Follow TV Tropes


Downer Ending / Comic Books

Go To

"I don't need to know the future. When the future is over, then it's me."
Death, The Sandman

WARNING: Nearly every example is a spoiler. Read at your own risk!

  • Watchmen: Veidt has killed half the population of New York City in order to force everyone into world peace, and the rest of the heroes have to agree to keep their silence or otherwise risk kick-starting World War Three. Rorschach is the only one who doesn't agree to the scheme, and to make sure he doesn't tattle, Dr. Manhattan turns him into a smear on the Antarctic snow.
    • Turned into a Bolivian Army Ending because Rorschach also wrote his knowledge of the truth into his diary, which he sent off to a radical newspaper. The comic ends with someone from the newspaper reaching for their pile of "junk" material, which they use for filler. The diary is in the pile.
  • Advertisement:
  • The "Going Sane" Batman arc, in which the Joker has been sane for six months while Batman has been recovering in a small town two hundred miles from Gotham. As soon as Batman reappears, Joseph Kerr runs out on the love of his life, sinks into the water, and emerges with a maniacal grin...
  • Also Batman: A Death in the Family: Good God. The Joker and his gang thrash Jason Todd (Robin) into a bloody pulp after Jason gets one lick in on the Joker. Then they tie up Jason's mother and leave a bomb to blow up the warehouse into which Jason and his mother have been lured. Miraculously, Jason is still alive - but he's far too weak to disarm the bomb, so instead he unties his mother and they attempt to make their getaway. It looks like they will just barely escape... but, just to make absolutely sure of things, that grinning, white-faced bastard had locked the door! Jason and his mother are both blown up, with Jason being killed instantly and his mother lingering just long enough to implicate the Joker in their murders to Batman. Following Jason's funeral (which is attended by only four people), Batman is pushed nearly to the brink and seriously considers violating his most sacred principle by "terminating" the Joker's "vile existence" - which he indeed ends up indirectly doing when he chases the villain onto a helicopter and another criminal with a gun panics and fires wildly, shooting the Joker in the chest. Batman escapes the copter just before it explodes, but he can only reflect bitterly that, somehow, he knows that the Joker isn't really dead.
  • Advertisement:
  • Batman: War Games. Spoiler dies after being tortured by Black Mask. Batman alienates himself from the rest of the Batfamily, from the police and from the Gothamites. Orpheus is dead, and Leslie Thompkins - who is Batman's mother figure - is disgusted, and tries to teach him a lesson about using teenagers. Several hundred people were killed and The Bad Guy Wins. Black Mask becomes the leader of the unified gangs of Gotham. Afterwards, Batgirl, Robin, Nightwing, and Oracle all leave Gotham. It is practically a tragedy, and the lowest ebb for Batman since at least Knightfall or A Death in the Family. Perhaps even the Darkest Hour for Gotham, since things cannot get any worse, except then there are the Red Hood and Infinite Crisis storylines. Although the level of fan hostility eventually caused DC to retcon some of the worst elements out.
  • Advertisement:
  • Joker: Jonny, dying after being shot in the mouth by Joker, finally realizes how little he, and human life in general, matters to the Clown Prince, and concludes that Joker represents an incurable disease older than civilization and will always exist in some form or another and dies while Joker is fighting Batman. Neither of them even notice. Batman: Damned reveals that the body seen falling at the end in the Joker himself after Batman refuses to save him.
  • The Punisher MAX arc The Slavers. All Frank's really achieved is a few more corpses and a little more of his own humanity chipped away. The horror still continues, no one is redeemed. And the worst part? It's based on real-world crimes.
    • He managed to rescue some of those enslaved, and they go on to live relatively normal, if psychologically debilitated, lives. By the standards of Punisher MAX, altogether this is a happy ending.
  • Jeff Smith's Bone has sort of a bittersweet ending, but Thorn saying her goodbye to Fone Bone, which almost seems like a permanent goodbye, makes people tear up for sure.
    • The prequel miniseries, Rose awkwardly tries to disguise the downer aspect, but the ending is sad because Rose must kill the first living being she sees after killing Balsaad and has every reason to kill Briar, her sister, but instead, Briar tells Rose that she does not serve the Locust and the Locust was controlling her. Thus, Rose spares her sister's life and instead kills one of her own beloved pet dogs. Cue the townspeople cheering on Rose for killing Balsaad. Plus, the fact that Rose spared Briar allows Briar to continue to help out her charming friend the Locust in emerging into and destroying the physical world. This also allows Briar to kill Rose's beloved daughter and son-in-law in the future.
      • Though, in a Fridge Logic kind of way, Briar's life being spared is a good thing, because if Briar was dead, Thorn would become the Locust's new helper, the Bones would most likely have never traveled to the valley at all, and overall, the events of Bone that would lead to the destruction of the Locust wouldn't happen and it would instead stay alive and have more chances to escape the spirit world.
  • Warren Ellis' Zombie Apocalypse miniseries Black Gas ends with every protagonist dead, New York City nuked, and the titular zombifyin' gas implied to spread across the entire world.
  • The ending to the second volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen can be seen as this. The Martians are defeated, but with a deadly disease hybrid that wipes out many citizens in London (which is covered up by the government). Griffin and Jekyll/Hyde are dead, Nemo leaves the group in fury of the government's methods, and some time later, Mina leaves Quatermain to stay at a women's colony. The last panel shows us Quatermain, sitting alone in Hyde Park.
    • Things get better from there - Mina and Allan reunite, as seen in The New Traveler's Almanac and The Black Dossier, and eventually escape to the Blazing World with the Dossier.
    • And just as quickly, things have fallen apart again. The end of Century: 1969 mirrors the ending of Volume 2, but manages to come off as even more depressing. The villain escapes, Mina is dragged away to an insane asylum , and in a flash forward eight years, Quartermain is once again left completely alone, only this time his situation is even more dire. He's a shell of his former self, a miserable junkie once more, and completely lost without Mina, who is still locked away. The book ends with his only remaining friend Orlando leaving him, disgusted at what he's become.
    • Confirmed at the end of Century: 2009: Allan's dead, Mina and Orlando are still utterly burned out by Who Wants to Live Forever?, and while the Antichrist was destroyed by a benevolent Eldritch Abomination, the League Britain is still an incredibly grim place.
  • "Help, God! The light has got Cerebus!" To elaborate: In the final issue, Cerebus dies alone, unmourned, and unloved, just as The Judge had predicted, and left the world undoubtedly a worse place through his actions. After seeing almost every important character in what appears to be the light of Heaven, and especially his three favorite people (Bear, Jaka, and Ham Ernestway), he begins to ascend into the light. However, when he notices the absence of Rick, he suspects that the Light is actually the YHWH, the opposite of God, trying to lure him in to Hell instead. He tries to escape, and futilely calls to god to save him, but is ultimately dragged screaming in to the light and disappears.
  • The first two Atavar arcs ended on severe downers.
    1. Atavar and a small group of Kalen manage to penetrate to the heart of UOS node, and the UOS begin communicating with Atavar. They claim they are actually a servitor race, looking for a species to obey, and their war with the Kalen is simply an attempt to protect themselves from a hostile aggressor species. Atavar kills the Kalen with him to prevent them exterminating the UOS... only for it to be revealed that they were lying, the UOS really are evil, and Atavar has just doomed the Kalen.
    2. Atavar and Worldbreaker enter the heart of the Wosk's 'God', which is actually a galactic cancer. Worldbreaker is killed and Atavar's vessel is overridden by zombie Wosks; his weapons are disabled and he doesn't have enough energy or fuel to escape.
  • The original Marvel comics G.I. Joe series ran into this due to its cancellation, as it ended pretty much just as Cobra Commander had gone about kidnapping and brainwashing just about everyone who had ever worked for him, including Noble Demon Destro, The Atoner Zartan, well-on-her-way to a Heel–Face Turn Baroness, and flat-out heroic characters Storm Shadow and Billy. The brainwashing method used on the last three basically involved torturing them until they gave in. Did I mention that Billy is Cobra Commander's son?
  • Rare for the franchise in general, the Doctor Who Magazine comic "The End Of The Line" features the 4th Doctor attempting to save a group of humans in a devastated England from mutated cannibals by helping them restart the Underground trains so they can escape to a station long prophesied to be an idyllic countryside, free of radiation and danger. The Doctor's own presence brings the cannibals right to the survivors' secret base, but he manages to mostly start the trains and escape in the TARDIS (a surprisingly dick move for the usually noble Doctor) as the last humans struggle to save themselves. He arrives at the station to find out it's simply a doorway to the Underground surrounded by radioactive wastes, and would serve the survivors no better than the city if not kill them outright. Still, he sits and waits for them. After some time passes, the train does not appear; noting that acid rain is preparing to fall, The Doctor turns and leaves without further comment. (And no, this story was never picked up again.)
  • Frank Miller's Hard Boiled ends with the protagonist, a robotic assassin who thinks he's human, slaughtering most of the security forces of the corporation that created him only to end up almost completely destroyed, and ends up being put back together, having his memory reset, and returning to his (fake) family none the wiser about his true nature. Also, he happened to be the only hope for a planned revolution that would have freed all other robots from slavery, a plan which falls apart with his defeat, and prompts the revolution's leader to kill herself by overloading her own circuits.
  • The stories in What If? usually end badly, or at least bittersweet, the Alternate Timeline created For Want of a Nail showing that, as much as it a Marvel hero's life can downright suck sometimes, it could have been much worse.
  • Secret Six ends with the entire team being taken down by an army of superheroes during their epic Last Stand. Deadshot and King Shark would later appear in Suicide Squad, but the fates of their teammates are (likely deliberately) left unstated, though everyone appears to at least be alive when last seen. This was the result of a Continuity Reboot of the whole DC Universe, and conversely, the fact that it even got an ending should be considered upbeat and a testament to the series's fanbase.
  • The Unfunnies ends with multiple innocent Funny Animal characters killed and Troy Hicks getting away with trading places with one of his characters who will die on death row while he revels in sadism.
  • Gotham Central. Crispus Allen is dead, his murderer gets away with it, his partner, Renee Montoya, is left a drunken, violent, mess who can't handle police work anymore, the corruption continues and all the MCU cops can do is watch it happen.
  • Ultimate Spider-Man ends with Peter Parker dying after taking a bullet for Captain America and then attempting to take on all of the Sinister Six at once before seeking out medical attention. The only bright spot is that Spider-Man stops the Six, but it's not clear how long they'll stay down.
  • Avengers: Children's Crusade ends with the Young Avengers breaking up. Stature and Vision are dead, Iron Lad is well on his way to becoming Kang the Conqueror, the surviving kids are consumed with guilt, and Scott Lang comes back to life just in time to see his daughter die.
  • Star Wars: Dark Times: The Path to Nowhere is disturbing. Bomo Greenbark and his new comrades set out to save his wife and daughter from slavery. At the slave pits they learn that the daughter has already been sold; his wife tried to protect her and was killed. The group is unable to free the remaining slaves, either. Eventually, they manage to track down the man who purchased the daughter, only to learn he has … eaten her. And then Dass Jennir – the Jedi of all people – kills him on the spot, alienating Bomo who would have preferred avenging her death himself.
  • Journey into Mystery probably takes the cake when it comes to downer endings. Not only is young Loki more or less forced to commit suicide by erasing himself from existence, but his body is taken over by his mentally disturbed, evil older self. This is particularly devastating as no one else even knows it even happened, therefore everyone who trusts and cares about him has suddenly been put at risk. Additionally the last few panels of a 13 year old boy ritualistically eating a live magpie are pretty horrifying.
  • Asterix and Obelix's Birthday has a Flash Forward set fifty years in the future. Things are mostly quite peaceful, but the Romans have deforested the area, meaning they have to rely on buying Roman food instead of hunting, and Asterix's son, Obelix's daughter and their children are culturally very Romanised as a result. The invasive Roman camps have developed into new, Roman towns, while the village is structurally falling apart because the Romans have no interest in going anywhere near it any more. Of course this is all pretty much inevitable, with the historical Gauls living as they did. In the end they cause a reset when Obelix punches Albert Uderzo in the face, but there's every indication that this future is exactly what would happen if the series wasn't Frozen in Time.
  • The short-lived Muties series had several, but the last issue takes the cake. Liam turns on the terrorists who forced him into their service, but he's captured by The Government, which decides that he's too dangerous to let live and thus quietly executes him and publically blames his death on terrorism.
  • The end of one of Ed Brubaker's Daredevil arcs has DD's wife being committed to a mental hospital, Mr. Fear in control of Ryker's (with nobody knowing) and the Hood having both his organisation and Mr. Fear's to use to control Hell's Kitchen.
  • In When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs, a retired couple attempt to prepare for an impending nuclear holocaust by following the advice given in various official leaflets. However, though they both grew up during World War II, they are unaware of the long term effects of a nuclear war and think life will soon get back to normal. The story ends with both of them fatally ill with radiation poisoning.
  • Kick-Ass:
    • By the end of Volume One, becoming Kick-Ass has arguably made Dave's life worse. On top of that, he's now got an arch nemesis who wants him dead.
    • In Volume Two, Dave's dad is murdered in Issue 5 and his funeral is bombed. Worse still, Mindy is in jail and Vic Gigante earns a high post at the NYPD.
  • Idées Noires: Perhaps the best example. All the gags in this comic strip are Black Comedy about stuff that worry and depress most people: suicide, fear of world war, fear of the bomb, fear of nuclear power, fear of epidemics, ... but also fantastical After the End jokes, Take That! comedy aimed at hunters, the death penalty and jokes about bizarre monsters. Nevertheless nearly all of them have a cynical downer ending.
  • Judge Dredd: The conclusion to the "Day of Chaos" arc probably has the most depressing ending of any of the mega epics. After all of Justice Department's efforts to stop the Fourth Faction's plans, a combination of carelessness on their parts, bad luck striking multiple times, and the enemy's efficiency leads to the spread of a deadly plague inside Mega City One, culminating in the near-complete destruction of the city. Dredd can only salvage what's left as he sees his city dying before his eyes.
  • There were very few truly happy endings in Misty. Usually, the best anyone could hope for was a Bittersweet Ending.
  • Khaal: The Chronicles of a Galactic Emperor ends with the bad guy winning in the most depressing fashion, in this case its the eponymous Villain Protagonist getting everything he wants and then some. Khaal gains ultimate power, uncontested control and gets all his rivals killed by the end. He subjects his two brothers (the most sympathetic characters in the comic) to A Fate Worse Than Death to ensure his continued survival as their lifeforce is tied to his own meaning if they die, so does him. Khaal then invades planet Earth and and successfully conquers it, becoming a God-Emperor.
  • Plutona: The attempt to steal Plutona's powers fails. The kids discover the plan and punish the perpetrator, escalating into a mortal wound. Plutona wakes up just in time to tell the kids to screw off and leave while their friend dies. They bury the body in the woods and never tell anyone.
  • Ultimatum ends with Dr. Strange Jr., Franklin Storm, the Wasp, Yellowjacket, Thor (until New Ultimates), and much of the X-Men dead; Quicksilver revealed to have faked his "death" in The Ultimates 3 and orchestrated the deaths of Magneto and Cyclops; the Fantastic Four and surviving X-Men disbanding (and unknown to the former at the time, Reed's about to undergo a Face–Heel Turn and the latter learning that mutants are really a side effect of a Super Soldier project, not a product of natural evolution); Spider-Man missing and, though not really at the time, presumed dead; and mutants themselves being outlawed.
  • In the independent comic book Mama! Dramas, one story called “Leisurely Welfare Living” ends this way. After going through a Trauma Conga Line of financial hardship and humiliation (including being shamed by her caseworker, taking a retail job that barely covers the basics, no support from her ex husband and having to move to a bad neighborhood), single mother Mary is living in a run down house, her check is late and she has no food to feed her children. When she calls Social Services, the Jerkass caseworker yells at her for being ungrateful as she breaks down crying. The end.
  • The Hiketeia: Tired of living in fear and ashamed for the trouble she feels she brought Diana, Danielle commits suicide by jumping off a bridge but not before releasing Diana of her ritual obligation towards her so as she won't be punished by The Erinyes for failing to protect her. Bruce and Diana part ways with neither proud they had to come to fisticuffs with one another. Diana ends the story commenting on the coldness and harshness of Man's World compared to life growing up on Themyscira.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: