Comic books are never short of exciting fight scenes and explosions of all kinds, but even they would get pretty boring if the heroes did nothing but win all the time. A little failure now and again adds suspense to a story, making it all the more rewarding when the hero finally overcomes the odds and saves whatever it is that needed saving that week. When a hero tries their best but still fails because their foe is smarter or stronger than them, it makes the reader eager to see how the hero will leverage their own strengths to beat the odds. Or, when a hero makes an honest miscalculation, we feel for them and want to see how they redeem themselves by the end.
That being said, there’s a big difference between losing despite your best efforts and losing because you’re a knucklehead, and the heroes on this list, whether through carelessness or sheer stupidity, most definitely qualify as knuckleheads. But you know the old adage: it’s always important to learn from your mistakes so you won’t repeat them in the future. In that spirit, let us now take a look at fifteen of the most facepalm-inducing unforced errors in comics history.
15. PASS THE OIL CAN
In Avengers #2, the fledgling team goes up against the Space Phantom, a shapeshifting alien who attempts to prepare Earth for invasion by defeating the planet’s mightiest protectors. He impersonates almost all of the Avengers at one point or another, causing a great deal of infighting. By the time he shifts into Iron Man, the others have cottoned onto what’s happening, and Thor unleashes a torrential rainstorm that rusts the phony Iron Man in place.
Technically speaking, it was the Space Phantom who suffered this embarrassing defeat, but remember that he was beaten while posing as Iron Man, and that his imitations are flawless reproductions of whatever he mimics. In other words, if Space Phantom’s armor rusted so easily, so too can Iron Man’s. Really, Iron Man should be thanking him for bringing this design flaw to his attention before he got taken out by a drizzle.
14. WHAP WHAP WHAP
In Countdown to Final Crisis #3, Mary Marvel has turned evil again because, uh, she likes wearing black? That’s as good a reason as any. Some of her former friends, including Green Lantern and Troia, try to fight her, but she has grown too powerful and has been trained too well in the ways of villainy. Mary subdues Green Lantern first, but beating an Amazon proves somewhat trickier.
Still, Mary is nothing if not resourceful, so she grabs Green Lantern by the leg and uses him to beat Troia into unconsciousness. It’s a funny scene, but nonetheless a humiliating one for both the club and the clubee. Don’t feel bad for laughing, though: given that they’ve starred in the infamously incompetent Countdown for almost a year by this point, they’re used to humiliation.
13. OH, SCREW IT
The premise of the “Civil War” event is that all of Marvel’s heroes must decide whether to side with the government, which has decided to regulate people with superpowers and imprison dissenters without due process, or with a group of rebel superheroes who are willing to fight the government’s actions, which are described in-story as being “fascistic.” Iron Man, for inadequately explained reasons, is on the government’s side, while Captain America unsurprisingly chooses to lead the rebels.
But in Civil War #7, in the middle of an all-out brawl, Cap is reduced to tears by the property damage their fighting has caused. He abruptly decides freedom and personal liberty aren’t worth fighting for after all, and Captain America — the man who made his debut by punching Hitler, the man who fought for the Allies in World War II, the man who hates fascism more than subtle costuming–surrenders.
12. REMEDIAL TRAINING IS IN ORDER
In All-Star Batman and Robin #9, the titular heroes lure Green Lantern into a room painted entirely yellow, which is the only color that his power ring won’t work against. Rather than doing the logical thing and leaving Batman to huff paint fumes in peace, Green Lantern squabbles with him for a while, getting so angry and distracted that a preteen Robin is able to steal the power ring right off his finger.
As if that wasn’t cringeworthy enough, Robin then karate chops Green Lantern in the throat, injuring him so badly that Batman has to perform an emergency tracheotomy. Green Lantern is supposedly capable of fighting intergalactic threats, and yet he is almost murdered by a 12-year old who only became a superhero a few days ago. Ouch.
11. A PAINFUL LESSON IN IRONY
Heroes who employ archery to fight crime tend to get a lot of flack for being much weaker and more old-fashioned than their super-strong, super-speedy teammates. It’s not often, however, that one of these archery-loving heroes disses himself, but that’s exactly what Green Arrow does in Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85.
While walking home one night, Oliver Queen is accosted by three teenage drug addicts who demand his wallet. Ollie was already in a bad mood and relishes the opportunity to beat up the would-be thugs. When one of the teens pulls a crossbow from somewhere and threatens to shoot him, Ollie scoffs at the threat, even though he of all people should know how dangerous a bow and arrow can be. Seconds later, to his apparent shock, Ollie is shot through the shoulder.
10. RETURN TO SENDER
The “Judas Contract” storyline is considered a classic, but even in an event as famously gripping as this one, the Teen Titans don’t always come out of it looking their best. As the plot races towards its climax, our main villains, Deathstroke and Terra, use brains and brawn to eliminate the Titans one by one. In the case of Changeling (formerly Beast Boy), however, all they have to do is make a quick stop at the nearest office supply store.
Taking advantage of the green teen’s vanity, Deathstroke sends him dozens of requests for autographed photos, allegedly from admiring fangirls. Changeling sets to work signing pictures and licking envelopes, only to realize too late that the glue on the back of the envelopes was drugged.
9. BYE BYE, BIRDIE
To anyone familiar with the depiction of women in Silver Age comics, it will not be surprising to hear that the Wasp, the only female founding member of the Avengers, was basically useless during the team’s first few years. Later, writers did strengthen the character and she even led the Avengers for a while, but in the mid ’60s, a competent female hero was little more than a pipe dream.
In one memorable failure, Wasp fled the scene of a fight rather than getting involved, because it’s not like she’s a superhero who should be capable of throwing a punch or anything. On her way to get a male Avenger for help, she is very nearly eaten by a sparrow. She escapes by sitting on a tree branch and growing to her normal height, only for the branch to break and send her hurtling to the ground, knocking her unconscious.
8. THE LEAGUE FORGETS HOW TO FIGHT
In Identity Crisis #3, sleazeball villain Doctor Light hires master assassin Deathstroke the Terminator to protect him from the Justice League, who erroneously believe that he murdered Sue Dibny, the Elongated Man’s wife. It is not Light’s best idea; the League — here consisting of Green Arrow, the Flash, Zatanna, Elongated Man, Hawkman, the Atom and Black Canary — should be more than enough of a match for Deathstroke.
That’s not an insult against Deathstroke. He is undoubtedly the best in the business, but he’s still one guy, so there’s really no way that he and his giant sword should last more than a couple of minutes against the collective might of seven of the most powerful, well-trained heroes in the world. And yet, that’s exactly what happens.
7. SHADOW BOXING
In his debut as the Flash in Showcase #4, Barry Allen goes up against Turtle Man, whose only talent is being really, really slow. That may sound ridiculous, but Barry sure has a heck of a time stopping the guy. First, Turtle Man paints a silhouette on a brick wall to trick the Flash into thinking he’s standing there. It works so well that the speeding Flash smashes straight through the wall, much to Turtle Man’s amusement.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Turtle Man later tries to make his escape in a rowboat. One might be excused for assuming the so-called Fastest Man Alive would have no trouble capturing a man who doesn’t even have a paddle to propel himself with, but it takes him three attempts to finally apprehend Turtle Man. Not exactly an auspicious start for the newest Scarlet Speedster.
6. LOW CLEARANCE
When the Vision, a density-changing synthezoid, first joins the Avengers in Avengers #57, the team is naturally curious about where he came from. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know anything beyond the fact that he was created by the merciless murder-bot Ultron to kill the Avengers. As it turns out, Goliath (aka Hank Pym) is also suffering from selective amnesia, specifically regarding his past experiments with artificial intelligence.
Eventually, Pym remembers the truth: he created Ultron, only to realize too late that his invention had something of a personality problem. Preparing for a fight, Pym grows as large as he can, which is unfortunately larger than the room he’s standing in and he conks his head on the ceiling. Ultron takes advantage of Goliath’s goof to hypnotize him into forgetting that he ever invented Ultron at all.
5. HERE’S YOUR HAT, WHAT’S YOUR HURRY?
After luring the Avengers out to his desert lair, Mole Man really puts our heroes through their paces, forcing them to fight a modern-day minotaur as well as his own minions, the subterraneans. The Avengers rise to every challenge and, in a last, desperate bid to not end up behind bars, Mole Man sends them back to the surface via a pressurized lift. Somehow, this plan works.
It’s not like the Avengers were injured or overly tired by their experiences. They could easily force their way back into Mole Man’s hideout for round two, but they just sort of leave it at that. They even call it a victory, but it’s hard to call an enforced retreat anything but an embarrassment, especially when there is nothing stopping them from going back underground and arresting the man who just tried to kill them.
4. A SURMOUNTABLE OBSTACLE
Just prior to the 1964 Olympics, the Teen Titans are called to Tokyo to stop a terrorist organization called Diablo from sabotaging the games. The two groups inevitably tangle, with the Titans successfully stopping Diablo’s every attempt at tampering with the athletic equipment. They are less successful at escaping Diablo’s clutches; one by one, the Titans are defeated, but it’s Robin who suffers the most head-scratching loss of all.
One of the Diablo agents, who one assumes is very good at horseshoes, grabs half a dozen or so track hurdles and throws them so they ring Robin like hula hoops. Even though Robin’s hands are still free and those hurdles are probably about to puddle around his ankles to become nothing more than a minor tripping hazard, the Boy Wonder immediately declares that he’s trapped and gives up.
3. SUPERMAN’S SUPER-MAKEOVER
In yet another attempt to kill the Man of Steel, Lex Luthor disguises himself as a tailor so that Superman will accept a new, improved, redesigned costume from him. Not only does Superman fail to recognize his nemesis, he also fails to notice the lead-wrapped lump of Kryptonite hidden in the suit’s belt.
While lead is the one substance that Superman’s x-ray vision can’t penetrate, it’s not as though he’s specifically lead-blind; he should have noticed the rock-shaped, lead-wrapped lump, to say nothing of the device Luthor planted to dissolve the lead foil and expose the Kryptonite at the worst possible moment. Apparently, you don’t need to be a super genius to get the best of Superman; all you need is a wig and a sewing machine.
2. A BAT-ASTROPHIC ENDING
The original Kathy Kane may not have been the most progressive of superheroines, but even she deserved a better fate than the one handed to her in Detective Comics #485. After fighting crime as Batwoman during the ’50s, Kane retired to run a circus. But her past comes back to haunt her in the form of the League of Assassins, who attack both her and Batman.
The Dark Knight is knocked out, and by the time he wakes up, Kathy is lying dead on the floor, clutching her old Batwoman costume. The least the creators could have done was let her go out in a heroic blaze of glory, but no, Kathy is little more than a plot device to get Batman angry enough to pursue the League of Assassins.
1. UNFRIENDSHIP BRACELETS
Wonder Woman’s bulletproof bracelets are certainly a great asset, but they also used to be a great weakness, at least if a man ever got a hold of them. According to official Amazon law, if a man ever manages to bind Wonder Woman’s bracelets together, she loses her powers. She is a warrior princess fast enough to intercept bullets and strong enough to lift a tank over her head with her bare hands, and yet an ordinary chain is enough to turn her mortal if it’s wielded by a dude.
Far be it from us to tell the Goddess of Truth how to go about her business, but when almost half the population of the world you’ve sworn to protect can so easily defeat you, you should probably have a talk with the Amazonian legal system.
Which of these is the most humiliating? Make sure to let us know in the comments!
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