We’ve all felt it at least once. You’re reading a book, and then suddenly you get to a part that doesn’t quite sit right with you and then you think, Whaaaaaaaaaaat?!” Comics are no different; there have been a lot of moments over the years that have sparked arguments among readers or just left fans scratching their heads. Whether they were baffling plot twists or jarring changes to the status quo, there’s no doubt that these were the times that left everyone screaming, “WOW,” or asking, “Why?” So, prepare yourself for eight of the most controversial comic book moments.
[P.S. There’s also some mature content in a few of these entries, so viewer discretion is advised.]
The Curious Death and Rebirth of Jason Todd (Batman: A Death in the Family/Under the Hood)
Let’s start this off with one of the most famous deaths in comic book history. Jason Todd was the second to take up the mantle of Robin after Dick Grayson became Nightwing, but fans didn’t really take to him. So, in 1988, Jason was captured and nearly beaten to death by the Joker, and DC held a poll to see if Jason would live or die. Unfortunately for the second Robin, the fans decided that he should be killed off, and Jason died before Batman could save him. This became a very important part of Batman’s history and set the tone and motivation for a lot of stories in the years to follow.
That would’ve been the end of it, but (as some of you may know) Jason Todd came back from the dead – eager for revenge – as the violent vigilante Red Hood. How’d he come back, you ask? An alternate version of Superman, Superboy Prime, punched reality and that somehow revived him. No, you didn’t misread that…he literally punched reality. So the lesson of the day here is, reality is something you can physically beat on like it owes you money. It only gets stranger from here, trust me.
Cyclops the Deadbeat Dad & Husband (X-Men)
In more recent stories Cyclops has been more like a villain, and some fans wonder when his downward spiral began. Some think it was when he wanted to use his students on the front lines in Schism. Others believe it was when he murdered Professor X in Avengers vs. X-men, but if you ask me I think his @$$holery started when he straight up abandoned his wife and son!
For those of you who don’t know, here’s the story: while Jean Grey was dead (for the second time…) Scott Summers fell in love with a girl named Madelyne Pryor who he later married and had a child with. But it turned out being retired from the X-Men and having the married life didn’t quite agree with Scotty. Madelyne, of course, did everything in her power to make him happy, but nothing worked. Then, to top it all off, Scott learned that Jean Grey came back to life (something she’d make a real habit of…) and he immediately left Madelyne and their son Nathan (Cable) to return to Jean. With that, and the unexpected kidnapping of Nathan, Madelyne went completely insane due to the all-consuming sadness, torture, and a violent transformation into the villainess, Goblin Queen. Oh, and then she discovered she was a clone of Jean Grey the whole time. Keep it in your pants, Cyclops!
Ever since then Madelyne’s been a thorn in the X-Men’s side, constantly trying to destroy the team for her revenge. For a very long time, this ruined Cyclops’s character for a lot of readers and made his darker turn in more recent years less shocking. Let’s be honest; if I had to deal with what Madelyne Pryor went through…I’d become a super-villain too!
The Rollercoaster Life of Roy Harper (Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 & Justice League: Cry For Justice/Rise of Arsenal)
Sometimes you just have a really bad day and you see your life falling apart in front of you. For Roy Harper, I think he’s had one too many bad days.
Everything was going great when he started out as Green Arrow’s sidekick, Speedy. That all changed when the Teen Titans split up for the first time and Oliver Queen began to lose his riches, leading to Roy’s addiction to heroin. Shunned by his own mentor, Roy struck out on his own as Arsenal to make up for his mistakes. Eventually running with the Outsiders and the Titans again, Roy fathered a daughter named Lian and would one day go on to join the Justice League as Red Arrow.
Finally, everything was perfect…until the villain Prometheus snuck onto the JLA satellite, sliced off Roy’s arm, and then blew up Star City which killed Lian in the process. OUCH! Going insane with grief, Roy got addicted to drugs again and became a psychotic, murdering anti-hero. Roy’s had a tough life to say the least, going through constant, controversial ups and downs (and you thought Robin had it bad). At least the New 52 gave Roy a fresh start, which is something he definitely needed.
Norman Osborn is Gwen Stacy’s Baby Daddy?! (Spider-man: Sins Past)
Spider-man’s had his fair share of controversial moments over the decades (this one won’t be the last on this list either).
Now a lot of you Spidey fans out there already know about the death of Gwen Stacy. It was a big moment in both the Spider-Man mythos as well as the evolution of comics, so how could you possibly ruin something like that? Well, a story arc called Sins Past came out and revealed that Gwen gave birth to twins without telling Peter. Wait…WHAT?? Oh, but it gets worse; it turns out the father of these children is Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin), which means Gwen Stacy had an affair with Osborn while she was still in love with Peter. Again…WHAT???! Of course, Norman finds out about these kids so Gwen forbids him to have any contact with them. So, as the Green Goblin, he kills her and then raises the babies to be his successors. So yeah, in the end Osborn didn’t really kill Gwen to mess with Spider-man, he did it because he wanted to bring up the love children of his mistress his way. WHAAAAAAAAAT?!
As a complete shock to no one, this caused considerable fan backlash, and after the story arc ended the twins and the affair were never mentioned again. Most readers pretend it never happened and that’s probably for the best.
Sins Past ruined the characters involved, but Gwen got the worst of it since, as she put it, she was attracted to Norman’s charisma (which implied…she was attracted to the Goblin). It’s just so insulting to see a moment that helped shape comics be reduced to this! Sins Past was horribly written, but it would’ve been completely forgotten if not for its successful butchery of Gwen Stacy’s death.
Mind Wipes are….Wait, What Were We Talking About? (Identity Crisis)
There were actually a few things to choose from in this event comic; Jean Loring murdering Sue Dibny (the wife of the Elongated Man), Tim Drake’s father getting killed by Captain Boomerang, or the very “whatever” death of Firestorm were all worthy candidates.
Though I think the most controversial had to be Doctor Light’s mind-wipe. In Identity Crisis it’s revealed that the villain Doctor Light managed to make his way to the JLA satellite; it was there he found and raped Sue Dibny (which could’ve also been its own entry). Some of the Justice League members (including Green Arrow, Flash, Green Lantern, and Zatanna) found Doctor Light, beat him down, and then, to prevent him from ever doing anything like that ever again, they decided to erase his memory and alter his mind.
To make things even more complicated, Batman found out what they were doing and tried to stop them. The result? Batman was mind-wiped, too. Those two acts are horrible by themselves since some of our favorite heroes cross a huge line and act a bit out of character, but it’s made even worse when Green Arrow states that they’ve done this to a lot more villains afterward.
This ended up causing mistrust among the superhero community and made way for the OMAC/Brother Eye incident during Infinite Crisis. To this day, some readers have not forgiven those Justice League members for the incident and believe that this act tarnished the reputation of those characters. There are just some lines that should never be crossed.
Ms. Marvel Gives Birth to her Son/ Lover/ Rapist (Avengers #200)
Okay, that one’s gotta be fake. There’s no way something so crazy and disgusting could be real! WHAT? That really happened?? Ms. Marvel – Carol Danvers – was actually brainwashed, raped, impregnated, and then gave birth to the one who did it so he could become her lover?! Uh…I think there’s only one phrase that can truly describe this moment. Luckily, it’s in the next entry.
Women in Refrigerators! (Green Lantern #54)
This one is not only infamous for what happened in the comic itself, but also famous for starting a controversy over the treatment of female characters in comics.
In Green Lantern #54, Kyle Rayner (the main Green Lantern at the time) had returned home to discover that his girlfriend, Alex DeWitt, was murdered and stuffed into a refrigerator by the villain Major Force. This started a phrase coined by comic book writer Gail Simone: “Women in Refrigerators.” This referred to a female character getting killed, beaten, or depowered for the sake of shock value (not unlike what happened to Ms. Marvel in the last entry). “Women in Refrigerators” became a hot-button debate on sexism in comics for some time, but it made writers and readers look differently at how female characters were portrayed. No matter how you look at it, Alex’s cruel and unnecessary death still sparks debate to this very day.
Spider-man’s Deal with the Devil (Spider-Man: One More Day)
Told you there’d be more Spidey on this list. Peter Parker has been through a lot over the course of his superhero career, hasn’t he? His double life has constantly ruined things for him: a few of his loved ones became super-villains or died, he’s been hated and feared by the public, and one time he was even considered a clone of the “real” Peter Parker! So after all that, what could possibly be worse?
How about the time when he erased his entire marriage from existence for the ridiculous reasons? Spider-man: One More Day, often considered the worst Spider-Man story of all time, sees Peter Parker trying to save Aunt May after she gets fatally wounded. He fails at every attempt, until Mephisto (who’s pretty much the devil) offers to save her in exchange for his marriage with Mary Jane. For the most of the miniseries, Peter is running around, blaming himself for what happened while Mephisto just messes with him. But it’s because of the choice Peter made that makes this comic so infamous.
This angered fans beyond all belief. They argued that Peter – selling his marriage to the devil for Aunt May (who will die of natural causes eventually anyway) – was a major regression of his character, and was only done because writers didn’t want a married Spider-man.
Unlike a lot of the other entries on this list, Spider-Man’s deal with Mephisto was never given the right closure (only now are we seeing signs that it might be in Spider-man/Deadpool of all places). It also can’t be forgotten because anyone who remembers it can’t pick up a Spider-Man comic without being reminded of One More Day. In recent stories, the Spider-Man narrative has been making great efforts to make up for this huge mistake, but there are still many that haven’t forgiven Peter Parker, forever seeing it as the moment that killed Spider-Man.
What did you think of my list? What controversial moment left you confused? Let me know below!