Filled with colorful characters and fantastic adventures, it's easy to forget that comic books are products and that comic book publishers are driven by profits. In the crowded comic book marketplace, the competition is so intense publishers big and small have taken risks with comic book gimmicks designed to capture an audience, expand their product lines, or simply stave off bankruptcy.
Whether the industry is booming or busting, comic book publishers have frequently tried to put a new spin on time-tested superheroes by pairing them with athletes, merging them with other characters, or objectifying them in lingerie or swimwear (Marvel's annual swimsuit edition ran from 1991-1995). Some have even ditched superheroes altogether in favor of rock stars, rappers, and actors, or supplemented their comic books with records and cassette tapes.
Some publishers have used quick-and-dirty gimmicks designed to attract attention and make a quick buck. Others have invested a great deal of time, energy, and expense into creative risks designed to broaden the appeal of comic books altogether. We combed through our long boxes to bring you a list of the weirdest, most ingenious - and sometimes egregious - comic book gimmicks ever devised.
The Blood Of Band Members Was Mixed With Red Ink To Print Marvel's First KISS ComicPhoto: Marvel Comics
Ranked as one of the greatest metal bands of all time and still rocking the pants off of fans after nearly 50 years, KISS has become a pop-culture institution. KISS is also a merchandising powerhouse, the Star Wars of licensing in the music industry. Their patented likenesses and the distinctive "KISS" logo can be found on countless products (including coffins!) and, in 2020, the band joined forces with Marvel to release new, co-branded retail items.
With such distinctive fantasy-themed alter-egos as "The Space Ace" and "The Demon," and stage performances that involve smoke, fire, and blood, KISS and comic books seem like a match made in heaven. And, in fact, the relationship between the band and comics has lasted nearly as long as the band itself. First appearing in, of all comics, Howard the Duck #12 (April 1977), KISS would go on to appear in countless comics from various publishers over the next 40 years.
Some of KISS's comics have been good, some have been terrible, but none of them compare in sheer KISS-ness to their debut solo appearance in Marvel Comics Super Special #1 (September 1977). The issue was a 40-page monster filled with never-before-seen photos of the band, as well as their own four-color adventure. To hype the book, KISS made a "contract" with their fans... in blood! A nurse drew their blood during one of their tour stops, and it was sent to Marvel's printing plant where the it was mixed into the red ink used to print the comic. A notary was even on hand to authenticate the process.Hard to believe?
ESPN Published A Marvel Comics Insert Featuring Unclothed SuperheroesPhoto: ESPN The Magazine
It's not uncommon for real-world athletes to make appearances in comic books. Typically, they appear in homage or as guest stars, but sometimes they even tussle with comic book characters. "The Greatest" famously fought the Last Son of Krypton in DC's classic Superman vs. Muhammad Ali graphic novel from 1978, while "Sir Charles" infamously shot hoops with the King of the Monsters in Dark Horse's bizarre Godzilla vs. Barkley one-shot from 1993. Much rarer, however, is it for comic book characters to leap from the pages of their fictional universes and into a real-world athletic magazine.
ESPN was likely counting on the oddity of the pairing - and, no doubt, the worldwide pan-demographic popularity of Marvel Studios movies - to boost sales of its annual The Body Issue by including a comic-style insert featuring superheroes in its 2015 edition. Daredevil, Captain Marvel, Luke Cage, She-Hulk, and others were featured in the buff, flexing or striking poses, accompanied by basic stats and quotes from Marvel artists about athletic inspirations and drawing dynamic anatomy. Russell Dauterman revealed that Bruce Lee's physique is on his mind when drawing Iron Fist, while Leinil Francis Yu said that he inspired by the "functional" builds of MMA fighters when drawing superheroes like Luke Cage.
About her take on Captain Marvel, artist Sara Pichelli said, "I work to combine correct proportions and powerful muscle shapes with a commonly accepted idea of beauty."
ESPN has yet to publish a sequel to The Body Issue: Marvel Super Heroes Edition. Apparently, the appeal of drawings of exaggerated comic book physiques in a publication dedicated to showcasing real human athletes failed to make much of a splash with readers.Hard to believe?
CBS Promoted Its Soap Opera Superhero With A Marvel Comics Tie-InPhoto: Marvel Comics
With wildly disparate target audiences and established fan bases, superhero comic books and daytime soap operas have little in common besides "evil twins" and characters who never stay in the ground. But with talk shows and reality programs taking over daytime TV in the mid-2000s, networks found even their long-running staple soaps struggling to hold an audience. In a desperate gambit to attract new viewers and stave off the impending cancellation of its Guiding Light series, CBS in 2006 attempted to bridge the worlds of soaps and supers with a bizarre cross-promotion between the show and the Marvel Universe.
In the November 1 episode of Guiding Light titled "She's a Marvel," Harley Cooper (Beth Aitoro) developed super powers after a freak incident involving spilled soda and electricity. With super speed, electrical powers, and a disturbing lack of irises, Harley chose to use her newfound powers for good. Donning a superhero costume and calling herself "Guiding Light," Harley attempted to clean up the mean streets of fictional Springfield one overly dramatic event at a time.
The episode was promoted with an eight-page Marvel Comics back-up story that brought Guiding Light together with Wolverine, Spider-Man, and the Avengers in a battle against the Sinister Six. Harley's powers dissipated after the comic book battle, the off-screen explanation for why she never used them again in the series.Hard to believe?
The NHL Hired Stan Lee To Make Superheroes For Each Hockey TeamPhoto: Guardian Media Entertainment
With professional hockey surging in popularity during the 2010-11 season, attracting record numbers of viewers to televised games, the NHL could have simply maintained the status quo and enjoyed its success. Instead, the decision-makers at the NHL must have looked at the explosive success of superhero movies and decided that there was a vast untapped wealth of potential fans out there just waiting to discover hockey. All they needed was the right lure to hook their target "tween boys" demo, and they probably thought they found it in Stan Lee, the legendary comic book maestro who helped create many of the characters that were burning up the global box office.
Partnering with the NHL and Guardian Media Entertainment, Stan Lee created 30 new superheroes, each code-named and based on NHL hockey teams. After all of the characters had been unveiled, the NHL pitted them against one another in the "Guardian 30 Match-Up," a Facebook application that allowed fans to vote for each contest winner. The partnership also produced a 192-page graphic novel filled with the comic book exploits of the hockey heroes, but it failed to sell.
Even with art by Neal Adams, among others, comic book fans weren't willing to spend money on hockey-themed knockoff superheroes or flock to NHL games. The Guardian Project was abruptly terminated by season's end.Hard to believe?