4 Comic Book Fan Theories Way Cooler Than the Comic Book
One of the coolest comic book stories I've ever read is when they changed the Flash's eye color from blue to green from one issue to the next, and then like 70 issues later they brought back the blue-eyed Flash to reclaim his life from the impostor. I thought it was just mind-blowing that they'd wait six years to pull off a plot like that, and I couldn't wait to see what happened next. The answer was: nothing. Nothing happened, because this wasn't a real plot. It was just a theory some guy with too much time on his hands posted on a message board, and the eye-color changes were just printing errors or whatever.
However, sometimes guys with too much time on their hands come up with crazy comic book theories that should be true, and everything fits in so well that it's hard to believe it's not intentional. Like ...
Alan Moore Had Batman Kill the Joker and No One Noticed
Batman: The Killing Joke is the second most influential Joker story ever told (the first one being the epic saga of his boner). Written by Alan Moore with art by Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke has inspired both film incarnations of the Joker and remains universally praised by anyone who isn't a hairy old grouch who worships snakes and hates his old comics. And yet there's one part of this undisputed classic that doesn't sit right with a lot of readers: At the end of the comic, after the Joker has shot Batgirl through the spine and tortured Commissioner Gordon, he and Batman just stand there laughing for a while like the best of buds.
"Oh, that Marmaduke."
Many fans believe it's out of character for Batman to share a light moment with his nemesis after he inflicted so much suffering -- shit, some even say Bats should have just killed the Joker right there. Well, according to a very convincing theory that did the rounds in 2013, that's exactly what Batman did, right under our noses. Seriously, look at this panel again:
Is Batman leaning on the Joker as he convulses with laughter ... or is he reaching over to snap his neck? According to comics superstar Grant Morrison (who wrote Batman for seven years and knows his shit), it's clearly the latter. Morrison explained as much on Kevin Smith's podcast Fatman on Batman, as Smith had a series of orgasms over this mind-blowing revelation:
As Morrison points out, immediately after the "choking" panel, the laughter comes to an abrupt stop and the comic ends, presumably along with the Joker's pulse. What's even more significant is that this reading makes total sense with the themes of the story: The Killing Joke is all about Batman recognizing that he is trapped in an endless, self-destructive cycle with the Joker and doing something to stop it. At first he approaches the Joker and tries to reason with him, but this has the same effect as trying to reason with a freshly painted wall.
Right down to the stained gloves.
By the end of the comic, the Joker himself tells Batman it's too late to stop the cycle and proves he's beyond redemption by seriously hurting Batman's friends ... so Batman breaks his fucking neck. It all fits. Alan Moore wrote the last Joker story (and the last Batman one, by extension, since he's a killer now), and no one noticed for 25 years. Even though the biggest clue was always right there in the title: The Killing Joke. Perfect.
Why It's Not True:
Only a day after this theory went viral, Rich Johnston of BleedingCool.com had the bright idea to check the comic's script to see what it said on the "choking" panel:
"AND THEN- oh bollocks my caps were on."
Wait, shit, Batman is convulsing with laughter. There's no mention of Batman killing the Joker anywhere in the script, and Moore is the type of writer who describes the ripples on the puddles on the ground, so that's not the kind of detail he would have left out. Well, it was fun while it lasted.
Watchmen Has a Secret Plot Twist Hidden in Plain Sight
The best thing about Watchmen is that you notice something new every time you read it. I've had this comic for half my life, and I'm still finding new things.
It took me 15 readings to spot the phallic symbolism in Panel 2 (the pen, I mean).
The level of detail in Watchmen is frightening. For instance, there's a panel in Issue 5 that shows you a first-person view of Rorschach rummaging through a trash can, and since it's seen from his perspective, obviously you don't see his face (which hasn't been revealed yet). Meanwhile, a separate but concurrent panel shows you a news vendor saying "I bet there's all kinda stuff we never notice" ... and in the background, there's Rorschach's still-secret identity (a crazy guy who goes around with a "THE END IS NIGH" sign), going through the trash. It sounds obvious, but it takes most people at least a couple of readings to notice that.
Also "shadowy forms" = Rorschach's face, clearly.
So, when superfan James Gifford wrote a long essay about how a panel of some people eating in a restaurant secretly solves one of Watchmen's biggest mysteries, that seemed completely plausible (especially to the legion of Internet commenters who revealed they'd always known that, thus proving their superior intellect). The big mystery is the fate of Hooded Justice, an enigmatic vigilante who debuted on October 13, 1938, and disappeared sometime in the '50s. In the comic's text pages, it's suggested that he was a circus strongman named Rolf Muller and that he didn't so much disappear as get killed, but none of that is confirmed.
Apparently his neck noose got caught in a revolving door.
H.J. is also hinted to have had a gay affair with fellow crime fighter Captain Metropolis, who apparently went on to get decapitated in a car crash in the '70s. However, as Gifford's essay explains, a panel in Issue 1 shows what looks a lot like an older Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis sitting together in a restaurant, both with their heads still on and holding hands:
Check out the inverted Robin masks on their necks. NOTHING IS A COINCIDENCE.
The date? October 13, 1985. The anniversary of Hooded Justice's debut. The man on the left has pretty much the same mustache as Rolf Muller, and the one on the right could easily be Captain Metropolis with some extra pounds:
The wings on his chest are fatter, too.
By the way, the characters talking in the background are two retired superheroes who will hook up as the story progresses. The parallel has to be intentional, right? It seems pretty clear by now that Metropolis faked his death to be with his secret lover. After all, this is a comic with a naked blue god in it -- everything is possible!
Why It's Not True:
Except this, because it's been debunked. The theory had been doing the rounds for 10 years when Rich Johnston of ComicBookResources.com (he gets around) emailed Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons to ask him about it. Gibbons' answer? The idea is "interesting and plausible," but not what they intended. Apparently they just put that old couple in the foreground to show that homosexuality is socially acceptable in this far-out alternate reality.
You messed up, Gibbons. You should have just said "Oh yeah, that's totally it."
Galactus of the Fantastic Four Is God
The Galactus Trilogy, the 1966 story where the Fantastic Four first meet their planet-eating nemesis, is one of the greatest comics ever made, and I won't even flinch as I put it on the same list as Watchmen and The Killing Joke. It's the perfect balance between cosmic insanity and down-to-earth normality -- Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl are dealing with a giant purple man from space who wants to eat them (and everything else), and they still stop to squabble like a pair of, well, real human beings. It's amazing.
And just a wincy bit sexist.
What might be even more amazing is the insane story of how this classic of the comic book medium supposedly came to be. The Fantastic Four were created by Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, but it's well-known that Lee's scripts -- which were pretty short to begin with -- got shorter and shorter with time until he ended up giving one-sentence synopses to the artists. According to the widely repeated legend, it got to the point where one day Lee just said (or mumbled in an intoxicated haze) "This month have the Fantastic Four fight God," and from those eight words Kirby drew an entire three-issue, 60-page saga for the ages.
Yes, Jack Kirby's idea of God is a purple giant who eats planets.
"Hey, Jack, legal says the name God isn't available ..."
"Well, shit, I'm not redrawing the logo."
This theory is supported by two important facts. Fact number one: Stan Lee admits that he didn't even know what was going to show up in the comics until he saw them. To be fair, at this time he was pretty busy writing (synopses and dialogue for) 10 monthly comics, taking care of various editorial duties and engaging in tireless self-promotion. For instance, Lee says that one day he looked at the Fantastic Four pages and saw "a nut on some sort of flying surfboard" and asked Kirby to delete that shit. Kirby said no, and that's why the Silver Surfer exists.
Fact number two: Jack Kirby was a maniac. He added a guy who surfs in space to a comic and didn't even tell the writer.
"... at least until I ask Jack what he's called. I have no idea what the fuck is going on."
So ... making up a story where the Fantastic Four fight God and God is wearing a ridiculous antenna helmet and, I cannot stress this enough, feeds on solar systems? Yep. Sounds about right.
Why It's Not True:
Kirby spent the last decades of his life setting the record straight on who did what at Marvel, and his claims have been extensively documented in court cases, so if The Galactus Trilogy had really started like this, I'm pretty sure he would have said something. Plus, both Lee and Kirby openly talked about their inspiration for Galactus, and they're pretty much on the same page on this one: They wanted a villain who was more epic than all the ones they'd done before, so they went for a godlike figure (but not THE God).
By the way, the FF did eventually meet God years later, and it's hard to argue with the character design they went with.
What does that make Sta- Oh.
Superman's Scientist Friend Is Actually a Time-Traveling Lex Luthor
As I mentioned before, besides obsessing over Batman and the Joker, that Grant Morrison guy also writes comics, and they're not too bad. He has written every beloved comic book character from Aquaman to Hitler, but his most acclaimed work of the last decade is All-Star Superman, the story of what Superman does when he learns he'll die in 12 issues (surprisingly, it's not "shoot Jimmy Olsen with heat vision, over and over"). It's silly, exciting, and heartbreaking -- everything one could want from a superhero comic.
And punching. There's also punching.
Here, Morrison and artist Frank Quitely offer definitive versions of pretty much all of Superman's most classic friends and foes while adding some new ones to the cast, the most interesting being Leo Quintum, a philanthropic scientific genius. At the same time, there's something familiar about the guy, as if we'd seen in him in hundreds of comics before ... and that's because, according to a theory endorsed by every website from TV Tropes to TIME.com, Leo Quintum is a time-traveling Lex Luthor from the future. They even look similar, give or take a few hair plugs.
And the dumbest/most effective disguise in this universe: glasses.
But why would Luthor travel back in time and help the man who ruined endless real estate scams? Because in the last issue of All-Star Superman, Lex has a breakthrough when he sees the world through Superman's eyes and realizes he's been a jerk all this time. There are dozens of little clues that support this theory, starting with a line of dialogue in Issue 1 when Lex is talking to Quintum and someone asks "Are you talking to yourself again?" Later in the same issue, Leo says, "I'm trying to escape from a doomed world too, Superman ... it's called the past." Yeah, with the italics and all. But the best/most blatant one is in Issue 10:
Note that his head looks shiny when he says that, just like his past self.
So Superman trusts Quintum ... and also Luthor. From earlier in the same issue:
Oh look, he's behind some glass, too, how about that.
OK, at this point it's just painfully obvious. This isn't even up for debate. In another issue, Superman says to Luthor, "You could have saved the world years ago" -- so he did just that. After Superman's death, Lex finally takes Superman up on his challenge and makes up for the lost time by going back in it. Still need more? Fine: Lex's prison number is 221 (2 + 2 + 1 = 5 = a "quint"), he has a pet baboon named Leopold, and he loves long coats with popped collars. Just like Quintum.
Morrison, you genius.
Why It's Not True:
When All-Star Superman finished, Morrison did a nine-part interview where he dished out all of the series' secrets, and not only was there no mention whatsoever of this idea, but he gives us a different explanation for the parallels between Luthor and Quintum: one is the bad scientist, and one is the good scientist. That's all. Oh, and also, Quintum was supposed to be the avatar of an alien god, but that didn't fit, so "he was allowed to simply be himself." Which is to say, not Luthor. But, in a way, it's even more impressive that all the clues and motifs weren't intentional -- this guy can slip something mind-blowing into a comic without even trying.
Morrison, you (accidental) genius.