For decades, Marvel has prided itself on being the universe outside your window. They don’t often have fictional cities because they want a Marvel comic to feel a bit more “real” than your average superhero story. Going all the way back to the beginning, Marvel creators have always wanted their heroes to have flaws and their stories to have real stakes. Over the years, those stakes have intensified. So, when you have ever-increasing stakes, sometimes you push the limits and just go too far. And let’s be real, Marvel has gone too far on a number of occasions.
In this list, we’re not talking about fan-favorite heroes getting killed during Marvel’s yearly events. That’s too common nowadays. What we mean by going too far is when you read a book, and you suddenly feel gross or somehow dirty. That feeling might come from watching a villain literally eat a hero. It could be when you see clear abuse happening in your superhero comics. In one especially icky case, it could be when your beloved hero kills the love of his life with his radioactive bodily fluids. Brace yourself, things are gonna get weird...
16 TASTES LIKE CHICKEN
Boy, Ultimatum was bad. The idea behind the event was sound. Marvel wanted to streamline the Ultimate Universe and give all its characters a new status quo. The event started with Magneto flipping the magnetic poles of the Earth and creating chaos. Tons of heroes died, most happening off-panel. Unfortunately, the exciting premise was undercut by the clear instances of shock value.
Perhaps the worst moment of the series occurred in Ultimatum #2, where Hawkeye and Yellowjacket are exploring the recently destroyed New York City and come across the Blob. They find him standing over the dead body of Hank Pym’s wife, Janet, where he appears to be eating her. The Blob says, “Tastes like chicken.” If that wasn’t bad enough, Yellowjacket, horrified by watching Blob cannibalize his wife, grows to a massive height, picks up the Blob and bites his head off. It’s gross and mean for the sake of being gross and mean.
15 HANK PYM IS THE WORST
Next to Spider-Man, Hank Pym seems to always be the hero most down on his luck. Always striving to be the smartest and most heroic Avenger, Pym forever comes up short. He’s had his share of mistakes, including the creation of Ultron. However, what Hank with always be best known for is what happened in Avengers #213. Hank Pym punched his wife.
As Hank Pym faces court-martial from the Avengers, Janet Pym tries to help her husband. In a fit of rage, he turns around and strikes her, knocking her down. From that moment on, Hank Pym has been synonymous with wife-beater. This moment was so iconic, they recreated it in the Ultimate Universe. According to the issue’s writer, Jim Shooter, he wanted the moment to be a small accidental swat, but the artist turned it into the iconic backhand we see. Either way, this moment will go down in history as one of the more disgusting panels in Marvel history.
14 VICTOR VAN DAMME
The Ultimate Marvel Universe (Earth-1610) was created with the best intentions in mind. The idea was to create a universe, set in the modern day, where all the characters we know and love are younger and just starting their adventures. Out of this idea, we got some great Spider-Man stories, including the introduction of Miles Morales, but we also got some horrible ideas like Ultimate Fantastic Four.
Here’s a quick list of the ways Ultimate Fantastic Four ruined Marvel’s First Family: 1) Victor Van Damme? Ugh. 2) Doctor Doom is a descendant of Dracula and has goat legs. 3) They get their abilities from teleporting instead of space travel. 4) Reed Richards turns evil. Marvel took its founding heroes and warped them into something unreadable. It’s a travesty. The only good thing to spawn from the series was Marvel Zombies, but even that has been beaten to death. Pun intended.
13 HAIL HYDRA
Hydra Cap and Secret Empire are both ideas that sound interesting on paper. The idea of taking the one hero that every other character in the Marvel Universe trusts and respects, and making that hero the bad guy, is great! But why Captain America? Why make him, in essence, a Nazi? And, when you see the execution of the idea, there are certain images that make the reader feel very uncomfortable.
No one wants to see Captain America order the destruction of Las Vegas, killing hundreds of thousands. We definitely don’t want to see Captain America order the death of Rick Jones by firing squad. It doesn't matter if Hydra Cap is the real Cap or not, those are images that exist. Even though Good defeated Evil in the end, the lasting legacy of Hydra Cap will never be forgotten and that’s a shame. Marvel tarnished Captain America.
12 GWEN AND NORMAN SITTING IN A TREE
Published from The Amazing Spider-Man #509-514, “Sins Past” is the story that ruined the Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy romance. The story is that seven months prior to her death, Gwen had a love affair with Norman Osborn, aka Green Goblin. That affair led to Gwen being secretly pregnant with twins, who she gave birth to in France. After telling Norman that he wouldn’t be part of their lives, he captures her and throws her off the bridge to her death.
This story corrupted one of Marvel’s best relationships beyond repair. To make matters worse, the story itself was just horribly executed. Even writer J. Michael Straczynski has said multiple times that he regretted the story. In his original pitch, Peter was going to be the father, but Editorial was worried it would “age” Peter and changed the father to Norman. Now, when readers go back and revisit the classic Gwen/Peter stories, the specter of this affair looms large.
11 CARNAGE IS A DOG KILLER
No one likes it when a dog is murdered in a story. Apparently, Marvel didn’t get that memo when it started to flesh out the origin of Carnage. Cletus Kasady, aka Carnage, was intended to be the villain that Venom couldn’t be. To make sure fans didn’t adopt Carnage as an anti-hero, like Venom, Marvel made sure to give him an origin that would disgust anyone with a heart.
In 1995, Marvel had a story in the Venom series called “Carnage Unleashed.” In the story, Cletus talks to a therapist. Told in flashback, he tells the story of his old family dog. At the age of six, he hated this dog because his mother seemed to love it more than him. To fix this issue, he takes a power drill and viciously murders the dog. Wasn’t it enough that Carnage murdered dozens of people? Did he have to murder the dog also? Come on, Marvel!
Oh, Ultimate Universe. You tried so hard to be edgy. You gave beloved characters new, hip origins. You killed heroes in horribly vicious ways. And you turned brother and sister into lovers. That’s right, the Ultimate Universe gave Marvel fans the relationship they never wanted between siblings Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.
In Ultimates 3 #1, there is a scene where Wolverine sees, from the bushes, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch consummate their relationship. Thankfully, nothing explicit is shown. To make matters worse, and to really take this whole situation into the realm of bad taste, it’s later revealed that Wolverine could be the father of both siblings. To recap, that means that Wolverine was spying on, potentially, his two children in a romantic moment with each other. What the hell?!
9 BOOTY CALL
Way before Jessica Jones became a household name with her hit Netflix series, she was the star of Marvel’s first adults-only series, Alias. This series was the first under Marvel’s Max line of comics, and to kick things off, writer Brian Michael Bendis decided to push that new freedom to the max (no pun intended).
To show that Jessica Jones is in a tough place, the reader sees that she calls Luke Cage over for a booty call. Now, that’s all well and good, and Marvel has shown characters involved sexually with each other before, but not like this. Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos give us a sex scene that is uncomfortable, for the readers and Jessica Jones. We see her wince from pain, and describe wanting to feel “…something, it doesn’t matter what.” The insinuation is that her and Luke are in the middle of a sexual act that involves the…umm…backdoor.
8 PETER’S DEAL WITH THE DEVIL
By 2007, Marvel had done a fine job of messing around with Spider-Man’s continuity. He wasn’t the dorky, awkward boy that fans had come to expect from the Webslinger. He was confident, married, and he even revealed his secret identity to the world during Civil War. Marvel Editors, led by Joe Quesada, sought to bring Peter back to his roots. The resulting story is “One More Day.”
After Aunt May was shot, and on her deathbed, Peter Parker makes a deal with the demon Mephisto to save her life. The end-result of this deal would be that Mary Jane and Peter never married, and the world forgot his secret identity. The story was hated by fans. Many felt like Marvel had disrespected long-time Spider-Man fans by erasing a relationship that had grown over the years. It is seen by many as one of the grossest example of Editorial interference.
7 MS. MARVEL FALLS IN LOVE WITH HER ABUSER/SON
Way back in 1980, Marvel was cooking up ideas for its big event issue, The Avengers #200. They wanted it to be an issue that no one would forget. Well, they ended up delivering an unforgettable issue, however, for all the wrong reasons. This was the issue were Ms. Marvel was the victim of sexual assault, gave birth to her abuser’s baby, fell in love with her fast-growing son (who is also the father, aka abuser) and left the Avengers to live happily ever after in another dimension with her son/abuser.
Seriously, that all happened over the span of one issue, in a comic book aimed at children. It would take thousands of words to describe the utter insanity and problematic behavior in this issue. Somehow, Marvel saw this issue as fit to print and went along with it. Thankfully, Marvel has known better than revisiting this debacle, and we can do our best to wipe this issue from our memories.
6 TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL
If you are a long-time fan of the X-Men, the name Chuck Austen should make you want to flip tables. In the early 2000s, Austen, as writer, penned some of the worst X-Men stories in history. The worst of the lot, and the most offensively bad, is called “She Lies with Angels.”
In a scene from the story, Angel is talking to Ma Guthrie about being in love with her barely-legal teenage daughter Paige, aka Husk, which is icky enough. Paige overhears how Angel is concerned about her being put in danger all the time, and she gets upset. Angel, trying to console her and profess his love, flies off with her and has sex with her in the air, right above the X-Men and her mom. Leaving the physics of mid-air intimacy out of the discussion, it was intended to be romantic and sweet, but just comes off gross and stupid.
5 MARVEL HEROES AS SEX OBJECTS
Superheroes are drawn to be the height of physical perfection. Whether it’s Captain America’s biceps or Emma Frost’s… everything, artists have portrayed their characters as perfect human specimens. You’d be hard-pressed to find a popular superhero that didn’t look like a supermodel. Well, in the early ‘90s, Marvel decided to capitalize on its readers’ fascination with the physical appearance of its characters in the annual Marvel Swimsuit Specials.
Let’s be honest, these specials were geared towards the young, pubescent boys (and their creepy older male counterparts), and were nothing more than pure, unadulterated cheesecake. In retrospect, they’re seen as incredibly gross and embarrassing. Marvel is supposed to be one of the best sources of quality storytelling, but during that time, the company was producing what amounts to an adult magazine for those who couldn’t purchase the real thing. We’re not prudes, but we really don’t need to see Namor in nothing more than a seashell.
4 BLACKFACE PUNISHER
Let’s just say that comic books have a bad history of trying to tell racially provocative stories but butchering the execution. One of the most egregious examples of this is the Punisher storyline from the early ‘90s called “Final Days.” In the story, Punisher is brutally beaten by Jigsaw while in prison. Badly scarred, he goes to a former plastic surgeon, who is now a junkie/prostitute, and she fixes him right up. However, when he removes the bandages, he’s now black.
The following storyline has the blackfaced Frank Castle teaming up with Luke Cage to take down drug dealers. The story features little bits involving the cops and others that are horribly racist and meant to be a lesson to readers, but just comes off as insensitive. The final part of the storyline, where Punisher’s skin magically begins to turn white again, is called “Fade to White.” If that doesn’t make you want to beat your head into a wall, nothing will.
3 MARVEL TURNS IMAGE
After Image Comics began dominating the comic book marketplace, Marvel was desperate to capitalize in some way. Since most of Image featured artists that had left Marvel in the first place, the powers-that-be decided it would be a good idea to work with Image, specifically Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, to revive some of its characters. The result was the horrible Heroes Reborn. This event saw the Fantastic Four and Avengers relaunched for the ‘90s.
In essence, Heroes Reborn was Marvel’s way of submitting to the ‘90s Image craze. Its heroes were given cool ‘90s updates and were drawn by the top of the line ‘90s artists. It was the era of huge guns and even bigger muscles. Thankfully, Marvel put Heroes Reborn out of its misery after 13 issues each. It is seen as a low-point for the Avengers and Fantastic Four books. The only thing good about Heroes Reborn is the Captain America chest meme.
2 KILLED BY RADIOACTIVE "WEB FLUID"
Spider-Man: Reign is what happens when Marvel tries to replicate The Dark Knight Returns for Spider-Man. Set 30 years in the future, the story gives us an aging Spider-Man, who must come out of retirement one last time to battle bad guys in a fascist New York City. Written and drawn by Kaare Andrews, the series gives readers a lot of digest. It’s not a horrible story by any means, but it also has a couple moments that go too far.
Who thought it would be a good idea to see an elderly Peter Parker sitting in the buff on a bed? That’s from the very first issue of the series. That's just unnecessary. The second completely ridiculous moment is when we find out that Peter killed Mary Jane due to the radioactivity stored in his bodily fluids. No, she doesn’t die because of his blood. She dies due to developing cancer from prolonged exposure to his... reproductive juices. Yep. That happened.
1 AUNT MAY = MOMMY MAY
What do you get when you take Aunt May and Uncle Ben and put them in the middle of a sleazy soap opera? You get Marvel’s Trouble. Way before Mark Millar would be known for creating Kingsman and Kick-Ass, he penned this five-issue series about the love life of a young May and Ben Parker. As bad as a soap opera about a young May and Ben sounds, that’s not reason enough for this series to be on the list.
The reason Trouble graces this list is because of how it fundamentally rewrites Peter Parker’s origin. The series gives readers a scenario where May is pregnant, and she comes up with a scheme with Mary Parker, where they would say that May’s baby is actually Mary’s. Yep, that would mean Mary Parker’s kid, Peter, was in fact May’s lovechild. Aunt May becomes Mommy May. It’s madness. Why would you corrupt a perfect origin?
Can you think of any other times Marvel went too far? Let us know in the comments!