual flair. However, it is very different.

Depressed Stuntman

Phil investigates rumors of a paranormal traveling circus, a makeshift circus ring that sits on the desert floor. A woman named Zelda DuBois becomes involved in illegal activities with her pet snake, Snape. Known as Princess Python, Zelda is a snake charmer who uses her giant python to help her commit crimes. First appearing in The Amazing Spider-Man #22 in 1965, she also travels with the circus in the comics.

Occasionally, she becomes the love interest of Johnny Blaze, aka Ghost Rider. As the main attraction slowly ascended into the middle of the forest, silence enveloped the place. With scars on his face and dead eyes, he is now a depressed stuntman who has burned his own head. In a hotel room, Phil reminisces about recent events. At the beginning of the story, Phil has fluffy hair. Now, he is balding fast.

The change could be due to a change in artist or his symbol of declining health. Phil knew that his time was running out. Initially, he believed that by investigating this psychic individual, he would reveal the one event that was causing all the pain. However, he now felt uncertain. One thing he was sure of was his need to write down the truth and show the world like the universe.

Peter’s Terrible Disease

Having dreamed of the Avengers as he knows them, Phil feels a connection to his alternate self. He sensed that things were not as they should be. Next, we see Phil in New York City. Apparently, Phil’s timing may have gotten used to it. He saw the painful-looking sores on his hands and felt hot and dizzy on the train’s back. Phil runs out of pills and starts cursing Peter Parker. The first time, we hear Peter’s name in the story.

Working free for the Bugle, he paid his tuition fees and kept his poisoned science major. After a spider bites him into a rampaging mutant virus, Peter infects Phil with his disease. We get a close look at the wedge-shaped rash on Peter’s hands. From here, Phil is dying. Instead of the spider’s powers, the radioactive spider that bit Peter fed him a mutated flesh-eating virus. Peter’s whole body was infected with a terrible disease.

He was bleeding from his skin and could not wear clothes. He looked more like a corpse than a human. His eyes are black and white, only have strands of mangley hair. Cracks in his skin resembling a spider’s web. Before his medicine ran out and the virus overtook him, Phil was ready to publish everything.

Criticism of Society

The net started to spread to fill his hands and face, falling backwards when his bag opened. All of his notes flew out, begging God to let him live a little longer so he could publish his work. God does not answer the prayers, people do not even stop to look. Death is so common in this world that it leaves corpses alone on the open road to decompose. As he lay dying in the street, all of his notes scattered, the wind blew them away, and they were lost forever.

This is where, the story ends. Ellis uses Marvel characters in criticizing society. He presents a dystopian and hopeless world where superheroes are morally bankrupt and extremely dangerous. The series explores the dark side of the Marvel Universe. It raises philosophical questions and comments on the human condition and the fragility of life. Besides exploring the consequences of an action and its impact, it also raises questions about problems in society.

Ellis subverts the classic saga, serving as the polar opposite of what Marvel comics have always offered. The serial is a black comedy, presenting a world where anything that can go wrong happens. The themes include nuclear war, internment camps, government repression, drug addiction, degradation, suicide, and more.

Ruins’ Unique Experience

Unlike anything, Ruins does not hold back much. It is an experience where we do not always need complicated stories to enjoy what we read. Clearly, Ruins has stuck with fans for a long time, being one of the most disturbing Marvel comics of all time. Its legacy will continue to stand the test of time.


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