Marvel is one of the biggest names in comics, the driving force behind the likes of the X-Men, the Hulk, Spider-Man, the Avengers — the list goes on. Marvel’s superheroes are everywhere in entertainment. They’re starring in blockbuster films at the movies. They’re headlining their own TV shows across all sorts of networks and streaming services. They rescued a brand name that was dangerously close to disappearing just 20 years ago…but Marvel isn’t the squeaky-clean company it appears to be.
Though it created the iconic characters that kids of all ages still love, Marvel’s closet is full of skeletons. There are lots of things that Marvel hopes to keep hidden from fans, particularly now that they’re creating hit after hit in the entertainment industry. The Marvel you think you know is a lot like its characters: heroic, good and just. But the real Marvel is actually a dark alter-ego of that shining hero persona.
The real Marvel has played the villain more than once. What evil plots has this famous comic book name hatched in the past? What dark secrets is Marvel still hiding underneath its glossy, colourful image? Here are 15 things Marvel hopes to keep hidden from their huge fanbase.
15. They Own the word “Superhero”
Jointly with DC Comics, Marvel actually owns the word “superhero” and its alternate spellings “super hero” and “super-hero.” The two big comic book companies banded together in the 1970s to trademark the word, and they own it to this day. And together, they will sue you if you attempt to use the word when they don’t want you to. The companies came together in 2013 to take on the novel, “A World Without Superheroes,” published by Cup ‘O Java. In 2016, they sued a publisher for the book “Business Zero to Superhero.” So be careful with your titles, you creative types. Marvel and DC will come to get you if you aren’t.
14. X-Men Are NOT Human
Let the debate be put to rest. Marvel deemed long ago that the X-Men mutants are not human beings, and they did it for the worst reason of all: money. Here’s how it works: toy makers who import “dolls representing human beings” are taxed at 12 percent. Meanwhile, toys “representing animals or other non-human creatures” are taxed at just 6.8 percent. Marvel argued, and won, that the X-Men figures they sell aren’t human beings — they are merely humanoid figures. The entire mutant-human debate that plays out in the X-Men universe was already settled by the very creators of X-Men themselves. Oh, bitter irony.
13. Marvel No Longer Owns Its Characters
Marvel is once again a household name these days, and it seems like they have a new blockbuster comic book movie coming to the theaters every 6 months. But in 1996, Marvel was in dire straights. The company owed nearly $2 million to Disney and filed for bankruptcy. More than a third of the entire staff was laid off, and the future was grim. That’s why Marvel sold the rights to many of its popular characters. The X-Men and the Fantastic Four went to Fox, Sony bought Spider-Man and many other well-known Marvel names were sold off individually to production companies. Marvel is attempting to buy back some of their famous names, including Spider-Man, but as of right now the company owns very few of its original characters.
12. About That Famous Line…
No matter how many times Marvel reboots the franchise, Spider-Man is always encouraged by Uncle Ben. It’s become one of the most famous lines in history, but it was only said by Uncle Ben on the screen. In the comic books, Uncle Ben never said the words, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
The line appeared for the first time in Amazing Fantasy #15, and no one said it. The words appear in a text box that reads in full: “And a lean, silent figure slowly fades into the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power must also come–great responsibility!”
11. Cyclops Has No Real Origin Story
It’s not always easy to explain how a superhero gets his powers, and nothing illustrates that for Marvel better than Cyclops. X-Man Scott Summers shoots blazing red rays of death right from his eyes…but why? In Marvel’s Official Handbook from 1983, it is explained that his eyes are actually portals to another universe. This was later changed, but in 2004 it was changed back. Fans popularly believe that Cyclops metabolizes solar energy. Since the story has changed, the source of Scott’s powers are not set in stone — nor really well-established by Marvel, either.
10. How Mary Jane Died
It’s a big deal in the comic book world that Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy died — seriously, a big deal. Comic book fans mark this as a turning point in the way comics were written, and it’s considered to be a hugely important event. What only mega fans know is that Mary Jane was also killed by Spider-Man. We are referring, of course, to “Spider-Man: Reign.”
“Spider-Man: Reign” features an odd storyline that answers the age-old question of whether regular women can mate with superheroes. They cannot. In Reign, Peter Parker is retired from being Spider-Man, and working as a florist. In the flashback panels, readers discover why: he’s killed Mary Jane. And he did it with his sperm.
9. The “Naughty” Comic
It is “New X-Men #118,” and it’s one of the most infamous Marvel comic books ever produced. That’s because artist Ethan Van Sciver hid the word “sex” on every single page of the comic without missing a one. By his own admission, he was angry at Marvel while illustrating the book. Out of frustration and childishness, he put the hidden word all over his illustrations just to get back at the company. For what it’s worth, his spiteful plan worked. The comic book went into production and was distributed, and now it’s one of the better-known books to be produced by Marvel.
8. The Other Fantastic Four Movie
It was supposed to be released in 1994, but now Marvel hopes you never know anything about it at all. German producer Bernd Eichinger successfully negotiated the rights to the Fantastic Four from Stan Lee in the 1980s. He stood to lose the rights if he didn’t create a film, so he started doing just that. He hired Roger Corman to make the film on a budget of just $1 million, who did. The film was never released, but it can be watched on YouTube. No one knows exactly why the movie never made it to theaters, or anywhere else, but Marvel legend says that exec Avi Arad was afraid the film would tarnish Marvel’s brand so he purchased all the prints of the movie — and destroyed them. Pieced-together bootleg copies created the YouTube version that exists today.
7. Asia Gets Cut from Dr. Strange
When Dr. Strange appeared as more of a Marvel background character, he was of Asian descent. It wasn’t until he got his own comic books that he became white. And when he got his own movie, everyone else in his cast turned white, too. Originally, the Ancient One was a Tibetan mystic who served as mentor to Dr. Strange. Wong was a man of Chinese descent loyal to the Ancient One.
But the tensions between China and Tibet make this dynamic problematic for Marvel, who doesn’t want to alienate any markets so they can make as much money as possible. References to Tibet vanished from the “Dr. Strange” film entirely, the Ancient One became white, and Marvel didn’t make China mad. All’s well that ends well?
6. Rawhide Kid
It sounds well-intentioned enough. Marvel chose to resurrect a 1950s comic character, Rawhide Kid, to become their first openly-gay superhero. Rawhide Kid was brought back for that purpose in 2003, and immediately offended everyone. Rawhide Kid’s new adventures, depicted in “Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather,” were filled with ugly stereotypes and truly terrible writing that portrayed Rawhide Kid exactly the way the gay community didn’t want him portrayed. He was often talking fashion and was largely regarded as effeminate in the new series. The new Rawhide Kid issues have been panned by critics as a result. Rawhide Kid is a current hero in the Marvel Universe, with no death on record.
5. Aunt May’s “Adult” Escapades
Marvel got a really bad idea in the early 2000s, and attempted to resurrect the romance genre in comic books. It sounds odd now, but romantic comics were all the rage in the 1940s and 1950s. Women loved them, and Marvel thought they might recapture some of that lost audience. Their solution was Trouble, a series about four young teens who are very obviously Aunt May and Uncle Ben of Spider-Man fame, and his not-yet-deceased parents. The series was so terrible and so hated by fans, the project was killed after just 5 issues. Marvel hasn’t gone into the romance genre since, thank goodness.
4. The Ghost Rider Settlement
It started in the 1970s. Gary Friedrich was working as a freelancer when he came up with the idea of a supernatural superhero riding a motorcycle: Ghost Rider. He wrote Marvel Spotlight #5, which contains the origin story for Ghost Rider, and later sued Marvel for copyright infringement as the creator of the character. The argument went on for years, with Marvel claiming the character belonged solely to them. Marvel eventually settled the suit for an undisclosed sum of money in 2013, though they no longer owned the Ghost Rider rights by then. The character was sold to Sony years before. Today, Marvel is owned by Disney.
3. The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe
Not really connected to any series and not generally accepted as canon, The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe was released in 1995. In it, Frank Castle kills every single superhero he can find until he works his way through most of the Marvel pantheon of heroes. It all starts when Castle’s family is caught in the crossfire between several superheroes and a group of aliens who have descended on Central Park. Frank Castle kills whichever superhero is closest to him and embarks upon a campaign of revenge. He turned into the Punisher to defeat both Spider-Man and Venom. The last fight takes place between Punisher and Daredevil. Only after Punisher removes the mask does he recognize his own friend.
2. Stan Lee Worked for DC Comics
It seems unimaginable that the father of Marvel comics and the creator of such characters as Dr. Strange and Spider-Man would ever work for the company’s biggest rival, but he did. In the 1990s, Stan Lee did a series of comics with DC called “Just Imagine.” There were 13 issues total, and each featured Stan Lee’s own take on a DC Comics superhero. He covered Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, the entire Justice League and several others. Tie-ins between the two companies date to 1976, when Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Stan Lee make a cameo appearance in “X-Men I #98.”
1. Deadpool’s Origins
Die-hard Marvel fans deny it and debate it, but most people believe that Deadpool is really nothing more than a ripoff of the DC Comics character, Deathstroke. Deadpool was created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld to be part of the New Mutants. Meanwhile, Deathstroke was already known for terrorizing the Teen Titans in the pages of DC Comics. Deathstroke, real identity Slade Wilson, was incredibly popular in the 1980s and the Teen Titans was a big seller for DC. One of the most memorable stories was “The Judas Contract,” which featured assassin Deathstroke. So when Deadpool, otherwise known as Wade Wilson, was introduced at Marvel he looked a lot like a ripoff. According to creator Rob Liefeld, a self-professed Deathstroke fan, Deadpool is a totally different character. Because Deadpool seems to be a clear parody of Deathstroke, not all fans are happy with Liefeld’s comments.
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