If you read enough comics, a “WTF?” reaction is all but inevitable at some point.
Even the best comics can take a plot twist or introduce a character that defies rationality. Some entire series seem so divorced from logic that it can only make fans shake their heads. Other books might have only a momentary lapse, but one that stands out against a backdrop of otherwise quality storytelling. All a fan can do is shake his head and say “WTF?”
There are plenty of examples of WTF comics. Here’s but a small sample of some of the plot turns, stories and characters that have made comic fans scratch their heads.
WTF: Hawkeye Tries to Kill Osborn
Granted, times and attitudes change in comic books. The strict “heroes don’t kill” ethos of the earlier decades of the industry receded significantly in the ‘80s and beyond. And while heroes killing an enemy in a life-or-death situation became more common, assassination of a foe as a strategic move is still not standard practice. So the New Avengers plot where long-time Avenger Clint Barton (usually Hawkeye, then calling himself Ronin) decided that killing Norman Osborn was the only way to end the Dark Reign was a distinct WTF moment. Hawkeye, while hotheaded, had never been especially bloodthirsty, so this development seemed rather out of character. It was all the more curious since the Hawkeye/ Mockingbird marriage had hit the skids years earlier when Hawkeye couldn’t accept that Mockingbird had allowed her rapist to fall to his death when she had the opportunity to save him. Clint later going behind his teammates’ backs to stage an ill-advised one-man assault on Osborn’s stronghold just completed the curious scenario.
WTF: Twilight Sex
The mysterious Twilight, big bad of Season 8 of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic, turned out to be Buffy’s old love Angel, going through some stuff. And then somehow the carefully constructed Season 8 plot swandived into “Buffy and Angel bang each other across several dimensions; endanger all life.” That particular twist seemed to come out of nowhere and the explanation for how it nearly brought all of existence to its knees was neither understandable nor convincing. That Giles had to be killed (for a little while) to save Buffy made the plot turn even harder to stomach. Sending Buffy and Angel their separate ways afterward was for the best.
WTF: The Ass Map
Of the many things wrong with The Delinquents, the epitome might be the map for the treasure of the Hobo King. Which had been tattooed onto the expansive posterior of a random tramp. And then apparently flayed off said tramp post-mortem. It was a crude attempt to be “zany” that added almost nothing to the story and was emblematic of how The Delinquents substituted “shocking” scatology for any kind of genuine wit or cleverly transgressive humor. Like the creators thought that all they had to do was introduce “ass map” into the equation and the hilarity would take care of itself. It didn’t.
In the last couple of years of the original Defenders series, one of the new characters was Cloud, a mysterious young woman with elemental powers. When Cloud developed romantic feelings for female teammate Moondragon, it seemed the series was taking a daring turn (this was the mid-80s and LGBT plots weren’t common). When Moondragon balked, Cloud seemed to go into another room, think really hard and… emerged as a young man. That change ultimately related to aspects of Cloud too convoluted to address here. But there was something offputting about the concept of “Oh, my lesbian attraction isn’t doing it for you? Give me a day and I’ll grow a penis.” It didn’t take seriously the issues involved in either a lesbian love story or a character feeling compelled to transition genders as an expression of his/her true self. It felt like a cheap stunt calculated to shock, not a genuine character-based development.
Okay, so the bond between twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch has always seemed unsettlingly close. Quicksilver especially has demonstrated a possessiveness about his sister that has raised more than one eyebrow. The Ultimate Universe versions of the characters took what had always been a subtext and made it explicit in Ultimates 3. Of course, that miniseries is widely hated by fans, for a number of very good reasons. Most of which can be summed up as “It was terrible and pointless.” But that particular plot twist seemed especially puerile and gratuitous. There was no attempt to explore the issues involved in that set-up, it was merely “Here’s something shocking and gross to get people talking.” And people did talk. But not a single person had one good thing to say about this plot turn. And then Ultimate Scarlet Witch was murdered anyway, so the point of this revelation was… what?
WTF: Cry for Justice
This entire miniseries seemed like a WTF-apalooza. An offshoot of the Justice League decided that the main team wasn’t sufficiently violent and dismissive of civil rights. So a new team coalesced with an ethos of “Let’s hunt down and beat the ever-living snot out of all the bad guys and draw as much blood as we can.” But then readers got the progressive plot turns starting with the moment that a villain severed Red Arrow’s arm off. And then the bombing of Star City that killed Red Arrow’s young daughter. And then Green Arrow outright murdered the villain responsible. So, we had well-established heroes going “dark and vigilante,” a gratuitous dismemberment of a key character whose arm was central to his heroic identity, the senseless death of a child and a hero committing wanton murder. There really wasn’t enough WTF to go around for this one. Fans were almost speechless with rage and the fallout from the story created new plots that weren’t any more pleasing.
So, what if the real reason that Lex Luthor wanted to destroy Superman was that he was secretly in love with him? That’s the concept of Modeus, arch-enemy of The Plutonian, the central character in the “good hero breaking bad” series Irredeemable. At one point, Plutonian reminisced about realizing how Modeus really felt. After finding one of the villain’s lairs stocked with half-naked Plutonian robots. While Modeus definitely visited all kinds of explicit deprivations on the stand-ins, it was strongly intimated that Modeus also got his swerve on with the (presumably anatomically correct) duplicates. And while thwarted love was the basis for more than one supervillain over the years, the Modeus reveal took things to a disturbingly kinky new level. That Modeus then somehow found a way to have his essence magically zapped into the Plutonian’s teenaged male sidekick was a whole other creepy kettle of WTF.
WTF: Youngblood #1
So, Youngblood #1 was supposed to be ground zero for the Image revolution in the ‘90s. The mission statement for the upstart company founded by the ex-Marvel artists who’d had their visions and creativity stifled by the editorial dictatorship for far too long. It was supposed to herald a new era of creativity and freedom. And then fans actually read the book. And it’s a miracle that anyone ever read another Image series after that. Youngblood #1 was a massive seller and also an incomprehensible mess. Any fans who had ever complained about editorial restrictions on creators had to at least take a moment to consider that, maybe, some structure wasn’t a bad thing. Most people who read the issue couldn’t have told you what was going on in it. Image managed to shrug off the shaky start and attract a massive fan base, but that was not an auspicious beginning for the new publisher.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on August 13, 2015.