Comic books in America entered The Bronze Age in 1970, sixteen years after the creation of the Comics Code Authority. Lasting until 1985, it was a time of pushing new boundaries. Despite all their groundbreaking work, DC Comics in the 1970s was a very different company. Many artists sought to flex their creativity 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 produced questionable, or distractingly silly cover art in their efforts to be innovative. These covers range from deeply unsettling to embarrassingly goofy, and all of them have the potential to make today’s readers cringe.
Some entries to this list will discuss sexism and racism
10 The Flash Gets Bent
Jack Abel and Richard Buckler’s cover for The Flash #252 is a bit tough to look at. The angle of Flash’s leg stretched and bent beyond its breaking point is reminiscent of funny-paper antics in their disregard for physics. The combination of Bronze and Silver Age styling produces an uncanny effect.
Adding to this cover’s cringe factor is an ad for the Superman Movie Contest, promising readers a chance to be in the original Superman film with Christopher Reeve. These ads peppered all DC titles and, on covers like this one, distract from the full-page artwork. Two children, out of the millions who bought and saw these ads, allegedly won the contest.
9 Green Lantern And Green Arrow Attend A Crucifixion
Sometimes, a cover gets a reader’s attention with subtlety, only hinting at compelling twists and riveting action to come. This is not one of those times. Neil Adams and Jack Adler’s cover for Green Lantern #89 costarring Green Arrow is, in a word, jarring.
Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen struggle before a crucified man in fashionable white pants. With art from Adams and Dick Giordano, Dennis O’Neil’s story sees an environmental activist strung up 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 give readers pause.
8 Girls’ Love Stories Were Not Flattering
Jay Scott Pike’s cover for the final issue of Girls’ Love Stories hits all the hallmarks of cringe-worthy Bronze Age romance comics. A blindfolded man kisses one woman while another cries behind them. Beside the crying woman, a crowd of people laughs behind the kissing couple. It’s not a pleasant scene.
Published in 1973, the cover of Girls’ Love Stories #180 exemplifies the problems with stories intended for young women and produced exclusively by men. The series was initially released under DC’s first female employee, editor Zena Brody, who passed it on to her successors. After DC’s first ladies left the series, most covers portrayed women as entirely dependent on men before the series ended.
7 The Shaggy Man Strikes Back
When a villain’s name appears on the cover, readers can expect a severe threat with high stakes. The legendary George Perez’s cover for Justice League of America #186 buffeted those expectations with the unbridled silliness of The Shaggy Man. The salamander-spliced man-beast is admittedly an unkillable monster, posing a real threat to any living thing in his 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, finally 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 about racism, stereotypes, 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 a stranger.
Joe Orlando’s cover for The Brave and the Bold #171 reaffirms those negative characterizations. Scalphunter’s name is cringeworthy and offensive on its own, but is part of the history of DC Comics, a company that now strives for inclusivity. The character has not appeared in print for some time, unmentioned like a shameful secret.
5 Amazon Helmets Were Goofy
The Bronze Age saw its share of suggestive material. Amid portrayals of heroines in bondage or clinging fretfully to men, Ernie Chan’s cover for Wonder Woman #224 stands out. Wonder Woman is restrained by Amazons whose helmets leave a lot to the reader’s imagination.
Whether the heads of these Amazons are unusually bulbous or the lobed design is purely cosmetic, it’s certainly an original look. This design only appears in this issue. The story, written by Martin Pasko with art from Curt Swan and Vince Colletta, is rather serious, but these awkward helmets are distracting.
4 Predator Doesn’t Respect Personal Space
The cover for Green Lantern #190, illustrated by Joe Staton, is uncomfortable even without context. John Stewart himself cringes at the touch of a metal-clad man, and the reader can’t help but empathize. The streak of blood on Stewart’s face and the masked man’s wicked smile stand out over the typical space or action-themed covers of this series.
The story, written by Steve Englehart, includes pencils from Staton, inks from Bruce D. Patterson, and colors by Anthony Tollin. In it, John Stewart battles Predator, the avatar of lust, with help from the Star Sapphires. This cover, while deeply unsettling, is also exceptional for its accuracy in setting up the story inside.
3 Plop Wanted Readers To Cringe
Plop was supposed to occupy and thrive in the same space as the long-running and successful MAD Magazine, while still complying with the Comics Code Authority. Because of the code’s rules against controversial art, the creative team opted to make the cover of each issue as cringeworthy as possible.
Issue #19 features a fellow named Smokin’ Sanford, illustrated by Wally Wood. Sanford, like all others Plop cover men, is entirely nude, 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 urge to look away, but rest assured, Sanford doesn’t mind.
2 Lobo Had Awful Fashion Sense But Was Still Brutal
The Omega Men were a space-faring 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 the first appearance of Lobo. The vicious villain sneers at readers, dangling Kalista, a team member, from the front of his space bike.
This cover is suggestive and violent; apt for Lobo’s introduction, but very uncomfortable to look at. The orange and gray jumper worn by Lobo, along with his slick hairdo, did not survive the Bronze Age, which is for the best. Between Lobo’s costume and the scene he’s causing, there are plenty of cringe-worthy pieces to this cover.
1 Superman Is A Super Creep
With over a thousand issues since the series began in 1939, Action Comics has had a lot of covers, and they can’t all be winners. Bob Oskner’s cover art for Action Comics #457 is particularly off-putting. Superman is undressing, his hat hangs on the foot of the bed, while a child looks back 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 instance makes that habit seem downright creepy. The child in the scene begs to know who the man in their room is, claiming it as their final wish.
Next: 10 Most Cringeworthy Marvel Bronze Age Covers