Another year in comics has gone by, but 2017 may prove to be an especially memorable one for the industry. We have seen some great comic books hit the shelves this year, and we have seen some not so great ones debut too. 2017 may ultimately prove to be a unique year, though, because of the vast amount of controversies that have befallen some of the biggest publishers in the industry. What has gone on this year has also sullied some of the best and most exciting characters in the world.
This year alone, DC and Marvel have produced comics that have been recalled, boycotted, openly questioned, and quickly cancelled. Overall, DC Comics had a great year with its Rebirth initiative going stronger than ever, though the company wasn’t without its own hiccups. Meanwhile, Marvel Comics proved to be a complete disaster over the span of 2017. It seemed like the publisher couldn’t get out of its own way as controversy after controversy hit the internet, each worse than the last. Here is a look at the most controversial comics to see release by either of the big two publishers this year. Let’s hope this list can be shorter in 2018.
15 DEADPOOL #31
Everyone loves Deadpool, until he does something so horrendous that people start wondering whether or not he can ever be forgiven for his transgressions. Despite his status as the perfect killing machine and a deadly mercenary, he still has a weak spot when it comes to Captain America. This takes a tragic turn when a Nazi Captain America tells Wade to kill Phil Coulson.
In Deadpool #31, the merc actually shoots and kills Coulson, believing him to be a traitor to the country, all because Captain America said so. Fans were left wondering why one beloved character would go and kill another. As part of the Marvel Legacy initiative, Wade decides to embrace his roots and go back to being a killer in The Despicable Deadpool. While it’s sad to see Coulson go, if anyone is due for a resurrection in the comics, it has to be him.
14 THE PUNISHER #218
Frank Castle can be a highly divisive character because of his usage of guns to fight crime, but things got a little bit more controversial when it was announced that he would be stepping into the War Machine armor. James Rhodes had already been killed in the controversial Civil War II the year before, but The Punisher taking his armor seemed to take things to a whole new level.
Marvel Legacy’s new Punisher series planned to deal with the consequences of a dangerous man taking control of a dangerous weapon, but many were unhappy with Marvel seemingly running Rhodey’s legacy through the mud. Not only did Frank using military weapons spit in the face of what War Machine represented, it also effectively whitewashed the legacy of the character.
13 CANCELLED BLACK PANTHER BOOKS
Marvel has been doing great things with Black Panther in recent years, and with the Black Panther film out in 2018, it would make sense that the publisher would want to test the waters for more books about the character. Having prominent black writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay tell stories about T’Challa and the people of Wakanda sounded like a no-brainer.
The problem was that Marvel may have extended itself too far, and as a result, World of Wakanda and Black Panther and the Crew only managed to last six issues each. The problem is that it sends a bad message when two titles about black people are cancelled just months before the biggest comic book movie to star a black person hits theaters. People were very unhappy with Marvel’s unwillingness to stick with these books a little longer.
12 EVERY TITLE EDITED BY EDDIE BERGANZA
Over the last few years, DC Comics editor Eddie Berganza became a polarizing figure inside the comic book industry because of his awful treatment of women. Despite previously being demoted for his actions, DC kept Berganza on as a Group Editor during the company’s New 52 and Rebirth initiatives. He remained in a position of power even as the public learned more about his history of sexual harassment.
People openly questioned why Berganza was still employed by the publisher, as he continued to edit the likes of Superman, Green Lanterns, and Justice League. It wasn’t until Buzzfeed finally wrote an expose on Berganza’s actions as a serial harasser that DC Comics finally decided to take action. In November 2017, he was finally fired from his position.
11 MARVEL LEGACY (VARIANT COVERS)
Variant covers are usually a great way to increase sales for both retailers and publishers, but companies have to be careful not to overdo it. Seeing the success that DC Comics had with Rebirth, Marvel tried to implement its own initiative to get people excited about Marvel Comics again. Marvel Legacy didn’t exactly make friends with retailers when they refused to buy into the initiative.
Marvel’s mistake was demanding retailers that purchase an exorbitant amount of comic books in order to gain access to the fancy lenticular cover variants. Retailers felt that the company was asking them to spend too much money in order to gain the questionable benefits of a variant cover. Many of these retailers refused to buy any more Marvel books than they already did, and it made Marvel’s next big initiative look like a scam.
10 JAMES ROBINSON'S WONDER WOMAN
The year 2017 proved to be a huge one for women in the media, and DC’s Wonder Woman film was a big part of that success. With Greg Rucka leaving the title, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get women to write and draw a female character, but that is not what happened when DC hired James Robinson and Carlo Pagulayan to continue the adventures of the Amazon princess.
What was worse was the fact that Robinson’s first order of business was to introduce Wonder Woman’s twin brother, which many found unnecessary. Women are already ignored in the industry to begin with, but by assigning an all-male creative team to the book and focusing on a new male character, DC essentially ignored any lesson it could have learned from Wonder Woman.
9 DOOMSDAY CLOCK
Since DC Universe Rebirth was released in 2016, Doctor Manhattan has been a confirmed part of the DCU. While having a character from Watchmen show up in a modern comic might seem controversial, the book Doomsday Clock has some fans (especially Alan Moore loyalists) upset over the idea of revisiting the world of Watchmen in 2017.
While Geoff Johns has billed the story as being more of a response to the original comic, the first issue shows that it is also very much a sequel as well. Several years after the events of Watchmen, the world is coming to an end, Ozymandias has cancer, and a new Rorschach is fighting crime on the streets. It’s hard to judge a book this early, but comic book purists are certainly going to be unhappy unless the story can pull off a major coup.
8 INHUMANS VS. X-MEN
The Inhumans Vs. X-Men comic book may have started in 2016, but most of it took place in 2017 (if you can believe it). While Marvel hoped it would prove to make the Inhumans more popular, it really only made readers like the characters even less as they stomped all over the X-Men and didn’t really do much to show themselves to be heroes worthy of the attention they were getting.
Though the Inhumans finally did something good in the end by dispelling the Terrigen Mist that was killing mutants, it proved to be too little, too late. The comic also ended with the two sides coming together to stop a now-evil Emma Frost as she manipulated those around her to get revenge for the death of Cyclops. Overall, it was a bad comic that did more harm than good.
7 ACTION COMICS #987
Action Comics #987 proved to be a controversial comic book for more than one reason. Many of the fans who expected the identity of Mr. Oz to be Ozymandias from Watchmen were disappointed when he was ultimately revealed to be Superman’s biological father Jor-El. Many other long-time Superman fans thought the return of Jor-El was sacrilege against the Superman mythos.
The issue also proved to be “controversial” for another reason, when Superman was depicted saving several undocumented immigrants from being murdered. Some people thought this scene was added in to simply make a political statement based on what was going on in the news at the time. Of course, this was a big blow-up over nothing because saving people — all people — is simply what Superman (himself an "undocumented immigrant") does. The real controversy was that this was seen as controversial.
6 MAGNETO IS A NAZI NOW?
By the time Secret Empire #5 hit the stands, the series was already filled with enough controversies to make many fans angry. How could Marvel make things worse? By turning Magneto, a Holocaust survivor, into a Nazi sympathizer. The book contained variant covers that showed off many of the villains of the series, and when Magneto showed up on one, people went nuts.
Thankfully the Magneto cover for Secret Empire #5 ultimately proved to be misleading because he merely agreed to work with Captain Hydra in order to help mutants. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. It was just another instance of Marvel going too far and failing to read the room when actual Nazis were showing up in the news and receiving a voice in the media.
5 MARVEL DOESN’T LIKE DIVERSITY
Every year Marvel Comics meets with some of the industry’s biggest retailers in order to talk with them about the state of the industry and learn what is and isn’t working at the comic book shop level. This year’s Marvel Retailer Summit proved to be extremely controversial thanks to some ugly sales numbers and a few angry comic book sellers.
Marvel was told, in no uncertain terms, that the publisher’s push for more diversity was the reason for low sales. According to some retailers, fans didn’t want a biracial Spider-Man, female Thor, Black Captain America, or Muslim Ms. Marvel. While Marvel likely didn’t exactly believe this, some problematic quotes from Marvel’s VP of sales David Gabriel reached the public, which ultimately blew up into a few ugly weeks over the summer.
4 AKIRA YOSHIDA’S COMICS FROM 2004
Despite the fact that it’s 2017, a series of long-forgotten stories from 2004 and 2005 became relevant again due to the fact that the author, Akira Yoshida, was actually new Marvel editor in chief C.B. Cebulski. At the time, Cebulski was working for Marvel and was unable to write comics for them, so he invented an identity that allowed him to write Thor: Son of Asgard, Elektra: The Hand, Wolverine: Soultaker, and many other books.
The problem was, not only was this against the company’s policy, Cebulski also used this identity to offer the “unique perspective” of an Asian man. Many felt that this was a case of fraud, cultural appropriation, and yellowfacing, especially since several of his stories dealt with Japanese culture. It was not the way a new era of Marvel Comics should have kicked off.
3 THE NORTHROP GRUMMAN COMIC BOOK
Marvel caused quite a stir at this year’s New York Comic Con when it introduced a partnership with the weapons manufacturer Northrop Grumman. While the comic itself may seem harmless enough, Avengers, Featuring N.G.E.N. – Start Your N.G.E.N.S! showed the comic book buying world that the publisher had no problem with Northrop Grumman’s role in America’s war lust, so long as enough money was involved.
Marvel Comics had an event set up at NYCC to introduce the new limited series, but a massive outpouring of protests brought everything to an end prematurely. Not only did Marvel ultimately cancel the event, the comic book series never saw release. It’s possible that the few issues that made its way into the hands of fans at the event will one day be collectors items.
2 X-MEN GOLD #1
Following the events of Inhumans vs. X-Men, Marvel promised to bring the X-Men back into the spotlight by relaunching the franchise’s books into X-Men Gold and X-Men Blue. Gold became the center of attention on release in April, but what the publisher did not expect was for artist Ardian Syaf to slip controversial artwork into the pages of the very first issue.
Syaf added multiple coded references to Indonesia’s ongoing political and religious conflicts. One of the worst was a reference to a problematic verse in the Quran that could be interpreted as speaking badly against people of other religions. Marvel terminated Syaf from the book immediately and was left scrambling trying to replace him. What was supposed to be the triumphant return of the X-Men was muddied by controversy.
1 SECRET EMPIRE
No comic book proved to be more controversial in 2017 than Nick Spencer’s Secret Empire event series. Following up on the whole Captain America “Hail Hydra” controversy from 2016, this 10-issue comic saw a Nazi Steve Rogers take over the country as a villain. The series ultimately led several superheroes to join Hydra’s regime, including The Punisher and Thor, which was not really a good look for any of them.
Perhaps the worst part about this book was the fact that it was released at possibly the worst time ever, with real-life fascists and self-proclaimed Nazis invading the headlines in the news. Many fans felt that this was a time where Captain America needed to be a hero, and in the end Secret Empire may have done more damage to Marvel than it was ultimately worth.