Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.
The Expansive Marvel Universe
The Marvel Universe is huge. To adapt a Douglas Adams quote about space:
“[The Marvel Universe] is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to [the Marvel Universe].”
The Marvel Universe that’s been built over the last fifty years or so is larger and more complex than practically any other in fiction. Not only has it combined real-world geography and mythic places from other cultures, it’s got its own unique landscape in this dimension and a few others.
Within the MU are some really cool and tremendously fascinating places. For example, the planet of Klyntar, home of the Venom Symbiote, is an incredibly misunderstood world where all of the living organisms grow with the symbiotic life forms forming a hive mind. It is the goal of the Klyntar to create perfect warriors for a greater good.
The hive mind of this species exists in a state of peace and bliss until a corrupting influence is inserted into it. When it does, it is cut off from the hive mind to prevent contamination. Whatever's left continues to have perfect unity within the planet's flora and fauna.
Depending on your view of philosophy, it sounds peaceful. Then again, it also sounds like something from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. So there is a grain of salt in that. Without further ado, here are some of the most terrifying settings in the Marvel universe.
Horrifying Settings in the Marvel Universe
- Hell Realms
- Latveria, Ruled by Doctor Doom
- The Savage Land
- Poppup—Home of the Impossible Man
- Monster Island
- Nightmare’s Realm
- The Negative Zone
- The Dark Dimension
- Ego, the Living Planet
There is also the technological utopia of Titan, created by the Eternal Lord, Mentor. Despite being the birthplace of Thanos, it has the distinction of being the final resting place of the Kree Warrior, Captain Mar-Vell. This tranquil setting was where he found peace and acceptance to the Black End (Cancer) that eventually killed him.
On the flipside, there are places in the MU that are best to be avoided. These range from the mystically horrible and literally nightmarish places (such as Nightmare’s realm and Hell itself) to places that, while not dangerous, are as annoying as fingernails scraping a chalkboard.
Due to the sheer scope of the MU, I won’t include all of the bad places. There will be worse than I can muster up (although I'm sure I'll hit the really bad ones).
So, nitpickers—and I know you're out there—If you think of some, please leave your suggestions in the comments section. Just remember, I'm limited to a reasonably-sized article and a fuller, more-complete document would require a binding.
That said, let’s go to the bad places.
1. Hell Realms
In many senses, all of these places are the same place. There’s pain, torment, torture, eternal anguish, and an ambivalent ruler watching the damned for his own sick amusement.
Let's begin with Hell.
This place is ruled by the unholy ruler, Mephisto, who lives to make people suffer. From the time he tortured Shalla Bal and Norrin Radd to when he got to Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, this red devil has been a sadistic bastard. He can't help himself, it's what he does; it's his raison d'etre. Whether he's torturing Daredevil or going after Daimon Hellstrom, Johnny Blaze, or Daniel Ketch, Mephisto is nothing but trouble.
When he’s not doing that, he’s trading in a good deal for someone’s immortal soul.
For those of you who can’t relate to what I’m saying, you need to watch more episodes of The Twilight Zone that feature a devil with a deal or, for Supernatural fans, any story that involves Crowley making a "crossroads deal". These unbreakable contacts only cost your soul's future eternity of unimaginable suffering in Hell.
The rest of the population of Hell are the naturally damned and the demons that work there. The damned consigned here are the ones who thought that being an unprincipled bastard was the way to go.
As far as the landscape of Hell, it is filled with the standard fire and brimstone you can imagine from any account of The Devine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. Hell is always shown as a subterranean lair decorated tastefully with the damned imprisoned within the stone pillars surrounded by pools of bubbling lava.
Similar to Hell is Hel. That’s the Norse Hell for the dead, and not a typo.
When some people die within the MU, they go to a suburb of Niffleheim. Depending on whether or not they died an honorable death, they will either go to Valhalla (in Asgard — ruled by Odin) or to Hel, for the "regular" dead.
Hel is ruled by Hela who is the daughter of Loki and the sorceress giantess Angrboda. She rules Hel absolutely. Unlike Hell, it is not necessarily a place of suffering. For the wicked it is punishment; for the righteous, it is a reward. For practically everyone else, it’s just the land of the dead. It's nothing special and there's certainly no torment. The real difference between Valhalla and Hel is that you need to be exceptionally awesome to end up in the former and relatively average to end up in the latter.
To exist in Hel is to know an uneventful afterlife as a ghost. Hel is typically depicted as a dead wasteland full of mist, shadows, smoke, and desolation populated by skeletal corpses.
The fire and brimstone part of the Norse worlds goes to Muspelheim, where the fire demons live.
It’s hot down there. It is ruled by the giant fire demon, Surtur, who lives near molten lava pits and anything else that defines oppressive heat. It’s as hot as… well, as hot as Hell. As it is one of the lower realms of the nine worlds of Yggdrasil, it looks like a cavernous underground cave full of jagged stalactites and stalagmites.
It is not for the dead, though. It’s more like a place for demons to call home.
So, while it is not Hell, it is “hellish”.
Greek and Roman characters go to Hades, ruled by Pluto (his Greek name is Hades). He is the brother of the Olympian god ruler, Zeus, and the god of the oceans, Neptune. So when the realms were divided into three parts — the sky, the oceans, and the underworld — Pluto drew the short straw and got the land of the dead.
Pluto, as ruler of Hades, more or less gets the whole package of the recently dead that go to Elysium (for the virtuous), Tartarus (for the damned), and Asphodel Fields (for those who were neither exceptionally good nor bad). All the freshly dead souls are judged by the trio: Aeacus, Minos, and Rhadamanthys.
Much like Hel, Hades is a place for the dead. There are the standard subterranean backdrops and telltale suffering spots unique to Tartarus (after all, the damned aren’t supposed to get a break).
Notable sites in the underworld are the River Styx and Charon’s (the ferryman) quarters.
2. Latveria, Ruled by Doctor Doom
Latveria is known for one thing — it’s the kingdom of Doctor Doom.
It is a small country bordering Hungary, Romania, and Serbia. It is surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains and also borders Symkaria to the south. There is only one airport in the country, with two runways and a major terminal. Tourism is not a priority for Doom.
While I am listing this as one of the places that should be avoided in the MU, there are worse places to call home. On the upside, no child in Doom’s kingdom ever goes to bed hungry and his people fear and respect their monarch.
Despite Doom being Latveria’s most consistent dictator, several rulers have taken leadership from him during his extended absences – including The Fantastic Four and Lucia von Bardas – who was overthrown during Nick Fury’s Secret War. Doom, though, as of this writing is currently back in charge. It is during these times of uncertainty that things go awry within the borders and safety for the common citizens becomes an issue. When Doom is in charge, between his Doombots and his personal secret police, insurgences and crime become practically non-existent.
As it would be expected, there have been several devastating attacks upon Latveria from time to time and much of the country was laid to ruins during an attack from the Marquis of Death, as well as the casualties waged from Nick Fury’s Secret War where he had Daisy Johnson (Quake) bring down Castle Doom through her seismic powers. Doom restored his country using time-travel technology.
3. The Savage Land
The Savage Land is a great place for people who want to die a grizzly death.
It is a wonderful tropical jungle nestled within a small section of Antarctica. That’s right, Antarctica.
In actuality, it's a preserve created by the alien, Nuwali, at the request of the Beyonders – a group of god-like aliens. Much like modern-day archeologists and life scientists, the Beyonders wanted to view the process of evolution in a contained environment.
Think Charles Darwin on a much larger scale.
Powered by a string of active volcanoes, this enclosure uses advanced technology to keep the surrounding area's subarctic temperature at a tropical high where prehistoric Triassic conditions can unnaturally exist.
While the Beyonders eventually grew bored of this experiment, the aliens left the machines running. This, combined with a large deposit of vibranium (related to but unlike the vibranium in Wakanda), caused the flora and fauna of the area to mutate dramatically.
Magneto's sentient population of human mutates, known as the Savage Land Mutates, have created a comparatively livable section for them to survive in. Their leadership, whether it comes from characters like Zaladane, Magneto, or through their own ranks, needs a consistently cunning genius to survive there.
There is a large population of dinosaurs roaming the land. With that, living in the Savage Land is quite dangerous. It’s much like living in Jurassic Park without guns, safeguards, shelter, or anything that could preserve your life. Only the mutates and the bravest of warriors, like Ka-Zar and his wife Shanna, the She-Devil, and their saber-tooth tiger companion, Zabu, can make this land home.
4. Poppup—Home of the Impossible Man
Ever watch the part in the movie, Dumb and Dumber, where Jim Carrey makes the most annoying sound ever heard?
Going to the Planet Poppup is like that.
It’s not that the planet’s conditions are hazardous or whether the planet can sustain human life – those answers are unknown. It’s just that the inhabitants of the planet Poppup are mostly asexual clones of the Impossible Man.
For those of you who haven’t heard of the Impossible Man, he is one of the most annoyingly, attention-seeking, insane characters within the MU. And that’s saying something.
While he did asexually reproduce to make a female counterpart called “The Impossible Woman”, it is presumed he stopped reproducing asexually when he fathered an introverted son named, Adolf. Adolf is not as whacky as his siblings and the Impossible Man has decided he is too possible for his species.
In any event, the planet is filled to the brim with obnoxious attention-seeking shapechangers who are hyperactively bonkers.
Poppupians can change their shapes into anything they can imagine. Each time one does this, the change is accompanied by a small “pop”.
Considering that the Impossible Man and variants of him are the sole species of Poppup, remaining there too long would drive anyone crazy.
5. Monster Island
One of the first terrifying places we see in the modern era of Marvel Comics in Fantastic Four issue #1 is a place called Monster Island. The name is not an ironic one. It literally is an island full of enough monsters to provide a decade worth of Toho films.
Similar to the “Monster Island” of the Toho Godzilla movies, all that really goes on in this patch of land located in the Sea of Japan are the almost relentless battles between titanic creatures whose very footfalls cause seismic tremors.
While the monsters on the island make life on the island unnerving, it is not unlivable. The reigning monarch of this place is the ruler of Subterranea, The Moleman. Unlike most people, the Moleman has discovered ways of controlling the monsters and uses this location as his surface base of operations. When he is not using it, he’s been known to rent it to Adam Warlock and his now-defunct Infinity Watch.
Not that building a summer home there is a great idea, but outside the constant threat of becoming a monster lunch, the area is quite lush and beautiful. The island features great tropical jungles and access to subterranean caves ideal for spelunkers, as well as warm bodies of water for those brave enough to swim in them.
Plus, it has the perfect access point to…
Every Jules Verne fan would explode with delight knowing that such a place modeled after Journey to the Center of the Earth exists. This underground kingdom (like Monster Island) premiered in Fantastic Four #1.
The first modern man that discovered this ever-growing chain of subterranean tunnels was Harvey Rupert Elder, an American nuclear engineer and explorer. Elder, who was shunned by the surface world for his brutishly unattractive face and dumpy figure, fled the civilized world in favor of exploring Monster Island. Upon his first exploration, he fell into a cavern and was nearly blinded by a large store of brilliantly lit underground diamonds.
Elder’s vision adjusted to the darkness of the underground world and his other senses are highly attuned to this environment. In time, he discovered and mastered the advanced technological machines left by a race of Deviants (an evolutionary offshoot of the Celestial-made Eternals). Elder, in view of his blindness, physical deformities, and new underground kingdom, dubbed himself “The Mole Man”.
The underground kingdom he lives in he calls Subterranea. This massive network of tunnels and caverns literally spans most of the Earth’s underground. It is populated, primarily, by three different lifeforms: The Moloids, The Lava Men, and Tyrannoids. Other groups living in Subterranea include Lizard Men, Deviants, Ghouls, Gorkokians, and Molans.
While the Mole Man is presumed to rule Subterranea, he is not the only ruler. The other ruler vying for the kingdom is the near immortal, Tyrannus – who rules the Tyrannoids and keeps himself young through an underground fountain of youth. These two rulers come into conflict often.
Lastly, there are Lava Men. Guess what they’re made of. They are not things you’d want to hug or touch for that matter. They are ruled by the former Prince Gor-Tok, also known as Grotesk, a native Subterranean.
Why is Subterranea bad? Well, all of these things, when you combine them make it a terrible place to be. The dim light combined with millions of underground creatures, monsters, lava pits, and things that can just make you go blind is just simply terrifying. Leave alone that you could just stumble into one of the many underground skirmishes between any of the underground fiefdoms.
Unless you know what you’re doing and where you’re going, it’s a great place to get horribly, horribly killed.
7. Nightmare’s Realm
We all have nightmares. Whether they come because someone ate a peanut butter and pickle sandwich a la mode or whether they have a stressed filled psyche, they happen pretty much to everyone.
In the Marvel Universe when people have nightmares their astral selves subconsciously journey to an extradimensional realm ruled by the demon, Nightmare. Nightmare is an enigmatic demon who rides through this “Dream Dimension” on a black-horned horse named Dreamstalker and torments the poor souls who turn up there.
Nightmare feeds on the energy that humans produce when they dream. The worse the nightmare, the better he feeds. Nightmare’s realm is filled with hallucinations, misdirections, and manipulations of reality. In other words, it changes with each dream victim.
Nightmare’s realm is not a nice place to visit and you certainly wouldn’t want to live there.
8. The Negative Zone
Imagine an entire universe made of antimatter. This is the Negative Zone of the MU.
As anyone with an idea of what antimatter is, going to a dimension that is negatively charged is highly dangerous and must be done carefully. In order to survive a trip there, one should enter through what is known as a “Distortion Area” which helps create a field where a traveler can have a buffer between matter and antimatter – because eventually, things will get touched.
Surprisingly enough, there aren’t many life forms there.
The life forms that are there aren’t ones you’d want to meet. The two main factions of the Negative Zone are Annhilus (and his followers) and Blaastar (and his followers). Both of these psychotic leaders are extremely dangerous for a few different reasons.
Annhilus, when armed with his cosmic rod, has superstrength, nigh-immortality, and can fire destructive beams of cosmic power. In form, he resembles a chitinous man-sized insect. The thing about him is that whenever he's beaten to death he gets reborn again.
He's harder to get rid of than cockroaches.
The other is Blastaar, who is essentially the embodiment of a nuclear explosion with skin. He is super-strong and super-invulnerable. More than his power and might, he is best known for his short temper and love of wanton destruction.
Neither one of these combatants is anyone a hero would happily face.
While it is true that the Kree superhero, Captain Mar-Vell, and his partner, Rick Jones, had an extended stay in the Negative Zone during their career, it is not one that either enjoyed. As part of their own survival, both beings lived a shared existence where Captain Mar-Vell could exist within the positive universe for three hours (Jones could stay indefinitely) and at the end of that time limit, Mar-Vell had to voluntarily (or involuntarily) switch atoms with Jones by slamming his nega-bands together. The downside to either spending time in the zone was that they were both vulnerable to attack from Annhilus or Blastaar and that prolonged stays produced negative feelings and emotions.
Knowing that we can now look at Tony Stark with a bit more condemnation. During the Civil War conflict, Stark created a gulag for super-powered beings who refused to register with the Avengers Initiative and were detained there (much like a Guantanamo Bay prison in negative space). The emotional turmoil as a byproduct of the prison must have been similar to anyone imprisoned in the Harry Potter prison of Azkaban when guarded by Dementors.
9. The Dark Dimension
There’s a lot of truth in advertising and the tourism department for the mystic arts hit a hole-in-one when they named “The Dark Dimension”. Okay, it’s not physically dark, but it’s dark in every other respect.
Fans of Doctor Strange will immediately recognize the Dark Dimension as the home of the Dread Dormammu, his sister Umar, and Strange’s girlfriend, Clea. The inhabitants of this place are known as the Faltine. Each of the Faltine is made of highly mystical energy made to look like human beings. The ruling class of the Faline (ie – Dormammu, Umar, and Clea) wear the “flames of regency” when they take power.
As the Dormammu himself has been described by many as “something worse than a demon”, we can assume that he dwells somewhere something worse than Hell. In fact, the Dark Dimension is wholly alien in its nature – like most places that involve Doctor Strange. As anywhere imagined by Steve Ditko, this place is 1) not easy to get to and 2) full of weird and alien properties that would make M.C. Escher want to go for a lie-down.
In addition to defying all of the physical laws of the Earth dimension, the Dark Dimension borders the place occupied by the well-named “Mindless Ones”. These things are a group of invulnerable engines of destruction and wrath. They live to do only two things. The first is fighting against each other always and eternally and the other is to expand their space into the Dormammu’s realm. The Dormammu’s realm is protected by a powerful force field, not-unlike an electric fence but works on the same principle as a bug-zapper for Mindless Ones.
Unlike Doom’s rule in Latveria, the Dormammu is no kind ruler – although, according to Doctor Strange, he does have his own moral code and once he makes his promises he is reluctant to go against them. Outside of that, living in the Dark Dimension is pretty terrible. So well known it is that Doctor Strange has done everything in his power to stop the Dark Dimension from expanding to the Earth Dimension. Should that ever happen, the people of Earth would know a new definition of Hell (as it almost happened in the immortal “Avengers versus Defenders” storyline.
It’s an amusement park that only amuses one person, Arcade – the highest paid hitman in the world.
This rich, poorly-dressed, sadistic genius who has created sophisticated, robot-controlled, death traps known as “Murderworlds”, kills people for a fee of one million dollars per victim. Each of these murderworlds is different and are designed specifically to kill any of the super-powered prey in Arcade’s contract.
There is usually a comedic theme to each of Arcade’s Murderworlds. Some have had a “Wizard of Oz” theme where the intended victim had to travel through his lethal yellow brick road or his “Alice in Wonderland” themed The Doorway to Destiny where he tried to kill Captain Britain’s girlfriend Courtney Ross.
Regardless of whatever the theme is of a Murderworld, the one thing you want in any of them is to get out alive.
11. Ego, the Living Planet
There have been many a hapless and lost space traveler that has found an apparently lifeless planet outside of its beautiful flora and unusually erratic weather patterns. Many of these clueless beings only discover too late (usually after exploring the planet's plentiful subterranean caves) that they are currently dwelling on Ego, the living planet.
The three things you should know about Ego is: 1) it's alive in a very real sense, 2) it is quite insane, and 3) it would very much like you to stay for dinner. And by "dinner", the main course will be raw "you".
Very much like Galactus, the world eater, Ego has a hankering for some parboiled ecosystems. When it can't get that, it will happily dine on any group of living people who mistakenly think that colonizing this unpopulated planet would be just a "Jim Dandy" idea. That's usually around the time Ego will dispatch its antibodies to subdue, dispatch, and digest the new population - with or without gravy.
As far as Ego's personal history goes, the only thing you should know is that it was created by the cosmic entity known as The Stranger as one of two worlds: Ego and Alter-Ego. The two fought each other and Alter-Ego lost to become Ego's moon. The living planet is also telepathic and can read the minds of anyone staying on it.
Outside of all that, Ego can create humanoid versions of itself (known as Ego-Prime) when it isn't shifting mountain ranges, magnetic poles, and tectonic plates to create a planet-wide face to speak to other large cosmic beings (like Galactus). As a living planet, it can change weather patterns and landscape at a whim to be a virtual utopia or a barren desert.
Just remember, what Ego does it does to survive. It may not be nice about it. Its rationale may not make sense to anyone listening to its diatribe, but in the end, its doing it because it's hungry or may just want some company.
In case you’re asking, “Yes, there are still other bad places in the MU.”
I could spend the next week researching and commenting on all the horrifying places found within it. Fans of the Hulk who began reading around issue #300 saw every place the jolly green giant accidentally traveled through when he was consigned to The Nexus of All Realities.
Speaking of which, another place that heroes should try to avoid is Citrusville, Florida and the Man-Thing’s swamp. Not only is there a very real chance of getting eaten by an alligator, but there is also a high probability of bumping into all sorts of supernatural menaces like D’Spayre, the demon, or a cigar-smoking duck trapped in a world he never made. Leave alone that and accidentally tripping into the hidden portal that hides the Nexus of All Realities – where you should be very careful to select the right signpost and stay on whatever path leads to your destination.
There can be no doubt that there are certainly worse places to visit in the MU.
On the late and lamented planet of Hala, homeworld to the Kree and the Supreme Intelligence, aside from the being a technological marvel to behold, it was still a planet of racial hostility and militarily governed might. After all, when the blue Kree are the ones that hold the keys to the kingdom and their animosity extends to all of their “mongrel” pink brothers, it’s not a fun place to be on the outside. There is also the matter of avoiding the Universal Church of Truth as founded by Adam Warlock’s future temporal counterpart, The Magus. Their aggressive recruitment techniques make the Church of Sun Myung Moon look like Buddhists.
I will leave the Skrull Throneworld to your imagination.
Even on Earth, there are bad places. Should you ever find yourself in the country of Madripoor, you’d do your best to avoid the lawless Lowtown. This is a place where if you can’t handle yourself on the street, you will find yourself robbed, beaten, and most likely sold into slavery. If you do find yourself there, one oasis of safety would be the Princess Bar run by a man named O’Donnell and his rough silent partner, Patch (Wolverine).
As I said, there are a lot of bad places and I haven’t listed all of them.
As comic book readers, we know there have to be dangerous places. If there weren’t, our comics would be dull, boring, and full of puppy dogs and cuddly squirrels. We need to know where the bad places are so that when our heroes accidentally find themselves within their borders, we know that they have to get the hell out of there quickly.
Afterall, who is going to read the horrific tale of Escape from the Terrifying Clutches of Pillow Puff, The Softest Kitten in Fluffytown?
Bad Places Poll
© 2018 Christopher Peruzzi