Underworld Unleashed was a multi-title comic book crossover event released by DC Comics in 1995. As well as the core storyline of the three-issue Underworld Unleashed miniseries, most of the DC titles published in November and December 1995 and a number of one-off titles were part of the series.
|Publication date||November–December 1995|
|No. of issues||3, plus crossovers and special titles|
|Main character(s)||Justice League America|
|Creative team as of November 1995|
|Created by||Mark Waid|
|Written by||Mark Waid|
|Colorist(s)||Rick Taylor (Heroic Age)|
The main theme of Underworld Unleashed involved the new ruler of Hell, a demon called Neron, offering many of the DC Universe villains and a number of the superheroes their greatest desires in exchange for their soul or completing a task for him; and the consequences of these deals.
Underworld Unleashed is one of the very few DC Comics major crossovers not to directly involve Superman; at the time of the series he was off-planet as part of "The Trial of Superman!" story arc. This is important to the Underworld Unleashed storyline, since the superheroes involved are driven by the belief that Superman is the key to Neron's plans.
Five of the Flash's 'Rogues Gallery': Captain Boomerang, Captain Cold, Heat Wave, the Mirror Master II, and the Weather Wizard are approached with an offer by their fellow Rogue Abra Kadabra, who had become an agent of the demon Neron in exchange for true magical powers to replace his technology-based magic powers. Kadabra persuades them to cause havoc by destroying five targets simultaneously, with the promise of 'respect' and 'a guarantee that they would be remembered forever, not as has-beens but as the most infamous villains of their age' . But Neron's deals are demonic and twisted, and they were not told that their actions would cost them their lives and unleash Neron onto Earth. All five are killed in the ensuing explosions, forming a pentagram which releases Neron.
Soon after, Neron kills a priest who administers to the prisoners of Belle Reve Penitentiary and, disguised as him, offers a deal for the soul of one of the inmates (who is in search of revenge for the theft of a treasured calendar) in exchange for a gun. Neron himself had stolen the calendar in question to engineer the situation, and he also makes offers to a number of key Belle Reve personnel or persuades or manipulates them in other ways to be absent that evening. The ensuing chaos allows 142 supervillains to escape from Belle Reve. Another member of the Rogues Gallery, the Trickster, reads of the deaths of his fellow Rogues, and determines not to waste any more time on petty crime, but finally to make a major villain of himself. A week later another Rogue, the Rainbow Raider, shows the Trickster a carved candle that he and other recently escaped supervillains had received, with instructions to light it at midnight on a certain day to 'open the door to fame, power and glory' . The Trickster I steals the candle, and on lighting it is instantly transported to Hell, joining about 50 other supervillains who had done the same. Neron appears to the gathered supervillains, and offers them all their greatest desires in exchange for their souls, then introduces his 'Inner Council' - Abra Kadabra, Lex Luthor, Circe, Polaris and the Joker. The Fiddler works out that Neron is the devil himself, and the Trickster overhears him; then while several dozen of the supervillains accept Neron's offer, the rest are returned to Earth. At the end of Neron's speech and empowering session, Justice League member Blue Devil, who had worked out that the locations of the deaths of the five Rogues Gallery members formed a pentagram, appears. He is offered fame and fortune in exchange for performing a simple task: the destruction of an electrical power substation.
The supervillains who accepted Neron's offer (with the exception of Neron's Inner Council and Trickster) are returned to Earth to fulfill their deals and wreak havoc, many of them with enhanced powers; while Neron next turns his attention to Earth's superheroes. As well as trying to gain the souls of Batman, the Flash and an unknown number of other superheroes, Neron offers to resurrect Alexandra DeWitt in exchange for Green Lantern Kyle Rayner's soul. Kyle refuses, and after Neron beats him in battle he spares his life, giving Kyle the message that what he covets most is 'a far more noble soul' who Kyle knows; and when he has it, Earth will be his. Kyle assumes this means Superman (who is off-world because of his trial in space), and carries the message to Justice League headquarters.
Meanwhile, Neron causes further disruption on an Earth now seething with violence and war as a result of his demonic influence on people and the chaos caused by the supervillains in his debt. He also spreads chaos to New Apokolips, giving all those who desire the missing Darkseid's throne information on each other's plans, thus setting New Apokolips to war with itself. Back in Hell, Luthor and the Joker force the Trickster to reveal that Neron's power is contained within his Soul Jar, and succeed in rupturing the Jar using Polaris', Kadabra's and Circe's mystical and scientific resources together. As the Jar is breached, a swirl of green smoke reaches outward, spiriting Polaris, Kadabra and Circe away, which is what Luthor and the Joker had actually planned. However, Neron had pre-empted them by fooling the Trickster into giving them false information, thus removing his Inner Council before they could become a threat to his power. He traps Luthor and the Joker in a snow globe - although they believe they are in a snowstorm in Metropolis, until they reach the glass walls of the globe. As Earth collapses into war, anarchy and chaos, the Justice League calls most of the world's heroes together to stand against Neron. Like Kyle, all of them assume that because he is missing, it is Superman that Neron referred to as the pure soul he wanted, and that he had already been captured. The elite of the Justice League decide to take the fight to Neron, and Blue Devil, who had been fooled by Neron's Faustian deal into causing the death of his friend, filmmaker Marla Bloom, takes them to Hell. Now alone in Hell after the fall of the Inner Council, the Trickster, who had not yet been offered a deal for his soul, realizes that he had been taken for a fool again and Neron had deeper plans that he had not revealed. He begins to scheme against him.
On Earth, Doctor Fate's home, the Tower of Nabu, has become the portal to the Underworld that the demon Blaze is trying to secure so that Neron can send Hell's demonic forces to Earth. Sentinel and Fate fight to close the portal, Sentinel destroying the tower to do so. While Fate battles back from being flung into far dimensions, Sentinel is drawn away from his partner, Molly/the Harlequin, who opens a box containing one of Neron's candles and accepts a deal to become young again, losing her soul in the process. Sentinel contacts the Phantom Stranger, Zatanna and Jim Corrigan (the Spectre, but without his full powers as the Spectre-Force within him had made a deal with Neron for a separate existence) for help. Together with Deadman, they enter Hell to get Molly's soul back from Blaze. The Spectre tries to help, but discovers that his deal precludes him opposing Neron and he is Neron's slave, and destined to become his successor. Realizing that he is not prevented from fighting other demons, however, he joins the others, and Sentinel rescues Molly's soul. Blaze is forced to flee from Neron for failing to stop the supernatural team, and while the heroes escape, Sentinel is captured by Neron and taken captive to Hell.
With what is left of Blue Devil's candle, the Justice League pierces the barrier to the Underworld and confronts Neron's demonic army, battling through the circles of Hell to find Superman. The Ray, Firestorm, Captain Atom and Maxima are killed on the way, while the other superheroes, with the exception of Captain Marvel, begin to be corrupted by the influence of their hellish surroundings. In Hell, the demon Satanus bargains with Neron for the return of his soul after failing in his task to stop the Leymen of Primal Force,offering up the whereabouts of his sister Blaze in exchange, but once his soul is returned and Blaze caged by Neron, he reveals to her that Neron can be beaten by a single word that if spoken, even in Hell, would give even Neron pause. For this treachery Neron kills Satanus, though not before his comment is overheard by the Trickster. At that moment Blue Devil, seeking revenge for the death of Marla, finally reaches Neron ahead of the Justice League, and is killed; while Neron reveals that it was Captain Marvel's soul he wanted all the time, just as the Trickster realizes the truth.
Neron has kept Blaze alive because her demonic powers dampen Captain Marvel's powers. She reverses this by augmenting his powers instead, saving him from death; while Blue Devil, who cannot die in Hell, attacks Neron in a new demon body. Taking advantage of the diversion, the Trickster tells Captain Marvel about the magic word, and Captain Marvel deduces that the word is 'Shazam' . When he uses it, the resulting lightning bolt in Hell stuns Neron and releases the Justice League from their spell to attack again; and Trickster uses the time to persuade Captain Marvel that he has a plan to defeat Neron. Captain Marvel suddenly offers Neron his soul, in exchange for 'the release of my friends...the release of Earth.' When Neron asks 'And...?' , he says, 'No "and", nothing else. Nothing' . Neron tries to take the offer, but because it was purely altruistic, the first time someone had asked for something without personal gain, he cannot do it. Taunted by the Trickster he disappears, and everyone is returned to Earth, including Luthor and the Joker, who are both freed from the shattered snow globe.
The three-issue miniseries Underworld Unleashed, together with Underworld Unleashed: Abyss - Hell's Sentinel #1, was collected as a trade paperback (Underworld Unleashed, DC Comics 1998, 158 pp. (ISBN 1-56389-447-5)).
- Writer Mark Waid said, in his afterword to the trade paperback reprint of the series, that his original concept was to beef up a bunch of the old, lame DC villains, but then he decided that they were actually pretty cool as they were, so he didn't need to beef them up after all...at least not too much - 'Underworld Unleashed' trade paperback, DC Comics 1998 (ISBN 1-56389-447-5)
- Mark Waid wasn't impressed with the concept or his own work on Underworld Unleashed. In the afterword to the trade paperback reprint of the series he said of the series 'Knuckle-headed, well-intended creators ashamed of corny old characters have been, for most of a decade, dragging half-forgotten heroes and villains kicking and screaming into their own little hardware store of creativity. There, haunted by a guilty fear that these ancient superdoers aren't kewl enough for a generation of videogame-entranced readers, said knuckle-headed creators fool themselves into thinking they're doing them a good turn by bludgeoning all the innocent charm and colorful individuality out of them. I tried that once. Learned a lesson.' 'Underworld Unleashed' trade paperback, DC Comics 1998 (ISBN 1-56389-447-5
- Underworld Unleashed #1 (November 1995)
- "The Trial of Superman!" story arc in the late 1995 - early 1996 Superman titles
- Underworld Unleashed #2 (early December 1995)
- Underworld Unleashed: Apokolips - Dark Uprising #1 (November 1995)
- Superman vol. 2 #107 (December 1995))
- Fate #13 (November 1995)
- Fate #14 (December 1995)
- Underworld Unleashed: Abyss - Hell's Sentinel #1
- Primal Force #13 - 14 (November - December 1995)
- Superman: The Man of Tomorrow #3 (winter 1995)
- Underworld Unleashed #3 (late December 1995)
- The Unofficial Underworld Unleashed Chronology, not in chronological order