What is the difference between a hero and a villain? A lot of comic book fans have given a lot of thought to answering that very question, especially in recent years when the line between the two often seems more blurred than it used to be, thanks to less stringent censorship. However, most people can probably agree that, at their core, a hero is someone who has others’ best interests at heart, and who is unselfish enough to make great personal sacrifices to uphold their morals and protect the people around them.
But even the most stalwart of heroes can make mistakes, and when you have the power to bench-press a gymnasium or shoot lasers from your eyes, the odds of your mistakes having dire consequences — for either yourself or others — increase exponentially. Over the years, the various members of the Justice League have dropped the ball often enough that we really have to wonder how most of them have avoided time in super-prison, or at the very least avoided trouble with the notoriously picky Comics Code Authority. And that’s what this list is about: showcasing times when the world’s greatest heroes somehow got away with acting like the world’s greatest jerks.
15. GREEN LANTERN HAS NO COPING SKILLS
Losing someone can be hard. Losing your entire city to a supervillain attack can be even harder, especially when you had tasked yourself with protecting that city from exactly such an attack. In “Emerald Twilight”, Green Lantern Hal Jordan deals with his feelings of grief and guilt by losing his marbles. He first attacks the Guardians of the Universe and then cuts a bloody swath through the Green Lantern Corps until he is the last Lantern left standing.
It was soon revealed that Hal wasn’t acting entirely of his own volition here; he had previously been possessed by Parallax, the embodiment of fear, who took advantage of Hal’s distress in the wake of the attack on his city to bend Hal to his will. Regardless, any time a hero goes bad, for any reason, is a dark day for heroes everywhere.
14. BATMAN ALSO HAS NO COPING SKILLS
The murder of Jason Todd, the second Robin, hit Batman hard. He was so distraught that he didn’t even bother to inform his former Robin, Dick Grayson, about his de facto brother’s death. Dick, who has just returned from space, learns the bad news from one of his fellow Teen Titans and rushes to the Batcave to talk to Batman. The Dark Knight’s reaction is… less than optimal.
First, Batman remarks disapprovingly that Dick wasn’t at Jason’s funeral, even though, again, Dick was off-planet at the time. When Dick argues the point, Batman decks him, says he was a useless sidekick, accuses him of never loving Jason, and tells him he is no longer welcome in Wayne Manor. Dealing with the death of a child is one of the hardest things in the world, but that doesn’t give you license to abuse your surviving child as a coping mechanism.
13. TOGETHER FOREVER
The heroes we know as Hawkman and Hawkgirl were originally alien lovers who have been repeatedly reincarnated over the centuries. But in their most recent reincarnation, it is only Hawkman who remembers this fact; Hawkgirl knows nothing of her alleged past lives and decides to live her life how she sees fit, which does not include accepting Hawkman as a romantic partner.
Hawkman doesn’t take this well, continuing to obsess over the woman he feels should be his, regardless of her own feelings — or lack thereof–towards him. Not helping is the fact that this incarnation of Hawkgirl is considerably younger than him, adding an extra layer of ick to Hawkman’s obsession. He’s so persistent in trying to convince a disinterested Hawkgirl that they’re made for each other that Green Arrow has to step in and tell him to stop being a creep.
12. NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS
In Action Comics #592, the aptly named Sleez, a villain from Apokolips with mind control powers, enslaves his fellow Apokolipsian expat Big Barda. Barda’s husband, Mister Miracle, somehow fails to notice she is missing, so it’s up to Superman to save her. Superman’s failed attempt to rescue Barda, which involves insulting her make-up for no reason, results in him also falling under Sleez’s spell.
So why does Sleez want with them? He plans to force them to star in explicit movies so he can use the profits to build up an army and take revenge against Darkseid, who banished him from Apokolips years ago. First of all, ew. Second, why does he even need an army if he has Superman and Big Barda, two of the most powerful people on Earth, at his beck and call? They’re worth more than an army all by themselves. And third, ew.
11. GUARDIAN OF THE YEAR
Green Arrow is more famous for his archery than his parenting skills. That is because, put simply, he has no parenting skills. In Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85, our heroes discover that Green Arrow’s sidekick, Speedy, is secretly a heroin addict. Green Arrow, as he informed us earlier in the issue, really hates “junkies.” Will the knowledge that his own ward is an addict change his attitude and allow him to sympathize with those with substance abuse problems?
Nope! The next issue opens with Green Arrow smacking Speedy in the face and kicking him out of the house. By the end of the issue, a sober Speedy punches him right back and calls him out on his epically terrible parenting skills, to which GA responds by proudly tearing up over how much Speedy has matured. Never mind that Speedy was forced to mature because his legal guardian is a neglectful bastard…
10. HOW NOT TO MAKE AN ENTRANCE
One would think that breaking into a prison would be a uniquely simple task for a hero like Plastic Man. After all, he can mold himself into any shape or person imaginable; it should be child’s play to turn himself into a prison guard or slip himself into someone’s pocket as a set of keys and sail right through security.
So what does Plastic Man actually end up doing? In Flashpoint: Legion of Doom #1, he somehow gets himself inside the Cluemaster, an inmate at the prison, and when the time is right, he crawls out through Cluemaster’s mouth. Whether or not poor Cluemaster survived this uniquely disturbing entrance is not made clear in the comic itself, but the scene is pointless and disgusting nonetheless.
9. THE SILVER AGE OF SLIMINESS
Superman spent most of the ’50s “teaching Lois a lesson” for being too curious/annoying/feminine, usually in ways that we would now categorize as mean-spirited at best. In Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #10, for instance, Lois is concerned about looking old and uses an experimental de-aging machine. Moments later, she learns the machine is defective and will reduce her to an infant unless Superman beams his x-ray vision at her.
Too scared to tell Superman what she’s done for reasons that will soon become amply clear, Lois spends several days trying and failing to trick Superman into using his x-ray vision on her. As it turns out, Superman knew all along that Lois had used the machine, and the antidote is actually in edible form rather than an X-ray blast. Instead of telling Lois this like a decent person, Superman lets her live in fear as she grows younger and younger.
8. THE ATOM GETS NOSY
Justice League: Cry for Justice is an all-around unfortunate comic, to put it politely. One of its worst aspects is how it depicts the Justice League as whiny idiots who don’t pause to consider the consequences of their actions for even a second before plowing ahead with whatever half-baked ideas come to mind. For example, the Atom (aka Ray Palmer) has decided, with varying levels of support from his teammates, that humane treatment of prisoners is for saps.
Any time he or his fellow Leaguers want quick information from a criminal, the Atom shrinks down real small, climbs into the unfortunate criminal’s sinus cavity, and continues to grow larger until his pain-wracked victim finally snaps and starts talking. Now that’s just gross on multiple levels.
7. DON’T FORGET TO FORGET
If a hero is active for long enough, they will inevitably be forced to make some difficult decisions. According to Identity Crisis, in their early days as a team, the Justice League’s secret identities were uncovered by a group of supervillains. This forced the League to decide between simply turning in the villains or erasing this knowledge from their minds. The League opts for the easy solution rather than the right one and has resident magician Zatanna mind-wipe the lot of them.
They apparently liked mind-wiping so much that they continued to do it whenever the situation got even remotely complicated. Their most famous victim is Doctor Light, who Zatanna accidentally lobotomized following his vicious attack on Sue Dibny in Identity Crisis #2. And when a disapproving Batman finds out about their extremely dubious shenanigans, she mind-wipes him, too. Good times.
6. ILLEGAL ON ANY PLANET
The Green Lantern Corps is comprised of warriors of all shapes, sizes, species and ages. One of their youngest members is Arisia Rrab, a 13-year-old who falls head over heels for her fellow — and very adult — Green Lantern Hal Jordan. Arisia, being a superpowered teenager with a crush, inevitably does something foolhardy: she gives herself an adult body so he’ll sleep with her.
One would hope that Hal, as the adult in this situation, would have the decency to turn her down. He knows exactly what Arisia has done and why, and had in fact refused her advances several times before because of her young age. And yet, in the end, he still can’t resist taking advantage of an infatuated child. Isn’t he supposed to have extraordinary willpower or something?
5. WELCOME TO VIRGIL HOUSE
After Green Arrow kicks Speedy out for being an addict, Green Lantern brings the boy to Black Canary, who provides a sympathetic ear and a helping hand to guide him through withdrawal and rehab. They remained close over the years, so when Roy fell off the wagon in the Rise of Arsenal miniseries, it would have made sense for Black Canary to step up to the plate while Green Arrow yet again dashed off to do his own thing.
Unfortunately, no one’s actions in Rise of Arsenal make much sense, Black Canary’s included. She does suffer some very hurtful verbal abuse from Roy, who is contending with the loss of an arm and his young daughter, but if she honestly believed that dumping him at Virgil House, which is specifically identified as a facility for drug-addicted criminals, would improve his disposition any, she’s not as smart as we thought.
4. A FAMILY AFFAIR
Before she joined the Justice League, speedster Jesse Quick was a member of the Titans. During her time with them, the team was called upon to solve the murder of Philip Geyer, the fiance of Jesse’s mother, Libby Lawrence. Philip was not the nicest chap; it turns out that he was a gold digger who was only marrying the much-older Libby for her money. He even continued sleeping with other people after becoming engaged.
“Other people,” in this case, means Jesse Quick, who knew perfectly well who Geyer was and what he meant to her mother. Instead of telling him to go suck a lemon or even informing her mother that her fiance is a bit of a drip, Jesse willingly went along with his advances.
3. OH LORDY
Maxwell Lord never wore a costume and was all but useless in a fistfight, but he was just as much a member of the Justice League as his cape-and-cowl-wearing counterparts. He used his powers of mind control and manipulation to keep his teammates safe and alive, primarily during an era when the Justice League was more lighthearted and goofy than it is today.
Fun stories featuring, say, Martian Manhunter becoming addicted to a blatant Oreo knockoff were par for the course during Lord’s time with the group. Needless to say, readers were more than a little surprised when, in 2005, it was revealed that not only was Lord secretly evil the whole time, he was also willing and able to murder his old teammate, the Blue Beetle.
2. KIDS THESE DAYS
As retold in the Teen Titans: Year One miniseries, the minds of everyone in the Justice League were once taken over by the villain Antithesis, who turned them all into self-serving bullies. The League’s sidekicks, concerned about their mentors’ uncharacteristic behavior, band together to figure out what’s going on and to prevent the grown-up heroes from committing any more crimes. It’s not easy: the League is much stronger and more experienced than their teenage trainees.
After enduring a great deal of emotional and physical abuse from their beloved mentors, the Titans are able to break Antithesis’ hold and free the Justice League, who immediately praise the kids for their quick thinking and hard work… except Batman, who remains an emotionally constipated jerk to the end.
One of the most infamous moments in Identity Crisis is when the villain Doctor Light assaults Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man. While this incident in and of itself qualifies for a spot on this list, it’s the fact that the assault happened in the League’s satellite headquarters that raises any number of troubling questions.
Fort starters, how did Light get into the Satellite? Was there no one on monitor duty? Does the Satellite have no security measures capable of detecting and incapacitating an intruder? Then there’s the fact that Sue hit a panic button as soon as she saw Doctor Light. How did he still have time to attack her before literally the fastest people on the planet could return to their own headquarters? The attack itself is anger-inducing enough, but knowing it was the League’s sloppiness that allowed it to happen makes it downright unforgivable.
Which moment was the worst to you? Let us know in the comments!
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