#6. The Top-Secret Creation of the Atomic Bomb
A Superman comic from 1945 showed Lex Luthor creating an outlandish new device to instigate chaos in the city of Metropolis.
“I could probably sell it to the military for a TON of money, but $100 says I do something CRAZY with it!”
That’s the plot of like half the comics Lex Luthor appears in — the difference this time was that Luthor’s crazy invention, an “atomic bomb,” was actually in the works in the real world.
Set to run in late 1944, almost exactly a year before the world found out what an atomic bomb was in a big way.
While the comic was being written, scientists were secretly working on the first A-bomb. To maintain the secrecy of the project, the Defense Department ordered DC Comics to pull the story. Yes, apparently, the Pentagon feared the Japanese might see the comic, go, “Holy shit what if that’s a real thing?!” and then build anti-nuclear domes around all their cities. Or something.
This was, more or less, their line of thinking.
Now the government, being the government, didn’t tell the folks at DC why specifically they wanted the comic pulled. For all DC knew, the comic was pulled because J. Robert Oppenheimer was secretly working on a Superman. They wouldn’t even learn for another year that a real atomic bomb was being developed, and even then, the similarities between the real A-bomb and Luthor’s weren’t exactly obvious.
This was probably never a rough draft of the A-bomb.
It Gets Creepier:
We mentioned that DC Comics had no idea what it had done wrong … and that’s exactly why, a few months later, they did it again. An ongoing storyline in the Superman newspaper strip showed a skeptical physics professor blasting Superman with a cyclotron (a type of particle accelerator) to find out if he’s really as invulnerable as he says.
“Man, we just used school funds to blast an alien full of our most powerful lasers; I’ll give you the whole fucking university if you keep quiet about this.”
This was in April 1945, only four months before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when the Manhattan Project had reached such a critical stage that anything related to atomic energy was being censored by the government. But because of the daily nature of the comic strip, by the time the secret service contacted DC Comics, the first few chapters had already been sent to several newspapers across the country. It was too late to stop them from printing the strips, and that is why today we live in a world ruled by the Nazis.
Actually, no, somehow the Japanese weren’t tipped off by the mention of atomic energy in a Superman strip, presumably because they were too distracted preparing defense mechanisms against Popeye and those sleeper agents in Family Circus. Still, the Secret Service forced DC to abort the ongoing cyclotron story line. So, instead of, you know, going anywhere with the whole pre-existing atomic energy story line, the comic ended when Superman abruptly decided to play a game of baseball with himself.
So, within a period of a few months, two different writers working on the same character got in trouble with the government for accidentally trying to spoil the same super-secret government project — and one of them actually did it. The War Department asked DC to monitor its own comics from then on, ignoring the fact that at that point, DC would’ve needed Level 1 access to the Pentagon to know what it was they couldn’t have Superman do.
#5. The Challenger Disaster
In 1986, Canadian comic book artist John Byrne wrote and drew a miniseries called The Man of Steel, drastically updating the Superman mythos for the 80’s generation.
He now wears sneakers!!!
In the first issue, Superman was supposed to make his public debut by saving a NASA space shuttle from crashing in the middle of Metropolis.
And this is where it gets weird: We said Superman was “supposed” to save the NASA shuttle because, while Byrne was finishing drawing the issue, this happened:
On January 28, 1986, NASA’s space shuttle Challenger malfunctioned and fell apart shortly after launching, killing everyone in its crew. It would’ve been slightly cruel (and grossly inaccurate) to show Superman effortlessly preventing a real-life tragedy so shortly after it happened, so Byrne quickly redrew the pages depicting the shuttle, replacing it with an “experimental space-plane.”
So… a shuttle?
Of course, since the pages were redrawn before anyone else could see them, Byrne has no way of proving he really did have a space shuttle in there. But think about it … why the hell would anyone draw this thing in the first place?
That seriously looks like something any editor would’ve sent back with a note saying “C’mon — draw a proper-looking spaceship this time, dammit,” if the comic had been published in any other year.
It Gets Creepier:
The reason Superman was going to save the shuttle in the first place was because — you guessed it — Lois Lane was on board. She was the only non-astronaut on board; a regular journalist covering the story of this amazing, experimental space-plane, and she would’ve died, had Superman not intervened.
For those too young to remember, the reason we were all glued to our TVs when the Challenger went down was because the crew included Christa McAuliffe, who a) wasn’t an astronaut and b) wason every major talk and late-night show before the craft took off. She was a teacher and was the first to participate in the NASA Teacher in Space program.
That’s right: the only thing the comic got wrong was the exact profession of the female non-astronaut guest who was on board during the accident.
#4. The 1977 New York Blackout
Marvel likes to brag that its comics about superpowered men in tights are way more realistic than DC’s comics about superpowered men in tights, starting with the fact that Marvel’s are based in real cities, mostly New York. But, readers who picked up this 1977 issue of Spider-Man might have thought it was a little too realistic.
It’s not because of the little woman with bug wings, we’ll tell you that right now.
In the comic, Spider-Man and The Wasp battle Equinox, a villain capable of shooting fire from his arms. As the villain rampages through New York, starting random fires and roughing up police officers, one of his stray blasts hits a building, short-circuiting the power transformer inside and causing a massive blackout in the city.
“I know, that was a joke. That’s my thing, I joke in dangerous situations. Try to keep up.”
There hadn’t been a blackout in NYC since 1965 and there wouldn’t be another one until 2003, so this was a huge coincidence. If you look at the cover, it says “August,” because comics are usually released a month or two ahead of the cover date. And even if the comic had come out in August, it still would have needed to be finished several months earlier, meaning they couldn’t have possibly known about the blackout when they wrote it.
Unlike the other two blackouts, the one from 1977 resulted in city-wide looting, arson and more than 500 injured police officers. Unfortunately, NY citizens picking up this comic for a little light-hearted escapism saw the exact same thing thing that was taking place all around them — the comic predicted the city wide black out would cover the streets in flames, with police officers fighting for their lives.
The only upside is that, since the lights were out, most people probably couldn’t read shit.
It Gets Creepier:
Another important point is that the artist who drew this issue wasn’t even from New York. In fact, at the time he lived in Canada. His name is John Byrne … the same guy who would go on to write and draw the Superman comic with the NASA shuttle.
I’m your fortune teller or, alternately, an IT guy.
But we’re not sure if that really counts as a coincidence — we wouldn’t be surprised if his precognitive abilities are what landed him the job on Superman in the first place.
#3. The Death of Lady Di
We’ve already told you about the time Marvel tried to bring back Princess Diana as a mutant superhero, but DC did something even worse: They killed her.
Every superhero worth something has to die and come back from the dead at some point — it’s like their own little hazing ritual. In 1997 it was Wonder Woman’s turn, so DC did a story line in which she falls into a mystical coma, dies and eventually ascends to become a goddess on Olympus. The cover of Wonder Woman #126 was a fake newspaper headline announcing the imminent death of Princess Diana of Themyscira (she’d actually die in the next issue).
Now, unless you spend a lot of time on message boards, in comic shops or really nerdy gay bars, you probably don’t hear people referring to Wonder Woman as “Princess Diana” too often, but that’s what the cover of that issue called her. And this was really unfortunate, because three freaking days after the comic came out, Princess Diana of Wales was killed in a car accident.
“Oh no! Wait, wait … which one?”
The next issue (finished months earlier) actually includes the phrase “Princess Diana is dead,” but at least that one ends on an uplifting note, with Wonder Woman reassuring everyone that she’s OK. This issue, on the other hand, ends with her friends and family feeling miserable as she suffers a slow, painful death. So, on the one week every newspaper in the world looked like this:
…DC beat everyone to the punch by printing a cover that looked like this:
It Gets Creepier:
Careful observers may have noticed a disturbing detail in the cover above:
Yep, this comic was made by the same guy from the previous two entries, 20 years after the NYC blackout and 11 after the Challenger. He also predicted an earthquake in Japan in an issue of X-Men.
Byrne (who’s still working in comics today) hasn’t predicted any disasters lately, which we’re guessing means he has learned to harness these powers and use them in more subtle and productive ways.
#2. The End of the Cold War
In 1976, DC published a special comic that imagined what would happen if Superman arrived on Earth in that year and grew up to become an adult in the distant future of 2001 (which is pretty much the time line current Superman comics follow, if you stop to think about it).
Whatever happened to those strato-jets you used to hear so much about in 2001?
The comic seems especially concerned with politics — it starts with the Russian and American armies competing to reach the UFO carrying baby Superman. After the U.S. manages to secure the spaceship, they begin experimenting on it by shooting lasers at the baby’s face.
“Why would that be your first test?!”
While the story’s attempts to bring more realism to the Superman mythos are pretty clumsy and laughable, that only makes it more impressive that they got one thing right: The comic predicted the Cold War would end around 1990.
Some of the details are a little off, though.
Bear in mind that this story was written in 1976, when relations between the U.S. and the USSR were still very tense — the Vietnam War had ended only one year earlier, and the Soviet war in Afghanistan was still to come. At the time it seemed plausible that the conflict would either stretch for many more decades or end in an armed confrontation. Most pieces of speculative fiction published during this period (including Watchmen) involved nuclear attacks — this is one of the few pieces of fiction created during the Cold War where the war ends thanks to diplomacy.
And a flying boy in underpants.
It Gets Creepier:
Later, in 2001, America’s new enemies (from an unspecified nation) send a deadly weapon to the heart of New York City. The flying terror came in the shape of …
… a four-armed android called Moka. Moka hopes to fool humankind into submission, but Superman exposes him as a phony and punches him to death. The grateful New Yorkers erect a monument in Superman’s honor.
It’s like the writers got a real vision of the future but were highly intoxicated at the time, so all the details were warped almost beyond recognition. So, OK, they didn’t get anywhere near predicting 9/11, which would have been pretty creepy …
#1. The 9/11 Attacks
That Superman comic from the mid-’70s may not have anticipated the 9/11 attacks … but this one from September 12, 2001, did.
The issue showed the aftermath of an alien invasion on Metropolis, and it included the following panel:
That’s right, that image appeared in a Superman comic that came out on the day after the attacks. That’s actually supposed to be Lex Luthor’s LexCorp building, which is a single tower with a top floor shaped like a giant L.
So not only did they choose the worst possible angle to depict the damage … they did it in a comic that came out on 9/12. Obviously there was nothing DC could do to pull the comic out of circulation by then (not to mention that their offices are in downtown NY, so they probably had other things on their mind at the moment). They did make the comic returnable, but few if any were actually returned, because people understood that this was nothing but an unfortunate coincidence and not DC’s fault. Also, so they could do this:
It Gets Creepier:
Other parts of the comic showed the impact of the alien invasion on different parts of the world, like Australia …
Washington, D.C. …
And holy fucking shit the actual Twin Towers
The WTC actually appears three times across the issue (not counting the accidental image). Take a closer look at that image:
We’d check to see if those match with the actual impact points, but to be honest we’re afraid to. We’ll just tell you they didn’t, though, mainly so you can sleep tonight.