Have Comic Books Influenced Music?

I have spoken many times about comic books‘ influence on pop culture, but what about comic books’ influence on popular music? Comic books, or any aspect of popular culture, influencing lyrics or subject matter of a song is far from our thoughts, but their influence is there. Using comic book themes and characters in popular music has been around longer than we realize because it has been just recently that comic books have had the attention of a more mainstream audience.

Groundbreaking, world-changing artists like Prince, The Ramones, and Queen performed theme songs and soundtrack tracks for comic book-based movies and cartoons. Infamous bands and artists like Pink Floyd and David Bowie have mentioned the comic character Dan Dare many times. Pink Floyd even noted the ever-popular Doctor Strange in their song Cymbaline (decades before Benedict Cumberbatch would even think about playing him). The heavy metal band Iced Earth released a concept album based on the Image Comics’ character Spawn. While with the band Wings, Beatles alum Paul McCartney released a song starring and named after two Marvel Comics characters, Magneto and Titanium Man. So the influence is there.

So here are ten of the most, in my opinion, interesting songs influenced by comic book characters or themes:

The Traits – “Nobody Loves the Hulk”
In 1969, Marvel Comics published and advertised a song by Rosalind Rogoff. A small-time local New York garage band called The Traits did the studio recording for the novelty song. Marvel Comics published, advertised, and sold the single by The Traits. This version highlights the sad origin and paints a different light on the life of the Hulk. “Nobody Loves the Hulk” sold 2,000 copies between 1969 and 1970 via mail-order. The now obscure single is a highly-collectible amongst rare vinyl and comic book collectors.

Monster Magnet – “Ego, the Living Planet”

When the New Jersey stoner rock band released their third studio album, Dopes to Infinity, only people in the know realized that the almost instrumental track “Ego, the Living Planet” was based on a Marvel Comics character. Many years before Ego the Living Planet showed up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the Celestial/planet father of Peter Quill and Mantis, Ego made his first comic book appearance in 1966 in Thor issue #132. Coincidentally, it was due to this appearance in the cinematic universe that another one of Monster Magnet’s songs makes an influence in comic books…instead of the other way around. Although a slightly different character by name and abilities, a character named Negasonic Teenage Warhead appeared in the 2001 issue of New X-Men #115. Grant Morrison was a fan of Monster Magnet, he created the character and 15 years later, they decided to use this semi-obscure character in the 2016 Deadpool movie. To change the characters powers, 20th Century Fox and Marvel Studios did a deal. The deal allowed Marvel Studios to use Ego the Living Planet in 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 in exchange for being able to change her powers.

Snoop Dogg – “Batman & Robin”

Following his departure from No Limit Records, Snoop Dogg released Paid tha Cost to Be da Bo$$. The album was overshadowed by the single “Beautiful,” but it had a hidden hit, “Batman and Robin.” The song was laced with comic book metaphors and was an homage to the 1966 Batman TV show. The song samples the Batman theme song, voices, and sounds from the show. The lyrics (riddled with references to superheroes, locations, vehicles, etc.) are a comic book lover’s dream. 

XTC – “That’s Really Super, Supergirl”
Influential English rock band XTC released a song on their 1986 album titled “That’s Really Super, Supergirl.” Though the 80s pop hit might not be for everyone, the comic book-fueled analogies that compare the girl he is in a relationship with to that of Supergirl are super enough to warrant a listen.

Spin Doctors – “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues”
The 1991 single “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” from the band’s first studio album put a different spin on Superman’s pal. Instead of Jimmy becoming a werewolf or a giant turtle, Jimmy becomes diabolical. With a Pocket Full of Kryptonite (also the album title and selected lyric), Jimmy knows love for Lois will be for not. He knows he cannot compete with Superman because he’s “leaping buildings in a single bound/I’m reading Shakespeare in my place downtown.” So he becomes the villain and tries to blow Superman away with an atomic bomb and a pocket full of Kryptonite.

Ghostface Killah – “Slept on Tony”

Though the Wu-Tang Clan took much of their lyrical inspiration (including their name) from the 70s and 80s martial arts movies, the members also found inspiration in the pages of comic books. Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah (frequently using the aliases: Ironman, Tony Starks, and Starks) titled his debut solo album Ironman and then years later wrote a song for his GhostDeini the Great album titled “Slept on Tony” which refers to Tony Stark and discusses the ups and downs of being Iron Man.  

Crash Test Dummies – “Superman’s Song” 

By the 1990s, Superman had been the quintessential hero for half of a century. So it would seem fitting that the death of the Son of Krypton would be a big topic, and in the 90s, it was. A year before DC Comics made us all cry when we saw the Man of Steel’s death in the “Death of Superman” storyline, A Canadian rock band had already broken our hearts to the reality of Superman’s fearful demise. The Crash Test Dummies’ debut album The Ghosts that Haunt Me in 1991 featured a track called “Superman’s Song” which compared the reality of being Superman to that of the jungle-roaming hero Tarzan. Then deep bass-baritone lead singer and guitarist for the Crash Test Dummies explained in a 1992 interview that “Superman as cast in “Superman’s Song” is obviously a left-wing political figure. His activity in the community is intrinsic to his being. Superman is being juxtaposed against Tarzan, who is kind of a laissez-faire capitalist type who retreats to the forest, and rejects the idea of community. He wants to live in a so-called animal state, and he doesn’t have to be bothered with any kind of political realities.” 

Henry Rollins Band – “Ghost Rider”
The influential protopunk band Suicide wrote “Ghost Rider” for their 1977 self-titled album. The song was half political statement and half description of the comic book anti-hero. The song, laced with social commentary and the story of Ghost Rider and his flaming motorcycle, was covered by many other artists. The Henry Rollins Band cover of “Ghost Rider” for The Crow soundtrack inspired this blog. That soundtrack features originals, covers, and re-recordings from some huge acts. Hard-hitting songs from Pantera, Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, and Stone Temple Pilots are on the 1994 cult classic soundtrack/movie. A movie (which is coincidentally based on a comic book itself) and soundtrack that has been a mainstay for me.

Black Lips – “Spidey’s Curse”
Comic book creators have used characters for other reasons and even made PSA comics for years. During World War II, comics were used as propaganda to sell war bonds. The Keebler Cookie company sponsored a New Teen Titans comic highlighting the effects of drug abuse. Hulk warned kids against ‘stranger danger. The X-Men stood against the famine in Africa. The Radio Shack Whiz Kids comic showcased the use of the TRS-80 computer to solve inner-city drug use. Superman and Wonder Woman flew to South America to teach the world about the dangers of landmines. There seemed to be hundreds of PSA comics coming out for a while, but Spider-Man was in more than anyone. He tackled everything from literacy to sex abuse. Yeah. You read that right. In cooperation with the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse, we find Marvel producing a government-issued comic used to teach sex education. The comic shows kids discussing incest, sexual abuse, body changes, sex, and (you guessed it) even sexual molestation. In the comic, Spider-Man alludes to a time when he, as a bullied, glasses-wearing nerd, was sexually molested by someone he trusted. That comic was memorable to all who read it: especially the American rock band – the Black Lips. Inspired by the Spider-Man PSA comic, guitarist Cole Alexander wrote a song about how Spider-Man’s back story is darker than we will ever knew.

3 Doors Down – “Kryptonite”
3 Doors Down’s demo track “Kryptonite” went from local play in Mississippi to hitting number one on the US Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and topping out at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in a short time. The name, music video (which featured an elderly superhero ), and use of Superman as an analogy of success in the lyrics are the only real comic book reference. Though it lacks actual comic book context, it is (probably) the most recognizable comic book-influenced song.


Featured Image: Prince Batdance Music Video, 1989, Fair Use.

The Ramones – Spiderman screen grab, Fair Use.

Nobody Loves the Hulk single by Queen City Records Uploaded from Google Images., Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52108198

Screen grab from “Ego the Living Planet” video by Monster Manget, Fair Use.

Snoop Dogg in Batman costume, Fair Use.

XTC live by porcupiny from Buena Park, United States – XTC live, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50790351

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen comic, DC Comics, http://www.comics.org/coverview.lasso?id=11571&zoom=4, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5847406

Ghostface Killah cover art from Def Jam Recordings., Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25424336

Canadian Promo single for Crash Test Dummies’ single “Superman’s Song” by Gemm.com, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11928169

The Crow Soundtack cover art, from Atlantic., Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21209810

Marvel Comics Spider-Man and Power Pack PSA Comic Cover Art, Fair Use.

3 Doors Down single cover art, from Universal Republic Records, Universal Records/Universal Republic Group., Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21471692

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