Marvel has arguably the most successful comic and film franchises of all time. Adults and children alike flock to comic shops, theaters, and conventions to show support for their favorite heroes.
This is an amazing feat since superheroes are meant to be inspiring role models. Heroes are known for defeating the forces of evil, selflessly standing up for the greater good, and making rational and logical choices. However, more often than not, Marvel’s heroes teach some incredibly inappropriate and controversial lessons to unsuspecting children. Sexism, racism, and bigotry are found at large in the Avengers universe.
Fans are quick to notice (and point out) Marvel’s offensive superhero storylines, however, which has led to some highly controversial characters surrounded by loads of complaints and debates.
From the classic comic books to the modern live-action films, here are the 16 Most Controversial Members Of The Avengers.
16 Iron Fist Whitewashing
Easily the most famously controversial Marvel character of recent history, Iron Fist’s whitewashed casting threatened to end an entire Netflix series and possibly actor Finn Jones's career.
Iron Fist is traditionally a white, blonde kid in the comics. Marvel has taken many progressive risks with their characters of late, and the Netflix series based on these characters has been lauded for their inclusive practices.
Jessica Jones was hailed as the most accurate depiction of PTSD after her sexual assault by Kilgrave. Luke Cage was billed as the “blackest thing Marvel has ever done.” Iron Fist continued the comic book’s tradition of cultural appropriation, but fans were not having it.
Jones received so much criticism over accepting the role that he was forced to leave Twitter to escape the backlash. Iron Fist would go on to become one of the least watched Marvel series on Netflix, followed only by The Defenders.
15 Female Thor
Long, silken blonde hair, formidable muscles, fierce fighting skills, and a magic hammer-- these are all the elements were there but one. In 2014, Marvel made a female version of Thor. Comic book readers were not happy with this change and aired their frustrations with the entire internet.
Naturally, most of the outrage was of a misogynistic nature. The complaints accused Marvel of lazily rewriting a famous and well-established character in a fake grab for diversity. Many believed that the change would ruin one of the “manliest” characters in Marvel’s history. Others simply hated that their favorite childhood character was now different.
The silliest part of all this outrage is Thor’s very own history. The God spent time as a literal frog for a while. A talking frog. So maybe being a woman isn’t that bad after all?
14 Muslim Ms. Marvel
After decades of white superheroes (and then finally a few black ones), Marvel decided to give voice to a new ethnicity and made Ms. Marvel a Pakistani-American teenage girl. Once again, backlash was plentiful.
Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson revealed most of the backlash to have come from people who didn’t even read comics. She noted that comic books are considered to be a uniquely American medium and that these angry commenters hated the thought of a Muslim superhero because they didn’t consider it "American." Wilson wisely made the decision to ignore negative comments from these people.
Wilson also admitted that the Muslim community was initially worried that the new Ms. Marvel would end up being an offensive stereotype. While this was a perfectly valid fear, Wilson also pointed out that the book hadn’t even come out yet.
Thankfully, these fears were proven to be false, as the character would be lauded for bucking stereotypes multiple times over the years to come.
13 Two Different Quicksilvers
In 2015, in the second of Marvel’s Avengers movies, two of the superhero team’s founding members finally showed up. Quicksilver and his sister Scarlet Witch took their rightful place among the Avengers’ ranks. The problem was, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are the progeny of none other than Magneto, the X-Men’s powerful nemesis.
Sure, Marvel could have created some fun crossover between the two casts, but the company found another way around the little casting mess-- they hired two different actors to play the speedster. Evan Peters took on the role for the X-Men, while Aaron Taylor-Johnson took the Avenger’s mantle.
Though fears were eased with the assurance that Quicksilver would appear in both films, the dual casting only raised debates over which version was better.
12 Underage Iron Man
Keeping in the vein of the diversity push, Marvel made Riri Williams the new Iron Man in 2016. She was smart-- like a 15-year-old already attending MIT smart. She was ethnic, she was a girl, and she was oversexualized in her debut cover art.
Artist J. Scott Campbell was criticized for dressing Riri in a very tight, very short top with low-rise pants. Her provocative pose was considered offensive given her age of only 15 years.
Other commenters felt that the sexualization of Riri was proof that Marvel was buying to the stereotype of overly sexual Black teenagers who appear older than they really are. A few fashion-savvy readers also pointed out that midriff-baring tops had gone out of style over a decade before Riri’s debut.
Campbell didn’t help matters when he accused dissenters of “SJW whining.”
11 Big Bertha
Simultaneously offending women of all sizes, Big Bertha is one of the most controversial members of the Avengers. Big Bertha’s superpower is... bulimia? Skinny supermodel by day, Bertha has the ability to shift her body mass, becoming very large and incredibly strong. When Bertha is ready to return to her normal size she “purges” the extra weight through “regurgitation"-- basically bulimia.
At one point, Bertha went on a date with Deadpool, and Wade proved to be more attracted to her in her heavy form than in her slim form, which was perhaps sweet. However, Deadpool then revealed his real face to Bertha and vomits all over the parking lot. Way to ruin a nice moment, Marvel.
After a time, Bertha learns to regulate her weight, becoming overweight rather than skinny or obese. She decides to continue modeling as a plus-sized model, which destroys her modeling career and puts her back to square one. Every time Bertha comes close to making a progressive point, Marvel pulls it back and smashes it to the ground.
10 Ant-Man's Abuse
He’s a genius, he’s one of the founding members of the Avengers, he’s adorably quirky in the form of the MCU’s Paul Rudd... and he has assaulted his wife.
Writer Jim Shooter described Hank Pym’s life as a series of failures, saying that Ant-Man had never really succeeded at being either a researcher or a superhero. Hank rarely saved the day on his own and was often in need of rescue himself. Shooter also credited his wife, Janet van Dyne, with attempting to boost her husband’s withering confidence despite her own success.
The famous slap occurs when Janet tries to stop Hank from pulling a scheme over on the rest of the Avengers. He was hoping to save the day in front of them so they would bring him back into the fold. In other timelines, Ant-Man sprayed Janet (whose superhero alter ego is The Wasp) with Raid and turned a swarm of ants on her.
9 Everything About Black Widow
The original live-action Avengers line-up was sparse on female characters, making Black Widow stand out that much more. This also meant any sexism lobbed at the Russian spy stood out as well.
Some fans took issue with the distressed Natasha crying and crawling away from the enraged Hulk. Comparisons to sexual assault and general dissatisfaction with Black Widow’s damsel-in-distress moment were thrown around.
However, things really came to a head with Age Of Ultron. Natasha admitted to being forcefully sterilized and called herself a monster during her emotional reveal. The accompanying toy lines left out the Black Widow from their merchandise, including a replica of Natasha’s famous motorcycle drop out of the bottom of a jet fighter. She was unceremoniously replaced with Captain America.
Even the film’s own cast shamed their co-star’s character by making derogatory remarks about her love life in a press interview. Let’s hope Natasha is treated with more respect when she finally receives her first solo film after the fourth Avengers outing.
8 Hercules Goes From Bisexual To Straight
The X-Men’s Iceman came out as gay in 2015. Other notable LGBTQ+ Marvel heroes are… ? Are there any others? Do alternate universe/timelines count? This is a population that is so deeply underrepresented, which is why it’s kind of cool that Hercules used to be bisexual. However, they keywords here are "used to be." What’s not cool is that he’s now hopelessly straight.
Hercules dated Wolverine in an alternate universe (does Alternate Universe Wolverine count?). Additionally, a relationship between Hercules and the openly gay Northstar was hinted at in the main canon.
However, Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso made it very clear to ComicBookResources in 2015 that Hercules’s bisexual relationships were just part of the “unique” alternate universe storylines and that the character is definitely straight.
So, there you go. Alternate universes don’t count, according to Marvel.
7 Spider-Woman’s Cover Art
Marvel got in loads of trouble when an inappropriate Spider-Woman variant cover was revealed for Spider-Woman’s first issue for a new series debuted at the 2014 San Diego Comic Con.
To make matters worse, the reveal took place during the “Women of Marvel” panel-- way to kill a progressive event. In the blatantly sexualized cover, Jessica Drew is shown wearing a skintight suit and crawling around on her hands and knees with her butt in the air.
Marvel immediately received backlash and criticism from fans and critics alike, who felt that it was important to remind the company that women and girls do in fact read comics and look up to female superheroes as role models and for inspiration. Others pointed out the pose’s similarity to other revealing images.
These comparisons are no exaggeration, either. The cover artist, Milo Manara, was best known for his erotic artwork before trying his hand at comics.
6 Starfox’s Super Power
The Purple Man is creepy, but at least he's a villain. Starfox was an Avenger. After years of womanizing, using his powers of literally attracting women and convincing them to get together with him, Starfox was accused of sexual assault and put on trial for his crimes.
Sadly, he was defended by one of Marvel’s most powerful (and intelligent) female characters: She-Hulk. Basically, a strong female character was reduced to defending a sexual predator in court.
Starfox was banned from the courtroom under suspicion that he was using his powers to sway the testimony of the witnesses. She-Hulk began to suspect that Starfox had used his powers on her and attacked him, but Starfox’s father whisked him away to another planet.
A new trial began and She-Hulk was asked to provide proof of her victimization. It was revealed that Starfox had not used his powers on She-Hulk, but had influenced her marriage to John Jameson and had tampered with his own brother’s memories. Starfox was punished for his crimes of inception, but got away with all of his other crimes.
Also, his real name is that of the Greek god of attraction, Eros.
5 Mantis’s Creator Hates Her Guardians Of The Galaxy Portrayal
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2’s Mantis looks just like her comic book counterpart... and that’s where the similarity ends. It’s not unusual for a comic book character’s reimagining to be met with backlash and disappointment, but it’s not often that the character’s own creator expresses disdain for their creation’s latest iteration. However, Mantis' creator Steve Englehart did just that.
Comic book Mantis was a human woman whose destiny was to essentially birth Outerspace Jesus. She suffered erasure of her memory and had to rebuild her identity from the ground up before finally learning (and carrying out) her destiny.
Englehart was sure to clarify that he liked the film and Mantis’ character, but he disagreed heavily with giving the character Mantis’ name. He felt the character was such a huge departure from what was written that a new identity was warranted.
4 Was Recreated With Spider Gwen
Spider Gwen has enjoyed major success since her debut in 2015. The superhero alter ego of a very alive Gwen Stacy could give Peter Parker a run for his money any day of the week.
However, despite the backlash and contrversy in comic books, Spider Gwen was once again shown in the same crawling, butt-waving pose in her first issue variant cover. This time, though, a blatantly excited Spider-Man stares at Gwen's behind, enthusiastically shouting about deja vu.
The cover’s artist, Frank Cho, was merely referencing Manara’s sexist Spider-Woman cover on his own website. Thankfully, Marvel had no connection with the offensive sketch. So maybe they learned something from all the backlash? Or maybe not-- Cho is still a prolific comic book writer and artist, so this still reads like a sad commentary on the industry’s opinion of women and female heroes in general.
3 Mockingbird Is Accused Of Sexism
Spider-Woman’s cover art received backlash in 2014, then Mockingbird’s feminist cover art was bombarded with criticism in 2016. How did we regress so far in just two years?
The cover in question featured Mockingbird standing on a beach, lemonade in one hand, snapping off a salute with the other. Her t-shirt clearly reading: “ask me about my feminist agenda.” That’s it. That’s all it took to set off a Twitter witch hunt.
Writer Chelsea Cain received an onslaught of angry tweets, accusing the comic of sexism and “SJW behavior.” Cain eventually left the social media platform to escape the abuse, but not before making the claim that this bullying atmosphere was indicative of the entire comic book industry.
Mockingbird had been canceled due to lackluster sales, but the controversy propelled the short-lived series to the top of Amazon’s sales charts.
2 Captain America Joins Hydra
Captain America becomes a Nazi… in 2017. Superheroes go rogue all the time-- it adds suspense and urgency to their story. However, readers became so unhappy with this storyline that the publisher was forced to give an explanation for Cap’s new fascist persona. Their answer? Hang in there, basically.
Anyone who knows anything about Captain America (and maybe even those who don’t) knows Steve Rogers as the Nazi-punching, America loving, unwavering Boy Scout of a hero. So maybe 2017 — when Nazis and neo-Nazis have become a very real concern — was not a great time to try this side-switching on for size.
Hashtags boycotting the story and the studio itself sprung up, along with a petition asking Marvel to reconsider the storyline. The studio responded by asking readers to let the story play out, as they believe it would prove that good always triumphs over evil. However, concerned readers were still worried about the impression Nazi Cap would make in the meantime.
The plot ended with a battle between the Hydra-aligned Cap and a resurrected Steve Rogers. The good guy won, naturally.
1 The Wasp Was Cut From Ant-Man
Janet van Dyne was every bit as important to the Avengers canon as her husband, if not more so. However, that didn’t matter when Hank Pym got his own movie in 2015 — Wasp was cut from the film entirely.
Not only was Janet cut from the film, but she’s dead by the time the movie’s events take place. Janet was originally written into the movie as Hope van Dyne’s mother. She was also written into and cut from Joss Whedon’s Avengers.
When she failed to show up in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, fans aired their disappointment by pointing out the huge gap between the number of male superheroes in the live-action franchise as compared to the female superheroes.
Wasp will appear in the Ant-Man sequel... in the form of her daughter, Hope.
Can you think of any other controversial characters who have teamed up with the Avengers? Let us know in the comment section.