The Comics Code Authority quietly faded out of existence in 2011, but for decades it hung over the heads of every comic book writer and artist, restricting creative freedom so severely that many comics companies and creators were forced out of the business for good. Those that survived had no choice but to comply with the Code’s many exacting and burdensome regulations. But where there are limitations on creativity, there are always rebellious creators determined to push the envelope and see just how much the censors are really paying attention. Sometimes they fail, but every once in awhile, they catch the censors on an off day and sneak something truly spectacular into an otherwise innocuous comic.
This list highlights some of the most inexplicable examples of the censors falling asleep on the job — moments that make you wonder if a censorship code existed at all. We do feature an example or two from before and after the Code, but the main focus is on those that occurred during the CCA’s reign over American comics. Not only is each entry entertaining in and of itself, but the knowledge that they had to survive a notoriously draconian review process to reach our eyes makes them all the more special.
15. RONAN IS A CREEP
Rick Jones has had a very colorful life. He’s served as a pseudo-sidekick to such big-name heroes as the Hulk and Captain America, and at one point he was even merged with Kree-born hero Mar-Vell (aka Captain Marvel). When Mar-Vell is kidnapped by Skrulls intent on forcing Kree military secrets from him, Rick and the Avengers head out into deep space to rescue him.
But Rick is quickly captured by Ronan the Accuser, a Kree soldier attempting a coup on his home planet. When Rick puts on a brave face and sasses him, Ronan retaliates by saying that he’s going to make Rick his “body-slave.” This would be a creepy threat directed at anyone, but Rick is only about 18 at this point, adding an additional layer of skeeze to Ronan’s threat.
14. DOCTOR STRANGE GETS CATCALLED
In Doctor Strange #174, Stephen Strange has rented an apartment for his new girlfriend, Clea, and tries to do the gentlemanly thing by walking her there. Their less-than-conventional attire attracts some unwanted attention, but it’s nothing they can’t handle, until suddenly it’s not just their clothes attracting the attention. As the couple passes a pickup truck, a man in the truck’s passenger seat sticks his head out the window and catcalls the good doctor, calling him “gorgeous” and “Prince Charming.”
What’s especially impressive about this incident is that this comic was published in 1968, when the Comics Code Authority, which explicitly banned certain words and actions was still very much in effect. Perhaps the fact that Clea uses her magic to nearly kill the cat-caller for his rudeness made this scene more palatable to the censors.
13. DOES THIS REMIND YOU OF ANYTHING?
Drawing covers is hard. As such, particularly in the early days of the comic book industry, many artists stuck to something simple, like showing the hero attacking an enemy or striking a dynamic pose. Surprisingly often, this pose involved the heroes straddling something long and Freudian.
The cover of World’s Finest #7 provides a particularly notable example, as it features all three of DC’s most famous heroes proudly sitting atop the cannons on a warship. But if you spend more than a few minutes browsing Golden Age comic book covers, you’re guaranteed to find any number of similar examples. In some cases, such imagery even snuck its way into the comics themselves, as in Avengers #40, where the Sub-Mariner captures a torpedo by wrestling with it between his legs.
12. BLACK CANARY AND ORACLE: GAL PALS
By Birds of Prey #21, Black Canary and Oracle had been working together for quite some time, but they had not yet met in person. This changes when the paraplegic Oracle is forced to throw herself into the ocean to evade capture by Blockbuster’s goons. Fortunately, Black Canary is nearby and pulls her to the safety of a nearby dock. There, they finally introduce themselves properly while, uh, huddling for warmth? Yes, surely that must be it.
What other reason could there be for two women to hold each other in such an intimate fashion while smiling so sweetly? And although we’re sure everyone is very happy for them, perhaps they should put off their snuggling session until they’re not surrounded by people who want to kill them…
11. PUNCHES DON’T SOUND LIKE THAT
During the “Public Enemies” storyline in Superman/Batman, the two title characters have to fight a lot of people, heroes and villains alike. Lots of fighting means lots of onomatopoeias, which means the creators had to dig deep into their word banks to keep the sound effects of the many fight scenes from getting repetitive. And what option did they go with to liven things up? “Fap.” Nothing giggle-worthy about that.
Even more amazing is the fact that they use this sound effect not once, but three times during the course of the storyline, even once spelling it as “phap,” as if they were afraid the censors wouldn’t let it through if it was spelled with an F. Such precaution proved unnecessary, as the censors evidently had better things to do.
10. THE JOKER’S TENT
In “The Joker’s Comedy of Errors!,” The Joker tries to discredit Batman by publicly humiliating him. He announces this plan by threatening to force Batman into “the boner of the year.” And that’s just one of this story’s nigh-uncountable moments of hilarity that result from the characters’ indiscriminate use of the word. Almost every panel contains a new double entendre to makes the reader ask what the censors were on when they approved this issue.
Actually, the word originally meant a “blunder”, and this is the meaning supposedly intended by The Joker. But by the ’50s, when this comic was published, the word had gained its contemporary definition. While the censors were obviously unaware of this change, we don’t know if writer Bill Finger’s knowledge of slang was equally outdated. Intentional or not, Finger managed one of the greatest feats of censorship flouting in comic book history.
9. WONDER WOMAN LIKES ROPE
Before the creation of the Comics Code Authority in the mid-1950s, the comic book industry was very much the proverbial wild west. Creators were free to publish pretty much whatever they wanted, so if a female supremacist felt like making comics about a society of servitude-loving superwomen, no one would say a word against him. This is why a quick glance through many of Wonder Woman’s earliest appearances reveals frequent discussion of the benefits of said activity and submissiveness, all of which is shockingly frank by today’s standards.
When these suggestive conversations are combined with Wonder Woman’s unfortunate tendency to be tied up by her enemies – -and, occasionally, her allies — it should come as little surprise that the Amazing Amazon was one of psychologist Fredric Wertham’s primary targets when he wrote his infamous anti-comic book screed, Seduction of the Innocent, in 1954.
8. COMMITTEE TO REGAIN AMERICA’S PRINCIPLES
Beginning in Captain America #139, Steve Rogers had a new and very different kind of villain to fight: a political action committee called the Committee to Regain America’s Principles. Their ultimate goal is to help take over the country, but that doesn’t come to light until much later. For now, they start off by trying to smear Cap’s good name, even paying for TV advertisements to turn the public against him.
Astute readers were quick to notice that the group’s acronym, which was never used in the comic, is C.R.A.P., just in case it wasn’t clear enough that they were the bad guys. It’s a shame this story took place before the internet; we can just imagine the field day the Twitter users of the Marvel Universe would have had with such an easy target.
7. SUPERBOY’S BAD ROMANCE
Before Clark Kent became Superman, he was Superboy, teen hero of Smallville. To help him develop his abilities, he had the Super-Teacher, a robot from Krypton who has some deeply immoral, if not straight-up illegal, ideas about providing instruction. Not long after the Super-Teacher’s return, Clark falls in love with Misty, the most popular girl at his high school. They begin dating and even spend the night alone at her house — wink wink, nudge nudge — while her parents are out of town.
But in the end, it’s revealed that “Misty” doesn’t exist: she is a random teenager the Super-Teacher found and brainwashed so that she would be the ideal love interest for Superboy. The CCA forbade depictions like this, which makes it all the more baffling that they allowed this heinous story about two teens manipulated into a relationship that neither would have wanted without the Super-Teacher’s influence.
6. LET’S GO TO THE MOVIES
Thanos must have tried to conquer Earth dozens of times over the years, but the most entertaining example is probably in Avengers #125, when he sends a fleet of spaceships to destroy our planet. The Avengers don’t take kindly to that and hit back with everything they’ve got, destroying several of Thanos’ ships.
As one of the ships crash lands, it hits a movie theater whose marquee quite clearly shows that the theater is playing Deep Throat, a notorious film made in 1972. Or perhaps the theater was showing the sequel, Deep Throat Part II — we can’t see enough of the marquee to tell. Either way, let’s just hope that the kids reading this comic were too busy staring at the wreckage of the spaceship to notice what it fell on.
5. HAWKEYE’S FUNNY MONEY
Being a superhero is hard work, so it’s understandable that they’d need to do something silly once in a while to de-stress. For Hawkeye, this means defacing U.S. currency in his spare time. While tracking a dead scientist’s missing daughter through a Russian sewer in Avengers Assemble #12, Hawkeye complains about how he hates checks because they’re nothing but paper.
When Spider-Woman points out that dollars bills are also paper, Hawkeye rebuts by saying you don’t write on dollars, so Spider-Woman starts to tell a story about how Hawkeye likes writing B’s and R’s in certain places on one-dollar bills. Black Widow interrupts before Spider-Woman can tell us exactly what Hawkeye did, but with a little deductive reasoning, we’re pretty sure you can figure it out for yourself.
4. KURT AND LOGAN MAKE A MOVIE
The old adage about not judging a book by its cover is especially applicable to comic books, the covers for which are notorious for having nothing to do with the comic’s actual contents. In no case is this more acutely disappointing than Wolverine #6, published in 2003.
While the issue itself mostly consists of Logan and Kurt Wagner waxing philosophical in a bar, the cover features an unquestionably nude Nightcrawler in the foreground, while Wolverine glares at something considerably below Kurt’s eye level and nurses a strategically placed bottle of beer. The bar they meet in is called The Box and is shown to be mutant-friendly, but we somehow doubt the proprietors are quite so open-minded as to allow their patrons to reenact certain movies on the premises.
3. DONNA TROY NEEDS A REBRANDING
Wonder Woman’s younger sister Donna Troy has a needlessly complex backstory. One potential origin for her is that she is secretly one of the Titans of Myth and has superpowers she never even knew about. Up until that point, Donna had always fought crime under the name Wonder Girl.
But by the time she learns of her Titanic origins, she has long since grown up, and she decides to take on a more grown-up identity as well… but her choice of codename is a little more adult than she probably intended. In New Titans #55, Donna adopts a new costume and the name Troia, the Greek version of her last name. Unbeknownst to her — and, it would appear, to the Comics Code Authority –“troia” is also an offensive Italian word directed towards women.
2. “I COMMAND YOU TO…”
A particularly well-known example of censorship failure occurs in the pages of Captain America #366. Captain America is hot on the trail of the Controller and the Voice, both villains with mind-control capabilities. He hitches a ride on their getaway plane and storms inside, going on the offensive against both baddies. The Voice yells at them to stop fighting before they wreck the airplane, but they can’t hear him over the sound of the wind rushing around the plane.
Cap chooses this moment to throw his shield, which makes a “WANK” sound against the Controller’s armor. The sound effect/dirty slang is bad enough on its own — and appears once more earlier in the issue — but when combined with the Voice’s cut-off command, it becomes an instant classic.
1. HYPERION DOESN’T BELIEVE IN CONSENT
While visiting Paradise Island in New Teen Titans #11, Wonder Girl falls under the spell of Hyperion, a mythological Titan recently escaped from imprisonment who decides he wants to “possess” the beautiful young Amazon. As if it wasn’t icky enough that Hyperion uses his powers to force Wonder Girl to fall in love with him, the scene in which she is bewitched would indicate that Hyperion is affecting more than just her brain.
Even more unfortunate is the fact that Wonder Girl is strangely unperturbed by the whole incident, even declaring that she admires the good within Hyperion. Hyperion does end up being banished again by the end of the next issue, but the idea that one can still be a good person after mentally and intimately manipulating others leaves a bad taste in the reader’s mouth.
Which of these is the worst and/or funniest to you? Let us know in the comments!
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