A topic as old as time, or as old as Frederic Wertham’s papers: When have comics gone too far? For today’s top 10 list, we explore ten moments in the last 30 years where comics have gone from “Maybe I’m reading just beyond my years” to “this issue is going in that secret box.”
These aren’t necessarily the most shocking, but these are ten notable moments where readers have paused, perhaps chuckled, or felt downright uncomfortable.
10 – Jesus Christ runs up Nazi urine – Jesus Christ: In the Name of the Gun Volume 1 by Eric Peterson and Ethan Nicolle. (2008)
In this independent romp, Jesus travels back in time to right the wrongs of history starting with the Holocaust. When attempting to sneak into Berlin before the onset of World War 2, Jesus faces a Nazi relieving himself in a river. Using his well-documented ability to walk on water, Jesus runs up the urine stream to bicycle kick the soldier in the face.
9- Batman’s Cock – Batman Damned #1 by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo. (2018)
In Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s debut issue of Batman Damned, many questions are posed. One question is perhaps best left unanswered.
8- Frank Castle plays baseball with the skulls of little people — Punisher #17 by Garth Ennis And Darick Robertson. (2002)
Out of all of Ennis’ Punisher runs, this is his most kid friendly — but don’t let your guard down. Wolverine and Punisher go toe to toe in Punisher 16, and then must join forces against an onslaught of little people in issue 17. It’s the bottom of the ninth and Frank, always creative in violent circumstances, is up to bat.
7- Midnighter jackhammers NOT Captain America – Authority #16 by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely. (2000)
Warren Ellis’s Authority run and Mark Millar’s Authority run are both absolutely genius, but they differ in the way Cat Stevens differs from Motörhead. Mark Millar’s run has a group that most definitely is NOT the Avengers go toe to toe with the postmodern heroes. When the time comes for Midnighter (who is definitely NOT Batman) to get his revenge on someone (who is most definitely NOT Captain America) for sodomizing his boyfriend (who is definitely NOT Superman) he uses — a jackhammer.
6- Herogasm – The Boys – Garth Ennis and Jon McCrea. Covers by Darick Robertson. (2009)
So the Herogasm issue…. well, the entire miniseries… is perhaps known by most as the pinnacle of shock and awe in Ennis’ and McCrea’s creation, The Boys. Filled to the brim with superheroes attending a sort of depraved Valhalla where supposedly none of their acts can be witnessed, the series features not only outrageous sexual activity, but the kind that can only be perpetrated by those with superhuman powers.
5- Ant-Man is a wife beater – Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. (2002)
In the first volume of Mark Millar’s and Bryan Hitch’s postmodern reimagining of the Avengers, most characters get a healthy infusion of new character flaws. Perhaps the most shocking are the marital troubles between Hank and Janet. Used as a device to position Hank as an emasculated member of a group that also features Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and the questionably omnipotent Thor, Janet gets the rough end of things as the victim of Hank Pym’s wrath.
4 – Incestuous messiah – Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. (1997)
It is really hard not to fill a list entirely of Preacher moments, but perhaps the one that stretches the boundaries of good taste the thinnest is the Grail’s devout belief in keeping the savior’s bloodline “pure,” which results in their Messiah being the spawn of several generations of inbreeding. Immediately all readers just know that something terrible is going to happen to the little guy.
3 – S----y date (literally) – Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez. (1995)
JTHM is generally considered more dramatic and disturbing than the Squee miniseries. However, writer and artist Jhonen Vasquez peppers in wonderful non sequitur pieces known as “Meanwhiles” throughout the seven-issue series. One of these features a bad date where a man defecates himself and, thinking of the quickest excuse he can, screams the aforementioned phrase while running to the bathroom, deserting his date.
2 – Vikor and the Eternity Gauntlet – The Boys: Dear Becky by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun. (2020)
In the recent The Boys miniseries, Dear Becky, we see that a parody of Thor used the “Eternity Gauntlet” to masturbate, purely out of a desire to see what would happen. Dear Becky is a true return to The Boys form, mixing satire with gleefully debaucherous behavior by iconic looking heroes.
1 – Batgirl getting shot in Killing Joke – Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. (1988)
Creator regret and questionable attempts to scrub this plotline earn its position at the top of this list. Although regarded by some as perhaps one of the greatest Batman stories ever told, The Killing Joke has been largely written off by writer Alan Moore. His beef with DC Comics aside, Moore has regretted, among other things, utilizing Batgirl as a plot device. While poor taste can oftentimes be attributed to shocking moments or lewd depictions, this story beat has become well known as a moment where a female character was unfairly diminished with ongoing, decades-long repercussions. The Killing Joke animated movie, released in 2016, attempted to improve upon the comic version by broadening the Barbara/Batgirl story prior to her injury. This additional plot received mixed reviews from viewers who largely felt the added elements overtly sexualized her, adding insult to injury.
Are you looking for a new book that pushes the boundaries of good taste? Space Bastards returned to Kickstarter on January 18th. Featuring the work of Darick Robertson, Clint Langley, Colin MacNeil, and Boo Cook, Space Bastards is a mature readers romp that imagines the future we would have if America colonized the universe while making every wrong decision along the way. Space Bastards is a high octane story of mercenary postal carriers killing one another to make deliveries.
Check-in at Kickstarter right now to get this limited edition, hardcover collected editions.
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