Superheroes didn’t really exist when the company that would become DC Comics was founded in 1934. Since Superman’s 1938 debut paved the way for the superhero genre, DC has been at the forefront of comic books and pop culture. From its early days as National Allied Publications to its current status as a subsidiary of the Time Warner’s DC Entertainment, DC has been home to an ever-growing staple of heroes including Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and countless others. But like any octogenarian, DC has made its fair share of mistakes over the years too. While most of their lesser moments are par for the course for a major corporation, some of them have lived in as the most infamous moments in comic book history.
Now, CBR is looking back at some of the biggest mistakes DC doesn’t want you to remember. In this list, we’ll be combing through DC’s history and counting down some of the publisher’s biggest blunders and most controversial decisions. While this list will cover comics, TV and film, it will also look behind the scenes at some of the stories behind the world’s greatest superheroes. From the super-serious to the sublimely silly, we’ll also be looking at how these moments impacted the continuing development of the DC Comics Universe.
15. BATMAN WET HIS PANTS
In 1987, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli redefined Batman’s origin for the modern age with “Batman: Year One.” With a huge influence on Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and most other versions of Batman, it easily stands as one of DC’s most celebrated stories. In one of that story’s most memorable moments, Batman interrupted a dinner for corrupt Gotham City power-players with an explosive device and a small fire.
While that scene marked Batman’s confident introduction to Gotham’s criminal elite, Kevin Smith and Walt Flanagan added a curious new wrinkle to it in 2010. In Batman: The Widening Gyre #6, Batman told the young vigilante Baphomet, who was secretly the villain Onomatopoeia, that the heat from the explosives made him wet his pants during that famous scene. Despite intense fan reaction, Smith stood by Batman’s “bladder spasm” and maintained that it was realistic and helped signify the young Batman’s inexperience.
14. WONDER WOMAN’S FAILED TV SHOW
Although Wonder Woman had a major role in the 2000s on Justice League Unlimited, DC’s Amazon hasn’t starred in her own TV series since the Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman hung up her boots in 1979. While there have been several subsequent attempts to give the hero another show, the most notable came when NBC commissioned a Wonder Woman pilot in 2011.
In the David E. Kelly-penned pilot, Adrianne Palicki played a version of Wonder Woman who struggled to run a successful company while maintaining her heroic brand. Although some of her traditional supporting cast was present, the pilot stayed away from the shores of Themyscira. While it was in production, a photo of Palicki in a modernized Wonder Woman costume was released to widespread disdain. After beginning on that sour note, NBC passed on the series, and it became a footnote thanks to Patty Jenkins’ beloved 2017 film Wonder Woman.
13. HARLEY QUINN’S CONTEST
Comics can be a tough field to break into, so any kind of talent search from a publisher like DC can be a big deal. In 2013, one of DC’s talent searches stirred up controversy when it asked hopeful penciller to draw a potentially suicidal Harley Quinn sitting in a bathtub surrounded by electric appliances. The winning entry was supposed to appear in Harley Quinn #0, by Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner and a host of other creators.
After a quick and intense public outcry, DC apologized for the offending scene. Palmiotti also apologized and clarified that the scene was part of a cartoony, over-the-top dream sequence based around a misunderstanding of the phrase “Suicide Squad.” When Harley Quinn #0 was released, that moment was replaced with a scene where Harley rode a missile through space. The page was drawn by contest winner Jeremy Roberts, who had previously done work for other publishers like Marvel.
12. DC’S CINEMATIC FLOPS
While films like Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman have proven that DC’s characters have a powerful box office draw, several of DC’s earlier films were unquestionable flops. Not long after Christopher Reeve’s first Superman movies, Wes Craven directed the moderately well-received Swamp Thing in 1982. While that suspenseful thriller drew on Swamp Thing’s horror comic roots, its 1989 sequel, Jim Wynorski’s Return of the Swamp Thing, was a poorly-reviewed and little-seen comedy.
In 1997, the underrated armored hero Steel, one of Superman’s closest crime-fighting partners, starred in his own movie from director Kenneth Johnson. Although it starred Shaquille O’Neal, Steel neglected the hero’s connection to Superman and didn’t connect with critics or audiences. More recently, Josh Brolin starred as DC’s western gunslinger Jonah Hex in 2010. Despite Hex’s status as a fan-favorite character, Jimmy Hayward’s Jonah Hex rode out of theaters as a critical and commercial failure.
11. WONDER WOMAN, SECRETARY
In most versions of the Justice League’s origin, Wonder Woman is a key founding member of the team. Unlike several of her Justice League teammates, Wonder Woman was also part of the Justice Society of America, which was created by Sheldon Mayer and Gardner Fox in 1940’s All Star Comics #3. However, when she was officially offered a spot on the team in 1942’s All Star Comics #13, she was only allowed to become the team’s stay-at-home secretary.
While Wonder Woman’s sidelining would raise more than a few eyebrows today, it was actually done to appease her co-creator, William Moulton Marston. At that time, he wrote all of the Amazon’s adventures, and he didn’t want someone else writing her as part of the Justice Society. Since he didn’t have time to write another series, she only made cameos alongside the team. After Moulton’s death, Wonder Woman became a full-fledged member.
10. THE NEW 52’S MISTAKES
While DC’s 2011 reboot, the New 52, was meant to simplify the publisher’s universe, it ended up posing more questions than answers. Characters like the Teen Titans’ Starfire and Lobo, an intergalactic bounty hunter, received controversial makeovers that seemed out of step with their traditional portrayals. While some characters went through massive changes, other characters, mainly those close to Batman and Green Lantern, continued on as they were. This left books like Batman Incorporated in a precarious, unclear space in the new universe.
In 2016, DC launched Rebirth to rejuvenate its characters and deal with criticisms of the New 52. While the full scope of Rebirth is still unfolding, many of the New 52’s changes, including Starfire and Lobo’s glossy makeovers, have already been cast aside in favor of more classic stylings. Through Rebirth, creators are also tying up other long-standing narrative loose ends into a cohesive thread.
9. GREEN LANTERN WAS REPLACED BY HIS DOG
Long before Hal Jordan or John Stewart, the original Green Lantern was Alan Scott. Created by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell in 1940’s All-American Comics #16, Scott’s Green Lantern was originally a mystically-powered hero, unlike his alien tech-powered successors. While the hero thrived for most of the following decade, Green Lantern was eventually replaced by his canine sidekick, Streak the Wonder Dog.
Created by Robert Kanigher and Alex Toth in 1948’s Green Lantern #30, Streak started out as Scott’s faithful companion, who was inspired by the popular animal character Rin Tin Tin. As readers started to lose interest in Green Lantern and that era’s other superheroes, Streak took on a more prominent role and eventually appeared on Green Lantern‘s covers alone. Despite that, the Wonder Dog only made 14 appearances before that era of Green Lantern ended for good in 1949.
8. THE DC IMPLOSION
Throughout the mid-1970s, DC added a ton of titles to its publishing line-up during the so-called “DC Explosion.” By 1978, a struggling economy and an especially harsh winter had taken their toll on DC’s sales, and almost half of DC’s publishing line was canceled in the resulting “DC Implosion.” While some titles like Teen Titans came to a planned end, most of the affected titles were canceled abruptly, sometimes in the middle of a story.
New stories had already been completed for many of the canceled titles, which included Aquaman and Mister Miracle. While a few stories were folded into other titles that survived the culling, several others were only released as part of the Canceled Comics Cavalcade, an unofficial title created on copy machines in the DC offices. While the two Cavalcade specials are still highly collectible, DC officially reprinted most of the Canceled stories by the mid-2010s.
7. KILLING ROBIN
Even with the watchful eye of the Dark Knight, the Batman’s Robins tend to die on a semi-regular basis. While they usually come back to life, these deaths are usually an effective way to shake up Batman’s status quo without causing too much damage. However, the sudden death of the fourth Robin, fan-favorite character Stephanie Brown, turned readers against DC in 2004. As part of the crossover “War Games,” longtime Batman ally Leslie Thompkins seemingly let a fatally-wounded Brown die to teach Batman a lesson about child endangerment.
Since that story effectively ruined Brown and Thompkins, DC walked it back in 2008’s Robin #174, by Chuck Dixon and Chris Batista. In that story, it was revealed that Thompkins had faked Brown’s death in order to keep her safe. Over the next few years, Thompkins returned to Batman’s periphery and Brown continued to fight crime as the Spoiler and, briefly, Batgirl.
6. DC EATS UNIVERSES
The DC Universe really began to take shape when the heroes of National Comics Publications and its affiliate, All-American Publications, came together to form the Justice Society in the 1940s. Since then, DC has continued to grow by absorbing characters and worlds that were originally created by separate publishers.
After suing Fawcett Comics out of business in the 1950s, DC licensed Fawcett’s biggest hero, Captain Marvel/Shazam, starting in the 1970s before buying all Shazam!-related characters, notably including the villain Black Adam, in 1994. DC purchased Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, the Question and Charlton Comics’ other heroes in 1983, shortly before that publisher shut down. In 1998, DC acquired WildC.A.T.s and the rest of Jim Lee’s WildStorm Productions characters when they purchased the imprint. Since they were purchased, characters from all of these publishers have become Justice League members, villains and other core parts of the DC Universe.
5. SUPERGIRL FELL IN LOVE WITH HER PET HORSE
While most of today’s superheroes don’t even work with human sidekicks, animal sidekicks like Krypto the Superdog and Ace the Bat-Hound were incredibly popular in the 1950s. Although most of these super-pets never really amounted to too much, Comet the Super-Horse was part of one of the strangest love stories in comic book history.
Created by Jerry Siegel and Curt Swan in 1962’s Adventure Comics #293, Comet was an immortal, super-powered horse who was once a centaur in Ancient Greece. After becoming Supergirl’s pet, he briefly became a human in 1963’s Action Comics #301. In the Leo Dorfman and Jim Mooney story, a passing comet turned Comet into the human rodeo star Bronco Bill. Supergirl and Bill fell in love and dated for a time, until Bill changed back into his equine form. As a human, Comet also briefly dated Lois Lane in the early 1970s before fading into obscurity.
4. GREEN LANTERN’S GIRLFRIEND
When she was introduced in 1994’s Green Lantern #48, by Ron Marz and Bill Willingham, Alexandra DeWitt seemed like she would be part of Kyle Rayner’s inner circle as he became the new Green Lantern. Instead, she was murdered, dismembered and stuffed into a refrigerator by the villain Major Force in the shocking Green Lantern #54, by Marz, Steve Carr, Derec Aucoin and Darryl Banks.
Despite its gruesome nature, that story wasn’t too controversial when it first happened. That changed in the late 1990s, when writer Gail Simone used this incident to coin the term “Women in Refrigerators.” Along with several others, Simone used DeWitt’s death to highlight the savage suffering and death that supporting female characters often go through in superhero stories. While acknowledgement of the “fridging” trope spread throughout comics, DeWitt has stayed dead, for the most part, and other supporting Green Lantern characters have been slaughtered too.
3. CRIPPLING BARBARA GORDON
In 1988, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland changed Batman’s world forever with the graphic novel, Batman: The Killing Joke. While that story was ostensibly meant to refine the Joker’s twisted psychology, its most famous moment came when the Joker shot Barbara Gordon, former Batgirl, at point blank range. After she was paralyzed from the waist down and cast aside, John Ostrander, Kim Yale and Luke McDonnell salvaged Gordon’s legacy by turning her into the computer hacker Oracle in 1989’s Suicide Squad #23.
While Gordon’s injury divided fans, her reinvention as Oracle was a success, and she became DC’s premiere information broker for two decades. As part of the New 52 reboot in 2011, Gordon’s history was re-written, so that she was only Oracle for a time before becoming Batgirl again. While a later Batgirl story seemed to void The Killing Joke, DC Rebirth quietly reaffirmed it as part of Gordon’s legacy.
2. DC BOUGHT SUPERMAN FOR $130
By 1938, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were certain that their character Superman wouldn’t work. Although they wanted him to star in a newspaper comic strip, the two young creators sold Superman to DC for $130, hoping just to see Superman in print. Needless to say, their creation was instantly popular and single-handedly created the superhero genre in 1938’s Action Comics #1.
Despite their formative work in Superman’s success, Siegel and Shuster went on to have fairly unremarkable careers in and around the comics industry. After a few unsuccessful lawsuits, Siegel and Shuster launched a campaign for recognition in the lead-up to 1978’s Superman. As a result of the negative publicity, DC gave both men a lifetime pension with benefits and credited them with Superman’s creation in his subsequent appearances. Although Superman’s precise legal status was contested into the 2010s, the creators are celebrated as the superhero genre’s founding fathers.
1. BILL FINGER, BATMAN’S FORGOTTEN CREATOR
In 1939, writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane created Batman in the pages on Detective Comics #27. While that might seem like a straightforward statement, Finger’s role in Batman’s creation was minimized until shockingly recently. When Kane signed over the rights to Batman, the contract stipulated that he be credited as Batman’s sole creator. Although Finger was totally left out of that process, he continued to write Batman and DC’s other characters for a few decades, co-creating dozens of iconic characters.
Although Finger died in 1974, his heirs and contemporaries fought to preserve his legacy in Batman’s creation. Even Kane later admitted that Finger never got the credit he deserved as Batman’s co-creator. After renewed public outcry, DC Entertainment reached an agreement with Finger’s estate in 2015. After 76 years, DC now officially recognizes Batman as the creation of “Bob Kane with Bill Finger.”
Stay tuned to CBR for all the latest in comics and pop culture news. Let us know which DC mistake you remember most in the comments!
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