Comic books have gotten noticeably darker since the days of yore. Today’s comic book industry typically try to court a more mature demographic- “comics aren’t just for kids anymore!” But sometimes the attempts to make once-goofy comic characters edgy and relevant can be way over-the-top, and frankly, a bit weird. Let’s take a look at some bizarre attempts at being grim and gritty and see whether or not they work.
Superfriends, Hana Barbara Productions
Marvin and Wendy from the old, goofy cartoon, Superfriends, made their way to the comics proper in 2006. And so did their caped critter, Wonder Dog!
Teen Titans #62 (2008), DC Comics
The doggie debuted in Teen Titans #63, in what looked to be a nostalgic, lighthearted tale. Except, DC thought, y’know what would make a cute dog in a cape more interesting?
Teen Titans #62 (2008), DC Comics
If he turned out to be hellbeast that disemboweled Marvin and maimed Wendy! That’s fun and exciting! (How does his cape still fit, by the way?). This is what happens when you adopt pets without giving them their shots, kids.
The whole story had no purpose other than to be shocking. It was meant to evoke a sense of horror just because it took it a happy, childish property and turned it into something monstrous. But the thing was, it wasn’t particularly shocking. It was par for the course for the Teen Titans title, which had characters being brutally murdered every other issue. At this point, readers were numb to it.
Teen Titans Annual #1 (2012), DC Comics
This also wasn’t the last time that Teen Titans took a character from a kid’s series and immediately destroyed them in a mean-spirited way. They also introduced Artemis from the Young Justice cartoon into their continuity only to murder her in practically the next panel.
Marvel’s Ultimate Comics line was meant to introduce younger readers to a more modern, streamlined version of the classic heroes. But they had a really weird idea of what “streamlined” meant. For instance, Wolverine. A lot of people think he’s cool! Don’t you think he’d be even cooler if he blatantly ogled and harassed teenage girls? And if, after switching bodies with Peter Parker unbeknownst to her, he attempted to have sex with fifteen-year-old Mary Jane Watson.
Ultimate Spider-Man #68 (2009), Marvel Comics
What, that’s not cool? That’s horrible and makes Wolverine completely heinous? But Marvel thought that’s what the kids were into these days!
The Ultimates #8, Marvel Comics
You know what else is modern and edgy? Incest! Ultimate Comics decided the relationship between siblings Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver was much better when they took after Cersei and Jaime Lannister.
This was typically how Ultimate Comics did its thing. They took heroes and made them horrific and unlikeable under the guise of maturity. The whole thing came to a ridiculous head in the Ultimatum crossover, which was just basically pages and pages of seeing all your favorite characters murdered in the goriest ways possible. For instance, The Wasp was graphically cannibalized.
Ultimatum #2, Marvel Comics
Her abusive ex-husband avenged her by cannibalizing that guy in return, so double yum.
Comics are supposed to be fun, right?
DC decided they wanted to take a goofy old supervillain from the sixties named Dr. Light and make him prominent again. How did they choose to do this, you ask? By making him a rapist. Neat, right? In fact, they revealed the dude had been a rapist all along, it was just that the Justice League wiped his mind so he was no longer dangerous and then let him roam around and fight their teenage sidekicks. Which seems like a horrible plan, but who are we to judge?
Green Arrow #55 (2005), DC Comics
Of course, he eventually regained his memories and after that point, he seemed unable to go five seconds without mentioning how much he loved to rape people. Which was honestly as ludicrous and one note as the silly light show dude, and a lot more uncomfortable.
Fantastic Four (2015), 20th Century Fox
The new Fantastic Four movie was a flop, not least because it tried to make the FF “darker” in completely ludicrous ways. The most amazing of which was revealing that The Thing’s iconic “it’s clobberin’ time” catchphrase was something that his abusive brother would say before beating the crap out of him. It completely makes sense to adopt the catchphrase of someone who terrorized you as a battle cry, right? That’s totally a thing people do.
DC Comics recent Future’s End event was another one of those where comics presented with an alternate universe full of your favorite characters being brutalized in increasingly ridiculous ways. An example of this is Black Canary’s face being sewn on the chest of a Frankenstein monster.
Future’s End: Frankenstein #1, DC Comics
Realism and maturity!
Life with Archie #36 (2014), Archie comics
Archie Comics are classic tales for kids at the corner store, following the lighthearted adventures of a gang of loveable teens. But recently, they’ve gone through several more “adult” reboots. One was Life with Archie which showed Archie’s married adult life (with either Betty or Veronica depending on the title). This series includes stuff like beloved schoolteacher Ms. Grundy dying from cancer and eventually, Archie’s death as well- he took a bullet for a friend.
But Afterlife with Archie was an even darker storyline. Sabrina the Teenage Witch tries to bring Jughead’s dog back to life and accidentally kickstarts and zombie apocalypse with Jughead as the first victim. (What is it about dogs in these things?) Sabrina’s own book has also been rebooted with a horror feel- her goofy antics have been replaced with blood-soaked mystical rites.
Afterlife with Archie #1, Archie Comics
But these grim and gritty reboots are a little different from the others we’ve described. They’re all actually pretty good. Life with Archie, Afterlife with Archie and the new Sabrina book have all gotten favorable reviews. So what’s the difference?
Honestly, it’s probably down to the fact that Archie isn’t solely worshipping at the altar of “dark and edgy”. There’s the new, fairly lighthearted series by Mark Waid as well as a bunch of other inventive titles going. The horror stories are just Archie trying something new.
Moreover, the idealism of the series is still largely in place. Despite its soap-opera elements, Life with Archie still had a very optimistic backdrop. Archie died a hero and managed to save his friend and Miss Grundy was loved by those around her. And Afterlife focuses more on paying homage to classic horror stories and focusing on the psychology of the characters than gore for the sake of it.
Afterlife with Archie #1, Archie Comics
Basically, Archie’s dark titles work because the company is more concerned with telling a many different kinds of stories as they can rather than just piling on gore and angst for pure shock value at every opportunity. They want to protect their brand for the kids while attracting as many readers as possible, so they can’t just put out stories that are nothing but bloody schlock. They have to have some substance there as well and they have to keep the heart of the characters.
In the end, there’s nothing wrong with making characters a little darker and telling a different kind of story. It’s when you overuse darkness and care more about being shocking than developing your story that you run into trouble.