Some comic characters are timeless. Superman embodies dutiful citizenship, Spider-Man is about becoming an adult and Wonder Woman will always be a role model to girls interested in BDSM.
DC forgive us
While Don Rickles-Man appears wherever a racist joke needs telling.
Other characters belong squarely to the moment of their creation. Scholars estimate a full third of punches during World War II were thrown by racist caricature sidekicks. And if anyone other than Jack Kirby had created The Forever People (don't look them up), their best story would have been the issue where Lyndon Johnson stomped those dirty hippies to death.
Yet some characters survive the time-bomb on their relevance. What you are about to see are real panels not recreated by actors, though that would be hilarious.
If you have to hire them, are they really heroes?
Luke Cage was an innocent prisoner who became Power Man in an invulnerability experiment meant to satisfy the nation's hunger for indestructible convicts. Iron Fist wasn't Marvel's first martial artist, but he was the only white one (sorry, Shang-Chi), which made him marketable despite his goofy clothes. It's called the Elvis Principle.
It would have been called the Pat Boone Principle, but Iron Fist gave due credit to the black man.
Quick: name two popular film genres from the '70s. If you said westerns and gangster films, you're right! But those tickets cost nearly a dollar, which is more than comic creators make in a week. The only movies the Marvel bullpen could afford were matinees: blaxploitation and kung-fu.
How they survived:
Look, the '70s were a weird time when people were only comfortable enough in interracial company to do things they hid the rest of the time, like crimefighting, cocaine, and disco. Cancellation loomed for both characters, but if you know one thing about Power Man, it's that he's not going anywhere until he gets paid.
Luke Cage asks Dr. Doom what a bitch sounds like.
The only way to carry on was to team up on a buddy cops title, even though
There's no culture, religion or sexuality prepared for that kind of mismatch. By the time readers were no longer stunned, buddy cops were de rigeur, which is French for "of rigeur." They made a good team, since Cage lacks the gene that puts up with people's bullshit, and Iron Fist is obviously incapable of shame.
Hey, speaking of coke and disco ...
Xanadu all up in this bi-wait, why is Cyclops blinded? All his eyes do is emit bright light.
Dazzler is a mutant who can turn sound into light and bell-bottoms into fabulousness. She turns down a job with the X-Men because her first love is disco -- and disco will NEVER die!
What spawned her:
Printing comics takes a three-month lead time, meaning any cultural fad with its own superhero has been dead at least that long. Now you know why Dazzler debuted in February of 1980. If she'd reached print in the '70s, Olivia Newton-John would have sued Marvel via sexy dance number, but the calendar changed, the thrill wore off and a mortified America agreed never to talk about what we'd done to ourselves that decade.
Roberta Bayley / Sire Records
Except for the Ramones, who agreed to sniff glue and kick ass ... and they were all out of glue.
Dazzler was usually too busy on tour to attend the X-Men's battles, and when she did, she wore roller skates to remind them they were wasting her time. She didn't suffer much prejudice, because nobody ever hated lithe blondes with the power to put on a great concert until Perez Hilton started his blog. Dazzler probably caught more scorn for moving into adult contemporary than being a mutant.
Wherever there's a comic character, there's a fan dying to write a 100-issue series for them, and that number multiplies rapidly when the character's one of the non-fuzzy X-Women. Throw in the fact that she gives fuck zero what either music fans or mutants think of her, and you've got yourself a sassy cult favorite despite being Marvel's version of Disco Stu.
Expect to see Lady Gaga wearing this any day now.
And after him: that punk Mr. Rogers
Frank Castle was a Marine who survived three tours in Vietnam only to see his picnicking family randomly gunned down by mobsters. He declared war on crime, beginning with that menace Spider-Man.
What spawned him:
A freaked-out 'Nam vet who can't distinguish friend from foe is a concept explored thoroughly in The Deer Hunter, Taxi Driver, Platoon and your neighbor's basement. Too slow, Hollywood! The Punisher started this wave of PTSD violence. The only troubled vet to debut earlier was the book version of Rambo, who was trying to live and let live.
But Vietnam's old news, baby! We're blowing up way less humid countries these days. That's bad news for the Punisher's relevancy. His character is tied into what that down and dirty war means to the national psyche (apart from the freedom rock), and the mistreatment of its veterans (quite entangled with the freedom rock).
Dude, he's the Punisher. Surviving is all he knows how to do. It's right there in his origin story when survival becomes his curse. Marvel's tried four times to kill him, and he just comes back more existential. At this point, he's a 60-something-year-old man who's been raised from the dead more times than Keith Richards.
Dave Wilkins / Marvel
And, frankly, looking better
Unlike everyone else on this list, he survived the trend by internalizing it. Marvel keeps Vietnam integral to his story, because hate prevents wrinkles. Comics Punisher is the victim of meaningless violence, and sees society as a lie built atop the truths of the jungle. He's a man in an unwinnable war against human nature. Movie Punisher, who sucks, is the target of a mob hit for being such a swell cop, while being hunted by the law for wasting the time of three great action stars.
Fascism: It's what's for dinner.
Guy Gardner was a throwaway Green Lantern character who woke up one day with a macho new personality that parodied Reaganism. DC's writers had artist Howard Chaykin design a fascist version of the Green Lantern uniform, complete with crew cut and jack boots.
Chaykin was apparently the go-to guy for that sort of thing.
He (Gardner, not Chaykin) invaded Russia, nearly starting a nuclear war. He tried to beat the homeless problem by beating the homeless. He believed women should be seen but not heard unless they were faking an orgasm. He literally tugged on Superman's cape. There was no problem so dangerous that Gardner wouldn't headbutt it to teach it his name.
How he survived:
Writer Keith Giffen stuck Gardner in a sitcom version of the Justice League and dialed his nuclear brinkmanship down to insufferable hilarity. Like the worst reality TV stars, he was a fascinating creep that kept the group lively.
The Justice League stayed silly till a Democrat was president. By that time comics had become a 15-year-old girl who falls in love with any jerk in a leather jacket: two qualifications Gardner already met.
And shoulder pads. But again, it was the '90s
Still Gardner stuck around, punching anyone who tried to drag him off-page. Those of you who saw the film
That villain is about three seconds away from defeating himself.
A security guard who time-traveled back to 1986 because that's when shallow pricks looking to get rich and famous hit their stride. He's sold out more often than Super Bowl tickets, and if he saves your life, he may drop you back into trouble so the press can film it again from his good side.
If you've ever seen a John Cusack movie, you know the entire world consisted of two camps in the '80s: jocks and nerds -- often literal camps competing for a trophy and a fair young maiden's heart. Superhero comics are where readers fantasize about being strong like a jock but kind like a nerd, which is why Booster Gold upset the apple cart as a cash-obsessed cheater. He was originally a quarterback (check) covering up his daddy issues with jerk behavior (check check), until he got caught throwing the big game (checkery check check!).
By going full metal Breakfast Club. He befriends Blue Beetle, a fat inventor turned superhero. When detention ends, both end up more likable, and we all learned something about not judging others by the labels slapped on us by a crusty Martian principal. Booster eventually becomes Earth's greatest hero under various anonymous and time-travelly methods. He realizes that fame is so '80s, but situational irony is big with today's kids and yesterday's Shakespeare (who was also Booster in one of his disguises).
No one would claim credit for this
Of all thou wrought in hard-spun tragedies; Thy hairline was the dourest one of these.
King Features Syndicate
GILF. The sooner we all admit it the easier this will be.
Blondie is a really, really old comic. Like, older than every Constitutional Amendment since women got the right to vote. The flapper named Blondie Boopadoop was a lead character in a time when feminism was not arresting women for showing bare shoulders.
What spawned her:
The comedic notion that a sweet girl could ever marry bourgeois capitalist pig Dagwood Bumstead. The gags derived from Mother Bumstead's nouveau riche outrage that poor people exist no matter how many wars we grind them in. And by "we," I mean Connecticut natives. Anyway, the punchlines played Blondie's earnest charm off Mother's
How she survived:
Nothing ever leaves the comic page. Your newspaper's probably still re-running Peanuts even though those have all been collected and they're stopping new talent from making a name. The jitterbug faded from the airwaves, but true love and jerk bosses are forever, so the Bumsteads moved to the 'burbs, cranked out a couple of kids, and that poor mailman has been getting clobbered ever since. The current strip focuses on Dagwood and his hilarious attempts to call forth the Elder Gods. Also, giant sandwiches.
But WHY is Dagwood the subject of this strip? I don't come here for dot-eyed slackers, I want to enjoy an irrepressible blonde in a world that hates and fears her, which I can't find since
Brendan survived in comics long enough to write a prose book instead.
Plenty of everyday things have weird connections to the Nazis.
Sometimes the silliest goofballs get away with the vilest things.
The thing about plot twists is that they almost never make sense on repeat viewing.
The coolest thing about being famous is that you get access to other famous people just as interesting as you.