Superhero comics are going through an interesting shift right now. As the struggling industry tries to attract more of an audience, they’re forced to at least attempt not to do things that will drive away their female and minority readers. Back in the day covers like this could manage to get through:
But now, fans are being more vocal about wanting better depictions of women in comics. Yet despite their efforts to attract more female readers, comic books are really lagging behind when it comes to being tasteful in regards to women. The writers and artists haven’t yet adjusted to a world that’s not quite as impressed with brokeback poses or bound-and-gagged women in their entertainment, who are pointing out that hey, maybe teenage girls shouldn’t be drawn like they’re sexy adults.
As a result, a lot of these covers that piss a lot of fans off and end up being pulled have to do with hypersexulized or uncomfortable depictions of women. In fact, there’s only ONE on this list that doesn’t fall into that category. It just keeps happening.
So let’s take a look at some of the most controversial recent comic book covers- many of which were pulled or canceled due to the hubbub- and learned the dramatic story behind them.
Milo Manara's Butt-Tastic Spider-Woman Cover
Marvel was hoping to attract female readers with their new Spider-Woman title. Sadly, they somehow didn’t anticipate that hiring an erotica artist to draw a cover where Spider-Woman was crouched on all fours with her freakily heart-shaped butt sticking up in the air for the first issue of the series would kinda turn women off. Discussion about the ludicrous looking cover quickly ensued and parodies were abundant. Marvel eventually decided to cancel the cover.
Manara didn’t really make the issue better when he implied critics of the cover were Islamic extremists and also insisted that he can’t help it that women naturally evolved to look sexy while crouching on all fours. He’s just being true to life, y’know. It’s really women’s fault for evolving so sexily…or something.Advertisement
Frank Cho's Sketchy Spider-Gwen cover
Frank Cho decided to bravely stand beside his poor, persecuted fellow artist Milo Manara by doing…parody sketch covers. Which included Spider-Gwen, a character who was essentially a teenager, in the provocative pose. Her artist, Robbi Rodriguez, was not impressed by this.
Rodriguez later clarified his feelings on the matter, saying that sexy art was fine in the right context and had it’s place, but “it becomes trashy when we are in the midst of the biggest new reader boom in years. At ECCC I never heard so many “this is my daughter/son’s first comic” or “my wife has never picked up a comic till this book” or sister/brother, or other non-reader. It’s fucking fantastic that the industry broke that wall. But every time I see those 10 gratuitous variant covers I cringe as I sign while said new readers watches.”
Cho doubled down in response to this criticism, drawing even more variant covers featuring the pose, including Harley Quinn and Wonder Woman.
Frank Cho's Contentious Wonder Woman Cover
However, this kind of thing definitely put Cho in Greg Rucka’s bad books. Rucka is know for championing progressiveness in comics, and when the writer took over Wonder Woman, Cho was on covers. As is Cho’s style, some of them verged on cheesecake, including some unrealistic poses and slight panty-shots. It certainly wasn’t the worst Wonder Woman’s endured, but Rucka didn't seem to feel it lines up with his goal to do a book consistent with Wonder Woman’s feminist ideals that was friendly to women.
DC had given Rucka complete editorial control over the book, so he began requesting Cho to alter his covers very slightly- cropping out the panty-shot in the above picture, for instance. Though Cho called this “censorship”, it’s honestly not- this was a the job Cho was hired to do and the person given control of the title has the right to ask him to alter the requested product to fit the book’s needs. Anyway, long story short, Cho got mad and walked off.
Sana Takeda's Tentacle Porn Heroes for Hire Cover
Takeda is capable of pretty awesome art as she’s proved with her work on Marjorie Liu’s Monstress. However, there was a time when the focal point attention paid to her had to do with the fact she drew a cover that looked like it was a prelude to a tentacle rape scene.
It’s honestly amazing this thing even got published considering Heroes for Hire is NOT supposed to be a hentai manga. Yet here we have Misty Knight, Colleen Wing and Black Cat being menaced by tentacles dripping with…fluids…as they are chained up and helpless. If that wasn’t suggestive enough, their boobs are popping out of their costumes to let us know we’re supposed to find this sexy. Because people who love superhero comics probably love tentacle rape erotica, it just follows, y’know.
A woman named Lea Hernandez showed that the art could be altered to have slightly better implications- she gave the women expressions like they were in control of the situation- in Black Cat's case she's comically sticking her tongue out in disgust- and buttoned their shirts. She also made Misty Knight look more like the black woman with an afro she looks like in the interior art. It's still pretty ick, but gives off a better vibe and is more in character.
Amazingly, this cover was not pulled. Considering the Milo Manara one, which while stupid, was definitely less horrifying, got pulled, this is a good example of how the comic book climate has shifted in a few years. Back in 2007 Marvel wouldn’t listen to fans who said “hey, I’m not into seeing these characters threatened with tentacle rape on the cover of a book available to 9 year olds.” But now at least they're a little more open to that.
Of course, Joe Quesada played dumb and said there was no implication of rape on this cover and he was “not familiar with that sub-genre of manga”. Sure, Joe. Sure. He also complained that people weren’t talking about the strong female characters in the book. Here’s an idea, if you’re proud of your strong female characters, probably not a good idea to show them being sexually menaced by tentacles while looking terrified and helpless to advertise your comic.
Rafael Albequerque's Terrorized Batgirl Cover
Issue 41 of Batgirl featured a variant cover by Rafael Albequerque that referenced The Killing Joke. That comic is already pretty controversial to begin with, as Barbara Gordon was shot, paralyzed and sexually assaulted by the Joker all to give Batman and her dad some angst. Even Alan Moore, the writer, came to regret the poor treatment of Barbara. So showing a cover with the Joker dressed as he was in the Killing Joke, while holding Barbara captive as she is bound, gagged and sobbing was a pretty uncomfortable callback to that.
It was especially jarring when Batgirl was trying to market itself as a fun, female-friendly book. There’s really nothing fun or female friendly about seeing the main character brutalized in a way that reminds you of the time she was maimed and sexually assaulted. Eventually, the controversy got to be so much that Albequerque himself requested the cover be pulled.
J. Scott Campbell’s Un-Teenagerly Invincible Iron Man Cover
The most recent controversial cover features Riri Williams, a fifteen-year-old girl, looking pretty…not-fifteen. Her cocked hip also puts her in a pose that is clearly supposed to be a little “hot”. Campbell typically draws women with these unlikely body types and swayed hips, but people are getting more aware that maybe it’s kind of creepy for minors to be drawn as If they were sexy adult women. Especially since Marvel is trying to market the character as a progressive addition to the Marvel Universe. For the record, this is how Riri looks in the interiors, which doesn't match the cover at all:
The cover ended up being canceled for this reason.
Kenneth Rocafort's Bust New Teen Titans Cover
A prelude to the Riri Williams controversy was another discussion about teenagers being sexualized. Former DC Editor Janelle Asselin wrote an article about how Wonder Girl’s boobs are roughly the size of her head here and very front and center in the cover... and she’s supposed to be like, sixteen or something. The article wasn't solely about that, it talked about the terrible aesthetics for the other costumes and such as well. She focused a lot on the marketing aspect of it all, pointing out that this had the potential to alienate fans coming in from the Teen Titans cartoon.
The article was mostly notable for how angry people got about her criticism. She was pelted with rape and death threats.
Mimi Yoon's Sexy Powerpuff Girls Cover
This is another cover that actually got pulled. The Powerpuff Girls are like, five or something. So there was a bit of a stir when a variant cover of IDW’s Powerpuff Girls comic features sexy and –I’m assuming- teenage versions of the characters. It was especially a bit weird considering the comic was all-ages and mainly aimed at young children. At least these DO appear to be older versions of PPG, but I can see why people were a bit weirded out. So Cartoon Network ended up pulling the cover.
Mike Allred's Undead X-Statix Cover
This one is about the content of the comic more than the cover, but it still deserves a shout out. In 2003, there was plants for a mutant version of Princess Diana to join the X-men spinoff team X-Statix. The comic was not-so-tastefully titled “Di Another Day”. The idea was she had used her mutant powers to rise from the grave. It probably shouldn’t surprise you that the Royal family and British press weren’t pleased about their iconic princess who died tragically young running around as an zombie superhero. "Too soon," basically. The comic and the cover were pulled as a result.