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Ten Tough Comics Acts To Follow

howardtheduckthumbnailWriting 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, exilesthumbnailbut 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

 

 New-Warriors-1-1990Created 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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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 

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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.

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21 comments

  • Wait…you all have missed one of the biggest ones! How was ANYONE supposed to follow Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing? Imean, we’re talking about the comic that created adult comics, the one that said to hell withthe Comic Book Code. While I love Watchmen and V For Vendetta, Moore never wrote better, to my mind, than his run on Swamp Thing.

    PS: If Swamp Thing was in fact on this list, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. For some reason, the actual list stopped for me right after Excalibur. I’d really love to read the whole thing…

  • I agree with Gary about Adam Warren’s run on Gen 13. It’s truly a shame Wildstorm/DC pulled the plug on the book because I really thought Warren was bringing it back to it’s former glory. The writing on the book was good for, oh, about the first seventeen issues or so, and then it seemed like Choi and Campbell just ran out of ideas.

    I have to disagree with some of the choices on here…Superman/Batman and the Mighty Avengers still seem to be doing all right, even without Loeb and Bendis, respectively. Superman and Batman still seem to be going strong, as does Avengers, Mighty or otherwise. For series that are hard acts to follow, I’d like to recommend instead:

    JSA–The transition from James Robinson and Geoff Johns was one of the best trapeze acts ever done in comics. Johns not only hit his stride on the book, but did it so well that the book couldn’t sustain itself after he left. Bill Willingham’s run was a huge step down, and I say that knowing that Bill Willingham is a great writer. He just didn’t gel with the JSA characters for some reason.

    She-Hulk–Dan Slott did a great job revitalizing one of Marvel’s premier heroines. He used her law degree to create a pocket of the Marvel Universe that was quirky, funny, and played by the rules of superhero comics while simultaneously satirizing them. Peter David took up writing duties after Slott left, but the book just wasn’t the same.

    Incredible Hulk–Speaking of runs, Peter David’s run on Incredible Hulk was epic. He took the character through some incredible twists and turns that were both poignant and funny, and he managed to blend drama and humor in a way that few comic writers can do. After his run Marvel essentially tried to wipe the slate clean and bring back the old “Savage Hulk” mentality, but for me it never felt right after David’s run.

    X-Men–This may be a controversial choice, but Chris Claremont’s version of the X-Men had a heart I feel the current incarnations lack. Maybe it was the sense of change and growth Claremont imbued his characters with. Maybe it was the fact that, while Wolverine was popular, the other X-Men all had their moments in the sun as well. Maybe it was the fact that the X-Men always seemed to have an uphill battle, no matter who was on the team. I’ve read a lot of the X-Men books, and it says something that the modern writers still go back and dredge up plot threads and themes Claremont laid down back in the day.

    G.I. Joe–It’s going to be hard to take this seriously, but Larry Hama wrote G.I. Joe for 155 issues. In that time he managed to make a toy soldier line into compelling characters with grand overarcing plots, compelling stories, and lasting characters on both sides. It says something that he’s been brought back to continue G.I. Joe through IDW as though he never stopped writing it. Also? His work on G.I. Joe is still pretty good.

  • I’ve always thought Camelot 3000 was one of the best comic book series I have ever read. The artwork was amazing and the story was a very interesting melding of the Arthurian legend and a futuristic twist..

  • While Howard the Duck may have been created by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik, I’d say that Cerber and Gene Colan’s run on the book were the real deal. Colan captured the absurdity and mixed it with a feel for the everyman, every day existence in a way that was unheard of at the time. Really groundbreaking stuff.

  • Gen 13 would work, if it wasn’t for Adam Warren’s run towards the end which made it way better than the original series. Warren was able to bring out the goofiness of Gen 13 and marry that to what it would be like to live as a 20 year old in Southern California with super powered heroes = reality star/celebrities. It really didn’t work to turn the title around and subsequent reboots did well enough with great work (especially Gail Simone’s take on Gen 13 that was well worth reading). But Adam Warren’s run is worth checking out because it was everything you wanted in that kind of story and much more.

    My vote for the top 10 that should be in there is Warren Ellis and Bryan HItch’s Authority. Nothing beats those initial Warren Ellis 12 issues. Millar tries to do it, but 9-11 and a cautious DC Comics gets in the way of the series so that it loses all its teeth and satire in the end.

  • Good post! I would say that the X-books written by Jason Aaron, Rick Remender, Brian Michael Bendis, Kieron Gillen, Sam Humphries, and Brian Wood do use what Morrison added to the mutant mythos, and they do those elements justice. Fantomex in Uncanny X-Force in particular is well-served.

  • I would say either Garth Ennis’s punisher max run or Jason Aaron’s recent punisher run was superb, and Ed Brubaker’s Gotham Central should get honorable mentions.

  • The astonishing x men run by Joss Whedon. Warren Ellis’ run on ultimate fantastic 4, mark millar’s run on the ultimates,and the kurt busiek reboot of conan.
    Also, Top 10 was amazing but I think I like the Smax mini series that was off shoot of the main series.

  • I’d include The Walking Dead on this list. The first six issues drawn by Tony Moore were absolute knock-outs, and the art was enough to distract from Robert Kirkman’s bland writing. Once Moore left, it was tough to follow along knowing just how good the comic had looked before.

  • author

    Here’s the tip on Hellblazer. It was thought of and mentioned. It was on the first list. More than that I went so far as to mention Ellis coming in after and kicking a ton of ass and then Azzarello after knocking it out of the park. However, I ended up going with a series that was cancelled and though Hellblazer is no longer, it’s more due to the restructuring of the New 52 than anything else.

    So, yes, you’re right. Those were amazing issues.

  • No mention of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon on those huge HellBlazer arcs? Hell, they were so good together they were given an entire run at another series (Preacher) which also kicked undeniable ass.

  • Exiles was pretty good until around issue forty or so, then Tony Benerd took over and it lost its way. It got so bad I stopped reading.

    Also Jeff Parker’s revamp was actually a something of return to form, but no one read it and it was cancelled after four issues.

    On a side note, can you imagine Exiles having a one hundred issue run in today’s industry climate?

  • author

    I have faith that Joss will explain. In the meantime, I suggest you check out: Ultron Unlimited storyline by Kurt Busiek, It is issues 0,19-22 of Avengers volume 3 illustrated by George Perez. This story also has the history of Ultron in it so it is good for someone trying get familiar with the character. It’s available on Amazon in a collected trade.

  • author

    Thanks! I’ll check it out for sure, Jack!

    And yes, Colin, that was one of the best SILENT issues to come out of that company-wide gimmick.

    Thanks for reading, guys!

  • Almost forgot, if you haven’t read it before, check out Excalibur #14. It’s probably my favorite comic book of all time. Just the most amazing, silly storyline.

  • I had forgotten all about New Warriors. Loved that series when it came out. Also while not really a full on X-book, Excalibur is my favorite of any of the mutant titles (followed closely but New Mutants.

  • author

    Fair enough. Since I had to limit myself to 10 I tried to pick 10 things I personally loved, but you’re correct in that it never regained that initial glory. That said, I was never that big a fan of the writing to begin with and felt that most of the initial success of that series was due to the art.