We all know comic books have had a massive influence on pop culture. Fans can find their favorite superheroes and supervillains plastered on t-shirts, mugs, stickers, toys, posters, and hundreds of other kinds of merchandise. But what are some unexpected — or even shocking — things that were inspired by comic books? This list highlights ten unique examples of just how far the popularity of comics can reach.
Comic Book characters are famous for having incredibly stylish modes of transportation that exemplify coolness. Wonder Woman flies through the skies in an invisible jet. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ride through New York in their Party Wagon van. Ghost Rider terrorizes criminals while on his Hell Cycle. And of course, Batman famously zips through Gotham City in his batmobile, batplane, batcycle, and batsub. Whether by land, sea, or air, superheroes use their trusted vehicles to help them fight crime and save lives.
It turns out comic books have also influenced real-life transportation for people looking to up their coolness factor. Car customization is a beloved process among vehicle owners, and several have chosen their favorite Marvel and DC characters to give a visual punch. Numerous car owners with money and creativity have fully customized their automobiles to honor iconic superheroes such as Superman, Batman, Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, Wolverine, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Aquaman. And it’s not just heroes who get immortalized on car frames; villains like The Joker, Mystique, and Two-Face have also been immortalized in full-body car customizations. Even motorcycles can get the same fan treatment, with some having been converted to pay homage to Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Groot, and The Punisher.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles aren’t the only superheroes associated with pizza! Comic book fans visiting Florida can visit Ormond Beach’s Gotham City Pizza. This aptly named food spot offers customers a comic-themed experience consisting of decorations and dishes that pay homage to beloved heroes and villains. The menu stars nearly two dozen signature pizzas, each themed around a popular comic book character. There are traditional pizza styles such as the Boy Wonder (cheese), the Avenger (pepperoni), the Hulk (variety of meats), the Poison Ivy (veggies), the White Queen (no tomato or marina sauce), and the Cowabunga (Hawaiian style). Bolder pizzas include the Caped Crusader (sirloin, grilled onion, alfredo sauce, mozzarella), the Wolverine (barbecue), the Phoenix (chicken and ranch in hot sauce), and the Gotham City (supreme style). And, of course, the Clown Prince of Crime gets his very own zany Joker pizza topped with ranch, bacon, and French fries. Who knew evil could taste so delicious?
Guns are very much a hotly debated topic in modern times. For devoted gun owners who also carry a love for comic books, weapon customization can involve iconic visuals of a beloved superhero or notorious villain. The Oregon-based company Cerakote specializes in manufacturing ceramic coatings for firearms. Their website showcases a gallery of highly themed guns featuring colors and images associated with iconic comic book characters. The displayed weapons include handguns, shotguns, rifles, and revolvers that are themed after figures like Captain America, Batman, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, Dead Pool, Harley Quinn, Black Panther, and the Joker. These customized coatings don’t make guns look less dangerous, but they do make them more colorful.
Weddings, birthdays, showers, parties, or any other celebratory events that benefit from flowers can be uniquely enhanced by the vibrant visuals of comic books. Superhero fans can opt for a creative alternative to real flowers: paper flowers made out of hand-cut comic book pages. Companies like Paper Flowers by Nicky in England take pages straight out of comics and turn them into paper flowers to be made into custom bridal bouquets, boutonnieres, wreaths, roses, floral arrangements, and hair combs. Superhero fans who want long-lasting keepsakes, or want to avoid allergies, can indulge in the whimsical look of faux flowers and colorful heroes.
6 Wedding Rings
While we’re on the topic of special days, comic book fans can enhance getting married even more by getting specialty wedding rings. Companies like Staples Jewelry in Kentucky give options for customizable wedding bands for Grooms who want to express their love for both their spouse and comics. Staple Jewelry’s website advertises three wedding bands inspired by DC superheroes. The first listed option is their Green Lantern ring, a black-base band mixed with elements of green emeralds, an optional centered flat stone setting, and a custom Green Lantern logo engraved on the inside. There is also an option to choose a yellow gemstone for Grooms desiring to display affection for Green Lantern’s notorious supervillain Sinestro. The company’s second superhero-themed option is their Superman ring, a band highlighting red rubies in honor of Clark Kent’s red kryptonite class ring from the hit series Smallville; an optional large “L” can also be engraved on a band to represent the man of steel’s Legion ring. The third listed ring is one inspired by the visual look of the Flash; the gold band is decorated with red detailing and a lightning bolt symbol prominently featured in the center. Nothing says eternal love like superhero jewelry!
Holy sermon, Batman! Since most comic book stories are rooted in the traditional good vs. evil theme, it shouldn’t be surprising that superheroes have made their way into churches. In recent decades, pastors have preached sermons from the pulpit that are meant to inspire their congregations through blending stories straight from the pages of the Bible and comics.
The Billings Gazette, Montana’s largest newspaper, interviewed pastors about examples of their holy approaches to comics. A Kentucky-based pastor centered The Fantastic Four in sermons about the importance of family and supportive relationships; the pastor also discussed Superman as a symbolic Messiah-like figure who comes to Earth to save humanity (an obvious comparison to Jesus Christ). A preacher in Tennessee incorporated Spider-Man into his sermons on the responsibility that comes with power (the power of being a follower of Christ). Similarly, a children’s minister in Michigan taught a six-month Batman-themed series in a church room decorated with painted murals of Gotham City. His topics included sin is no joke (the Joker), the Devil is a two-faced liar (Two-Face), God never tricks us (the Riddler), and Christians need to rely on God just like Batman relies on others (Robin and Batgirl) to help him save the world. For these pastors and their congregations, God and Jesus are the ultimate superheroes.
Pastors aren’t the only people teaching lessons inspired by comics. The visual storytelling style of comic books has inspired medical professionals to innovate ways of teaching information and sharing meaningful stories. An exhibit at the United States National Library of Medicine showcases a method known as “Graphic Medicine”. Graphic Medicine, similar to graphic novels, uses comics to tell stories within a book format. Interestingly, these health-themed comics are not just for children or families. Medical school professors and students are utilizing medical comic books in creative ways for learning knowledge and expressing experiences from the perspective of patients, physicians, and med school students. Comic books and medicine seem like a perfect marriage of two worlds built on heroes who save lives.
3 Illegal Drugs
This entry is the darkest one on the list. The popularity of comic books influences drug dealers who peddle illegal substances. Police and families worry about the rise of the drug MDMA (commonly known as Ecstasy) and its reshaping into colorful images of beloved fictional characters. A 2009 Seattle Times article reported on authorities discovering highly themed Ecstasy pills being sold by street dealers. The tablets were manufactured to look like the iconic cartoon figures Snoopy and the Simpsons and the well-known comic book characters Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Reported sightings of these Ecstasy pills in various states verified their nationwide spreading. According to the Seattle Times article, dealers purposefully market these types of fun-themed pills to minors and promote them as lighter candy-like drugs, despite the products actually containing little to no Ecstasy and secretly being mixtures of dangerous substances. Dealers who use beloved comic book characters to trick minors into ingesting illegal drugs laced with harmful substances are just some of our real-life villains.
2 Scientific Names for Species
Scientists possess the superpower of officially naming new species they discover. This process has led to numerous scientific names inspired by famous real and fictional people, including beloved comic book characters. Several examples can be highlighted. Ninjemys oweni (named after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) is an extinct species of horned turtles in Queensland. Two species of Iranian spiders are named Filistata maguirei and Pritha garfieldi in honor of two actors who famously portrayed Spider-Man (Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield). Similarly, Wolverine actor Hugh Jackman inspired scientists to name an Australian wolf spider species Tasmanicosa hughjackmani. Batman directly influenced the labeling of a catfish species named Otocinclus batmani. And just last year, a group of researchers in Australia named five newly-discovered species of assassin flies after the iconic Marvel figures Black Widow, Loki, Thor, Deadpool, and the recently deceased comics creator Stan Lee.
1 Courtroom Trials
Ever since comic books became popular in America during the mid-1900s, lawyers have frequently argued their purpose and influence in courts of law. Those arguing for censorship and regulation of comics have brought numerous cases before judges and juries in the last 100 years, ranging from district court levels to the United States Supreme Court. Benchmark cases involving arrests or lawsuits have argued if the creation and distribution of mature comics is either obscene material harming America’s youth or art protected under the First Amendment. Despite prosecutors having argued that comic books are inherently geared towards children (no matter the adult content), important rulings have consistently upheld the freedom of artistic expression and declared that efforts to protect young people from obscene material should not infringe on the constitutional rights of adults. The history of these arguments in courtrooms across America paved the way for society’s modern-day acknowledgment that the colorful pages of comic books can sometimes be filled with violence, gore, sex, offensive language, and provocative themes. It can be controversial, but it’s not illegal.