Comics are an interesting medium – longstanding continuity which stretches back decades means that there have been plenty of stories told about the most popular superheroes, but there are also more than a few which have been received poorly.
Marvel’s insistence on a long, unbroken chain of canon (as opposed to DC’s approach which has seen a few more reboots and retcons) has helped win the publisher more than a few fans over the years, but it’s also led to some embarrassing moments when new stories have retroactively spoiled readers’ enjoyment of previous tales.
Some plot twists can have wide-reaching consequences for comic book continuity, and this has led to more than a few cases of fan outrage. Here are 13 Marvel Comics Plot Twists That Outraged Fans.
13. Captain America Hails Hydra
The current controversy surrounding Captain America’s reveal that he’s always been a sleeper agent for Hydra is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unpopular plot twists within the Marvel comics universe. Even so, it’s hard to ignore the impact of such a divisive revelation, and how it affects the way comics readers view the past seventy years of Captain America stories.
Fan reactions range from considering it little more than a quick headline-grabber that’ll be resolved in a few issues, to complete outrage at what some consider to be a betrayal of the core ideology behind the Star Spangled Man. Everyone has an opinion on the controversy, with even big pillars of the Marvel comics community such as Chris Evans and Stan Lee offering up their stance on the reveal.
While the full implications of the plot twist likely won’t be fully explored for several more issues, for the moment it’s hard to ignore a storyline that is already garnering more than a little hate mail.
12. Gwen Stacy Secretly Had Normal Osborn’s Illegitimate Lovechildren
Few female characters within the Marvel Universe have received as much mainstream acceptance as Gwen Stacy. Emma Stone’s portrayal of the character in both movies from the Amazing Spider-Man series won Gwen Stacy some fans, and the addition of recent new comic book heroes such as Spider-Gwen (and, to an extent, Gwenpool) have further cemented Stacy as one of the mainstays of Marvel comics.
One attempt to add to the Gwen Stacy story was less than well received, though. In the Spider-Man story arc Sins Past, it’s revealed that, prior to her death, Gwen had affair with the man who would be her killer: Norman Osborn, better known as the original Green Goblin. Giving birth to twins as a result of the affair, Gwen was then killed by Osborn before she could reveal her secret to Peter Parker.
Fans of Gwen Stacy were less than impressed by what they considered to be posthumous character assassination. While Stacy’s children have shown up a few times in the comics since, Marvel has been reluctant to revisit the story of their origin.
11. The Clone Saga
Another Spider-Man tale which led to more than a little fan outrage is the infamous Clone Saga, a story arc which ran for several years during the nineties.
In this run of comics, Peter Parker discovers what he believes to be his clone: one which has all of his memories, and which has been drifting across the US for five years under an assumed name. Over the course of the story, it’s revealed that Parker himself is a clone, and Ben Reilly, his doppelganger, is the original Spider-Man. After losing his powers, Parker hands over the mantle of Spider-Man to Reilly, until it’s revealed that this was all an elaborate trick created by Norman Osborn to ruin Spider-Man’s life. Reilly is killed, and Parker takes back his identity as the true Spider-Man.
Aside from being exceptionally confusing, the Clone Saga won many detractors for trying to mess with Spider-Man canon by pulling a bait-and-switch regarding the identity of the original Peter Parker. What’s more, fans were annoyed at how long this story ran for, taking several years to reach its conclusion before ultimately resetting Spider-Man’s status quo without any lasting consequences.
10. Iron Man Being Controlled by Kang the Conqueror
Comic event The Crossing spawned a lot of fan outrage when, in the early nineties, it dramatically changed Iron Man’s motivation and character, rewriting many years of existing continuity. In the story, it’s revealed that Tony Stark is a traitor, having been manipulated for years by the time travelling villain Kang the Conqueror. In order to stop Stark’s rampage (which involves killing two fellow superheroes), the Avengers recruit a younger version of Tony from an alternate timeline. Recognizing the teenager, the original Iron Man sacrifices himself to save his younger self, and teen Iron Man joins the team of heroes for the foreseeable future.
The idea that the hero fans had known and loved was secretly working against the Avengers left a sour taste in many fans’ mouths, as did his death – a repentant Iron Man could have eventually been retconned, but a dead Iron Man meant that his years of treachery couldn’t be undone by subsequent writers. Teen Iron Man is also ultimately killed off in a later comic and the character received a soft reboot during the Onslaught event, but for many fans this wasn’t enough to make up for previous sins.
9. Superior Spider-Man
For the seven hundredth Spider-Man comic, writer Dan Slott again attempted to redefine the character with a bait-and-switch plotline not unlike the Clone Saga. In issue 699, readers see what appears to be a typical day for Peter Parker: as the hero swings across town as Spider-Man, nothing seems out of the ordinary, until Parker is called to the prison cell of Doctor Octopus, who is dying. It’s then revealed that Doc Ock has switched bodies with Peter, and that the true Spider-Man is trapped in a dying body in a jail cell.
When in issue 700, this situation is not reversed, and the real Peter dies while Doc Ock walks away, calling himself the Superior Spider-Man, fans were unimpressed. As with the current Captain America controversy, many fans speculated that this situation would ultimately be reversed when necessary, while others were simply annoyed to see their beloved Spider-Man killed off.
This is one instance where fans were ultimately pleasantly surprised – the Superior Spider Man comics series ran for a while before Peter Parker was returned to his rightful body, but not before the story won wide acclaim for its fresh take on the characters involved.
8. Xorn is Magneto
If anything can be learned from the plot twist surrounding the identity of X-Men hero Xorn, it’s that sometimes backpedaling on an unpopular decision doesn’t help make anything better.
Xorn is first introduced in X-Men comics as a Chinese mutant who has a white star in place of his brain: in order to avoid destroying the world, Xorn must always wear a metal mask. After being freed from prison by the X-Men, Xorn joins the team and learns from Professor X, even using his mutant abilities to heal Xavier’s spine so that he can walk. Eventually, though, it’s revealed that Xorn’s entire existence is a lie: the character is the antagonist Magneto in disguise. According to writer Grant Morrison, this had been the plan all along, and there are plenty of clues throughout his run which hint at Xorn’s true identity.
The problem with this twist, though, was that plenty of readers had become very attached to Xorn. Noting the popularity of the character and how disappointed fans were to learn that he was simply Magneto in disguise, Marvel took the decision to retcon the reveal, creating a second Xorn, and suggesting that Magneto was Xorn in disguise, rather than the other way around.
This version of events was little more than confusing, meaning that readers who’d been upset by the original reveal now had reason to be annoyed yet again as Marvel failed to explain what had actually happened and which version of the story was accurate.
7. Daredevil is Possessed by The Beast of the Hand
Throughout the Shadowland comic story arc, the Man Without Fear grows increasingly dark and violent in response to the various crimes perpetrated in Hell’s Kitchen. Pushed to the limit, Daredevil murders his long-time arch enemy Bullseye, and sets himself up as the new leader of the Hand Ninja clan, who previously had been a recurring force of antagonism in Matt Murdock’s life.
Daredevil fans were intrigued to see what was happening to such a complex hero, and wondered where the story would go as it pushed towards an inevitably impactful conclusion. Fans were ultimately unimpressed with the reveal, though, that Matt Murdock is being possessed by a demon called The Beast of the Hand. The story goes on to see Daredevil kill himself before being returned to life by his old flame Elektra.
Daredevil’s transformation into a dark, violent anti-hero who is pushed to the limit of his sanity may have been a bit dark for Marvel’s general tastes, but the ultimate reveal that this is due to demonic possession left many fans feeling like they’d been let down, and denied a more satisfying ending to the dark period for the character.
6. Nightcrawler is a Literal Son of Hell
The X-Men have always stood as a metaphor for the outcasts of society, paralleling various equal rights movements that have occurred throughout the past half a century. The crux of the X-Men as a social metaphor comes from their relatability – everyone knows what it feels like to be ignored or overlooked, and everyone therefore can empathize with mutants.
That said, comics are a bizarre medium, and sometimes the approach that writers take leans a little far from believability. Such is the case with Kurt Wagner, better known as Nightcrawler, one of the most popular X-Men. While it has long been established that Wagner is the son of the shapeshifting mutant Mystique, it was ultimately revealed that Kurt’s true biological father is a demon, rather than the human that Mystique had been married to. Azazel, a member of a mutant demon race that live in another dimension, adds to a strangely biblical period of X-Men literature which also sees Nightcrawler become the Pope.
5. Aunt May is Peter Parker’s Real Mother
In retrospect, Marvel’s attempt to revitalize the teen romance comic genre probably shouldn’t have attempted to tie its inaugural title, Trouble, into wider comic book canon. The comic series tells the story of two teenage friends, Mary and May, who begin dating a pair of brothers called Richard and Ben. After an affair between May and Richard leads to the conception of a child, Mary and Richard end up raising May’s son Peter.
On its own, the story is fairly inoffensive if somewhat complicated, but its wider implications led to a lot of disgruntled readers: Marvel had intended for the comic to serve as an origin story for Peter Parker’s parents, as well as his aunt and uncle. The suggestion that Aunt May is Peter’s biological mother annoyed longtime fans of the character, who pointed out that as well as being a bizarre twist, the events of Trouble directly contradict established canon regarding the Parker family.
4. Wolverine’s Bone Claws
As a hero whose bones have been laced with metal, X-Men character Wolverine always has trouble facing his team’s deadliest enemy, the powerful Magneto, who can control metal with his mind. In the nineties comic X-Men #25, Magneto rips the metal from Wolverine’s bones, reducing him to his pre-Weapon X state. At this point, it’s revealed for the first time that Wolverine has always had claws: underneath his metal blades, the hero had retractable bones.
Wolverine’s history had always been a mystery, and fans had been led to believe that Logan’s metal claws were part of the experimentation that had erased his memories. The discovery that the character has always had claws changed the way fans saw Wolverine: as it turned out, he had always been something of an animal – this addition to his backstory wasn’t entirely well received.
3. Hank Pym, Spider-Woman and nearly everyone else are Alien Spies
The Civil War story arc left the traditional dynamic of the Marvel Universe shattered, as heroes had chosen to fight against each other and were still to a certain extent at war amongst themselves. One character who features heavily throughout Civil War was Hank Pym, who works with Tony Stark to design a variety of technologically advanced equipment for capturing unregistered superheroes.
In the very next comic event, Secret Invasion, it’s revealed that a race of alien shapeshifters has been infiltrating Earth by capturing and replacing many of its key heroes. In this arc, it’s revealed that the Pym which was involved with Civil War was secretly an alien who was working to create confusion and distrust amongst the Avengers. What’s more, the Spider-Woman that fans had been reading about for several years is revealed to be the Skrull queen, while the real Jessica Drew has been trapped aboard an alien spaceship.
Fans weren’t too thrilled to learn that much of the character development they’d been seeing in the past few years had been erased, and coming so close after Civil War this felt like little more than an attempt to sweep character arguments under the rug.
2. Professor X Led an X-Men Team to their Deaths, Mind-Wiped Cyclops
When new writer Len Wein took over the X-Men comic series in 1975, he created an all-new team of heroes to replace the original roster of characters. The story of his first issue revolves around Professor X recruiting his new team to go on a mission to rescue his first team, who have been kidnapped.
In the Deadly Genesis story arc, it’s revealed that the new X-Men team were not Xavier’s first attempt to save his original students. According to the comic, Xavier’s first team of new recruits were all killed before they could complete their mission, prompting Professor X to try again with a new group of mutants. In order to cover up his failure, Xavier used his powers of mind control to erase Cyclops’ memories, as he was the only other person to know of the first rescue team.
Fans were unimpressed with this dramatic reveal – many felt that this cast Professor X in a new light as someone who casually ignored the murder of several mutants, and recruited a new set of heroes whilst being fully aware that their lives were in danger. It was also felt by some that Xavier’s mental manipulation of Scott Summers goes against his character, as Professor X is generally portrayed as a hero who, in spite of his mental powers, tries not to use them for personal gain or manipulation.
1. Brand New Day
The Spider-Man storyline that’s received the most criticism, Brand New Day has more than its fair share of detractors. While other stories on this list prove that fans don’t like change, their reaction to Brand New Day and the story that preceded it instead suggests that sometimes, fans hate when things stay the same.
When Spider-Man’s Aunt May is terminally injured by an assassin, Peter does everything he can to save his aunt, including ultimately making a literal deal with the devil, Mephisto. Under the terms of their arrangement, Peter’s aging aunt is spared from death, while in return, Peter and Mary Jane sacrifice their marriage, as their timeline is rewritten so that the couple broke up before ever tying the knot. Brand New Day then went on to tell the story of a rebooted Spider-Man timeline, wherein Peter Parker is struggling to meet girls and lives a bachelor lifestyle, turning back time to the comics of the 70s.
In erasing decades of continuity and character growth, Marvel found that its audience were less than receptive to watching Spider-Man’s story essentially return to its origin. The outcry against this direction for the series shows that as much as fans don’t like having characters suddenly revealed to be Hydra agents, they also don’t like it when characters are denied the opportunity to grow and develop.
When it comes to building a large, consistent continuity across multiple stories and characters, nobody’s managed to create something quite as far-reaching as Marvel. While the comics giant is beloved in large part due to its decades-spanning canon, there have been more than a few moments throughout Marvel’s fictional universe that comic creators and fans alike regret.
While current disdain concerning the reveal that Captain America is a Hydra agent might be fierce, it’s worth noting that plenty of other Marvel characters have been through similarly bizarre twists in the past. In a world of constantly evolving characters, any less-than-popular ideas throughout the Marvel universe will soon be buried under future stories.
Which plot twist in Marvel comics has left you angry? In comic fan anger justified? Share your thoughts in the comments below.