This list is in response to my Top Ten Worst Moments in Marvel Comics that I published a few months ago. In due fairness, here is a list of the Top Ten Worst Moments in DC Comics. Originally founded in 1934 as National Allied Publications, DC Comics has grown into one of the two biggest comic book companies in America. They are the home of such flagship characters as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Justice League. Despite their enormous success, they have had their fair share of horrible moments. This list examines ten of the very worst things to ever happen in DC Comics. This list is arranged in chronological order of when each event was originally released.
10. Superman Makes a Adult Film with Big Barda
Action Comics #592 – 593 (September 1987 – October 1987)
Yes, you read that right. Superman once starred in an adult film. To kick off this list, we feature one of the most notorious stories to ever star DC’s most famous character, Superman. The story also involves characters from legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby’s 4th World Saga. Chief among them is Big Barda, a New God from the planet Apokolips. She was trained from a young age to be a fierce warrior for Darkseid, the evil despot ruler of the planet. However, she escaped after falling in love with another New God, Mister Miracle, a master escape artist. Big Barda was a rough and tough heroine who wore the proverbial pants in her relationship with Mister Miracle. She was fiercely loyal and protective of her husband.
However, in John Byrne’s otherwise stellar run on Action Comics, she was hypnotized and forced into doing a adult film by a villain appropriately known as Sleez. Her partner? None other than the Man of Steel himself. Of course, the story goes that Superman woke up from his hypnosis before he could do the deed. But the damage was done. Superman, the paradigm of everything good and decent, and Big Barda, one of the toughest and most competent female characters in comics, were adult film stars. Jack Kirby, the creator of Big Barda, particularly hated the story. That might have something to do with the fact that he modeled her personality after his own wife. Keep it classy, John Byrne.
9. Emerald Twilight
Green Lantern vol. 3, #48-50 (January 1994 – March 1994)
By the mid 90s, Hal Jordan, the second Green Lantern (and by far the most well-known), had fallen out of favor with DC’s brass. They decided that it was time to retire Hal in order for another new character, Kyle Rayner, to take his place. So how did DC decide to end the career of one of their most beloved heroes? By turning him into a genocidal villain. As part of the “Reign of the Superman” storyline which occurred after the highly publicized death of Superman, Hal’s home of Coast City was completely destroyed by the villains Mongul and Cyborg Superman. As a result, the city was demolished and its seven million inhabitants killed. This turn of events made Hal go completely insane. He believed that if he could steal all of the Main Power Battery’s energy, the source of the Green Lantern rings, he could permanently rebuild Coast City. To do so, he killed all of the remainder of the Green Lantern Corps and the villain Sinestro. Afterwards, he became the villain Parallax. To DC’s credit, they later redeemed Hal by having him sacrifice his life to restart the Sun during The Final Night storyline and revealing that his madness had been caused by being possessed by an entity made of fear. Hal would later go on to reform the Green Lantern Corps thanks to the expert guidance of writer Geoff Johns. But Emerald Twilight, the three issues where Hal went insane and killed the old Corps, remains a black spot on DC’s legacy.
Superman: At Earth’s End Original Graphic Novel (1995)
Superman: At Earth’s End is a one-shot Elseworlds story that takes place outside of established DC Comics canon. It is a sequel to a miniseries which was in and of itself a spin off of the DC Comics series Kamandi, a story about a young hero in a post-apocalyptic future ruled by hyper-evolved animals. Even better, originally Kamandi was created after DC Comics was unable to secure the rights to the Planet of the Apes franchise. So, Superman: At Earth’s End is a sequel to a spinoff based on a rip-off. Trust me, the story is even stupider than it sounds.
To keep things simple, Superman is stranded in a post-apocalyptic future where an evil organization called the DNA Diktators, led by the twin clones of Adolf Hitler, have stolen Bruce Wayne’s body in an attempt to create a mutated Batman-creature. To stop them, Superman shoots the Hitlers with a quadruple chaingun called the “Expunger,” one of the most ridiculous and implausible weapons ever created. It’s a poorly written, terribly executed piece of drivel that has Superman acting completely out of character. Even worse, it makes almost no sense. Even though it isn’t official DC Comics canon, it is still one of the worst stories to ever feature Superman.
7. The Dark Knight Strikes Again
The Dark Knight Strikes Again #1-3 (November 2001 – July 2002)
Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns helped revive the flagging comic book industry of the late 80s with its gripping storytelling and innovative take on the character. In it, an aged and retired Bruce Wayne is forced to take up the cowl again against a series of evils plaguing Gotham City. To this day, it is considered one of the greatest graphic novels in history. So, it was inevitable that a sequel would be written. What nobody could predict was how indescribably bad it would be. First off, the art is atrocious. Frank Miller is usually a very competent artist. But here, his art just looks ugly. But even bad art can be forgiven for a good story. Too bad The Dark Knight Strikes Again is also incredibly poorly written. In the first book, Batman was a grizzled and cynical loner. In The Dark Knight Strikes Again he comes off like a hate-filled madman. Not to mention that the comic barely features him. Miller takes more time focusing on Superman, Wonder Woman, and the other members of the Justice League than he does on the book’s signature character! The first book was revolutionary. This book comes off as immature, sexist, and blatantly disrespectful towards all of its characters and their legacies.
6. Identity Crisis
Identity Crisis #1-7 (June 2004 – December 2004)
During the mid 2000s, DC hit quite a few bumps in the road in terms of major events and crossovers. By that I mean that they were almost exclusively terrible and insulting. One of the best examples was Identity Crisis. It was a disaster of an event. To truly understand the travesty that is Identity Crisis, you need to know who the Dibneys were. Ralph Dibny was a superhero called The Elongated Man who could stretch and shape his body however he wanted. However, he was best known for his great detective work. He was married to Sue Dibny. Even though she didn’t have any powers, she was a beloved member of the superhero community. The two were a breath of fresh air in comics: a happy, devoted married couple who were always cheerful even when things got tough. They were both cheerleaders and proud members of the Justice League as well as perennial fan favorites. So what does Identity Crisis do?
It starts with Sue being brutally murdered and and her corpse burnt to a crisp. If that wasn’t bad enough, it is revealed that Doctor Light, a cheesy villain who regularly fought the Teen Titans, had once raped her on the JLA satellite. To make matters even worse, the sorceress Zatanna mind-wiped Doctor Light and changed his personality, basically the equivalent of a full frontal lobotomy. Then, she turned around and mind-wiped Batman to prevent him from protesting her actions. But it still gets worse. The series thought it alright to randomly kill off the superhero Firestorm and Tim Drake’s (Robin’s) father. It was a mean, ugly, unpleasant series that didn’t accomplish anything more than needlessly killing off several beloved characters and having all of the others act grossly out of character.
5. All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder
All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #1-10 (September 2005 – August 2008)
Frank Miller has become something of a joke in the comic community. He was once one of the most original and talented members of the comic book community. As previously mentioned, his graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns is considered to be one of the definitive Batman stories. But in the last 10-15 years, there has been a noticeable and shocking decline in the quality of his work. In many ways, his more recent work has become a parody of his earlier work. This can be seen The Dark Knight Strikes Again and in a more recent Batman series: All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. Part of DC’s All Star imprint, a series of comic books meant to pair off some of the best comic creators with iconic characters in order to produce new interpretations that can both appeal to old fans and new readers, the story is a retelling of the origin of Batman’s sidekick, Robin (Dick Grayson). The problem is that Batman is depicted as a criminally violent sociopath. He kills criminals, assaults Dick Grayson, and forces him to hunt for cave vermin for food.
In the comic’s most infamous moment, Batman introduces himself to Robin by saying, “What are you dense? Are you retarded or something? Who the hell do you think I am? I’m the goddamn Batman.” The entire series has been decried for terrible characterization, sub-par writing, and an inconsistent release schedule to boot.
4. Amazons Attack!
Amazons Attack! #1-6 (March 2007 – August 2007)
Even though she is both a feminist icon and one of DC’s flagship heroes, few superheroes have endured more bad writing, editorial decisions, and mishandling than Wonder Woman. The principle problem is DC can never seem to figure out what to do with her character. Sometimes she’s a warrior, sometimes a Greek God, sometimes an ambassador, and sometimes *shiver* a sexy secret agent. Almost every new writer assigned to Wonder Woman has the bad habit of wiping away her entire past and supporting casts in order to “revamp” the character. Sometimes it works. George Pérez, Greg Rucka, and Gail Simone have all done magnificent runs on the character that are worth reading by anyone interested in comics. However, there contributions to the character have been largely ignored or thrown away by subsequent writers and editors. The worst crime against Wonder Woman is the 2007 event Amazons Attack! The plot behind this series is complex, convoluted, and incredibly stupid. But to summarize, the Amazons, the race of women-warriors that Wonder Woman belongs to, attack Washington D.C. in response for her illegal detention on the part of the US government. The story was a complete debacle. It was overly violent (in one scene the Amazons kill unarmed children) and nonsensical. The Amazons are able to take down fighter jets with regular bows and arrows! But one of the worst parts is that Wonder Woman barely appears in the entire event! The whole thing was being advertised as a massive Wonder Woman event…but she only appears for a few pages! This entire mess of an event is seen as the low point of Wonder Woman’s career. It was so bad that many fans literally mailed their copies to DC Comics editors. These six comics almost literally destroyed one of the most famous comic book characters in history.
3. Countdown to Final Crisis
Countdown #1 – 51, DC Universe #0 (May 2007 – April 2008)
Countdown to Final Crisis in many ways represents everything wrong with the comic book industry these days: editors acting as writers, convoluted and non-self contained stories, and, of course, bad writing. Countdown to Final Crisis was a 51 part series that was released one issue per week for an entire year. During that year, it crossed over with many other DC titles and set the stage for Final Crisis, the next large DC event. The problem was that it was a travesty. Essentially, the multiple writers of Countdown to Final Crisis had their hands tied and were forced to make changes to the story at the whims of DC Editor-in-Chief Dan Didio. Characters were killed off at random, the story made no sense unless you read EVERY SINGLE tie-in (of which there were many), and it was generally inaccessible for people who did not have an encyclopedic knowledge of the DC universe and their characters. I couldn’t explain everything wrong with this series if I wanted to.
For a more detailed breakdown, check out Linkara’s three part video review of Countdown to Final Crisis. The link to the first video is given below:
2. Final Crisis
Final Crisis #1-7 (July 2008 – March 2009)
Now, I’ll be fair: Final Crisis is an incredibly controversial event that splits DC’s fanbase in two. Some people hate it. Others think that it’s one of the greatest comics ever written. The reason is that Final Crisis is one of the most confusing and opaque events ever written. It involves the evil New God Darkseid’s attempt to conquer reality. But to those who aren’t an expert on DC Comics, reading it is like trying to read a foreign language for the first time. It is incredibly complex and occasionally frustrating even to experienced readers. As I mentioned, to those who know the history, know the characters, and can parse writer Grant Morrison’s unusual storytelling, Final Crisis is highly lauded. However, because of its complexity, Final Crisis alienated many DC fans and casual comic readers to the point that many see it as one of the worst things DC Comics has ever published.
1. Justice League: Cry for Justice
Justice League: Cry for Justice #1-7 (September 2009 – April 2010)
One of the biggest criticisms of the comic industry is the frequency with which characters are killed off and brought back to life. It happens so often that nowadays killing off comic book characters seems like an exploitative and cheap way to attract readers and boost sales. One of the worst offenders of this trope is the recent limited series Justice League: Cry for Justice. The series depicts the Justice League, still suffering from the deaths of Batman and Martian Manhunter as a result of Final Crisis, fighting against a plot that would lead to the destruction of several cities. They are able to stop most of the bombs, except for one. The resulting explosion destroys Star City, the home base of Green Arrow. The explosion killed millions, including, to the shock, horror, and disgust of fans, Lian Harper, the Red Arrow’s daughter. It was a cruel, unnecessary turn of events that was played for shock value. Red Arrow would become so distraught that he would go insane. This was documented in the equally terrible Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal. But as it stands, Justice League: Cry for Justice was a mean-spirited event that killed off many beloved characters as a ploy to sell more comics.
Editor’s Note: This list was submitted before the reboot, which has now taken place.
Recently, DC Comics has announced in the wake of their Flashpoint crossover event that they are going to completely revamp and reboot their universe and continuity. As part of the reboot, they are going to be releasing 52 brand new number #1s in an attempt to gain new readers and give the waning comic book industry a much needed boost. Many readers are outraged at DC’s reboot, as it is erasing many key events, characters, and series that were fan favorites. I have included the DCnU reboot as a bonus on this list due to their complaints. However, I hesitate from adding them to the official list. This isn’t the first time that DC Comics has rebooted their universe. They did the exact same thing in 1985 with their series Crisis on Infinite Earths. The results were astonishing. It effectively ended the Silver Age of comics and started the Modern Age as well as bringing in troves of new readers. The universe reboot from Crisis on Infinity Earths was a success, so there is a distinct possibility that DC may catch lightning in a bottle a second time with the DCnU reboot. It is too early to see if it will work or be a failure. However, comic book retailers are reporting record sales after the very first week of the reboot. Only time will tell if DC’s gamble will fall flat or pay off.