10 Iconic Marvel Comics That Don’t Hold Up Today

Ultimate Captain America salutes the president and Dark Phoenix unleashes her power

There are many Marvel Comics arcs and events that could be considered iconic. Unfortunately, many of these otherwise beloved and popular stories didn’t age perfectly. Whether it’s because of questionable subtext or the fact that some of the social norms they followed fell out of favor, these iconic comics leave a lot to be desired.

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These comics are by no means terrible or offensive. At worst, they failed to stand the test of time. While they’re not exactly timeless, these are the kinds of Marvel storylines that work best as time capsules for new creators to learn from. After all, these imperfect yet iconic comics left their mark on readers for a reason.



10 Secret Wars (1984)

By Jim Shooter, Mike Zeck, and Bob Layton

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In 1984, there was no Marvel storyline like Secret Wars. The miniseries brought Marvel’s biggest heroes and villains together, and had them fight each other in an epic battle royale. If Secret Wars was the event of a lifetime in 1984, it comes across as shallow and even childlike fanfiction today. While it’s undeniably fun, it lacks substance.

Secret Wars has amazing fights, cool character interactions, and lasting changes to the canon, but it’s still a glorified ad for action figures. Even the Beyonder’s reasons for starting the war are contrived at best. Secret Wars also lost its nostalgic charm thanks to how Marvel kept recycling it, like in the multiversal 2015 Secret Wars sequel.

9 Welcome Back, Frank

By Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Jimmy Palmiotti, Wes Abbot, Richard Starkings, and Chris Sotomayor

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>The Punisher returns from the darkness in Welcome Back Frank

Welcome Back, Frank single-handedly revived interest and respect in the Punisher’s then-faltering comics. The miniseries brought the power creeping Frank Castle back to brutal and violent basics, which was where he excelled. The arc’s success led to a run under Marvel Knights before it was expanded through the acclaimed MAX run.

However, Welcome Back, Frank and the Marvel Knights run feel like a different world compared to MAX. Not only is Welcome Back, Frank more cartoonish and lighthearted, but it’s also noticeably restrained. The miniseries only aged poorly because it was obviously Garth Ennis’ dry run for what would become the Punisher’s definitive comic.

8 Marvel Zombies

By Robert Kirkman, Sean Phillips, Randy Gentile, and June Chung

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Captain America leads the dead Avengers in Marvel Zombies

Marvel Comics struck gold at the height of the zombie resurgence in the early 2000s with Marvel Zombies. Fans loved the simple and gory idea of unleashing a zombie apocalypse on the Marvel Universe. The fact that the original miniseries was written by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman gave it more prestige.

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While it’s still the best entry of the overlong Zombies run, Marvel Zombies doesn’t have much going for it when it’s read without its initial hype. Marvel Zombies is yet another familiar and nihilistic zombie apocalypse, only now with superpowers. Today, Marvel Zombies is best read as a throwback to an overplayed horror niche.

7 Supreme Power

By J. Michael Straczynski, Gary Frank, Jon Sibal, and Chris Sotomayor

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A young Hyperion is wrapped in the flag in Supreme Power

The Squadron Supreme are one of the first mainstream deconstructions of superheroes that actually predate Watchmen. That being said, the story they’re best known for was their Marvel MAX run, Supreme Power. The run modernized the Squadron, and deconstructed superheroes in terrifyingly contemporary and realistic ways.

Even ignoring the fact that Supreme Power’s quality dipped after original writer J. Michael Straczynski was let go, it was also the kind of edgy superhero deconstruction that was ubiquitous in the late 2000s. Supreme Power’s first half was well-written, but it didn’t really have much beyond the usual extremely violent and immoral superheroes.

6 Old Man Logan

By Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, and Dexter Vines

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Logan gets his claws bloody in Old Man Logan

While it wasn’t the first comic to age up a popular superhero and displace them in a dark future, Old Man Logan revitalized the trend in 2008. The comic is one of Wolverine’s best and most defining stories. The character Old Man Logan was so popular that he was even added into the mainstream Marvel continuity.

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In hindsight, Old Man Logan was a typical Mark Millar story. It was excessively dark and edgy, and violent for its own sake. Old Man Logan had the right ideas, but it was constantly held back by Millar’s indulgences. It’s worth noting that Old Man Logan’s movie, Logan, was a very loose and better retelling of the same concept.

5 The Night Gwen Stacy Died

By Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, John Romita Sr., Tony Mortellaro, Artie Simek, and David Hunt

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Spider-Man holds Gwen in The Night Gwen Stacy Died

Gwen Stacy’s death ushered in the Bronze Age of comics, and it was one of Spider-Man’s most formative tragedies. At the time, killing off a love interest as prominent and popular as Gwen was unheard of. Gwen’s death was initially praised for being bold and shocking, but it lost all impact in the succeeding decades.

Even ignoring Marvel’s continued attempts to resurrect Gwen and milk whatever nostalgia they could from “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” Gwen’s death was one of the first mainstream instances of “fridging.” In brief, Gwen was unceremoniously killed for the sake of Peter Parker’s development, and to prevent him from actually growing up.

4 The Dark Phoenix Saga

By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Tom Orzechowski, and Glynis Wein

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Jean Grey towers over the X-Men in The Dark Phoenix Saga

The Dark Phoenix Saga was hailed as a turning point for the X-Men and superheroes at large. Jean Grey’s descent into villainous godhood in 1980 was the first time a beloved superhero turned to the dark side, then died to redeem herself. However, the arc was copied so many times that it lost all impact.

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Retroactive studies of the overrated The Dark Phoenix Sagawere also rather harsh. Today, it’s hard not to see Jean’s transformation into Dark Phoenix and subsequent death as an unintentional cautionary tale about the “dangers” of female empowerment and identity. These were the norms of the 80s, but they’re questionable and wrong today.

3 Ultimate X-Men

By Bill Jemas, Joe Quesada, Mark Millar, Adam Kubert, and Andy Kubert

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>The X-Men attack in Ultimate X-Men

For better and worse, Ultimate X-Men was the comics’ answer to the first X-Men movie’s popularity and the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Here, the mutants were modernized as badass and vicious versions of their old campy selves. Readers loved this in 2001, but grew tired of it roughly a decade later.

Ultimate X-Men’s only way of updating the classic X-Men was to make them excessively nihilistic and violent. Given how the Ultimate mutants acted more like terrorists, the mutants’ original point as metaphors for real disenfranchised groups was lost on the creators and readers. Ultimate X-Men bordered on ugly self-parody by its end.

2 The Ultimates

By Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Captain America leads the other heroes in The Ultimates

In the 2000s, Marvel streamlined its convoluted lore for newcomers and acknowledged the changing times with The Ultimates. The reboot was the Avengers’ much-needed and acclaimed modernization. The Ultimates was so successful that it branched out into an entire universe. Unfortunately, it’s better as a time capsule of the early 2000s.

The Ultimates had the kinds of outdated gender dynamics, zealous patriotism, and thinly-veiled support of fascism and militarism that were commonplace at the height of the War on Terror. The Ultimates was so hypermasculine and aggressive that even at its peak, some readers wondered if the comic was taking things too far.

1 Civil War

By Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines, Chris Eliopoulos, and Morry Hollowell

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Captain America stands between the Marvel heroes in Civil War

Marvel’s Civil War schism caused by the Superhuman Registration Act rewrote the status quo for the better part of two decades. It also reflected the most pressing concerns of the early 2000s. But in hindsight, Civil War and its unfortunate implications did more harm than good.

Civil War’s version of the human rights-violating Patriot Act was shown as the only choice. Those who opposed it were either naive or evil. The more time passes after the War on Terror, the more those who supported it and its policies through fiction look worse. Today, Civil War is only cited to be humiliated or disproved.

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