There’s nothing like falling for a comic title or character, only to have it ripped to shreds by abysmal decision making on the part of its creators. In tribute to the myriad ways we’ve had some of our favorite comics all but destroyed, we present the top 10 ways to ruin a comic. (WARNING: This list has a spoiler or two, or three.)
10. Recycled Plots
They say the well of creativity has run dry throughout entertainment; that all original ideas had their heyday long ago and our efforts since have been one long exercise in remakes. Comics are not exempt from this rather cynical yet often true point of view. Plots and plot mechanisms are rehashed time and time again, slightly tweaked and sold as fresh ideas. While a comic may survive with a tired old plot, and indeed may become an entertaining story in the end, those who’ve read comics for a while will easily recognize rip-offs and re-dos for what they are. Case in point: how many times can Superman be bested by a weapon made from kryptonite? No, seriously, how many? Even Batman had a go with kryptonite “brass” knuckles. What’s next? Kryptonite blow tickler? (At least that would be original, except technically they’d be stealing the idea from us. You heard it here first, folks.)
9. Spin-offs Gone Wild
You find a fabulous comic. You are in love with said fabulous comic. You’d read anything produced under the title. You faithfully collect, and collect, and collect…until the inevitable happens. A fabulous comic becomes a franchise. And even if it’s a fabulous franchise too, it soon takes on a life of its own. Spin-offs are like the heads of Hydra, cut one off – or in this case, pick one up from your local comic book shop – and another will sprout. Despite your best efforts to keep up with the comic you originally loved, you cannot find enough hours in the day to read all the spin-offs, not to mention financing the hobby. And the spin-offs are often tied in to the main stories, so it’s hard to read one without a barrage of footnotes referring to the other. This can really ruin the experience of collecting and eagerly anticipating the monthly release of a comic you enjoy. Consider the X-Men, if you will, who have more spin-offs than pretty much any group out there. No matter how much you love a good mutant tale you couldn’t possibly follow them all, which leaves you with no choice but to let some slide. How disappointing.
8. Stereotypes R Us
Few things stick out like a sore thumb the way stereotypical characters do, as they jump out from the book for all the wrong reasons. Whether it’s the misogyny-drenched caricatures of females penned in decades past or ideas a bit more with the times, a stereotype does little more than make us roll our eyes – at the very least. If the writing is particularly bad, it can even anger an audience. For a perfect example of a stereotype that mars an otherwise superb series, look no further than the villainous pimp in NYX: Wannabe. X-23′s “Daddy” talks like a gangsta rapper vomited alphabet soup all over the page. We get it: he’s a pimp. We get it: he’s got a gang. We get it: he is, to put it in as PC a term as possible, a minority. Why the series had to wrap all three up in a disgustingly stereotypical package and tie it neatly with a bow, we’ll never know. The end result was his “performance” only served to distract us from an excellent plot, and make a buffoon of the one character we were meant to fear.
7. Sudden Infancy Syndrome
We’ve decided to give this purely horrific phenomenon a medical term all its own: sudden infancy syndrome, since it’s so jarring and so terrible it deserves its place among even the most disgusting diseases. If you happen to have read the Uncanny X-Men series, you know where we’re going with this. Picture it: a fantastic storyline develops in a dramatic arc. The X-Men are doing what they do best, kicking butt individually and as a collective unit. You’re positively grooving on the adventures they embark upon, until…out of nowhere…a sadistic, blobby bastard decides to turn them into toddlers. Then, as intensely creepy giant-headed child versions of themselves, they stumble around in epic fail while being chased by a group of superpowered lawyers. This comic, #461, was so bad we’d consider sending some superpowered lawyers after the creators for the emotional anguish we endured just reading it. Please, future comic writers, never be tempted to turn your heroes into ankle biters. Not even if you have an X-Babies series in the wing. (Why, oh why, did we need an X-Babies? See under #9 on this list…)
6. Time Travel
Time travel has a lot of potential for better or worse. There are some genuinely good time travel plots, at least in theory. But what all too often ends up happening is one of two potential pitfalls: confusion or ridiculousness. In the case of the former, it’s pretty clear how time travel can make your head spin. Particularly when it comes to characters facing future versions of themselves, and even moreso when a hero’s future self has become a villain, when the writers provide us very little information about how the transformation occurred. To us, it just seems like a cheap way to work in a bad guy without putting in the hard yards to develop him. But the greatest ill of time travel is when it takes out half the world, if not the universe. When Cable discovered an infant who was the mutants’ greatest hope (a la Elora Danan in Willow, only minus the tiny people), he vowed to protect her despite future-dwelling Bishop’s desire to destroy her. Bishop hopped back in time from a future where mutants are massacred or herded into camps in order to do the dastardly deed. In response, Cable jumped into the future, which created a giant goose chase in time, until Bishop preemptively destroyed entire parts of the world – like Australia – to prevent Cable from time traveling there. The more Cable ran, the more of the world Bishop wiped out. Are we meant to find this the least bit believable, or the least bit appealing? With neither Cable nor Bishop able to sit still in one time, the whole plot made us feel antsy.
5. Attack of the Clones
Can you ever have too much of a good thing? When it comes to cloning a superhero, the answer is an emphatic yes. The original was more than enough to satisfy us, thank you very much! But that hasn’t stopped writers throughout the history of comics from falling back on this device that was tired even before it first hit the printer. Add to that the fact that clones get very confusing very fast, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Half your audience is bored with the old plot mechanism, and the other half has no idea what the heck is going on. We’re looking at you, Spider-Man. That’s right, you heard us. Ben Reilly? Cain? Scarlet Spiders? Huh? Our suspension of disbelief could only take so much weight. The suspenders are firmly broken. But hey, at least it’s not as bad as Thor and Ragnarok…
4. Continuity in Cliffhangers
It’s bad enough to leave a cliffhanger unresolved, which happens in the world of comics enough to be a glaring annoyance. But when you end with a massive cliffhanger and carry on with a totally different circumstance from where the previous issue finished, you’ve got a serious problem. Trust us: there’s a reason film production crews include a continuity contingent. Audiences are smart enough to remember what happened before and compare it to what comes next, especially with a cliffhanger. Take, for instance, Amazing Spider-Man Presents: American Son. At the end of one issue it appeared as though he was shot in the chest – oh no! A potentially fatal wound! We waited a month to find out what happened next, and…just kidding! It’s really only a shot in the shoulder! To that, we say: WTF?!?! We don’t know if this was a deliberate deception (for some reason we can’t possibly understand), or simply a cop-out as the creative team went back to the table. Either way, it’s a sure-fire way to infuriate your readers.
3. Death: It’s Just a Flesh Wound
There’s no avoiding it. However the writers go about arranging it, your favorite hero will meet an untimely and often incredibly messy end. You’ll grieve, but a little voice inside you will tell you it’s not over. It can’t be over. Because it’s never over. Superheroes bounce back better than silly putty. Even if it’s hugely unbelievable and often completely unexplained. This pseudo-reincarnation is currently in full swing in Batman’s story. He was killed, but he’s returning to life by working his way backwards through history, becoming a Batman for every era. That’s right – there were Cave Batman and Cowboy Batman, among others. (Cave Batman in particular loses credibility points for being hideously ugly.) A not dissimilar thing happened to Captain America, as well. And let’s not forget one of the most egregious examples of undeath gone awry, Psylocke’s ludicrously complicated brushes with death. You know it’s bad when you labor for several issues with nothing more by way of explanation for her return to life after an autopsy than “we government scientists have no idea…so here, you take her, X-Men”. The scientists couldn’t wait to wash the grime of ruinous plot device from their little inked hands.
2. Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain
There are few things as heartbreaking to a comic lover as a key change in a comic’s production team mid-stream. There’s simply no way that changing an artist or a writer in the middle of an arc can be a totally smooth process. Even mimicking a previous writer’s or artist’s work can hit all the wrong notes. But usually the new staff will come on board with their own notions and unique talents, and a very distracting disruption in the flow of the series results. Sometimes this can’t be helped. Jobs are jobs, after all. But when it wreaks havoc with a character’s very personality – as he or she is scripted differently by the new writer than by the previous one – it becomes a whole new brand of evil. And an abrupt change in artwork can utterly shatter a comic. In the case of the aforementioned NYX: Wannabe, where the artist changed halfway through the limited series, the change was noticeable enough (and in the eyes of many, unpleasant enough) to take the focus off the story…which is something no creative team should ever allow. (Thankfully the solid writing carried the series through.) The bottom line is while change is sometimes unavoidable, we really can’t ignore the man behind the curtain. If you switch personnel, we’re going to know. And more likely than not, we’re going to be unhappy about it.
1. A Deal With the Devil
Number 1 on our list was never in any doubt: poorly executed retcons, or total reconsideration of key points in a comic or the comic’s story arc altogether, are the quickest way to kill a good comic dead. And there is no clearer example of this than the One More Day/Brand New Day complete and abrupt change in the Spider-Man we came to know and love over the years. When the team at Marvel decided it was time for Spidey to return to his roots, back to the days of youthful bachelorhood, they decided to simply erase his and Mary Jane’s marriage as though it never occurred. The mechanism? To save Aunt May’s life Spider-Man made a deal with the devil that sacrificed his marriage. The end result? Spider-Man staff quit during the process, and the upheaval in story was universally panned by critics and received with little short of outrage by fans. A deal with the devil, indeed.