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  • The Golden Age of Comic Books, at times, was significantly darker than The Silver Age of Comic Books and more mature than The Dark Age of Comic Books:
    • Most of this is because comics were only just escaping the influence of pulp fiction. The Golden Age also straddled the same time period as the second World War. When your countrymen are killing and dying on foreign shores to protect life and liberty, it makes sense that your comic book heroes would kill and die too. This can be overstated, though, particularly with regard to the most famous superhero characters. For instance, as professional Batmanologist Chris Sims has noted, "Sure, Batman might’ve fought vampires and carried a gun for like three issues, but by the end of that first year, it was all cat-wrestling and trips to Storybook Land."
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    • If you read the very first Batman/Joker story, it almost looks like someone decided to actually combine the violence and murder of Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns with the campiness of the Adam West version. (This was also before writer Bill Finger decided NOT to have the Joker be one of the villains that spew terrible puns) It has simplistic art and bad dialogue, but people actually die laughing with huge unnatural smiles on their faces. It also has the Joker painting his face with flesh-colored makeup, which many have thought was created for the 1989 Tim Burton film (and in the comic, the makeup is not a Paper-Thin Disguise, but actually works). Furthermore, in this first story the Joker never smiles, bringing to mind the dour Joker of Miller's All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder.
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    • The Human Bomb stories going back to 1941 always had a fair amount of Wangst in them. Everything he touched exploded, and the stories like something from Marvel from the seventies often explored how that would affect his psyche. Some of the time. Some of the time they played it as a joke.
    • If you tell someone there's a comic book where the Human Torch is burning someone's arm to the bone on the cover, they'll probably think "what have comics come to these days?" or "man, they'd do anything to be edgy in the 90s." What they probably wouldn't think is "it's amazing what they put on comic book covers before there were rules about what you could put on comic book covers." Unless they've seen the issue in question.
    • Golden Age Superman stories surprisingly have more in common with modern Superman than their Silver Age counterparts, in that Superman was portrayed more as a defender of the common man than the super powered lawman he later evolved into, and stories often had political and social themes to them. In general, many characters treated Supes as a thorn in the side of the establishment, just as one might expect they would in Real Life.
  • Watchmen:
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    • To a modern reader, Rorschach feels like a deconstruction of the '90s Anti-Hero, when he was largely the inspiration for many Darker and Edgier heroes whose creators missed the point—namely that Rorscharch is a deranged sociopath with a child's grasp of right and wrong, and that he's kind of incompetent: he loses in a fight against the police, gets caught and unmasked, and fails to solve the mystery because of his Entertainingly Wrong conclusions; it's the more Boring, but Practical-minded Nite Owl who actually manages to take them to the bad guy's lair. Alan Moore is bemused that so many people consider what he thought was Rorscharch's unattractive qualities—his paranoia, his propensity for violence and self-righteousness—heroic rather than tragic.
    • Doctor Manhattan is one of the most famous aversions of Reed Richards Is Useless, and a progenitor of Cape Punk as a result - and yet, a major running theme of the story is that he's nowhere near as wide-rangingly powerful as the propaganda claims him to be. In fact, his presence is ultimately negative, as it causes the Cold War to escalate, and once he's gone, the United States has lost a linchpin. Also of note is despite his powers, society isn't a whole lot different besides some better technology. In fact, the character who had the biggest impact is the Comedian by keeping the Watergate scandal under wraps and Richard Nixon in power.
    • Many stories following on from Watchmen involved deconstruction by way of Super Zeroes - ineffective "realistic" heroes that attempted to go against well-armed criminals with little more than some martial arts training, often exhibiting outdated values and grotesquely inflated opinions of their reach. Such a character does exist in Watchmen - Captain Metropolis, who is also an incredibly minor character in the overall narrative. In fact, the major characters in Watchmen are shown to be about as skilled or effective as any Badass Normal from DC or Marvel (recall how Dan and Laurie, after years of retirement and being easily the least enthusiastic about the superhero life, take out a whole gang of muggers with their bare hands). The critique lay not in their incompetence, but in the fact that they simply operate on too small a scale to meaningfully affect anything or provide much benefit besides making themselves feel good.
  • Marshal Law, while deconstructing traditional superheroes, managed to deconstruct the '90s anti-hero in the '80s: At one point Marshal Law accuses the Public Spirit, a Superman analog, of inspiring an entire generation of heroes to go to war in the Zone, in what can only be described as "Super-Nam". The Public Spirit turns this around by telling Law that Law's own vigilante actions have also inspired people, except in a more horrific manner. We then find that Law, the 90s anti-hero, inspired the main villain to take up his actions in the first place, thus completing the cycle. The reader is left to conclude that Law and the Spirit are both extremely messed up people. Additionally, Kevin O'Neill's artwork for the series, featuring misshapen, ridiculously muscular heroes brandishing gigantic weapons and pouting, ludicrously curvy heroines in pornographically skimpy costumes, was intended as a parody of Jack Kirby-influenced superhero comic art. Rob Liefeld and his imitators would later produce something very similar with serious intent.
    • This is continued even further in the first sequel, Marshal Law Takes Manhattan. While the traditional Marvel heroes get some pretty brutal parodying, including things like a Spider-Man analog who's all about shooting a different sticky fluid in public, they're treated as stupid and banal, but mostly harmless. Meanwhile, the Punisher analog gets by far the most direct satire, with him being portrayed as a fascist, racist, paranoid sadist with a persecution complex a mile deep, the ugliest part of the Right-Wing Militia Fanatic power fantasy taken to its endpoint. And even he's Not So Different from Law, being his old mentor, implying that Law's archetype is rotten at the root.
  • Judge Dredd seems like an obvious candidate as a proto-'90s Anti-Hero, debuting in 1977 and clearly inspired by Cowboy Cops such as Dirty Harry. Judge Dredd is a violent and gritty Judge, Jury, and Executioner who enforces the laws of a dystopian future police state, has acquired a massive bodycount over the years, and tends to fight enemies who are even worse them himself. However, Judge Dredd is far less one-dimensional than popular culture portrays him as: even in the early comics, he was clearly a By-the-Book Cop who takes "protect the innocent and uphold the law" very seriously, and abhorred corruption and wanton violence. After the "Democracy" arc, he actually resigned when he lost faith in the Justice system.
  • Marvel's Secret Wars (preceding Crisis itself) was the start of the Crisis Crossover... and for the most part it never crossed over into the characters' books. You'd just get a few panels of the character disappearing for the crossover and reappearing.
  • The original Clone Saga by Gerry Conway (not to be confused by the more famous and proverbial clone saga that came in the 90s) of Spider-Man actually is a pointed satire about Death Is Cheap, attempting to reverse the past, and fixating on The Lost Lenore beyond the point of healthiness:
    • In that story, Prof. Miles Warren who became the Jackal (and who was intended as a one-time villain who died at the end of the story) is a stand-in for fans of Gwen Stacy who hounded Conway and others for killing off the character, and who likewise blamed Peter Parker and not the Green Goblin for her death. While the Gwen who came back is revealed later to be a clone, initially Peter and everyone assumed she was real, and Peter's still conflicted about Gwen's return because he's not the same person who loved her anymore, he has moved on and his feelings for MJ are stronger than his grief for Gwen, because unlike Miles Warren, who had a lecherous and creepy obsessive fixation for Gwen (putting her on a pedestal and fixating on her looks), Peter's at heart a normal and optimistic guy and indeed he overcomes his Cloning Blues when he realizes that since he's now in love with Mary Jane, he's the real deal since the clones are all fixated on his past with Gwen.
    • In other words, Conway's story reads like a parody of comic tropes that came afterwards (i.e. Death Is Cheap, Status Quo Is God, Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest especially as it came to be seen in the wake of The Dark Phoenix Saga) and why even should Gwen return, Peter's feelings he once had for her would not be enough to renew a relationship which contrasts heavily with Cyclops dumping Madelyne Pryor for the revived Jean Grey even when he had married and had a child with her. It also contrasts completely against the spirit and intent of the second and more notorious Clone Saga which was a stunt intended to return Peter "back to basics" and reverse his Character Development, when in Conway's the story the character who has that attitude, Dr. Miles Warren is an old creepy stalker/professor who fixates on Gwen, his former student, and clearly the villain who is insane for having that attitude.
  • Wolverine was the Trope Namer for Wolverine Claws, but unlike a lot of other examples of the trope, stories with him have actually addressed that having claws come out of his hands HURTS; in fact some stories with him depicted blood coming out of his hands whenever he uses his claws and a period where he didn't have his Healing Factor addressed that without it he had to constantly bandage his hands whenever he used his claws. While also considered one of the Trope Codifiers for the Healing Factor power, having it had drawbacks like meaning anesthesia can't be used on him.
    • Also while Wolverine is the Trope Codifier for Healing Factor in comics, a power that would be frequently used later on, yet it was significantly more downplayed than the From a Single Cell example so often used (including the X-Men movie and later Wolverine stories). While he was difficult to kill, he could still be heavily wounded or laid out or even die. In fact his power essentially consisted of "healing slightly faster than normal".
  • Jack Kirby's O.M.A.C. seemed to utterly defy classification when it hit the stands in 1974, and didn't make it to nine issues. The series has since established a cult following, who have placed it firmly into the Cyberpunk genre: ten years before Neuromancer, you had a hero who gained his powers from an AI satellite, put in place to hold off nuclear exchanges and nullify attempts at corporate espionage. Long before Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell popularized the concept, OMAC was showing sympathy to Ridiculously Human Robots and discussing ideas like memory and identity in a world where a person's memories can be removed or rewritten. The cover of the first issue, showing a weird anti-erotic robot woman in a box with her face where her crotch should be, could be seen as a condemnation of the excesses of Internet porn, decades before there was porn on the Internet. One blogger even pointed out that it actually analyzed cyberpunk themes more than the 2011 reboot.
  • Azrael from Batman was one of the first examples, and probably the most famous, of the Anti-Hero Substitute, taking over from Bruce Wayne when Wayne was temporarily paralyzed. He's depicted as a violent, mentally unstable sociopath and egotist who's doing more harm than good with his brutal and militaristic methods of crime fighting. By the end of the arc he's become the Big Bad whom the original Batman must put down before his extremism destroys Gotham. Word of God confirms that the entire arc was preplanned to demonstrate to over-excited Dark Age fanboys that a totally ruthless and brutal Batman was a bad idea. The fact that we have a full trope page for Anti-Hero Substitute should tell you about how well the message went over.
  • Marvel's Transformers comics preceded all other Transformers fiction, but also went a hefty way to deconstructing the premise and clichés that the cartoon would thoughtlessly use. Characters could be Killed Off for Real at any time if their toys weren't in stock, sometimes the Decepticons won battles, the Autobots often won at heavy costs, there were shown to be evil Autobots and good Decepticons, the ineffectual Megatron gets taken out by issue 25 and replaced by the legitimately dangerous Shockwave, the Matrix of Leadership is depicted as an unknowable force that can be both good and evil, and the human sidekicks often meet tragic fates including being killed off.
  • Despite Mr. Fantastic being the trope namer for Reed Richards Is Useless, canon states that he actually does patent a lot of his gadgets; he just doesn't sell the insanely dangerous ones like interdimensional transporters. It's also been shown that a chunk of his money comes from other companies paying him to not release stuff expressly because the devices would drive them into bankruptcy through competition they couldn't hope to match.
  • Vampirella, featuring a hot, near-naked, mostly heroic vampire babe, sometimes gets the credit of being the first "Bad Girl Comic", decades before the genre properly began. Although Vampirella was often a Damsel in Distress, something no Bad Girl would put up with... she didn't really start to fit the mold until after her character was resurrected by Harris Comics during The Dark Age of Comic Books.
  • The original Sandman comics that would be eventually revived by Sandman Mystery Theatre to great success didn't actually have to change much from the original to fit it into modern standards. The original Wesley Dodds was a founding member of the Justice Society of America and one of the first costumed superheroes ever...and also contrasts to a massive degree with pretty much every character that followed him. Rather than a beefy Aryan superman in a flashy costume, Wesley Dodds was a rather ordinary man in a Gas Mask, Longcoat outfit who averted Plot Armor and took gunshot wounds on multiple occasions. Nor did he fight crime with an array of gadgets like fellow Badass Normal icon Batman, who debuted around the same time, except for his trusty gas gun that he primarily uses to subdue criminals without a fight. In addition, his girlfriend Dian Belmont was not the stereotypical damsel in distress, but an equal partner in his crime fighting efforts who was fully aware of his dual identity — anticipating characters like the original Janet van Dyne and Mary Jane Watson, and Post-Crisis Lois Lane, and which (as the later histories of those ladies will tell you) still feels rare and refreshing.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check is a widely mocked aspect of comic book Mad Scientist villains, who could have made more money by using their inventions legitimately. However Whiz Comics #15 plays with this. It's revealed Doctor Sivana, the Arch-Enemy of Captain Marvel, started out as an idealistic scientist intending to use his inventions to revolutionize society. However he was instead mocked and ill-treated for his plans, which were called impractical and fake, including by people who preferred society the way it was. As a result of this he was driven mad and angry against society, turning him into a villain. Sivana was one of the earliest Mad Scientist villains of Comic Books.
  • The Incredible Hulk is the Trope Namer and Trope Codifier for Hulking Out, yet originally he had absolutely nothing in common with the trope he inspired. Instead of being a green rage monster, Bruce Banner/Hulk was much closer to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Hulk was a Jungian shadow self (the part of Banner's personality he keeps hidden) and instead of simply being a misunderstood monster, he was often cruel and delighted in hurting others. Banner also had no way of keeping the Hulk in check; rather than transforming while angry, he became Hulk when the sun fell whether he wanted to or not. And he spoke in complete sentences rather than Hulk Speak. After the original six issue Hulk series was cancelled, it was relaunched and retooled with the Incredible Hulk we all know today.
  • Marvel Comics' Namor the Sub-Mariner is often assumed to be a Darker and Edgier deconstruction of Aquaman, his more well-known counterpart at DC Comics. They're both aquatic-themed superheroes who protect the oceans from evil, but Aquaman is cheerful, friendly and handsome, while Namor is brooding, angry, contemptuous of "surface-dwellers", and eerily alien in appearance—embodying everything mysterious and scary about the ocean. It's actually the other way around: Namor made his debut a full two years before Aquaman. In fact, it's quite possible that Aquaman was conceived as a Lighter and Softer reaction to Namor, embodying the beauty and majesty of the ocean rather than its savagery.
  • Much like the relationship between Namor and Aquaman above, only with their respective companies reversed, the original Doom Patrol is often mistaken for a deconstruction of a series that it actually preceded by several months. In contrast to the original X-Men, who were, with only a few exceptions, Rubber Forehead Mutants with maybe some strange hair but were otherwise perfectly attractive people, the "World's Strangest Heroes" were genuinely deformed and unlucky dudes who hated their own powers and suffered severely because of what had happened to them. In addition, the Patrol were not immune to prejudiced views themselves, and their kindly, wise, wheelchair-bound mentor was actually a Manipulative Bastard who had directly engineered the accidents that gave them powers. At the end of the run, they were all killed off not by an all-powerful archvillain to save the entire world, but by a crippled old Nazi, in the process of saving one tiny fishing town. Not only that, but the Doom Patrol actually at one point operated a school for young mutants. It's to the point that many modern readers think the Patrol ripped off X-Men, when, if anything, it's likely to have been the other way around.
    • And the intelligent, wheelchair-bound leader of the team being less benevolent than he appears and having a darker, manipulative side is something the series had done long before Marvel started doing it with Charles Xavier.
  • Lois Lane's modern portrayal as an intrepid, competent Damsel out of Distress is often thought to be the result of cultural changes in the 60s and 70s. In reality, however, it's a return to her Golden Age characterization. She actually started as a tough, intelligent Intrepid Reporter before the advent of The Comics Code caused her to suffer chickification during The Silver Age of Comic Books. That's right: probably the original superhero female Love Interest was a kickass go-getter all the way back in the 1930s.
  • There's a comic series about a superhero who is truly unsettling. His powers and motives are so alien he comes off as a Humanoid Abomination who happens to be on our side, very little about him is given even the most cursory of explanations, the fates he inflicts on his enemies are truly cruel and horrifying, and it's made very clear that the world would be completely unable to stand against him should he ever go rogue. This may sound like a modern deconstruction of superheroes, but it's actually a description of Stardust the Super Wizard, which made its debut in 1939.
  • Rob Liefeld comics often (always) involve Nineties Anti Heroes dropping down to an enemy base and getting into violent arguments with each other during the mission. Funny, then, that the first issue of ''Youngblood featured a "hero" doing just that - and accidentally killing his ally with a superpowered punch, before quickly turning heel to give the main characters someone to hunt down. If that had happened in a later issue, or in a parody, it'd have been a subversion.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was, famously, a parody of Frank Miller's run on Daredevil. As such, it might surprised readers more accustomed to the campy cartoon turtles to see that the "ninja" part of their names is accurate enough to flat-out murder the Shredder.

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