The dark truth about these Avengers: Endgame characters

If you're one of the eight remaining people on Earth who hasn't seen Avengers: Infinity War yet, maybe as the result of losing a bet or a mean-spirited dare, you'll be shocked to learn that half of Earth's Mightiest Heroes are dead. So are half of the mightiest heroes from everywhere besides Earth, and half of all of the heroes who aren't mighty, and half of the people who aren't heroic. Basically, half of everyone is dead. Yeah, that would've been an easier way to say that.

With a snap of his fingers, the Mad Titan Thanos turned 50 percent of the universe's population into moon sand, and Peter Parker into the tears of every unsuspecting 8-year-old that went to see that movie. Who were we left with? By the numbers, one remaining Beatle, the cast of Two Men and No Baby, and a handful of deeply broken Marvel heroes.

The thing is, those heroes were severely busted up long before The Snap. Taking the long view, some of them have been around for over 50 years, which is a long time to rack up personal defects. Let's take a look back across Marvel's myriad universes and remember why the folks in Avengers: Endgame are the last group of super people you'd want defending the cosmos.

Iron Man: murdering hypocrite

Like so many of the classics, Iron Man's story is about the pursuit of absolution. He's an ex-weapons designer who put profit over morality until the day he came face to face with what his weapons were actually doing to people. He turned his life around. In the span of a few days, he went from giving the ballistic missile equivalent of the "greed is good" speech from Wall Street to shutting down his weapons division and dedicating his life to protecting the vulnerable. Of all people, he should know the value of redemption.

Maybe that's what makes it so jarring when he kills damned near everyone who gets in his way. From the big bad guys all the way down to their rent-a-henchmen, nobody's safe from Tony's willingness to repulsor blast somebody's lower intestine out of their body. It just seems like an extreme approach to behavior modification from a guy whose whole philosophy was changed in an instant, and whose costume is some lawn darts and a couple copper wire spools away from potentially being history's most effective stun gun.

Tony Stark's hypocrisy doesn't end there. In Captain America: Civil War, racked with guilt over the people he's accidentally killed, the Invincible Iron Man advocates for a more transparent, lawful approach to superheroism. How does he chase after this ideal? By blackmailing a child, smuggling him across international borders, and forcing him to fight pop culture demigods under threat of revealing his identity.

Thor: girlfriend-smacking friend abandoner

Thor has been a lot of things over the years, like a disabled medical student and, for a while there, a frog. But through it all, he's had one enduring characteristic. He's always sort of the worst.

Let's start with his anger issues. The God of Thunder has always been hot-headed, which is part of what makes his bro-down with Hulk in Ragnarok so endearing. It gets less charming when you see how far it can go. In the comics, Thor is prone to a bad case of the godlike temper tantrums called "The Warrior's Madness." When this state overtakes him, he experiences hallucinations, paranoia, and bouts of smacking his friends around. Maybe the bleakest example of this was back in Mighty Thor #468, when the fella went all hammer time on a laundry list of fellow heroes and then backhanded his fiancee, Lady Sif. Yeah, things didn't work out between them.

It's also worth mentioning that Thor has a running streak of abandoning his buddies when they need him. Putting aside the fact that just about any of the MCU solo movie plots could've been solved with 30 seconds of lightning smackdowns (Iron Man 3's helicopter attack? Lightning. Ant Man's tiny bad guy? Size means nothing to lightning.) he also jets halfway through Age of Ultron to jam in a jacuzzi and then leaves and doesn't come back until Infinity War. We're not saying he doesn't have his own life, but three years and not so much as a phone call?

Hulk: angry, insensitive, incestuous

Nobody's breaking new ground by saying The Hulk has anger issues. He's the poster child for no good, very bad days. But while onscreen representations serve up Bruce Banner as the long-suffering victim of circumstance, the truth is that the guy is mostly a crabby tool. Bruce Banner loves to fly off the handle. He lets innocuous problems become giant smash-happy green ones.

Now let's look at the long-term effects of his lifestyle. The good news is, there are plenty of alternate futures in the comics to draw from. The bad news is that they're all just so, so bad.

Hulk has two prominent potential future selves. One is Maestro, a hyper-intelligent Hulk a hundred or so years in the future who, after the bombs fell, took over as sort of an enormous green Immortan Joe. He's an evil overlord. He loves to kill.

But then there's the Hulk from Old Man Logan, who's ... just so much worse. This version, hopped up on gamma radiation, took over America's West Coast, hooked up with his cousin, and got to making little Hulks, all of whom walked away with a very Deliverance approach to life.

Maybe it's not fair to judge a character on their possible future selves, though. So instead, let's remember that time when the Hulk put on blackface to impersonate a professional athlete. It was a different time, you know? All the way back in (giant sigh) the '90s.

Black Widow: Soviet spy, child murderer

In case it wasn't clear from the flashbacks to the Red Room or her constant vocal vaguebooking about her dark past, Black Widow has a checkered history. Starting out as a Soviet secret agent, Natasha Romanov waffled over to S.H.I.E.L.D., where she became the go-to red herring for stories where the team thought there might be a traitor in their midst.

Flash-forward a few decades to Mark Millar's The Ultimates. Like everything that Millar lays his gritty King Midas fingers on, the Avengers in this story turned dark and edgy and just a little bit uncomfortable to read about. As a point of reference, this is the writer who brought us the post-apocalyptic inspiration for 2017's Logan and made Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch go all Jamie and Cersei Lannister on one another. Nobody was going to walk away without at least a dash of grossness.

His take on Black Widow got especially nefarious when she subverted years of Benedict Arnold fake-outs and actually turned on the team. Her subterfuge led to the gruesome deaths of Hawkeye's wife and kids.

Hawkeye: body horror nightmare

On paper, Hawkeye is the Avenger that seems most likely to be a Make-A-Wish that got out of hand and just kept going for years and years. On a team of super-soldiers, nanite-shielded mega-geniuses, and literal gods, he shoots bad guys with a bow and arrow. He's a superhero that a 9-year-old would come up with when they caught five minutes of The Two Towers on basic cable after they were supposed to be in bed.

That said, like any goofy silver age holdover (with the possible exceptions of Condiment King and Doctor Bong) Hawkeye was really only ever one freaky writer away from truly unsettling greatness. In Mark Millar's The Ultimates, we get a look at what kind of man would dedicate his life to becoming the most deadly person on the planet with a weapon from the middle ages. The answer was "a total freak show."

After witnessing the executions of his wife and children, Hawkeye is tied up and interrogated by a group of enemy soldiers. Knowing that his bizarre accuracy made him a living weapon if left with anything to throw, they stripped Clint of any accoutrements that he might chuck at them from the interrogation table. What they didn't count on was Barton meticulously prying off his own fingernails and using them to flick molten death at the whole crew. Yes, everyone's favorite Avenger to make fun of went Brundlefly on his own cuticles and passed out some of the most embarrassing and nauseating deaths in Marvel history.

War Machine: lying thief

It's important for groups to grow, separate, and change. If people didn't branch out and explore their potential, we'd still have Destiny's Child instead of Beyonce. And truly, the West Coast Avengers were the Beyonce of superhero teams.

Feeling like there might be crime somewhere besides New York, Hawkeye (yes, Hawkeye) decides to start an Avengers splinter group in Los Angeles. Little does he know that the Iron Man on his new team is secretly Rhodey in disguise. Rhodes spends the next few stories never taking his helmet off, pretending to be the real Iron Man, and putting the group in danger by acting like he has experience fighting bad guys he's never encountered before.

And do you remember how the whole story behind Iron Man 2 revolved around Tony not wanting to hand his technology over to the U.S. government? How he thought doing that would be irresponsible, since it would just wind up in the hands of the military and contribute to a perpetual cycle of violence he himself had witnessed? And then along comes James Rhodes, ostensibly Stark's best friend, to unapologetically steal the Mark II and take it straight back to the military. He's not even subtle about the fact that he's realizing Tony's greatest fear: He glues a canon to the suit's shoulder and calls himself War Machine. With friends like this, right?

Captain Marvel: drunk, irresponsible, and she totally shot a dog

Carol Danvers, the MCU's newest, biggest badass, has had a rough go. Back in the '80s, still going by Ms. Marvel and struggling to come to terms with her powers, she had them abruptly yanked out of her by Rogue, who was still sort of a pill at the time. Luckily for her, there's never a shortage of strange aliens willing to gene-splice a human in Marvel, and their Xenomorph-adjacent species, the Brood, tortured her until she became Binary, a different laser-blasting cosmic dynamo. And that wasn't even her last heroic reinvention. She'd later go by Warbird and eventually Captain Marvel. The point is, a lack of personal stability is enough to make anyone get drunk and shoot a dog. Wait, what?

Yeah, Danvers developed a drinking problem. Most of the time that meant a lot of slumping over a bottle and talking about how miserable she was. On one very special occasion, though, it led to her getting sloshed and hitting the Inhumans' dog, Lockjaw, with a fistful of energy projection. You know, like heroes.

Then, during Civil War II, she put a lot of chips on the idea of preemptively preventing crime using the spotty premonitions of a precognitive Inhuman named Ulysses. It was a tactic that came off as half-Orwellian, half-Minority Report. Final results? The deaths of War Machine and Bruce Banner.

Ant Man: jerk-worshiping hack

So often in life, it's the company you keep that makes people uneasy about you. Taking the wrong mentor is going to change the way folks look at you, no matter how swell you are, and if Scott Lang is Morty, Hank Pym is definitely his hard-drinking Rick.

Despite being on a team with a boozy mech suit enthusiast and the angriest man in the world, Hank Pym always managed to stand out as pretty much the grossest Avenger. In the comics, he was responsible for the creation of Ultron. He was physically and emotionally abusive to his wife. He performed wacky experiments on himself, leading to further mental instability. Further down the road, in Mark Millar's The Ultimates, he had a particularly bad day and bit The Blob in half.

And that's the guy Scott Lang chose to emulate. He doesn't create his own public persona. He wears the same outfit and uses the same name as the Avenger with the most publicly horrifying personal life. We're not saying it wouldn't be cool to get big and small or whatever, but a rebranding might've been in order before cosplaying as The Amazing Wifebeater.

Rocket: joyful murderer from the planet of the psych wards

"I want to kill some guys," shouts Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, just before machine-gunning a pile of enemy spaceships out of the sky. Are they manned? No, but Rocket doesn't know that.

You like jarring antiheroes? Guardians has got you covered. Rocket is, well, he's deep enough into antihero territory that it's hard to remember what makes him heroic. The little fella just loves to kill, sort of indiscriminately, and usually while screaming about how much he's enjoying himself. Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a rodent-shaped massacre! What sort of raccoons are we letting our kids look up to these days?

Then again, it's not like Rocket has had an easy life. The movies make some offhanded references to the fact that he was tortured and experimented on. In the comics, his story is worlds stranger. Rocket started life as the chief security officer on a planet-sized insane asylum where animals were turned anthropomorphic and intelligent to ... help comfort the patients? Because nothing makes you feel more sane than a porcupine on its hind legs asking what you'd like for breakfast.

Captain America: occasionally dastardly and uncoordinated

He's one of Marvel's longest-running characters. He's the champion of liberty. He once socked Adolf Hitler square in the jaw. He's Captain America, and boy is he problematic.

Get ready to have your mind blown because a character who premiered as the personification of American moral superiority a quarter-century before civil rights hasn't always been the greatest guy. He's been a werewolf, and he's decapitated a man with his shield. During the pretty-enormous-bummer Secret Empire storyline, he turned out to be a Hydra operative who had been playing the good guy long con for about 70 years. Was it because of the reality-altering powers man was not meant to control? Of course it was, but that's the problem with superheroes, isn't it? There's always an excuse.

In maybe his Worst Moment Ever, though, Cap once watched Richard Nixon (never named on panel but like, definitely Richard Nixon) shoot himself in the head. The guilt Steve Rogers felt over the incident led to his abandoning the Captain America identity, instead becoming Nomad, a man in a classic yellow and blue superhero costume. His first move as the new character was to immediately trip on his cape and fall down.

Thanos: Jay Gatsby but with more murder

You know how it is. You meet a girl. She's unimpressed. You commit the greatest war crime in the history of the universe to get her attention. That's how Thanos do.

Thanos, in the movies, is just well-spoken enough that his whole "kill half of all life to save the rest" plan might seem defensible, especially if you're a sociopath on an internet message board. Sacrifices, you might think, have to be made. Frankly, as reasons for mercilessly wiping out billions of people go, this is as good as utilitarianism is ever going to get.

It's just too bad that it's also a crock. In the comics, Thanos doesn't care about saving the universe, he cares about getting some of that Netflix and chill with the universe's embodiment of death. Having met her at a party once or something, Thanos became enamored with Death and decided he'd do anything to show her what a cool guy he was. Killing half of all life is just his way of sending her a note that says "do you like me? Check yes or no."