Storytelling is like heisting and as any supervillain will tell you: there are plenty of reasons why you might give up in the middle of the plot. Maybe you can’t find the WiFi password for the quantum accelerator. Maybe there’s a telltale sonic boom, accompanied by a big blue blur or worse, a big bat lurking among the clouds. Or your best friend has decided to “try a new direction”.
Comics can be like that too. Consider these examples of sagas that, for various reasons, came out too soon, too late, or before everything went right.
ten Superior Spider-Man found his legs – then lost them
It didn’t spark the outrage of other Spider-Man tales, but fans were shocked nonetheless when Otto Octavius’ malevolent conscience devoured Peter Parker’s body. More shocking? That this self-proclaimed “Superior Spider-Man” – with Parker’s residual personality lingering a la Jiminy Cricket – proved such a compelling slinger in his own right.
While this Spidey has seen a revival in recent years, it’s been harder than expected at the time to see the status quo return. We weren’t ready to say goodbye, Spider-Ock.
9 This secret invasion should have been kept secret
One of the next big splashy Marvel series, of course, is Secret Invasion, presumably inspired by that crossover event in which we learned that the shape-shifting Skrulls had infiltrated the planet and ripped off many of Marvel’s heroes. Who was a Skrull and who was the real hero?
For such a promising thriller – it even brought Hawkeye and Mockingbird together – the climax proved decidedly lackluster, leaving some fans wondering if some sinister force had swapped a much more satisfying story for the one that was released.
8 The New Teen Titans Grow Up
The Classic Race of Marv Wolfman and George Perez The New Teen Titans is rightfully loved. A hit when it debuted in 1980, it immediately became one of DC’s top titles, rivaling the popularity of Marvel’s X-Men franchise. Expertly weaving drama, romance, and angst with multi-dimensional action, the series has garnered acclaim for years.
But as difficult as excellence is to achieve, it is harder to maintain. And by the end of the decade, with much of the roster gone or altered, the now non-teen heroes had passed their teenage prime – a sad fact personified by the introduction of the much-hated genius boy Danny Chase.
7 Secret Wars II: Beyond the Mule
What is a sequel if not both a new ending and a beginning? Unfortunately, as far as most fans are concerned, Secret Wars II didn’t even give up that he didn’t even bother to show up. Rather than another all-star extravaganza, this 1985 follow-up focused entirely on the godlike being known as Beyonder, who years earlier had pitted Marvel’s heroes against his villains.
This time he returned in human form, with an 80s hairstyle and outfit, to contemplate what it means to be human. Kind of like what would happen if, after tormenting Marvel’s Mightiest, Thanos had his own TV show and they called him Foreign resident.
6 Chris Claremont’s X-Men Original Run Gets A SNIKT
By any measure, Chris Claremont’s 17-year stint as the X-Men’s chief scribe is a welcome achievement. It was just shorter than expected. As most fans know, Claremont and then-artist Jim Lee had conflicting notions about the direction of mutantkind in the early 1990s.
With Lee’s stardom on the rise, fueled by the industry’s adoption of the image at the time, Claremont left the new x-men after three numbers. Although there were reports of what Claremont had planned, including dramatic turns for Magneto and Wolverine, fans will never really know how his soap opera would have ended.
5 Ben Reilly does what a spider can – and then doesn’t
Poor Ben Reilly. What did we say about Spider-Man’s hated storylines? Enter the clone saga. In short, Peter Parker discovers that he is a clone while the “real” Parker lives under the name of “Ben Reilly”. Many Parker clones proliferated, and Reilly became a new Spider-Man when Parker retired with his wife, Mary Jane. Fans balked, and Reilly was quickly – arguably unfairly – dropped.
Say what you will about Reilly’s original series, but readers will never know what a non-continuous Spider-Man would have meant for the title at the time. Plus, he was celibate – without a lonely, sulfur-tinged spell.
4 Death of the family (joke)
Calling a Batman story “Death of the Family” evokes dread. After all, it’s a clear reference to “A Death in the Family,” which saw Jason Todd’s Robin bludgeoned to death (or so readers thought) by the Joker.
But the Clown Prince of Crime’s latest outburst proved decidedly disappointing, leaving fans feeling like they’d just been told, “It was a dream.” If that doesn’t feel like a story just gave up, what does? At least readers didn’t have to call a 1-800 number.
3 Xorn is really Magneto… Really
The bewitching revival of Grant Morrison, New X-Men, streamlined the franchise just in time for the 21st century, delivering new concepts, honed characterizations, and, for once, a comic book unlike any other X-Men book you’ve ever read. He killed Magneto right away, for example. And it introduced new characters such as Xorn, a mutant with “a sun in his brain”, who contained his power with a particularly painful helmet.
When it turned out that Xorn was really an undead Magneto bent on his own genocidal mission, Morrison’s run suddenly felt like almost any other X-Men book you’ve ever read.
2 Bruce Wayne takes the bat back after (briefly) dying
A highlight of Morrison’s epic Batman run was their batman and robin title, which saw Dick Grayson take on the bat mantle after Bruce Wayne’s presumed death, with Damian Wayne becoming Robin. With Grayson, there was more empathy than anger simmering behind the hood. And with Damian, fans encountered a violent, obsessive, and out-of-control Robin.
Not only was it fresh and compelling, it offered an unexpected emotional undercurrent. To paraphrase Jor-El, “Father becomes son and son becomes father.” Too bad it didn’t last, with Bruce quickly returning, the possibility of creating a cross-generational mythology beyond him has once again been pushed aside.
1 The New Gods find themselves in an eternal war
There are many “what ifs” in life, and few actually involve beings at the Nexus of all realities. For example, what if Jack Kirby had completed his plans for the New Gods in the early 1970s? While these characters endure to this day, Kirby’s original intention was apparently to conclude the war between Apokolips and New Genesis, with many characters meeting their apocalypse.
But those plans stalled with the end of the book in 1972 and Kirby’s time in DC ended in 1975. Since then, the New Gods have become a staple of the DC Universe, but you have to wonder what Kirby’s ending is. had in mind and how it would have impacted his designs all these decades later.
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