Paging Dr. Wertham

14 Wince-Inducing Eye Injury Scenes in Comics 

(Here there be spoilers.) 

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1. A needle to the eye (True Crime Comics #2, 1947)
“It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.” My high school chemistry teacher was fond of saying that, and it was funny because it was true. Our bodies may be squishy and soft, but we can usually recover from most blows and pokes to our arms or legs. Not so much our eyes, though, and there are fewer easy ways to make an audience squirm than to show a character’s eyes threatened by a pointy object. Early comic artists milked this gut reaction for all it was worth, leading to anti-comic crusader Fredric Wertham specifically singling out the “injury to the eye” motif in his book Seduction of the Innocent. And probably the most famous of those early eye-injury scenes was this one, in 1947’s True Crime Comics #2. This panel from Jack Cole’s “Murder, Morphine and Me” is one of the most notorious image from that anti-comics era, but the story might have been almost forgotten today if it had not become one of the central attractions in Wertham’s campaign against comics. Writers and editors of true-crime comics insisted their books saved kids from a life of crime by showing them the harsh consequences of crime and drug abuse… but up against images like this, it was hard to convince Mr. and Mrs. America of their noble intentions.

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2. “MY EYES! I CANNOT SEE!” (Strange Worlds #2, 1951)
Direct from Wertham’s book: “The injury to the eye motif is an outstanding example of the brutal attitude cultivated in comic books — the threat or actual infliction of injury to the eyes of a victim, male or female. This detail, occurring in uncounted instances, shows perhaps the true color of crime comics better than anything else. It has no counterpart in any other literature of the world, for children or for adults.” Wertham then said the children of 1954 (the year his book was published) take the injury-to-the-eye move for granted, whereas children of the early ’40s saw it as something too horrible to even imagine. And the sole difference between the two groups of children? Why, comics, of course! “A generation is being desensitized by these literal horror images. One comic shows a man slashing another man across the eyeballs with a sword. The victim: ‘MY EYES! I cannot see!’” That would be a direct reference to this story from Avon’s Strange Worlds #2, a story in which Crom the Barbarian battles a trouble-making giant. Now, one could point out that even the Bible has a story in which a giant is dealt a fatal blow, and most kids reading stories like this are not likely to see their playmates as oversized fantasy creatures and try to re-create this scene… but that would have meant applying common sense to the issue, and common sense isn’t what Wertham was aiming for.

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3. This might sting a little, (Mister Mystery #12, 1953)
Are we wincing yet? This cover from the short-lived and macabre Mister Mystery comic is often cited as an example of the kind of the injury-to-the-eye imagery that Wertham was aghast to find in so many of the crime and horror comics of the era — but oddly enough, he never mentioned this one, arguably one of the most notorious covers in this peculiar sub-genre.

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4. The Joker’s last stand (The Dark Knight Returns, 1986)
The Comics Code Authority removes pretty much everything Wertham and other moral crusaders found objectionable in the comics. No surprise, this included any kind of physical threat to eyes, which was covered under Part A of the CCA’s Code: “Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.” After some loosening of the restrictions in the early ’70s to permit vampires, werewolves and ghouls back into the books, comic writers — emboldened by the freedom the growing direct-sales market offered — started depicting scenes of violence, sexuality and other no-nos on the list. I can’t say for sure The Dark Knight Returns was the first post-Code mainstream comic to show someone’s eye with a foreign object in it, but it was certainly one of the highest-profile examples of it at the time. Frank Miller’s epic story of an aging Batman had him at one point confront the Joker in their final battle, and just before the Clown Prince of Crime committed suicide by twisting his own neck (to make it look as if Batman had done it), he took a Batarang to the eye, as you can see here.

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5. “I can see the glory!” (Sandman, 1989)
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was great in a lot of ways, not least of which because of the way it melded horror and fantasy at a time when mainstream comics were just beginning to explore the possibilities in producing books for a more mature market. Filed under “horror” are scenes like this one, in which a young diner patron shoves two knitting needles into her eyes. The set-up is a madman is using one of Morpheus’s artifacts to take a diner hostage and make the customers commit terrible acts just because he can. And if this scene wasn’t gory enough for you, one of the creepier villains in the series was The Corinthian, a nightmare brought to life who travelled the waking world as a serial killer feasting on the eyes of his victims (and he had razor-sharp teeth in his own eye sockets to do the job). No surprise, Gaiman has admitted to being overly fond of and disturbed by the injury-to-the-eye trope, and there are several more examples of it in his series for readers to find… if they dare.

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6. “It’s time he saw our point of view — LITERALLY!” (Spider-Man, 1991)
As Todd McFarlane himself explained, he gets asked all the time by fans why he quit drawing Spider-Man and left Marvel. The way he tells it, he was given his own title, the adjective-free Spider-Man, to write and draw after a few years of drawing Amazing Spider-Man, and things were going well both for him and for Marvel’s bottom line. But “as time went by, the company began to slowly pull back some of the control of the book and began asking me to change things,” McFarlane writes. The notes kept piling up, and for him the straw that broke the camel’s back was an order that a sword could not be shown poking the Juggernaut in the eye. (The image above is from McFarlane’s Facebook post on the subject; the final artwork in Spider-Man #16 does not show this panel). Is this the truth, or is McFarlane trying to paint his decision to jump ship and form his own multi-million-dollar empire as a stand for artistic freedom? It’s not hard to imagine a young McFarlane being told he can’t draw something a certain way and saying, “Screw this, I’m outta here.” I haven’t picked up Spawn in a while, but I wouldn’t be surprised if every other issue showed someone’s eyeball poked or squished, just because he could.

eye-shadow7. Microscope of eeeeee-vil (The Phantom, 1996)
Technically speaking, the Phantom got his start in newspaper comic strips, not comic books, but I can’t resist adding this example from the 1996 movie starring Billy Zane because it’s just too goddamn goofy. Treat Williams chews the scenery as Xander Drax, a businessman/criminal mastermind out to rule the world with some magic skulls. But before we get to that, he has to deal with a scientist underling who has displeased him, and he does that by getting the man to look through a microscope situated on Drax’s desk. The man looks through the eyepieces, sees the words “YOU LIE” come into focus and then gets two spring-loaded razor blades rise up and stab him in the eyes oh my god. Cue offscreen screams of agony (hell, I’m screaming now just thinking about it). So many questions here. Did he intend to just blind the man or kill him? Either way, why did he commit the deed in his high-rise office? If the guy is dead, how does Drax plan to get rid of the body? If he’s alive, how does Drax explain to others how the guy got stabbed in both eyes? How is the victim supposed to see anything on the microscope slide if the razor blades are hidden inside the tubes? What kind of sadistic bastard even comes up with this idea? Maybe they’ll answer these questions in the Phantom reboot I heard someone is working on.

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8. Here’s fly in your eye (Green Lantern Corps, 2008)
How’s this for a variation on a theme: an eye injury that takes place when something bursts out of an eye. The screaming gentleman in the panel is Mongul, interstellar despot and pain in the ass; the fly is the Green Lantern known as Bzzd. Mongul briefly takes over the Sinestro Corps and uses his ring to send thousands of Black Mercy seeds to several unsuspecting planets (Black Mercy being the plant he once used to incapacitate Superman in the classic “For the Man Who Has Everything” from Superman Annual #11). After this coup de grace, the GL Corps allow his body to fall back down into the Black Mercy’s planet, where his body was buried and used to nourish the parasitic plants.


9. “Watch me do a magic trick” (The Dark Knight Rises, 2008)
No inventory of wince-inducing eye-injury scenes would be complete without this one from The Dark Knight Rises, showing the Joker’s first meeting with Gotham’s crime bosses. I know you’ve already seen it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy watching it one more time. Don’t blink…

eye-justiceleague610. Wonder Woman and Aquaman stab Darkseid in the eyes, Justice League #6 (2011)
Um… ouch. Back in 2011, DC launched its much-ballyhooed “The New 52” line-up, ending the runs of all its then-current titles and starting fresh with 52 No. 1 issues. Well, maybe “fresh” isn’t the right word; as I’ve noted before, there was a lot of been-there-done-that with the new books, particularly in the way the heroes were “grim-n-grittied” up to allow for more violence in the DC universe. It wasn’t anything fans who had lived through the “ex-TREEEEME” era of the 1990s hadn’t seen before, but it was a little shocking to see how far the creators went in depicting some of the classic characters. For instance, Wonder Woman has been cast as a fierce warrior many times over the years, but rarely before had she been seen giving in to — even enjoying — the bloodlust of the battlefield. In one climactic scene in a Justice League story arc (later reproduced in 2014’s Justice League: War DVD), she is shown shoving a sword right into Darkseid’s eye, yelling “HAAAAA!” as she does so, with Aquaman and his trident following suit moments later.

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11. “Dad?” The Walking Dead (2011)
No one will ever accuse Robert Kirkman and his artist collaborators of going soft on their Walking Dead fans; after more than a decade of unrelenting carnage and misery inflicted on Rick and his allies, it’s clear the creators don’t want readers to take anything (or anyone) for granted.  Even so, it was probably a bit of a shock for fans of the series reading the 2011’s “No Way Out” storyline and seeing this delightful image staring back at them. What makes this horrific eye injury even more tragic is that Carl was shot by a man who was firing off random shots while being swarmed and devoured by a group of zombies. Poor Carl just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time — though it’s hard to think of anywhere in The Walking Dead that might be the right place anymore.

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12-13. Oliver Queen gives Slade Wilson the shaft (Arrow, 2014)
Green Arrow fans who didn’t expect much from CW’s Arrow series were pleasantly surprised by the first season pitting Oliver Queen against the mad schemes of Malcolm Merlyn, and Season 2 amped up the action and angst with some high-profile deaths and a climactic battle between Queen and Slade Wilson, his former friend and mentor. The final episode of the season, “Unthinkable,” brought their personal war to a head, with Queen and Slade in an all-out fight in both present-day Starling City and during flashbacks to the island; in the latter, Queen had a clear choice between killing Slade or giving him a syringe full of a cure that would flush the insanity-causing mirakuru out of Slade’s system. He chose death over life by slamming an arrow right into Slade’s eye, leaving him to die in a sinking ship. Of course, that wasn’t the end of Slade, and he came back to show Queen what happens when you give in to your anger and give up on a friend.

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Funny coincidence: this wasn’t the first time that Oliver Queen drove an arrow shaft into Slade’s eye. The scene above is from 2004’s Identity Crisis mini-series; technically Slade (or Deathstroke as he’s called in the comics) was already blinded in that eye before Queen told him to “watch the birdie,” but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have hurt like a son of a gun.

14. And now, a comic story from real life
And now a story that suggests maybe Wertham was on to something when he wrung his hands over all the eye-gougings in comics that were supposedly encouraging comic readers to do the same in real life. In 2010, USA Today reported that a fight broke out at San Diego’s Comic-Con minutes before Universal Pictures was set to present Cowboys and Aliens to the fans. According to reports, a man in his 20s was rushed to hospital after his eye socket was stabbed with a pen by another man in his mid-20s. Onlookers stood horrified as the man was seen bleeding from his eye; fortunately, he didn’t lose his sight in it. Sergeant Gary Mondesir of the San Diego Police Department, who was at the scene, told reporters: “This is extremely rare. The folks that attend here are extremely well-behaved… We have no problem with the attendees of Comic-Con.” At least not until the Klingon cosplayers start getting into character…

 

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