20 Comic Covers Suggesting the Resignation of a Superhero or Superhero Team From Their Self-Imposed Heroic Duties
1. The Amazing Spider-Man #50 (07/67)
Look, nobody ever said being a superhero is easy. The pay is lousy, the working conditions are hazardous, and the uniforms… well, let’s just say Spandex isn’t designed with cold nights on rooftops in mind. And let’s not even talk about the havoc a superhero career can have on one’s personal relationships and financial situation. So who can blame a superhero for deciding to pack it in? But such thoughts are fleeting for the true hero, and pretty soon he/she is back in the saddle, knowing that with great power must also come yadda yadda yadda. Speaking of which: the quintessential “I quit!” superhero comic has got to be this issue, in which a very frustrated Peter Parker decides the simple life of an ordinary college student is preferable to a life of crime-fighting and media harassment. Can’t blame him, really, especially when his romantic prospects start looking up as soon as he tosses out his union suit (which a kid snatches from the now-iconic trash bin and sells to J. Jonah Jameson, who promptly nails it to the wall with glee). But Spidey’s absence from the New York night scene emboldens the criminal element, and the Kingpin is soon gathering the mobs under his leadership. Feeling guilty about the ensuing crime wave (which: totally not his fault, but whatever), Parker remembers the lessons taught to him by Uncle Ben (who must have been quite the windbag when he was alive for all the advice Parker remembers him giving) and decides he must take on the burden of becoming Spider-Man again… which is a good thing for us, since issue #51 was just around the corner. But Peter, we say this with love: you do realize there are people who get paid to arrest bad guys, right?
2. The New Teen Titans #39 (02/84)
The title of this comic’s story is “Crossroads,” and that — in addition to the resigned slouch of our cover stars seen here — would seem to suggest that two of the team’s members are calling it quits. But looks can be deceiving; while it’s true that Wally “Kid Flash” West is taking a break from super-heroing to live a normal life again (a decision spurred by the realization his super-speed powers are slowly killing him), Dick “Don’t Call Me Robin” Grayson is simply exchanging one costume for another, retiring the green shorts and elf boots for the upturned collar and plunging neckline (ah, the ’80s) of his brand-new Nightwing costume. (And in an extreme act of non-coincidence, that month’s issue of Batman also featured the first appearance of Jason Todd as the new Boy Wonder). But this wouldn’t be end of the road for Kid Flash; following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, his disease miraculously went into remission at just the right time to allow him to assume the costume and identity of his fallen mentor. If only all mysterious, slow-acting and fatal diseases could be as accommodating.
3. Captain America #176 (08/74)
“Dammit, Thor, I do dost knowest what I am saying! Can’t you tell how serious I am by how I only half-dressed myself this morning, or by how I’m furiously K-TANGing my shield across the floor? By the way, someone should help the Wasp with that nasty gash in her forehead. Sorry, Janet!” And just in case you thought the cover was a little misleading, the splash page inside features our hero screaming “Captain America must DIE!” to the heavens above. And just what was the dire situation that led to Cap’s dramatic resignation and the possibility of readers picking up issues of […] and the Falcon the following month? Well, it was 1974, and you students of American history will know the early ’70s was a rather delicate time for people who fancied themselves the living embodiment of the American dream. The real shocker behind this image? After an entire issue of our self-flagellating Cap receiving one pep talk after another from friends and colleagues, he delivers this last-page message: screw y’all, I’m quittin’ anyway. And then he went and did it, ditching his Stars and Stripes costume to fight anti-social sorts as Nomad, the man without a country. Don’t worry, though; the USA’s bicentennial was right around the corner, and you just know Stan Lee & Co. wouldn’t bench their most profitable patriot for that.
4. Uncanny X-Men #138 (10/80)
Many commentators have credited the success of the X-Men franchise to the fact its target teen audience can relate to the book’s recurring themes of alienation and peer support (and let’s not even get into the not-so-subtle “my body is shooting out rays and sprouting claws right about the time I’m entering puberty” thing). The X-Men: Evolution animated series placed most of the X-Men team in high school, which sounds about right: within the team, you’ve got your rich kids, your class clowns, your poets, your rebels — in fact, all your favorite high school cliques are under one gifted academy roof. If that’s the case, then Cyclops is the emo kid — the brooding guy who writes bad poetry and sees beauty in floating plastic bags and tortures himself for loving someone who’s out of his league (even if she secretly thinks he’s kind of cute). And then, after finally winning the heart of his true love, he acts like it’s the end of the world when the romance is over (true, Jean committed suicide in his arms to prevent her omnipotent self from going cuckoo again and destroying the universe, which isn’t how your typical high school romance ends, but… ah, close enough). So no surprise, then, that following #137’s instant-classic death scene, Cyclops decides it’s time to go find another place to mope. Fans of moody types will be relieved to know it didn’t last, and Cyclops rejoined the team to kick magnetic butt in #150.
5. Manhunter #24 (04/90)
For those not in the know, there have been several characters named “Manhunter” over the years; this particular one is Mark Shaw, a man once brainwashed by an alien robot cult (long story) and now working freelance as a superhero bounty hunter. That is to say, he’s paid to bring in the super-powered scofflaws and scoundrels that chumps like Superman and Batman haul off to jail for free. Nice work if you can get it, but he’s got a techno-whizzy mask and quarterstaff to give him a leg up on his super-powered adversaries. Which makes this cover, appearing on the final issue of this series, all the more confusing: while it’s a nice homage to the trash bin scene in Amazing Spider-Man #50, do we really expect an entrepreneur like Shaw to just casually toss highly advanced weaponry into a random street receptacle, with the mask not even hitting the mark? Apparently so.
6. Robin #49 (01/98)
Rest assured, nothing even approaching this scene appears in this issue. In fact, Batman doesn’t make a single appearance in this story, “The Speed of Life,” which finds Robin in Paris looking for an old sensei to help him continue his martial arts training. Robin’s departure from Gotham City wasn’t even this dramatic, and he’s clearly wearing his Robin mask and costume at the dojo throughout this story, so why does Batman appear here holding Robin’s mask while his youthful ward storms off in a huff? You have to wonder if there was a printing error that ended up placing the wrong cover art on the book. Didn’t matter, though, since we’re only three issues away from the big “Cataclysm” storyline that took over the entire Bat-family of books for the following two years and rendered all this faux-melodrama moot.
7. Justice League America #54 (11/91)
Post-Detroit and pre-JLA, DC’s Justice League franchise was a curious critter, ditching the “world’s greatest super-heroes” mission statement and bringing together a sizable collection of A-, B-, and C-listers for moderately humorous/sometimes cringe-inducing adventures (though I must say: Batman’s fist+Guy Gardner’s face=comic-book gold). It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it was the kind of title where fans of underused or underappreciated characters could get their fix whilst comic creators had fun poking sticks at some of the sillier aspects of the DC universe (ladies and gentlemen: Justice League Antarctica!). Here, it looks as if Ted “Blue Beetle” Kord and Tara “Ice” Olafsdotter are walking away from their superhero identities, but in fact they were both booted off the team by a United Nations bureaucrat sent in to clean up the team’s image after a rather embarrassing international incident orchestrated by an eeeee-vil super-villain. Sucks to be them, but to be fair anyone trying to clean up the League’s image at this point in the team’s history would have to start with booting Blue Beetle to the curb.
8. Iron Man #21 (01/70)
Iron Man is famous for being the first alcoholic superhero, and many fans fondly remember the ’80s storyline that saw Stark back on the sauce and handing the keys to the Iron Man armor over to his buddy, James Rhodes. But that wasn’t the first time Tony Stark decided to give up the suit; as early as the 21st issue of his first series, he was ready to throw in the towel because of health concerns (and no, the moment of his decision wasn’t quite the melodramatic scene shown here). It seems the heart surgery used to treat the heart condition that once made him dependent on his armor has been successfully treated, but now the big worrywart thinks the stress of superheroing might be too much for his ticker, so he quietly offers the Iron Man job to Eddie March, a retired boxer and big-time Iron Man fan with a little health secret of his own: a blood clot in the brain that could kill him if he ever gets punched in the head again! Dun dun dun!
9. Fantastic Four #191 (02/78)
To be honest, this development isn’t as shocking as the huge newspaper headline would have you believe; back in the early days, Ben and Johnny would routinely scream “I quit!” and run off to find a homeless guy who turns out to be a long-lost aquatic monarch, or something crazy like that. Then there was the time that Reed and Sue took a little time off to live a normal life while their spots on the team were filled by Crystal the Inhuman and Ms. Marvel in her She-Thing days (and the less said about that dire stretch of FF history, the better). This issue is notable, though, for the fact that all four members called it quits at the same time, and for the next few issues readers were treated to stories starring the team members in solo adventures. In fact, it wouldn’t be until Fantastic Four #196 that the team would reunite once again, thanks to the machinations of Doctor Doom. So say what you like about the guy, at least he cared enough to want them dying together like a family should.
10. Wonder Woman #269 (07/80)
Yeah? Yeah? Well, maybe Man’s World has had its fill of you, huh? Ever thought of that, princess? Ahem. Anyway. This issue finds Wonder Woman still heartbroken over Steve Trevor’s death (what, again?), and an incident involving a police officer lecturing her on the illegality of using her magic lasso to force a confession from a bunch of punks is the last straw for her. Sickened by the lack of justice and penchant for violence and greed she witnesses in “Man’s world,” she returns to Paradise Island, where she discovers the Amazons are having troubles of their own. Trouble in paradise, as it were. Eventually, she realizes that running away from your troubles is a “man’s trap” (side note: does she credit the Y chromosome with causing anything good in this story?) and resumes her duties as an ambassador for peace and equal rights among us average folks. So good for her.
11. Green Lantern #181 (10/84)
For someone with a whole space sector to patrol (Sector 2814, to be exact), Hal Jordan spent an awful lot of time battling the forces of evil on Earth, making him the cosmic equivalent of a beat cop who only arrests perps that try to steal toilet paper from the police station washroom. Rightly so, his Guardian masters say they have had enough of his Terra-centrism and order him to deal with an emergency on another planet, but the assignment means Jordan is light years away from Earth when a super-villain team trashes the aircraft firm headed by his beloved Carol. Forced to choose between love and duty, Jordan chooses love and tells the Guardians to take their power ring and shove it… into the hand of someone else. Hal, speaking as someone who’s done a lot of stupid things for love, I can sympathize, but — well, you do know that ring can create anything you can imagine, right? I mean, anything… and anyone, know what I’m saying? Just checking. (See also “having your lime-colored cake and eating it, too.”)
12. Superman #201 (11/67)
You know, for a change-the-course-of-mighty-rivers kind of guy, the Silver Age Superman often came across as a great big wuss. Take this story, in which his decision to avert a natural disaster means he’s a split second too late to save one man’s life, and a short while later he’s aghast to learn Lois Lane is almost hit by a bullet that ricochets off his chest. Wracked by guilt over these two incidents (neither, it should be noted, really falling into the “totally his fault” category), he does what any humbled hero would do: he builds himself a rocket, high-tails it for an Earth-like planet orbiting a red sun, and starts life over as an ordinary scientist building super-robots. Oh, and he just happens to find himself attracted to a hot gal (the boss’s daughter! Dawg!) whose name (of course) starts with a double-L. I’m serious! But of course all it takes is a little crime-fighting action for him to shake his case of the mopes, and soon enough he’s back on Earth doing his super-thing. All nice and tidy, except for two questions: (1) What kind of planet did he run away to, where a guy who literally falls out of the sky can get himself a cushy scientist job without anyone so much as asking for the alien equivalent of a Social Security number? (2) Exactly what kind of sweet deal does Clark Kent have at the Daily Planet that he can just up and go off-planet for weeks or months at a time and come back to the same job as if nothing ever happened? (My money’s on compromising photos of Perry White and Beppo the Super-Monkey…)
13-14. The Flash #159 (3/66)/The Flash #264 (8/78)
An ironclad rule if there ever was one: if it happened to the Silver Age Superman once, you can be damned sure it happened to the Flash at least twice. An oversized head, an extra 500 pounds, the strange feeling that you’re turning into a human mirror, marionette, or boomerang… yeah, he did all that. Heaven only knows how becoming a super-fast speedster in a scientific accident turns you into a weirdness magnet that fights telepathic gorillas and murderous magicians every second Tuesday, but Flash just went with the flow and was cooler because of it. But apparently even he had his limits, as evidenced by the two covers shown here (nailing his costume and a note signed the “EX-Flash” to a tree was an especially nice touch, drama queen-wise). Or perhaps not; without offering too many spoilers to ruin the reading enjoyment of anyone who wishes to sample the Silver Age Flash oeuvre, suffice to say both instances of the Flash seemingly offering his public resignation were in fact clever ruses designed to knock his nemeses off-balance while he came up with yet another of his ingenious plans to save the day. You would think the whole “I quit!” gambit wouldn’t work on super-villains once, let alone twice, but there’s a reason why he has a museum and they don’t. (The first instance of him pretending to quit the superhero lifestyle involves him outwitting a group of time-travelling conquerors, which makes it all the more sad that they would so easily fall for such a predictable ruse… you know, given they have the power to travel through time and see for themselves whether his resignation was permanent. Stupid time travellers.)
15. Challengers of the Unknown #41 (12/64-1/65)
The Challengers were four men who miraculously survived a plane crash and, deciding they were living on borrowed time, dedicated themselves to challenging the unknown (really, it’s right there in the name, people). To each their own, I say, but I don’t think I would walk away from a plane crash and see it as a sign to devote my life to battling evil aliens or giant sea creatures. In this issue, a particularly hair-raising adventure precedes Rocky’s decision to quit the team, arguing he would rather quit than allow his newly acquired headache problem to endanger the team at a critical moment. While that little drama unfolds, a new menace called the Quadruple Man appears, and Ace, Red and Prof race to battle it while Rocky quietly slips out! After a random kid shames him by calling him a quitter, Rocky receives startling news from his doctor: his headaches are the result of a metal sliver in his skull! And it throbs when strange apparitions are nearby! And Rocky uses this knowledge to find the doctor who succeeded in turning thoughts into matter! And the Quadruple Man represents mankind’s four greatest weaknesses! Really, every sentence describing a story in a Silver Age DC comic should end with an exclamation point just on general principle.
16. Gen13 #52 (06/2000)
When a bunch of writers and artists left Marvel to form Image in the early 1990s, it soon became obvious they weren’t rejecting everything Marvel had to offer. Case in point: Gen13, a series about five super-powered young friends trained in secret by an older mentor who tried to protect them from a dangerous world… a set-up that was completely and entirely different from the set-up of the original X-Men comics. (The book was even going to be titled Gen X until the creators learned of Marvel’s own upcoming Generation X project and made the last-minute name change; “Gen13” is a reference to 1991’s Generations, a book in which the authors argue the so-called Generation X is the 13th generation to know the U.S. flag.) Ah well, nothing new under the sun, etc. etc. Caitlin, the statuesque strongwoman of the team, is experiencing some reliability issues with her powers, and the rest of the team is distracted by concerns about her getting hurt while they battle a giant alien. So she decides to leave for the good of the team. Not to worry, though, as this is an Image title we’re talking about, and full-bodied young women with a tendency for shredding their clothes rarely worry about unemployment in their books.
17. Spider-Girl #26 (11/2000)
For the initiated, May “Mayday” Parker is the teenage daughter of Peter and Mary Jane Parker in an alternate future in which Peter long ago gave up his super-heroics to raise a family. Little did they know that their baby girl would inherit her father’s spider-powers, and despite their best efforts to discourage her web-slinging ways, they eventually helped her in her crime-fighting exploits. Her first series, which ran for 100 issues, has the distinction of being the longest-running Marvel title with a female lead character (suck on that, Night Nurse!), and it serves as a nice antidote to the “One More Day” storyline that had more than a few Spidey fans up in arms. In this issue, titled “Passages,” May is coping with the sudden loss of her powers during the previous issue’s events, but considering the book would go on for another 74 issues — only to stop so Marvel could relaunch it as The Amazing Spider-Girl, in 2006 — we can safely assume this power loss was temporary at best.
18. Wonder Man #18 (02/93)
The thing you have to understand about Marvel’s output during the early ’90s is this: after the company went public in 1991, new owner Ron Perelman treated Marvel like a piggy bank, using its inflated stock value to finance the purchase of toy makers, sticker manufacturers, and other companies with which Marvel would have a lot of “synergy.” While investors gushed about Marvel’s untapped potential and collectors dreamed of getting rich from owning multiple copies of Ghost Rider, Marvel’s editors were under orders to create dozens of new titles to keep up with the artificial demand, and when the inevitable crash happened a lot of dazed folks were left wondering just how in the hell a book about, say, a supernatural assassin who derives his powers from ripping body parts off his victims ever made it to market. (And let’s not even mention the horrendous outfit poor Susan Richards was forced to parade around in.) Wonder Man, though not as egregiously written as some of the other titles from that era, certainly had a “time to make the doughnuts” vibe about it, with most of its issues either a crossover tie-in or a place for higher-profile guest stars to squeeze in yet another appearance that month. So when Wonder Man gets angry and decides to quit “pretending” to be a hero… suffice to say the number of fans shocked by this cover image were likely outnumbered by people surprised to see the title had made it to 18 issues.
19. Starman #21 (04/90)
Published a few years before James Robinson’s much-lauded series of the same name, the 1980s Starman title starred Will Payton, a freelance writer who was hiking in the Arizona desert one day only to get knocked out by a mysterious energy beam. He wakes up weeks later with strange super-powers, including the ability to fly, radiate heat and alter his physical features, and Starman was born. It was a decent, if slight, series very much in the Silver Age Marvel mold (he’s a freelancer whose superheroing gets in the way of paying the bills, he has a mutual unrequited love thing going with his co-worker/boss, stuff like that); a nice touch was surrounding Payton with family, including a supportive sister who designs his superhero costume for him when he comes out about his powers. In this issue, our hero is struggling with recent events that led to the unintentional deaths of several people, as well as his dismissal from his copywriting job due to his unreliable nature, and so he goes on a walkabout to figure out what to do with his life. Is this truly the end of Starman, and could he really be walking away from his superhero duties? Based on the fact this series went on for another two dozen issues after this one, I’m going to hazard a “no” on that one.
20. Green Goblin #13 (10/96)
Let’s say you’re an average twentysomething slacker in the Marvel universe who accidentally stumbles into a hidden cache of costumes and weapons left behind by a supposedly dead super-villain. Do you: (a) slam the door shut and pray the super-villain never finds out you were poking around his place; (b) turn the whole lot over to the police or nearest superhero team for immediate collection and disposal; or (c) put on one of the costumes and start a new career as a super-powered crimefighter? The answer, if you’re a complete moron, is (c). But that didn’t stop Phil Urich from becoming the new Green Goblin when the choice was before him, and you have to marvel at the lack of intelligence it takes not to realize that people who see you flying around while wearing a known murderer’s old costume aren’t going to take you at your word when you tell them you’re actually a good guy. But for 13 issues in the mid-’90s, the new Green Goblin did exactly that, provoking all kinds of reactions to his presence that would not be dissimilar to, say, a person in the real world dressing up as Super-Hitler to fight crime. We can only thank a brutal sales climate and Marvel’s impending bankruptcy for cancelling this ill-advised title, which ended exactly as this final cover suggests: with Urich ditching the costume in favor of a slightly less dangerous vocation, which can also be filed under “just about anything else not involving molten lava.”