Comic books in America entered the Bronze Age in 1970, sixteen years after the Comics Code Authority was established. Until 1985, it was a period of new limits to be pushed back. For all their groundbreaking work, DC Comics in the 1970s was a very different company. Many artists sought to be creative without restraint, while others were more concerned with meeting deadlines and grabbing attention as quickly as possible.
Some of DC’s cover artists fell into the latter category, relying on demeaning characterizations or intense brutality to grab readers’ attention. Others have produced dubious or silly covers in their efforts to be innovative. These covers range from deeply disturbing to embarrassing, and all have the potential to make today’s readers cringe.
Some entries on this list will discuss sexism and racism
ten The flash bends
Jack Abel and Richard Buckler’s cover for Lightning #252 is a bit hard to watch. The angle of Flash’s leg being stretched and bent past its breaking point is reminiscent of fun on-paper antics in their disregard for physics. The combination of Bronze and Silver Age styles produces an odd effect.
Adding to the cringe factor of this cover is an advertisement for the Superman Movie Contest, promising readers a chance to be in the original Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve. These ads dotted all of DC’s titles and, on covers like this, distracted from the full-page artwork. Two children, among the millions who bought and saw these advertisements, would have won the competition.
9 Green Lantern and Green Arrow witness a crucifixion
Sometimes a cover subtly grabs the reader’s attention, only suggesting compelling twists and gripping action to come. This is not one of those times. Neil Adams and Jack Adler’s cover for Green Lantern #89 playing with Green Arrow is, in a word, shocking.
Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen wrestle in front of a crucified man in fashionable white pants. With art by Adams and Dick Giordano, Dennis O’Neil’s story sees an environmental activist snagged on a billion-dollar plane alongside the green heroes, just like on the cover. The story is dark, but the cover alone is enough to make readers think.
8 love stories between girls Were not flattering
Jay Scott Pike’s cover for the latest issue of love stories between girls hits all the hallmarks of romance comics worthy of the Bronze Age. A blindfolded man kisses a woman while another cries behind them. Besides the crying woman, a crowd of people are laughing behind the kissing couple. It’s not a pleasant scene.
Published in 1973, the cover of Girls love stories #180 illustrates the issues with stories aimed at young women and produced exclusively by men. The series was originally published under DC’s first employee, Editor Zena Brody, who passed it on to her successors. After DC’s First Ladies left the show, most covers portrayed women as entirely dependent on men before the show ended.
seven The Hairy Man Strikes Back
When a villain’s name appears on the cover, readers can expect a serious threat with high stakes. The cover of the legendary George Perez for Justice League of America #186 shook those expectations with the unbridled silliness of The Shaggy Man. The Salamander-spliced Beastman is admittedly an unkillable monster, posing a real threat to any living thing in its general vicinity.
Even so, Shaggy Man is a notable departure from popular villains of the era. It would be humiliating if Shaggy Man accomplished what the Legion of Doom couldn’t, ultimately killing the Justice League after already defeating them once. The Shaggy Man was far from a real threat given his silly name and previous appearance.
6 Batman helped perpetuate racism
Brian Savage, the Scalphunter, starred in Weird Western Talesbeginning in 1977, and last appeared under the moniker in 2011. Discussion of racism, stereotyping, and acceptance has always been integral to the character, as a white man raised by the Kiowa people, his enemies degrade him and make him feel like an outsider.
Joe Orlando’s cover for The brave and the daring #171 reaffirms these negative characterizations. Scalphunter’s name is laudable and offensive on its own, but is part of the history of DC Comics, a company that now strives to be inclusive. The character hasn’t appeared in the press for some time, glossed over as a shameful secret.
5 Amazon headsets were clunky
The Bronze Age saw its share of suggestive material. Amid depictions of heroines enslaved or anxiously clinging to men, Ernie Chan’s cover for Wonder Woman #224 stands. Wonder Woman is held back by Amazons whose helmets leave a lot to the reader’s imagination.
Whether the heads of these Amazons are exceptionally bulbous or the lobbed design is purely cosmetic, it’s definitely a standout look. This design only appears in this issue. The story, written by Martin Pasko with art by Curt Swan and Vince Colletta, is pretty serious, but those clunky helmets are awkward.
4 Predator does not respect personal space
The cover for Green Lantern #190, illustrated by Joe Staton, is uncomfortable even without context. John Stewart himself cringes at the contact of a man clad in metal, and the reader can’t help but understand. The streak of blood on Stewart’s face and the masked man’s wicked smile stand out against the typical space or action covers of this series.
The story, written by Steve Englehart, features pencils by Staton, inks by Bruce D. Patterson, and colors by Anthony Tollin. In it, John Stewart battles Predator, the Avatar of Lust, with the help of the Star Sapphires. This cover, while deeply unsettling, is also exceptional for its precision in setting up the story within.
3 Plop I wanted readers to cringe
Plop was meant to occupy and thrive in the same space as the long-running success CRAZY Magazine, while respecting the Comics Code Authority. Due to the code’s rules against controversial art, the creative team chose to make each issue’s cover as goofy as possible.
Issue #19 features a comrade named Smokin’ Sanford, illustrated by Wally Wood. Sanford, like all the others Plop cover men, is entirely naked, covered in bumps and possessing a unique physiology. The banner below him praises his stale tobacco smoke and the songs he whistles through his trunk-like nose. Readers may feel the need to look away, but rest assured, Sanford doesn’t mind.
2 Lobo had horrible fashion sense but was still brutal
The Omega Men were a space team created in the early 80s to capitalize on the growing popularity of the genre. The cover of Issue 3, by Keith Griffin and Mike DeCarlo, is Lobo’s first appearance. The vicious villain pokes fun at readers, rocking team member Kalista on the front of his space bike.
This cover is suggestive and violent; apt for Lobo’s introduction, but very uncomfortable to watch. The orange and gray sweater worn by Lobo, as well as his sleek hairstyle, did not survive the Bronze Age, which is a good thing. Between Lobo’s costume and the scene he causes, there are plenty of cringe-worthy pieces on this cover.
1 Superman is a super creep
With over a thousand issues since the series began in 1939, action comics had a lot of covers, and they can’t all be winners. Bob Oskner’s cover for Action Comics #457 is particularly off-putting. Superman undresses, his hat hanging on the foot of the bed, while a child looks at him, visibly distraught.
If the child’s tears aren’t enough to make readers cringe, Superman’s silence certainly is. Clark Kent has always been known for his quick changes, but this example makes that habit downright scary. The child in the scene begs to know who the man in his room is, claiming him as his dying wish.
Next: 10 Most Trustworthy Marvel Bronze Age Covers