Memes. They're the lifeblood of society. Memes keep us going, giving us the strength needed to make it through one more work meeting, distracting ourselves from the whirling maw that is the last ten minutes of a lecture on a Friday afternoon. Memes keep us safe from the most awkward of parties and occasionally help supplement the dankness levels of our favorite comics. Of course, whenever a corporate-backed entity references a meme, there exists a large potential for being awkwardly out of touch, or to put it in memes: "How do you do fellow kids?" After all, the ephemeral nature of memes means that more often than not a meme becomes outdated almost as soon as its inception, making the referencing party look even more like a total normie.
Now to clarify, this is a list about memes in comics, but not comic memes, which are memes in a comic form. Although, referencing a meme is using a meme, thus making these 16 entries technically comic memes, but not meme comics, maybe. Look, it's a chronicling of 16 instances where comics made deliberate shout-outs to pre-existing memes, or comics referencing memes that were spun out from comics themselves. Don't think about it too much, it just wastes time that could've been better spent looking at memes.
Ultimately, when you have everyone from Family Guy to The Powerpuff Girls roasting you, you've got to respond somehow. Instead of trying to reinvent the Aquaman however, 2011's New 52 Aquaman ditches all of the hooks and bears with an orange-scaled throwback shirt to raise the question: "You sure Aquaman is lame?" During 2011's Aquaman #1, cops and robbers both laugh at Aquaman's appearance, right before he kills an armored car with a trident and takes a full machine-gun clip to the chest. The cops are embarrassed to have been saved by Aquaman, which is somewhat perplexing. If New 52 Aquaman's actions are so intentionally impressive, then one must wonder how this Aquaman gained an in-universe reputation for being so lame in the first place.
When Ms. Marvel first sees Wolverine in action in 2014's Ms. Marvel #6, Kamala's internal monologue can't help but geek out as she reverts to Doge rhetoric: "Wow. Such Athletic. Very Claws. So Amaze." For those unaware, Ms. Marvel is basically Marvel's most adorkable character, from using her downtime to go on raids in her universe's version of World of Warcraft to actively shipping some of her favorite Marvel characters in elaborate fanfics.
To be fair, Ms. Marvel is basically a cooler version of us, and you'd be lucky to say anything intelligent if you ever met Wolverine.
While Ms. Marvel manages to be chill enough to limit the Doge-talk to thought panels, she has no qualms in telling Wolverine that her "Wolverine-and-Storm-in-space" fanfic was the third-most upvoted story on "Freaking Awesome.com" last month. Curiously, Logan asks Kamala what was the most upvoted story, which Kamala explains was "Cyclops and Emma Frost's romantic vacation in Paris." Wolverine's reply? "This is the worst day of my life." While we are on the topic of Wolverine, how weird is it that no X-Men comic has utilized the Wolverine Crush meme yet? At only two panels long, that meme is ripe for parody.
In terms of actually referencing memes however, Ms. Marvel doesn't disappoint: When fighting the Inventor, who is a clone of Thomas Edison that is also a cockatiel, in 2015's Ms. Marvel #11, Kamala manages to successfully hack The Inventor's main mecha by shrinking down (or "dis-embiggening") to fit in between its armor plating. After switching around a few wires to commandeer the robot, Ms. Marvel proudly proclaims: "You are goin down, bird guy. All your bots are belong to us." Unfortunately, there is no "We get signal" or "What you say!" but referencing one of our favorite classic memes, All Your Base Are Belong To Us, is always most appreciated.
For one month, most Marvel Comics had a "Deadpool Meme" variant cover where the hero recreated famous memes.
The variant cover for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 has Deadpool and Agent Coulson doing a fist pump akin to the Epic Win Kid meme. All-New X-Men (volume 2) #4 has Deadpool in a raincoat pointing towards two Cyclops, an accurate usage of and reference to the "Dubs Guy/Check 'Em/Patrick Bateman pointing" meme. Silver Surfer (volume 8) #1 has Deadpool planking on the Surfer's board. Dr. Strange (volume 4) #4 has Dr. Strange replicating the "Sad Keanu" meme while Deadpool consoles him. Finally, Rocket Raccoon and Groot #1 has Rocket making the "dramatic chipmunk" face in the foreground, which should not be confused with the "squirrel photobomb" meme, which had already been recreated utilizing a squirrel in a Deadpool costume (or Squirrelpool) in Thor #507.
We're cheating a bit here, but our favorite Leeroy Jenkins reference takes place during "Rupture," the 20th episode of the second season of The Flash. In this cold opening, Cisco has to successfully pilot a mo-cap Flash hologram, essentially a high-stakes version of a WoW raid. Calling upon the hours he's sacrificed towards gaming, Cisco throws out a "Leeroy!" with such fervor and accuracy that we're going to ignore that this is a list of just comic book references to memes. And while we're breaking rules that we've just established...
We're totally cheating by referencing a movie right now, but considering the fact that this is most likely the best part of 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, we're gonna let it slide. When Shadowcat manages to phase Juggernaut through a wall, an act that would kill a normal person, Juggernaut incredulously looks up at the fleeing Kitty to pose a rhetorical question: "Don't you know who I am? I'm the Juggernaut, %#&!"
This is probably the most noteworthy reference to an early Internet meme in cinematic history.
Stellar delivery from professional hooligan Vinnie Jones aside, Juggernaut is referencing the 2005 video dub by My Way Entertainment of "Phoenix Saga Part 3: Cry of the Banshee" from the X-Men The Animated Series, colloquially known as "The Juggernaut meme." Most likely due to litigious purposes, as well as the dub's extremely adult subject matter, the My Way Entertainment dub is seldom referenced again in comics nor films – not even in Deadpool 2 – most likely because Juggernaut has become a dead meme. That being said, we would go to extreme lengths just to have Erik The Red reappear in a comic just to make the claim that his suit is made out of Laffy Taffy.
For example, our protagonist Jibanyan – a dead cat who would be as cute as Pikachu if it wasn't for the name – dons Wolverine claws and a Logan haircut for issue #2 as he declares "I'm the best there is at what I do," which in this instance is being the least lame cat, ever. Engaging in combat with Snartle, Jibanyan begins to laugh uncontrollably. Suddenly, Jibanyan is wearing a hoodie while flanked by ghost-homies who say "Ohh!" in a single panel that ostensibly came out of nowhere. No doubt perplexing for younger readers, but danker readers may recognize this as a shout out to Supa Hot Fire. For those unaware, Supa Hot Fire is a classic internet diss-track video that became immensely more popular once it was turned into a perfectly-looping reaction GIF.
When a meme is born from a comic, it will naturally need to be referenced again in another comic. Take Frank Miller's All-Star Batman & Robin The Boy Wonder, a series criticized for a litany of reasons, from cowl-based hookups to outsmarting the Green Lantern with some buckets of paint. The series is not without its merit however, as for every instance of Batman asking Robin if he's the R-word, you also get Batman coining the phrase "I'm the [Goshdarn] Batman." We're not being hyperbolic whatsoever when we say that those four words were the best part of the entire series. In fact, the phrase was quickly turned into a meme, often serving as a twist ending to a green text story or a Tinder conversation.
This line quickly became one of the most infamous moments in recent Batman history.
The phrase would spread outside of Frank Miller's Batman Universe's lexicon during "Dark City" in "Batman: Zero Year," where Commissioner Loeb refers to Batman by the same phrase. Mind you, while Frank Miller's Batman was the first person to use the phrase, other characters in All-Star Batman and Robin inexplicably refer to Batman as "the [Goshdarn] Batman," as well. It's kinda like Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, but dark and gritty. That being said, we would totally buy multiple issues of The [Goshdarn] Batman #1 if that ever becomes a thing.
If the scene's deliberate blocking and Hitler's trembling hands didn't give it away, Hitler ends his rant by directly acknowledging Downfall: "Ach. If these are my last days, don't tell anyone about them. I don't want any books or especially any films to be made portraying me as the lunatic captain of a sinking ship." As a sort of bonus meme, Deadpool #26 has the twist ending of Nick Fury, Cable and Deadpool unloading multiple machine guns into the time-traveling Hitler, possibly referencing Inglorious Basterds. Finally, in order to preserve the timeline, Deadpool returns the body to the time it belongs in.
Incidentally, this reference doesn't really work anymore, since Logan just recently stopped being dead.
Also, there's Old Man Logan, an alternate universe Wolverine who had a She-Hulk throw him into the 616 universe. Old Man Logan becomes a mentor for Laura in All-New Wolverine #10, which technically made it two not-dead Logans.
Despite Gwen's claims that she doesn't read Deadpool comics because he's too "LOL memes," Gwenpool's first appearance from Howard The Duck #1 is bookended with Gwenpool saying "Hello World!" and "Bye Felicia!" Gwen's omega-class knowledge of comic book tropes and general nerd culture helps her get out of most sticky situations as a mercenary, like the fact that your standard 616 Sentinel still uses the same attack animations from the X-Men arcade game. It is Gwen's fondness for memes that makes her legitimately dank and not just a ramshackle character engineered to take your money.
Eventually, Squirrel Girl became a part of the main more mainstream Marvel Universe.
Before the relaunch of the Marvel Universe, Squirrel Girl's seemingly inordinate amount of power was embraced as a meme. In earlier editions of The Official Handbook of The Marvel Universe, each of Squirrel Girl's power-rankings was maxed out at 10. That means Squirrel-Girl is on par with the Living Tribunal, who are basically the super secret end-bosses of the Marvel Universe. In terms of actual canonical feats however, Squirrel-Girl has defeated Dr. Doom twice, Thanos once, has a standing invitation to become a Herald of Galactus and she can read Deadpool's yellow text bubbles. Furthermore, Squirrel Girl's solo series has an emphasis on embracing the ridiculous nature of comics, and often features Doreen reasoning with potential villains as opposed to engaging in dark and gritty fisticuffs. That being said, there is still an alternate future version of Squirrel Girl whose spends her golden years ensuring that Dr. Doom doesn't mess with any time machines, filling the plot hole of why Dr. Doom doesn't rule the world despite having a time machine.
Potential tetraphobia aside, Lex Luthor's terrible theft of ten fours would resurface as a meme in 2005, later becoming an official part of the Superman mythos during the "Superman: Grounded" arc from 2011's Superman #709. During a flashback sequence, Clark Kent is sent to detention for skipping class, wherein he encounters a young Lex Luthor, serving time for being dank: "I later found out that he was there for stealing forty cakes from the school's bake sale." Forever a journalist, Clark remains objective, yet we all know that's terrible. The act of stealing four tens worth of cakes we mean, the shout out itself is actually pretty sweet.
The most unlikely Martha meme comes from Archie Comics' pop culture-savy Josie and the Pussycats series.
While foiling a diamond heist in between concerts in 2016's Josie and the Pussycats #4, Valerie cries out: "Dammit, Melody! Crime-fighting isn't in our contract! None of our moms are named Martha!" In the very next panel, Melody looks directly at the viewer, "You never know! A cross-over could start any minute!" sealed with a wink sound-effect. Insert a smirking cat-face emoji here, because that was downright fierce, Melody.
A problem arises when depicting this desk-bound Spider-Man: How do you reference a meme centered around an adult action in a T+ rated comic? Simple: During a brawl in the 2015 Spider-Verse spin-off Web Warriors #1, Spider-Gwen – who actually goes by "Spider-Woman" because "Spider-Gwen" is as good of a name as "Spider-Peter" – crashes through a window during a brawl in the 1960's Spider-Man cartoon universe, only to come across a Spider-Man, sitting in front of a Spider-Man portrait, who asks if Electro – as in "Electro The Human Lightning Bolt," the episode that this meme originates from – is still outside. Gwen doesn't disappoint: "What? No. But, you know, there is a big super-villain heist going on outside and you're just sitting here... What are you doing?"
Loss examines how little it takes for one to recognize a meme, or rather, how minimalist a meme can become.
Since the Loss meme is based on a simple four-panel composition featuring no dialogue whatsoever, it serves as an easy template. In this instance, penciller David Marquez has the shadow in Jessica's room perfectly split the page into four panels just to solidify that this is a meme. Ironically, despite the originally tragic subject matter of the Loss comic, which isn't what the meme is about, its appearance in the first page of Defenders #1 grants a certain levity to what could otherwise be a heavy scene. After all, the worst usages of memes are the ones that are too in your face about it, like anything written in Cat-English.