Top 5: Transformations

Whether it's the result of bored writers or just the superhero equivalent of a midlife crisis, there comes a time in the life of every comic book character when he or she undergoes a head-scratching metamorphosis out of the clear blue sky. There are new costumes, there are new powers, and then there's Jimmy Olsen, Giant Turtle Boy. Here are five favorites from that last category:



5. More-Spider-Man

Literally the first thing that happened to Spider-Man when Stan Lee stopped writing his book was that he tried to cure himself of his spider powers, screwed it up (you really should finish grad school before trying something like this) and ended up with six arms. You would think someone who survived spider venom and serious radiation exposure at the same time would understand the concept of "leaving well enough alone," but… that's our Pete!

This transformation lasted two or three issues, but based on the number of action figures and animated episodes featuring it as a plot point you'd think it happened to him every flu season.


4. The Electric Superman Twins

At some point in 1997, someone at DC became concerned that there were still three or four powers Superman didn't have yet. With that in mind, one mishap led to another and Supes was transformed into a being of pure energy– two beings, eventually– that could only be contained by a specially modulated figure skating costume. The change lasted several controversial months, during which Superman could merge with computer systems, open portals to other dimensions, and cosplay as the Mario Brothers all by himself.


3. Howard the Rat

Decades before Marvel and Disney had a loving parent-child relationship, they had a nasty rift over poor Howard the Duck, whose resemblance to a more famous ill-tempered waterfowl did not go over well at the House Mickey Built. When creator Steve Gerber returned to his brainchild years later, he learned to his dismay that Marvel had agreed to let Disney dictate what Howard looked like, and he found the design so offensively hideous that he turned him into another animal altogether… a mouse, no less.

There was an in-story explanation for the transformation too, but it wasn't nearly as interesting as the real one.


2. Frog Thor

The impressive thing about many of these whimsical metamorphoses was that so many of them lasted several months at a time when comic book stories hardly ever lasted several months. Three issues into Walt Simonson's decision to make Thor bump his ass a'hoppin', there had to be scores of fretting pre-internet fanboys saying, "Is this… is this just the way it's going to be now? Thor is just going to be a frog?"

Normally, something like the Norse god of thunder being loved up and turned into a hornytoad would easily be #1 based on sheer bizarreness, but points were deducted because it happened to him the way almost everything else happens to Thor. When your brother is the god of mischief, your name for being turned into a frog is "Tuesday."


1. Capwolf

In 1992, for roughly six months, Mark Gruenwald turned Captain America into a werewolf, handily topping that time years earlier when he turned Ronald Reagan into a snake monster. In terms of both the visuals this story produced and its overall Captain America-ness, or lack thereof, this is the standard by which these transformations should be judged. It should be noted that Cap was a leader even as a creature of the night, immediately forming a team made up of Marvel's other werewolves and Wolverine, who was invited not because he was a werewolf but because it was 1992.


  1. It’s interesting that four out of these five are Marvel. I’m not sure what that means exactly…but after a few hours in the lab I might be close…

  2. It means Jim wrote this. 😉

  3. I think at one point I had a trading card with six armed Spidey on it… I used it as a bookmark for YEARS because I thought it was so ridiculous. I also remember being a little kid and absolutely LOVING blue and red Supermen (granted, I was 5 or 6. I think I liked anything that had pictures at that point)

  4. I’m not sure but it’s entirely possible that "What IF? Spider-Man never lost his extra arms" was the first Spidey comic I ever read.

  5. Oh so thats what the blue and red superman were from.

    Always wondered about that.

  6. I suppose the Hank McCoy transformations to grey monkey/bear to blue monkey/bear to blue monkey/cat doesn’t count, since they haven’t reverted him at any time.  Maybe the next X writer will turn him into a blue monkey/horse.

  7. Man, that Howard the Duck mini was dissapointing.

  8. I was hoping for Guy Gardner: Warrior but that seems way too normal for this list. Which is what growing gun arms and finding out your part alien should be. Y’know, normal.

  9. @Bryce31: Actually Superman Red and Superman Blue were first seen way back in 1963. 

  10. Yeah, from watching Spider Man the animated series, I had assumed the mutation was a bigger part of the comics

  11. I like the script.

    Captain America: "AWOOOOOO!"  

    Wolverine: "RAAAAARR!"

    Writer: "Man, this shit is good." 

  12. "Wolverine, who was invited not because he was a werewolf but because it was 1992." It’s a shame that you can pretty much put ANY date at the end of that sentence from about 1990 on and it still rings true. Is there ANY team Wolverine hasn’t been in? X-Men, Avengers, Alpha Flight, Horsemen of Apocalypse, Defenders, even the FANTASTIC F’N FOUR at one point. I’m waiting for him to show up in the JLA. 

  13. I like how cap just looks like a dog with a mask on. Not even a wolf but a regular old dog.

  14. ‘ I like the script.

    Captain America: "AWOOOOOO!"  

    Wolverine: "RAAAAARR!"

    Writer: "Man, this shit is good." ‘


    Editor: "There’s got to be a way to put Ghost Rider and Venom in there…"


  15. "Wolverine, who was invited not because he was a werewolf but because it was 1992."

    I don’t know if I should praise you for that perfect piece of sardonic wit or cry because it’s true. Great way to end the piece, by the way. 

  16. I’ve just figured it out!

    A collie!

    That’s why I love it so much. Captain America looks exactly like Lassie.

  17. This was fun, but I’m pretty sure that it was the last page in Stan’s last consecutive issue of Spider-Man that he got the extra arms.  I don’t know if he did it because Roy Thomas wanted to start his run that way or if he did it to make things complicated for Roy.  

    I always thought that Bendis’ joke about tearing Peter’s arms off in his final issue of Ultimate Spidey was a reference to Stan giving him extra arms in his last issue. 

  18. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Totally Lassie. 

  19. @Jimski  YES!  i knew it was a dog but i’m a cat person and i don’t know breeds for shit

  20. interesting although I had supressed that Superman thing… kinda wish you kept it that way too. I used to think it was the shit, that this was the future of superman. I was young and impressionable.

  21. @Jimski: "What’s that Cap Bucky has fallen down in the old well? Oh no!!!"

  22. Could probably add a few Aquaman transformations out there as well.  Also didn’t Batman turn into a Man-Bat at one point?  Another big notable change in Marvel was Beast, twice!

  23. Great list.

    I remember being…8 years old I think and seeing the Blue Superman for the first time. There was a comic shop inside the mall (that I now work at) and on the window there was a promotional poster for the change. Everytime I past that shop and saw the poster I always had the same thought:

    "Wow that looks kinda cool, but why is Superman now Elektro?" For some reason I kept thinking it was a crossover with Spider-Man and now Superman had nothing but electrical powers.

    Why did DC go along with this change? I know we’ve talked about it on the site before but I don’t think we ever got a definitive reason on why this complete shift in power change happened.

  24. @TNC: I still have that Superman promo poster somewhere. Long before DCBS, I used to order comics every month from a company called American Entertainment and they gave me the poster.

  25. @JesTr: Post a link somewhere of that poster. I wanna see if it’s the one I saw as a kid. Strangely it does bring me back to childhood…..even though now I know the concept was stupid. lol

  26. I find the transformation of Mr. Morrison’s Batman & Robin from Incredible to Garbage to Incredible interesting.

  27. @TNC: It looks like the cover of Superman #123 with ad print on it.  Like this pic.

  28. @JesTr: I think that’s the poster…….I’m gonna need it to run some tests. 🙂

  29. Not gonna lie. That frog Thor looks pretty epic. 

  30. The frog Thor was actually among some of the best comics of all time (The whole Walt Simonson run, really). I think most of the rest of these might end up in a bin with exactly the opposite label.

  31. This is a great article.  Love it.

  32. The Electric Superman never happened. No really, it didn’t… I refuse to acknowledge this abomination of an icon…

  33. frankencastle oh yeah. you know it’s true. Daredevil leader of the hand, for sure is crazy. Planet earth’s mind wipe of Mary Jane Watson & Pete Youknowwho’s 20 year marriage.

  34. "Capwolf" was pretty much the end of my comic book collecting until 2006.