For nearly 55 years, Marvel Comics has provided fans with some incredible stuff. They helped change comics with real-life characters, superheroes with flaws that made them easier to root for and more adult storylines. The litany of characters is famous: Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men and so many more. They have provided some classic storylines and amazing events to win fans over and their success is proven by the fantastic hit movies reaching mainstream status. Marvel has given so much great stuff, it’s impossible to count.
But they’ve also given us a lot of bad. The company had a terrible period in the 1990s with an obsession for “events” and gimmick covers with bad art and writing. It took a while for them to get out of that creative rut and even today, some things can pop in to make fans grind their teeth and wish they’d never spent money on this. Some stuff Marvel can look back on and laugh but so many others are so terrible that the company just wants to pretend they never happened. Of course, they did and fans do remember, especially those who paid for it. Here are 14 things from their past Marvel likes to pretend didn’t exist and how no one is perfect.
14. Spider-Man Was Married
Now this one is wild. Most agree that the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson was one of the best parts of the entire Spider-Man saga, the two are a great couple, MJ a terrific support to ground Peter and fun together. But for some reason, Marvel’s editor-in-chief Joe Quesada openly stated it was “the biggest mistake ever,” making Peter too old and limiting him tied down to one woman. He felt divorce would be a bad sign so instead when another route in “One More Day.” When Aunt May is mortally wounded by a sniper, Peter is offered a deal by Mephisto: Save May’s life in return for the marriage of Peter and MJ being nullified. That’s right, divorce is a bad move for the hero but a deal with the devil is perfectly okay.
So to save a woman who’s already elderly (and who openly told him “it’s my time”), Peter gives up the marriage and the explanation becomes he and MJ just living together all this time instead of married. It also wiped out Peter revealing his secret identity in Civil War with the idea that Dr. Strange, Iron Man and Reed Richards combined efforts to wipe all memory of it from the world, just like that. Oh and Harry Osborn was back from the dead because, you know, magic. Fans were angered and while the book has had a good creative revival, many still prefer a married Peter, especially with how writer Dan Slott has pushed MJ aside and given him love interests like Claire Cooper, pushed as somehow “better” than MJ. A mini-series did show an alternate universe where they were together with a daughter and fans loved it but Marvel continues to push the “never married” idea despite how fans much prefer that to a single Spidey.
13. 1990s Fantastic Four
In 1991, Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan took over as writer and artist of Marvel’s flagship title, promising a “back to glory” approach. However, over the next five years, their efforts made the title a bit of a mess. First off, they undid years of history by revealing the Alicia Masters the Human Torch had married was actually a Skrull imposter, the real Alicia rescued but still loving the Thing. The Thing was scarred horribly enough to wear a dumb looking helmet from there on. The Invisible Woman began acting like a bitch and wearing a stripper-like outfit totally out of character for her. They tried to kill off Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom together and had Ant-Man and Doom’s ward Kristoff join the team amid wild and often baffling storylines involving a line of lame villains. That’s not to mention the idea of them all wearing bomber jackets (including the Human Torch, whose jacket actually caught on fire with him) over their uniforms. Throw in obsession with gimmick covers and “shocking” twists and it’s no wonder fans were relieved their tenure came to an end with the book revived with a better creative team. They may be Marvel’s oldest characters but the early ‘90s were hardly “fantastic” for the FF.
12. Heroes Reborn
True, Marvel was in desperate financial straits in 1996 but this turned out to be the worst move to correct that. After leaving the company years earlier to found Image Comics, Jim Lee and Rob Leifeld returned and Marvel let them take over the core books of Fantastic Four, Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America in a brand new universe. The heroes appeared to “die” fighting the monster Onslaught and were transported to a new world where their histories started over. There were good bits here and there (like Iron Man letting go of his jerk behavior) but too much bad overall with terrible artwork. Leifeld was the big offender, his Captain America a total mess and the entire thing a debacle in just a few months with huge delays all around. There’s a fan theory that Marvel did this on purpose to show fans just how bad these “superstar creators” were and they were brought back to the main MU. That led to terrific stuff like Kurt Busiek’s acclaimed Avengers run so it got Marvel back on track but the “Reborn” mess is still considered one of the worst experiments in Marvel history and a go-to for how bad the ‘90s were.
11. The Punisher Demon Hunter
When it was announced the Punisher would be getting a new book in 1998, fans were hopeful the character would rebound after several bad years. Those hopes were killed when the first issue revealed the Punisher had committed suicide only to be revived by Heaven to hunt demons. So now the Punisher (the last character who should be involved in supernatural stuff) had glowing eyes and tattoos and using ectoplasm guns to blow away monsters. The reaction was deservedly horrible and Marvel reacted by getting Garth Ennis and Steve Dillion to do another series. Ennis basically wiped the slate clean with the Punisher saying he got tired of taking Heaven’s orders and was sent back to Earth, the angels not realizing that killing crooks was Frank Castle’s paradise. He’s kept to that since, far more down to earth and showing what happens when you take a character way too out of his wheelhouse.
10. Teen Iron Man
In 1995, Marvel’s obsession with “events” came to a height with “The Crossing,” a completely insane and convoluted storyline for the Avengers. To make it as short as possible, it was revealed that for years, Iron Man had been under the mental influence of Kang the Conqueror and was now attacking, even killing people. Desperate to stop him, the Avengers traveled into the past to recruit a teenage Tony Stark who faced his older self and had his heart ripped out, needing a suit of armor of his own to survive. Eventually, the real Tony came to his senses and sacrificed himself to stop Kang so they had a teenage Tony in the present to be Iron Man. It was meant as a “fresh start” for the character but the ridiculous way it was done doomed it from the start and fans didn’t take to it at all. When the whole “Heroes Reborn” mess ended, the original Tony was brought back to life and the whole thing hand-waved off as a whacky time travel thing and since then, it’s never been mentioned. The biggest example of the utter idiocy of Marvel at the time and the low point of Shellhead’s history.
9. Secret Wars II
The first Secret Wars was one of the first epic crossover events and was a massive success. So a sequel was obvious but the actual presentation was more than lacking. The idea was the Beyonder, the god-like being who had begun the first War came to Earth to try and understand humanity. Just about every single Marvel title had some tie-in to the series but it seems Jim Shooter forgot the “wars” bit. The entire plot was just the Beyonder wandering around randomly with occasional stuff like curing Death or messing with love lives. One issue was just him sitting on an island as various super-villains fought the Thing to get to him. It wasn’t helped by how this supposedly awesome figure walked around with a jeri-curl and outfits that boasted crazy shoulder pads. He finally goes nuts for no reason in the next to last issue before a scheme involving making himself reborn as a human child. In the end, it just had the Beyonder giving his life up to restart a new universe and a complete waste of an event that dominated Marvel for most of the year. In so many ways, a precursor to the “letdown events” that have hit comics since and Shooter’s ego at work.
8. The 1993 Annuals
Back in the ‘90s, Marvel would use their summer Annuals to do big crossover events. In 1993, they went in another direction as each Annual would have a brand-new character (hero or villain) made out to be a big deal. In fact, each Annual was bagged with an exclusive trading card and Marvel pushed this as a great wave of new characters. The results? Only a handful of these “fresh new characters” would ever be seen again, most having their only appearances in these Annuals. Among the most famous would be Adam-X, the X-Treme who was basically everything wrong with comics in the ‘90s, from his name to his outfit, “burn blood” powers and the idea he was actually the secret brother to Cyclops and Havoc. The only character to get his own series would be Genis, the son of Captain Marvel, later used in a great series by Peter David but the rest of the bunch utterly forgettable. The true joke: In a build-up to this, then-Marvel editor/writer Mark Gruenwald said he wanted these characters to all be long-lasting and “not jokes never used again like, say, Squirrel Girl.” Today, absolutely every one of these characters has been long forgotten while Squirrel Girl has her own book. Guess who has the last laugh now?
7. Norman Osborn Knocking Up Gwen Stacy
Much of J. Michael Stracynski’s run on Spider-Man was terrific, getting into the character, having him reveal the truth to Aunt May who became a strong helper and showing Peter Parker as a great guy to like. However, the “Sins Past” storyline is easily the low point of his run. Peter finds himself attacked by a pair of young people who seem to know him and a DNA test shows they’re the children of his former love, Gwen Stacy. The idea was that Gwen was pregnant with Peter’s kids and kept quiet about it, the radiation of his spider-powers causing the kids to age fast. However, editorial didn’t like that idea as it made Peter seem too old and he would never ignore the responsibility of children. So JMS’ solution for the father? Norman Osborn aka the Green Goblin. Yes, Gwen, long portrayed as a virtuous gal, was now said to have slept with the father of one of her best friends who just happened to be Spider-Man’s archenemy and, oh yes, the guy who later killed her. The sight of them in bed had readers groaning in pain and the explanation of Osborn as the dad was terrible. Marvel planned for the kids to stay around but the massive reader backlash had them instead written out and the entire storyline has never been mentioned again. Which is fine by fans who consider this whole thing a true Sin.
6. Speedball as Penance
Created in 1989, Speedball was a character whose powers were basically bouncing at super strength but his fun outfit and bright humor made him a popular member of the New Warriors. The kick off to the Civil War event was the Warriors fighting villain Nitro who then blew up a school. Surviving, Speedball was put on trial and hated for the event, despite how it was quite clearly Nitro’s fault. In his guilt, he took on a spiked armored costume with helmet to call himself Penance, mutilating himself for strength and groaning over his horrible guilt. It was totally stupid and an issue of Squirrel Girl wonderfully summed up the fan reaction to how Speedball was never at fault and was taking this too far. Thankfully, the character let go of the angst to regain his old outfit and while he has some guilt, he’s mostly back to his funny ways as the goofball folks love. There were a lot of problems with Civil War but turning a bright character into a ‘90’s reject for no reason is still a head-smacker.
5. Ultimates Vol 3
While there are criticisms, the first two volumes of The Ultimates (their world’s version of the Avengers) won wide acclaim for their big-screen story feel and ideas that inspired the later movies (like Nick Fury being a dead ringer for Samuel L. Jackson). However, the third volume is nothing short of a total travesty and Jeph Loeb apparently hadn’t read a single issue of the earlier books before becoming writer and seemed to think this was just the regular Avengers on crack. So now the Wasp (portrayed as Asian) was white, Thor speaking in “olde English” instead of normally and Captain America portrayed as a short-tempered jerk while the Black Panther is made a “man of mystery” type. The worst of it all was the revelation that twins Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were lovers, a move that had fans squirming and threw the entire book off. The plot was lame, the artwork poor and the ending a total letdown. Many say Loeb was having personal issues at the time but it’s still remarkable how a once-good writer could offer something so truly terrible.
Now here’s a case of something fans would want to remember but Marvel doesn’t. In 1979, Marvel got the rights to a pair of toy lines from Parker Brothers, Rom and Micronauts. Both books were given to veteran writer Bill Mantlo who crafted a pair of truly fantastic sci-fi comics. Rom told of an armored warrior fighting shape-shifting Dire Wraiths infiltrating Earth. Micronauts had a battle of good and evil warriors from another dimension coming to Earth, where they were the size of toys. Not only did each have compelling characters and well-crafted adventures but clear ties to the Marvel Universe with crossovers with various characters. Indeed, a highlight of Rom’s book was all of Earth’s heroes helping him in the war against the Wraiths. However, when Marvel hit their major financial difficulties in the ‘90s, part of it involved losing the rights to the characters back to Parker Brothers and the legal issues since have meant that not only are no reprints of the comics coming but any references to them are basically cut out as well. Which is a damn shame as they were two of the best books of their time and worth tracking down in back bins and one wishes someone can cut through the red tape to give the comic book public a revival that’s deserved.
3. Chuck Austen’s X-Men
If you ever want to see an X-Men fan froth at the mouth, just mention Chuck Austen. A terrible writer who somehow got big assignments, Austen’s run on the book is considered practically war crimes on the characters. Among his contributions (and these are all for real): Angel and Husk having sex in the air over Husk’s mother; Iceman rebuilding his body from Havok’s piss; a character Austen based on his own wife pushed to prominence; Polaris turned into a nutcase; Nightcrawler revealed as the son of a demon; Skin killed off-panel and Austen not even getting his name right in a memorial issue; and the insane storyline of an anti-mutant group trying to destroy the Catholic Church by faking the Rapture…which isn’t recognized by Catholics. Throw in terrible dialogue and rough art and the entire run was a total mess that Austen’s successors basically retconned out of existence and ignored. Easily the worst period in the book’s history and a reason Austen is so loathed by so many.
In 2001, then-Marvel VP Bill Jemas made a bet with writer Peter David on who could create a better-selling comic. David won in every way imaginable as his Captain Marvel was a critical and fan winner. Jemas, on the other hand, created what many consider the most odious comic the company has ever produced. Failing even as a parody of the industry, the insane plot (Ted Turner sends his son from 5002 to the present to be a hero) soon digressed into mean-spirited shots on real writers like David, Jesus called “the first superhero,” Wolverine evolved from an otter, evolution being a scam and a red-haired girl nearly naked on every cover when she didn’t pop up in the comic at all. Throw in plot holes and absolute failure to research any of the subjects he was trashing and Jemas was rightly ripped as many a blog has had fun tearing this book to shreds. Many suspect the fact Jemas actually believed the crap he was writing was a key reason he would be fired from Marvel and the entire thing has been buried completely as basically the Manos the Hands of Fate of comic books and an embarrassment to the Marvel name.
1. They Were Bankrupt
Marvel went wild in the ‘90s with the speculator boom of the time, obsessed with gimmicks like holographic covers, die-cut covers, foil covers, trading cards, the works. That was mixed with terrible art and poor storylines abounding (several of which have already been mentioned) as well as some very bad business moves and victim of a junk bond scheme. The result was a massive implosion in 1995 that led to Marvel canceling half their books of the time and in 1996 were forced to file for bankruptcy protection to stay afloat. It took a merger with Toy Biz to keep them solvent before rising up with new stuff (like the Ultimate line) and storylines to push the company back to success. They’re riding high now but at one point, they were within a hair of going out of business which would have shifted the industry massively and showing how even a great company can make dangerous mistakes.