It's essentially impossible to avoid controversy if you're a major comic book publisher. In fact, quite often, comic book companies like Marvel and DC actively court controversy in an attempt to get publicity to help sell more comics. This, though, is controversy where they stand behind their work. In other words, when Marvel makes Thor a woman, they know that they are going to ruffle some feathers, but at the same time, they also know that Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman are doing a hell of a job on the adventures of Jane Foster, the female Thor. Thus, they are more than willing to court controversy on behalf of that story.
The problem, then, is when something is controversial and Marvel isn't proud of the story. In cases like that, the stories tend to be swept under the proverbial rug, and that's totally fine. Honestly, there are plenty of stories that should be wiped off of the record because they're quite shameful, most of them showcasing the prevailing sexism or racism of a given bygone era. Of course, there are varying degrees to these things. Some stories are more shameful than others. What these panels have in common, though, is that they symbolize stories that Marvel would rather not revisit today.
15 TURNING JAPANESE
You don't need us to tell you that during World War II, American popular culture mixed propaganda with old fashioned racism to depict the Japanese as sub-human people. The Nazis were the enemy as well, but they didn't become visual monsters nearly as much as the Japanese did. Marvel Comics of the era (and all comics, really) were filled with racist caricatures of Japanese bad guys.
This whole list could be filled with panels of World War II era comic books that Marvel would prefer not to look back upon because of just how racist the depictions of the Japanese were, but we'll settle for a single example. The panel we chose was one from Sub Mariner Comics #6, because it had the added bonus of actually having Namor explain to everyone how to pretend that you're Japanese.
14 A TRANSPLANT GONE WRONG
Captain America Comics was a massive hit for Marvel Comics (then called Timely Comics) and Joe Simon and Jack Kirby basically became Marvel's Editor-in-Chief and Art Director due to the success of the book. They had to put out a whole lot of material to fill the series (which were 68 pages long early on), but "desperate for material" does not explain away the introduction of the Black Talon in Captain America Comics #9 (by Otto Binder, Jack Kirby and Syd Shores).
The Black Talon was a famous artist who had to have his hand amputated. He received a hand transplant from an African-American murderer. The hand, however, wanted to continue to kill with its new body and soon, the "bad blood" drove the artist insane and made him into a killer. This is certainly not an origin that they'd be re-visiting any time soon.
13 BETTER OFF WASHED AWAY
In the case of Whitewash Jones, Marvel has already addressed the character a decade ago, and their way of handling it expressly pointed out how they are ashamed of the character. Whitewash Jones was a member of a new superhero team introduced in Young Allies #1 (by Otto Binder and Charles Nicholas) that consisted of Captain America and Human Torch's sidekicks, Bucky and Toro, teaming up with young adventurers to fight against the Nazis.
Each of the boys was a stereotype (like the brainy kid, the fat kid, etc.) but none of them quite reached the levels of Whitewash Jones. The character was still a hero, but he was the worst attributes of the "Stepin Fetchit" characters of the era. In 2006, Marvel explained away the character in a clever way, saying he was a racist caricature created by the comics of the 1940s in the Marvel Universe.
12 SOME BAD MARRIAGE ADVICE
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby patterned the Fantastic Four upon the idea of a family, with Reed and Sue the parents and Johnny and Ben as the sort of kids of the family. The group constantly fought like a family, but the problem, of course, is that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were determining how a family fought back in the 1960s, where ideas of gender roles were not quite as advanced as they are today.
Thus, the old Fantastic Four comics are filled with instances of Reed being quite sexist to Sue. We spotlighted this bit from Fantastic Four #65 because this was Reed specifically trying to apologize to Sue and he still is a sexist jerk! Marvel would have to gloss over these stories nowadays if they wanted to explain how Reed and Sue are still married.
11 A MESSED-UP ANSWER TO A PRAYER
Red Sonja had already become a popular character before she was finally given an origin in Kull and the Barbarians #3 (by Roy Thomas, Doug Moench and Howard Chaykin), right ahead of her getting her own lead feature in the launch of the second volume of Marvel Feature two months later. In her origin, Sonja was a young woman whose family was murdered by mercenaries. She tried to fight them off, but she was assaulted.
She prayed to the goddess Scáthach to help avenge herself, and Scáthach complied and turned Sonja into a great warrior. However, she could never have sex with a man unless he bested her in combat. Yes, you read that right. The victim of rape could then no longer have sex with a man unless he beat her in combat. There's a good reason more recent Red Sonja comics have skipped that part of the origin.
10 NOT COOL, DAREDEVIL
More so than most characters, Daredevil has had his fair share of moments where he did some things that you would term "unacceptable." However, the key thing is that almost all of these moments had reasons that, if not excused his actions, certainly helped to explain them, like when he was possessed by a demon or when Kingpin tried to ruin his life. Let's also not forget when he had a nervous breakdown after Karen Page was murdered.
That's what makes this moment from Daredevil #120 (by Tony Isabella, Bob Brown and Vince Colletta) stand out. Black Widow just got finished explaining to Daredevil that she feels like she has become his sidekick since joining him and she feels like she has lost all of her independence. He follows this by slapping her butt and telling her to put something pretty on? Yikes.
9 AN INCREDIBLY POORLY THOUGHT OUT HULK ISSUE
We are certainly not here to tell you that no man has ever been assaulted in the showers at the YMCA. However, despite his intentions of basing a Hulk story on a "real horror," Jim Shooter still made a mistake with this story in Hulk Magazine #23 (by Shooter, John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala).
This is because, at the time, Marvel had maybe one or two gay characters period and then their third and fourth gay characters ever are going to be guys who try to rape Bruce Banner at the Y? Come on, that just wasn't well-thought-out. It drew a lot of negative attention at the time, as well, so this is not a matter of realizing the problem with the story in hindsight.
8 THE AVENGERS ARE NOT GOOD FRIENDS
Even before you get into the really bad part of Avengers #200 (by David Michelinie, Jim Shooter, Bob Layton, George Perez and Dan Green), the issue is still a mess. Carol Danvers had recently become pregnant despite being celibate. The pregnancy progresses quickly and yet, when she gives birth in #200, her teammates are not only cool with it, they're kind of irked at her for not being happier about her kid.
Then the twisted twist occurs. The "baby" is actually Marcus, son of Immortus, who fell in love with Carol from his home in Limbo. He lured her there and then used machines to make her fall for him and then impregnated her with himself so that he could travel to her world. Things become unstable, so he has to return to Limbo and Carol goes with him. The Avengers are cool with her going with him.
7 A HOLIDAY FROM TACT
Vision and Scarlet Witch was a year-long maxiseries by Steve Englehart, Richard Howell and Frank Springer that took place over the course of a year. Like Batman: The Long Halloween, each issue took place during a major holiday. The series came out the first year that Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday became a federal holiday, so Englehart naturally decided to make the January holiday be MLK Day.
However, how it was handled was really odd. Luke Cage guest stars and Quicksilver becomes oddly racist to make the issue be sort about race, but really, Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday is barely even reference in the issue until the end, where Luke Cage talk about "us blacks getting our own holiday" and the whole thing is wildly patronizing. The intentions were clearly there, but the execution was very much lacking.
6 A SHAMEFUL STRIKE
The "Clone Saga" was a strange period in the history of Spider-Man. Ben Reilly showed up and he was a clone of Peter Parker that Peter thought was killed years earlier. The problem was that it wasn't clear if Ben Reilly, the "clone," was really the clone at all! In Spectacular Spider-Man #226 (by Tom DeFalco, Sal Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz), tests are performed and the truth is revealed... the man we thought was Peter Parker all of these years was really the clone!
Peter did not take this well and attacked Ben. Mary Jane tried to break up the fight and Peter instinctively smacked her across the room! Mary Jane forgave him, but it was so out of character that everyone has agreed to just pretend it never happened.
5 MUTANTS CAN'T WHAT?
The whole point of the X-Men is that mutants are just like humans, except that they have powers. They want to fit in but they aren't allowed by the fearful humans. This is what makes the X-Men such a powerful metaphor for the prejudices of the world. When you make the X-Men seem less human, then, it hurts that metaphor.
That was the problem with Uncanny X-Men #421 (by Chuck Austen, Ron Garney and Mark Morales), which established that, for some reason, mutants cannot get AIDS. Besides the ridiculousness of the idea, it completely cuts the X-Men off from humanity in general if they cannot even get normal human diseases. Naturally, besides being repeated a few issues later, it has otherwise been ignored by everyone.
4 BETTER TO HIDE THIS RAWHIDE KID STORY
In the first decade of the 21st Century, Marvel tried to do new, innovative ideas that pushed the boundaries of what mainstream comic books could do. By introducing Marvel's "Max" line of comics, it also expanded the types of stories that Marvel could do, as they were no longer limited by old standards regarding violence and language.
However, sometimes those new ideas were just really terrible ones that never should have been done. Case in point is the Rawhide Kid miniseries by Ron Zimmerman and John Severin. The idea was to take a classic Marvel western hero and reveal that he was gay. That would have been fine, but instead the miniseries was just a bunch of the hackiest gay jokes imaginable. We chose one of many different awful panels. It's literally a whole series where the entire joke every panel is "Ha ha! Get it? He's gay!"
3 WE'RE WITH YOU THERE, MRS. GUTHRIE
In "She Lies With Angels," the X-Men travel to Kentucky to help out when a sort of "clan" fight breaks out when a rich human girl falls in love with one of the mutant Guthries. While down there, Archangel tries to deal with his feelings for his younger teammate, Paige Guthrie. He spends all night talking with her mother about his feelings. When Paige sees them in the morning, she is distraught that he couldn't just talk with her!
They fight but then they realize that they love each other and decide to show it... by having sex... in the air.... above their teammates... and Paige's mom. Yes, you read all of that correctly. Chuck Austen, Salvador Larroca and Danny Miki are to "thank" for this bizarre comic book experience.
2 TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
Ever since they were introduced, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch have been very close. In the early years, Quicksilver really did not have any personality outside of over-protective brother of the Scarlet Witch (granted, when he did develop his own personality, it was typically just "jerk").
In the Ultimate Universe, Mark Millar had them be members of the Ultimates and he hinted that their relationship might be closer than would be appropriate for a brother and a sister. Years later, Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira confirmed their incestuous relationship in Ultimates 3 #3. We really, really did not need to see two superhero siblings having sex with each other. The weirdest thing is that it really did not even play a big part in the overall series.
1 A REALLY BAD ANALOGY, SPIDER-MAN
During Civil War, there was a tie-in maxiseries called Civil War: Front Line. In it, writer Paul Jenkins would have a back-up in most of the issues contrasting a real event from history with an event in the Civil War crossover.
There were a few of them that seemed like they were a bit of a stretch to compare to a comic book superhero fight, but none more so than the one from the first issue (drawn by Kei Kobayashi) contrasting Spider-Man's debate about whether he should reveal his secret identity to the world to support superhero registration to Japanese-American going into internment camps during World War II. Yes, they did; in fact, try to contrast a guy revealing his secret identity to people being forced into internment camps. Yikes, indeed.
What is the most shameful Marvel panel that you can think of? Let us know in the comments section!