Read Harder Recommendations: Controversial Comics
The Panels 2015 Read Harder Challenge consists of 26 challenge categories spanning the breadth and depth of all things that may be considered comics. Every week we’ll give you reading recommendations from one of the categories.
With plenty of controversy afoot in the comics community lately, sometimes it’s necessary to look back at what’s come before. Controversy is nothing new in comics, from touchy plots to devious characters, and judgements about what’s suitable and what’s not. If you’re anything like me, sometimes you just want to know what all the hooplah was about. Some of our Panelteers had questions about how to define “controversial,” and to my mind there are various ways to interpret it. I think not only of the sometimes infamous examples below, but also comics that are provocative, or in other words, illicit a strong reaction. In some cases the comics and graphic novels that provoke the most discussion upon publication also evolve into the most influential comics, so we’ve incorporated a little of everything into our recs.
Snowbirds Don’t Fly (Green Lantern vol. 2 #85-#86) by Denny O’Neal, Neal Adams, and Dick Giordano
Snowbirds Don’t Fly was the first depiction of a superhero addicted to drugs in mainstream comics. While the story of Green Lantern and Green Arrow going after drug dealers was obviously anti-drug, people were still up in arms over the depiction of drug use in a comic book. While the topic is now well-covered in comics, parents of children buying comic books in 1971 were shocked. — Chris Arnone
Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales, and Michael Bair
Wikipedia describes Identity Crisis as “both wildly popular and reviled,” which sounds about right. This 7-issue miniseries from 2004 began with the violent murder of Sue Dibny, wife of C-list hero Elongated Man. As the Justice League worked to unravel the mystery, more bodies dropped and more dark secrets emerged, including Sue’s past rape and the JLA’s complicity in forced mindwipings and magical lobotomies. The series sold like gangbusters and was praised for its gritty noir flavor, but many protested the way it tainted the memory of the iconic “Satellite Era” Justice League by revealing its seedy underbelly, not to mention its misogynistic treatment of its female characters. Still, its uber-violence and gray morality set the tone at DC for the rest of the decade, though it’s fallen a bit out of favor in recent years. — Jessica Plummer
Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmenn and Kerascoët
Reactions to this comic seem to be swift and visceral. While it’s been critically well-received, the reader response seems to be love or hate. Undoubtedly, part of the reaction swirls around the cutesy style, something akin to “Precious Moments,” to my mind. Princess Aurora and Prince Hector act out well-known fairy tale tropes, while existing on and around a child’s dead body. Beautiful and brutal seem the most fitting descriptors here.
Other Resources and Recommendations:
15 Most Notoriously Controversial Storylines in Comic Book History
11 Most Controversial Comic Books
The 10 Most Influential Graphic Novels of All Time
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