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10 Great Comic Book Cliffhangers

Super-hero comics have provided some brilliant cliffhangers over the decades. Choosing 10 of the best, most significant cliffhangers is a tough job, so let's narrow it down to the "Big Two" comic book companies, Marvel and DC Comics. Between them, they have provided some cliffhangers that not only brought us back for more, but have influenced comics, television, and the movies.

1. Crushed like a bug

The Amazing Spider-Man #38, 1966 #31-33, 1966

One of the super-heroes' worst enemies was the Comics Code Authority, the tough censorship body, which even frowned at cliffhangers because the villains were not brought to justice in the same comic where they committed their crimes! Marvel Comics' Spider-Man was one of the first comics to rebel against this, allowing villains to escape until the next issue. But even when he won, Spider-Man could still be left with a great cliffhanger. One of the most popular stories (recently voted the second most popular Spider-Man story ever, 46 years after it was published) finished with a doozy: With his Aunt May in hospital, dying of radiation poisoning (due to a blood transfusion he gave her), he tries to get the antidote, but is stopped by the villainous Dr. Octopus. Angrier than ever, Spider-Man destroys Dr. Octopus's lab. Though Dr. Octopus is defeated, tons of metallic debris falls on Spider-Man, leaving him trapped. As water starts to flood the structure, the serum remains just out of reach. (In the next issue, he frees himself and grabs the serum just in the nick of time.)

2. The coming of Galactus

The Fantastic Four #48, 1966

Afraid that the popularity of super-heroes would not last forever, Marvel editor Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby (who co-wrote The Fantastic Four) upped the ante by creating the ultimate super villain: Galactus, a godlike, 28-foot-high being who survived by consuming the energy from planets. In the first cliffhanger of this story, he announces that the Earth is doomed. The cliffhanger was powerful enough to change story structure in comics, so that countless stories have followed this formula, revealing the villain on the final page of the first issue... then finding a way to stop him over the next few issues. After Galactus, however, villains would rarely seem so threatening.

3. "Prepare for... my ultimate REVENGE!"

Captain America #115, 1969

This one wasn't quite so influential, but it's one of my favorite cliffhangers ever (so there). This comic ended with the hideous Red Skull using the magical Cosmic Cube to transform Captain America into the Red Skull, while the Skull himself transforms into Captain America. The Captain's girlfriend Sharon runs to the villain for protection, unaware that, deep down, he's a monstrous war criminal. The hero himself is stuck with a skull-like visage and a girlfriend who thinks he's an evil monster, but being an altruistic good guy, he's not just thinking of himself. "What will happen to her," he thinks, "and to all MANKIND... while the world's DEADLIEST MENACE can walk among men... as CAPTAIN AMERICA?!!" The idea would later be done in television and movies (like Face/Off), but perhaps the comics did it best.

4. "You're really a junkie?"

Green Lantern / Green Arrow #85, 1971

The Comics Code had decided that drugs were off-limits for comics – so much so that, when Marvel did an anti-drugs story in Spider-Man (at the request of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare), it wasn't given the stamp of approval. (That's another story that can be found here.) After this, the rule was relaxed. The idea of a super-hero who used drugs, however, was unthinkable... until Speedy, the Green Arrow's ward and young sidekick, confessed all to his anti-junkie guardian. Speedy's drug habit came as a shock not only to the Green Arrow, but to his readers as well. He was a respected sidekick, and a valued member of the Teen Titans. Writer Denny O'Neill, who based many powerful stories around Speedy's addiction, later worked for Marvel Comics – writing stories about Iron Man's alcoholism that, once again, did not trivialize the issue.

5. "Now it's MY turn!"

Uncanny X-Men, 1979

A classic cliffhanger leaves our hero in a terrible predicament, making us want to read the next issue for an answer to the question "How will he get out of this one?" Some cliffhangers, however, make us want to read on for other reasons. One of Marvel's best-remembered cliffhangers happened when the evil Hellfire Club ambushed the X-Men, pounding Wolverine under a building, and defeating everyone else one by one. In the last page, when all seemed lost, the savage (and basically invulnerable) Wolverine reappeared from the sewers. "Okay, suckers – you've taken yer BEST SHOT!" he says. "Now it's MY turn!" What did he do next? You would have to read the next comic to find out how he handled those creeps – and, of course, who could turn down such an offer? Soon, X-Men was America's top-selling comic book, and Wolverine was polled as Marvel's most popular character, the guy you can really depend on when the going gets tough. That cliffhanger was frequently imitated – on the comics and on TV. (Memorable example: The famous cliffhanger in Buffy, in which Giles appears as the last hope against the seemingly unstoppable Willow.)

6. The end of the universe

Crisis on Infinite Earths #4, 1985

DC Comics decided to reboot their whole universe (and improve their sales) in Crisis on Infinite Earths, a series in which the universe (in fact, several parallel universes) were being wiped out by a mysterious wave of anti-matter. The story was meant to last for 12 issues, but in the final pages of the fourth issue, the universe is clearly erased from existence. The final words: "To be continued --?" Of course, they were saved, and a new universe was forged from the wreckage. (This universe lasted until 2011, when the world was reset yet again. Once more, starting afresh was good for sales.)

7. "I did it 35 minutes ago."

Watchmen #11, 1987

Many consider Alan Moore's super-hero series Watchmen to be the greatest super-hero comic ever. It certainly ranks among the most intellectual, discussed in university courses and even appearing (as a graphic novel) among the New York Times bestsellers. Fittingly, the main "villain" (though it's too simple to call him that) was Ozymandias, a former super-hero. While he wasn't as strong as some others, he had a far more dangerous power: super-genius. In one issue, in his hideout in Antarctica, he revealed to some of his former allies that he had created an "alien being" that he planned to teleport into Manhattan, killing half of the city in the process. It was a classic situation: a bad guy gloating about his terrible plan to the heroes, so they have time to stop him. "When were you planning to do it?" asks Nite Owl. But that's where it gets interesting: "Do you seriously think I'd explain my MASTERSTROKE if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its OUTCOME?" says Ozymandias calmly. "I did it thirty-five minutes ago." In the next issue, half of New York was destroyed (a scene that was changed slightly for the film), and it was clear that Watchmen was not your average super-hero comic.

8. "Can he possibly be alive?"

Batman #427, 1988

DC Comics wasn't sure about Jason Todd, a.k.a. Robin. Since ha had become Batman's sidekick (to replace Dick Grayson, the original Robin), he had not been popular, so they tried something new: they left his fate to the readers. Writer Jim Starlin and artist Jim Aparo prepared two stories for publication – one in which he was killed by a bomb, one in which he survived – depending on the readers' votes. Result: he was killed. In 2005, the hit TV show Law & Order took DC's lead, using audience votes to determine the fate of child killer Nicole Wallace (Olivia D'Abo). Though she was a villain, the viewers spared her life. Robin, one of the good guys, was executed by comic book readers. Perhaps Batman fans are more bloodthirsty than Law & Order fans? Whatever the case, Robin returned to life years later (as super-heroes tend to do), so the readers' dastardly plot was foiled after all.

9. Clark Kent reveals his identity

Action Comics #662, 1991

One of the essential parts of the Superman legend is that few people know that he is Clark Kent – not even the woman he loves. Even 54 years later (in reality, not in the comic book world), with Lois Lane finally engaged to Clark, she was still unaware of his double life. On the final page of one comic, however, he revealed the truth to a startled Lois, leaving us to wonder "How will she take it?" She was surprisingly happy to find that her fiancé was actually Superman. Readers took slightly longer to get over their shock – and the proof that even Superman, after all these decades, can still try something new.

10. Unmasked

Thunderbolts #1, 1997

With other Marvel super-heroes presumed dead, the Thunderbolts were introduced as a new team to fill the gap. Soon they had their own comic, promoting them as "all-new heroes" and "the next Avengers." But at the end of the first issue, after a successful day's crime-fighting, their patriotic leader Citizen V revealed in the privacy of their HQ that he was actually Baron Zemo, a Nazi villain from the Captain America comics. His teammates were also revealed: members of the Masters of Evil, who had fought the Avengers on many occasions. Their plan: win everyone's trust (which they were already doing), then rule the world. It was considered one of the great twists in comics. Of course, the real heroes returned soon enough, and Zemo was defeated (though some of his pals liked playing hero so much that they changed sides).

*

Thanks to commenter Kendall for pointing out the error in the Master Planner Saga issue numbers! #38 was great, but it was no #33.

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Food
How to Make Miles Davis’s Famous Chili Recipe
STF/AFP/Getty Images
STF/AFP/Getty Images

Miles Davis, who was born on May 26, 1926, was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 20th century, and changed the course of jazz music more times in his life than some people change their sheets. He was also pretty handy in the kitchen.

In his autobiography, Miles, Davis wrote that in the early 1960s, “I had gotten into cooking. I just loved food and hated going out to restaurants all the time, so I taught myself how to cook by reading books and practicing, just like you do on an instrument. I could cook most of the great French dishes—because I really liked French cooking—and all the black American dishes. But my favorite was a chili dish I called Miles's South Side Chicago Chili Mack. I served it with spaghetti, grated cheese, and oyster crackers."

Davis didn’t divulge what was in the dish or how to make it, but in 2007, Best Life magazine got the recipe from his first wife, Frances, who Davis said made it better than he did.

MILES'S SOUTH SIDE CHICAGO CHILIK MACK (SERVES 6)

1/4 lb. suet (beef fat)
1 large onion
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground veal
1/2 lb. ground pork
salt and pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin seed
2 cans kidney beans, drained
1 can beef consommé
1 drop red wine vinegar
3 lb. spaghetti
parmesan cheese
oyster crackers
Heineken beer

1. Melt suet in large heavy pot until liquid fat is about an inch high. Remove solid pieces of suet from pot and discard.
2. In same pot, sauté onion.
3. Combine meats in bowl; season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin.
4. In another bowl, season kidney beans with salt and pepper.
5. Add meat to onions; sauté until brown.
6. Add kidney beans, consommé, and vinegar; simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
7. Add more seasonings to taste, if desired.
8. Cook spaghetti according to package directions, and then divide among six plates.
9. Spoon meat mixture over each plate of spaghetti.
10. Top with Parmesan and serve oyster crackers on the side.
11. Open a Heineken.

John Szwed’s biography of Davis, So What, mentions another chili that the trumpeter’s father taught him how to make. The book includes the ingredients, but no instructions, save for serving it over pasta. Like a jazz musician, you’ll have to improvise. 

bacon grease
3 large cloves of garlic
1 green, 1 red pepper
2 pounds ground lean chuck
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 jar of mustard
1/2 shot glass of vinegar
2 teaspoons of chili powder
dashes of salt and pepper
pinto or kidney beans
1 can of tomatoes
1 can of beef broth

serve over linguine

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4 Fascinating Facts About John Wayne
Fox Photos, Getty Images
Fox Photos, Getty Images

Most people know John Wayne, who would have been 111 years old today, for his cowboy persona. But there was much more to the Duke than that famous swagger. Here are a few facts about Duke that might surprise you.

1. A BODY SURFING ACCIDENT CHANGED HIS CAREER. 

John Wayne, surfer? Yep—and if he hadn’t spent a lot of time doing it, he may never have become the legend he did. Like many USC students, Wayne (then known as Marion Morrison) spent a good deal of his extracurricular time in the ocean. After he sustained a serious shoulder injury while bodysurfing, Morrison lost his place on the football team. He also lost the football scholarship that had landed him a spot at USC in the first place. Unable to pay his fraternity for room and board, Morrison quit school and, with the help of his former football coach, found a job as the prop guy at Fox Studios in 1927. It didn’t take long for someone to realize that Morrison belonged in front of a camera; he had his first leading role in The Big Trail in 1930.

2. HE TOOK HIS NICKNAME FROM HIS BELOVED FAMILY POOCH. 

Marion Morrison had never been fond of his feminine-sounding name. He was often given a hard time about it growing up, so to combat that, he gave himself a nickname: Duke. It was his dog’s name. Morrison was so fond of his family’s Airedale Terrier when he was younger that the family took to calling the dog “Big Duke” and Marion “Little Duke,” which he quite liked. But when he was starting his Hollywood career, movie execs decided that “Duke Morrison” sounded like a stuntman, not a leading man. The head of Fox Studios was a fan of Revolutionary War General Anthony Wayne, so Morrison’s new surname was quickly settled. After testing out various first names for compatibility, the group decided that “John” had a nice symmetry to it, and so John Wayne was born. Still, the man himself always preferred his original nickname. “The guy you see on the screen isn’t really me,” he once said. “I’m Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne.”

3. HE WAS A CHESS FANATIC. 

Anyone who knew John Wayne personally knew what an avid chess player he was. He often brought a miniature board with him so he could play between scenes on set.

When Wayne accompanied his third wife, Pilar Pallete, while she played in amateur tennis tournaments, officials would stock a trailer with booze and a chess set for him. The star would hang a sign outside of the trailer that said, “Do you want to play chess with John Wayne?” and then happily spend the day drinking and trouncing his fans—for Wayne wasn’t just a fan of chess, he was good at chess. It’s said that Jimmy Grant, Wayne’s favorite screenwriter, played chess with the Duke for more than 20 years without ever winning a single match.

Other famous chess partners included Marlene Dietrich, Rock Hudson, and Robert Mitchum. During their match, Mitchum reportedly caught him cheating. Wayne's reply: "I was wondering when you were going to say something. Set 'em up, we'll play again."

4. HE COINED THE TERM "THE BIG C."

If you say you know someone battling “The Big C” these days, everyone immediately knows what you’re referring to. But no one called it that before Wayne came up with the term, evidently trying to make it less scary. Worried that Hollywood would stop hiring him if they knew how sick he was with lung cancer in the early 1960s, Wayne called a press conference in his living room shortly after an operation that removed a rib and half of one lung. “They told me to withhold my cancer operation from the public because it would hurt my image,” he told reporters. “Isn’t there a good image in John Wayne beating cancer? Sure, I licked the Big C.”

Wayne's daughter, Aissa Wayne, later said that the 1964 press conference was the one and only time she heard her father call it “cancer,” even when he developed cancer again, this time in his stomach, 15 years later. Sadly, Wayne lost his second battle with the Big C and died on June 11, 1979 at the age of 72.

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