There was a time when comic books weren’t a literary mainstream. With dime store cover prices, stories depicted a simpler version of the good vs. evil and right over wrong conflicts. Superman stood for truth, justice and the American way, and kids purchased mail-order X-ray specs advertised in their favorite Spider-Man adventure. Since then the world has grown more complicated. TV shows don’t end every episode with a family dinner and Archie’s biggest problem isn’t deciding between Veronica and Betty anymore.
Today’s comic books and long-form graphic novels are no different. Characters have grown more complex and plotlines have become more dynamic. We now have generations of adults who grew up on comic books. The industry is a recognized literary form and with the age of VFX blockbuster movies, today’s readers expect much more sophisticated graphic novels. To that end, DC comics does not disappoint. From the “Death of Superman” to Kingdom Come‘s dark futuristic vision, DC has proven time and again that a picture can be worth a thousand words. But sometimes we have to stop and ask ourselves whether some things should be left to the imagination. Here are 15 powerful images of DC characters you can never unsee.
15. CATWOMAN KILLS BLACK MASK
Catwoman may not always be a shining example of moral conscience. But this villain-turned-hero does try to play by Batman’s rule book whenever possible. And in the words of the man himself “If you kill a killer, the number of killers in the world remains the same”. Unfortunately, for Black Mask, Catwoman isn’t as serious about that no-kill rule as other heroes have been.
When Black Mask threatened the lives of everyone Catwoman knows and loves, she surprised fans by pointing a gun at his head and shooting him at point blank range. She was close enough to splatter his blood across her own face. The real shock value here is this wasn’t an act of self- defense. There’s no way around that it was an execution, pure and simple.
14. ANIMAL MAN RIPS A WOLF IN HALF
Animal Man’s character was never more compelling than in the New 52 reboot after “Flashpoint”. Ripe with a life force known as the “Red”, from which he gets his power and an evil version of that power called the “Rot”, Animal Man comics tackled nature’s dark side. The genius of inserting a necromantic energy like the “Rot” is writers don’t have to worry so much about reader sensitivity.
After all, no one wants to see an animal being ripped asunder. But if an evil life force embodies an undead creature in the shape of a dog, less people are going to complain when that dog’s guts are gracing the page of a comic book. And that is exactly what happened in Animal Man Vol 2 #8.
13. WONDER WOMAN KILLS MAXWELL LORD
Unlike Catwoman, Wonder Woman has always been a shining beacon of moral fiber. In fact, her commitment to conscience is as powerful a force as her muscles. And that is saying a lot since she can go toe-to-toe with Superman as seen in Wonder Woman vol 2 #219 . In this issue, Wonder Woman fights Superman who is under Maxwell Lord’s control. In one of Wonder Woman’s finest displays of power, she flashes her Bracelets of Submission against Superman’s ears, temporarily incapacitating him.
While Superman is distracted, she uses her Lasso on Lord and learns the only way his influence over Superman can be stopped, is to kill him. With a heavy heart and great conviction, she snaps his neck. While her actions resulted in a temporary expulsion from the League, she didn’t regret taking Maxwell’s life because the alternative was not an option.
12. AQUAMAN’S HAND IS EATEN OFF
Aquaman was another character to receive a respectable upgrade in New 52. Let’s face it, the old yellow and green tights and short hair never screamed of authority. Aquaman may have been in the Justice League, but was he really in their League? No one questions that now. In Aquaman #2, a villainous madman named Charybdis steals Aquaman’s ability to communicate with fish, then feeds his hand to piranha.
A few issues later we start seeing a King of Atlantis who looks and fights like Neptune, God of the sea. While we might cheer the edgy attitude and darker visage Aquaman now protrudes, it isn’t every day one gets to see piranha gnaw someone’s limbs down to the bone. And from the looks of this image, they didn’t even leave all of the bone behind.
11. MAXWELL LORD SHOOTS BLUE BEETLE
While Batman, Superman and the League were disappointed with Wonder Woman’s choice to kill Max, the Blue Beetle never had a chance to weigh in. During the DC “Countdown to Infinite Crisis” event, Maxwell Lord’s mission to undermine the League was discovered by the second Blue Beetle, Ted Kord. When he confronted Max, the criminal mastermind gave Beetle a choice to join with him or die.
Then during one of those legendary bad-guy explanations that go on for frames, we see Ted’s thoughts. He knows what’s coming. He hopes there will be a third Blue Beetle. He hopes the next one will do a better job than he did. And when the final moment comes, he tells Max to “rot in hell” before taking a bullet to the head.
10. BANE BREAKS THE BAT
“Knightfall” is one of the most celebrated recovery stories in comic history. As such, diehard fans and casual moviegoers alike can relate to this image. Bane hurls Batman over his head, holds a moment, and then slams the Bat down onto his knee. Of course Bane had a little help from a strength enhancing drug.
With Bruce’s back broken and body paralyzed, he had to find a replacement to guard Gotham and Bruce disappeared. In the early ’80s, no one ever worried about permanently losing a main comic book character. But this moment felt different — and it was the ’90s. DC had already killed off Barry Allen and Ted Kord. There was no way to know what would happen or if Bruce would ever retake the mantle of the Bat. Perhaps “not knowing” was part of the story arc’s appeal.
9. JOKER WEARS HIS SEVERED FACE
“Death of the Family” is a 23-issue comic book story arc which delves into madness with the precision skill of a surgical knife. Much like the knife Joker had Dollman use to surgically remove his face. If you have read the story arc, you will agree that few images are more disturbing than a living face without skin. One of those images is that very skin hanging from a hook, which you can also see in the storyline.
Another visual, and perhaps the most disturbing of them all, is the sight of Joker wearing his own severed face as a mask. But looking at the image isn’t the most disturbing part. No. That doesn’t come until you realize what you are seeing, which is true madness. How else do you explain a man who cuts off his own face and then wears it as a mask.
8. RAVAGER RAVAGES ROBIN
Who says Robin doesn’t have superpowers? Does a super moral code count? In this scene, a teenage Ravager attempts to seduce Robin in his own bed. Robin smells alcohol on her breath and asks if she is drunk again to which she replies, “maybe”. Of course Robin stops her and that probably isn’t a bad idea since her father is Deathstroke.
This scene is where we truly discover the line between today’s story complexity and the black and white viewpoint of good vs. evil seen in golden age comic books. Even the moral act of stopping a drunk teenager from crossing a line, turns into a very inappropriate scene. That isn’t to say this is entirely new to comic books. As seen in the recent movie, Professor Marston And The Wonder Woman, Bracelets of Submission weren’t created with the thought of incapacitating a man, much less Superman.
7. JOKER TORTURES THE GORDONS
While Joker related plotlines are often brutal and graphic, Batman: The Killing Joke is among the creepiest. This 1988 graphic novel contains many deeply disturbing and emotional scenes. In an attempt to manipulate Batman, The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), paralyzing her from the waist down. He then strips her, abuses her and takes pictures of her body to show to the world.
But he doesn’t stop there. He taunts James Gordon with the photos of Barbara’s torture. There is also an implication that he drugged Gordon, sending him off in a stressed state to enhance his anguish and horror about the atrocities committed against his daughter. And all of this was done for no other reason than to manipulate the Batman into a “killing game”.
6. ARSENAL GETS HIGH AND PROTECTS A CAT CORPSE
No one is all bad. At least, we hope they aren’t. Even Superman killed Lex Luthor on an alternate Earth. So maybe when a down-and-out superhero uses hallucinogenic drugs and tries to protect a street cat, we can give him a break. But wait! That isn’t a stressed out street cat — it’s a rotting cat corpse. Apparently crack really is whack. Perhaps our hero shouldn’t get a break.
In Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal #3, Arsenal thinks about his best relationships, notes who likes it in a certain way and beats up a gang to save a cat’s rotting corpse. Please note the comic’s title does say something about rising, which is good because you can’t get much lower than that. Either way, you may never look at Arsenal the same way again.
5. THE FIRST WOMAN IN A REFRIGERATOR
Coming off the heels of Hal Jordan’s catastrophic fall, Kyle Rayner becomes the last Green Lantern, and in Green Lantern #54, he learns what it truly means to live without backup. Following a story one might see on the nightly news, Kyle comes home to his apartment and finds his girlfriend’s body stuffed in the refrigerator. Rayner instantly feels that loss and realizes he is truly alone in the universe.
The imagery was so powerful, Gail Simone coined the phrase “Women in Refrigerators” after seeing it. Gail is part of a group of females and comic book fans who created the website titled after Kyle Rayner’s experience. The site, created in 1999, documents violent moments in the lives of female comic book characters and analyzes their purpose and meaning.
4. SUPERMAN IMPALES THE JOKER
The Joker might like his games but he does not play around. In addition to an alternate Earth where Superman kills Lex Luthor, Injustice: Gods Among Us portrays a grief stricken Superman who is tricked into killing Lois Lane. He then kills The Joker in an act of vengeance. But that act, along with the pain of losing Lois, breaks him and he decides he can no longer be lenient. It is a decision which tears the DC Universe apart.
The Joker’s game forces us to ask how much freedom we should give up for security. Should we be taken care of, or should we be taking care of ourselves? It also shows us no system is truly secure. In one moment, an insane man with nothing but a plan, took down the whole world. And he didn’t care that he had to be murdered to do it.
3. SUPERMAN DOES A “MOVIE”
Not every mistake starts with murder. Superman can attest to that. In this racy image, Superman is shooting a “movie” with a Goddess for a costar and a director named Sleez. And we don’t mean a goddess as in an attractive, powerful woman, we mean a Goddess as in one of the New Gods, Big Barda. And yes, Sleez is a director of that kind of movie. It seems the New Gods do have a sense of humor after all.
However, we can all rest assured that while the sight of Superman shooting this kind of movie might offend the eye, we can at least take solace in the fact he was under the influence of hypnotism. Another point worth noting is Sleez was even too creepy for Darkseid who banished him from Apokolips.
2. PROMETHEUS AMPUTATES RED ARROW’S ARM
Red Arrow, who is also Arsenal and Speedy, has experienced more than his share of hard times. During Justice League: Cry For Justice,,he lost his arm after being ambushed by Prometheus while attempting to call his daughter and wish her a good night. Though the image above is the most graphic visual representation from the event, losing his arm to Prometheus was only the beginning of his problems.
After leaving Red Arrow beaten and amputated, Prometheus had his daughter’s house blow up, killing her in the process. While Cyborg helped outfit Red Arrow with a cybernetic arm, the unrelenting pain and depression from this experience drove him to a relapse into drugs. And again, the complexity of the human spirit raises its head in modern day comics, not only creating images, but embedding feelings and hard fought lessons we take with us.
1. BATMAN CARRIES JASON TODD’S BODY
Whether you are a diehard comic fan or not, you have likely heard about The Joker killing Robin. It’s not only one of the goriest and saddest moments in DC Comics, it’s one of Batman’s most defining. Nothing shows that more than the frame where Batman carries Robin’s lifeless, crumpled body from the scene. Fire rages in the background as it must be raging inside Batman.
But we don’t see that. We see pain, even behind glass mirrored eyes. We feel it. We see a man carrying the weight of what he believes to be his failure. We see a man carrying the broken body of his would-be son, a hero who will be forever changed. And it doesn’t take long for us to see those changes revealed in mainstream comics, in Elseworld’s stories and even in Batman v Superman. It is a weight he will always be carrying.
Which of these images is the most disturbing? Let us know in the comments!
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