There’s an old German proverb that states beginnings are hard – which could explain why people tend to love endings. All the hard work and struggling are over, and what’s left is the emotional satisfaction of the journey (fictional or otherwise) – and maybe sometimes light bruising. But to paraphrase Henrieta Szold, all endings are just beginnings – of a new story, another phase of life, a wellspring of ideas and sentiments.
Comic books and nerd culture, especially, love finality, and 2019 alone presents a conclusion for two major franchises (Endgame and Scott Snyder’s upcoming Batman: Last Knight on Earth). That’s on top of classic tales like Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, The Dark Knight Returns, and All-Star Superman, among others.
So, in the spirit of celebrating The End, here’s a few more of those tales that close the book on beloved heroes but open pages of possibilities for readers.
Daredevil: End of Days
This is the end!: After murdering Kingpin, Matt Murdock falls in battle against Bullseye. In the aftermath, reporter Ben Urich seeks to unravel the mystery behind the final days of Matt Murdock.
This was written to be Brian Michael Bendis’ final word on Daredevil and his world, so a lot of this miniseries feels a bit like The Dark Knight Returns crossed with Citizen Kane. Several members of Daredevil’s supporting cast are prominently featured throughout, as well as some surprising additions from the wider Marvel Universe. Many of these cameos take the form of interviews with Urich as he tries to get a clearer picture of what happened to Matt. End of Days assembles a complex mystery that doesn’t exactly pay off at the end, but the journey itself is enthralling.
Or is it?: As dark as the story gets, Bendis’ belief in the importance of superheroes is evident throughout. While this story sets up a new beginning for Hell’s Kitchen’s favored son, it’s certainly the end of Daredevil as we know him.
This is the end!: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a retired superhero, struggling with the mess that his city has become, eventually gives in to the voice in his head that urges him to suit up for one last battle against his greatest enemies.
Yes, this is more or less an extended riff on The Dark Knight Returns starring Spidey, to the point where a reporter in the comic is named Miller Jansen, after TDKR‘s Klaus Jansen and Frank Miller. And okaaayy, yes, this is also the infamous “radioactive semen” Spider-Man story. Still, it’s honestly a much better comic than its meme-worthy reputation would lead you to believe.
While much of Peter’s narration feels like it comes straight from the “I AM THE SPIDER” era of the character, there are some genuinely interesting twists on familiar characters here: J. Jonah Jameson becomes more of a street preacher, finally understanding the need for vigilantes. Venom reacts to seeing Peter again like a spurned lover. Plus, Doc Ock’s legs kept him going, long after his body gave out. It’s a chilling look at how haunted Peter could become by his Great Responsibility, but there’s also an undercurrent of hope at the very end.
Or is it?: The final pages of Reign promise that Spidey will keep fighting as long as he’s able. A totally apropros choice for the beloved wall-crawler in line with Lee and Ditko’s vision… and then Spider-Verse happened, and this version of Spidey seemingly meets a fairly ignoble end. Thanks a lot, Deimos.
Batman: Brotherhood of the Bat
This is the end!: A mutated strain of Ebola has wiped out most of the world’s population, including all of its heroes. Taking advantage of the devastation is the immortal Ras Al Ghul, who steals Batman’s rejected costume designs and uses them to outfit a new army of warriors. It’s up to Bruce and Talia’s son, Tallant, to suit up and put a stop to the Demon’s Head.
This title is goofy as all hell, but there’s a certain charm to it, and writer Doug Moench does his best to make what was clearly an editorially-mandated story featuring multiple future Batmen work. Sure, a lot of it doesn’t add up: the world is burning and people are dying, but Gotham still has an infrastructure and news coverage? It’s 50 years later, but Jim Gordon looks like he’s the same age as in the modern series? Bruce Wayne kept a diary that has hearts on it? How many pouches and spikes can one suit have before we reach ’90s overload?
Stories that have this much of an “!!!EXTREME!!!” tone often take on the vibe of good comfort food for readers of a certain age and disposition (30 and stupid, like me). Sometimes, you can’t help but just love a book that’s not afraid to be a little silly. Also, this one-shot is honestly worth picking up for the all-star art team (including Jim Aparo and Norm Breyfogle) rendering the various chapters and evil Batman.
Or is it?: While the story definitely wraps up and the original Batman is surely deceased, it has more of a hopeful “new beginning” tone. Also, this one-shot actually received a sequel in 2001, Batman: League of Batmen.
The Punisher: The End
This is the end!: Garth Ennis ends the Punisher in a way that only he could. After a nuclear war has devastated the Marvel universe, Frank Castle is one of the last survivors (of course), making his way across the devastated landscape to find a hidden bunker of survivors.
With its dark-as-hell gallows humor and utterly nihilistic view of humanity, this one is my personal favorite of Marvel’s The End one-shots and miniseries. Ennis has always written the Punisher as less of a hero with a dark side and more of a sadist with an agenda, so this issue takes that bloody version its logical conclusion. He literally goes down in flames, snuffing out the people responsible for the planet’s demise.
In stark contrast to Ennis’ often hilarious, almost slapstick style of violence, this is a pretty dour affair. The only chuckles here are ones of disbelief, as the reader finally understands just how far Frank Castle will go to find his own version of peace.
Or is it?: Um, yes. Absolutely. Comics really don’t get more final than the last couple of pages of The Punisher: The End. It does exactly what it says on the cover, in a way that even Marvel: The End didn’t dare.
“The Last Bounty Hunter” (from Jonah Hex Spectacular #1)
This is the end!: At the turn of the 20th century, an aged Jonah Hex is killed in a gunfight. As his body is stuffed and shuffled from owner to owner, terrible accidents befall the men responsible for his death. Meanwhile, Jonah’s legacy becomes largely forgotten over the years.
For the purposes of this list, the main feature story of 1977’s Jonah Hex Spectacular (a.k.a. DC Special Series #16) is notable for being the only one of these stories that was specifically referenced by other canonical comics. And what a story it is. Given Jonah’s status as a period character, readers are most likely at peace with the fact that Jonah would be long dead by the time these stories were being published. However, that doesn’t change how downright ballsy it was for DC to publish a story featuring the demise of a character that still made appearances in comics. In fact, Hex’s own series continued publication for nearly a decade after this story!
While it’s a beautifully-told story, it’s also incredibly nihilistic, feeling more like a House of Secrets or Tales from the Crypt morality play then the sort of gritty adventure stories associated with Hex.
Or is it?: Again, there’s no doubt that this is the end of the line for old Jonah. Just to further compound this , the ’80s series Hex, which saw Jonah thrown into the future, featured a scene where Jonah eventually found his own stuffed body. However, in classic Jonah Hex fashion, the grizzled bounty hunter took this as a comforting sign that he’d eventually make it home, rather than an omen of doom.
What are some of your favorite “final” superhero stories? Feel free to sound off in the comments!