During the past week there has been quite a bit of controversy over Iceman’s retconned/alternate-continuity homosexuality. This reminds me of a number of other times that Marvel Comics has printed stories designed to stir up controversy.
Captain America quits!
Captain America vol. 1, no. 332 (August 1987)
To some degree foreshadowing parts of the “Civil War” plot, back in 1987, the Pentagon demanded that Steve Rogers (Captain America) become an official agent of the U. S. government. Rather than accept these terms, Rogers turned in his mask and shield, retiring as Captain America.
In the coming issues, another superhero called the Super-Patriot (John Walker) was appointed the new Captain America. Rogers would soon don a very cool-looking black version of the Captain America uniform and a different shield, and fight crime under the moniker of “The Captain.” Hey, the black costume worked for Spider-man (see below) so why not give it a shot with Cap?
Walker’s Captain America didn’t have the same moral code as Rogers, though, and was decidedly more violent and brutal. After killing a group of villains, Walker resigned and Rogers once again became Captain America (in issue no. 350). Walker eventually returned (to the West Coast Avengers) as “U. S. Agent,” wearing the black costume of “The Captain.” Though ultimately temporary, this change actually lasted 18 issues!
Gay Canadian super-hero?
Alpha Flight vol. 1, no. 106 (March 1992)
The controversy over Iceman isn’t the first time that a super-hero’s sexuality was an issue. Twenty-three years ago, the first mainstream super-hero came out of the closet.
Northstar was a founding member of the Canadian super-team Alpha Flight. In this issue, he came out of the closet: quite literally announcing, “I’m gay.”
This was quite a big deal, because at that time, Marvel still adhered to the Comics Code Authority, which had only been revised to allow for the depiction of homosexuals in 1989. Neither Marvel or DC had yet taken advantage of this revision until Northstar.
On the other hand, the impact was (probably intentionally) minimal. Alpha Flight was not a terribly popular book, and the team only occasionally interacted with the other, American, super-heroes.
Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars no. 8 (December 1984) & Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1, no. 252
Fantastic Four vol. 1, no. 310 (January 1988)
One of the most popular gimmicks in comics has been the dramatic costume change/update. Marvel did this with quite a few characters in the mid- to late-1980s.
The most famous, of course, was Spider-Man. Though gaining his new black costume during the mega-crossover event Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, the costume made its first main-title appearance in issue 252 (May 1984), released a few months earlier.
The black costume was so popular that, even after it was discovered to be a parasitic alien creature (not truly a “symbiote” as it was called), Spidey wore a cloth version for a while longer, while also occasionally also wearing his original blue and red design.
Another strange appearance change (or two) occurred in Fantastic Four. Ben Grimm’s Thing had always struggled with nature of his “power.” In 1988 he and Ms. Marvel were both zapped with cosmic rays, causing Ms. Marvel to turn into the Thing from the team’s early days, while Grimm developed sharper rocky growths on his body. Eventually they were healed and returned to normal.
Other appearance changes around this same time include Thor’s beard and the red-and-white Iron Man armor.
Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 1) Annual no. 21 (1987)
In 1987 Spidey married Mary Jane Watson. It was front-page news even in the mainstream press.
This issue also marked one of the first uses of variant cover art. One edition had Peter Parker and Mary Jane standing at the altar; the other had Spidey (in costume) and Mary Jane standing at the altar.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments what your favorite “jumping the shark” Marvel moment was, whether one of these or something else.