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Comic Theme Time – Best Running Gag In Comics?


Comic Theme Time is a twist on the idea of a “Top Five” list. Instead of me stating a topic and then listing my top five choices in that topic, I’m giving you the topic and letting you go wild with examples that you think fit the theme.

In last week’s TV Legends Revealed, I spotlighted one of the coolest running gags in television today, Saturday Night Live’s “Lincoln, llama and showgirls” running gag.

That got me to thinking – what are the best running gags in all of comics? Elf with a gun? “One punch”? Batman disappearing on Gordon? John Byrne homaging Fantastic Four #1? Justice League #1 cover homages? What would make up YOUR top five?


Action Comics #1 cover homages is probably THE definitive running gag in comics. I’m surprised that you didn’t even mention that.

There have been less Action #1 homages than there have been Justice League #1 homages. But sure, a lot of covers get homaged a lot (Crisis of Infinite Earths #7 has had a ton). If you want to mention Action #1, go for it.

“Something fell…” from Cerebus

Peter David used to have a few, though I don’t know if they went long enough to be “running.” One was in his original X-FACTOR run, where some mutant-hating mad scientist kept trying to make mutant-killing armor. In one issue, he made a suit that was too small, and he got stuck inside. In another, he finally fit in the robot, but forgot to cover the wiring and was electrocuted when it rained. My recollection is that he never got around to fighting X-Factor.

Another was in his SPIDER-MAN 2099, where he had a sub-par villain who kept rebranding himself. He was something like “Bloodsword,” then “Bloodaxe,” then finally “Bloodmace.” He was completely inept and was finally killed in a needless manner.

I guess there’s been a few parodies of the She-Hulk “I’m gonna rip up your X-Men comics” covers, right? Byrne did one on Shulkie’s last issue where she demanded the reader’s X-Men books. And then Red She-Hulk #58 (her first issue) had a similar parody. Not sure if there’s been others.

The infamous Brick, which has attacked the X-Men on several occasions over the years. Truly, no one has made their anti-mutant stance more clear than the Brick.

Yancy Street Gang. Duh. ;)

The first one I thought of is the one Adam mentioned – but it wasn’t one scientist, it was a whole FAMILY of scientists, each trying to avenge the last one’s death…


Don’t know if it’s considered a running gag but I have 2 or 3 comics that have their covers in homage to the infamous National Lampoon cover of “Buy this Magazine or we’ll shoot this puppy.” Then back in the day Green Arrow’s famous chili was pretty funny definitely running gag material. Spider Man’s Spidey mobile caught a few jokes but I’m not sure it hit running gag status. And the Running Gag of all gags that has to make the list: The Thing versus the Yancy Street Gang/ Human Torch!

How Obelix never gets to drink any magic potion.
Turk from the Miller Daredevil era (and a bit before)
“Don’t call me Chief!”

There have been a heck of a lot of homages / parodies to the cover of Fantastic Four #1.

Tracer Bullet

July 16, 2013 at 8:18 pm

I always partial to that line from X-Men:

“I thought you were dead.”
“I got better.”

There were a hundred DC war comic covers with the same theme: Our heroes are walking along saying, “It’s all clear, guys. We’re home free.” But there are a dozen Nazis waiting to pounce.

Joe Kubert was the master at that.

There’s also all the Days of Future Past parodies, and Daredevil always looking the wrong way in group photos.

One of my favs was in Young Justice. When Robin would say something obvious, and a character would make a comment about him being trained by the world’s greatest detective.

Or all the times Deadpool has referred to himself as a mutant or an X-Men, only to get shot down by someone else nearby.

Those are the two that I remember off the top of my head.

How many parodies of Spider-Man no more have there been?
Or Spider-Man torment?
Or fantastic four #1?

The X-Factor gag with the scientists finally paid off when a demonic villain resurrected ‘X-Factor’s greatest enemies’ to serve as his minions, and the heroes had no idea who they were since they all died long before they could accomplish anything.

I agree with the Vic/Rick/Dick Chalker running gag in X-Factor. It’s the one that first came to my head, and at the time it seemed like it was just a gag that went nowhere until the Number-One-Fantastic annual. David’s run on X-Factor was (and is) amazing.

Travis Pelkie

July 16, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Bwa-ha-ha, anyone?

Groo being called “slow of mind” then reacting to it much later in the story.

Re: the X-Factor running gag, I don’t recall those stories, but it sounds like the old Avengers running gag of that guy Fabian who kept building bigger and badder killer robots to attack the Avengers, but rarely getting past the front lawn.

Luke Cage. Gem Theater. Vending Machine. ‘Nuff Said.

What about John J’onzz and his endless love for Oreos?

The best parts of the “Batman disappearing on Gordon” are the ones that subvert it or play with it. If, say, Nightwing sticks around when Gordon expects him to go, or more recently, I think when Damian was starting out, Gordon said something to the effect that “he’s training them all to do it”.

From Cerebus, I’d say the — Roach (Captain Cockroach, Moon Roach, normalroach, etc, culminating in the “Million Eyes Roach” during Mothers and Daughters) is one of my favorite running gags. “Something fell” recurs, but it’s not really a gag, y’know?

Do they honestly have DD looking the wrong way in group photos, like Lex says? That’s so wrong, but so funny!

In Groo, there’s the whole “what is mulch” debate.

Milk and Cheese in and of themselves are a great running gag.

There’s got to be some other great Giffen non-JL running gags. Perhaps the store signs in Heckler, or the page numbers in Heckler and Trencher?

And then in recent years in the Avengers, that gag where all the characters spoke with the same voice. Hyuck Hyuck Hyuck!!!! I made a Bendis joke!!!!!!

In the interest of fairness: how about that running gag where all the fun JLI characters get murdered in brutal ways in recent years at DC? Hyuck Hyuck Hyuck!!!!

And that other one where every time DC dredges up some new way to exploit an old Alan Moore idea, and he has the nerve (the NOIVE!) to respectfully suggest that perhaps they find some new ideas of their own. I love that one!!!!

Alright, now I’m just being silly.

I’m rather fond of Fabian Stankowicz.

The Great Lake Avengers changing their name.

“We are not a couple!!” – Woody, Quantum & Woody

Any and all “skeleton jokes” from Brook – One Piece

Robin leaving.
Robin changing name.
New Robin.
Robin dying.
Old Robin coming back.
Another new Robin.
Robin is back!
Robin dying again.
Batman swears there won’t be another Robin.
New sidekick not named Robin but serves the exact same purpose.
Robin dies again.
Hey look, Not Robin changed his name to Robin!
Robin retconned into not really Robin.
Crisis Of Infinite Robins.
Etc Etc Etc

no one remembering the name of the stealth pilot in GI Joe by Larry Hama.

Pick a joke from Preacher; it probably recurs, a lot. I’d rank Hoover/ Featherstone/ swearing as my favorite, way ahead of the dismemberment of Herr Starr.

Likewise Hitman or Slott’s She-Hulk.

Oberon mumbling and muttering, in JLI.

“This looks bad.” Hawkguy

But my personal favorite might be Parademon thinking that Dollman is a funny clown, in Simone’s Villains United.

The phantom pie-thrower in Suicide Squad.

Crisis of Infinite Earths #7 was an hommage to X-Men #136 with Cyclops and Phoenix.

How about the number of times Clark/Lois/Jimmy etc take a cab ride and it costs $6.50. I’m pretty sure this gag started during the Byrne era of Superman.

No, it was not. It might have been an subconscious swipe, but it was definitely not an homage.

I believe the $6.50 gag started in Action Comics #650 which featured cabs as a recurring theme, and every ride costing $6.50 (for obvious reasons). Later writers picked it up and ran with it, but it must have been baffling to anyone with its origin in #650.

Rollo Tomassi

July 17, 2013 at 4:46 am

There’s plenty of GIJoe ones;
Dreadnoks love grape soda and chocolate donuts.
Snake Eyes’ collection of spike-knuckled trench knives.
Cobra Commander kicks dogs.
(I’m sure Ritchard will be here shortly with many more I’ve forgotten)

And not Joe;
“Welcome to the X-Men. Hope you survive the experience…”

@Travis Pelkie — And that other one where every time DC dredges up some new way to exploit an old Alan Moore idea, and he has the nerve (the NOIVE!) to respectfully suggest that perhaps they find some new ideas of their own. I love that one!!!!

Wait, are you… Are you actually implying Alan Moore ever wrote an original idea in his entire career? SERIOUSLY!?

This is like complaining about people “ripping off” Quentin Tarantino. You can’t steal from a thief.

@Brian Cronin — There have been less Action #1 homages than there have been Justice League #1 homages.

I think you’re seriously underestimating how many times Action Comics #1’s cover has been homaged in various media in some way shape or form.

Maybe in various media. Not on comic book covers.

The bag of trash Mark Grayson threw into the air in the first issue of “Invincible”, which later became the object of a cargo cult.

Lazarus always responding “Where?!” when anyone says “Jesus” in “Midnight Nation”.

Groo has loads:

Cheese dip
“What did he mean slow of mind”
“I am the Prince of Chichester”

I think the 6.50 gag in the Superman books began in the months (years?) leading up to Action 650. There was even a letter asking if cab rides would be going up to 7.00 after Action 650.

Not that anyone cares, but I really hate Crisis 7 homages….

The ever-worsening and increasingly humiliating injuries experienced by Herr Starr in Preacher.
Of course it all ended with the worst kind of injury a man could experience in one of the funniest moments in comics. And even then, the horror wasn’t over… He had to use a swordfish.

I found a report from an interesting looking festival and a contest for cartoonists:


The pie-throwing in Ostrander’s and McDonnell’s Suicide Squad, but maybe that was more of a sub plot mystery…

Elf With A Gun from the Defenders.

And in recent comics the extremely bondage-prone nature of the central character in Empowered has turned a great running joke into the central premise of one of the best written and drawn comics out there at the moment.

Always loved the Mini blue Ox’s asides in the middle of Jack of Fables comics

Does Elf With A Gun really count as an “in joke”? Wasn’t that actually originally intended to be a full blown sub-plot of its own before Gerber left the title (and refused to tell any of the other Marvel staffers what he was going to do with it)?

Everett K. Ross losing his pants to Mephisto in Priest’s Black Panther.

Hellboy’s unofficial catchphrase: “Crap.”

Carl the inept goon in Marvel Adventures Avengers.

Princess Powerful beating up Wolverine.

Cannonball & Sunspot and their love of Magnum PI.

I can’t think of five that are truly running gags (don’t really think of cover parodies as gags, but that’s just me).

Of the one’s listed, I’d definitely go with Turk through the window in Daredevil and the Yancy Street Gang.

Sweet Aunt Petunia!

Also, “I’m not Daredevil.”

Parodies and homages are not running gags. But some good ones on this list.

Reaper losing limbs in X-Force, X-Factor.

Cory!! Strode

July 17, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Luke Cage vs the Soda machine in the Don McGregor issues.

“There have been less Action #1 homages than there have been Justice League #1 homages.”
That doesn’t sound right. What is your research on that? Please elaborate.

Any time the cover backdrop of an established team is torn (exploded) in the center, with the new upstarts charging through the tear (Giaint Sized X-men #1). The Maguire cover to Justice League #1.

X-Men playing Baseball, or any Avengers “New Roster” panel.

Travis Pelkie

July 17, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Oh, I totally believe that there have been less homages to Action #1 than to Justice League 1, or even Crisis 7. Any of the Action homages I know of are anniversary issues of Superman, with maybe a few things like a Simpsons version, or a few other comedy type uses. I’m sure there have been homages of it with serious superheroes, but I can’t think of any right now.

Justice League got reused a bunch just by Giff and DeMatteis, with JLE 1, the annual with Antarctica, one of the Formerly Known As…, and at least one of the Planetary Brigade issues. And there have been several others beside.

And we all know that Crisis 7 cover was homaged by that Michelangelo guy. Like he came up with that pose! Pieta my foot! ;)

The cat. JLE.

@Max — Parodies and homages are not running gags.

In some cases they are.

I thought Crisis #7 and Uncanny X-Men #136 were “subconscious swipes” of Neal Adams’ cover to Supermsn’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #128, myself…

The Batman taking off on Gordon was even parodied on screen in Dark Knight Rises when Catwoman takes off on Batman and he says ‘So that’s what that feels like.’ It seems like in the 80s, particularly in the X-Men, they would have one member walking away from the group on the cover of the issue, started (I think) when Scott Summers(sp?) left the group after the Dark Phoenix saga.

Andrew Collins

July 17, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Most of the ones I can think of I’ve seen mentioned already, so I’ll just add:

Martian Manhunter’s love of Oreo cookies

The X-men’s “Welcome to the X-Men (insert name), Hope you survive…etc etc…” covers!!

And there was a ton of that Steve Dikto Spider-Man panel with Spidey bruried in rubble and lifting it off him in a supreme desperate final effort. I know Romita and Bagley each did one in their respective runs,,,

And Groo, “Did I err?” ended every issue if memory serves…


July 18, 2013 at 11:35 am

That running gag from David’s first run of X-Factor is one of my favorites as I had a subscription at the time, and funnily enough it was tied up in the much maligned New Character Annuals that Marvel ran that year. The badguy that brought them back from the dead was Charon.


July 18, 2013 at 1:35 pm

@ Travis

Fantastic Four #291 springs to mind.

Ahh, John Byrne drawing the She-Hulk, good times…

Also: I’m in the camp that doesn’t consider a cover homage to be a running gag.

Not a gag per se, but Bruce Wayne’s “Hh” and then Damian’s “Tt.” I think Morrison introduced the former way back in his JLA days, and I’m glad that Snyder, Tomasi, etc. are keeping it alive now.

As for an actual gag, “Bro” gets me to chuckle every time in Hawkguy. The entire character of Doop is a great gag. “My robot brain needs beer.” Spider-Man’s inability to store spare change used to be a funny occasional gag in the Stern and DeFalco eras.

How about Archie being unable to choose between Betty and Veronica?

“Medicine Woman” was the biggest laugh I got out of the new Quantum and Woody #1. Which I guess IS kind of a knock against it. (I think the book had heart and really understood the characters, but wasn’t particularly funny. Still, liked it enough that I’ll stick around for #2. And hope someday Priest and Bright do another comic together.)

If we’re restricting it to superheroes, Batman’s disappearing act is probably the most iconic. If we’re including newspaper strips, it might well be Charlie Brown and the football (though Peanuts had dozens, if not hundreds, of running gags).

Out of the items listed here, “Stupid, stupid rat creatures!” made me smile the most.

Thing being interupted in the shower?

The Crazed Spruce

July 19, 2013 at 7:55 am

Surprised nobody mentioned Squirrel Girl’s epic beatdowns of pretty much every major villain she’s come across.

The Thing getting explosive or other noxious packages from the Yancy Street Gang, which was spoilt a few years ago by the Torch revealing that he had been sending them.

Chew makes great work of recurring catch phrases, scenarios and character introductions that’s somewhat reminiscent of the type of humor in Arrested Development. Things like “Meet your new partner.” “This is____, he/she is a_______. That means he/she can take a bite of ___________ and see ______…” Poyo splash pages, two people in bed together with one of them sleeping happily and the other terrified.

Bane and spines.

Everyone who meets Howard the first time says “Y– You’re a duck!”

Jean Grey dying. Yes, it’s usually taken seriously, but enough writers treat it as a mundane event that it’s become a gag.

Rorschach breaking Drieberg’s lock.

“You really WERE trained by the world’s greatest detective.”

“… Except Wonder Man, but he don’t count.”

Ultimate Shocker, up to issue #122 where he finally gets the upper hand.

Turk and Grotto, and to a lesser extent their successors Brian Posehn an Patton Oswalt.

“Column. My fucking. Where is.”

The truly awful character name puns in all of Dean Motter’s work. Tess LaCoyle? Eno Orez?

Geoff Johns and arm removal.

“The sugar coat Darkseid’s testicles?”

People mistaking Clint for Iron Fist.

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