Comic books are an amazing medium. The freedom provided by pencil-and-paper is greater than what any other art form has to offer. Creators don't have to worry about special effects budgets, or A-list actor fees, or landing the right director for the material. If you can imagine it, you can put it into a comic.
The flip side of that creative freedom is the necessity of knowing when you've gone too far. Some ideas, no matter how justifiable they may sound in your head, turn out way too bizarre for readers to get on board with. Marvel Comics is hardly the only publisher who's been home to some weird stories over the years. But the House of Ideas certainly has had its fair share of outlandish ones.
Here are 12 of the freakiest stories Marvel has ever told.
In late 2006, Marvel kicked off a 4-part miniseries called Spider-Man: Reign, which was both written and drawn by the multi-talented Kaare Andrews. Andrews set out to give Spidey the Dark Knight Returns treatment, emulating Frank Miller's celebrated tale of an elderly Batman who comes out of retirement when his city needs him. Similarly, Reign finds a 70-year-old, widowed Peter Parker called back into action by a New York City under the dystopian grip of a corrupt mayor.
It's a fascinating story that's well-told, but the undeniably weird part kicks in when Mary Jane's skeleton is exhumed and Peter embraces her remains in tears, confessing how she died. A lifetime of marriage to Peter had brought M.J. into daily close contact with her husband's spider-radiated body, which gave her cancer. But it wasn't just being near him that was the issue. Because Peter doesn't have nearly enough things to feel guilty about already, Andrews reveals in a gut-wrenching series of panels that the web-slinger's semen was also radiated.
That's right: Peter sexed his wife to death. Ew.
The first print run of the series also included a "mistake," causing it to be recalled and altered in future printings. The mistake in question was a panel depicting Old Peter sitting on the edge of his bed, naked, where in full view was his... you know... murder weapon.
Over a 7-part story arc in the main Punisher comic book, writer Mike Baron had Kingpin trying to take Frank Castle down for good. The ridiculous plot, which began in 1991's issue #53, eventually sent Punisher to prison, where he had to find a way to escape (for like, the 40th time).
While behind bars, Frank is gleefully disfigured by Jigsaw, who just happens to be in the same prison at the same time, wielding a wickedly sharp knife that cuts Frank's face "to the bone." Eventually, Frank and his horrific face escape, and a friend takes him to see a surgeon to both repair and alter his features so that he, being a highly wanted fugitive, wouldn't be recognized. And by "surgeon," what we mean is "former doctor turned junkie prostitute," who'd been doing experiments in tissue regeneration using — wait for it — melanin.
In a plot twist that would make even the most die hard reader cringe, the Punisher goes under the knife, and when he wakes up, his disfigurement is gone... and he's an African American. No, seriously: the night-walking surgeon turns him black. It doesn't last, of course, but during Frank's unfortunate setback to race relations, he teams up with Luke Cage and gets pulled over by the cops for doing absolutely nothing.
The story arc, called "Final Days," was handled with a complete lack of anything resembling sensitivity and left comics fans feeling guilty for having read it.
How do you describe a comic book that starred the weirdest of the weird characters in the Marvel Universe? Probably not the way Marvel did. Daydreamers starred the über-powerful youth Franklin Richards, Man-Thing, Howard the Duck, alien fugitive Tana Nile, and mutant kids Artie Maddicks and Leech. It began in the aftermath of the Onslaught crossover event, which had claimed the lives of numerous superheroes, including Franklin Richards' parents, Reed and Sue of the Fantastic Four.
Without an adult to look after him, Franklin was left in the care of the Xavier Institute, which soon experienced one of its, let's say monthly attacks by outsiders. Howard grabbed the alien woman (long story) and the kids and dove inside Man-Thing. Oh, didn't you know? Man-Thing's innards double as a portal to the Nexus of All Realities (which is exactly what it sounds like). From there, our technicolor team goes about a series of increasingly kooky adventures across the multiverse that fills a whopping three issues.
Daydreamers came along in 1997, which was smack in the middle of the time that cartoons like Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, and Magic School Bus were whisking kids away on quirky, imaginative adventures. Daydreamers probably seemed like a home-run to Marvel. Most of the story took place in a Disney-gone-crazy fantasy land called, we kid you not, "Nevernever-Narnozbia." Yeah, that happened. It was filled with amalgams of familiar Marvel characters like the Thing, Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch, Norman Osborn, and more. In the end, it was revealed that the whole thing was just a trippy trip inside Franklin's fractured little omnipotent mind, which was still trying to cope with the deaths of his parents.
Because nothing says whimsical fun like coming to grips with being an orphan.
In 1980’s Avengers #197, writer David Michelinie decided to make Ms. Marvel, aka Carol Danvers, pregnant. (These days, Kamala Khan is Ms. Marvel, while Carol Danvers has moved up the food chain to become Captain Marvel.) Carol's accelerated pregnancy has her give birth to a baby boy named Marcus, who becomes a full-grown man with a power man-perm in just hours. Marcus, it turns out, was the son of an old Avengers nemesis named Immortus.
In an incredibly convoluted backstory, Michelinie has Marcus explain his bizarre circumstances. Basically, he was raised in Limbo by his father, but when dear old dad was gone, Marcus devised a way to escape Limbo and live in the mortal world. Needing a human vessel to be reborn on Earth, he chose Carol Danvers, plucked her out of space and time, wooed and won her heart in Limbo, had sex with her to implant his "essence" within her, and then sent her back to one second after he'd removed her. But things don't work out for Marcus as he'd hoped, and he has to return to Limbo to save Earth. Feeling a deep connection to him, Carol decides to go with him.
The thing is, the next writer on the title, Chris Claremont, hated Michelinie's outlandish story. In one of the fastest retcons in history, his Avengers Annual #10 saw Carol return to Earth after watching Marcus rapidly age and die during her very first week in Limbo.
Yes, it's just as freaky as it sounds. In a turn of events that could only signal that writer Joe Quesada (that's right, Mr. Cup o' Joe himself) had run out of ideas, Iron Man's latest armor gains sentience and promptly professes its love for him. We could explain it — something to do with an A.I. interface and a lightning strike and Y2K — but that would insinuate that it makes sense.
The 5-part 1998 story that begins with Invincible Iron Man #26 becomes a twisted soap opera, with the suit taking Tony hostage, wanting nothing more than its maker to "be inside" it. It kills a criminal, it threatens Tony's girlfriend, it attacks him, Tony tries to take it down using another suit, it engages in a little BDSM play with Tony tied (nearly) naked to some trees, and finally the story becomes a Greek tragedy with the two alone on a deserted island to work out their issues. They argue, Tony has a heart attack, and the armor rips its own "heart" out to replace Tony's faulty one, which it somehow does instantly, and then despite everything, Tony desperately tries to keep the psychopathic, murderous robot suit from "dying."
It's one thing to have a dumb story idea. It's another to execute it clumsily. Combining the two this way is the kind of flat-on-your-face fall that writers live in perpetual fear of.
Captain Marvel was an oddball from the beginning. The main reason Marvel created him and published his comic regularly was to prevent other publishers from using his name. Fawcett Comics already had a Captain Marvel on their roster, the same character who was later acquired by DC Comics and eventually renamed Shazam. As a hero perpetuated to maintain a publishing trademark, Marvel never quite figured out what to do with its namesake character.
Eventually retconned into a Kree warrior named "Mar-Vell," he was an alien spy who defected and became a superhero to humanity. He struggled for relevance for years, only finding it when Jim Starlin killed him off in 1982's The Death of Captain Marvel. Rather than slugging it out in a larger-than-life battle with a big bad like Thanos, Mar-Vell met his end after succumbing to a fate all too realistic: cancer. Starlin's graphic novel was beautifully tragic, not to mention ground-breaking in how it addressed the truth of this terrible disease. The character's final moments were equal parts peculiar and poetic, with his soul being peacefully led to the afterlife by his longtime nemesis, Thanos, and the Mad Titan's unrequited love, Death (more on those two later).
Following Mar-Vell, no less than six iterations of the character have appeared over the years. There was Monica Rambeau, the first female version. There was Genis-Vell, an artificial offspring of Mar-Vell's, who fell prey to the "slowly going insane until he turns evil" trope that so many superheroes succumb to. Genis-Vell's sister Phyla-Vell took on the title for a short time, followed by a Skrull who didn't know he wasn't the original Captain Marvel, and yet another member of the family named Noh-Varr, who came from an alternate universe. Or something.
Carol Danvers is the current bearer of the title, and Marvel has doubled-down on ensuring she has the kind of longevity that her predecessors lacked. Hey, maybe the seventh time's the charm.
In 1995's Wolverine #90, Logan is goaded into a fight one too many times by his arch-nemesis Sabretooth and he snaps, executing the ugly oaf. See, Magneto had recently ripped the Adamantium off of Logan's bones, and in issue #91, Professor X theorizes that the Adamantium had inexplicably been keeping Logan's mutation in check. Once it's gone, there's nothing holding the animal side of him back, so he starts going feral.
By issue #101, Wolverine is in full-on lupine mode, in which he regresses to a point that he's no longer capable of intelligent thought. Thank goodness Elektra comes to visit in #103, provoking his human side into resurfacing. But he's still totally savage and animal-like in appearance, and remains that way for months.
In issue #113, his appearance reverts to normal with no explanation whatsoever. One issue he's Grizzly Adams, the next it's business as usual. It wouldn't be that big a deal if the comic hadn't gone to such lengths to draw attention to it. Even stranger: the mystifying switcheroo happened under a single writer, Mr. Larry Hama, so you'd think he'd keep up with a detail that important. Also, the Adamantium — which, remember, was supposedly what had kept Logan from turning beastly for so long — wouldn't be re-bonded to his skeleton until Erik Larsen wrote it into an issue 32 issues later.
Marvel never quite managed to do right by Robert Reynolds, aka the Sentry, the man with "the power of a million exploding suns." He was introduced with an ingeniously meta marketing campaign in which Marvel had supposedly found an archived superhero character originally created ages ago by Stan Lee, and was reintroducing him. In reality, the Sentry was the brainchild of writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee, and his introduction to the Marvel Universe cleverly echoed the real-world hype.
Unofficially touted as the Marvel equivalent of Superman, Sentry was set up as a hero with a long, storied history where he fought alongside the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Hulk, and more. Then, in one of those "sacrifice to save the world" scenarios, his existence was wiped from the minds of every person on Earth. 2000's The Sentry miniseries was about his return to the fight. The miniseries sold well and got positive reviews, even though it came with the self-destructive motif that the Sentry's all-powerful enemy, the Void, was Robert's own second persona. After his return, the world forgot him once again and everyone moved on.
If only they'd left it at that. The usually-reliable Brian Michael Bendis brought the Sentry back for New Avengers in 2005, in which Robert had voluntarily locked himself in the super-prison the Raft because he thought he'd killed his wife. To convince him otherwise, Bendis tried to turn Robert's brain even mushier by having the Avengers trot out none other than writer Paul Jenkins himself, in comic book form, to reveal that he'd created the Sentry as a comic book character five years ago!
That bit was eventually explained away by a virus or something, but sadly, Robert's story of super-psychosis only got weirder from there. Basically, the poor guy got screwed over with one retcon after another, until readers couldn't tell what was real about him anymore.
Way back in the mid-'80s, Avengers Scarlet Witch and Vision got married and wanted to have kids. Put another way, that's a mutant and a "synthezoid" (er, android) procreating. It's crazy nuts, so don't give it much thought. Anyway, through one of those wacky confluences of circumstances that can only happen in comics, Wanda's "hex magic" powers make it possible for the couple to get pregnant. They do so in 1985's Vision and the Scarlet Witch #3, written by Bill Mantlo.
Wanda gives birth to twin boys in issue #12, and names them Thomas and William. But over time an odd problem develops: the kids have a pesky habit of disappearing when Wanda's not thinking about them. Turns out, they're not real; they're just manifestations of her hex powers. In one of the wildest retcons in Marvel history, Avengers West Coast #51 and #52 explains that the twin (nonexistent) boys also hold pieces of Mephisto's soul (the same bottom-feeder that once erased Peter Parker and Mary Jane's marriage). When Mephisto reabsorbs those horcruxes into himself, the boys' toddler bodies become Mephisto's arms. It makes for the kind of image you wish you could unsee.
Wanda's memories of the boys are erased — until "Avengers Disassembled" in 2004, when Wanda has a nervous breakdown-fueled temper tantrum and launches a massive, magic-powered attack on her Avengers teammates. It doesn't end well for anyone, but the story's not over yet. A few years later, writer Allan Heinberg cleverly introduced a mysterious pair of twin teenage boys as members of his Young Avengers. Billy Kaplan, aka Wiccan, has magic-based powers, while the brother he never knew he had, Tommy Shepherd, aka Speed, is a super-fast runner. Sound familiar? It's the same basic powers as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver — and the former turns out to be their mom.
That's right: Thomas and William were real after all. Gotcha!
They say love makes people do crazy things. And then there's Thanos, who wiped out half of all sentient life in the universe just to win the love of Death. It's pretty messed up that the Mad Titan is hopelessly in love with the physical embodiment of Death, and winning "her" is the motivation for everything he does.
In Jim Starlin's 1991 crossover mega-event The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos makes his biggest move ever to impress Death. He gathers the six Infinity
Stones Gems and combines them into that glove thing the series is named for. Then, in the snobbiest form of superiority possible, Thanos coldly snaps his fingers. Just like that, half of the universe is dead.
It's not weird that he did it. Because hello? Evil! What's weird is that he wiped out half of existence without hesitation — in the name of love.
Those three words are enough to send shivers down the spines of longtime Spider-Man fans. You think today's crossover miniseries go on too long when they get delayed a month or two? Kicking off in 1994's Spectacular Spider-Man, the Clone Saga lasted for over two years. And the only thing that could rival the wacked-out drama in the comic book pages was the behind-the-scenes drama happening at Marvel.
Originally intended to last only a few months, the Clone Saga was extended when sales skyrocketed. This turned out to be one of the worst decisions in the history of comics, as the longer the story was stretched out, the more incomprehensible its plot became. There was just one clone of Peter Parker in the beginning, who took on the moniker Ben Reilly and did the superhero thing as the Scarlet Spider. At one point, Peter gave up being Spider-Man because Mary Jane was pregnant. The editorial team intended to use Ben Reilly as the new "real" Spider-man so Peter could retire with his wife and child. The idea was to get Spidey back to basics as a single, down-on-his-luck, nerdy guy.
But fans nearly rioted at the notion of ditching Peter, forcing writers to restructure the story repeatedly. As the series dragged on, more and more clones and other new characters were introduced, the story went through the hands of multiple writers and editors, each of whom had differing ideas, and scheduling issues forced the creative team to end the thing much later than they wanted. Today, the Clone Saga is an infamous cautionary tale, remaining one of the strangest episodes in comics history.
The one saving grace of this creepy storyline is that it occurred in the Ultimate Marvel universe, an "Earth 2" kind of world where Marvel's familiar heroes got modern overhauls. One of the line's most celebrated titles was The Ultimates, as written by Mark Millar. This riff on the Avengers inspired much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by introducing a Sam Jackson lookalike as Nick Fury and having S.H.I.E.L.D. be responsible for teaming-up the heroes for the first time.
Millar knocked it out of the park with Ultimates and Ultimates 2, but afterwards decided to move on. And then came Jeph Loeb. Modern fans know Loeb as the overlord of Marvel's television unit, overseeing successes like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and all those dark, adult Marvel shows on Netflix. But Loeb worked for decades as a comic book writer, bouncing between DC and Marvel and writing for many of the world's most popular superheroes. So bringing him on board The Ultimates 3 seemed like a no-brainer.
What Loeb turned in was a hot mess of overwrought plotting and unnecessary character revamps that made the familiar roster of beloved heroes unrecognizable. He ditched all of the more realistic, down-to-earth qualities that we loved about these reinvented superheroes, and replaced them with flights of fancy that were preposterous. The worst beneficiaries of Loeb's heavy-handed changes were siblings Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Aside from Wanda's utterly ridiculous new costume, Loeb had the two of them engage in an incestuous relationship.
The Maximoff twins' Lannister-like-love was not only disgusting, it was a high-order character assassination that served no purpose. Calling it "weird" would be a laughable understatement.
What's your weirdest Marvel moment ever? Did we miss any of your favorites? Be sure to let us know in the comments.