5 Weirdly Specific Trends From When Comic Books Were Insane
Writing superhero comics must seem like the easiest job in the world: You take some wish fulfillment, mix it with a dash of modern mythology, and just naturally end up with a story about a guy in a colorful spray-on bodysuit who saves the world. But you try cranking one of these out every month for, say, 75 straight years.
That shit isn't easy, and so over the decades comics have gone through all sorts of fads and phases in an effort to change with the times. And sometimes, shit got weird.
At One Time, Every Comic Had to Have an Ape
Fun fact: According to comics, in the course of Superman's life, he has A) been attacked by a gorilla multiple times, B) seen his best friend transformed into a gorilla twice, and C) been transformed into a gorilla himself.
If that seems a little odd, it's because in the 1950s and '60s DC Comics found that monkeys and/or apes would instantly boost a book's sales. Thus began DC Comics' obsession with inserting a primate into every comic, at all costs. It turns out it's actually not easy -- for example, one of the earliest was Detective Chimp, an intelligent, trained chimpanzee sleuth who helped the local sheriff solve crimes:
He was later rebooted as a miserable bastard with an unhealthy appetite for cigarettes and hard liquor. Seriously.
In reality, this would actually make life super easy for the suspect's defense attorney, but we digress. Riding high on Detective Chimp's success, the company then rolled out Angel and the Ape, a comedic story about a talking gorilla who was -- wait for it -- a private detective (which is completely different, you guys). DC also revised some of their old pulp heroes to better fit their new "all apes" vision, taking their jungle-trekking adventurer Congo Bill and making him a superhero that could take mental control of a giant golden ape named Congorilla.
"Yes! I could NEVER have done this as a human being!"
And as we mentioned, somehow Superman's friend Jimmy Olsen wound up in the body of a gorilla on two separate occasions:
"Superman, do you honestly not remember the last time this happened?"
Presumably there was then a late-night session with the creative team, who decided that it was time to really take a risk and start adding ape villains to their stories. Thus we wound up with the Flash's enemy Gorilla Grodd, a superintelligent gorilla that can also use telepathy (because of course he can), and the Ultra-Humanite, a mad scientist villain whose brain is placed in the body of a giant albino ape. But perhaps the most ludicrous DC Comics gorilla baddy was Titano, an ape sent into space and bombarded with cosmic radiation, which increased his size and bestowed upon him the superpowers of convenience, like his sudden ability to shoot Kryptonite beams out of his eyes:
"Knock it off, Jimmy!"
Nowadays, DC Comics has largely kicked their strange ape habit, but they do have the occasional callback to the company's gorilla-obsessed past. In 1999, the whole thing culminated in the furry insanity that was JLApe: Gorilla Warfare! a story where the entire Justice League was turned into gorillas.
Green Lantern is about to get bombarded with thrown turds.
Say anything you want about Marvel, but at least they never pulled any of this shi-
Wacky Animal Sidekicks Galore
With comic book fans inexplicably shelling out cash hand over fist for any comic with apes on the cover, the next logical step was to try out other animals to drive up sales. We've talked about Supergirl's creepy superpowered horse before, but the Superman universe actually had a whole host of animal sidekicks, including Krypto the Superdog, Beppo the Super-Monkey, and Streaky the Supercat.
"Why does the monkey get pants?"
That's right -- the animals formed their own Legion of Super-Pets, which was maybe the most embarrassing thing to ever happen to comic books. The legion continued to show up semi-regularly until the 1970s, once even turning on their owners, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes of the 30th Century, in a comic full of animal-on-human violence worthy of America's Funniest Home Videos.
Please notice Streaky the Supercat doing his best to help out the team.
Decades later, Marvel Comics tried to create their own team of superpowered pets, led by Lockjaw, a sort of future-seeing bulldog thing and founder of the Pet Avengers, which also included a dragon. It's no surprise then that over the course of four issues, the Pet Avengers managed to outdo the entire regular Avengers by collecting all the Infinity Gems and kicking the shit out of Thanos.
Suddenly, Hawkeye isn't the dumbest thing to ever be associated with the Avengers.
By the way, the frog in that picture dressed as Thor is from an older Thor story where Loki transforms his brother into a frog in Central Park. Frog Thor then comes across another guy-turned-into-a-frog, put into this predicament by a fortuneteller he owed money to. By the end of the story, the man-frog, Simon Walterson, finds a small piece of Thor's magical hammer, creating his own mini-Mjolnir (henceforth known as Frogjolnir) and being bestowed a fraction of the power of the god of thunder as the mighty Throg.
Marvel and DC Go Japanese
By the late 1990s and early 2000s, anime like Sailor Moon, Gundam, and Dragon Ball Z had begun to be widely embraced by American audiences, which Marvel apparently took as a personal insult. And thus, the Marvel Mangaverse was launched in 2000, featuring the complete reimagining of Marvel's major characters in a manga art style that finally gave fans the chance to masturbate to Captain America:
As though they weren't masturbating to him anyway.
In this universe, Spider-Man is the last ninja of the Spider-Clan and swears an oath to avenge his fallen sensei, Uncle Ben, while still going through all the problems of being a high school-age superhero. On the X-Men front, the manga Wolverine and Cyclops are now brothers who get into a brawl over Jean Grey. Like all trivial sibling fights, Wolverine ends up poking out one of Cyclops' eyes, while Cyclops blasts off one of Wolverine's hands, forcing him to replace it with a Terminator-like prosthetic equipped with laser claws.
Now try to picture how his claws poked out just one of Cyclops' eyes.
Iron Man is now Tony Stark's sister, Antoinette, more commonly known as Toni (which must make family gatherings confusing). Another big change in the Mangaverse is the Punisher, a young woman who loses her parents to a tragic pogo stick accident and fights crime with the powers of BDSM by whipping, tickling, and spanking Korean mafia members. It's at this point that we must point out that absolutely none of the above is a joke.
And because every good Japanese-influenced story needs a Godzilla analogue, the Mangaverse Bruce Banner is a scientist working for Stark Industries who ends up summoning a bunch of gods from another dimension, including a kaiju-size Incredible Hulk.
If you're not fantasizing about an Iron Man vs. Kaiju Hulk story right now, what are you doing with your life?
Several years after the Marvel Mangaverse ended, DC Comics tried their hand at anime-influenced comics with their Ame-Comi Girls line that took popular characters from the DC Universe and made them a team of Sailor Moon ripoffs. Ame-Comi Girls didn't exactly light up the sales charts, though, and was cancelled within a year, ending the American comic book's fixation on anime and manga when superheroine costumes became even more ridiculous than they already were.
"Isn't Supergirl a teenager?"
"Yes. Yesssss she is ..."
Marvel Attempts to Branch Out into Music
Take a moment to appreciate the fact that there was a comic about one-hit wonder and shitty dad Billy Ray Cyrus taking on Cherokee ghosts and time traveling with Merlin to the Dark Ages to slay a dragon:
So is it like a rule of music comics that everyone in them must sport ridiculous hair?
In 1994, Marvel turned their attention to popular music with the launch of their Marvel Music imprint, intended to turn musicians into comic heroes. Sounds good! So what '90s rockers turned up to have superpowered adventures? Why, that would be artists like Bob Marley (who had been dead for over a decade at that point) and the over-the-hill Rolling Stones. The Marvel Music line even tried to include actual music with their books by publishing a comic titled Break the Chain featuring rapper KRS-One. The comic came complete with an audio cassette to accompany the story with KRS-One's hip-hop stylings and a hefty (for a single, new comic) price tag of $7.
EVERYONE STOP SCREAMING.
Marvel then tried to expand their hip-hop appeal by featuring the blink-and-you-miss-them 1990s rap group Onyx. Although published in 1995, the comic takes place in 1999, where New York City has since been reduced to an Escape from New York-level wasteland and Onyx still performs sold-out shows despite everything being in short supply:
It ends with them all dying and going to hell.
Comics Went Clone Crazy in the '90s
Clones are a fairly common science fiction trope -- Judge Dredd is a clone, and so is famed badass Boba Fett. Even Captain Picard had his own genetic spare made in Star Trek: Nemesis. But in the 1990s, comic books went fucking cuckoo for clones, which quickly became a go-to plot device by writers that seemed to come up once an issue. Lex Luthor gets cancer because he constantly wears a radioactive Kryptonite ring? Just have him place his mind in a young clone of himself posing as his own illegitimate son.
And give him a silly hairdo, because it's the '90s.
The Flash's sidekick, Impulse, had a clone that became his archenemy taking up the name Inertia. And while Superman was dead or in a death-like coma or whatever, there was not one but two clones of him running around Metropolis to pick up the slack. One of them was the creatively named Cyborg Superman, who was a clone of the Man of Steel with cybernetic parts and the mind of mad scientist Hank Henshaw; the other was Superboy, a human/Kryptonian hybrid created from Superman's and Luthor's DNA. Yes, Lex Luthor and Superman have a canonical baby together in the comics.
Who dressed like a tool.
Meanwhile, in the Marvel universe, X-Men villain Magneto and Cyclops' son from the future, Cable, both had their own clones running around in the 1990s. However, the most infamous use of Marvel clones goes to Spider-Man's Clone Saga, a storyline that is fondly remembered and reviled simultaneously by the same audience, making it the drunken virginity loss of comics. The Clone Saga was an attempt to shake up Spider-Man comics and possibly even replace Peter Parker with his clone Ben Reilly, under the pretense that Peter Parker was actually the clone and Ben Reilly was the real Spider-Man, because fuck 30 years of comic book history, right?
The runaway sales success of the story led Marvel to extend its run from the originally planned six months to over two fucking years and a whole boatload of Spider-Man clones that were introduced throughout the storyline in all shapes and sizes. A clone of Peter Parker's deceased girlfriend Gwen Stacy also surfaced to forestall the story even further.
Only one of the characters on this page is not a clone, but even Marvel wasn't really sure which one it was.
By the end of the story, the nearly half-dozen Spider-Man clones are dead or on the run, and Peter Parker is revealed to actually have been the true Spider-Man all along. Or was he?
Sam Stone is a pop culture Encyclopedia Brown who lives and works in the Washington, D.C., area. Follow him on Twitter or on his blog.
Related Reading: Comic books can actually invent some pretty cool things when they aren't busy being insane. Donald Duck invented Minecraft. If you prefer your cartoons to be truly loony, check out these Indian comics, including one with a murder-happy Superman. We've also collected the most blatant attempts to brainwash kids with comics.