As 2017 draws to a close, comic fans like to take a minute to reflect on the events of the past year. And boy, what a hell of a year 2017 was for comics. Great highs, crushing lows, new characters, revitalized favorites. But amidst all this, there were plenty of controversies to be had. Comic publishers love to keep a bit of controversy floating about. After all, you’d probably stop caring about Spider-Man if they stopped hinting that maybe, just maybe this is the year the marriage is finally restored. Stories that push the envelope sell books, plain and simple.
But not every controversial move is a good one. Comic books can push the wrong buttons, or stoke the wrong fires. Comic fans had plenty to choose from this year, as legacy characters changed allegiances, and new characters highlighted flaws in storytelling and marketing. The year 2017 might be one of the most significant for this controversy, as several cornerstone characters left longtime readers scratching their heads and spewing vitriol at their pages. With that in mind, we’ve got the 15 most controversial comic book characters of 2017 so you can get that bad taste out of your mouth one last time and go into 2018 fresh and open-minded.
When the younger X-Men were brought into the present day, it signaled the beginning of a strange new era in the life of long-time X-Man Iceman. Bobby Drake had always been a bit of a ladies man, but the younger Bobby’s sexuality was soon outed, and so it was retconned that Iceman had always been gay.
This made waves when Bobby got his own book as part of the relaunched X-Men following the Inhumans vs. X-Men event. Exploring Bobby’s world as an X-Man and as a person coming out, the book was well-received but not immune to controversy. Recently it was notable for being canceled along with a number of other titles, such as America and Luke Cage, which also featured minority characters in prominent, starring roles.
14 THE FALCON
Sam Wilson becoming Captain America was a huge deal. After years as a sidekick and co-starring character, the long-suffering Falcon finally stepped into the spotlight. Wielding the shield after Steve Rogers was advanced to his natural age, Sam’s run as Captain America was met with quite a mixed reaction from fans. Some loved it, but many found Wilson’s stint as Cap to be directionless.
The final straw for the fans was yet another blow dealt by Secret Empire. Already disillusioned before the event began, the final Generations one-shot featured Sam living his entire life out after being sent back in time to World War II. After the events that took place there, Sam made the decision to return the shield to Steve and resume his Falcon identity, a move which felt like a huge step backward.
Jane Foster becoming the new Thor has been one of Marvel’s best ongoing stories for some time now. First debuting when Thor relaunched in 2014 after Original Sin, the year-long, slow burn mystery of the new Thor’s identity was one of the most engaging stories at the time, and it’s only improved since.
Fans weren’t necessarily so welcoming, with plenty of controversy about a female Thor and the downplaying of the previous character, but it didn’t slow the character down any. Instead, writer Jason Aaron leaned into it. Adding a sense of space adventure and including the political theater of Asgard, one in which Odin outright ignores the new Thor because of her gender, Aaron created an engaging story that also commentated on the ongoing controversy of the character.
Magneto was a surprising name to get controversial attention this year, but for good reason. As part of Secret Empire's marketing, variant covers were plentiful and had a number of different themes. However, fans were shocked when a series of alternate covers highlighting villainous members of the Secret Empire showcased Magneto as well.
Among any number of villains, Magneto looks right at home, but Secret Empire was different. Though the connection between Hydra and the Nazi party isn’t really mentioned much in-continuity anymore (other than to distance the two groups), it’s still there, and fans know it. Seeing Magneto, whose backstory revolves around his childhood in a concentration camp, showcased side by side with Hydra operatives really set fans on edge. Fortunately, it turned out to be just marketing, as Magneto didn’t ultimately side with Hydra, though he did stay out of their way in exchange for the Red Skull’s head.
11 BEN REILLY
Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy was a pretty big deal for a Spider-Man event, and had surprisingly long-lasting repercussions. The villainous Jackal returned from the dead, leading to a cavalcade of clones, good and bad. But for fans, the final punch was when The Jackal was unmasked as Ben Reilly, the former Spider-Man and clone of Peter Parker.
Ben’s in an odd place for fans. While The Clone Saga is almost universally reviled, Ben has quite the fan following. Having originally died in the finale of Clone Saga, in which he was revealed to be the actual clone before dissolving into dust, Reilly stayed dead for decades in comics despite a fairly strong clamoring from fans to bring him back. Reilly’s return should have been welcomed, but the decision to turn him from stalwart hero to mustache-twirling villain never sat right with fans.
Let’s not lie, Superman had a really solid year. Despite the machinations of Mr. Oz, Superman and Action Comics continued into 2017 riding the creative high from DC Rebirth, and even managed to reconcile the Rebirth era with The New 52 thanks to the “Superman Reborn” event. But it wasn’t all rosy for the Man of Steel.
“The Oz Effect” saw Superman finally face off against Mr. Oz as the world fell into chaos, and in one instance defended a group of undocumented workers from gunfire. Despite just being a simple part in the story, some news outlets picked it up as a noteworthy item, citing it as Superman vouching for hot-button issues like illegal immigration. This is ironic, of course, considering Superman’s backstory and that of his creators, but this controversy, fortunately, blew over pretty quick.
DC’s been flirting with the Batman/Catwoman relationship for years. Once he unmasked himself to her in “Hush,” fans started to wonder if there could ever be something more to it. The relationship largely devolved in The New 52, aside from the occasional rooftop tryst, but with DC Rebirth shaking Batman to his core, it was a huge surprise when he proposed to Catwoman seemingly out of nowhere.
The story pretty quickly made headlines, though many argued against it. The idea of Batman settling down isn’t a new one; in fact, Batman and Catwoman are married in many old Earth-1 stories, where their daughter Helena Wayne is The Huntress. But this one felt a little too real and a little too sudden, causing comic book fans to balk at the notion. Fortunately, the quality of the stories has largely assuaged these concerns.
8 IRON FIST
With the release of Netflix’s Marvel’s Iron First this year, things were primed for Iron Fist to take over the Marvel landscape in a big way. With comic book appearances and a new ongoing comic book, it seemed like Danny Rand was finally going to make it big. Unfortunately, one of the elephants in the room came to light with Iron Fist’s production: Danny’s race.
Ostensibly a caucasian male, Danny’s race wasn’t much of a question upon his debut. In the ‘70s, it wasn’t a shock to see a white man doing kung fu and appropriating the culture. But with a new series, Marvel had an opportunity to recast the role and shake some of this stigma. Marvel failed to do so, and the fans called the publisher/studio out on it. Iron Fist was a flop for several reasons, but it on some levels was a failure before it even began.
7 PEPE THE FROG
Debuting in a fan-made comic by Matt Furie in the late ‘00s, Pepe the Frog was a popular meme character. Shared over the years across the likes of MySpace, Tumblr and other popular sharing sites, Pepe became an easily recognized face on the Internet. Shared by fans and celebrities alike, Pepe was an Internet phenomenon.
But Pepe ran into his own share of controversy. In the mid-’10s, he began to be associated with various social movements, presenting him as a mascot of sorts for what has come to be called the "alt-right." After years of such use, Furie decided to take matters into his own hands. In a Free Comic Book Day special, Furie killed off Pepe in protest to his usage by white supremacist movements. The simple act definitely drew the attention of many, with Pepe’s death being one of the hottest FCBD topics this year.
6 DR. MANHATTAN
Watchmen characters have always carried with them a degree of controversy. Be it over story materials, the various failed adaptations, or creator Alan Moore’s own opinions and ideologies, Watchmen tends to draw the ire of many. And with the decision to finally include them in the DC Universe as of DC Rebirth, that controversy is stronger than ever.
And now, Dr. Manhattan stands front and center of it all. With the conclusion of the "Superman Reborn" arc, it was revealed that Manhattan was behind the collapse of the original DC Universe, stealing 10 years of time and kick-starting The New 52. But fans have already expressed their concerns, not wanting a world where the Watchmen characters are incorporated so easily, creating an event in Doomsday Clock that many fans have already turned their noses up at.
When DC Rebirth kicked off, the mysterious cloaked figure Mr. Oz began appearing around Superman. Tied into the mystery of the 10 missing years, fans came to believe this mysterious figure was Watchmen protagonist Ozymandias, returned and manipulating events for some unknown reason. But fans couldn’t have been further from the truth, and the reveal came seemingly out of nowhere.
Finally revealed in “The Oz Effect,” Mr. Oz was, in fact, Superman’s own father, Jor-El. Having been saved from Krypton by an unknown force (most likely Dr. Manhattan), Jor-El had been stranded on Earth in a war zone surrounded by refugees. Manipulated by these events and by the strange staff he was given by "whomever" had rescued him, Jor-El’s turn to villain undid years of stories and left fans scratching their heads.
4 CAPTAIN AMERICA
Of course Captain America is the top of this list. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the character being controversial, but Marvel went about it in arguably the wrong way, and it paid the price. In an attempt to shake up the character following his return to the role, Captain America had his past rewritten by the Cosmic Cube and declared his allegiance to Hydra in one of the most shocking (and quoted) comic book panels of 2016.
Secret Empire dropped in 2017 and shocked the world. The entire Marvel Universe fell down seemingly overnight, and Steve Rogers stood over it all. Fans were shocked, and the outrage was everywhere. Comic fans, comic shops, even casual fans came out in droves in opposition to the change. Though Secret Empire wrapped up restoring the status quo, it will be a long, long while before anyone forgets when Captain America sided with Hydra.
Marvel was looking to make a splash with its latest promotional comic at New York Comic-Con. And it certainly did, but for all the wrong reasons. Marvel announced a panel at which it would announce a new title, The Avengers Guest-Starring N.G.E.N. (Northrop Grumman Elite Nexus). An out-of-continuity tie-in story, the issue saw the Avengers teaming with a young group who worked for mega-conglomerate Northrop Grumman.
The timing was awful. Northrop Grumman, a well-known defense contractor, was absolutely the wrong fit. This was made especially more heinous as this was just days after the mass shooting event in Las Vegas, an event which Marvel saw fit to cancel its upcoming Punisher panel about. Needless to say, the pushback was hard and Marvel canceled not only the panel but the deal altogether.
Hands down, 2017 should have been Wonder Woman’s year. The long-awaited, premiere DC film entry for Wonder Woman proved to be a massive success, making more money than even Justice League did and earning the critical acclaim that DC’s film universe had been vying for so far. But in the comics, Wonder Woman was still getting second fiddle treatment.
Enter Jason. Introduced in 2016, Jason was Diana’s long-lost twin brother, the forgotten son of Zeus and Hippolyta. Initially, this seemed like little more than a blip on the radar, but events taking place in the Wonder Woman ongoing title this year turned Jason evil and put him front and center of the story. Naturally, this led to a number of fans expressing outrage, as the book was taking the focus away from Diana at a time when the property was the hottest it had ever been.
1 EMMA FROST
Was Emma Frost ever really a hero? After being the Hellfire Club’s White Queen, Emma joined up with Generation X as a mentor before eventually winding up with Xavier’s team in New X-Men. Emma earned a bit of redemption among fans, despite breaking up Scott and Jean’s marriage as the two entered into a relationship of their own.
But that relationship turned sour last year in Death of X with Cyclops’ death at the hands of the Terrigen Mist. Emma would stand revealed at the end of that miniseries as having hidden Cyclops’ death using her mental projections. Outed in 2017’s Inhumans vs. X-Men event, Emma quickly became a controversial X-Men anti-hero and has largely abstained from regular appearances since, serving as a puppet ambassador in Secret Empire and making sporadic appearances in Jean Grey.