Marvel’s heroes have fought so often over the years that many characters across the universe have commented on their habit of throwing fists before becoming allies. It even escalated into real conflicts between superhero teams. But at the end of the day, they’re all still heroes and have their limits.
This is not the case in all possible timelines, however. A particularly dark storyline focused on the Dark Avengers introduced a version of the Marvel Universe where classic heroes had become vicious warlords and discovered just how destructive a true superhero civil war could be.
The story “Darkness” of dark avengers #184 to #190 (by Jeff Parker, Neil Edwards, Terry Pallot, Sotocolor, and VC’s Joe Caramagna) focused on a number of villains rafted by John Walker (a far cry from the darkest version of Captain America) . However, he and his “teammates” (Moonstone, Skaar, Ragnarok, Trickshot, Ai Apaec, and Toxie Doxie) found themselves dragged down to Earth-13584. This divergent timeline was the result of AIM using their technologies to create a pocket dimension where they could steal the creations of this timeline’s inventors.
In this version of the Marvel Universe, most of human civilization had been wiped out on Earth. New York City was one of the few remaining human enclaves, protected by various groups of ancient heroes who had embraced a brutal form of tribalism. A ruthless variation of Iron Man was the Commander of the Iron Zone and counted War Machine, Rescue, Guardsman, Force, Ant-Man, and Wasp as his main agents. Another mutated version of Thing led an army of Moloids and other subterranean creatures as Lord of Yancy.
Spider-Man’s gang, including Daredevil, Hawkeye, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, Iron Fist, and Shang-Chi, operated out of Hell’s Kitchen. This dark version of Peter Parker has also embraced a more mystical side of himself. Doctor Strange turned part of the city into Strangetown and counted his wife Clea, Tigra, and Wong as his servants. Other heroes had also existed in this timeline, but a massive battle resulted in the deaths of Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and Human Torch, and established a strained peace between the city’s domains.
In this timeline, the “heroes” of the Marvel Universe have proven to be far more gruesome than in most timelines. Doctor Strange used his magic to take over the minds of others, turning people into his slaves. Invisible Woman left Mister Fantastic for Namor and conspired with him to wipe out New York City with a tidal wave. One of the few characters to retain any sort of heroism in this timeline was Mister Fantastic, who had been abandoned by his friends and family. Working with the world’s version of Awesome Andy, Fantastic eventually discovered AIM’s actions and worked with the Dark Avengers to unravel the world around them, escalating the long-running conflict between the superhero gangs. As the conflict escalated and other ancient heroes died, the Dark Avengers worked with Mister Fantastic to shatter this pocket dimension, allowing the villains of Earth-616 to return home and eliminate the corrupt heroes. .
The dark pocket dimension is a good reminder of what a real superhero civil war would look like. Although Marvel’s heroes have been beaten time and time again over the years, they’ve always been limited by their own innate heroism. But in this timeline, those heroic qualities have been eliminated. Heroes like Iron Man, Thing, and Doctor Strange gave in to their worst impulses and used their powers viciously. What remained of heroism was marred by brutality and hatred. The entire timeline ceased to exist at the end of the story, retreating to Earth-616 and being more or less considered nothing more than a nightmare for heroes who witnessed visions of the dimension of pocket. This is perhaps the best possible description of this world in the long term; a nightmare of what the Marvel Universe might look like in a real Civil War.