An interesting aspect of the comic book industry being around for over 80 years now is that we’re talking about some extremely different generations when you compare a “Superman” comic book in 1940 to a “Superman” comic book in 2017. What might have been seen as appropriate in one generation is quite often seen as inappropriate years later. Just look at how many examples of Reed Richards being a jerk that you can simply chalk up to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby having outdated ideas of male/female gender roles.
However, it is even more amusing to look at later, supposedly more “informed” generations and seeing them similarly come up with comic book plots that make you shake your head and wonder why they ever thought that that plot was appropriate. For the sake of this list, we’re not going to count all the racism that was pervasive in comics in the 1940s. It’s bad, it’s inexcusable, but it was so pervasive that this list would otherwise be entirely just old racist comic books and that gets kind of boring.
15. ANGEL AND HUSK HAVE SEX ABOVE HER MOM
After Joe Casey had a short run on “Uncanny X-Men” to coincide with Grant Morrison taking over “New X-Men,” Chuck Austen was brought on board the series. Austen soon made a lot of changes to the series, including getting rid of Angel’s blue skin and also introducing a plot line where Angel and former Generation X member Husk become romantically involved. That relationship, in and of itself, was a bit awkward, since Husk was still a teenager and Angel was likely closer to 30 than he was 20, but that’s obviously not a big deal. The consummation of their relationship, however, was super weird.
While visiting Husk’s family in “Uncanny X-Men” #440 (by Chuck Austen, Salvador Larroca and Danny Miki), Angel discussed his relationship with Husk with Husk’s mom. Husk overhears and challenges Angel to just accept their relationship. He does and they consummate their new relationship by flying into the air to have sex… right above her mother and their fellow X-Men!!
14. MARVEL “CELEBRATES” MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY FOR THE FIRST TIME
In 1985, Marvel began a 12-issue long maxiseries called “Vision and Scarlet Witch” (by Steve Englehart, Richard Howell and Frank Springer) that told the adventures of the Vision and Scarlet Witch now that they had settled into suburbia. Famously, the Scarlet Witch gets pregnant during the series and then gives birth in the final issue. This is because the story in the series took place over a year in the life of the heroes, with each issue trying to tie in with whatever holiday was taking place that month.
Well, the January 1986 issue happened to coincide with the first year that Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated as a federal holiday, so Englehart had the Vision and Scarlet Witch team-up with Luke Cage to celebrate the holiday, while Quicksilver is there to suddenly be super-racist. Englehart clearly meant well, but he the whole thing came out a bit patronizing. “I’m real proud us blacks finally got a holiday for one of our own”? For serious?
13. A TITAN DEALS WITH HER ISSUES IN DISTURBING WAYS
The year before the “New 52” hit, DC tried something very different with their “Titans” series. Without re-numbering, the series was re-named “Titans: Villains for Hire” and now starred Deathstroke and a team of villains (they made their debut murdering Ryan Choi, the new Atom). One of the villains was Cinder, an Italian woman who was molested by her uncle when she was a child. She now gets revenge by hunting down sex offenders, having sex with them and while they are having sex, using her ability to turn her body into molten lava to kill them with her, well… you know.
The whole thing was just so ridiculously faux-edgy and Cinder was so under-developed that it was so awkward watching them try to deal with a very serious issue like sexual trauma in such a ridiculous comic book series. The low point was when they broke into Arkham Asylum on a mission and she splits off to kill a child molester and instead ends up letting him free. This is not even mentioning that when she uses her power fully, it looks like she’s naked.
12. DIET SODA MAKES WOMEN JERKS
When Marv Wolfman and George Perez introduced the new Doctor Light in the pages of “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” she stood out, not just because she was a Japanese woman (a rarity for comic book superheroes today, let alone 30 years ago), but because she was arrogant and kind of a jerk. After being introduced in “Crisis,” Doctor Light really didn’t appear that often over the rest of the decade, despite technically being a founding member of the Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis edition of the Justice League.
However, in 1992, Gerard Jones decided to add her to his “Justice League Europe” revamp (Jones had been scripting the series, but once Giffen left the series, Jones took over full writing duties), but he decided he wanted to write her as a shy, demure woman. Meanwhile, Power Girl Post-“Crisis on Infinite Earths” had been full of rage for years. Jones then revealed that the reason for both women being so aggressive was diet soda – it somehow turned super-powered women into jerks. Forget character growth, just cut out the diet soda!
11. SHE’S NOT 13, SHE’S AN ALIEN!
When Arisia debuted in “Tales of the Green Lantern Corps” #1 (by Mike Barr, Len Wein, Joe Staton and Frank McLaughlin), she was clearly intended to fill the role of the plucky teen girl hero, much like Kitty Pryde famously had in “Uncanny X-Men” (Kitty had only recently been introduced at the time). Hal Jordan even took to referring to her as “little sister.” However, at the same time, she was technically an alien, so when Steve Englehart began writing “Green Lantern,” he picked up on Len Wein’s plot where Arisia had a schoolgirl crush on Hal, only Englehart played it as straight.
He then had Arisia use her ring to make her appear like an adult and then use the argument that, as an alien, she was always technically “of age,” only now she physically looked older, so it was okay for Hal to date her. Hal then began to date her, to their friends’ initial dismay, but eventually everyone just got over it.
The relationship between Superman and Lois Lane during the 1950s and 1960s was often very disturbing, as Superman very frequently treated Lois Lane in a patronizing fashion. She was always trying to discover Superman’s secret identity and/or get Superman to marry her, and he would sort of treat her like, “Oh, Lois, what are you up to now?” One of the strangest examples of this occurred in the lead story in “Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane” #14 (by Otto Binder and Kurt Schaffenberger), when Lois got herself intentionally stuck at the Fortress of Solitude over night so that she could prove to Superman that it would be safe for them to get married and then Lois live there.
However, her three nights in the Fortress left her worse for the wear, especially when a Superman robot “accidentally” spanked her. At the end of the issue, though, we learned that Superman knew about her plot the whole time and that he made the robot spank her! Disturbingly enough, this actually then led to a debate over whether Lois should be spanked more in the letter columns of the Super-titles.
9. MUTANTS CAN’T GET AIDS
A couple of the other changes that Chuck Austen made to “Uncanny X-Men” when he took over was the revelation that Angel had a secondary mutation where his blood could now heal (Austen was really pushing the whole “literal angel” angle on Angel) and the addition of a human nurse, Annie Ghazikhanian, who was Austen’s P.O.V. character for the series. When talking to Husk in “Uncanny X-Men” #421, Annie learns that mutants cannot contract AIDS.
This was confirmed when Angel goes to a hospital six issues later (drawn by guest-artist Steve Kim) to donate blood to heal people at the local hospital (including the child of a cemetery manager who won’t let a mutant be buried at his cemetery). Why in the world the X-gene would make mutants immune to auto-immune diseases is beyond us, but it was a very inappropriate plot development that hasn’t been referenced since, for obvious reasons.
8. IN THE FUTURE, RACES ARE SEGREGATED
During his run on the Legion in the pages of “Superboy,” Mike Grell took issue with the fact that the future did not seem to have any black people in it for some reason. He kept trying to add black characters to the series, but his editor Murray Boltinoff kept telling him that he had a story planned to deal with the lack of black characters. Boltinoff even had an issue where Grell drew a character as black literally whitewashed to make the character white.
Well, in “Superboy” #216 (by Cary Bates and Mike Grell), Boltinoff’s story finally was introduced, and the revelation was that all of the black people on the planet went to go live in one island city, which is cut off from the rest of the world. Grell hated the idea so much that he intentionally “gave him a silly costume. It was somewhere between Elvis’ Las Vegas costume and something you would imagine a stripper to wear.
7. MARVEL’S FIRST GAY SUPERHERO IS A “FAIRY”
Developed by John Byrne (after Byrne introduced them in the pages of “X-Men” without any personalities, just names and superpowers), Northstar was Marvel’s first gay superhero. However, since this was the early 1980s, Byrne was not allowed to explicitly reveal that Northstar was gay, but Byrne implied about as hard as you could imply something without outright shouting, “He’s gay, people!”
When Byrne left the book, however, Northstar’s sexuality was a bit up in the air. Then Bill Mantlo wanted to do a storyline where Northstar would have AIDS. That story was squashed, but instead, Northstar was revealed to secretly be an elf! It’s not literally revealing him to be a fairy, but it is about as close as you could come, and people back in the day certainly got the reference, as readers complained about the move in the pages of the fan magazines of the era. Eventually, Northstar was allowed to come out in “Alpha Flight.”
As noted before, adding plucky young teen girl characters to series was the “it” thing to do after Kitty Pryde took the comic world by storm in 1980. So Marv Wolfman and George Perez introduced a plucky young teen girl into their “New Teen Titans” series, with the introduction of Terra in 1982’s “New Teen Titans” #26. Naturally, the cries of “you’re ripping off Kitty Pryde!” quickly ensued, but as it turned out, that’s precisely what Wolfman and Perez wanted, as they wanted people to think that they were copying Kitty Pryde, when in actuality, Terra turned out to be a spy sent to infiltrate the Titans by their main nemesis, Deathstroke the Terminator!
However, in a number of scenes with Deathstroke and Terra alone together, it sure as heck seemed to suggest that the two were having a sexual relationship, which was super creepy since she was a lot younger than 18 and he was, well, much older than 18. When Changeling later asked Deathstroke about it, Deathstroke dodged the subject, but even the implication was inappropriate.
5. QUICKSILVER AND SCARLET WITCH
Throughout their comic book history, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver have been extremely close. Early on, they were almost literally inseparable, as their connection was the driving force of their early stories (they stayed on the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants because Quicksilver wanted to protect her and then they joined the Avengers together because Quicksilver couldn’t leave her alone).
Therefore, when the Ultimate universe debuted, Mark Millar played around a little bit with this famous closeness when he introduced them in “Ultimate X-Men” and especially when he had them join the Ultimates. He made a lot of suggestive comments in the series about them perhaps being too close, but he always kept it as merely suggestive. When Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira took over “Ultimates,” though, they went further, revealing in “Ultimates 3” #3 that they were, indeed, having sex with each other. Replacing the subtext with text here was really weird.
4. SPIDER-MAN AND JAPANESE INTERNMENT CAMPS
When “Civil War” came out in 2006, there was also a companion series to the main event called “Civil War: Frontline,” written by Paul Jenkins and a few different artists. Each issue would typically tell three stories. One involved Speedball of the New Warriors and how he dealt with being the only survivor of the initial explosion that set off “Civil War,” one involving reporter Sally Floyd investigating the events of “Civil War,” and finally, one story compared the events of “Civil War” to actual historical events.
In the first issue, the “historical comparison” was drawn by Kei Kobayashi and it was this tone deaf comparison of Japanese-Americans being forced into internment camps during World War II with Spider-Man debating whether it was worth it for him to reveal his secret identity to help support the Superhuman Registration Act. Not only does comparing the two trivialize the internment of Japanese-Americans, it doesn’t even work as a comparison! There was no real overlap between being forced into camps and revealing your secret identity as a public relations ploy.
3. BRUCE BANNER VS. THE YMCA
During the run of the “Incredible Hulk” TV series, Marvel had a magazine series that was initially called “Rampaging Hulk” and then changed to “Hulk” which told stories intended to be in the vein of the television series, to help attract a more adult audience, who might not want to read his regular comic book adventures. In the introduction to “Hulk” #23, the editor of the series, Lynn Graame, explained that Jim Shooter’s story in the issue was intended to provide a “real” piece of horror.
However, Shooter’s story involved two gay guys attempting to rape Bruce Banner at the YMCA. Bruce was so scared by the attempted rape that he couldn’t even turn into the Hulk! Beyond how over-the-top the gay characters were portrayed, Marvel, at this point, had, like, three gay characters ever, so when you have basically no gay characters, to then have some of the first ever to appear in your comics appear as rapists? That’s a mistake.
2. A ROBOT HYPNOTIZES A GIRL TO SLEEP WITH CLARK KENT
One of the weirdest characters in the “Superman” titles (and that’s saying something) was this Kryptonian robot tutor who would pop up now and again to teach Superboy (and later Supergirl) lessons in life. In “DC Super Stars” #12 (by Cary Bates, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson), Superboy is getting to the point where he is about to change his name to Superman when he meets a young woman at prom and she reveals that she has figured out his secret identity (during the dance, the Robot Tutor messed with Superboy’s head to cause illusions just to test him).
Superboy and the young woman then spend the night together. So then, after the Robot Tutor introduced some Big Foots to Smallville to see what Superboy would do, he then has the young woman killed! It turned out that it was all a test to see if Superboy would be pushed to kill if the woman that he loved was murdered in front of him. She wasn’t actually dead. However, she also wasn’t who she thought she was! You see, the robot tutor brainwashed her into becoming Superboy’s perfect girl so that her “death” would have the most meaning! So yes, she was hypnotized into having sex with Superboy. Even more creepy than that is that Superboy just sort of shrugs and says, “I guess you had your reasons, robot tutor.”
1. MS. MARVEL GIVES BIRTH TO HER OWN RAPIST
David Michelinie had a storyline set for “Avengers” #200 where Ms. Marvel (who had mysteriously become pregnant out of nowhere a few issues earlier) would “give birth” to the Supreme Intelligence as part of a plot by that creepy Kree machine, but then a “What If…?” issue had a similar idea, so he scrapped that and instead he and Jim Shooter, Bob Layton and George Perez came up with a replacement story. Instead of the Supreme Intelligence, it would be this guy named Marcus who was the son of Immortus and lived in limbo. He fell in love with Ms. Marvel from afar and then wooed her, using a subtle boost from his machines to make her fall in love with him.. He then impregnated her with basically himself, so that he could be born into the other dimension.
However, things go haywire so he has to return to limbo, but Ms. Marvel decides to go with him and the Avengers all think this is a fine idea! He specifically told them that he had used his machines to make her fall for him! He said it out loud! Chris Claremont soon wrote a follow-up where she returns from limbo and tears into the Avengers for letting her leave with her attacker.
What’s the most inappropriate comic book moment that you can think of? Let us know in the comments section!