DC’s Future State featured the real Horsemen of the Apocalypse and they put Marvel’s version to shame.
WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Future State: The Flash # 2 by Brandon Vietti, Brandon Peterson, Will Conrad, Mike Atiyeh and Steve Wands, out now.
The Horsemen of the Apocalypse have always been a popular fixture in any form of pop culture. The faces of Pestilence, War, Famine and Death have appeared in all kinds of media and are familiar characters to almost everyone. In the comics, the Riders are most often associated with the X-Men and Marvel, but DC’s Future State Riders have managed to put Marvel’s Riders to shame, simply because they are so good at what they do.
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In the span of a few months, the Four Horsemen of DC have left the world in ruins, decimated the Teen Titans, and broken the spirit of Flash. By comparison, no version of Marvel’s Horsemen can truly compete, because either they are defeated before they can get that far or they return to the X-Men after being freed from whatever was holding them there.
The first rider introduced may be the most effective. Wally West was possessed by Famine outside the panel prior to the events of Future state: Flash. But the desperate attempts of his friends to free him from his prison led to the death of several sprinters and eventually broke the spirit of Barry Allen. This perhaps, more than any of the other deaths it has caused, means how dangerous these cyclists are. The famine managed to destroy something in Barry that nothing, not even the loss of his mother, could: it robbed him of hope.
There have been very few other close encounters with the horsemen, save for the final battle with them in Future State: Teen Titans # 2 by Tim Sheridan, Rafa Sandoval, and Rob Leigh, so Famine is the one to focus on primarily. Show how these riders differ from their usual depictions. Horsemen are often shown as the literal incarnation of his name. War brings war, pestilence brings plague, hunger brings famine, and death brings death. That dynamic is interesting enough, but DC went a step further by giving them symbolic power as well.
Not only did the famine rob Barry Allen of his hope, he also fed on the loss. Every time Barry struggled to hold onto his hope or when someone else got lost in him, it only made Pestilence stronger. It’s twisted and macabre, but it also leans a bit towards biblical origins, giving a deeper meaning to why these atrocities are unleashed on the world. Being hungry for hope, disease of the soul or mind, an inner war with oneself and the death not only of oneself, but of the world in which it lives. The depths behind these Riders are more significant than those that have been presented before them.
And perhaps that’s why these Riders are so effective. They may have taken over and mutated the bodies of four DC heroes, but they also had something Marvel’s Horsemen never did: legitimacy. These are the literal Horsemen of the Apocalypse. While what they advertised never exactly developed, the devastation they caused was exactly on the scale of what was originally predicted about them.
By contrast, Marvel’s Riders are just name suitors. They are the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but they are almost exclusively linked to the mutant of that name, and not to the end of the world. They serve a mortal being, generally not of their own free will. In many scenarios, the Riders are forced to band together because Apocalypse has some influence on them, either brainwashing them or altering them in some way that distorts their perceptions of right and wrong. But at the end of the day, they always break free from their control, whether it’s returning the X-Men to where they belong or simply facing off with their future master.
Even the most recent horsemen, really the first horsemen of Apocalypse, don’t compare to those of DC. They are conquerors, sure, and absolutely intimidating, but they are still just deadly mutants. They have great power, but they still require an army to do even a fraction of the damage that was dealt in Future State. As long as Marvel’s horsemen are simply deadly, they won’t be able to match the power of entities designed to kill and feed off the despair they inflict.
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