Most comic book fans got their start collecting when they were kids. For those kids who grew up in the ‘90s, that meant there were a lot of great books offered, but a lot of them were in no way targeted for young audiences. With companies like Image, Vertigo and others tailoring their books for mature audiences, it almost became a mission in life for the kids to seek out these new adult-themed books just to see what they were all about. Of course, the most important thing was to keep mom and dad from finding these comic books and grounding you for life.
These comic books had a variety of themes, making them unsuitable for kids. It wasn’t just one thing either, as these comics included scenes of graphic violence, sexual situations, adult-themed storylines and acts that could put fear in any God-loving parents. However, kids being kids, these were the books they sought out almost more eagerly than they ever ran to buy the latest superhero comic from Marvel and DC Comics. When it comes to finding the next cool comic book, here are 15 ‘90s comic books you hid under your mattress from your parent’s watchful eyes.
In 1996, Top Cow Comics introduced a new comic book called The Darkness. This comic featured a hitman who became the bearer of the mystical Darkness when he turned 21, as well as a man controlling demons to battle the mafia to regain his soul. The Darkness was a disturbing comic for kids, but then Top Cow created a new comic book in the same world called Witchblade, a shock to the system of teenagers everywhere.
An NYPD police detective came into possession of the Witchblade, a gauntlet giving her supernatural powers. In ‘90s indie fashion, Witchblade wore almost nothing and remained highly sexualized. Honestly, any parent that caught their child reading this book had no option but to think the wrong thing. However, Witchblade caught on and ended up as a TNT television series in 2001, as well as an anime series in 2004.
When writers and artists left Marvel Comics to publish creator-owned comics at Image, the first thing they did was try to design characters that both capitalized on existing Marvel properties and ones that breathed genuinely new life into comics. The most significant breakout hit from Image Comics was Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, which featured a black ops soldier named Al Simmons who died following a very personal betrayal. He ended up in Hell and made a deal with a devil to return to see his wife.
Al returned as Spawn, a demonic creature with superhuman powers but no soul. These comic books were incredibly violent and disturbing, and images that McFarlane drew were never suitable for kids, including demonic creatures from Hell and a horrifying demon clown known as The Violator. While Spawn got a movie and animated TV show, most kids needed to hide the disturbing comics from overprotective parents.
When it comes to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, there were plenty of lucky kids whose parents encouraged them to read this excellent storyline about a race of beings known as The Endless, specifically Dream and his journey through the years. Along with Watchmen, this Gaiman creation might be the highest critically acclaimed comic book series in history. However, just as many parents might worry over the themes, certain storylines and some of the artwork had them wondering what on earth their kid was reading.
Over the years, Neil Gaiman sent Morpheus to Hell, where he played a mental chess game with Lucifer himself. Stories like 24 Hours featured disturbing subject matter for kids, and even many adults. Add in moments of violence, sexuality, and a fascinating outlook on Death, and this is a comic that a kid needs to hide from overbearing parents worried about mature subject matter.
If parents were worried about their kid's consumption of ultra-violence in comic books like Marvel's Punisher, they likely had a heart attack when they saw what Garth Ennis brought to the table in his Vertigo series Preacher. This book is geared only towards mature audiences thanks to ultra-violence, nudity and sexual situations and many over-the-top sacrilegious situations that put this book on many parents' watch lists.
Preacher follows a jaded man of the cloth named Jessie Custer who ends up with the spawn of a demon and angel called Genesis inside him. He then sets out to find out why God has abandoned his children; at the same time, he has the unkillable and murderous Saint of Killers tracking him. There is a lot of carnage in this series, with graphic violence and gory scenes, as well as very risqué sexual situations -- something most parents try to shield their kids from.
Probably one of the last fictional characters that a parent wants to see their kid starting to act like is Spider Jerusalem. Debuting in 1997, Transmetropolitan is a comic book series taking place in the dystopian future where political parties have strived to destroy the country outside of only the rich and powerful. Spider Jerusalem is a journalist in this world loosely based on real-life gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, a man whose written words are magical enough to turn society against those holding them down.
There is no doubt about it that Transmetropolitan is one of the best comic books from the ‘90s and both critics and fans lavish praise upon the work. However, it remains unsuitable for younger audiences, and the nihilistic storyline, violence, sexual content and total sense of rebellion make it something most parents likely disapprove of their kids reading.
10 SIN CITY
In the '90s, Frank Miller created possibly the coolest and most sought-after comic book series of all-time with Sin City. Drawn in striking black and white Noir-style with a pulp-based story, there was nothing like this Dark Horse comic book series. Sin City followed a group of people in the infamous Basin City, where crime ran rampant, and it was the criminals who ruled the streets. The series introduced iconic characters like the monstrous Marv, exotic dancer Nancy Callahan and the tough-as-nails Girls of Old Town.
However, this comic was for mature audiences only. Nancy was a stripper, and the Girls of Old Town ran a prostitution ring. There are numerous murders, gruesome scenes of torture and some very risqué images strewn through the entire series. If any ‘90s comic book needed to be hidden under a kid’s mattress, Sin City fits the description perfectly.
Many parents might find Hellboy’s subject matter a little too dangerous for their children to read. In a world that has parents forcing schools to remove books from their shelves for their subject matter, the idea of a demon from Hell whose future includes ruling Hell itself seems a little dangerous for those fearful of comic books' evil influences on their children.
Created by Mike Mignola in 1993, Hellboy tells the story of Anung Un Rama – the son of a witch and a demon named Azzael – a duke of Hell. Hellboy ended up on Earth during World War II and joined the BRPD, a private group battling occult threats. The Hellboy comics have little that makes them unsuitable for many kids, but the ideas of the occult and themes that border on sacrilegious were enough to make many parents think twice about letting their kids read this ‘90s comic book series.
While entrenched in the DC Comics Universe now, Hellblazer initially was a Vertigo series that kicked off in 1988 and was one of the most acclaimed ‘90s comic book series through almost the entire decade. While today’s parents might just see John Constantine as an urban wizard who appears alongside regular superheroes, the ‘90s version was much different, with adult situations and very mature storylines.
In the steady hands of Garth Ennis, Hellblazer took Constantine through situations that included strong occult themes as well as excessive drug use, alcoholism, thoughts of suicide and intense sexual relationships. Within the acclaimed Dangerous Habits storyline, John Constantine ends up with lung cancer, only to make a deal with Hell itself to save his life. These were terrific stories that sit just above the level of most kids at the time.
Released as a Vertigo miniseries in 1993, Enigma tells the story of a man named Michael Smith who grew up without his parents and seems on the road to nowhere. However, when he meets his idol – a man called Titus Bird who created the comic book series The Enigma -- his life changes forever. The two then end up on an adventure involving a brain-eating serial killer, a suicide-inciting clown and an insanity-inducing psychopath when the fictional character from the comics comes to life.
The fictional character within the comic book featured a hero who is emotionless and has no concept of right and wrong but chose to take the role of a superhero. The actual story is a look at sexual identity and self-discovery with adult themes and a narrative that forces readers to take a look deep within themselves.
6 THE INVISIBLES
Grant Morrison has always strived to create comic books that pushed the boundaries, and that was no more evident than his ‘90s comic book The Invisibles. Another Vertigo series, The Invisibles features five freedom fighters trying to stop an upcoming apocalypse. The characters include a trans Brazilian showman, a witch from the future, a foul-mouthed man who might be the next Buddha, a former NYPD officer riddled by the past, and a leather-clad horror novelist who is also an assassin.
The Invisibles is in no way meant for kids’ eyes, mixing everything from HP Lovecraft horror to the Marquis de Sade, all delivered via the bizarre and eccentric mind of Grant Morrison. This '90s comic book series is about good guys who might be bad guys in a story that tackles life in a way that almost no comic book before or after ever achieved.
While a lot of ‘90s comic books that kids had to hide under their mattress included disturbing or controversial storylines than many parents wouldn’t understand, Avengelyne was something different altogether. Unsurprisingly for a character that Rob Liefeld created during his heyday in the ‘90s, the character of Avengelyne was highly sexualized and wore almost nothing for most of the series’ run.
Avengelyne was an angel who fought demons, monsters and many other agents of evil. Based stylistically on the classic Vampirella character, Avengelyne was one of Heaven’s greatest warriors who ended up as a Fallen Angel when she questioned God. Despite her banishment, Avengelyne still fought the good fight. While this sounds good, any parent who saw the cover to an issue of Avengelyne likely monitored all future comics their kids brought home.
4 JUDGE DREDD
Judge Dredd remains one of the most misunderstood comic book characters in the history of the medium. It doesn’t help that Sylvester Stallone’s effort in the ‘90s did no favors to the original character from the comics. For this and other reasons, there is still a lot of confusion of what Judge Dredd represents. When it comes down to it, 2000AD presents Judge Dredd as a satirical character based on law enforcement in a fascist world.
The Judge Dredd comic books are very violent and require someone who understands the entire satire of the story to play out the way the writers intended. This statement isn’t to say that kids won’t understand the real meaning behind Judge Dredd tales, but the violence and questionable ethics make this a book that most kids needed to hide away from their parents.
3 HELLSTORM: PRINCE OF LIES
While Damien Hellstrom got his start in Ghost Rider, he hit the mainstream thanks to his part in The Defenders comic books for Marvel. However, when he got his series in 1993 titled Hellstorm: Prince of Lies, Marvel Comics pushed the lines between their kid-friendly comic book line and the adult-oriented books that became famous a few years later in their Marvel Knights line.
While Hellstrom was a controversial character before (his subtitle "Son of Satan"), his story in the Prince of Lies series was very over-the-top. As fans of The Defenders know, Damien and Patsy Walker, Hellcat, fell in love and started a detective agency. By the time Prince of Lies came around, Patsy had gone insane and committed suicide in this series while Hellstrom delved deep into the darkness of his soul.
2 LADY DEATH
Chaos Comics launched a character in its ‘90s line called Lady Death. While the character received a feature-length animated film in 2004, the ‘90s comic books bought in the idea that teenage boys wanted violence and sexualization of female characters in their comic books. When created, Lady Death was an extremely violent anti-hero featured in the Evil Ernie books.
In addition to the ultra-violence of her character, Lady Death was also highly sexualized. In her original depiction, she was a barely clad villain who promised to love Ernest forever if he killed everyone. After his demise, Lady Death turned him into Evil Ernie, an undead monster. Between her bikini-style costume and her penchant for evil, this is a ‘90s comic book almost all boys had to hide under their mattress from the watchful eye of their parents.
1 BODY BAGS
Created in 1996, Body Bags is a ‘90s comic book that was highly violent and was something never intended for younger audiences. Published by Dark Horse Comics, this book was highly controversial when it came out and likely would never pass today. There are a ton of things in Body Bags that makes this series unsuitable for kids.
The series highlights a contract-killing father and daughter known as “body baggers," and are full of graphic violence and gore from lead characters who love to kill. There is also a lot of harsh language, and the most significant controversy at the time centered on the daughter, a 14-year-old drawn with very adult features. If a parent in the ’90s caught in their sons or daughters reading this book, they might ban comic books altogether.
Can you think of any other books from the '90s that you needed to hide under your bed? Let us know in the comments!