Comic books are a lot of things: pure escapism, wish fulfilment, social commentary, and… prophecies of the future? Well, maybe not – but in many cases comic books have, by pure chance, predicted actual events or trends with an eerie level of accuracy. Forget the usual predictions of technological advancements – we’ve seen plenty of flying cars in comics, and haven’t seen too many in real life.
While comic books often reflect the world as it is – the X-Men served as a metaphor for the civil rights movement and Superman was a metaphor for the exceptionalism of the American people – some comics have depicted specific future events with such clarity, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were the diaries of Nostradamus.
Here’s 16 Times Comic Books Predicted The Future.
16. Superman – 9/11 Attacks
For those of you who lived through the events of September 11th 2001, you will remember it as one of the most tragic and terrifying days in living memory. It’s also become one of the most frequently referenced events of the last century.
In an issue of Superman written and drawn just prior to the events of the day, but published on September 12th, scenes of an aftermath of an alien invasion are shown, with the L-shaped LexCorp building smouldering. While not exactly Twin Towers, the angle of the panel makes the building look like two buildings struck in a similar way to the way the World Trade Center was a day previously.
Not only was that panel’s similarities to real life downright creepy, but there were also images showing attacks on Washington, DC, and the actual Twin Towers themselves. DC made the issue returnable so as not to cause offence, after all there was no offence intended as the issue was in production long before the events of 9/11, but it went on to become something of a collectable since then.
15. Donald Duck Inventor Extraordinaire!
In 1965 a Danish inventor named Karl Kroyer came up with an ingenious solution for raising a sunken freighter by filling it with inflatable polystyrene balls which would cause the boat to rise without further damage. After a successful trial run, the idea was sent to the patent office only to discover that the idea was already out there and had been previously featured in the exploits of none other than Donald Duck!
The method used was almost identical to a 1949 story by Carl Banks which saw everyone’s favourite avian with a speech impediment retrieve a sunken yacht by filling it up with ping pong balls. Given that the idea was already in the public domain, Kroyer was unable to patent it, presumably costing him a small fortune.
While not exactly a prophecy, the Donald Duck story did predict an actual real-world invention some 16 years ahead of time. Now if only science can explain why Donald doesn’t wear pants, we’ll all sleep a little easier.
14. Fantastic Four – predicted the use of cosmic rays to mutate organic cells.
When it comes to giving yourself real-life superpowers, our official policy is DON’T. Most of the methods, especially those involving chemical or radiation accidents, will kill you. And when it comes to “Don’t try this at home” exposing yourself to cosmic radiation has to be at the top of the list, you won’t become the Human Torch or The Thing, you’ll die.
That being said, those clever fellows in China have been experimenting with sending seeds into space to soak up actual cosmic radiation. When the seeds returned, they planted them and results have been staggering. The veggies that have grown have been considerably bigger than normal, and research suggests that they are perfectly safe to eat. They just won’t give you superpowers… yet.
So, while it’s unlikely that we’ll see a real-life Fantastic Four, cosmic radiation has been proven to mutate organic cells just like Stan Lee said they would back in the ‘60s.
13. 1960’s Spider-Man newspaper strip – Predicted electronic tagging
Electronic tagging is a method for the authorities to monitor the locations of people without going to the effort of locking them up prior to a court appearance, for instance. They can also be used to make sure people under house arrest aren’t sneaking out for Chipotle while they’re supposed to be home. If they sneak off, there’s a handy little GPS tracker built-in making them easy to find.
While the technology was around in the 1960s, it wasn’t readily applied until the 1980s. Specifically, in 1983 a judge ordered that one be used because he remembered seeing it in a Spider-Man comic strip some 20 years previously.
While we aren’t here to debate law enforcement practices, it’s interesting to note that a device used widely by law enforcement agencies around the world was actually inspired by one used by the notorious Kingpin to track the location of Spider-Man to ensure that the wallcrawler didn’t mess with his plans.
12. Dick Tracey – Had a Smartwatch in 1931
Smartwatches are especially on-trend right now. Pretty much anything your smartphone can do is beamed to your watch, because taking a phone out of your pocket to check a text is so last decade people. While there have been many cases of sci-fi and comic books using watches as much more than simple timepieces, James Bond especially, the smartwatch can trace its roots back to one comic book in particular one of the greatest comic book characters ever, Dick Tracy.
While remembered for his fancy yellow trench coat, impossibly square jaw, and inspiring countless imitators, Dick Tracy also inspired the smartwatch. In the forties, it was a simple if very small, two-way radio. By the ’60s, the watch had evolved to be able to make video calls as well as take photos. Pretty much the only modern feature the Dick Tracy comics didn’t predict was the rise of games and apps being incorporated into wearable tech.
11. A 1950s Issue of the Eagle Predicted Modern Computers
The Eagle comic was a British anthology title that shot to massive popularity in the fifties, in part due to the adventures of ace pilot Dan Dare whose adventures against the Mekons influenced countless elements of both sci-fi and comic books thereafter.
Whilst Dan Dare himself may not have influenced that much, yet, a great deal of other elements from the anthology title have gone on to predict modern day innovations. Most notably there was a single one-page piece in the mid-fifties that guessed what computers would look like and their uses would be with almost perfect accuracy. They predicted that, by the nineties, we’d have information at our fingertips as well as in-home videophones. They also predicted that these futuristic computers would replace TV and stereos as the centre of our home entertainment systems. While the comic book may not have nailed the modern information superhighway in quite the right way, they certainly nailed how we use modern technology in our daily lives.
10. a 1976 issue of Superman Predicted The End of the Cold War
In 1976, DC published an issue of Superman that imagined what would happen if Superman arrived in the then-present and grew up to be an adult in the late nineties. Like a lot of Superman comics that focus on what-if scenarios, it looks at the politics of the era and starts with the Americans and Russians competing to get a hold of the baby from another world. While the attempts to make the origin of Superman more realistic were comical by today’s standards, they absolutely nailed one aspect, the end of the Cold War being around 1990.
While that may not be much of a stretch now, bear in mind that relations between the US and USSR were especially tense at the time. Vietnam was only just over, and there were a whole heap of other issues to overcome before the wall could come down. In reality, the two nations couldn’t have been further apart back then. In most cases, stories from back then focussed on the Cold War ending with one side dropping a nuke, but here it was seen as ending due to prolonged diplomacy.
9. Grant Morrison’s New X-Men – Showed a plane flying into a skyscraper… in September of 2001..
While the opening arch of Grant Morrison’s infamous run on X-Men is mainly remembered for Magneto (later revealed to be an imposter) killing Jean Grey and herding millions of New Yorkers into concentration camps in the most tasteless holocaust reference ever, it also featured an image of a Wild-Sentinel the size of a 747 flying into Magneto’s citadel on Genosha and destroying it. The citadel was a single tower, but the imagery used saw an enormous parallel with the events of 9/11.
While yes, there are many 9/11 predictions in pop-culture as we mentioned, this was printed and published within days of the actual events of 9/11 and remains an important part of the X-Men mythos. While the Magneto-kills-Jean story was retconned, and the genetic cleanse of humanity hasn’t been referenced in years, the destruction of the skyscraper in Genosha and the terror attacks that laid waste to millions of mutants remains a cornerstone of Marvel’s X-Men universe.
8. Superman predicted the Atom Bomb
Superman comics of the 1940s followed a similar pattern. Lex Luthor invents a means to cause chaos and destruction in Metropolis and Superman thwarts the plot just in time with a combination of smarts and superpowers. In late 1944 DC began to work on a comic book that saw Lex Luthor harness the power of the atom to build a bomb greater than even Superman could stop.
Only Atom Bombs weren’t a reality back then, or so people thought. While the story was in in production, the feds caught wind of the story and the Defence Department charged in and demanded DC pull the story as it was so close to what the Manhattan Project was working on that the comic book was essentially printing state secrets, albeit unknowingly.
The government wouldn’t say why they pulled the issue, only that DC had better pull it quickly. They wouldn’t learn for another year that the Atomic Bomb was a real thing, at the same time the rest of the world learned of it.
7. 1997 Issue of Wonder Woman Predicts the Death of Princess Diana
Pretty much every superhero has died and been resurrected at one time or another, it’s something of a rite of passage. In 1997 Wonder Woman’s number was up and she fell into a coma, died, and became a goddess on Olympus. The cover of the following issue, Wonder Woman #126, saw a Daily Planet article with the headline “A World Without Wonder Woman”. Nothing too prophetic there, until you read the many times she’s referred to not by her superhero name, but by her actual title of Princess Diana of Themyscira.
That’s right, DC printed an issue where Princess Diana dies… three days before Princess Diana of Wales (one of the most famous women in the world) died in a car accident in a Paris underpass.
While this one may be something of a stretch, as Wonder Woman shared little in common with her real-life namesake, but the timing is uncanny as within days of the comic being released newspapers the world over shared Princess Diana is Dead headlines.
6. 1985 Issue of X-Men – 9/11
In 1985, X-Men comics were amazingly popular and had recently introduced the telepathic daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey from the future. Hailing from a dystopia where she had lived a hellish existence, Rachel managed to escape and found her way to the world on the then-present where she joined the X-Men and began working for a better future.
In one of her first missions, she is battling the Hellfire Club and is struggling to adapt to her surroundings in New York as it had been a wasteland in her time. The biggest difference she noted? The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were still standing, but in her time they had been destroyed in a terror attack.
5. Archie comics in 1972 – Predicted the rise of digital music
Archie comics are in something of a renaissance right now, no longer in a perpetual state of fifties nostalgia they are actually a progressive title with openly gay characters and even a gore-filled zombie series Afterlife with Archie that lifts liberally from The Walking Dead. While they may not have always been so keen to look to the future, back in 1972 they accidentally created electronic music, kinda. Archie is taken forty years into the future, because comic books, and Archie witnesses “Computer Music”, electronically created music which shared much with dubstep. The means of production and the timing couldn’t have been more spot-on if they’d tried.
While Archie mocks the music in the series, feeling that it just sounds too silly, electronic music is very much here to stay in the modern world. Whether or not it compares favourably to the music of 1972 is very much up for debate however. We’ll leave that for future generations to decide.
4. a 1986 Superman story – Predicted the Challenger Disaster
In 1986 Superman was in the midst of a creative event that is still being talked about to this day. Superstar artist John Byrne was updating Superman, making him more accessible for the audience of the eighties. In his first issue, Superman was going to make his debut by saving a Nasa space shuttle from crashing, ensuring he became an overnight sensation. But, as John Byrne was adding the final touches to his new comic book, the space shuttle Challenger exploded just after it launched, with all crew tragically lost in the explosion.
Fortunately, Byrne had time to change his book before it was printed and changed it to an experimental space-plane, saving the book from looking like it had used the events as inspiration. While the prophetic comic book was never published due to some quick changes, it does have one important parallel to real-life events that there was no time to change, in the story there was a non-astronaut on-board, in this case Lois Lane, in the real world it was a school teacher named Christa McAuliffe.
3. Marvel Team up in 1977 – Predicted the New York Blackout
Marvel and DC share many parallels, but one thing that remains different between the universes is that while the heroes of DC generally exist in fictional locations such as Gotham, Star City, Central City, and Metropolis while Marvel’s heroes live in real-world locations, in particular New York City. In the summer of 1977 the comic book version of New York and the real one had more parallels than anyone could have predicted.
An issue of Marvel Team Up saw Spider-Man and Wasp battle a villain known as Equinox who could shoot fire from his arms. A stray blast caused a power transformer to short-circuit causing a massive blackout to occur throughout the entire city.
While this may seem like an everyday event in comics, this came out in the same week as the actual 1977 New York Blackout, the first such real-world event since 1965. While it was a simple co-incidence, there were numerous cases of looting with cops being pushed to their limits, just like the comic books.
2. a 1964 issue of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane – Predicted 3D Printing
3D printing is still in its infancy, but is rapidly being developed due to the seemingly never ending practical applications. However, in 1964 the idea of a rapid prototyper or 3-D printer was beyond imagination, or was it? Well, no, because Superman had one back in the 1960s. In the comic, Superman states “…it’s a processing machine which creates busts from photo-images! See?” which is probably how you’d describe a 3-D printer to your grandma. The process is even remarkably similar, with the bust being created seemingly created one layer at a time from a base material.
Unlike the smartwatch, which is only loosely based on Dick Tracy’s walkie-talkie, the 3-D printer is so much like the one seen in a 1964 issue of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane that we can only imagine that the designers were big fans of Lois Lane comics back in the day. We aren’t saying that all the major tech advances of the last few decades have come from comic books, there’s certainly a lot of inspiration to be drawn from fiction when coming up with the ideas of tomorrow.
1. National Comics #18 – Predicted Pearl Harbour a Month Early
This one is so bizarre that it’s downright creepy. National Comics was a deeply patriotic title with none other than Uncle Sam as the flagship character. However, in 1941, the US had yet to enter the actual war and instead of reflecting real events the title was generally happy to merely show solidarity with friendly nations.
Taking the lead from Captain America, who made his debut that year, Uncle Sam was the embodiment of all things great about America and fought against bad guys wherever they may be. In the case of November 1941’s National Comics #18, Uncle Sam fought against a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour by the Nazi’s. while Pearl Harbour was an obvious target in retrospect, it caught the U.S off-guard and the death toll was catastrophic. While National Comics got the attacking nation wrong, the mere idea of Pearl Harbour being attacked in such a way and publishing it a month before the actual events is spooky.