Over 75 years, DC Comics has given fans plenty to enjoy. The most iconic heroes and villains of all time, great storylines, fun characters, it’s helped make comics what we know today. True, they have had bad times like the “grim and gritty” 1990s and bad business turns. But DC has given plenty for fans to enjoy and trying to conquer the world of movies with its own cinematic universe. However, there’s a lot of DC over the years that’s made fans more than a bit uncomfortable to read about.
In some cases, it’s characters who played way too much into racial stereotypes (like Green Lantern’s Eskimo mechanic called “Pieface”) and you have to understand that. There’s also how terms can change over time. One Batman issue has the Joker committing crimes based on huge mistakes so the word “boner” appears about a hundred times. You can understand some of those changes as they were part of the times. But in other cases, DC will offer up scenes that are downright disturbing to read about. From grisly deaths to mistreatment of women to just the sheer unusual circumstances, these are sequences that writers may have thought would entertain but turned out very, very bad. They’re not just “bad stories” but really scenes that made fans squirm and feel dirty reading. Here are 15 DC Comics scenes that made readers uncomfortable and how the company has given a lot of bad to go with the good.
SPOILER ALERT for some books.
15. Starfire The Exhibitionist
True, there’s always been a sexy component to the character of Starfire. Princess Koriand’r escaped slavers to come to Earth and joined the Titans. With her stunning looks, lush red hair (which turns into energy when she flies) and super-strength, she’s been a great character since her debut. The early issues focused on her adapting to Earth life and seeming to not understand our customs but emphasized her warrior spirit. However, there have been times writers seem to lean more toward her as a bimbo type. Judd Winick seemed to enjoy having Kory wander around naked as if not understanding humans’ need for clothing.
However, the “New 52” brought major controversy as Starfire was shown to be very shallow and not having memories of her past with the Titans. It was soon shown she was bed-hopping with both Arsenal and Red Hood, seeing humans as forgettable and interchangeable. This was worse as the Starfire on the hit Teen Titans cartoon was far better a character followed by young girls but the comic version only emphasized looking hot and half-naked. The character has undergone some changes as a solo series returned her to more of a strong woman (and a much less revealing costume). Still, turning this popular character into a bed-hopping exhibitionist made more than a few fans uncomfortable.
14. Batman and Black Canary
Once, Frank Miller was revered as a creative genius and one of the brightest talents in comics. He ushered in the “grim and gritty” era while reviving Batman with his masterpiece The Dark Knight Returns. But sometime in the late 1990s, Miller took a turn for the strange and his extreme right-wing politics began to overcome his work. All-Star Batman and Robin was promoted as a dream project, Miller writing Batman with art by Jim Lee. Instead, it turned into an absolute mess with Batman portrayed as a lunatic who laughs about killing cops. That’s without bits like Vicki Vale parading around in her underwear and the Joker murdering a hooker.
The book had already gotten attention for its rather laughable dialogue and huge delays when the Black Canary was introduced. A bartender at a dockside dive, she was now Irish and taking to crime fighting on a lark. Soon, she and Batman were teaming up to take some thugs down and getting into a tense argument. It ended with them kissing, Batman noting “I haven’t kissed a smoker in weeks.” Soon, the two are going at it right on the docks with the classic line from Batman on “we keep the masks on. It’s better that way.” It’s one of the more squirm-inducing moments from the book that helped transform Miller from icon to a joke.
13. Injustice Gods Among Us
A smash hit video game, Injustice: Gods Among Us had a cool fighting engine but really got raves for its storyline. In an alternate Earth, Superman attacks what he thinks is Doomsday, sending the monster flying into space. Too late, Superman realizes he was influenced by gas from the Joker and just killed a pregnant Lois Lane. Snapping, Superman rams a fist right through the Joker and decides to take over the world to instil “order.” With things going bad, Batman summons the Justice League of the regular DCU to stop this Regime. The story was already gripping but the comic book which shows the five years leading up to the game is really dark. The idea of Superman turning evil is terrifying, showing how it’s almost impossible to stop him when he’s like this.
That’s not to mention the body count: When Green Arrow gets in his way, Superman beats him to death. Damien Wayne causes Dick Grayson’s death, then turns into a darker Nightwing. Huntress has her neck snapped by Wonder Woman. Jim Gordon dies of cancer while half the magic users get blasted to bones by the Spectre. And that’s before Bizarro comes into play.
Seeing so many of the world’s greatest heroes turning to darkness (Hal Jordan joins with arch-enemy Sinestro) is gripping and makes you see them in a new light. That’s including Superman himself as the way he still thinks he’s in the right when he’s turning into the very dictator he long opposed makes his fall tragic. To witness this iconic hero turning into a monster is disturbing on multiple levels despite the great story around him.
12. Blackest Night
Zombies are automatically creepy. Now add in zombies with superpowers who can talk and even act like real people and the creep factor skyrockets. 2009’s Blackest Night was a huge event as the evil Nekron and Black Hand send out black rings that resurrect killed super-heroes and villains as super-powered zombies. The attacks are brutal as Hawkman and Hawkgirl are killed and made part of this army who enjoy feasting on the hearts of fallen foes. Seeing long-time favorite characters like the Elongated Man, Sue Dibny and others now murderous monsters is enough to make your skin crawl. Worse is that many of them strike out at targets in psychological ways: Donna Troy faces Black Lanterns of her late husband and son; the Flash faces a Black Lantern of old ally Solovar; and the JSA take on Black Lanterns of old friends and teammates.
It gets wilder when Nekron causes various heroes who have returned from the dead (Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow) to turn into Black Lanterns as well. In a creepy scene, Green Arrow mocks Black Canary for all the times he cheated on her and runs down son Connor as a loser. The sheer gore factor is off the charts before a final battle defeats Nekron and resurrects a few dead characters. Before all that, however, readers have to deal with the sight of former heroes brought back as monsters and how freaky zombies can get.
11. Lois & Lex
There’s always been something very dark in this “relationship.” That’s not surprising given that Lex Luthor is one of the most evil individuals in the DC Universe. He and Lois didn’t have much interaction in the old days but when John Byrne revamped Superman, he introduced a new dynamic. Instead of a mad scientist, Luthor became a super-businessman who basically owned Metropolis. He sought out Lois, not out of real love but because he wanted the best and she was it. In a flashback, a teenaged Lois tried to prove herself as a reporter by breaking into LuthorCorp but was found out. Luthor had her strip searched then spanked to teach her a lesson.
One storyline had Lois acting out of character, showing up at Luthor’s office at night in a hot dress and putting the moves on him. It turned out it was really the Parasite posing as Lois and when he revealed himself fighting Superman, Luthor’s disgusted reaction made it clear he and “Lois” had slept together. The truly disturbing bit was when Luthor went on a special mission for power and had a robot duplicate of Lois built as his helper. That’s right, Luthor created an exact double of Lois Lane just to serve his needs. This guy is seriously twisted.
10. Black Lois Lane
Every now and then, a comic book tries to give a “message issue” but it ends up falling flat. Here’s an infamous example. In Lois Lane #106, Lois goes to “Little Africa” in Metropolis to do a story where she’s slammed as “Whitey” and run down because of her skin color. In one of her usual doses of brilliance, Lois gets Superman to put her into an alien device that turns her into a black woman for 24 hours. Thus we have Lois worried about white men “ogling” her and finding out how bad blacks have it. In one scene, she actually asks if Superman would marry her because she’s black and when he points out he happens to be an alien, she responds “but you’re still the right color.”
It culminates in a black man attracted to Lois gunned down and she gives him her blood. She worries he’ll be angry about “White blood” in him but he accepts her just as her skin returns to its normal color. While it was intended to showcase how we’re all the same, it was ridiculously high-handed in its treatment and tone and the idea of a white woman “feeling what it’s like” comes off even worse today than at the time.
9. Superman And Superwoman
There’s a lot of crazy stuff in the Silver Age that’s funny to look back on today. However, this is one tale that’s truly wild and creepy when you think about it. Here’s a prime example from 1962’s Action Comics #289. After watching a romantic movie, Supergirl decides to find someone to fix up with Superman. She first suggests Helen of Troy (no, really) then a grown-up Saturn Woman from the Legion of Super-Heroes. Here’s where the creep factor starts as Superman confesses that he would love to marry someone like…Supergirl. His cousin.
Hang on because we’re just getting started. Instead of being freaked out, Supergirl instead seeks out seeks out Luma Lyna, the “Superwoman” of another planet who just happens to be a dead ringer for Supergirl. Soon, they’re kissing and Supergirl proud to see her cousin with an exact copy of what she’d look like older. It doesn’t last as it turns out Earth’s sun is like Kryptonite to Superwoman and she knows Superman will never abandon Earth so they split up. Superman is still hopeful and Supergirl smiling as readers have to reflect on just how easily the idea of Superman and Supergirl getting together came to the writers of the time.
8. Fall Of Red Arrow
JLA: Cry For Justice is often cited as one of the worst JLA stories ever. Terrible in its delivery, it has the League pushed by the twisted Prometheus and torturous writing amid some very dark moments. But nothing could top what happened to Roy Harper. Formerly Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy, Roy had graduated to Arsenal and then became a hero in the JLA as Red Arrow. But in this storyline, he was attacked by Prometheus who cut off Roy’s right arm. As if that wasn’t enough, Prometheus had an agent set off a device that ravaged Star City and Roy’s young daughter Lian was killed in the attack.
This causes Roy to go off the rails, falling into drug use and lashing out at others. He breaks into a prison to kill the agent who set the device off and later allows himself to fall in with former love Cheshire who basically uses him in bed (with Roy claiming the drug use can’t help him “perform” better). He’s soon joining other villains before finally trying to get himself back on track. To see this former hero ripped apart and dragged down for no good reason was just appalling and his actions rough for readers to get behind. One of the few changes of “the New 52” that fans liked was how Roy now had both arms and sober and a lot better than his treatment before.
7. Superman Gets Adventurous In The “Other” Industry
Here’s a move so uncomfortable even a comic book legend had to criticize it. In 1988, John Byrne had revived Superman with a terrific new focus, handling writing and art for various books. In one storyline, Superman is approached by ally Mr. Miracle to find Miracle’s wife, Barda, a gorgeous super-strong woman. Miracle comes home to find Darkseid, the supreme baddie of the DC Universe, waiting to show a videotape one of his agents found in an adult film store (just take a moment to reflect on Darkseid having his agents combing porn shops). Miracle is horrified to see Barda the one on the tape. He gives chase to find the aptly named Sleez is using his powers to control the minds of Barda and Superman and ready to have them go at it on film. Miracle bursts in to stop it and free them but it’s up in the air whether they had already done anything. Both Superman and Barda are very freaked out and agree to never discuss it again.
The whole thing was bad but taking it worse was Jack Kirby. The legendary writer/artist had created Miracle and Barda and was outraged as he had based Barda on his own wife and having her turned into a mind-controlled adult film star was too much. Until his death in 1994, Kirby feuded with Byrne and most had to agree that seeing the world’s greatest hero pushed into an adult film was more than a bit much.
6. Deathstroke And Terra
By 1983, New Teen Titans was DC’s hottest book, fans loving seeing this team of young heroes handle various dangers. Marv Wolfman and George Perez were in top form with stories as they introduced Terra, a new member of the team. Tough and sardonic with the power to control earth, Terra had a rough attitude but fit in with the team. She proved herself by taking on the Titans’ biggest foe, Deathstroke the Terminator, a deadly mercenary. The Titans were proud of her as readers thought she came into her own as a member. Then came the twist: Terra was a spy sent into the team to learn their secrets for Deathstroke. Fans were outraged but kept reading as it was soon made clear Terra was a full on sociopath who hated the Titans and wanted them dead.
What really threw fans was when it turned out Terra and Deathstroke were sleeping together. Given the woman was still 16, this ranks as a crime (even for a guy guilty of a couple hundred murders) and more than disturbing to see the teenager in silk robes and flirting with a far older man. Transforming a popular character into a twisted monster was one of the Titans’ most shocking moments and a highlight of the title’s acclaimed run while also a lot for readers of the time to take in.
5. Hal Jordan And Arisia
Hal Jordan hasn’t exactly had the best relationship history. His constant girlfriend Carol Ferris turned into the villainess Star Sapphire and he’s had way too many one-night stands to count. But this is pushing it even by his standards. Hal met up with Arisia, a new recruit to the Green Lanterns clearly made out to be a plucky teenager and the two got along well with a brother-sister type bond. But Steve Englehart began playing up Arisia having a crush on Hal and clearly wanting more. To his credit, Hal argued that Arisia was only fourteen but she responded with the whacky answer that in Earth years, she was really 28. But when Arisia suddenly had a growth spurt, they were soon getting together and amazingly accepted by everyone else in the Corps. They were even shown in bed together and readers jarred that the character introduced as a teenager (and even saying she was technically still one) was sleeping with the hero. Eventually, they did break up due to the tensions of their jobs and the entire relationship was swept under the rug. Still, it’s another sign that having a May-December romance going in comics can come off amazingly creepy.
4. Lois Lane And Lana Lang Brainwash Baby Superman
Even for the Silver Age, this was one truly nutty storyline. Throughout the 1950s, a major subplot was how Lois Lane and Lana Lang were constantly vying for the love of Superman, often getting into wild escapades for it. In Lois Lane #57, Lois runs into a toddler in a Superman costume smashing up a garbage can and immediately jumps to the conclusion it’s Superman de-aged by some experiment. She tries to push him to like her and when he refuses, tries to spank him, nearly breaking her hand. Lana soon gets involved as they each think if they can get Superman to like one as a kid, it’ll work when he gets back to normal. Here’s where things get really nuts as each woman uses a special wheel to hypnotize this baby Superman into loving either Lois or Lana.
Eventually, the Superbaby vanishes and when Superman returns, each woman expects him to propose to her. When he doesn’t, he confronts them and it turns out this was never the Superman they knew but one from an alternate universe tossed into theirs by Red Kryptonite. The topper? It turns out bigamy is legal in this alternate Earth so that Superman marries his versions of Lois and Lana together. The fact that Superman is totally okay with the idea of the two women brainwashing a toddler version of himself is just one reason this entire storyline comes off incredibly creepy to read for modern fans.
3. Dr. Light
2004’s Identity Crisis has long divided fans as a cool story is undone by some rather rough strokes. The murder of Sue Dibny is terrible, the shot of the Elongated Man finding his wife’s burned corpse heartbreaking. Eventually, he and some other members of the Justice League go after Dr. Light and flashbacks reveal why they think he’s involved. Years before, Light managed to get onto the JLA’s satellite headquarters where Sue was alone. What follows is quite clear that Light raped Sue and the close-ups of her agonizing face were terrible. This was a character long shown as being bright and chipper, to have her suddenly revealed to have undergone this trauma was totally out of left field.
Perhaps worse was the fallout as it turned out a cabal within the JLA had been using Zatanna’s magic to erase the memories of villains who discovered their identities. With Light, Zatanna tried to “fix” him which ended up turning him into an idiot loser. When Batman found them doing it, they erased his memory as well. So not only was DC now subjecting a beloved character to a murder and sexual assault but turning the heroes into people willing to warp a guy’s mind as payback. The series ushered in a darker era for DC that many disliked and more uncomfortable to read now then it was at the time.
2. Woman In A Fridge
In 1994, DC rocked fans with one of the wildest redos of a character ever. When his home town of Coast City is destroyed, Hal Jordan is driven mad and soon on a quest to “fix” things. This involves wiping out the Green Lantern Corps, taking their power and becoming Parallax. One ring survives and, on pure chance, is given to artist Kyle Rayner who becomes the new Green Lantern. At first, Kyle treats things as a lark with a new costume and trying to be a hero. But forces disagree and send the murderous Major Force after him. They fight with Kyle winning but Force gloats he’s already struck at him. Returning home, Kyle opens up his refrigerator to find the body of his girlfriend Alex inside. While it wasn’t blatant, it was still clear what happened and how Force had to break her body a bit in order to stuff her into the fridge. It was a gruesome moment and fans hated the dismissal of a fun character. Since then, “woman in a fridge” has been the phrase used by comic book fans for the cold killing of a female character in a bad way. The first time was still among the worst to showcase how brutal DC can get.
1. The Killing Joke
It makes sense that topping the list is a story involving the Joker. Even among other DC villains, the Clown Prince of Crime is considered way too twisted to get involved with. But nowhere has his sick focus been on display than in the 1988 Alan Moore-written classic. Breaking out of Arkham Asylum (again), the Joker proceeds to shoot Barbara Gordon in the gut, sending her crashing through a table. He then kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and takes him to a carnival. The Joker proceeds to strip Gordon naked and have him prodded and pushed by a bevy of freaks. He then sends Gordon into a funhouse to look upon photos of his helpless, naked daughter bleeding from the bullet that’s severed her spine. It’s all to push the Joker’s idea that “one bad day” can make anyone as crazy as he is and while Gordon survives it, the experience still haunts him and Batman.
It was always gripping and dark on the page but the 2016 animated movie version just makes it even freakier by having it be in motion. But then the filmmakers did something even crazier by introducing a flashback scene of Batman and Batgirl chasing each other on the rooftops…and then doing it right on the roof. This scene was actually seen as far more freaky to watch than the original storyline and outraged fans. No matter how great it is as a Joker story, this is a Joke most don’t laugh at but rather makes them cringe.