Have you ever wondered why you like superheroes? The legendary Stan Lee made a good and valid point, saying, "My theory about why people like superheroes is that when we were kids, we all loved to read fairy tales. Fairy tales are all about things bigger than life: giants, witches, trolls, dinosaurs and dragons and all sorts of imaginative things. Then you get a little bit older and you stop reading fairy tales, but you don't ever outgrow your love of them." In other words, superhero stories symbolize a wish fulfillment of sorts and we live vicariously through these larger-than-life characters.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that these fictional characters can send us on a rollercoaster of emotions. Whether it be through a real-life situation or a fictional circumstance, many things can happen that change our perception of these heroes – for better or worse. DC Comics has had its fair share of scandals and controversies over the years, and we've identified 15 big events that changed its superheroes. So, to paraphrase the CBR team's favorite boy band, the Backstreet Boys: quit playing games with our heart, DC.
If you're still upset about what David S. Goyer's writing did to Superman in Man of Steel, then you'll undoubtedly be flustered by what he did to Big Blue in Action Comics #900. Getting political, Goyer had the leader of truth, justice, and the American way (even though he's an alien) renounce his U.S. citizenship in the landmark issue.
The reason for it? In the short story "The Incident," Supes makes a decision to support the protesters demonstrating against the Iranian regime; however, the Iranian government saw this as the will of the American president and therefore an act of war. The issue sent shockwaves through the comics industry (and well beyond), and many didn't see Superman's actions as being noble but actually traitorous. Mind you, if this happened today, we'd get a never-ending barrage of tweets from a certain U.S. president about Sloppy Superman.
14 BROKEN NIGHTWING
Dick Grayson is recognized as one of the most attractive characters in the DC universe, and this has led to him having a variety of love interests over the years (as well as several heartbreaks). One of the most shocking moments in his crime-fighting career happened in Nightwing #93. After Catalina Flores, AKA the second Tarantula, murdered his nemesis Blockbuster in cold blood, Grayson collapsed on the rooftop from physical and mental exhaustion.
Shockingly, Tarantula decided to take advantage of the emotionally vulnerable Grayson, even despite him telling her to stop. To this day, it remains a huge talking point for many fans and one that courts controversy at every turn. Writer Devin Grayson has been coy about the topic, only stating it was nonconsensual.
13 ALL STAR BADMAN
After the incredible Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, the anticipation was high for Frank Miller's All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder. Coupled with the news that Jim Lee would be joining the creative team and providing the art for it, how could you not be excited for it?! Well, what we received was something far different from what we expected.
While Miller is renowned for his grittier Batman, this version of the Caped Crusader bordered on psychotic and traumatizing, as he treated the young Dick Grayson like garbage and constantly insulted the poor boy. He didn't even want to feed the kid, telling him to feast on the bats and rats in the Batcave. Yeah, Batman isn't exactly Father of the Year material, but this incarnation of him pushed him into Tywin Lannister territory.
12 BATTFLECK ALLEGATIONS
When you consider all the bad press Justice League received, it's remarkable that this movie made any money at all. From the get-go, the odds were stacked against it and scandal struck at every opportunity to take the limelight away from the actual film. We wouldn't bet against a book being released one day to chronicle this controversial film's production.
Adding fuel to the fire a month before its release, Ben Affleck spoke out about the allegations leveled against Harvey Weinstein. This resulted in several allegations being made against Affleck as well, which even led to him being dubbed "Buttman" by several media outlets. Not long afterwards, Jason Momoa was also in the spotlight for a controversial joke that he made at a Game of Thrones panel years back. It's safe to say that these incidents didn't exactly aid Justice League's publicity cycle.
11 HARLEY QUINN CONTEST
Sometimes you can see a storm coming from a mile away and only shake your head that no one else saw it. That's exactly what happened with DC Entertainment's Open Talent Search in 2013. Hopefuls were offered a chance to illustrate four scenes featuring Harley Quinn. Three of them seemed normal enough, but there was one scene descriptor that set off the alarm bells: an unclothed Harley in a bathtub surrounded by toasters, blow dryers, blenders, and appliances all dangling above her.
While Harley is known for being a little nuts, this pushed the boundary of decency too far. Naturally, it didn't take long for the competition to attract negative attention and wonder who the heck would approve something like this. DC eventually apologized to all the people who were offended by it.
10 THE DRAKESTER
Despite being the third Robin, Tim Drake has built up a cult following for being the closest in intellect to Batman. Sure, he might not be in the same fighter category as Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, or Damian Wayne, but what he lacks up for in brawn he makes up for in pure intelligence and tactical prowess. In fact, it's his brain that makes him one of the most powerful heroes in the DC universe.
In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, it was revealed that Harley Quinn and Joker kidnapped Drake, then disfigured and tortured him to the point where he revealed Batman's secrets and killed the Clown Prince of Crime. Years later, it's uncovered that the Joker had put a microchip in Drake, which transferred his consciousness into the boy and turned him into a clone of the rogue. It was a dark (but brilliant) turn…
9 THE SUPPENING
Big Barda and Mister Miracle are the Rachel and Ross of DC Comics. They belong together and to see either of them with someone else just feels wrong. So, when John Byrne's Action Comics run in the '80s produced a major WTF moment in this relationship, all we could do is stare at the pages, speechless and aghast.
In a complex story that only the '80s could produce, Barda found herself in the sewers of Metropolis under the spell of Sleez, a creepy, green dude who forced her to dance while he videotaped her – but it got more intense than that. The next act involved Barda and Superman doing questionable things on camera – although, the Man of Steel didn't quite live up to his name here. It was a weird story and no one really wants to remember it.
8 SULTRY STARFIRE
Koriand'r, AKA Starfire, is one of the most beautiful women/aliens in comic books. While her beauty is radiant, it's her sheer power and innocence that endears her the most to fans. You can't help but root for her because she's just a captivating and genuinely good character.
In the New 52, however, Starfire went through a radical transformation. Looking like a cast member from Baywatch, it was goodbye to innocence and hello to sultriness. While she was a member of Red Hood and the Outlaws, she kissed Jason Todd and did the bed-sheet tango with Roy Harper. Many fans were taken aback by this new over-sexualized version of the character and didn't understand the need to turn her into the comic book equivalent of a Playboy Bunny.
Making someone forget another person's identity is a common plot device in science fiction. Heck, one of the best examples of its execution is in Men in Black and the Neuralyzers. There's a fine line between wiping a person's mind for good and causing possible trauma, however, and Zatanna crossed this great divide.
Dr. Light was a formidable foe for the Justice League; however, he turned into a regular jobber after a few appearances. Identity Crisis, though, revealed exactly what happened to him. After Light broke into the League's satellite and assaulted Sue Dibny, Zatanna erased his memories and gave him a lobotomy for his troubles. Yeah, Light deserved severe punishment for what he'd done, but Zatanna fried his brain and turned him into a Norwegian mushroom. A bit extreme, don't you think?
6 NEW 52 LOBO
If there's ever a book written about how to annoy a fanbase in one storyline, we hope that the New 52's Lobo is front and center of the cover. Never has a character been as detested and rejected as this version of the Main Man was. What was originally DC's Deadpool turned into its own Justin Bieber.
With the reboot of the DC Universe, fans were introduced to a leaner, more refined and reimagined Lobo. To make matters worse, he was apparently the real Lobo and killed the imposter version (the one whom we'd known and loved for years). No one got behind the idea and this Czarnian quickly became persona non grata in the New 52. Fortunately, Rebirth corrected this dreadful misstep and brought back the original Main Man.
5 THE BAT-CANARY THING
Ah, All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, we meet again – and it's for the wrong reasons once more. Look, we all know that the Green Arrow and Black Canary are the relationship goal that we aspire to (no, forget about Felicity Smoak; she's just a phase for Ollie), so shipping another pair isn't going to work. Yet, Frank Miller defied logic and did so.
In a scene that was more akin to something out of a Jean-Claude Van Damme film, Batman came to the aid of Black Canary, who battled a group of thugs. After smacking some sense into the bad guys, Batman made the Canary cry (in a good way) in the pouring rain. It's completely insane and must've made Ollie green with envy.
4 GREEN LANTERN'S FRIDGE
There are more Green Lanterns than common sense would suggest is practical, and sometimes it's a little difficult to keep track of who's who in DC Comics. So, in an effort to get us to sympathize with Kyle Rayner, Ron Marz penned a story in Green Lantern #54 that had Major Force kill the hero's girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, and stuff her in a fridge. Unfortunately, any sympathy turned into a bigger conversation about the treatment of female characters in comic books as a whole.
"Women in Refrigerators," as coined by writer Gail Simone, became a discussion about fictional female characters who had been "killed, maimed or depowered" merely as a plot device to further the male's story arc. It addressed the proverbial elephant in the room and resulted in many publications recognizing their shortcomings in writing female characters.
3 THAT BATGIRL VARIANT COVER
To this day, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's Batman: The Killing Joke remains a controversial storyline due to its treatment of Barbara Gordon. In retrospect, Moore has also expressed his displeasure in how the story turned out. With such a hullabaloo around it, you'd think that DC would stray away from doing anything to Babs that might recall the terrible ordeal, but nope.
In 2015, DC released 25 Joker-themed variant covers in celebration of the character's 75th anniversary. One of them was The Killing Joke-inspired cover for Batgirl #41, drawn by artist Rafael Albuquerque, which depicts a revolver-wielding Joker standing next to a tearful Batgirl, who has a red smile painted across her mouth. The cover drew immense criticism and DC withdrew it after the request of Albuquerque.
2 STARVING KGBEAST
Even though Batman has a strict no-kill policy (except in Zack Snyder's universe), he proved himself to be one of the biggest hypocrites around in Jim Starlin's "Ten Nights of the Beast" storyline. In this tale, the Dark Knight struggled to defeat the unstoppable KGBeast. No matter what he did, this force of nature kept coming back again.
So, how did the Caped Crusader defeat his foe? Well, Bats tricked him into a room with no exit and left him there – without food or water. He basically starved the villain to death. When the next Batman writer, Marv Wolfman, took charge, he changed the story by saying that Batman went back for the criminal. Nonetheless, "Ten Nights of the Beast" is still cited as the time when Batman crossed his self-imposed line.
1 THE JOKER TAKES IT TOO FAR
We've already touched upon the controversy surrounding Batman: The Killing Joke in a previous entry, but there's so much more to discuss. Regardless of your opinion of it, it truly is the story that transformed the Clown Prince of Crime from a goofy rogue into one of literature's scariest villains. The things that the Joker did in this book were downright diabolical and despicable.
First, he not only shot and paralyzed Barbara Gordon, but he also took photos of her in various stages of undress. Then he used these pictures to torture her father, Jim, whom he also undressed and humiliated. This wasn't just some low-grade plan to break down Gordon; the Joker wanted to completely destroy the Commissioner's entire spirit and mind. It was psychological warfare on a cerebral level.