Feb 11, 2019

Comic Book References in Old Movies

In the beforetimes, when superhero movies were not an annual occurrence, a comic book reference in a movie or TV show added an extra element of excitement and enjoyment for a young fan like myself. Sure, we had the occasional Superman or Batman movie, or terrible made-for-TV Marvel movies, and of course the cartoons, but the rest of the pop culture landscape was a barren wasteland, where comic book fans had to search far and wide for the sustenance that was any acknowledgement of their hobby.

The Best Comic Book References Before the Superhero Boom
Ben Smith

A few movies and cartoons may seem like it should have been enough, but remember the internet didn’t exist then either, so the cartoons only counted if you could find a VHS copy at your local video rental store. (That entire paragraph comes to you courtesy of a time capsule from 1988.)

Using Blade as the starting point for today’s superhero movie revolution, here are the best comic book references in pop culture before 1998.

SEINFELD “The Bizarro Jerry”

Jerry Seinfeld was a self-professed big Superman fan and his titular sitcom was full of references to the character. None were more prevalent or integral to the plot than The Bizarro Jerry, where Elaine befriends a group of 3 guys that are similar in appearance to Jerry, George, and Kramer, but behaved as exact opposites, like Superman and Bizarro. Another personal favorite of mine is The Race, where Jerry dates a woman named Lois who works for an old high school rival. Hilarity ensues.

THE SIMPSONS “Radioactive Man”

Comic Book Guy may not be the most flattering portrayal of comic book fandom, but his comic shop provided plenty of fodder for comic book references and plot lines. An early episode had Bart, Milhouse, and Nelson splitting the cost of Radioactive Man #1, which ended predictably badly. My personal favorite reference is a Q&A sequence from the Poochie episode, and is the first thing I think of whenever fandom begins to act annoying and entitled in real life. But the most blatant superhero-centric episode is when the Radioactive Man movie decides to film in Springfield, casting Milhouse as sidekick Fall Out Boy.


Two sailors fist fight over an argument about the better Silver Surfer artist, Moebius or Jack Kirby, until Denzel Washington settles the argument with the memorable line, “Everybody that reads comic books knows that Kirby’s Silver Surfer is the only true Silver Surfer.”


There were a few subtle references to Cuba Gooding Jr’s character being a comic book reader. It was a nice nod to Hip Hop’s relationship with comic books, which shares a history of codenames and bombastic alter egos. Many classic rap songs have references to superheroes in their lyrics.


The original sparkly vampires meet the Corey’s, directed by the guy that would go on to direct Batman and Robin. Corey Haim meets his vampire-hunting compatriots in a comic shop, complete with references to Lori Lemaris and red kryptonite, before they give him a horror comic (that looks like Tomb of Dracula) as a “survival guide.” The movie gets extra points for the store having basically the same shelf layout as my childhood shop.


Ryan was the bad boy criminal from the wrong side of town. Seth was the rich kid with no friends that filled the void with comic books and video games. The show overflows with comic book references to Brian Michael Bendis, an upside down Spider-Man kiss, the Watchmen, and most notably, Summer dressing up as Wonder Woman to impress Seth. Later seasons also had Seth creating a comic series for Wildstorm. Allan Heinberg was a writer for the show and eventually transitioned to writing comic books, co-creating the Young Avengers.


Not only is this a classic ‘80s comedy, it has one of the best superhero references on this entire list. Sara is the young girl that needs a babysitter, and is also a huge Thor fan. She wears a replica of his winged helmet, and has a huge mural of the character painted on her bedroom wall. The climatic scene involves a very Thor-like auto-mechanic (played by a young and buff Vincent D’Onofrio) channeling his inner hero to help the kids out of a jam. (Fortunately the internet didn’t exist yet, so annoying fanboys couldn’t complain about “fake geek girl” Sara saying that Thor got his powers from his magic helmet.) (Editor's note: MAGIC HELMEEEEET!)

THE VIEWASKEW UNIVERSE (or The ViewAskewniverse)

Kevin Smith grew up as a comic book fan, even selling his collection to help fund his self-financed film debut, Clerks. As such, every film he made in his loosely connected View Askew universe features tons of superhero references. Mallrats had a scene parodying a famous sequence from Burton’s Batman, and an appearance from Stan Lee himself. Chasing Amy’s main characters, as played by Ben Affleck and Jason Lee, were comic book artists, and the movie opens at a comic book convention. The fake comic book characters in the movie, Bluntman and Chronic, became an actual comic book published by Oni Press. Kevin Smith eventually wrote comics for Marvel and DC, and was at one time considered the most popular writer in the industry. Kevin Smith has carried the flag for comic book fans since the beginning, and continues to do so to this very day. He was ahead of the curve, in that sense.


Clarence works in a comic book store, and his romanticized retelling of a Nick Fury story contributes to Alabama falling in love with him during their first night together.  Even though Tarantino fully admits writing Alabama as his idealized fantasy girlfriend, I think most of us older fans could relate to a girl overlooking the surface-level silliness of superhero comics and seeing the emotion and depth that could exist beneath.

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