The 6 Most Baffling PSAs Starring Famous Superheroes
In theory, superheroes should be a perfect fit for public service announcements and such, because they represent that rare combination of moral rectitude and saying things kids actually care about. The problem is that the people who write those comics aren't always the most mentally balanced individuals out there, so what should be a simple PSA about safe sex, gender equality or being kind to animals turns into utter madness.
Spider-Man Stops a Diabolical Plot to Get Teens to Have Unprotected Sex
In 1976, Planned Parenthood teamed with Marvel Comics to release a special Spider-Man comic to discourage teenagers from having unprotected sex. You might expect the story to involve your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man swooping in to talk to kids about their private parts (again), but the staff at Marvel decided that wouldn't be awkward enough. Instead, the comic introduced an evil alien called the Prodigy who has the power to make people believe anything he says. Naturally, he uses that power to convince teenage girls that they wouldn't get pregnant from having sex.
We literally cannot think of another use for this power.
But it gets much stupider. The reason why the Prodigy wants teenagers to get it on without protection is to create thousands of babies to take back to his home world of Intellectia for child labor, which will somehow aid them in conquering other planets.
Our puny minds can't comprehend the transcendent genius of a giant baby snatch.
So, let's get this straight -- rather than simply using his persuasive powers to convince able-bodied teenagers to return to his home planet as slaves, the Prodigy planned to wait for at least nine months until the babies were born, then abduct the infants and wait for them to develop the necessary fine motor skills to perform child labor, all the while having to deal with middle of the night feedings and diaper changes. Which, according to Spider-Man, might be the worst part.
It's not like the staffer who wrote this was bitter about where her life went or anything.
Of course, Spider-Man saves the day. The epic battle culminates with Spidey obstructing the Prodigy's vocal cords by shooting webbing fluid down his throat so he can no longer speak his persuasive lies (or, like, breathe). Our hero then stands there making a joke while the villain lies on the floor hilariously choking to death.
Seems like the perfect opportunity to teach kids about oral sex.
The comic ends with a list of tips, including "Masturbation won't make you insane" and "Being attracted to someone who's of the same sex doesn't mean you're homosexual." That's all great (and kind of a relief), but why couldn't they start there? What lesson does the actual comic teach kids beyond "Don't trust people with large foreheads"? Oh, and "Spider-Man would be a terrible father," apparently.
Captain America Beats Up Asthma
As a general rule, good comics don't have the words "compliments of your physician" on the cover. In a giveaway comic to raise awareness of asthma, Captain America faces the Asthma Monster, a villain with an asthma-inducing weapon called an "Aller-Gun" (which cleverly sounds like "allergen," as the comic itself points out).
Captain America also tangled with Irritable Bowel Syndrome Monster and the Late-Stage Syphilis Beast.
As it turns out, the Asthma Monster is just a bitter guy with asthma who, instead of simply getting an inhaler, decided to build a protective suit, invent an asthma gun and "fix it so nobody in the world could breathe." While Captain America foils the villain's plan with the aid of two asthmatic children, the comic sends a pretty crappy message that all it took to become a supervillain was having asthma.
"... you could have just grabbed him, but, you know, that's good, too."
To defeat this foe, Captain America has no problem with endangering the lives of the two asthmatic children. Unsurprisingly, the kids suffer an asthma attack while riding on Captain America's motorcycle, but we learn that they can get through it without the aid of inhalers just by relaxing, as Cap instructs them to do.
"My technique is called 'Not stopping the bike while two children choke to death'."
It turns out that Captain America had asthma as a kid, too, but he beat it by learning to calm himself in times of stress. Yeah, we're sure it had nothing to do with those magical steroids that turned him into an Aryan superman.
The Asthma Monster was so awesome that a few years later, a follow-up comic was released in which he returned with a whole gang of allergy-themed villains, including Furball, a monster made out of your pet's fur:
And probably a whole lot of shed pubic hair.
Rugburn, the cigar-smoking, rollerskating representation of dirty carpets:
This is what you get for putting out blunts on the rug.
And Dust Dragon, a creature that hides in dirty ventilation systems:
Geez, Cap. Kind of a step down from punching Nazis, isn't it?
... none of whom ever appeared in a comic again, sadly. Here's hoping for an appearance in the Avengers sequel.
Ultimately, the Asthma Monster reforms, and despite having literally tried to smother everyone on the planet, he's allowed to serve time for his crimes by performing community service, including coaching a children's swim team (seriously).
"Wait, he doesn't have asthma anymore? Get this man out of jail!"
Batgirl Is Willing to Let Batman Die for Pay Equality
No matter how dark and brooding Christopher Nolan tries to make him, it's always going to be a little hard to take Batman seriously as long as evidence still exists that the campy Adam West TV show happened. Batman's comical adventures were so popular back in the day that in 1973, five years after the show ended, the U.S. Department of Labor decided to recreate it for a tongue-in-cheek public service announcement.
The U.S. Department of Labor, a name that is synonymous with humor and adventure.
The commercial, intended to promote equal pay for women, reunited Burt Ward as Robin and Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, albeit with a stand-in for Adam West as Batman (because of course Adam West had gone on to an award-winning film career in many other timeless roles). How exactly does a Batman ad promote equality, you ask? By having Batgirl refuse to rescue him and Robin from a ticking time bomb unless Batman agrees to give her a raise, of course, thus single-handedly setting back the feminist movement 40 years:
With the Dynamic Duo about to be blown up by the bomb, Batgirl decides that this is as good a time as any to complain that she's "paid less than Robin." Isn't Robin supposed to be a minor, though? Aren't there slightly more urgent laws that Batman is breaking by having him risk his life for a paycheck? So, we guess the Department of Labor's message here is "Gender discrimination sucks, but reckless child labor is groovy."
"He pays me mostly in smooching, though."
Eventually the timer on the bomb starts to ring, and Batgirl pauses before deciding whether to disarm it, with a cliffhanger ending that leaves us unsure if they all died or not. While the ad was meant to give a voice to women's rights, Batgirl comes across as a sociopath who's willing to commit murder (and suicide) for money. On top of that, Batman, despite being a multimillionaire, would sooner go to his grave than just throw Batgirl a few extra vacation days or stock benefits.
Then again, if he does give in to Batgirl, next thing you know he'll have Alfred refusing to clean all the bat guano in the Batcave unless he gets a raise, too, so we sort of see where he's coming from here.
"Do you have any idea how expensive fake rocks and Bat-Shark-Repellent are?"
Supergirl Finds Out Children's Characters Are Horrible Drivers
In cooperation with the U.S. Department of Transportation, a Supergirl comic released in 1986 encouraged children to buckle up. After all, who better than Superman's invulnerable cousin who could easily walk away from a car crash to demonstrate the need for wearing seat belts? And why let a little thing like Supergirl having been killed off the year before stop her from returning to teach a valuable lesson?
"Look how well that worked out for me!"
To show the harsh consequences of what could happen if you don't wear your seat belt, the creators of the comic chose the most down-to-earth and relatable plotline they could envision: Supergirl and some children are transported to a world inhabited by characters from nursery rhymes and fairy tales, all of whom are terrible drivers (and just terrible people, in general). For example, Humpty Dumpty is a taxi driver whose eggshell skull gets cracked in a fender bender because he refused to use a seat belt. We guess that's one way to teach kids about deadly cranial fractures.
He still fared a lot better in this story than in the nursery rhyme, though.
Supergirl also has a run-in with the Three Little Pigs, inexplicably dressed like '70s cokeheads, who are launched out of their convertible because they also don't believe in wearing their seat belts. Even more inexplicably, Supergirl doesn't let them die.
Yes, that's a self-tanning mirror there. It's that kind of comic.
Meanwhile, the Big Bad Wolf has a serious case of road rage, and tries to run the Little Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe (but now drives a Honda Accord) off the road. Judging by how wound up the guy seems, he might be on coke as well.
In fact, we'll assume that everyone here is, including whoever wrote this comic.
Eventually the comic runs out of classic children's stories to ruin, and Supergirl and the children reach their destination, a creepy demolition derby where you get to watch living crash-test dummies be sent through the windshield.
Don't worry, those kids are never going into a car again after this.
So what have we learned? For starters, don't do drugs, or you might make a comic book like this. But more importantly, your treasured childhood characters live in a nightmarish Mad Max-like world where you take your life in your hands just getting into a car. In fact, the cover only supports our theory that everyone here is tripping balls:
"Oh man! I'm FREAKING OUT!"
Captain Planet Wants You to Stop Reproducing
If you grew up in the '90s, you probably remember Captain Planet, that environmentally focused superhero of indefinite powers whose only weakness was the very thing he fought against, namely pollution. Perhaps to take a break from being rendered useless by cigarette butts every week, an episode titled "Population Bomb" focused on the topic of overpopulation. Also radioactive militaristic rat people.
This being the '90s, the episode was probably a backdoor pilot for a series of that name.
The cartoon opens with Captain Planet saving the day when part of a skyscraper inexplicably collapses. Captain Planet explains that the cause of the near disaster was the city's population growing too fast. Not terrorism or just plain shitty construction -- somehow having lots of people around causes buildings to spontaneously crumble.
"This is all your fault, really, so I should just let this crush you."
The Planeteers decide that "Everyone should have fewer children," and praise countries that restrict births ... with the exception of Wheeler (the jackass American), who protests that "No one is gonna tell me how many kids I can have." To make sure that the character learns he's a selfish prick, though, he is later transported to a dystopian society ravaged by overpopulation. Except this society isn't in the future, because that would be too unrealistic: It's on an uncharted island ruled by talking rats.
We learn that the rats became intelligent (and bipedal) after a nuclear test happened near their island, so they began building their own modern cities and such, but then they started running out of food as their numbers grew and fell into a fascist dictatorship. Ultimately, the mouse society is wiped out and Wheeler learns a valuable lesson: "When it is your turn to have a family, keep it small."
"In the meantime, tell Mommy and Daddy to keep it in their pants!"
But, um, doesn't the whole intelligent rats business contradict the entire message of the show? Overpopulation killed them, but nuclear radiation made them smart in the first place -- does that mean dropping bombs on islands is a good thing?
Also, the name of the episode comes from a 1968 book called The Population Bomb, in which author Paul Ehrlich suggested adding chemicals to the public water supply to sterilize the population to curb population growth. If they'd just used that guy as the supervillain, it would have been a much better episode.
If You Hurt Animals, the X-Men Will Mess You Up
What do you get when you combine the X-Men and Doris Day? Possibly the most deranged and ineffective animal rights PSA ever made.
In 2004, the Doris Day Animal League (which in this context sounds like an awesome superhero team, but it's actually a nonprofit animal advocacy group) joined forces with major comics publishers for a program called Comics for Compassion. As part of this program, special animal-themed issues of certain comics were produced, including a story where the X-Men tackle the problem of animal abuse the same way they'd deal with a Sentinel attack: by using their mutant powers to terrorize a bunch of kids.
The story introduces a new mutant named Squid-Boy, who has the ability to breathe underwater and, well, vaguely resemble a squid.
All the cool fish-related powers were already taken by Aquaman.
After Squid-Boy discovers some mutilated fish by his favorite swimming spot, he goes to Jean Grey, the X-Men's resident telepath, and asks her to use her powers to locate whoever killed the fish, but Jean refuses to use her powers on anyone without their permission. Soon they discover a dog that was brutally tortured, and Jean attempts to read the dog's brain to learn what happened, but proceeds to completely lose her shit.
We're not sure if Jean's dialogue is supposed to be horrifying or arousing.
Once Jean learns that the dog was murdered by some boys who also killed the fish, the rational superhero response would have been to visit those kids and teach them that hurting animals is wrong: they are teenagers, they'll listen to anything a man who can shoot lasers from his eyes and a redhead in tight leather will tell them. But this is the X-Men, not the Super Friends, so instead, Wolverine pays the boys a visit in their treehouse and threatens to cut them with his adamantium claws.
Before Wolverine can murder anyone, however, Jean Grey shows up and uses her telepathic powers to torture the boys by making them experience all the pain they had inflicted on the animals, including what it feels like to have their arms cut off.
Wait, who are the good guys in this comic again?
So, remember when Jean lectured Squid-Boy about how unethical it would be to use her telepathic powers on anyone without their permission? Apparently psychic torture doesn't count as that. But hey, at least it served the purpose of teaching the boys a valuable lesson, right? Not really: At the end of the comic, one of the boys tosses a cat tied to a brick through a window of the X-Men's home, for which he gets sent to prison. So remember, kids, if you even think about hurting animals, the X-Men will destroy your life.
Adam would like to dedicate this article to his favorite superheroes, Jill and Gregory.
For more superhero insanity, check out 6 Superheroes Who Completely Lost Their Shit and 6 Psychotic Punishments Doled Out by Famous Superheroes.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Most Baffling PSA Ever: Vote Like ... Spider-Man?