It’s hard not to be impressed with the number of incredible characters Marvel has created over the years. We’re not going to throw fuel on the old DC/Marvel debate, but it’s impossible to not respect the fact that the company has given us characters like Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the X-Men, and that those examples barely represent a percentage of the Marvel characters worth knowing. In many ways, you can attribute the comic juggernaut's creative accomplishments to their collective lack of fear when it comes to making mistakes. They are willing to try something strange, so long as it might result in something timeless.
Having said that, the stack of Marvel’s failures is arguably higher than their stack of successes. Hey, that’s true of most creative companies and people. Even still, there are some specific creations of the past that occupy a special, deep dark corner of Marvel history. They are the characters which did not only fail in some significant way; they’re the characters that Marvel likely wish they could go back and erase from existence. Some are unbelievably offensive, some are just stupid, and some others played a critical role in the history of Marvel despite being unworthy of that honor.
15 NFL SuperPro
You have to remember that Marvel is a business, and that Marvel’s business wasn’t always as bountiful as it currently is. In the past, the company had to rely on everything from outlandish promises (“Someone...will...DIE!”) to promiscuous covers just to sell a few extra issues. From time to time, Marvel even had to strike deals with major companies and produce comics based on their products.
The NFL SuperPro series might just be the worst corporate comic series that Marvel ever produced. It starred Phil Grayfield, aka SuperPro, who was just your average Ex-NFL player turned superhero. As obvious as a shill as that is - the writer admitted to creating it just to get free football tickets - what’s really special about SuperPro is what a PR disaster he was. From insulting Hopi tribes to using football to save the Brazilian rainforests, SuperPro was just an awful hero.
14 Demolition Man
Demolition Man - referred to here as “D-Man” in order to reduce the amount of time spent talking about this character - was introduced in the mid-eighties as a superhero professional wrestler who wrestled other superheroes. If you’re wondering why that gem of a storyline hasn’t yet been translated to the MCU, it’s because it was absolutely awful. Right from the start, D-Man dressed like and came across as a low-budget Wolverine.
Marvel tried to incorporate D-Man as a legitimate superhero, but their efforts were in vain. Despite changes to the character, D-Man failed to make an impact. One of his most notable appearances was the time that he was reduced to tears when begging Luke Cage and Jessica Jones to give him a babysitting gig.
13 Snap Wilson (The Falcon’s Original Origin)
Many of you might know The Falcon from his appearances in the MCU. That version of Sam Wilson is actually a great character. He’s capable, confident, loyal, and has fantastic chemistry with Captain America. The Falcon wasn’t always a great character, however. In the early days, he was something of a forgotten force in the Marvel universe. He struggled to achieve more than “Hey look everyone, it’s The Falcon!” status.
It certainly didn’t help that Marvel chose to give one of the first mainstream African American heroes in comics one of the worst backstories ever. Before becoming Falcon, Sam Wilson worked the streets as a thug/enforcer/pimp named Snap Wilson. Snap Wilson was the most stereotypical ‘60s/’70s street thug you could ever imagine. His characterization bordered on offensive. Marvel quickly retconned his origins and never looked back.
Every now and then, Marvel gets it into their heads that it’s time to shake-up popular characters and send them on new adventures. Sometimes, their efforts in this endeavor pay off. Other times, they result in characters like Nomad. The original incarnation of Nomad arose from a Captain America storyline in which Steve Rogers felt his patriotism waning and decided to become a vigilante.
This story run only lasted four issues, and is generally remembered as being terrible. Marvel clearly tried to use the character as an excuse to portray a “darker” version of Captain America, and fans saw right through their weak attempts at creating an edgy character. What’s really sad, though, is that Nomad’s story didn’t end there. Marvel revisited the character a few times after in an attempt to make the world’s most generic vigilante work. It never did, it never will, and they’d probably prefer we move on from it.
It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between when Marvel creates a character with the intention of only using them for a short amount of time, and when Marvel creates a character that they had to suddenly cut because they just didn’t work. In the case of Cloud, we think it’s the latter.
Cloud was a space nebula who was converted into a human to help us through some troubled times. At the time, she felt like a pretty big deal. Her powers were immense and she seemed to play a starring role in a cosmic storyline. Eventually, though, Cloud worked her way down the Marvel hierarchy until she joined The Defenders and then just kind of returned to space, never to be seen again. Truth be told, Cloud was a very generic - sometimes controversial - character who Marvel seemingly abandoned because she was not as interesting as someone seemingly hoped she might be.
10 Ulysses Archer (and The Highwayman)
There’s something especially sad about a major company trying to capitalize on a cultural trend long after that trend is relevant. In the ‘70s, Marvel thought they’d create a comic designed to turn Smokey and the Bandit into a superhero story. The problem was that they tried to do this five years after Smokey and the Bandit was released in theaters.
Actually, the problem was that the series was awful. It starred a trucker named Ulysses Archer who gains the ability to pick up CB waves when the top part of his skull is replaced with an experimental alloy. He can also upgrade his trucks with weapons using “his College skills.” The primary villain of this tale was The Highwayman, who is actually Ulysses’ brother, who himself was kidnapped by aliens looking for truckers to pilot their spaceships. Great stuff all around.
9 Rawhide Kid (2000s Version)
There are two versions of the Rawhide Kid. The first version made his debut in 1955 under the publication umbrella of Atlas Comics. He was a pretty generic cowboy character, and remained as such when Atlas became Marvel and writer staff took the series in a slightly campier direction. He was an entirely forgettable hero.
The 2000s version of Rawhide Kid, however, is memorable for all the wrong reasons. Under their mature MAX imprint, Marvel rebooted Rawhide Kid as an openly homosexual cowboy hero. In and of itself, that doesn't have to be a bad thing. What was a big deal, however, was the way that Marvel focused solely on the character’s sexual orientation. Soon, Rawhide Kid became more of a collection of homosexual stereotypes than a fully-fledged character. Marvel caught a lot of heat over this version of the character and quickly moved past him.
Oh, Shamrock. You know, in the history of poorly conceived and utterly offensive Marvel characters, there is just something special about Shamrock that has ensured she stands the tests of time as one of the most misinformed and unfortunate decisions in Marvel history.
The list of Irish cliches present in Shamrock’s design is mind-blowingly long. She got her powers by kissing the Blarney Stone, her brother (Paddy) was killed by the IRA, she has deep red hair, she wears a clover on her costume, and her powers are often referred to as the luck of the Irish. Even if all of that wasn’t offensive, none of that actually makes her a good character. A combination of creative struggles and controversy eventually forced Marvel to retire Shamrock and portray her as a hairdresser.
7 Stacy X
It’s no secret that Marvel has often turned to sex appeal in order to sell some comics. To be fair, most companies have turned to sex appeal at some point to sell something. While there are many instances of this practice in Marvel history that were certainly cheap - those swimsuit issues come to mind - few were as detrimental as the contributions of Stacy X.
Stacy X was a mutant prostitute who briefly joined forces with the X-Men. Aside from some hand-to-hand abilities, her powers were entirely based on her sex appeal. She could control pheromones of others and often bend them to her will.
There’s a way you can present that character that isn’t cheap. Marvel did not present her in that way. Stacy X was almost exclusively used as an excuse to sneak some skin into the pages of otherwise forgettable stories.
6 Big Bertha
Allow us to share a few disclaimers about Big Bertha. First off, she was created as something of a joke character. Second, she is still being used to this day. Finally, recent versions of Big Bertha aren’t quite as...troublesome as her original incarnation. All that out of the way, we can guarantee you that Marvel isn’t in a hurry to expose Big Bertha to a wide audience (no pun intended).
Big Bertha is a professional model by day and an obese superhero by night. Had Marvel simply used Big Bertha’s weight as a source of comic relief - as they often do - she would still be a controversial creation. However, what really puts Bertha over the top is the fact that she often reduces down to her “normal” size by vomiting. The commentary is clear and disturbing.
5 Billy Ray Cyrus
Remember earlier when we noted Marvel’s occasional fondness for “selling out” by creating comics based on certain corporate characters and celebrities? Welcome to the lowest tier of this particular business practice. For those who don’t remember, Billy Ray Cyrus briefly achieved mainstream fame in the ‘90s when his song "Achy Breaky Heart" became a chart topper. Marvel wished to capitalize off his “success” by publishing a comic based on the “singer.”
This recipe for disaster is even worse than you might think it is. This one issue comic consists of two stories. The first sees Billy Ray Cyrus solve a mystery involving a Cherokee ghost. It’s bad. The second sees Billy Ray Cyrus travel through time in order to participate in medieval battles. It’s even worse. Much of Cyrus’ dialog in the second story consists of country music jokes (He can’t save the kingdom...he has a gig in Nashville!) and the first story plays out like a particularly bad episode of Scooby Doo.
4 3D Man
In the history of lame superpowers, 3D Man’s “abilities” stand out. 3D Man first appeared in 1977. At that time, Marvel chose to construct a rather convoluted backstory for 3D Man’s character. See, 3D Man is actually a guy named Chuck Chandler but he is summoned by his brother Hal Chandler who can conjure an image of 3D Man using special eye glasses.
Ok, but what does 3D Man actually do once he gets to the party? Well, he’s three times as powerful and three times as fast as his human self. We’re not saying that doesn’t make him capable, but there are people on this Earth who are three times as fast or three times as strong as someone else, and that doesn’t make them superheroes. To make this whole thing even more convoluted, 3D Man can only exist in a three-dimensional realm for three hours. This whole character reads like an inside joke that actually made it to print.
3 Gin Genie
The best superheroes are fundamentally flawed characters. There is something about them that makes them more than just gods on Earth. A good superhero needs some kind of handicap to be interesting. A prime example of this is Tony Stark’s history with alcoholism. That’s a realistic storyline that was always handled very maturely and made Stark more than just a guy in a power suit.
On the other end of the Stark storyline is Gin Genie. Gin Genie was a mutant whose ability to produce seismic waves was proportional to the amount of alcohol in her body. In other words, the drunker Gin Genie was, the more powerful she was. What was particularly bothersome about this character is that Marvel never quite seemed to know how to approach the tone of her storylines. Genie’s drinking problems were sometimes used for comedic effect (accidentally targeting her teammates) and were sometimes referenced as a serious issue. Marvel killed her off fairly soon after her debut.
2 Hawk-Owl and Woody
Parody superhero characters are nothing new. Marvel and DC can both lay claim to characters that are really just comedic versions of the other company’s most famous heroes. There have actually been a few times when these parody characters ended up becoming famous in their own right (Deadpool/Deathstroke).
Hawk-Owl and Woody are definitely not two examples of parody characters done well. These stars of Marvels’ Ultimate Adventures line were shameless parodies of Batman and Robin. Fans were actually looking forward to this hero’s debut, as the comic was written by former Howard Stern contributor Ron Zimmerman and was hyped by Marvel for some time. Unfortunately, after numerous delays and numerous instances of Zimmerman being openly hostile towards fans, what we got was a comic that felt like it was trying to be a comedy but so happened to be completely devoid of humor. The whole thing was quickly dropped.
1 Kal-AOL (and the rest of the Marville cast)
One of the themes throughout this list is characters created for any reason besides creative accomplishment. Characters that began as a corporate payday, an inside joke, or a shot at another company tend to - thankfully - fall through the cracks of comic book history. These next characters have not been so lucky, and have unfortunately lingered.
Kal-AOL Turner is the star of the Marville comic series. He is a both a parody of Superman and is described as the alien love child of Ted Turner and Jane Fonda. Things only get weirder from there as Marville proceeds to mock Smallville, DC, Ted Turner, and the comic book medium itself. See, Marville was the brainchild of former Marvel vice president, Bill Jemas. Jemas wasn’t a widely loved man, and this comic series certainly helps explain why. It's petty, stupid, devoid of entertainment, and most of its covers starred a nearly-naked - or just naked - female hero whose sole purpose was to show skin. It’s one of the worst things Marvel has ever printed.