It's a difficult question (though I'm certain you are up to the challenge). I'm asking it because of something I saw during my Saturday morning cartoons: The Legion of Substitute Heroes.
To many people, they are happy remnants of the wacky Silver Age. They surely are that, but they are much more as well. Why, Night Girl alone is an existential paradox. To me, the Legion of Substitute Heroes are the ultimate symbol of comic book controversy.
Older fans will remember the one-shot Subs story that Keith Giffen did in 1985. They took on and defeated Pulsar Stargrave (quite the big baddie in his day). I was in college at the time and not so focused on comics, but I did read the issue; it was a light-hearted romp of exactly the sort you'd expect from letting Giffen write the Subs.
Today this story would be an amusing lark, like the recent Legion cartoon episode that had the Subs in it. But in 1985, it was the biggest controversy I'd ever experienced in comics.
The mid '80s were not a light-hearted time and Legion fans -- well, what comic book fans are to regular people, Legion fans are to comic book fans. How dare this Giffen fellow make fun of the Subs? In my memory at least, Legion fans took to the skyways armed with atomic pitchforks and lugging plasti-tar and space-roc feathers, ready to destroy Giffen and the editors who permitted the desecration of the beloved second-stringers.
That's real "comic book controversy", not social issue stories and stories where Really Really Bad Things Happen to Nice Characters.Those are stories that people talk about as being controversial, such as the Speedy the Drug Addict storyline.
By the way, it wasn't a storyline, really, just a story. In a Bronze Age tale from the pre-decompression era, Speedy was revealed as a heroin addict and cured of it in one single issue, using orange juice and chocolate bars or something.Kyle Rayner's girlfriend Alex, killed and stuffed in a refrigerator, and the retcon-rape of Sue Dibny have certainly caused controversy. Sometimes controversy in comics is about real issues: drugs, violence, sexual abuse. But I think the really serious flaming controversies are not about such solid topics; they're about characterization.
The Speedy the Junkie story--yes, that was controversial in the sense that the press would cover it, but was it really that controversial among comics fans? I don't know; I think they'd stopped caring about GA and Speedy and that point. Alex in the fridge? Yes, it sparked much cogent discussion of violence and victimization, but people barely, if at all, discussed Alex herself or her victimizer, Major Force. Why? Because, the incident, memorably horrible though it was, wasn't out of character for any of the players involved. Rightly or wrongly, fans most savage denunciations are reserved for what they perceive as mis-writing of their favorite characters.
Like the Subs.
Outrage at "what they did to Alex"? No, outrage is what you have at "what they did to Cassandra". Alex was a comic book staple: friend/relative/beloved of a hero, killed as part of the narrative to give the hero a Tragic But Inspiring Loss, and I hope she now sitteth at the right hands of Thomas & Martha Wayne. But Cassandra Cain wasn't killed; her characterization was violated, and that, to a comic fan, is a fate worse than death.
We may argue occasionally over whether Batman/Superman is a Republican/Democrat, but it's mostly airy abstraction; tooth and claw don't come out until some fool suggests that Batman should kill the Joker or that Superman probably uses X-ray to look at women naked.
At this kind of controversy, Marvel has DC beat hands down with Civil War, which to Marvel fans is a veritable smörgåsbord of mischaracterization. Let's try to catch up!
So, with this in mind, what are DC's top 10 controversial stories (based on mischaracterization)?
Some of the ones that comes to mind are Superman Executing the Phantom Zone Criminals, Max Lord the Murderer, and (of course) the Giffen Subs. What say you?