Just like sitcoms had "very special" episodes that tried to build awareness of serious real-world issues (like the one where Punky Brewster decides to get breast implants -- no, seriously), comics have occasionally wandered into "after school" territory. And who better to handle serious and complex political issues than comic book superheroes?
Captain America seems like a perfect "Don't do drugs" spokesman until you remember that it was getting shot up with a "super soldier serum" that let him gain muscles the size of basketballs and become a superhero. So that makes him pretty much the Barry Bonds of superheroes and the second-worst person to star in a PSA comic about substance abuse after Pablo Escobar.
The "Captain America Goes to War Against Drugs" story is so epic it spans two comics, and it's so offensively stupid that the DEA might as well have tattooed DRUGS on their knuckles and punched all the kids who read this comic in the face instead. In the story, Captain America teams up with The New Warriors, a team of superheroes that includes a guy named after a mix of heroin and cocaine.
"Hi! Have you met my sister, Black Tar?"
They're taking on a team of supervillains who are sort of based on drugs: Weed, who has the power to shoot smoke; Crack, who punches things and makes Whitney Houston look like shit; Ms. Fix, who shoots needles; and Ice, who in a surprising twist ... shoots ice.
Wait ... shouldn't Speedball be a member of these guys?
These guys used to be common drug addicts but were taken by aliens and given powers, with the downside being that if they stop consuming the alien drugs, they will die. Speaking of dying, that pretty much killed any hope this comic had of making any good points against illegal drugs, because they don't work that way.
Unless your doctor has you on regular doses of crystal meth.
It's one thing to be a PSA comic that fails to get any kind of point across, and another to actually have everything you say be completely wrong. This brings us to the scene where Ms. Fix tells one of the heroes that the aliens can fix her legs, but the catch is that she will have to take painkillers.
OK, hold on a second here! Is this comic implying that it would be bad to go through major surgery if it means taking potentially addictive drugs, like painkillers? Because painkillers are something you have to take after almost any surgery. This is like a PSA on highway safety that just flat-out tells people to never get inside a car.
The hero accepts the offer, but it is only a ruse to smuggle her team and Captain America into the aliens' spaceship. And then the shit goes down, the aliens get defeated, the ship explodes and Cap and the New Warriors escape while the poor villains die in flames while trying to find the substance that keeps them alive.
Well, except try to rescue those poor drug addicts who got turned into monsters
and were forced to attack us to remain alive ... but fuck them junkies.
By the way, if you're wondering where the police are during this scenario, the first issue makes sure to introduce us to a pair of cops who apparently have no idea what cops do for a living.
"Man, I wouldn't want to be the poor assholes who have to stop that fight.
Let's go to the docks and get our cut from the hookers."
The War on Drugs, ladies and gentlemen!
Back in the 70s, women had come around to the idea that maybe walking around the kitchen barefoot was not all they could do with their lives. Feminism was in full swing, and since it was a difficult and emotional subject, DC presumably didn't want to attach its most famous heroes to it. Instead, it put the hypothetical sons Superman and Batman on the job (as part of the "Super-Sons" series). The result is a bizarre comic that hates women so much that it was last seen getting its face blurred out on COPS.
The story starts when Superman Jr. and Batman Jr. visit a town where women rule and men are scorned and subjected to random imprisonment.
Wait, what point is this making about feminism again? If you ignore the cover, you might think the writer is not against feminism per se but is just setting up some violent fringe faction as the villain. You want to believe the writers had good intentions. But in the next scene, a woman is fixing a roof when suddenly ...
That's right, comic book reader: When women try to do men's jobs, their frail female bodies wind up dead and broken.
Clearly it's up to the DC superheroes to find out what evil is making women climb up to dangerous roofs instead of making sandwiches for men. It turns out to be an evil, giant, ugly alien who wants all females in the universe to be as ugly and lonely as she is.
At this point we are convinced the writer made up this story only because of a gypsy curse that would make his penis explode if women touched it. In the end, Superman and Batman Jr. kill feminism, defeat the alien and stop her evil plan of making women ugly. Oh, and by the way, the protection against the alien's evil uglyfying space rays is to be near men.
Feminism is death. Now come and get your sexual harassment.
Writing Superman shouldn't be very hard. He flies, punches asteroids out of orbit and shoots lasers out of his eyes; we're sure most anyone can come up with something fun to do with that. The problem is that a lot of Superman writers, instead of dealing with issues such as "how many times Superman has to punch a black hole so it stops stirring shit up" prefer to deal with "Do we really need a Superman?" and "Gee whiz, what is Superman's place in the world?" These questions become completely unnecessary the next time a robot army from the future shows up in Metropolis (by the way, the answers are "yes" and "at fist's length from the bad guy's face.")
The story titled "Grounded" has been the latest snorefest in the life of Superman, where, after a crisis of faith, Supes decides to stop flying and instead walks aimlessly around the U.S. to find his true self. So it's kind of like Eat, Pray, Love, but without the good food or random sex with foreigners.
So, what kind of adventures has Superman stumbled into during his walkabout? Well, he meets with the either the ballsiest or most brain-damaged crack dealers in the world.
Look, we don't care how much crack you have on the brain -- you do not taunt people who can grab your head and compress it like a Pepsi can. But Superman doesn't do that; instead, he uses his heat vision to burn all the crack stashes and the houses where they stand. That, while probably fun in a pyromaniac way, was probably less useful than flying at superspeed to the nearest police precinct and telling them there's a bunch of shitheads openly selling crack in the streets who keep their stashes inside their own houses.
So he's kind of a dick, but that's OK, because later Superman sends a kid to deliver a message to the crack dealers.
Yes, Superman sent a 10-year-old kid to talk to a bunch of crackheads, trusting that they wouldn't mess with a little kid if he is under Superman's protection, right after we just saw that they were too stupid to not mess with Superman when he was right in front of them. The thing that will come out of this is that science will finally be able to answer how many switchblades can fit into a child's torso.
Now, what Superman did was basically pointless, since the crackheads will just get more crack and set up shop in another place. Even the little kid knows how stupid the whole thing is, and he is not smart enough to know he has been sent into a suicide mission. Here is Superman's reply:
For those of you keeping score at home, crime is OK as long as it happens to someone else. The phrasing of Superman's reply is so tortured that it looks like it was just rescued by Rambo from a Vietnamese POW camp. All Superman did was relocate the crackheads and then declare them somebody else's problem. For real, Superman? Especially since we can't think of a good reason why he couldn't stop his self-discovery jogging for a second to have them arrested and make them nobody else's problem.
Alpha Flight is the Canadian equivalent of The Avengers in the Marvel Universe, and for years, the writers tried to turn one of the members, Northstar, into Marvel's first openly gay superhero. One writer even started but eventually scrapped a story where Northstar contracts a mysterious disease that was later going to be revealed as AIDS, which he got from wanton gay sex, and the story was going to end with Northstar's death because "He's gay, so of course he is going to die of AIDS at some point." But in 1994, they couldn't resist getting Northstar involved in an AIDS storyline. Because, you know, he's gay.
It starts with Northstar finding a newborn baby in a trash bin and taking her to a nearby hospital. The doctors discover the baby is HIV positive, and the Alpha Flight team adopts her as an honorary member. Despite an attack from a supervillain in the same issue, it was still a slow enough news day in Canada that they make a media circus out of the poor baby. And that's when things get stupid.
At this point Alpha Flight #106 proudly introduces us to Major Mapleleaf, a retired Canadian superhero who fought in World War II alongside Captain America. Yes, freaking Major Mapleleaf. Surely with a name like that, he won't be a ridiculous Frankenstein monster of Canadian cliches, right?
He is so Canadian he shits bacon. POLITE BACON!
We find out the good Major had a son who was gay and (of course) died of AIDS. Now he is angry because all Canada feels bad about the little baby girl and nobody made a media circus for his son. So what does he plan to do about it? Nothing less than storm the hospital and kill that baby girl with his super fists. Great idea, Major; nobody will feel sorry about a baby with AIDS after she's crushed to death by a passing sociopath.
Northstar of course disagrees with the Major's well-crafted baby-murdering stratagem and sets out to do what Canada pays him to do, which is punch the shit out of people. The Major explains to him that nobody can understand the pain his son went through, but Northstar understands because ... *GASP!* He is gay!
THEREFORE AIDS IS ALL I KNOW.
After a couple of hugs, the Major calms down, so he and Northstar return to the hospital where they learn that the Canadian Death Panel has decreed that the baby is the next to die. Damn you, death panel, damn you!
What the hell is wrong with that guy's legs?
And yes, now the Major and Alpha Flight are pals because everyone just forgot that the crazy old coot knocked down a hospital wall with the specific purpose of storming in and punching a baby girl to death.
After this story, Northstar's homosexuality was almost never mentioned, and he didn't have any love interests like his fellow teammates did. For all practical purposes, he was back in his Maplewood closet. It wasn't until the early 21st century that Marvel allowed writers to write him as a gay man again.
This is an immigration story starring Superman, an immigrant character himself created by two guys -- who in turn are sons of immigrants -- who wanted to create a character to teach Americans that immigrants are really swell and helpful. However, Superman has technically been living illegally in America under a fake ID for years; he's not exactly in a position to lecture others on the crime of illegal immigration without coming off as -- what's the word? -- oh, right, a major hypocrite.
In his defense, the background check would be a bitch.
In this issue, Superman runs into a group of illegal aliens (outer space ones, not Mexicans) who escaped from their home planet because it has been conquered by some evil space empire that turned their home into a dystopian horror. In a normal Superman story, Supes would gather his superhero pals, fly to that planet and beat the shit out of some space Stalins. As you may have already guessed, this is not a normal story. Superman is not cool with these new visitors showing up and taking from hard-working Americans.
Say what? So immigrants running for their lives have to pull out Excel and calculate the net present value of their existence for you to let them in? Because we don't remember baby Superman having to do any of that shit when his rocket landed in Kansas.
With laserlike focus on the merits of his argument, Superman then basically just states that illegal immigration is at least implied to be OK in some situations; it would just be better if you picked a more convenient time for him.
"Oh, I am sorry, SuperWhine; did my family pick a wrong time in your life to try to survive? That's OK, we'll just go back to our planet and jump back into the acid mines until you feel better about my family not living in a hellhole. How about next week?"
Oh, and Superman is apparently supreme judge of the Court of Superman in this issue. Why not let the country they landed in decide what to do?
If it makes you feel better, Superman lets the aliens stay in the end, but only after they use their technology to save the life of an old guy and then their money to buy a plant and hire a bunch of local people. So yes, this Superman is not against illegal immigration as long as you bribe your way in.
Here we have the oldest item on the list: It's a Mickey Mouse comic strip from 1931. Yeah, you know this is going to a dark place.
It starts with Mickey visiting his neighbor Kat Nipp, who, from the sight of his yard sign, is so tough he never learned to spell and just punches the dictionary until it agrees with him. Is that a barrel used as a chimney? Shit, forget what we said. Wanna use a barrel as a chimney? Sure, whatever you say, Nipp. Wanna boil water at 30 degrees? Go for it, just don't kill me, man! But as it turns out, that's not Mr. Nipp -- that's just some random walking horrible homosexual stereotype.
Now it's time to show 1930s kids how tolerance works, Mickey!
Yes, "cream-puff inhaler."
Mickey, you little scamp; you never learn. What, you want more? Nope, that was the whole joke: Mickey meets gay cat thing and then beats it up for being gay. That was considered an enlightened message in 1931 -- before then, Mickey would have straight-up stabbed him.
For more characters creators wish they could take back, check out The 5 Most Unintentionally Offensive Comic Book Characters and The 9 Most Racist Disney Characters.
And stop by Linkstorm to see Cody Johnston in his Superman costume.
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Some things that appear fun and wacky have dark secrets at their core.
It's time for these fictional characters to have some accountability.