Ten Tough Comics Acts To Follow
By Shawn Depasquale on August 13, 2013
Writing an ongoing series is no easy task, yet multiple properties have been printing for decades by constantly bringing in new creative teams to continue the stories. Usually these creative shuffles are for the best, they breathe new life into the characters and more often than not reinvigorate sales. That, however, is not always the case. A few of the titles and teams listed below took over or relaunched an old concept, but sometimes a creative team is so phenomenal on a particular book, their storyline so seminal, that the bar is raised too high for the creative team that follows to even dream of reaching. In a few rare cases, after a couple of changeovers, the book is cancelled; it may sometimes be relaunched years later, but even then, it never seems to recapture the magic of that initial run.
Let’s take a look (in no particular order) at some of these remarkable, inspired runs and nerd-out for a minute over what makes them so memorable:
Fabian Nicieza & Mark Bagley - New Warriors
Created by writer/editor Tom DeFalco for a three-issue arc in The Mighty Thor, this hodgepodge team — Firestar, Marvel Boy, Namorita, Nova and Speedball — were joined by a new character of DeFalco’s own creation, Night Thrasher. Marvel, always hungry for a new team book, quickly gave the New Warriors their own series, written by Fabian Nicieza and drawn by Mark Bagley, still in the early stages of his storied career. Nicieza wrote 53 issues of the series, which lasted another 22 under the control of Evan Skolnik. The characters were all spun off to their own titles at one time or another, and several attempts to relaunch the series have been made, but no one has been able to recapture the frenetic energy of Bagley’s art or Nicieza’s confident, nuanced plotting and characters.
Gail Simone & Brad Walker – Secret Six
The Secret Six has been around in one form or another since 1968, when it was first created by E. Nelson Bridwell and artist Frank Springer. While each iteration has had a varying degree of success or failure, the undisputed champion of this title has been longtime DC writer Gail Simone. Simone relaunched the concept as a team of criminals in the DC limited series Villains United, a lead in the company-wide Infinite Crisis event. The idea proved to be a brilliant one, and the new, villainous Secret Six was given a mini-series, written by Simone with art by Brad Walker and Jimmy Palmiotti. Gail’s unique and often hilarious take on the characters was strong enough to convince DC to launch a Secret Six ongoing series a few years later. The series reunited the team from the mini-series (Catman, Deadshot, Scandal, and Rag Doll) but also introduced Batman backbreaking steroid junkie Bane into the mix, as well as an original character created by Simone named Jeanette (a white-haired, freaky-eyed “Banshee” who appears to be at least 150 years old and has the ability to sense death, which I guess is kind of like when dogs can smell cancer). The series ran for 36 issues before being cancelled due to low sales, but remains a critic- and fan-acclaimed contribution to the DCU, as well as the most successful incarnation of the series to date.
Alan Davis – Excalibur
Marvel UK’s answer to Captain America was a Chris Claremont-created character named Captain Britain, a hero from an alternative reality with super powers gifted from the otherExcalibur. Captain Britain was joined by his lover Meggan, an emotionally unstable shapeshifter with the ability to mimic any other superpower at will, as well as remaining X-Men Nightcrawler, Phoenix, and Shadowcat (Kitty Pryde) and her pet dragon, Lockheed. Claremont and Davis left the book by issue 34 (Davis left first at issue #24) with a ton of dangling plot threads that would remain unresolved until Davis returned to the book as both writer and artist. Davis returned to the book with a renewed creativity that reinvigorated the series by introducing several new characters and lightening the tone closer to that of the earliest issues. Under Davis’ sole direction, readers were introduced to several new characters, among them a magician, a mutant with animalistic features, an evil gypsy, an alternative reality team of mutants called the N-Men, and their own evil doppelgängers. The characters and many of the ideas in both Claremont and Davis’ arcs have continued to be used even as recently as Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force.
Alan Moore & Gene Ha – Top 10
One of the few creator owned books to attempt to continue despite the departure of the original creator, Top 10 tells the story of a group of officers at the 10th Precinct Police Station in a city where everyone has superpowers and wears a costume (even children, pets and the elderly). Alan Moore’s vivid and often bizarre imagination is on full display in this series that features not only a super-smart Doberman in a man-shaped exosuit (he’s the Lieutenant), but also a plethora of visual sight-gags and references to a litany of fictional worlds and characters. Gene Ha’s detailed artwork showcases the oddities of the world while retaining a relatable, emotional quality that coupled with Moore’s dialogue makes each character instantly likable. The initial volume, referred to as “Season One,” ended with a few unanswered questions, and was followed by a prequel and semi-sequel, both written by Moore, who then retired from writing comics. Two attempts were made to continue the series due in part to high demand from fans, but Moore never returned to writing duties and both attempts were short-lived.
Brian K Vaughn & Adrian Alphona – Runaways
Runaways was developed by Vaughn and Alphona as part of Marvel’s Tsunami imprint, the company’s attempt to appeal to young manga readers with digest-sized formatting and a young-adult-aged cast. The book followed six kids who run away (see what they did there?) from home after they discover their parents are secretly the supervillain organization known as “The Pride”. Vaughn’s initial run saw the kids discover their own latent powers and abilities, confront their evil parents, deal with the death of one of their own and glimpse their own possible dark future. His talent for characterization brought Alex (prodigy and team leader), witch Nico, Chase (the son of mad scientists), Karolina the alien, super-strong (and super young) Molly, and Gertrude (telepathically linked to a Velociraptor) to vibrant life for a thrilling 24 issues. It remains the definitive run on the book, proven by the fact that when Vaughn left and Marvel brought in heavy-hitter Joss Whedon, the book only lasted another five issues before it was cancelled. Marvel brought the book back with two other creative teams, and while they were valiant attempts, it was eventually cancelled again. Vaughn, who has since gone on to write for Lost and is currently the show runner on Under The Dome, has made no mention of returning to the book from which he is a… wait for it… runaway (I’m here all week, tip your waitress, try the veal).
Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely/Various – New X-Men
Creepy identical triplets with psychic powers, a woman made of diamonds, a bird-man who pecks his enemies to death, a devious, teenaged genius obsessed with a infamous mutant master of magnetism, and a Chinese man with “a star for a brain”… what do all these things have in common? The answer, of course, is Grant Morrison. One of the masters of his craft, Morrison is on full display in every issue of this groundbreaking revamp of Marvel’s most popular franchise. He introduced characters, plotlines, and even slogans (Magneto Was Right) that are still at play in current X-Men comics. Although his schedule on the book remained sporadic throughout the run, Frank Quitely’s unique style and innovative storytelling techniques set the bar so high that to fill-in for him Marvel had to pull in superstar artists like Ethan Van Sciver, Igor Kordey, Phil Jimenez, and Chris Bachalo. Morrison introduced concepts like secondary mutations, a nanotech Sentials, and destroying the mutant-haven island of Genosha. This run also introduced readers to fan-favorite Fantomax, created as a super-sentinel to police the mutant population, the son of a technorganic organism whose living tissue was fused with Sentinel nanotechnology at the cellular level who became pregnant when she was fertilized with nanomachines… in other words, a Grant Morrison character.
Steve Gerber & Val Mayerik – Howard The Duck
You might think I’m just looking to ruffle some feathers by including this title on the list but before you call fowl, let me explain; Howard The Duck is quacktastic! Howard was created by Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik for the Adventure into Fear anthology, but Gerber’s clever, social commentary-laced stories and existentialist humor earned the the character a shot at his own title. It was in the confines of his own series, and under the loving care of Gerber, that Howard reached his full potential. At its best when Gerber used the series as a means to explore his own notions of politics, current events, or even self-aware parodies, the character flourished under the control of his creator. A clash between Marvel and Gerber lead to his removal from the book and one of the largest creator rights cases in American comics (SPOILERS: Marvel won). There’s a happy ending to this story, because after many attempts at using the character and never quite regaining the edge and wit of Gerber’s run, company and creator were able to make peace and Gerber returned to his fine feathered friend in a six-issue mini series that was a true return to form for the ol’ webbed feet.
Brian M. Bendis & Frank Cho – The Mighty Avengers
Launched during Bendis’ epic revamp of the entire Avengers line, The Mighty Avengers, was intended to run parallel to the events unfolding in New Avengers, also written by Bendis, who probably has several clones of himself in his basement to write all the books he does every month. Bringing his usual combination of Sorkin-inspired dialogue and vibrant characterization, Bendis juggled a massive story about the return of Ultron, a maniacal robot with serious daddy issues, while reintroducing the readers to several lesser-known characters such as Ares and The Sentry. The rest of the team, lead by Iron Man and Ms. Marvel, included The Wasp, Black Widow, and Wonder Man. Frank Cho, without question one of the best artists working in the industry, provided his usual stylized, anatomically precise character work, but unfortunately fell behind scheduale and left the book earlier than expected. He was replaced by Bendis’ long-time Ultimate Spider-Man collaborator Mark Bagely, who is not only a mind-blowingly talented artist but one of the fastest pencillers in the business, to bring the book back on schedule so the dual storytelling aspect would remain intact. Perhaps the most controversial element of this run was Bendis’ choice to re-institute thought balloons to the storytelling process, something that had mostly been phased out of comics somewhere in the mid-’90s. The experiment was met with mixed results, enough of them negative that the gimmick was eventually dropped. Bendis left the title after completing his work on issue 20, at which point Dan Slott was brought in to continue the series lasting only 16 more issues before being cancelled. A relaunch of the book was announced for September 2012 under the creative direction of Al Ewing and Greg Land; the new team is composed of more street-level characters like Luke Cage, Ronin, Superior Spider-Man, She-Hulk and the Falcon.
Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuiness - Superman/Batman
If you’re gonna bring together your flagship heroes, two of the biggest names in comic book history, a pair of heroes so powerful they’re virtually undefeatable (except for those few times they’ve died…), you’re going to need something big for them to punch. DC Comics delivered when they hired Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness to craft a larger-than-life, big-budget, bust-’em-up. Supes and Bats (that’s what their friends call them — they’re my friend… oh, please, let me have this), team up to take on Rogaine before-picture model and newly elected US President… Lex Luthor! That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though, because this book is chock full of giant robots, a bad-ass Toyman (that’s right… a bad-ass Toyman!), and Luthor in a redesigned supersuit like the one used in the old Super Friends cartoon. After McGuiness departed, Loeb was joined by Michael Turner (this would be his last DC job, he passed away in June 2008), and together they reintroduced Supergirl and had Superman face off against Darkseid in a follow-up arc that threatened to eclipse the first. Not to be outdone, McGuiness would eventually return to the title for Loeb’s final five issues, a storyline that saw Superman and Batman take on Joke and the troublemaking imp, Mister Mxyzptlk.
Judd Winick & Mike McKone – Exiles
The Exiles were a mismatched team of reality-jumping heroes thrust into a Quantum Leap-esque adventure to right wrongs (or “hiccups”) in various timelines and alternate realities of the Marvel Universe. The eclectic team, each pulled from a specific reality, made the book an instant hit with fans: Blink (a character from the dark Age of Apocalypse timeline), Mimic, Magnus (son of Magneto and Rouge (scandalous!)), Nocturne, Thunderbird, Mimic, and Morph (MORPH! Morph is in this book! What’s not to love?!?). In addition to his stellar characterization, Winick introduced several surprising plot elements, such as the Tallus, a device worn by the team’s leader that provided them with instructions in each new reality… kind of like Ziggy in Quantum Leap. To keep things interesting, it is revealed that whenever a team member is killed or too injured to continue with the mission, they are immediately replaced with a new team member. Mike McKone brought the characters to life with strong line-work and talent for facial expressions, while consistently imagining new worlds for our heroes to leap… er… be exiled into. Just in case there weren’t enough Leap parallels for you, it should also be noted that a darker team of travelers, called Weapon X, was introduced in the series’ fifth issue, consisting of Sabretooth, Kane, Mesmero, Wolverine, Maverick, and Deadpool. After Winick’s departure, the series changed hands several times until legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont was brought in to finish the book’s run. While the series lasted a full hundred issues, fans and critics seem to agree that the series never recaptured the magic on display in Winick’s first twenty-five issues.