One of the amusing things about how long comic books have been popular in the United States is that we can look back on the comics of the past and be amused (or sometimes shocked) by some of the language and customs that were common in comics of the 1940s and 1950s (and no, we don’t mean the rampant racism). Words change meaning over the years, so something that meant one thing in 1950 might mean a whole other thing in 2017, so Robin complaining about Batman only pretending to be gay had a whole other meaning back in the day.
Even if we eliminated instances involving terms that have changed meaning over the years, there are dozens and dozens of examples of panels that are creepy looking at them out of context decades later. Here, we will feature 15 particularly weird examples of out of context comic book panels that creep us out today (ranked in order of how much the context excuses the creepiness of the panel).
15. DAREDEVIL IS A PIG!
Sexism, in general, was rampant in the early days of comics, and sadly, most of those instances were just what they appeared to be, so we won’t spotlight them on this list (like Reed Richards telling Sue that wives are meant to be kissed, not heard). In the case of Daredevil’s appalling behavior towards Black Widow in Daredevil #120 (by Tony Isabella, Bob Brown and Vince Colletta), though, the context matters to a certain extent.
Isabella, you see, wanted to break up Daredevil and Black Widow when he took the title over, so he decided to make some of the sexist subtext just plain text. The point is that Daredevil is supposed to look like a jerk, as this would lead to Black Widow eventually breaking up with him.
14. GREEN LANTERN: SEX OFFENDER?
When it comes to Hal Jordan and Arisia, context certainly matters, but not as much as you might think at first. Arisia was introduced as the plucky young addition to the Green Lantern Corps. She was the “little sister” of the other Lanterns and she had a schoolgirl crush on Hal Jordan. When Steve Englehart took over the title, though, he worked under the theory that since Arisia was an alien, it doesn’t matter what she looked like, she was an adult.
So, all she needed to do was change her form and she could be with Hal. And so her ring made her appear to be older and Hal agreed to date her. Their friends, though, still thought of Arisia as a teenager, so they objected at first, and Hal notably felt weird about it in the early days of their relationship.
13. SUPERMAN: NOTED JERK
In Action Comics #152 (by the art team of Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye), Superman and Lois Lane are trapped and seemingly put into suspended animation for a thousand years! They wake up on the Earth of the future and discover that Lois Lane is a rarity in the future, as everyone is blonde! The women of the future are angry that their men all want Lois Lane. Superman “solves” the problem by dying all of their hair and doing their make-up so that they are all doubles of Lois!
Superman then figured out that they weren’t actually in the future but instead have only slept an hour or so on their trip to Venus! Superman flies them home. The context explains the oddity of thousands of people on Venus looking like Lois, but it doesn’t make Superman less of a dick.
12. WONDER WOMAN: PRO-SLAVERY?
When people look the early days of Wonder Woman by William Marston and H.G. Peter as a sort of feminist ideal, they have to overlook a few of Marston’s more extreme views. Marston, you see, believed that women were superior to men and as a result, things would be better if women just took over and forced people to obey them (hence Wonder Woman having a magic lasso that, you guessed it, forced people to obey her!).
Taken to its logical extreme, like in this early Wonder Woman story, slavery was not a bad thing so long as the mistress was a good one. That’s the sort of thing people sort of try to sweep under the rug when considering Marston and Peter’s early work.
11. LOIS LANE’S ROBO-DALIANCE
While out of context, the above panel certainly suggests a scandalous encounter between Lois Lane and a Superman robot, the truth behind the panel is… well, basically just as creepy. In Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #14 (by Otto Binder and Kurt Schaffenberger), Lois manages to trick her way into Superman being forced to allow her to stay in the Fortress of Solitude for three days and nights. Her plan is to prove to Superman that she could live there if they got married without incident.
Superman, though, just spends the whole three nights messing with her so that she will give up her plot, including forcing a Superman robot to spank her “accidentally.” Naturally, Lois’ plan did not work out for her in the end… so to speak.
10. HATE-MONGERING, LITERALLY
One of the most infamous panels in comic book history is also one of the most out of context panels in comic book history. During a storyline involving the Psycho-Man (and his disciple, a new Hate-Monger), Sue Richards is slowly transformed into a creature filled with hate. She even began to dress in a spiked costume and called herself Malice.
When Reed realized that Sue’s hate was being fueled by her love for her family (the Psycho-Man literally switched the emotions), he realized that the only way to help her was to make her actually hate him, as that would eliminate the fuel for the Hate-Monger’s powers. That he felt he had to slap her to get her to hate him is still a fairly dickish thing to do, but it’s not nearly as bad as it looks out of context.
Amazingly enough, the first nine issues of Batman’s ongoing series were written and drawn by a single creative team (Bill Finger writing, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson on pencils and inks and George Roussos on backgrounds). When you consider that every issue had four stories in them and that the same creative team was also doing the Batman feature in Detective Comics, that’s very impressive!
The first story that broke that pattern came in Batman #10, when Joseph Greene wrote an interesting story where Batman gets Robin his own Batplane for his birthday. That it was his birthday is why Bruce is spanking Dick even though Dick has done nothing wrong. They’re just birthday spankings, which was an actual tradition at the time (and probably still is somewhere in the country).
8. ROBBING THE CRADLE
Even in context of crazy Superman/Lois Lane stories, the story of “The Romance of Superbaby and Baby Lois!” from Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #42 stands out as especially crazy. The idea is that Lois Lane accidentally ends up with a photograph of Superman changing from his secret identity. While in a rush to get the film developed, she gets into a car accident and hits her head. The knock changed her personality to evil and she blackmails Superman into marrying her.
He tries to avoid it by tricking her into spraying herself with a de-aging spray. She won’t budge, even though it now looks like Superman is trying to marry a teenager, Jerry Lee Lewis style. She then sprays him with the de-aging spray and it gets to the point that they’re trying to get married as babies. Luckily, they get so young that they can’t exchange vows.
7. REED RICHARDS: SLAP HAPPY
While the panel of Reed slapping Sue is taken out of context, it still is a case of Reed slapping Sue, and you’re certainly allowed to take that into consideration when judging Reed’s personality. However, when people pair it with a panel showing Reed slapping his young son, Franklin Richards, that’s going too far, as the context of the panel changes everything.
The panel comes from a What If…? coming were Reed and Sue’s second child lives and turns evil (killing Sue at childbirth). Franklin is the only person who knows that the baby is evil. Reed is driven mad by his daughter and takes it out on Franklin. Franklin eventually succeeds in stopping his sister, but not before she kills Reed. You can’t give Reed guff over alternate reality versions of himself!
6. BATMAN: G.O.A.T.
In “The Joker’s Movie Crimes” from Batman #80 (by Bill Finger, Dick Sprang and Charles Paris), the Joker decides to branch out. Now he will not only commit crimes, but he will film the crimes and sell them to other criminals as a “How to” manual. His production company is raking in the dough but then he sees a film about Batman and Robin where the Joker looks like a fool.
Enraged, he decides to make a new movie about how to handle Batman and Robin! He repeatedly traps the Dynamic Duo and puts them through embarrassing scenarios, like having a goat kiss Batman on the mouth. In the end, it turned out that Batman was playing along until the film was finishes so that he could collect Joker’s full list of clients to arrest them, too! You’re not fooling us, Batman, you just wanted to try goat-kissing!
5. OH MAN, LOGAN!
In the opening arc of the 2010 Wolverine ongoing series, a plot by a consortium of his rivals resulted in Wolverine being trapped in hell while a demon took control of Wolverine’s actual body. The X-Men had to be brought in to take the demon-possessed Wolverine down. When they realized what the situation was, however, a group of X-Men decided to save Wolverine by entering his brain and putting Wolverine’s consciousness back into control.
Of course, when you’re rooting through someone’s brains, you might actually walk into a room that is their inner-most sexual fantasies and see that Wolverine fantasizes about a teenage Squirrel Girl along with Emma Frost, Mystique, Spiral and Jessica Jones (back in her superhero days). At least Kitty Pryde and Jubilee weren’t in that room!
People sometimes forget that before the iconic “Born Again” storyline in the pages of Daredevil, David Mazzucchelli had been working on that title for a couple of years already. In Daredevil #209, Mazzucchelli (and inker Danny Bulanadi) drew a story written by noted science fiction writer Arthur Byron Cover, based on an idea by Harlan Ellison.
In the previous issue, the mother of the Death-Stalker, one of Daredevil’s enemies who died fighting Daredevil, forced Daredevil into a death trap. Daredevil escaped, but the bomb-filled robots dressed as little girls that she programmed to follow Daredevil remained active, so Daredevil had to surreptitiously eliminate these robots, even if it looked like he was murdering little girls. All while defending one of his childhood bullies in court!
3. SPIDER-MAN OH MAN!
One of the final stories that Stan Lee told as the regular writer on Amazing Spider-Man set up a plotline that incoming writer Gerry Conway had to ultimately figure out. You see, Lee decided to put an end to Aunt May’s constant babying of Peter Parker by having Peter’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, totally lay into Aunt May over her overbearing behavior. An admonished Aunt May then promptly disappeared for many issues before Peter finally found her working as a maid for Doctor Octopus (that would have been the first place we looked).
Before Gwen sent May running, though, she was over at Peter’s apartment (that he shared with Harry Osborn) being awfully nosy, she almost discovered his web-shooter formula after it spilled in his room while he was away! Who in the world would want to pick up sticky clear stuff that they found in a college student’s floor?!
2. HOLY LEATHER THONGS!
In “The Duplicate Batman” from Batman #83 (by John Broome, Sheldon Moldoff and Bill Elder), Batman crashes the Bat-plane in a remote area where he is then trapped. Some crooks find out about it and hire someone to pretend to be Batman so that they can take advantage of the real Batman’s absence. The crook hit his head, though, and thought that he was Batman! Robin was fooled by the fake Batman and tells him stuff as if he is the real Batman. The leather thong, by the way, was used to stop an evil circus clown. Batman and Robin’s hands were bound, so Batman had to use his teeth to grip on to a leather thong along a rope and slide down to knock out the evil clown.
1. SUPER-DADDY ISSUES
For a while there, World’s Finest Comics stopped being a Batman/Superman series, but as Brave and the Bold was solidified as a Batman team-up book, World’s Finest was going to be used as a Superman team-up book. It did not last very long before it went back to being only Batman/Superman team-ups again, but one of the stories that came out during that time was a Superman/Green Lantern team-up in World’s Finest Comics #201 (by Denny O’Neill, Dick Dillin and Joe Giella).
Superman and Green Lantern are tricked by Felix Faust into competing against each other. They were then each confronted by their greatest fears via Faust’s magic. Superman faces a monstrous version of his birth father, who tells Superman how disappointed he is in him. The guilt almost eats away at Superman but he manages to get himself together and stand up to his “father.”
We know that there are a lot more examples of this sort of thing out there, so feel free to share some with us in the comments section!