Of all the dramatic devices used to grab the attention of comic-book fans, few could surpass the shock of a superhero (or similarly upstanding character) behind bars. Normally dedicated to truth, justice and the American Way (I don't edit that last part out), superheroes portrayed as prisoners were an especially alarming, incongruous spectacle.
Case in point, the cover of Captain America #260 (1981), which featured an understandably bummed-out Cap "behind bars."
Superman breezily busts out of prison while a Clark dummy "fools" his thickheaded jailers in Superman #83 (1953). It's curious that Superman would give his Clark dummy eyebrows, well-styled hair and even a crude mouth...yet no hands.
In Daredevil #84 (2006), with his secret identity seemingly blown, Matt Murdock was stuck in jail surrounded by his worst enemies....or was it the other way around?
On Amazing Spider-Man #219's cover (1981), Peter Parker rots in jail while his alter-ego symbollically registers his disappointment...both seemingly oblivious to the fact that Pete could probably just slip his small frame between the generously-spaced bars.
The phrase "rotting in jail" gets a macabre new twist on the cover of Wonder Woman #298 (1982). However, it should be noted how Wonder Corpse's hair still looks so full and shiny.
As the penultimate issue of DC's slow-motion demolition of the character, Flash #349 (1985) features a devastated Barry Allen "heroically" assuming the fetal position in his jail cell.
The Black Leopard is a prisoner of the real-life evil of South African apartheid in Fantastic Four #119 (1972). Waitaminute...who's the Black Leopard? Well, you see, at one point during the story T'Challa explained he (not to mention Marvel Comics) wanted "to divorce myself from those within your own country who use the same name in order to promote their own political agenda"...referring, of course, to the radical Black Panther movement of the late '60s and early '70s.
Going from one real-world evil to another, Thor finds himself "Prisoner of the Reds" on the cover of Journey Into Mystery #87 (1962). Made helpless by the "electronically treated" Commie chains, Thor joins the rest of the political prisoners in a dreary Soviet gulag.
As if a superhero sitting in jail wasn't bad enough, many covers featured their hated archenemies heckling and gloating over their incarceration.
Flash #219 (1973) finds Mirror Master and The Top smugly concluding their million-dollar bet, while the Scarlet Speedster helplessly glares from a pitch-black cell (though still infinitely more dignified than the fetal position depicted above).
The joke's on Batman as The Joker pulls a not-so-funny switcheroo on the cover of Detective Comics #332 (1964).
Clubs, knives, ice picks and even handguns are the weapons of choice against a ringless Hal Jordan on the cover of Green Lantern #147 (1981). The riot's ringleader is the evil Black Hand! You know...Black Hand? That old GL foe? Never mind.
Tombstone gives Spider-Man a good old-fashioned prison welcome on the cover of Spectacular Spider-Man #155 (1989), after webhead is lured to the prison by his pal Joe Robertson (the forlorn guy in the background).
Marvel's legendary heroes of World War II were captives of the Third Reich in The Invaders #19 (1977), with the gloating provided by the hated Adolf Hitler himself.
Perhaps the worst good-guys-in-jail scenario is when a superhero throws his own friends, family, and fellow superheroes into the Graybar Hotel, like a stern Superman did to his "pal" on the cover of Jimmy Olsen #155 (1973).
The always-unpredictable Quicksilver and the "People's Defense Force" jail his former teammates on the cover of West Coast Avengers #34 (1988).
Star Spangled Comics #91 (1949) finds Batman locked away by a sneering Robin, despite the fact that Bats is still wearing a utility belt stuffed with lockpicks, mini-blow-torches and explosives.
Batman goes from captive to capTOR on the cover of World's Finest #145 (1964), as he torments a defiant (and powerless) Superman with his "force ray" (sort of a high-tech fire hose).
Before you feel too sorry for Superman, check out the cover of Superboy #177 (1971), when he threw his own parents into the clink. Of course, like all inmates, Pa Kent insisted that he and Ma were "innocent." Sure, Pa. Sure.
So pass the harmonica and sing the blues for the superheroes of Cell Block 9, as their sunny dispositions and bright costumes stand in stark contrast to the quiet desperation and filthy toilets of their jail cells.