The pandemic burning through the world right now is terrifying, lethal and virtually unstoppable. But one thing it isn’t: unexpected. We’ve been through this before — the 1918 flu, the Black Plague — and experts have long been predicting this one. Which has made pandemics an irresistible topic to explore in comic books. Let’s take a look at five:
5. Y: The Last Man
In the first issue of DC Comics’ “Y: The Last Man” in 2002, an unknown plague wipes out everything on the planet with a Y chromosome, except for a young escape artist named Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand. He’s chased around the world by groups of women — including ninjas, Amazons and the Mossad — who either want to kill him or breed with him. It’s a terrific read by superstar writer Brian K. Vaughan that explores gender roles and is a crackerjack adventure story.
4. X-Men Legacy Virus
This airborne disease first appeared in Marvel’s X-Men books in 1993, affecting only mutants, giving them AIDS-like symptoms. As the disease progressed, the affected mutant’s organs would begin to shut down, until death, when the mutant’s power (whatever it was) would go into overdrive and explode.
3. Marvel’s ‘The Hunger’
Somewhere in the Marvel multiverse, there is an Earth exactly like the one we read about in Marvel Comics, but isn’t ours. In fact, Marvel helpfully tells us that it’s Earth-2149, for those fans who are mapping the multiverse. On that Earth in 2005, a superhero known as the Sentry arrives from outer space, already infected with “The Hunger,” which transforms people into zombies with a single bite. He bites a bunch of Avengers, and super-speedster Quicksilver spreads the disease globally. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s probably enough to tell you that the last hope of mankind ... is Magneto. The story is by Robert Kirkman, who had created “The Walking Dead” two years previously. You can find it in “Marvel Zombies” and related miniseries.
An unnamed disease, invented by Spider-Man arch-foe and clone-maker the Jackal, gave all of Manhattan’s residents Spider-Man powers in a clutch of Marvel titles in 2011. That’s pretty awesome, except as the disease progressed, victims mutated into giant spider-monsters. Writer Dan Slott kept the story moving along briskly so that we didn’t have to dwell on that too long, and everyone got cured anyway. But it’s worth it to watch J. Jonah Jameson become a giant, hairy spider.
1. The Walking Dead
Do I really need to say anything about the pandemic that collapsed civilization and gave us “The Walking Dead” comics and TV shows? [Spoilers here:] The most interesting thing about this unexplained disease is that apparently everyone on Earth has already been infected by it. Sure, a walker bite can turn you. But so can death by any means. The burning question remains: How did everyone get it? Only Kirkman knows, and he ain’t tellin’.