Marvel Comics is responsible for a complete revitalization of the comic book industry in the 60s, some of the greatest and most beloved characters and superhero stories in history, and helping to convince the mainstream that comic books are a legitimate art form. Their power and greatness cannot be denied.
But, it also cannot be denied that every now and then Marvel has dropped the ball and released terrible comics. This is not a condemnation of Marvel comics or their characters. Instead, it is a condemnation of the bad storytellers, the bad artists, and the bad writers who betrayed the public’s trust by abusing the characters and creations that Marvel fans hold so dear.
In chronological order, here are ten of the all time worst moments in the history of Marvel Comics:
10. Rape of Ms. Marvel (October 1980)
Avengers Vol. 1 #200
By the end of the 70s, Carol Danvers, aka Ms. Marvel, had become one of Marvel’s flagship female characters. And all it took was one issue of The Avengers to ruin both her standing as a strong female character and her reputation. To make a long (and overly complicated) story short, Ms. Marvel became mysteriously pregnant and gave birth to a full term baby three days later. Then, the baby, named Marcus, mysteriously grew up almost instantly, and revealed that he had “seduced” his mother and impregnated her. And by “seduced” I mean “raped.” And what became of Ms. Marvels incestuous rape child? He grew up to be…Marcus! That’s right, he had gone back in time to impregnate his mother with himself. But the worst part of this travesty was that not only was Ms. Marvel, one of Marvel’s leading female characters, raped, she revealed that she enjoyed it and decided to stay with him afterwards. Hooray for feminism!
9. Clone Saga (October 1994 – December 1996)
Web of Spider-Man #117–129, Sensational Spider-Man #0–11, Amazing Spider-Man #394–418, Spider-Man #51–75, Spectacular Spider-Man #217–240, Spider-Man Unlimited (Vol. 1) #7–14
If you peruse this list, you may be surprised to find that many of the entries are related to the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. The first one to make an appearance is the dreadfully convoluted and stupidly executed Clone Saga, a storyline that ran through all of the Spider-Man titles for two years. It all started with a storyline back in the 70s where the villain named the Jackal cloned Peter Parker and his deceased girlfriend Gwen Stacy. Spidey fought his clone, won, and went off none the wiser. Decades later, this storyline was brought back to life when it was revealed that not only had the clone survived his encounter with Spidey, but that the clone, now known as the Scarlet Spider, was the real Peter Parker and that the Peter Parker that the comics had followed for decades was the clone! Needless to say, this angered most, if not all, of Spider-Man’s fans.
So, what was supposed to be a short arc that only lasted a few issues ran for two long, painful years as Marvel tried to backtrack and restore the status quo. Along the way, it was revealed that, surprise-surprise, the Scarlet Spider WAS the clone and Peter Parker WAS the original. Throw in the clumsy resurrection of Aunt May after she had previously died (THAT Aunt May was ALSO another clone); a couple hundred more Spider-Man clones that Jackal just happened to have in his basement; and the revelation that the entire thing had been orchestrated by Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, who was believed to have died decades ago- and you have one of the most infuriating stories ever told in the entire history of the comic book medium. And the kicker? Afterwards, everybody acted like nothing had happened and the plot line was never mentioned again. Marvel had literally wasted two years of their readers’ lives with nothing to show for it.
8. Iron Man: The Crossing (September 1995 – February 1996)
Avengers #390-395; Avengers: The Crossing #1; Force Works #16-20; Iron Man #320-325; War Machine #20-23; Avengers: Timeslide #1; Age of Innocence: The Rebirth of Iron Man #1
Retcon (retroactive continuity) is a literary device used to change previously established facts in fiction and is commonly used in comic book series with long histories because “the plurality of writers who contribute stories can often create situations that demand clarification or revision” (wikipedia). As a general rule of thumb, whenever Marvel retcons bad things happen…as in bad comics are released upon unsuspecting fans. So, in the mid-90s when Marvel decided to reveal that Iron Man was a traitor who had worked as a sleeper agent for Kang The Conqueror for years, you can bet that there would be problems. First, he goes on a killing spree, killing the female Yellowjacket, Amanda Chaney, and Marilla, the nanny of Quicksilver’s daughter. The Avengers decide that the best thing to do is recruit a teen-age Tony Stark from another timeline, have him steal the Iron Man suit, and fight the now evil Tony Stark. In the ensuing fight, the real Tony Stark sacrifices himself to stop Kang. For a while, the teenage Tony Stark was the official Iron Man… and what a fiasco THAT was. The new Tony looked ridiculous with an atrocious new set of armor. But what really alienated fans was the idea that Tony Stark, a character that they had come to know and love for decades, was a traitor. In fact, this was a blatant slap in the face to his fans. Thankfully, the entire debacle was completely retconned, replacing Teen Tony with Good Tony. Unfortunately, in order to do so, they had to rely on the event that takes the next spot on this list.
7. Heroes Reborn (1996 – 1997)
Fantastic Four Vol. 2 #1-12, Avengers Vol. 2 #1-12, Captain America Vol. 2 #1-12, Iron Man Vol. 2 #1-12
The 90s were a dark, dark time for comic books. Gone were the days of cheerful heroes helping innocent bystanders and fighting giant monsters. In the 90s, everybody was a dark, brooding anti-hero. Comics became grim, dark, and ultraviolent.
It was in the midst of this creative quagmire that Marvel, in the face of bankruptcy, decided to reboot their entire universe in the Heroes Reborn crossover series that ran from 1996 to 1997. Essentially, Marvel trapped four of their most famous properties, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Captain America, and Iron Man, in a pocket dimension after their apparent deaths at the hands of the psionic entity Onslaught. This allowed their writers to go back and tell brand new stories with these characters that they wouldn’t have been able to within mainstream Marvel continuity.
It was a decent idea. However, they decided to outsource these stories to former employees Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld who turned them into over-the-top, shameless parodies of themselves. The series were beset by bad stories and some of the worst art to ever disgrace the medium. It was so bad that Marvel essentially had to reboot their universe AGAIN just so they could restore everything to the status quo that was enjoyed before Heroes Reborn began. The silver lining to this abomination was that it succeeded in restoring Marvel’s sales and saved the company from a financial meltdown. All it took was a year of pure pain and agony on the part of the fans.
6. Chuck Austen’s X-Men (2002-2004)
Uncanny X-Men #410-441
Yes, ALL of Chuck Austen’s X-Men run. It is literally impossible to pick just one thing that was wrong with it. Where do we begin? How about the horrific characterizations? How about the blatant misogyny? How about the fact that it followed one of the greatest X-Men runs of all time (Grant Morrison) with stories that were designed to retcon it all? How about when Jubilee and a bunch of other X-Men were CRUCIFIED by a group of radicals who wanted to discredit the Catholic church by making Nightcrawler the Pope and killing people with disintegrating communion wafers? Or, sticking with Nightcrawler, how about the time when it was revealed that he was literally the son of a demon named Azazel who gave birth to him so he could teleport him to earth?
No, I’ve got it! It would have to be the revelation concerning Xorn, a supporting cast member from Morrison’s run who had healing powers fueled by literally having a star in his head. For those who haven’t read Morrison’s run (and you all should), it was revealed that Xorn was none other than Magneto who was trying to infiltrate the school! In the end, Magneto kills Phoenix (for the umpteenth time) and gets his head lopped off by Wolverine. Marvel, horrified at the idea of losing one of their central villains, retconned it all. How? They said that Xorn (who remember, wasn’t real but a disguise used by Magneto) had a twin brother who infiltrated the X-Men DISGUISED as Magneto. So, in summation, we have the twin of a person who never existed in the first place infiltrate the X-Men disguised as Magneto disguised as… his real identity… Make sense? No? Don’t worry. Nobody else can figure it out, either. At least Marvel got Magneto back for several more decades of milking.
5. Sins Past (August 2004 – January 2005)
The Amazing Spider-Man #509-514
Oh, Spider-Man fans… Why must Marvel continue to abuse you? Gwen Stacy, one of Spider-Man’s first girlfriends, was a fan favorite for decades. Her murder at the hands of the Green Goblin is said to have single-handedly ended the Silver Age of Comics. It was a tragic scene that helped define Spider-Man for a new generation. Even after Spidey hooked up with Mary Jane, there was still a massive amount of care and sympathy for Gwen, solidifying her status as one of the most-loved characters in the entire Marvel Universe. So, of course, Marvel decided that the best thing to do was to rewrite her past so that Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, had slept with her. Oh, but he just didn’t sleep with her…he knocked her up with TWINS that she gave birth to in France. After deciding to come clean with Peter and raise the kids with him, Norman killed her. Why? So he could raise them himself! Because of Norman’s bizarre blood, the kids aged faster than normal so that they were full-grown adults before they reached 10 years old! What does Norman do with them? He makes them attack Spider-Man!
Sins Past single-handedly ruined the character of Gwen Stacy for untold numbers of fans. Her tragic and emotional death was cheapened for pure shock value. But this would not be the only time that Marvel would intentionally ruin or disgrace one of Spidey’s relationships with a loved one. We’ll get to THAT horrible story in a bit. Image from http://www.weeklycrisis.com/
4. Civil War (June 2006 – January 2007)
Civil War #1-7
It started as a relatively good idea: a schism occurs in the superhero community when a group of heroes accidentally blow up a large part of Stamford, Connecticut during a fight, killing over 600 civilians, including 60 children. Heroes were faced with a daunting option: register their identities with the government and become federal employees in order to prevent such a calamity from happening again or face prosecution. Half of the community, led by Iron Man, advocated registration, believing it to be the moral and responsible solution. The other half, led by Captain America, believed that forced registration was a violation of their civil liberties and revealing their identities could put their friends and families at risk. It was a difficult and emotional issue for everybody involved.
There was no easy answer or solution to the problem… at least… there wasn’t until Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic created a robotic Thor clone which attacked the anti-registration camp, killing the superhero Goliath in the process. And then, instead of trying to persuade and convince the anti-registration people to register, Iron Man and his followers hunted them down like animals, arrested them, and threw them in an unbreakable prison in another dimension without a fair trial or due process. Not to mention that the pro-registration camp convinced Spider-Man to reveal his identity as Peter Parker publicly, leading to his Aunt May getting shot (which subsequently leads to the next entry on this list). As the icing on the cake, after Captain America heroically surrenders to prevent any more violence or bloodshed, he is shot and killed on the steps of a courthouse.
I can’t emphasize enough how badly Civil War was received and how it almost irrevocably damaged Marvel Comics. To this day, there are people who refuse to forgive Iron Man for his betrayal. What should have been an even-sided, philosophical, and heart-stirring storyline became mean-spirited, dark, and had characters that people had known and loved for decades turn on each other. The Marvel staff completely isolated their fans by taking Iron Man’s pro-registration side during the debate, alienating thousands of readers. For many, Civil War is also considered to be a turning point in Marvel’s history…and not a good one at that.
3. One More Day (November 2007 – January 2008)
The Amazing Spider-Man #544, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #24, The Sensational Spider-Man (vol. 2) #41, Amazing Spider- Man #545.
If I ranked this list in order of the most hated, most ill conceived, most badly written, and poorly received moment in Marvel history, One More Day would be on the top. There is NO competition. For those of you who don’t read comics, let me try and break this down for you. Anyone who has seen the Spider-Man movies knows that Spider-Man’s true love was Mary Jane Watson. It’s been that way for almost 4 decades. She was among the most beloved members of the Marvel universe for her personality, spunk, and everlasting devotion to her husband Peter Parker. The two had weathered countless storms together, yet had always come out stronger as a result. Their wedding was one of the biggest Marvel events in history. For years, Peter Parker and Mary Jane were THE comic book couple, probably only rivaled in popularity by Superman and Lois Lane in DC Comics.
One day, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada decided that he didn’t like the idea of Spider-Man being married. He believed that being single was essential to Spider-Man’s character (never mind the fact that he had been married to Mary Jane for almost TWENTY YEARS). So what did he do? He made Spider-Man make a deal with the Devil to trade his marriage to save the life of Aunt May who had been shot in the aftermath of Civil War. Let me say that again in case you didn’t grasp the infuriating implications of that last sentence. Spider-Man, one of the ultimate paragons of personal responsibility and righteousness in ALL of comics, made a deal… with the DEVIL! The deal was to sacrifice his MARRIAGE all so that he could save the life of his ELDERLY Aunt May. (Side Note: He had previously contacted Aunt May in the spirit world who told him to let her go since she was old, had a good life, and wanted Peter to be happy.)
It was almost universally panned by critics. The fan backlash was the stuff of legends. Joe Quesada became one of the most hated people in the industry, even getting booed off the stage at conventions. But one of the worst things about One More Day was that it was a key example of a disturbing trend among comic book companies: editors using their positions to ghostwrite their favorite comics. In fact, many of the entries on this list were the result of editorial mandates. Among them, One More Day reigns supreme. No comic company is perfect. Even their rival company, DC Comics, has their fair share of terrible moments (but that’s a list for another day…). But no matter what they do, they can take comfort in the fact that they didn’t put out One More Day. One More Day is the ultimate bad comic book moment.
2. Ultimates 3 (2008)
The Ultimates 3 #1-5
The Ultimate Marvel imprint, started in 2000, was intended to be a brand new Marvel Universe free from decades of comic continuity. It was designed as a starting point for new comic book readers who didn’t want to be bogged down or confused with story and character histories. Their main series included Ultimate versions of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and Spider-Man (easily the most popular and successful title from the Ultimate line). But the Ultimate Universe also had their own version of the Avengers known as the Ultimates. The Ultimates were the subjects of three short stand-alone series, creatively titled The Ultimates, The Ultimates 2, and The Ultimates 3. The first two were wild, run-away successes, reinventing their characters for a new generation and creating some of the most iconic moments of the new millennium (“Does this “A” look like it stands for France?). And then Ultimates 3 came along.
In an incredibly convoluted and confusing plot, the Scarlet Witch was assassinated, the Ultimates squared off with android duplicates of themselves, and Quicksilver was supposedly killed (more on that in the next entry). Oh… and somehow Doctor Doom was the genius behind it all. Sound cool? It isn’t. The entire series is plagued with horrible art, terrible writing, abysmal dialogue, and grotesque characterizations. Many people think of the Ultimates 3 as being the start of the downfall of the Ultimate Universe. But it would take our number one spot to finish the job.
1. Ultimatum (November 2008 – July 2009)
This is it, folks. This is widely considered to be THE event that killed the Ultimate Universe line. Think about that for a second…these five comics ended a ten year long comic book line. How? Let’s break it down:
Many of the Ultimates most beloved characters are killed off panel.
- Half of the characters in the Ultimate Universe were killed, including, but not limited to: Daredevil, Cyclops, Doctor Doom, Doctor Strange, Emma Frost, Hank Pym, Juggernaut, Magneto, Professor X, Thor, Wasp, and Wolverine.
- Over-the-top and offensive violence: the Wasp was cannibalized by the Blob, Magneto snaps Professor X’s neck, Madrox creates clones which he turns into suicide bombers, Wolverine has the adamantium stripped from his bones.
- Scientific inaccuracies: Magneto reverses the Earth’s magnetic poles… no wait… the planet’s axis… no wait… the magnetic poles…. no wait… who cares? They’re the same thing, right?
The less you know about this insult of a comic, the better. The only thing you need to know is that Magneto tries to destroy the world in revenge for the deaths of his kids, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. But wait! Quicksilver is revealed to be alive! But the real question is…who cares! Writer Jeph Loeb destroyed almost everything that people loved about the Ultimates Universe. The damage was so massive that they had to RE- LAUNCH the Ultimate Universe. This comic has left fans scratching and banging their heads against the wall, wondering why Marvel would ever print this abominable excuse for a story.