Most disturbing moments in Marvel Comics

Comic books might be seen as silly superhero stories by people who've never read them, but they're really about more than just cartoonishly dressed costumed vigilantes knocking the stuffing out of bad guys—in fact, they've gotten pretty cosmic and weird over the years, and they definitely aren't known for shying away from strange subject matter. But even among a medium that includes decades of brain-meltingly convoluted storylines and utterly bizarre characters, Marvel has still somehow managed to whip up a few moments that went further than we'd ever imagined possible. These things are supposed to be meant for kids, after all. With that in mind, we've peered into the past, rounded up some truly memorable examples, and put together a look at the most disturbing moments in Marvel comics. Some of these events caused major controversies while others flew below the radar, but all of them haunted us after we put them down.

Twincest in Ultimates 3

Innuendo is one thing; swinging on the family tree is another thing entirely. In Ultimates 3, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch – the son and daughter of Magneto, who are blood relatives – consummate their previous flirtations and get down to bedtime business…while Wolverine watches from the bushes, no less.

The rest of the story arc is just as strange, even by Ultimates standards. Somebody leaks a sex tape of Tony Stark and the Black Widow. Ultron 3D-prints clones of the Ultimates using their DNA. By the end of it, Magneto believes that both of his incestuous children are dead, and a bunch of loose ends remain. Then again, to writer Jeph Loeb, the Ultimates is great because "you can blow stuff up and leave it that way."

So yeah, Ultimates 3 should have been the worst of it. Then came Ultimatum.

Ultimatum's horrifying deaths

Ultimatum exists to tidy up the Ultimate universe, but all it really does is sweep the previous mess into a corner and dump more dirt all over the floor.

Here are some things that happen in Ultimatum: Magneto flips the magnetic poles of the Earth. Well, either that or he fiddles with the Earth's axis. His dastardly plan becomes inconsistent between issues, but okay, the results are the same: bad weather, tidal waves, and the deaths of millions of people. In other parts of the story arc, the Blob devours Janet van Dyne's (Wasp's) innards. Dr. Henry "Hank" Pym, in his giant form, chomps the Blob's head off for revenge. Captain America ends up on life support. Thor trades his life and soul for Valkyrie's in the land of the dead. Magneto uses Iron Man's and Cyclops' powers to obliterate Wolverine. Magneto talks about "mind-rape" until Cyclops blows his head off with his eye-beam. Meanwhile, in a move that infuriated readers, fan favorites die without even putting up a fight.

As for actual ties to Ultimates 3, there are surprisingly few: Magneto has Thor's hammer. Check. Magneto is mad because his kids are dead. Check. An assassin puts a bullet through Cyclops' head as he is giving a speech. It's not just any bullet, either – it's the same bullet that killed The Scarlet Witch. And Quicksilver isn't dead after all. Check and mate. That's about it for story-relevant tie-ins. Everything else – Iron Man's sex tape drama, numerous sources of tensions between characters, why Captain America hates France – is all brushed aside to make room for orgiastic carnage.

The Legion of Monsters kills their one chance at not being monsters

Starseed, a golden, Christ-like figure on a golden horse, appears in 1976's Marvel Premiere #28, inspiring the Legion of Monsters to unite against him. When a holy mountain appears in the middle of Los Angeles, Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Morbius the Living Vampire, and Werewolf by Night investigate the event separately and end up meeting Starseed. While Ghost Rider tries to protect Starseed, the other monsters attack him.

Wounded by the Man-Thing's incinerating touch, Starseed turns them back into humans. The changes are short-lived, serving only to show the monsters what life could have been like had they not attacked him. Then, Starseed dies and the four of them all regress to their monstrous forms, now knowing that they killed their only chance at living normal human lives. That's downright depressing.

Carnage uses a power drill to kill his foster parents' dog

Let's just start this on the right foot: the boy who grows up to be Carnage murders his grandmother by pushing her down the stairs. Call us crazy, but unprovoked violence against the defenseless really bothers us. But Carnage wasn't done. Next, he set his sights on man's best friend – his foster parents' dog. This isn't taking Old Yeller out back and putting him down with a quick shot to the head. The dog was healthy, happy, and trusting – and Carnage chose to torment it with a power drill. Even considering everything else you've done, that's just not cool, Carnage.

Marcus rapes Ms. Marvel in Avengers #200

What can we say about Carol Danvers' impregnation by her own soon-to-be son, Marcus, in Jim Shooter's Avengers #200 that hasn't already been said? It's a grotesque tale, made all the more disturbing by its happy tone. Then there's the Comics Code stamp and Toys "R" Us shopping spree advertised on its cover, unavoidable reminders that, in 1980, Marvel marketed a glorification of non-consensual sex to children.

In Avengers #200, Carol Danvers, AKA Ms. Marvel, mysteriously gives birth to a son named Marcus only three days after his conception (which she doesn't remember). Marcus ages impossibly quickly and reveals himself to be the son of the villainous Immortus, who lives in Limbo. This is where the story gets really weird. Lonely in Limbo but unable to leave in his normal form, Marcus abducted Carol Danvers and manipulated her mind to make her think she liked him, then raped her and impregnated her with his own "essence." Then, Marcus sent her back to Earth with her memory erased, and she gave birth to…Marcus. So at this point, Marcus is both Carol's lover and son. Does the issue end with a Jessica Jonesian confrontation with her mind-rapist? Nope! Ms. Marvel falls for Marcus and off they go to live as a married couple in Limbo. Our advice: don't even try to wrap your head around it. It never gets any less weird.

Hank Pym's abuse

One of Ultimatum's missteps is its assumption that readers will actually care when Hank Pym grieves over Janet's corpse and later kills himself to save others in an uncharacteristic act of altruism. In most comics, Dr. Henry Pym, a.k.a. Ant-Man and accidental creator of Ultron, suffers from Entitled Nice Guy Syndrome. Before Janet van Dyne becomes food for the Blob, she endures an abusive relationship with Pym that comes to a head in a controversial depiction of domestic violence. Ultimates' Hank Pym differs some from his Marvel Prime counterpart, but he's still an immature, troublesome bore. If anything, Pym's kamikaze-style suicide in Ultimatum—though obviously intended to strike an emotional chord—was a happy occasion.

Straczynski's Spider-Man: Sins Past and One More Day ruin everything

The Amazing Spider-Man: Sins Past is a troubling, poorly plotted tale that defies continuity and outright poisons The Amazing Spider-Man's timeline. You can find in-depth explanation of Sins Past's heresy elsewhere on the cybernets of interspace.

The story arc is disturbing on many levels. First, there's the image of Norman Osborn (AKA the Green Goblin) having sex with Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man's first love. (Seriously, nobody wants to see that, Marvel.) Second, there's the disturbing lack of respect for 20 years of established continuity. Finally, it's difficult to imagine the turn of real-life events that had to have taken place at Marvel for such a story arc to make it into print. Arguing that Spider-Man: Sins Past is one of the worst comics of the 2000s, Caleb Goellner of Comics Alliance writes, "[the series] reads almost like a mashup of every bad idea in comics' storied history, as though [writer J. Michael Straczynski] were dared to write the worst story ever just to spite Internet trolls."

Why would Straczynski – acclaimed creator of the cult classic sci-fi series Babylon 5 - retcon the brutal murder of Gwen Stacy while shoehorning in a forbidden romance between Stacy and Norman Osborn, a secret pregnancy, and rapidly aging genetically modified twins (Sarah and Gabriel) dead-set on murdering Peter Parker (whom they believe to be their father)? According to Straczynski, he'd hoped to retcon the twins out of existence in One More Day - you know, the one where Spidey goes full-Faust, summons Mephisto, and trades his and M.J.'s marriage to save Aunt May from certain death – but his efforts to do so were thwarted by his editors.

Superior Spider-Man's obsession with Aunt May

Superior Spider-Man (Doc Ock's brain in Spider-Man's body) earns his spot partly for his willingness to do violence and partly for revealing the unheroic dark side of post-One More Day Peter Parker. The most disturbing thing about Dan Slott's Superior Spider-Man series is how apt its title really is. Doctor Otto Octavius has switched bodies with Peter Parker, who died trapped in the Doc's body. Now, Doc Ock sets out to be a better Spider-Man than Parker ever was.

Ever since Straczynski's One More Day, which voided Parker and M.J.'s marriage, Parker has refused to grow up. Doc Ock's obsession with pleasing Aunt May is disturbing not because of what it says about Doc Ock, but rather what it says about post-One More Day Peter Parker: he prefers to have someone relatively helpless depending on him. M.J. is too self-sufficient for him. Indeed, in Superior Spider-Man #24, Mary Jane is the one who helps Aunt May escape from the Green Goblin, using an evacuation plan and common sense. Neither the Amazing Spider-Man nor the Superior Spider-Man seems to get this.

Punisher steamrolling Wolverine

Preacher creator Garth Ennis didn't merely reinvent The Punisher franchise for Marvel Knights and Punisher MAX; he gave Frank Castle new death-bringing life. It's Ennis's legacy of true grit that we find in the best moments of Netflix's Daredevil series.

In Marvel Knights, a PG-13 precursor to Punisher MAX's uncompromising brutality, there is a moment that stayed with us long after we put the comic down. In Vol. 5 #16-17, the Punisher shotgun blasts the skin and soft tissue off of Wolverine's face, runs him over with a steamroller, and parks the freakin' thing on top of Wolverine's crushed frame. Arguably, Frank Castle does far worse in other series but this, to us, represents a uniquely nightmarish scenario. Unlike most of Castle's foes, Wolverine can't be killed this way, though he can feel pain. So he's alive, mangled, and in agony beneath that steamroller, robbed of a quick death by his healing factor.

Charlie Ronalds sacrificing a cat

Mr. Whiskers' unnatural death ranks among the most foul moments in Marvel comics. As an adult, Charlie Ronalds goes on to strike a deal with Cloot (the devil figure pictured above) and transforms into a monster named Charon. But as a kid, little Charlie uses a knife to kill his foster parents' cat, Mr. Whiskers, and then strings him up and hangs him from a tree.

The specificity of his childhood crime – the care he takes to carve up his kill and display it for maximum shock value – makes it worse than even the galactically genocidal-romantic acts of a lovestruck Thanos. Thanos kills like a soldier and extinguishes half of all life in the universe in an instant, but all without malice. Ronalds chose this cat to suffer and die as a sacrifice to the devil. That's a little much, Marvel.