10. KISS in Howard the Duck #12 & #13
As any Marvel fan worth their salt knows, in the late 1970s the company published a comic devoted to those none-more-commercialised glam-rock merchants of Grand-Guignol-theatrics, KISS.
However, the band’s dedicated book wasn’t actually their first appearance in a Marvel comic. That honour goes to 1977’s Howard the Duck #12, which saw the legendary Steve Gerber give the group their first big break in the Marvel Universe, incorporating them into official Marvel continuity via his crazy and unique talking-duck title.
Now we know where Lady Bullseye got her makeup ideas from, I guess…
9. Jay Leno
In 2002, a backup strip featuring Spider-Man and Jay Leno called “One Night Only” ran in quite a few Marvel books, presumably as some kind of marketing push for the Spider-Man movie.
The contrived and bizarre story sees the gigantically-chinned comic and talk show host fight off ninjas even more convincingly than he saw off Conan O’Brien, but “One Night Only” is unlikely to be remembered as vividly as that conflict. Mainly because it was rubbish.
8. David Letterman
In 1984, Marvel ran a line-wide feature called “Assistant Editors’ Month”, which can be roughly translated as “Put-as-much-wacky-shit-in-our-books-as-we-like-and-get-away-with-it Month”. Supposedly, all of the main editors were away at the San Diego comics convention, so it was left to their underlings to dictate the content of that month’s books.
As well as bringing us Aunt May as the Herald of Galactus in Marvel Team-Up #137, the fight sequence between Snowbird and a snow spirit against a blizzard backdrop in Alpha Flight #6 that consisted of nothing but blank pages, and the genuinely great “Kid that collects Spider-Man” story in Amazing Spider-Man #248, “Assistant Editors’ Month”, also gave us Avengers #239, in which Earth’s Mightiest Heroes — you know, the ones who came together to defeat cosmically-powered foes that no single hero could withstand — decided that the best way to make use of their time was a guest-appearance on Letterman.
As if to underline the ridiculousness of the situation, the group fails to fend off an attack by joke bad guy the Mechano-Marauder, and it’s left to Letterman to see off the villain by bonking him on the head. Nice.
7. The Cast of Saturday Night Live
Marvel Team-Up #74
The seventies were a weird time, as this 1978 issue of Marvel Team-Up demonstrates. Apparently, back then it was perfectly acceptable to write an issue that saw Spider-Man messing around with the cast ofSaturday Night L
ive in order to repel an attack by the Silver Samurai and his hordes, who are after a special ring that was sent to John Belushi by mistake.
Larraine Newman dresses up as Ms. Marvel, Bill Murray wanders around with a rubber replica of Thor’s hammer, and Dan Aykroyd makes sarcastic comments to Spider-Man about his silly costume. Oh, and some guy called Stan Lee shows up to host SNL, too.
Maybe it’s for the best that Mephisto took away some of Spidey’s memories, eh?
6. Stephen Colbert
Amazing Spider-Man #573
Some years back, as part of Joe Quesada’s attempts to raise Marvel’s profile with the general public, he made a few appearances on The Colbert Report to promote the likes of Civil War and Captain America.
The apparent price for this media exposure was that Quesada had to incorporate Colbert’s joke campaign for the US Presidency into the Marvel Universe. Readers quickly began to notice billboards and bumper stickers promoting Colbert’s campaign in the background of various books, and the character gradually became more prominent, culminating in a team-up storyline with Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man #573.
All of which meant absolutely nothing to bemused readers in the UK, where no-one had any idea who the hell Stephen Colbert was.
5. George W. Bush
Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates was a conscious update of the Avengers books of Marvel’s Silver Age, all the way down to contemporary pop-culture references that saw explicit nods to the likes of Brad Pitt, Shannon Elizabeth, Freddie Prinze Jr., and — yes — Samuel L. Jackson. However, one of the most memorable moments comes in issue #3, when a photo-realistic depiction of none other than then-President George W. Bush appears in a scene that shows Dubya approaching Captain America at a media event and asking him for his verdict on the 21st century: “cool or uncool”?
(Artist Hitch has some fun immediately before this panel by drawing Bush munching on a pretzel, the salty, crunchy snack that launched a failed assassination attempt on the President in early 2002.)
Bush showed up again towards the end of Ultimates 2, running scared from a coalition of anti-American forces that had decided to wage war on the USA due to its strident foreign policies which saw the Ultimates despatched for pre-emptive attacks on oil-rich Middle Eastern states.
No political commentary there, oh no.
4. Princess Diana in X-Statix
OK, this is a bit of a cheat, because it didn’t actually happen in the end. But for a long time, Peter Milligan and Michael Allred were planning to literally resurrect the dead Princess Diana in the Marvel Universe of 2003, bringing her back to life in issue #13 of their X-Statix title for a story called “Di Another Day” that would have seen her targeted by “a nasty crew of mutant Euro-trash dead set on sending her back where she came from”, according to Milligan.
No, I’m not joking.
As bad taste comics go, it would have been hard to top, and I can’t deny that I would have loved to see what the reaction would have been if Marvel had had the gumption to go ahead with the story as planned.
Sadly, cooler heads prevailed, and all explicit references to Princess Diana were removed at the last minute. The story was renamed “Back from the Dead”, the character’s name was changed to Henrietta Hunter, she became a pop star rather than a princess, and her hair was changed from blonde to black. Shame.
3. Uri Geller
OK, I’m putting this one high up the list just because it’s so weird.
Uri Geller, for those who’ve never heard of him, is a renowned mentalist and bender extraordinaire (of spoons, that is). According to the man himself, he has real psychic powers that he uses to perform mundane feats of telekinesis like ruining cutlery and breaking perfectly good watches, just for kicks.
All of which would be perfectly fine in the Marvel Universe, and would probably make him a perfect D-list arch-villain for Speedball or something. But claiming stuff like this in the real world just makes you look silly.
Anyway, somebody obviously thought that he’d be the perfect foil for Matt Murdock (no, I haven’t got a clue why either), and so crowbarred him into the Daredevil comic as part of a team-up that saw DD do battle with “Mindwave and his fearsome Think-Tank”.
Uri, who claims to have already fought the villain before in Europe (I guess that’s going to remain one of Marvel’s “untold tales” for now — which is probably for the best), helps out a bit by using his mental powers to toss weapons to Daredevil, as his eyes glow an eerie yellow.
In a fourth-wall breaking moment, Geller appears to be trying to convince the world that he’s not the shyster that many people believe him to be because the powers he claims to have are no more odd than those of t
he Fantastic Four.
Yeah, that really helps your argument, Uri.
2. Barack Obama
Amazing Spider-Man #583
Barack Obama becoming President in early 2009 was a historical milestone for so many reasons. His optimistic agenda of hope and change, the dramatic swing from a Republican candidate to a Democrat, and the fact that the US electorate had embraced a non-white candidate for the first time combined to make his election one of the most talked-about in modern history.
However, all of these elements paled into insignificance when comics readers realised that he was going to make a cameo appearance in issue #583 of Amazing Spider-Man.
Or so you’d think from the coverage of the event on comics news sites, anyway. There was talk of comic stores having to deal with queues that stretched around the block, there were frequent TV interviews for comics creators, and we heard tales of first-printings of the issue selling for hundreds of dollars on ebay. All of which helped to distract attention away from the fact that the story in question was a backup strip of just a few pages, that it was clearly an opportunistic marketing stunt from Marvel, and — frankly — that it wasn’t very good.
Still, it gave Marvel the opportunity to again make the point that their comics are based in the “real world”, to link themselves in the public eye with a successful and popular President, and to pretend that they were using their books to respectfully mark an important political occasion.
They weren’t simply rushing out something with Obama’s picture on it for a quick buck. Oh no.
1. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Fantastic Four #10
Even bigger than Obama, even better than Uri Geller, and even more ground-breaking than the Ultimatesis the bizarre offbeat story from Fantastic Four #10, in which Dr. Doom recovers from his apparent death a few issues previously to visit the Marvel offices and threaten Stan Lee and Jack Kirby into helping him do his bidding to get his revenge on the FF. It was a great, wacky concept, and one that opened up all sorts of possibilities about how Marvel comics characters and their creators could interact in meta-textual ways.
Cameos of creators became fairly commonplace in these early Marvel books (special mention also goes to the appearance of Lee with Steve Ditko in the first Amazing Spider-Man Annual, Lee and Kirby attending the wedding of Reed and Sue Richards in Fantastic Four Annual #3, and the reveal of Jack Kirby as “god” in Mark Waid’s more recent FF run), but this is where all the fourth-wall breaking really got started. I wish we saw more of this kind of thing in comics today.