With the recent controversy over “X-Men: Gold” #1, it brought to light how comic book companies sometimes have to react to situations where something has occurred in one of their comic books that they did not plan on happening. So they now have to make a judgement call on how to respond to the people who are upset over the comic book. Do you apologize? Do you recall the comic books? What do you do?
RELATED: X-Men: 15 Rejected Comic Book Covers
Over the years, one of the ways that companies have dealt with these sort of problems is by doing a recall on the comic. This tends to have more of an impact when the company discovers the problem early on. A “recall” doesn’t have much force later, as retailers aren’t about to go digging out old books to send them back to the distributor, especially when the attention over the recall likely led to higher sales in the stores. In recent years, with the advent of digital comics, “recalling” a comic can be as easy as just editing an offending passage out of the digital version of the comic. Here, then, are 15 controversial comic books that were recalled (in one way or another) by the comic book company that published them.
15. DOCTOR STRANGE, SORCERER SUPREME #15
Comic book artists have been using real life people as guides for comic book characters right from the very beginning of the comic book industry (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster hired a model to pose for them while designing Lois Lane for their “Superman” comic strip — amusingly enough, years later Siegel ended up marrying that model). However, in the case of Doctor Strange’s former girlfriend, Morgana Blessing, artist Jackson Guice went a step too far with the celebrity that he used as his inspiration for the cover of “Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme” #15.
Guice used a photo of singer Amy Grant from the cover of her “Greatest Hits” album as the basis for the character. Grant sued Marvel, not for copyright infringement, but claiming that it made it look like she was willingly associating with a book about magic, which would hurt her career as a Christian pop singer. They settled the case and Marvel agreed to take the comic off the shelves, but enough time had passed that it was a bit of an empty promise.
14. NFL SUPERPRO #6
One of the strangest superheroes of the early 1990s (and, considering it is the early 1990s that we’re talking about here, that’s really saying something) was Superpro, a superhero that was a joint creation of Marvel and the National Football League. He had a football-themed costume and he fought mostly football-themed villains. One of the exceptions ended up causing Marvel some grief and a recall of the issue in question.
“NFL Superpro” #6 (by Buzz Dixon, Jose Delbo and Mike DeCarlo) featured a young woman from the Hopi Native American tribe who had become a popular figure skater after rejecting the traditional ways of her people. So, some bad guys dressed up as Kachinas (tribal spirits) to kidnap her and Superpro had to stop them. The Hopi tribal leaders were very upset and ultimately, Marvel agreed to recall the issues (they recalled roughly 70,000 copies) but again, the comic had been out for a while before being recalled, so it is unlikely that many copies actually got recalled.
13. HALLE, THE HOOTERS GIRL #1
A slightly less successful licensed endeavor than NFL Superpro was “Halle, the Hooters Girl,” which Cabbage Comics released in 1998, in a first issue written by P.J. Pearl and Kern McCall and drawn by Doug Wright. The comic book starred Halle, a waitress at the popular restaurant chain, Hooters (where the waitresses wear skimpy outfits that show off their cleavage). Halle was based on the real-life Hooters girl, Janine Vollmer. After Halle gets into an accident while eating Hooters chicken wings, she somehow gains superpowers and successfully takes down a terrorist group devoted to trying to return the NFL to the way that it was in the past (with the Cardinals in St. Louis, the Rams in Los Angeles, etc.).
The problem was that Hooters was split into two companies. There was the main Hooters, with franchises around the country, and there was the original Hooters restaurant in Florida. When the company grew into a corporation, they allowed the original owner to maintain his store separately from the rest of the company. Cabbage Comics got approval from that Florida store (which is where Janine worked) but not the
larger corporation, and since this was going to be sold around the country, they needed that permission. So they had to recall their first (and only) issue of the series. Vollmer later became a notable breast cancer advocate.
12. WOLVERINE #131
One of the strangest comic books ever to be recalled was “Wolverine” #131. Todd DeZago was doing some fill-ins, but he left the book before his stint was finished, so a young comic book writer named Brian K. Vaughan was brought in to finish up DeZago’s plot on #131. At one point in the issue, Vaughan wrote in his script either “the assassin named” or “the man named” Sabretooth. The editor on the book, Mark Powers, crossed off what Vaughan wrote and then hand-wrote “killer” in the margins (amusingly enough, DeZago cut his run short because he felt that Powers had edited his story too much).
The letterer on the issue accidentally changed “killer” to “kike, a slur used against Jewish people. Richard Starkings, the letterer’s boss, later recalled, “He was a young guy and didn’t understand that ‘kike’ was a slur even when it was pointed out to him.” The book was released in part of a program where retailers would get to preview books a week early. Marvel noticed the problem at that point and recalled the book, but those preview copies are still out there, as obviously retailers did not return the now “hot” book.
11. THE MATRIX: COMIC BOOK PREVIEW
Back in the late 1970s, before “Star Wars” became one of the biggest blockbuster films of all-time, George Lucas was worried about how audiences would respond to his new project, so one of the ways that he helped to promote the film was to do a tie-in comic book series with Marvel Comics. Lucas felt having a comic book would be important to explaining the film to people. Decades later, the Wachowski siblings had the same idea with their new film, “The Matrix,” which also became a huge hit when it was ultimately released in March of 1999, but no one was sure that the film would go over at first.
So, the Wachowskis came up with the idea of giving away a comic book about “The Matrix” to people who came to see the movie (and then continue the story on a “Matrix” website). However, the comic that was produced (featuring a short story by comic book great Paul Chadwick) was deemed too “mature” for the audiences of the film, despite the movie being rated R, so it was recalled before it could be given away.
10. ELSEWORLDS 80-PAGE GIANT
In the late 1990s, DC experimented with producing “80-Page Giant” comic books, a nod to their past when they used to have “100-Page Giants” (those books, though, were almost entirely reprinted material, similar to the set-up of a typical Archie digest — one new story and then a bunch of reprints). Some of these books showcased one big story, but most of them featured a collection of short stories by different creators. That was the case with the “Elseworlds 80-Page Giant,” where creators told alternate reality stories featuring DC heroes.
One of the stories, written and drawn by Kyle Baker, starred Letitia Lerner, the babysitter of Superman when he was a child. He proved to be a handful, including sneaking into the microwave and microwaving himself. DC President Paul Levitz felt that the scene with the microwaved baby was too provocative for an “all-ages” comic (kids might try to re-enact it), so he had the comic book pulped and the story removed (a few thousand copies made it to England before the recall occurred). The story then amusingly won the Eisner Award for Best Short Story based on the British version. DC Later reprinted it in a non-all-ages collection.
9. LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN #5
Around that same time, Levitz pulped another comic book. Alan Moore had launched a new line of comic books called “America’s Best Comics” for Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Studio at Image. The problem was that, soon after Moore started work on the line, Lee sold Wildstorm to DC Comics. Moore famously did not like DC Comics after disputes over his famed “Watchmen” series, but after assurances that he would only be dealing with the same Wildstorm editors as he was before, he agreed to continue.
Meanwhile, Moore was also in a bit of a conflict with Marvel Comics over some rights issues involving his “Captain Britain” comics. So, in one of the early issues of his “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” series (about superheroes in the late 19th Century), he included an ad for a “Marvel” brand of a feminine product. Levitz had the issue pulped and the ad edited before re-publishing the issue. Moore knew then that his second stint with DC would not end any better than his first.
8. UNIVERSE X: SPIDEY #1
After becoming the head of the extremely successful “X-Men” line of books, editor Bob Harras was appointed as one of five Editors-in-Chief at Marvel in late 1994 (each Editor-in-Chief would be in charge of a specific group of books). That arrangement was short-lived and Harras was quickly named the sole Editor-in-Chief in 1995. He served in the role until being replaced in 2000. One of the things about being the boss of a comic book company is that it is pretty much impossible for everyone to like you (unless your name is Archie Goodwin — everyone loved Archie Goodwin).
Harras, like every other Editor-in-Chief, had at least one creator who had a problem with him. In Harras’ case, one of those people was Marvel staff artist, Al Milgrom. Milgrom was a long-time inker, penciler and writer who would work on any project where Marvel needed a last-minute assist. Milgrom was one of a few inkers on the one-shot, “Universe X: Spidey” and Milgrom then hid on a bookcase in a background a gloating celebration of Harras’ termination. Marvel recalled the issue and pulped it. They fired Milgrom from his staff job, but he still did freelance work for Marvel.
7. ELEKTRA #3
Early in his comic book career (after memorably doing a few issues of “Miracleman” with Alan Moore), Chuck Austen wrote and drew a comic book series called “Strips,” that was noteworthy for including a good deal of explicit sexual content. At the turn of the 21st Century, Austen began working for Marvel Comics on a number of projects. Most of them were as a writer (he became the regular writer on “Avengers” and “Uncanny X-Men”), but he also drew for Marvel, including launching an “Elektra” ongoing series with writer Brian Michael Bendis.
In the third issue, Elektra is interrupted in her bed by someone. In the original version of the issue, Elektra is not wearing any underwear in the scene. However, look at the revised edition that we printed — the only difference is that there weren’t any underwear drawn. It wasn’t like you actually saw any real nudity. Marvel, though, was overly cautious and recalled the comic book and reprinted it with the underwear drawn in.
6. ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #596
In 2001, DC did a company-wide crossover that spun out of events in the “Superman” titles, where Earth has to deal with an invasion from an alien armada led by a powerful being known as Imperiex (Superman had barely defeated one of his drones early in Jeph Loeb’s run on “Superman” in 2000). The heroes of Earth fought back and in the end, they were able to defeat Imperiex (with Superman even going along with killing Imperiex, as that was how dangerous of a villain he was).
However, one of the issues dealing with the aftermath of the invasion had some terrible timing. It was released around the same time as the terrible terrorist attack in New York City on September 11th, 2001 that destroyed the World Trade Center. Thus, seeing two tall buildings badly damaged was a rough thing for readers to see. DC offered to recall the issue, but it does not appear as though many retailers took them up on the offer.
5. SPIDER-MAN: REIGN #1
In 2006, writer/artist Kaare Andrews started his Marvel series, “Spider-Man: Reign,” which was basically Andrews’ take on doing a “Dark Knight Returns” version of Spider-Man, as Peter Parker had been long retired when he was pulled back into being a hero due to the world going to hell in his absence. Andrews’ story was bleak, especially a sequence involving the revelation that Peter Parker’s wife, Mary Jane, died of cancer that she developed after repeated sexual exposure to Spider-Man’s fluids, which were radioactive enough that prolonged exposure doomed her. Hey, we said it was bleak!
In any event, at one point in the first issue, we see old Peter Parker sitting in his bed, and he’s not wearing any pants, so Andrew drew an approximation of Peter’s genitals, distinct enough that it clearly gave off the impression that it was Peter’s testicles. Marvel recalled the issue and edited the panel in question in the replacement copies (and it was edited in the collected edition).
4. ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN #10
One of DC Comics’ most controversial comic book series was “All Star Batman and Robin,” an (ostensibly) ongoing series by legendary “Batman” writer Frank Miller and the superstar art team of Jim Lee and Scott Williams. There were so many different reasons why the book was controversial, from its release schedule (it started in 2005 as a monthly book, but only 10 issues were ever released, and it took three years to get those 10 issues out) to the content (Miller’s version of Batman was a lot harsher than the normal version of Batman, like telling young Dick Grayson when he didn’t know who Batman was, “Are you dense? Are you retarded? I’m the goddamn Batman!”).
A surprising controversy, though, popped up in the 10th issue, which introduced Batgirl into the series. Her dialogue included a lot of obscenities that were then blacked out using a black line. However, while the black lines looked good when done on a computer, when actually printed out, they did not really blur out the profanity well enough. DC recalled the issue and edited it so that the profanity was no longer visible.
3. ACTION COMICS #869
In 2006, Geoff Johns began a run on “Action Comics” alongside famed director, Richard Donner (who had directed the original “Superman” film — Johns had worked for Donner in the past as an assistant, so they remained close). However, likely due to Donner’s busy schedule, their run was very disjointed, with fill-in issues ultimately released in the middle of their big opening story arc. Donner eventually had to bow out, so Johns began what became an acclaimed solo run on the series with artist Gary Frank, beginning with a story re-establishing the Legion of Super-Heroes and their relationship with Superman.
Their next arc re-vamped the villain Brainiac and made him a much more powerful foe. That storyline also involved Superman’s adopted father, Jonathan Kent, dying of a heart attack. Leading up to that event, a cover for one of the issues showed Superman and his father relaxing together on the Kent family farm. However, Frank had drawn them drinking beers on the cover. That was a big no-no, so the issue was pulped and re-printed with them now drinking root beer instead.
2. CAPTAIN AMERICA #602
As we have entered more and more of a digital age, the way that comic book companies deal with controversies in their books have slightly changed, as they are now much less likely to physically recall comic books, they instead will just remove the offending parts from the digital version of the comic (and thus, also the later trade paperback collection of the comics). This is the modern equivalent of “recalling” a controversial comic book.
The first example of this new approach was 2010’s “Captain America” #602. In the issue, Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson (Captain American and Falcon) go undercover at a political rally, which they suspect have connections to a terrorist group. The group was meant to have just generic protest signs, but as the book was late, the letterer for the issue just did an image search for protest signs and plugged some into the panels, including one that was used by members of the political group that called itself the “Tea Party” (now the “Freedom Caucus”), which made it seems as though Marvel was saying that these bad guys were the Tea Party. Marvel apologized and edited the sign for future publication.
1. X-MEN: GOLD #1
The most recent controversy for Marvel Comics came in 2017’s “X-Men: Gold”, where Indonesian artist Ardian Syaf put in references throughout the comic (on T-shirts and background panels) to a controversy in Indonesia where Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Christian Governor of Jakarta, suggested that his opponents were mis-using a verse from the Quran to try to convince people not to vote for him. The verse was from Quran Surah 5:51 (or QS 5:51), and it was often (but perhaps not accurately) translated as “Muslims should not appoint the Jews and Christians as their leader.” There were a number of protests over the controversy.
Well, in the issue, Syaf put in references to the verse, as well as references to days of notable protests against the governor (December 2, 2016, so Syaf put 212 into the comic a few times). When Indonesian comic book fans drew Marvel’s attention to the issue, Marvel swiftly denounced Syaf and removed the references from the digital version of the issue and from any future reprints of the story.
Do you own any comic books that were recalled? Let us know in the comments section!