DC Comics has just made a big announcement about an upcoming “Rebirth” series, detailing new launches of titles, promising a bit more “back to basics” approach. This, of course, comes five years after their “New 52” relaunch and DC obviously trying to appeal to fans both new and old with these directions. It’s nothing they’re not used to as DC has been reinventing itself for decades. From the original super-hero explosion of the 1940’s, they moved to sci-fi and western books for a bit before reviving the genre in the ‘60s. Pushed by Marvel, they took on some darker and mature stuff before 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths changed their history. Over the years, DC has done a lot of things to shift their line-up and background, most recently in that “New 52.” There’s been a lot of change over the years, some good…but a lot bad.
Oh yes, there has been quite a lot of bad associated with DC over the years. Fans today glower over the company apparently deciding characters shouldn’t be married and other bad moves but this is nothing new for the company. The Silver Age was filled with sheer goofy stuff but that fit the time. However, it’s astounding just how many truly terrible things DC has offered, especially in the ‘90s when they got hooked onto the various “Collector craze” gimmicks and other bad ideas (amazingly, the terrible “Bloodlines” event is getting a reboot this year). Even the best writers and artists have given some amazingly terrible stories, stuff you can’t believe ever saw the light of day, let alone sold for money. Here are 20 of the most notable bits that DC prefers fans forget and how, bad as this company can be today, it can always be worse.
20. Superman At Earth’s End
Arguably the most infamous of DC’s “Elseworlds” books, this 1995 special has Superman with a massive white beard and a build that looks like a chubby Arnie, surviving in the 22nd century where dual clones of Adolf Hitler are trying to conquer the world with cloned soldiers. That’s the plot and it also has Superman carrying Batman’s corpse, ranting on the horrors of the world and using a gun roughly the size of a semi-truck for his attacks. This leads to even more insane stuff like Superman’s famous “I AM A MAN!” speech while attacking a huge robot and letting himself get burned alive. Maybe intended as a parody of the times, it still comes off as one of the nuttiest comics ever and how “grim and gritty” doesn’t quite suit the Man of Steel.
19. The Racially Segregated Land
Created in the 1950s, the Legion of Super-Heroes has been a mainstay of the DCU, a team of teenaged heroes handling the dangers of the 30th century. Given the time period they were created in, it’s not too surprising you didn’t see many minorities in the Legion’s future although attempts were made now and then. In 1975, we finally got to see one, the character of Tyroc, a guy whose power is basically to issue special types of shouts, who was the hero of his island city of Manzal. It soon turned out that basically all the black residents of Earth had decided to simply live in their own island nation and not have much to do with the rest of the world. That’s right, they had finally introduced a black hero and he was a super-segregationist. It was as tone-deaf a move as imaginable and later this island vanished into another dimension. Thankfully, things got a bit better in the ‘80s as Tyroc returned and more black heroes became seen but it still ranks as a nutty idea of how even the 30th century can be seen as pretty backward.
18. P.I. Wonder Woman
In the early ‘90s, DC embraced the idea of “replace iconic hero with a new version,” doing it for Superman, Batman and the Flash. Wonder Woman was next up as in her title, her mother Hippolyta decides to announce a contest to decide the mantle of Wonder Woman. Diana lost to Artemis, a feisty redhead who became the new Wonder Woman, using a bow and arrow with the classic costume. Meanwhile, Diana first worked at a taco joint to “humanize” her more, and then took up a new outfit of a blue and black halter top and ultra-short shorts with a jacket to open up a private eye agency. Thus, the greatest heroine in comics was walking around like a reject from a bad syndicated TV show for minor crime stuff. Eventually, Artemis fell in battle and Diana got back her original station but it still stands as the worst of the “replace the icon” storylines going around at the time and a poor spot for the Amazon.
This is ironic as the whole point of the character was a “forgotten hero.” Created by Mark Waid in 1994, Triumph was a top hero who actually helped form the Justice League only to be caught in a time warp. Not only did it propel him a decade into the future but it made the world forget his existence and so he fought for acceptance. From the start, the character was shown to be self-righteous and determined to get back his “destiny” as a hero, making him a jerk that fans could never get behind. Waid and writer Christopher Priest tried but Triumph just never took with readers so, in a wild bit, he sold his soul to get back that missing decade… and discovered nothing had changed, he’d made no difference to the world whatsoever, a meta-commentary if there ever was one. He soon turned evil to fight the JLA, ending up frozen and smashed apart and now forgotten, a showcase of how creating a new hero is harder than it seems.
16. Superman Adult Film Star
John Byrne’s reboot of Superman in 1986 has been seen as a great move overall. He gave us a less powerful but more relatable Superman who considered himself Clark Kent first, Lois Lane tough and strong and Lex Luthor a great super-businessman foe. But Byrne also offered some pretty crazy stuff, nowhere more than in Action Comics #592-593. Mister Miracle, master escape artist, comes home to find in his living room, Darkseid, the biggest cosmic baddie in the DCU who offers a VHS tape that shows Miracle’s wife, warrior Big Barda, doing a striptease. It turns out that Sleez (there’s an on-the-nose name), a minion of Darkseid’s, had hypnotized Barda into this to make a fortune off the tape (just imagine how Darkseid has his agents combing adult movie stores).
Superman comes in to help but is also put under Sleez’s control and we thus cut to the mind-controlled Barda and Superman in a hotel room as a director tries to get them to make out. That’s right: The Man of Steel is being set up to film an adult movie. Miracle burst in to free the duo and each claimed to have no memory of what happened and decided it was better that way. Most fans agreed with that sentiment as there was no real purpose for this plot. More importantly, legendary artist Jack Kirby (the creator of Miracle and Barda) was outraged by it as he’d based Barda on his own wife and carried a grudge against Byrne until his dying day. Here’s one Superman movie that would be even worse than Man of Steel.
15. Power Girl Pregnancy
Pregnancy and super-heroines rarely go well together and here’s a great example. Already saddled with a complicated backstory (everything from Superman’s cousin from another reality to an Atlantean princess), Power Girl suddenly found herself pregnant overnight with no idea of any father possible. The baby began acting up by creating a force field around her in battle as she basically went from her usual hot body to nine months along in no time. She gave birth with the child growing fast into a teenager and in a battle with a deadly enemy, Kara learned that she’d been implanted with the seed of a chaos demon to create a champion of Atlantis. The boy soon gained massive power to become Equinox, fought the demon into another dimension to vanish… and was then never heard of again. Seriously, the whole thing was never brought up by even his mother as Power Girl’s history has undergone a few shifts since and this remains yet another example of how a heroine having a child rarely ends well.
14. Hawkman’s History
It’s possible no other comic book character has had such a ridiculously complex, convoluted and at times downright incomprehensible history as the Winged Wonder. The Golden Age version was the reincarnation of an Egyptian prince using wings with “Nth metal” to fly and use old-fashioned weapons. The Silver Age version was a policeman from another planet who could fly in space with just his wings. Okay, so far, so good. Then DC does a series completely eliminating the Silver Age version and replacing him with a hardcase military guy no longer married to Hawkwoman. DC then said it had been the original Golden Age Hawkman doing all the Silver Age stuff except for the time the role was filled by a murderous imposter.
Confused yet? Hold on. DC merged the Hawkmen together into a “Hawk God” figure with actual feathered wings and a warrior spirit before having him killed and the very name considered too radioactive to use. He was finally given a shot in 2001 with a reboot that mixed the elements together in a good way but then he got killed in 2009 and resurrected. Then in 2011, the “New 52” had him back as an exiled alien. For a guy with a cool look, Hawkman has barely managed to get away from a ridiculous history.
13. Chuck Austen’s Superman
Austen’s X-Men run is considered among the worst in the history of that title with some of the most idiotic stories imaginable. For God knows what reason, DC decided he’d be perfect for a run on Action Comics in 2004. The results were terrible as in interviews, Austen slammed Lois Lane as “a gold-digger” and soon wrote as fact that Lois only loved Superman and “settled” on Clark. This view of her as a shrew was amazingly backward and soon obvious Austen wanted to split them up and have Clark go to “his true love,” Lana Lang, who came off almost stalkerish in her wanting Clark back. That’s not to mention terrible dialogue for Superman and a dumb storyline involving Magog to make the book a mess for fans. Thankfully, DC wised up and booted Austen off the book, his successors quickly rewriting his damage but the fact this atrocious writer got a shot on the Man of Steel remains astounding.
12. Cry For Justice
Written by the top-notch James Robinson, this 2009 series was intended to be a new JLA title but then turned into a mini-series due to delays. The plot had Green Arrow and Green Lantern forming a new team to take it to the bad guys first and facing the villain Prometheus. However, the shifts between stark drama and sudden comedy threw off folks, not to mention how this team included C-listers like Congorilla among their ranks. Then, you had the first issue where “justice” is repeated roughly 74 times and the Atom is torturing guys by stepping on their brains. Throw in some totally idiotic moves and it was a mess even before the bit where Red Arrow gets his arm ripped off and his young daughter is killed in an attack. The fall-out was even worse as Red Arrow falls into drugs and DC seriously trying to say his gaining a cybernetic arm was “a tribute” to wounded soldiers while Green Arrow was turned into a murderer. Fans of the “New 52” argue on a lot but most agree that wiping this story out of canon was one of the best moves DC has ever made.
11. JLA Act of God
This “Elseworlds” mini-series (sort of a fun “What If” series for DC) had a pretty cool concept. One day, a flash of light hits and every hero loses their powers and have to handle the world without them. Sadly, Dough Moench proceeded to wreck that idea with bad moves. First, it was baffling who lost powers and who didn’t as technology wasn’t affected yet Green Lantern’s ring was. Then, rather than try and help, the former heroes fall into angst and complaining over their sorry lives. Lois Lane breaks up with Clark as he’s no longer Superman and he takes up with Wonder Woman, who suddenly becomes a practicing Catholic. Meanwhile, Batman (the only character Moench really knew about) is pushed as the best hero around who teaches other former heroes to be crimefighters so you have Aquaman (the freaking King of Atlantis) as “the Hand” and a baffling idea that this was “punishment” for the heroes acting haughty when they weren’t. Ripped by critics, it’s around in bargain bins but most will agree it’s a divine mercy to forget it totally.
10. Batman Odyssey
Most Batman fans will agree Neal Adams is one of the greatest artists to ever work on the Dark Knight, acclaimed for his gorgeous renderings. In 2010, Adams provided art for this event series and it did look pretty good. Sadly, he also wrote it and the results are…off to say the least. A shirtless Bruce Wayne narrates a story that involves him facing various enemies and going on a hunt for the hollow Earth under the surface filled with strange creatures who have inspired every myth in history. Not enough? How about Batman cracking bad jokes and smiling constantly while immortal Ra’s Al Ghul is portrayed as a distracted dad, Robin even more jerkish than usual and the plotlines bounce all over the place. It’s like reading the original 1960s TV show put through a crack blender and that Adams could be the one to put this together is amazing. To read it is to redefine the term “train wreck” and yet you can’t keep from marveling at how a master storyteller could fail stories on so many levels.
Ah, the 1990s, a time where comic companies went wild with “gritty” stories and gimmicks. The New Titans, long a popular title, was put through a massive wringer with an epic storyline of the team torn apart and filled with a bunch of folks who emulated the decade like cat-like Pantha and others. Among them were the Team Titans, a group from an alternate future led by an elder Nightwing. One Team Titan, shape-shifter Mirage, was Dick Grayson’s girlfriend in this future and soon pretended to be Starfire to be with the current Dick and what could be construed as sexual assault was played as a whacky love triangle. The future Nightwing then came into the present to be with Mirage but was turned evil and took on a costume that showed pierced nipples and crazy hair, using a knife to become Deathwing. He tried to attack Mirage before being beaten, an actually cool scene of fighting the real Nightwing but then shoved aside. He came back with a shaved head look that was actually even crazier before being forgotten and you don’t have to be Dick Grayson to want to ignore this ever existing.
8. Supergirl’s Super-Horse’s Super Love
The Silver Age had a lot of nutty stuff but this was something else. It seemed numerous animals had also made the journey from Krypton to gain super-powers with Supergirl befriending the telepathic horse, Comet who could also fly. It also turned out the horse was in love with Supergirl with the explanation he had been a Greek warrior turned into a horse by a magical fountain. This led to a storyline of him becoming human to woo Supergirl and back to horse form, still loving her. Amazingly, DC revisited this for the ‘90s Supergirl with Comet turning from a horse to a woman. Either way, you can agree this was pushing some seriously quirky lines even for comics.
7. Superman Red/Superman Blue
In 1997, DC made big buzz by giving Superman a makeover with electrical powers and a new blue and white costume. It was daring but didn’t quite take, fans not liking this move overall. In 1998, DC added to it as a cosmic accident caused Superman to split into two beings, one red and one blue. Each had their own personality and while they enjoyed at first being able to have one pose as Clark Kent and the other as Superman, their different lives took their toll. It took its toll on fans who hated this entire concept and dragged the book down. It led to him getting back his classic powers and look but trying to replicate an old Silver Age story for a modern audience was a poor move at the time.
6. All-Star Batman and Robin
Once, Frank Miller was regarded as one of the greatest creative geniuses comics has ever seen with work like The Dark Knight Returns. So when it was announced that he and Jim Lee were uniting in 2005 for a new series offering a brand-new take on Batman, the excitement level was through the roof. But sometime in the years between, Miller lost his damn mind and the result was one of the most loathsome books imaginable. From Vicki Vale in her underwear (Miller’s script actually says to do a “butt shot”), Alfred all buff and the Joker with a dragon tattoo on his back and a Nazi sidekick, it was crazy already. But then you have Batman himself shown as a total psycho pushing Dick Grayson into his war, laughing at setting cops on fire and uttering the now immortal line “I’m the G—-amned Batman!” Throw in Green Lantern as an idiot, Superman cursing, Wonder Woman calling men “semen banks on legs” and Batman and Black Canary hooking up in costume and it’s like a parody of Miller’s own work. Epic delays meant the book ended after ten issues and stands as proof of what happens when genius turns to madness.
5. Amazons Attack
To cover delays in Wonder Woman in 2007, DC decided to put together this mini-series where a brainwashed Queen Hippolyta leads the Amazons to invade Washington as payback for the government torturing Wonder Woman. From there, characters are presented totally unlike themselves (Wonder Woman actually refers to the queen as “mom”) and the Amazons use attacks such as bees and ancient creatures. Women are rounded up into camps because they might be “Amazon sympathizers” and Supergirl and Wonder Girl are tricked into bringing down Air Force One by force while Wonder Woman barely appears in the storyline and when she does, she’s shown to be an idiot. Oh and then the big twist at the end of how this was a “test” by Athena, who erases the memories of the Amazons and then it turns out it was really Granny Goodness. It was meant to tie in to Final Crisis but the fan reaction was such intense hatred that the entire storyline was pretty much disavowed afterward. Proof you really can mess up a good concept well.
4. Black Lois Lane
There are “message” comics, there are “preachy” comics and then…there’s this. In one of the most insane ideas imaginable, Lois Lane #106 had Lois trying to get the “inner city” experience but turned aside by the residents of Metropolis’ “Little Africa” (no, seriously, that’s what they call it). So Lois talks Superman into using an alien device to turn her into a black woman for 24 hours. What follows is as idiotic as you can imagine as Lois feels nervous being eyed by white men, still turned on for being a woman and a black agitator falling for her current state. It all ends with her giving blood as a reminder “we’re all the same under this” but the ultra-cheese and horrendous mixed message makes this a comic readers of all skin colors can agree is horrific.
3. Cobalt Blue
Mark Waid’s run on Flash is considered one of the best ever, wonderfully inventive and introducing concepts like the Speed Force. Sadly, the tail end contained one of the more baffling and crazy storylines imaginable as Wally West found himself clashing with Cobalt Blue, a speedster said to have been a foe of original Flash Barry Allen but having never appeared before. After various appearances, the truth was revealed: Cobalt was Malcom, Barry’s secret twin brother, stolen at birth and raised by a con artist to be a crook. Learning of his twin as a hero, Malcom became a deadly villain and launched an insanely complex plan against the Flash that involved time traveling and a trip to an alternate Earth. It was as soap opera a plot as could be expected, below Waid’s usual standards and writers since have pretty much ignored it. Even the Fastest Man Alive couldn’t outrun this plodding storyline.
2. Powerless Wonder Woman
Dennis O’Neil has said this was one of the dumbest ideas ever… and he came up with it. Trying to give some new life to Wonder Woman in 1968, DC basically stripped away everything that made the character work. Gone were her Amazon powers, iconic costume, golden lasso and mythology ties. Instead, Diana dressed in white suits using kung fu and traveling with the blind I Ching as a secret agent. It was completely against all the mythology of the character and what made her special and that the title emphasized Diana Prince more made it ridiculous. That’s not to mention how she faced baddies like Egg Fu, a giant talking egg with a mustache. DC finally brought her back to her classic powers and look but this counts as one of the most bizarre character switches ever.
1. Countdown To Final Crisis
In 2006, DC had a massive success with 52, a weekly comic taking place over the span of a year. They tried again with Countdown that was to set up another big crossover event but it turned into a total debacle. The plots were all over the place: Jimmy Olsen suddenly gaining super-powers; Donna Troy leading a group going to alternate Earths searching for Ray Palmer; Mary Marvel turned into a villain; Harley Quinn training with an Amazon sect run by Granny Goodness; and a wild plotline of Monarch trying to conquer the multiverse. It was a total mess, the plots making little sense, attempts to tie into the current DC just making it worse and the artwork ugly to boot. The bigger issue was that the ties to Final Crisis turned out to be almost nothing and Grant Morrison openly said that Countdown wasn’t necessary. So fans wasted a year on a story that turned out to be for nothing, one of the worst “events” DC has ever done.