Thursday, 7 August 2014

11 Comics Which Died Too Soon

If there's one thing that the New 52 and Marvel NOW! have proven, it's that far too many great comics end too soon. In a world where many series are lucky to reach thirty issues, few established comics ever seem to last beyond a couple of years, even with a big name attached and high critical praise. 

Even those who do manage to succeed and draw in a strong fandom can all too quickly be torpedoed by the will of others. This can be from a new writer actively destroying any semblance of a comic's prior incarnation to editorial mandates hamstringing the creative team at every turn. Lord knows that the likes of Dan Didio and Joe Quesada have become especially infamous for that last example. The point is that ultimately there are a thousand and one ways even the greatest of comics can meet an abrupt end even as they being to hit their stride.

So, with the likes of the Defenders never lasting beyond one miniseries every few years and DC Comics shooting down title after title; here's a tribute to just a handful of which died long before they had a chance to truly shine.

11. Captain Britain And MI13 By Paul Cornell And Leonard Kirk

Proof that fantastic writing and art don't guarantee a sure-fire hit, Captain Britain and MI13 was a push for Marvel to focus more upon the British Isles. Initially set during the previous Skrull invasion of Earth, the group consisted of a varied band of heroes from Blade to the Black Knight and a turncoat Skrull resembling John Lennon. Praised for its tight writing and black humour, the series featured the team fighting a variety of supernatural based threats, with the biggest arc featuring a full scale invasion by Dracula leading an army of vampires from the moon. Yes, it's that kind of comic.

Paul Cornell in particular used more than a few inventive ways to keep the comic active. Two standout examples being checking which Marvel policies would block him from killing off characters to help ensure an especially dramatic twist seemed genuine, and giving Captain Britain an in-character Twitter account to hold the interest of fans between issues.

Unfortunately, despite even being nominated for a Hugo award, the comic lasted only fifteen issues. Hurt by surprisingly low sales for all its acclaim, the creative team was only informed of its cancellation a short time before it came into effect. Thankfully, Cornell himself did admit that the series ended on a note he felt was personally satisfying, and that the conclusion retained what he had planned from the start. It's just a shame fans didn't get a few more issues to see their heroes in action.

10. Animal Man By Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman And Dan Green

One of the big surprise hits of DC Comics' New 52 re-launch, the creative direction of Jeff Lemire brought the character to heights unseen since Grant Morrison's seminal fourth wall breaking run. Delving into the character's family life, the developing superpowers of his daughter Maxine and the influence of The Rot (the elemental force of decay), the comic explored many aspects of the universe from science fiction to fantasy. The story balanced action with drama and a mystical horror element reminiscent of the works of Alan Moore before finally culminating in a climactic battle against Anton Arcane.

Concluding on a particularly bittersweet note, the series ended on issue twenty-nine at Lemire's own accord. Deciding that he had completed the story he wanted to tell, Lemire felt it would be better to shake up the status quo, adding Animal Man to a team. It was a fair response, but given the series had already shoved the status quo into a ditch and shot it twice in the head, perhaps not the wisest. Animal Man's family were grieving from a recent death of someone close to them and the Red (the elemental force which connects all animal life) was becoming ever more adversarial. 

The potential was still there for further great stories and much of the series seemed to have just started to explore great ideas. What's more is that the solo series had effectively been something of a team setting. A multitude of characters from the entirety of Justice League Dark, to Frankenstein and Swamp Thing had all played major roles.
As a result, while Lemire's reasoning for bringing things to an end can be respected, this decision ultimately seemed unnecessary.

9. X-Men Forever By Chris Claremont

Few authors have had the same impact on the X-Men as Chris Claremont. Having written many of their most famous story arcs and brought the team to its greatest heights of popularity, Marvel opted to give him a second chance at exploring the characters. Starting off from where his original sixteen year run had ended, Claremont took the team in an entirely new direction, ignoring the decisions made by many other authors and telling the stories he had originally planned. Well, to a point anyway. Claremont himself admitted in a later interview he would not have gotten away with half the things he tried back in the day. Permanently killing off Magneto and Iron Man was just the start of the series’ madness.

Along with throwing some surprising twists and closing out a few dangling plot threads left by his original departure, the series introduced better explained or handled ideas of current events. The mutant population was kept limited to being a minority thanks to a surprise twist. Namely that mutants could individually burn themselves out thanks to their powers, and the much maligned Storm/Black Panther relationship was abruptly terminated.

Unfortunately X-Men Forever came to an end leaving several major plotlines unresolved and a lot of questions. The reason? Low sales. Continuing directly off of a two decade old storyline hardly made the comic accessible to new readers and it suffered as a result. It also hardly helped that Claremont's writing style is distinctly of its time, and never evolved with the industry. For some people this added to the comic's charm, but it only helped to drive many more away.

8. Demon Knights By Paul Cornell And Robert Venditti

Another surprise hit of the New 52, Demon Knights saw a major shift in settings with less spandex and more chainmail. Set in the dark ages of the DC Universe, the comic followed a band of unlikely heroes, demon hosts, immortals and sorceresses as they battled warlords and conquerors. Linking into the initial issues of the rebooted Stormwatch, the series tapped into Arthurian legend. Praised for its great mix of humour, action and putting a new spin on the setting. That and it's hard to dislike any comic which has Vandal Savage as a bombastic barbarian brute fighting dinosaurs with cries of "Die, tasty rare creatures!"

Unfortunately the series' greatest strength proved to be its greatest weakness. Being a far less traditional superhero comic meant it retained niche audience, and despite critically positive responses it never reached the heights of Animal Man. Things certainly weren't helped by the fact that the involvement of Stormwatch and the Demonites was thrown into question with Jim Starlin’s retcons. As such, writer Chris Cornell’s scheme to have the Demon Knights serve as the founding for the organisation soon met with severe problems. 

While the comic was thankfully given some closure, it met its end with issue 23 and little has been done with the team since.

7. Guardians Of The Galaxy By Dan Abnett And Andy Lanning

Most recognised for being the next big film in the Marvel cinematic universe, the Guardians of the Galaxy initially met success after being formed by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Taking the name of a previous Marvel superhero group, the comic followed a rag-tag band of cosmic superheroes attempting to perform the same role as the Avengers on a galactic scale. Desperately attempting to police an increasingly unstable galaxy wracked by continual war, the series put a very different spin upon the old idea of a superhero team forming and their responsibilities. The series thrived on character development, major conflicts and brought a vast number of B-list figures into the limelight. Better yet, it helped to shift some of Marvel's focus away from Earth for the first time in years.

This wasn’t to last. Abnett and Lanning's run lasted twenty-five issues, after which the comic was cancelled despite its acclaim. Using The Thanos Imperative to conclude events, the series ended with the deaths of Star-Lord and Drax, along with the disbandment of the team. Despite this dark ending, their objective was ultimately achieved and another group better suited to responding to threats soon took their place.

Sadly, the team was promptly given to Brian "I didn't write it, so it doesn't matter" Bendis once Marvel became desperate to try and captialise on the growing hype surrounding their cinematic adaptation. Many of the author's worst habits soon followed, from characterisation which began and ended with snark to arbitrarily shoving Iron Man onto the team, destroying just about anything good about the comic.

6. Power Girl By Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray And Amanda Conner

Bucking the trend of making comicbooks increasingly dark, drama driven and all around depressing, Power Girl was a series which hearkened back to more innocent days. Following Kara Zor-L as she attempted to take on a civilian life once more, the initial run on the comic followed a series of relatively light-hearted adventures driven more by fun, and with as little deaths, gore and carnage as possible. While hardly averse to a huge crisis, the writers felt no obligation to have her fighting Darkseid at every turn purely because she had Superman’s powers. What's more is that most of the fan-service was reserved purely for gags or general humour; definitely a better option than turning every fight scene into a pin-up page of the character.

The creative team produced two volumes and an additional collection introducing her on-and-off sidekick Terra before bowing out. They had made their mark on the series and this might have been fine, but the very next writer decided to try and bring things in line with the rest of DC Comics. The series the fans loved died the moment Judd Winick got his hands on it. All of a sudden the fun nature of the character was gone, replaced by the more generic "TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY!" mentality of modern superheroes. To make matters worse, every story was now tied into the next big event. Several major staples of what had made the comic so interesting were either shoved into the background, or turned into a device to purely cause more strife. 

As you can imagine, this didn't go over well with fans at all, to the point where DC paired her up with the Huntress following their New 52 relaunch rather than risking a solo series.

5. The Valiant Universe

The first of several cancelled universes on this list, the Valiant Universe was a pinnacle of quality amid the Dark Age of comics. Founded by former Marvel editor Jim Shooter in 1989, the universe was one of a multitude which rose and fell with the popularity and crash of 90s. Effectively the antithesis of the chaotic and uncoordinated Image Comics of this era, many aspects of the setting were carefully planned out from the beginning.

The idea was to outdo their competitors by offering higher quality tales, and surprisingly Valiant accomplished just that. The universe established that all of its characters abilities came from one of three sources (technology, psychic powers, and magic) to avoid the more problematic issues behind superhero origins and pursued a harder science fiction angle than its rivals. Even more surprising was the innovative continuity structure, with events in comics covering the same time frame as their publication. Combined with a distinct lack of retcons and a wide assortment of metahumans, the franchise was soon ranked just behind DC and Marvel in sales.

Unfortunately for Valiant, they later opted for a universal crossover with Image and everything went to hell. The crossover, Death Mate, resulted in clashes between Valiant's professionalism and Image's notoriously poor shipping times; to the point where Rod Liefeld was supposedly strong-armed into producing his work after delaying work for an entire year. The many problems which grew out of it are thought to have ultimately sparked the comics crash three years later, and triggered a slow, painful death of Valiant Comics.

It's only in recent years that Valiant has been revived, re-launching a small handful of its titles but having to completely start over from scratch.

4. Blue Beetle By Keith Giffen, John Rogers And Cully Hamnmer

Much like Power Girl, Blue Beetle was another comic which attempted to mix in lulls in combat and moments of happiness with frantic world saving events. After the death of Ted Kord, the mysterious alien scarab was passed onto Jaime Reyes, who managed to unlock its full potential and bonded the item with his body. The result was that, rather than following in Kord's footsteps as a genius inventor superhero, Reyes had access to Iron Man style power armour. Along with debunking a few often mocked superhero trends (namely keeping a secret identity from the protagonist’s family, all the while putting them in even more danger), the comic followed Reyes becoming a hero in his own right within the DC Universe.

The series eventually came to a close when the alien creators of the scarab arriving on Earth with seemingly benevolent intentions, but secretly infiltrating humanity. Not long after their defeat, the comic was cancelled. As with so many series, it had been plagued by low sales. 

Many long-time fans had difficulty adjusting to Reyes taking the place of Kord, or the fact Blue Beetle had so completely changed from the hero they knew. When the series did get a second lease on life with the New 52 reboot, writers decided it could only be compelling by being as drearily depressing as possible. To no one’s surprise it soon met its end after just sixteen issues.

3. The Ultraverse

Another universe which found success during the 90s, the Ultraverse was a big push by Malibu Comics to follow the footsteps of Marvel and DC. Forgoing their comics for something on a much bigger scale, the company began hiring a multitude of professional artists and writers to develop the universe. Eventually the setting was established as the Godwheel, a flat planet the size of a solar system, divided between two cultures. On one side technology reigned supreme, while on the other magic was the highest authority. This was the source of all the characters' powers and the universe dealt with their seemingly recent emergence on Earth.

While the universe and setting proved popular enough to draw in readers for a time, it wasn't enough to survive the crash of the spectator market in 1996. Desperate for money, Malibu sold off the line to Marvel and things rapidly went downhill from there. Along with sweeping changes which completely altered the characters, writers attempted to force it into existing with the rest of the Marvel universe. It went as well as you would expect, and the entire line was soon cancelled after its established fan base abandoned it en-mass. 

While Marvel still owns the rights to this day, nothing has been done with the characters nor the concepts behind them; most likely because Marvel doesn't want to pay royalties to their creators.

2. Stormwatch By Warren Ellis / Stormwatch P.H.D. By Christos Gage And Doug Mahn

Despite being a cornerstone of the Wildstorm universe, Stormwatch never had the best track record. While many delivered high quality content, explored interesting ideas and frequently had talented writers backing them, every incarnation just seemed to keep failing.

Originally created during the dark days of the early 90s, x-treme Liefeldian art and all, Stormwatch was one of several major superhero groups tasked with defending the Earth.  Formed by the United Nations as a government backed metahuman task force, the series wallowed in mediocrity until Warren Ellis was given the title. 

Actually decided to do something with the concept and character histories, Ellis treated it less as a superhero comic and more as a story about a police procedural/tactical response group. Backed by scientific divisions, researchers and staff, the group was seen being hamstrung by politics and red tape. Along with this it also further pioneered ideas Ellis would later explore in The Authority, with superheroes actively trying to make the world a better place rather than just responding to crime or the usual threat of the week. Unfortunately it was soon cancelled due to low sales and most of the team killed off halting a full scale alien invasion. With this being comics though, they only stayed dead for a good few years before showing up again.

Stormwatch P.H.D. (Post-Human Division) was another attempt to put a spin on the original idea of a superhero team with police procedural elements. Suffering from severe underfunding and lack of resources, the organisation is tasked with creating post-human groups paired with traditional law enforcement to more effectively combat supervillains. Forced to hire whoever they could, the group consisted of retired villains, police veterans, former Stormwatch support personnel, and even de-powered superheroes. 

Surprisingly grounded in its approach, the comic emphasised victories through methodical detective work, careful pre-planned raids, and examined the mental scars each character carried from their previous lives. Sadly this came to a very sudden end when Wildstorm pushed their post-apocalyptic World's End event, bringing back the original Stormwatch in its place. Many of its characters were never seen again, and their fates never shown beyond a glimpse of the future with some added exposition.

It seems that the Stormwatch curse hasn't stopped with Wildstorm's closure either. Even the New 52 incarnation of the team has since had their spot cancelled after thirty issues though, given their treatment, this was more a mercy killing than anything else.

1. The Dreamwave Transformers Universe

Despite being better known for their film and cartoon incarnations, the Transformers have been long established in the medium of comics. From crossovers with Spider-Man and the Avengers to fan-publications and mirror universes, many of their best stories have originated from the printing presses of Marvel, IDW and Dreamwave Productions. The latter especially is well known to fans for its great story arcs, infamous artistic style, and a very abrupt end thanks to the greed of the company's founders.

Initially created as a part of Image Comics before breaking off, brothers Pat and Roger Lee founded Dreamwave Productions as a full publishing company with a variety of different original and licensed series they had come to own. After reviving the G1 Transformers for their own series, Dreamwave seemed to hit its stride, at least for a short while.

While Dreamwave was producing hits with the likes of The War Within and Age of Wrath, the brothers Lee were spending money on personal items and charging it to the company. So, while many freelance artists and writers went unpaid, nor even credited in many cases, Dreamwave had a company owned Porsche. Even as the Dreamwave was crashing thanks to their actions, they continually lied about its success and then promptly transferred all assets to themselves before declaring bankruptcy.

The entire Transformers universe came to a very sudden end right before a major event’ one which was not only set to explain several titanic revelations but featured the first hints of Unicron appearing. While the Transformers licence was soon taken over by IDW, the company opted to start from scratch, leaving a vast number of plot threads completely unresolved and the readers without answers.

Unsurprisingly, when asked if Pat Lee would work for IDW, long-time writer Simon Furman politely responded it would be over his rotting corpse.

Still, all these are just a few personal choices. If you have your own thoughts or series of your own you would like to suggest, please feel free to suggest them in the comments.


  1. I loved Amanda Conner's Power Girl run. DC comics could use more titles with a light-hearted nature these days.

    1. No argument there, i'm positively sick of the stuff DC and Marvel are churning out these days which seems to have forgotten how to have real fun.