It's been over 50 years since Marvel effectively began the Silver Age of comics, and while the company has had its ups and downs, their output cannot be denied: Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, the Avengers — their contributions to pop culture have been enormous. But not every comic Marvel published was a masterpiece — in fact, some aren't even good. And some are so bad that Marvel would like to pretend never existed at all. Here are 10 of them.
1) U.S. #1
It only took five years after the success of the cross-country truckin' movie Smokey and the Bandit for Marvel to capitalize on the hit movie by introducing Ulysses S. Archer to the Marvel universe. I assume most of that time was spent trying to figure out a way to seamlessly add a super-powered truck driver alongside Spider-Man and Captain America, until they just said "fuck it" and gave him a metal head that picked up C.B. radio waves. Oh, and his brother was an evil trucker who called himself the Highwayman, was given powers by aliens, and ended up crashing his truck into the moon. Here's how fondly Marvel loves U.S. #1: The Highwayman actually made an appearance in Ghost Rider a few years ago, while the comic's title character doesn't even have an official bio page.
2) Avataars: Covenant of the Shield
The Shaper of Worlds, the Living Tribunal, and a few other Marvel divinities were bored one day when they decided to basically play Dungeons & Dragons. Rather than pull out a bag of d20s, they created Eurth, a fantasy version of Marvel Earth, where Captain Avalon and the Champions of the Realm (a.k.a. the Avengers) ran around fighting bad medieval guys. This is the sort of ridiculous idea that can either be great or terrible; since Avataars was planned to be a 12-issue series and petered out at three, I assume you know how it ended up. It didn't help that when Marvel published it in 2000, it was already preposterously broke. They shouldn't have spent all that money putting an extra "A" in "Avatars."
3) Onyx: Fight
Was there any musical group more popular in the '90s than Onyx? Yes. There were many of them, actually. And yet Marvel chose to draw a comic about the post-apocalyptic adventures of rappers Sticky Fingaz, Fredro Starr and Sonsee as they fight aliens and bad guys in the ruins of New York City, hang with "The Gurlz," and rap, amidst a bevy of ebonics-laden narration boxes. Against all odds, somehow Onyx's fight lasted only a single issue.
This 2005 comic is so aptly named it's almost unfair. Marvel tried to do two things with Trouble: 1) bring back romance comics, which hadn't been popular since the '50s, and 2) re-jigger Spider-Man's origin for… for some reason, I guess. They failed on both counts, despite hiring noted romantic and purveyor of beauty Mark Millar as writer. The comic was about Peter Parker's parents, as well as Aunt May and Uncle Ben, as teenagers who fucked a lot. Despite completely cornering the "people who want to read about Aunt May having sex" market, the comic ended after five issues.
More like "Feverdreamers." That's the only way anyone would think to team up Reed and Sue's super-mutant son Franklin Richards, Howard the Duck, Artie the mutant that talks in images, and Man-Thing together. The comic took place after Onslaught basically killed most of Marvel's heroes, including Franklin's parents; then he was sent to Xavier's School for gifted children, met up with this motley crew, and basically ended up in a virtual reality created by Franklin's mind (power-wise, Franklin makes Phoenix look like U.S. #1), full of terrible, Marvel-esque parodies or The Wizard of Oz, Dr. Seuss, and more. It's all an attempt by Franklin's head to accept his parents' death, personified by a "Dark Hunter" that keeps trying to kill everybody. Marvel thought they had a hit on their hands when the Daydreamers came together in Generation X, and gave the scamps their own series, which was immediately canceled after issue #3.
6) NFL Superpro
Man, Marvel must have thought they'd hit a goldmine in 1991 when they teamed up with the NFL to collaborate on a new football-themed superhero. Kids loved superheroes. Tons of people loved pro football. How could NFL Superpro not be a success? Because people who like football generally don't give a shit about comics, and vice versa, I suppose. It didn't help that writer Fabian Nicieza didn't give a shit about the series either, fully admitting later that he created the series solely to score free football tickets. Hilariously, the comics market in 1991 was still so ridiculously strong that NFL Superpro made it 12 full issues before he was sacked, never to return.
In 2002, Peter David and Bill Jemas had a bet to see which of their series was more popular — David's Captain Marvel series, or Jemas' comic industry parody series Marville. Eventually, new president Joe Quesada got in on the action, championing new writer Ron Zimmerman's Ultimate Adventures, but more on that in a sec. Marvel put it to the fans with their "U-Decide" campaign, which left the choice of which comic would survive in their hands. I assume they thought the fans would vote for which comic would stay, but the fans actually decided to take out the middleman and simply refused to buy Marville. Trying to summarize Marville is trying to summarize shooting heroin directly into your adrenal gland; suffice it to say it starred Kal-AOL Turner, son of media mogul Ted, Rush Limbaugh, some odd thoughts on religion, Greg Horn's preposterously terrible cheesecake covers (none worse than the one at the top of the page), and, most inexplicably, the submissions guide to Marvel's former creator-owned label, Epic. It is also about 500% less interesting than I'm making it sound.
8) Ultimate Adventures
The sole Ultimate comic series that was not a reimagining of regular Marvel characters, Ultimate Adventures was the brainchild of Howard Stern writer Ron Zimmerman, who took the chance to write about a Batman and Robin parody, where Batman was even more psychotic than usual and Robin was unbearably obnoxious. It's not the world's most clever idea, but it could be good if handled correctly; Zimmerman didn't, taking almost a year and a half to release six issues of the mediocre comedy. Given that Zimmerman may have already been the most hated man in comics at that point for his unpopular Spider-Man story about Kraven the Hunter's son being a Hollywood big-shot and his willingness to argue with fans on the internet, Quesada's championing of Zimmerman was basically just a huge fiasco for him during his early days as EiC.
9) The Swimsuit Issues
I don't know for sure that Marvel is ashamed of the four different "swimsuit issues" they published in the '90s, but I feel they should be. I know drawing Jean Grey, She-Hulk, Storm and the rest of Marvel's superheroines in tiny swimsuits and even more physically impossible sexy poses that they're normally put in made them some serious bank, but at what cost to their souls? I assume someone there knew it was sketchy, because 1) they stopped making them in 1995, and 2) they've never collected them. About the best thing you could say about them was that the male superheroes also wore equally tiny, revealing, ridiculous swimsuits. But if Marvel doesn't feel ashamed of the swimsuits issues in general, then they still definitely need to be ashamed of the picture above.
10) Billy Ray Cyrus
In the '90s, Marvel experimented with publishing comics of popular musicians with their Marvel Music imprint. Most with reasonably biographical, and then some were more out there, like the aforementioned Onyx: Fight. But nothing was more ridiculous than the 48-page masterpiece of madness simply titled Billy Ray Cyrus, which featured the country music star and future terrible father traveling through time to fight ghosts, dragons, and evil knights, with nothing but the greatest mullet that has ever been featured in the comics medium. I assume Marvel is less than enthused to have written a comic where a country music star meets Merlin and drags a random couple into basically doing a frontier life LARP with him, but frankly, this comic should be celebrated for the mullet's sake, if nothing else.