Captain Comics: Here’s your comics-for-pandemics reading list

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The pandemic burning through the world right now is terrifying, lethal and virtually unstoppable. But one thing it isn’t, is 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 fiction. Comic books, in particular, have a lot of them. Some are semi-realistic and may afford some insights, and some are wackadoodle, which can infect us with the giggles.

So let’s take a look at my Top 11 Comics for Pandemics:


Back in 1975, a kind of pollen infects Thanagar, Hawkman’s home planet. In fact, the Winged Wonder is one of the first victims, who then infects the Justice League.

“I’d been equalized,” he explained, “as had almost the entire planet! Those particles from the alien were microbes … which affect people when they exert themselves — making them physically equal to everyone around them!”

In other words, it “equalizes” everyone’s strengths and weaknesses to make them all average. It affects people mentally, too:

Green Arrow: “What do you make of it, Batman?”

Batman: “Why ask me?”

Honestly, it’s a pretty silly premise. But it’s worth your while just to see Batman as a C student.


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. The source of the plague is never definitively explained, as Yorick is chased around the world by hordes of women — including ninjas, Amazons and the Mossad — who either want to kill him or breed with him.

It’s a terrific read, and a TV series has been in the works for a while at FX. I’d have rated it higher, except that the pandemic is little more than a set-up for writer Brian K. Vaughan’s exploration of gender roles, commentary on modern society and a crackerjack adventure story.


The Technarchy, an alien, artifical-intelligence machine race introduced in 1980s X-books, transmit the Transmode Virus with skin-to-skin contact, transforming living tissue into “techno-organic” material, which they can suck the energy out of (i.e. “eat’). Left unharvested, techno-organic beings eventually become The Phalanx, a Borg-like hive-mind super-race.

Obviously, the Transmode Virus is used sparingly, because otherwise the X-Men would have all been assimilated by now. Not to mention us puny humans.


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. After the plague claimed Illyana “Magik” Rasputin, her brother Colossus sacrificed his life to end the virus. (Both got better.)

The first version of the virus (later variants killed humans, too) was created by Stryfe, the time-traveling clone of Nathan “Cable” Summers, who is the son of Scott “Cyclops” Summers and Madelyne Pryor, the latter a clone of Jean “Marvel Girl/Phoenix” Grey, who was sent to the future as a baby in the hopes of curing the Transmode Virus (see above), with which he had been infected by Apocalypse. Returning to our time as an adult, it turns out Cable uses his vast telekinetic powers to hold the virus in check, which to date has only transformed one arm and part of his chest.

As a metaphor for AIDS, I found stories featuring the virus heavy-handed and preachy, and by the time it was destroyed, I might have given my own life to end this storyline. Fortunately, Colossus beat me to it.


Way back in 1960, the Justice League battled an android named Amazo. Created by the villainous Professor Ivo, Amazo could duplicate any super-power he encountered, resulting in Jeff Bezos’ Amazon, a company which has taken over the world through assimilation.

Just kidding. Mostly. Anyway Lex Luthor developed a virus based on Amazo, which suppressed super-powers in those that have them, but then mutated to affect ordinary humans, who would develop super-powers based on the subconscious. (Batman, for example, developed a bat-like echo-location power).

Until they died.

Yep. Blood would turn black, brains would boil, it was a whole thing. Anyway, the virus was defeated by using anti-bodies from Superman’s blood — he was exposed, but fought off the infection — and real science, with words like “isoprene bond” and “proteolytic enzyme” appearing in a Justice League comic book. At least, I assume that’s real science.

There was plenty of comic book science, too, resulting in a new Amazo (formerly a human being) and even a Kid Amazo. They just couldn’t leave well enough alone.


Somewhere in the DC multiverse, there is an Earth exactly like the one we read about in DC Comics, but isn’t ours. Because in this one, as depicted in the “DCeased” miniseries, Darkseid won.

Sort of. In “DCeased” #1 in 2019, the ruler of Apokalips combined an aspect of Death (known as the Black Racer among the New Gods) with the Anti-Life Equation (long story) and created a disease that turns everyone who sees it into a ravening, cannibalistic monster (a “fast zombie” in nerd-speak).

And it’s spread on the Internet. So it infects anyone who looks at a phone, or a Wikipedia page, or Netflix … yeah, pretty much everyone.

It doesn’t go well. Darkseid is the first victim, and he destroys Apokolips. In his last moments henchman DeSaad infects Earth, and pretty much the whole Justice League goes full-on, super-powered zombie. I won’t spoil the ending, but there’s a sequel out currently — “DCeased: Unkillables” — which should tell you something.

It’s really well done. I would have ranked it higher, only it came out in 2019, and Marvel Comics beat DC to the punch by 14 years:


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. (And you just know they exist.)

On that Earth in 2005, a superhero known as The Sentry arrives from outer space, already infected with “The Hunger,” which transforms people into fast 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” at Image Comics two years previously. You can find it in “Marvel Zombies” and related miniseries.


In the dystopian future of Judge Dredd, everything in Mega-City One is over the top — including epidemics like The Jigsaw Disease. If you catch it, giant cartoon holes start appearing all over your body. Where your parts go is unknown, and it doesn’t even make sense how people can continue to function with see-through openings all over their heads and torsos. The only cure is, essentially, suicide.

Honestly, Mega-City One makes Gotham City look like paradise. Speaking of which:


In 1996, between the storylines where Bane broke Batman’s back and Gotham City suffered a magnitude 7.6 earthquake, Batman’s home was infected with the Ebola Gulf A strain. Created out of regular Ebola by the Order of St. Dumas (and later modified by Ra’s al Ghul), the airborne enemy constantly mutated, and infected all of Gotham. Technically the disease was called the Apocalypse Virus, but everyone called it The Clench because of how victims cramp up. Before, you know, bleeding from the eyes and dying. Within 48 hours.

Needless to say, Batman (and a few friends and enemies) found a cure in time so there are still people living in Gotham. Although God knows why.


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.

Which, as downsides go, is right up there with cartoon holes in your body. 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 — and finally stop talking.


Do I really need to say anything about the pandemic that collapsed civilization and gave us “The Walking Dead” comics and TV shows?

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’.

That’s a wrap. There are a lot more bizarre diseases in comics than those listed above, but those are my favorites. Maybe knowing we won’t turn into giant spiders will make COVID-19 a little less scary? God knows we could use a little good news.


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