Missing in action: Unfinished comics that left us hanging
Getting a comic book or original graphic novel published is hard work. Getting that book to be popular or have a long-term life, even tougher. Maintaining a book and consistently getting it out on schedule is next to impossible for many companies and creators. The few manage to do all of these things well are quite rare beasts indeed so very often books will simply disappear. What happens then when a book simply vanishes? Did it leave its readers hanging or did they at least complete the current or ongoing story? Was the book actually canceled or did the publisher simply fail to keep it going? Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon nor does it seem to be a one-time deal (especially for some folks).
The best known of all big cancellations is what has come to be called the DC Implosion. A marketing push in the late 70s called ‘The DC Explosion’ was designed to increase its shrinking market share by increasing the number of books, their page counts and, as if this was a surprise, the cover price (New 52 anyone?). The campaign was a disaster for the company which, of course, was blamed on the weather and other factors DC could not control. But what it all really came down to was the market was not going to sustain all these books, and many of the new ones were just not great. As a result, DC canceled a couple dozen books (explosion became implosion) which in hindsight may not have been the right choice. DC almost axed Detective Comics but they were talked off that particular ledge (thankfully). In their knee-jerk reaction, several of the titles that were canceled were not selling as bad as DC thought at the time. But it wasn’t until the numbers came in months later that DC realized their mistake. Keep in mind, back in the day, companies had to wait weeks and sometimes months to know for sure how many books were actually sold. They had to wait for the returns of all those covers, ripped from the discarded books by the newsstand, to be sent back for credit. Several of the canceled books are now considered near classics, at least for the era, and many of the imploded books were canceled in mid story. Only SOME were eventually finished in other books, but usually not until months later. Over the years, there have been an astounding number of books that just stopped in mid story and never continued, and even more that were promised and never showed up in the first place! Here is a list of some of the biggies from both the ‘disappeared’ and the ‘never-appeared’ categories, and the story behind these disappointments…
Stray bullets: 1995 to 2005 El Capitan Books
With 40 issues published irregularly over ten years, David Lapham’s Stray Bullets ended with one issue remaining in the then current story arc. Winner of two Eisner awards, Stray Bullets was a very popular series despite its very erratic schedule that would see months and sometimes years pass between issues. Creator Lapham himself has stated a desire to return to the series, but the demands of life as a freelancer are a strong pull on his time.
The last we saw of this book was in 2009 when Stray Bullets: Open the Goddamn Box appeared in Noir: A Collection of Crime Comics published by Dark Horse Comics. It is unlikely we will see any more of the story for a fairly long time.
All-Star Batman & Robin: 2005 to 2008 DC Comics
This series from DC was hated every bit as much as it was loved. The first issue was a monster hit, selling over a quarter of a million copies, but was widely panned for its profanity (“I’m the goddamn Batman!”) and overly dark take on the character. Written by Frank Miller and drawn by Jim Lee, this Batman book was unlike anything fans of the character had ever seen before and unfortunately, turned out to be something far different from what they wanted. Many fans at the time saw it as Miller slowly losing his writing chops and going bat-crap-crazy; an opinion many still hold today thanks to his recent works and public statements.
With only ten issues released in three years, due mostly to Artist Jim Lee’s scheduling delays; this series was hounded by critics right from the start and seemed to be ‘THE’ book to buy when fans wanted to complain about something. Fans had a long wait between issues, with only three issue released between late 2005 and mid-2007, so when an issue would finally arrive they were even faster to make their gripes known. The tenth and final issue had to be recalled, pulped and re-issued due to a printing error that allowed extensive profanities to be visible beneath the black censor bars.
Just as this book seemed to be dead and buried, DC announced last year that the series final six issues would be released as Dark Knight-Boy Wonder, but that book has yet to materialize. I think it unlikely that it will ever see the light of day. Could be worse; All-Star Wonder Woman by Adam Hughes never even got the first issue on the stands and likely never will.
Interlude: our first cause for hope…
Many series thought long dead or terminally MIA do manage against all odds to resurface many years later. Case in point JLA/Avengers, originally scheduled for release in mid-1983. After a series of previous inter-company crossovers (Superman/Spiderman and X-Men/Teen Titans) the prospects for these two teams uniting in a book looked bright. Then after being well into the first portion of the book, editorial griping between the two companies grew worse until finally, the book was dropped from the schedule. Then in 2003 Marvel and DC finally came to an agreement and the series was released, albeit with a different writer, as a four issue mini-series. The 21 pages that George Perez had completed in the 1980’s were no longer part of the story but have since been printed in the hardcover collected edition, providing a glimpse of what would have been. The series we eventually did get was pretty decent but it sure was a hard road and to date, it is the last crossover between Marvel and DC. If you are an overly optimistic person, it does allow a glimmer of hope for other series thought long-dead.
The Last Galactus Story: 1984 to 1986 Epic (Marvel)
Under the heading of ‘no hope’ for the future, John Byrne’s The Last Galactus Story. Serialized in Epic Illustrated, the magazine was canceled with the final installment of the story left unpublished. For those unfamiliar, Epic Illustrated was Marvel’s answer to Heavy Metal and in many ways was a better magazine and drew in top notch creators from all over the world to work on very personal stories and pet projects. Epic Illustrated limped along until the series was canceled with issue #34. Since the story was never considered to be canonical by anyone but Byrne, it never really got the attention it deserved. Byrne did make the end of the story and some of the unpublished art available on his website several years ago. The only way Galactus sees print is if Byrne decides to finish it on spec and Marvel decides to publish it after his death.
Mage: 1984 to 1999 Comico and Image Comics
Not technically dead and gone just indefinitely delayed is Mage, specifically the third and final book in the trilogy, The Hero Denied. Mage was and still is a masterpiece of storytelling; its two complete volumes (The Hero Discovered and The Hero Defined) tell the story of Kevin Matchstick. Kevin’s story starts out much like standard super hero fare and becomes an Arthurian epic.
There was over a decade between the first two acts of the story and my hope is that Creator Matt Wagner will get to the final book in the trilogy before I die of old age. The first two books are still available in various reprint volumes. I recommend getting the first two books, then you can join me in wanting the conclusion too.
Sonic Disruptors: 1987 to 1988 DC Comics
This one is gone forever and it is the fault of everyone involved. Released by DC as a 12-issue ‘maxi-series’, the sales were poor enough that DC canceled it by issue seven, leaving the story forever unresolved. Honestly, DC never really got behind it and series writer Mike Baron has gone on record saying the series was a mess from the start. He had no clear idea where the series was headed so this was probably no great loss to the world. I recall reading the first two issues as they came out and gave up; looks like a lot of people did that as well.
Interlude two: Another cause for hope…
Another much-delayed book was finally concluded and was well worth the wait. Planetary by Warren Ellis and artist John Cassaday started in 1999 and ten years and 27 issues later, completed one of the finest series in comics history.
Delays, delays and more delays, followed by some delays meant that years often passed between issues. Fans of Planetary waited, some more patiently than others, and were eventually rewarded with a complete epic storyline with a mostly satisfying conclusion (are we ever REALLY satisfied?). The series is available in several collected formats including two very hard to find Absolute volumes. New readers can experience the adventures of the ‘Archaeologists of the Impossible’ as they uncover the secret history of a world very different from ours, but very familiar to comics and pulp fans.
Big Numbers: 1990 Mad Love
Writer Alan Moore and artist Bill Sienkiewicz! There really was nothing more that needed to be said about this series. Two giants of the industry, at the top of their game teaming up on a creator owned book. This was a ‘can’t fail’ proposition. It failed.
The workload was so intense that the art fell behind and Sienkiewicz bowed out after completing only the first two issues and part of the third. Another artist was contracted to complete the series but it never materialized. As it stands now, bits of the unpublished issues can be found on line but Alan Moore has said that the book will never be completed.
The Many Misses of Kevin Smith
Batman: The Widening Gyre: 2009 DC Comics
Daredevil/Bullseye: The Target: 2002 Marvel Comics
Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil that Men Do: 2002 to 2006 Marvel Comics
When TV, film and prose novel creators come into comics, the results can be very mixed. Kevin Smith has had results that were more mixed than most. He had successful series like Quiver at DC, the Guardian Devil arc at Marvel and The Green Hornet at Dynamite work out well, but looking at the three series listed below can be a bit of a head scratcher.
Batman: The Widening Gyre is ‘only’ three years late and there is no solid info on if it will ever be finished. The first book consisting of six issues is done and collected. In theory, after a six month break the series was supposed to continue with the final six issues. That announcement was in 2010. Don’t bet on this book ever returning.
Daredevil/Bullseye: The Target and Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil that Men Do are even stranger cases. As with the Batman story delays due to Smith being busy working on bad films or getting over some odd personal issues have caused massive delays on these projects. With only the first issue of an unknown run being released, the Daredevil book has been basically considered dead for some time.
Unlike Daredevil, the Spidey/Black Cat series was eventually completed a mere four years after it began, but the intended follow-up of Smith taking over as regular writer on the ongoing Spider-Man series was quickly dumped (a role eventually filled ably by another outsider to comics J. Michael Straczynski). It is fortunate the Spidey/Black Cat series was completed as it was fairly good.
Smith is a bit flighty on projects and he just seemed to lose interest in them based on interviews he has given. Target was a mess right from the start and I think we may be better off without it.
Rumor mill has it that Batman: The Widening Gyre is supposedly coming in late 2013 but since it is already May with no solicitations for it yet, that is looking less and less likely by the day.
Interlude three: Not so much missing, as promised as ‘coming soon, someday…’But probably not.
There are a lot of comics that were announced, some even solicited for, and then…poof! They never showed up and many were quietly forgotten about. There really isn’t much to say about a book that never was, but here is a sampling…
Spawn/Batman: Inner Demons 2006?
A planned follow-up to the original Batman/Spawn one shot, this Todd McFarlane/Greg Capullo book was announced and then never mentioned again. The first one was fluff but a lot of fun, and this one could have been another hit.
Captain America: White 2008?
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have worked together on some astonishingly good books. Batman: The Long Halloween is a classic that heavily influenced the recent Christopher Nolan Batman films. The ‘color’ books (Daredevil: Yellow, Hulk: Grey and Spider-Man: Blue) were even better. Captain America: White was to be a part of that list. For whatever reason, it seems this book will never see a release.
Batman: Europa 2011?
Batman: Europa is another I would expect to NEVER see. With the launch of the New 52, all of the other projects that did not fit with that plan are done, at least for a while, and with writer Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee (artist for the first issue supposedly) both on other books, Europa looks pretty dead.
Astonishing Captain America 2011?
We are never going to see this one. Sorry folks. The ‘Astonishing’ line of books never really happened aside from Astonishing X-Men. The idea was a continuity light group of titles by top talent similar to DC’s now dead All-Star line. Along with All-Star Batgirl and All-Star Wonder Woman, the Marvel Astonishing line appears to have been pushed aside.
Doctor Strange 1981?
Probably the most infamous of the ‘never beens’ is Doctor Strange by Roger Stern and Frank Miller. Announced with an in-house ad in the back of Marvel’s titles, the project was very highly anticipated but Miller ended up not contributing. The book that was eventually done with Stern and artist Marshall Rogers but the real excitement had been generated by Miller being on the book. Ironically, the fan anticipation didn’t really happen until later once Miller became a hot property on Daredevil and fans remembered that ad. While the series did eventually show, it was without Miller, but fans could console themselves with the amazing Daredevil comic instead.
Fell: 2005 to 2008 Image Comics
There are times when I really dislike Warren Ellis. A badly written Ellis series is a very rare thing. When he produces something as good as Fell, with artist Ben Templesmith, and then fails to finish it I get really cranky. Thanks in part to Ellis’ hard-drive crashing (which condemned several ongoing works to limbo), Fell reached its ninth issue (of a planned 16) and stopped. Ellis has stated his desire to return to this series and complete it but the farther away we get from the last issue, the less likely that appears to be.
The story is worth looking into, however incomplete it is, and the first eight issues have been collected into a trade that is well worth picking up. Just a little story background, Richard Fell is the newest of ‘three and a half detectives’ in Snowtown, a hellish inner city wasteland of poverty, violence and superstition. There is mystery surrounding Fell himself and all of the characters seen in this series. Each self-contained issue in the volume answers some things and deepens the overall mystery even more. Templesmith’s art is stunning and oppressive, while still full of color and vibrancy.
I cannot recommend the first collection enough and maybe if enough people buy, it will light the fire under Ellis’ ass to complete this much missed book.
S.H.I.E.L.D.: 2010 to 2012 Marvel Comics
With one complete six-issue arc and another four issues in, this series was essentially abandoned in favor of any number of other projects writer Jonathan Hickman moved on to. This is another series that really needs to be concluded, the first arc of this was fresh and original, much like (and loosely connected to) Hickman’s Fantastic Four run.
Sadly, I very much doubt that this will ever be finished now that Hickman is writing almost as many books at Marvel as Brian Bendis is.
All-Winners Squad 2011 Marvel Comics
The series was originally an 8-issue mini-series but with the dismissal of some of the editorial staff over at Marvel in 2011, some of the books got the ax too. (Alpha Flight and Iron Man 2.0 being the most high-profile.) The problem is, All-Winners Squad number five was already on the stands and ended with a “to be continued…” tag. Um, what? Hello? Maybe this should be at least hurriedly finished up? According to info found out there on the good old Interwebs the series is completely written and was at least partially penciled.
Interlude four: More slivers of hope…
The Twelve by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston was a series that seemed to be rolling along very well until delays started to mount up. A series starring some of the most obscure old Timely Comics (An early version of the company that became Marvel) heroes, this was a surprise hit. The release dates started to fall behind. Issues six, seven and eight were not quite bi-monthly, and then they stopped entirely. For two and a half years the book was in limbo, the final four issues incomplete thanks to other commitments on both creators’ time. But eventually JMS and Weston got back on track and pounded out the final four issues of this excellent book.
Then there is Quantum and Woody, a very popular indie book released by Acclaim Comics in the 1990’s, when the company folded, the book went away but was successfully resurrected by Valiant last year. I have heard the new book is good but I’ve not had a chance to pick it up yet.
Miracleman/Marvelman 1985 to 1993 Eclipse Comics
(Sound of this writer weeping silently to himself) Miracleman (now called Marvelman like he was in the 1950s and 1960s) was a series from Eclipse comics that started by reprinting stories by Alan Moore and Garry Leach from Warrior magazine in the UK. The series added new material to continue the story and later Neil Gaiman took over after Moore finished his story. The series ran for a total of 24 issues and then ended very abruptly when Eclipse folded. I had an opportunity way back then when Gaiman was at a signing for Sandman to ask him what was going on and his response then was that he really wanted to finish the series, but that Eclipse had stopped paying them. A few months later the bankruptcy was official and the series looked dead.
Then Todd McFarlane purchased what he thought was all of Eclipse’ assets with plans to relaunch Miracleman. Years of legal stupidity followed, with Gaiman who believed he still had the rights that Moore had passed to him, suing McFarlane who believed he owned the character due to his purchase. Finally, Marvel Comics put their legal and financial muscle into the fight on Gaiman’s side with the promise that Gaiman would continue the series at Marvel.
Years continued to pass as more lawsuits and legal fiddling revealed far more subtlety than anyone thought possible in the ownership of Miracleman. Just recently, in what appears to be potential for hope, the legal battles seem to all be completed. Gaiman has worked for Marvel a few times in what I feel are test runs moving characters in and out of continuity to tell stories (1602 was an out-of-continuity story of the Marvel U while The Eternals was Gaiman moving the Eternals characters INTO the Marvel U). Now at the end of Marvel’s Age of Ultron story, Gaiman co-writes and uses Angela, a character that he created for McFarlane’s Spawn comic and now owns completely, thanks to the legal battles between him and McFarlane, to introduce more new wonders to the Marvel U.
Can Miracleman, now returned to his ORIGINAL name of Marvelman, be far behind? Gaiman is currently working on a new Sandman project at DC and artist Mark Buckingham is drawing Fables, but could the planets align to make room in their schedules? Hopehopehopehope!
I do have to admit to a fear with this one though. Should MM return to print and be completed, I worry it will not be well received by modern fans that were never exposed to it. Moore’s work in particular was well ahead of its time 25 years ago, but may not look as innovative and flashy when compared to the currently popular books. MM has been out of print and hard to find for so long, I fear modern fans may not be willing to absorb the complete work before passing judgment on it and dismissing it as ‘old’.
Overall it seems too often that potentially good projects get left by the wayside, leaving fans disappointed and cynical. Many great series have just sort of disappeared or were cancelled officially but I will leave you with this tiny glimmer of hope; Maybe one day they will return. It is never too late!
What do you think? Leave a comment.
Big Numbers is an absouletly gorgeous comic. It’s depressing and real and so much better and more interesting than any superhero adventure could be. It’s a shame only two issues were ever released.
Sienkewicz’s Stray Toasters is another very odd book, not for everyone, but if you liked Big Numbers, you might like it.
I’d like to see J. Scott Campbell’s Wildsiderz finished.
That was another one I considered, but not having very much info on it and having never read it, I left it off the list.
We all have a few series we got snagged on like this though…
What about Tim Truman’s Scout?
I read that originally when it was coming out. I thought it just ended, and don’t recall it ending in any left hanging kind of way. I could be wrong, I only recall the Eclipse series and we might be talking about different things.
Crossgen’s Sojourn is my choice.
This is a cool list of soon to be classics! Alan Moore’s Glory was shaping up to be something special.
Gary Spencer Millidge’s Strangehaven can come out whenever and I’m happy, but I’d like very much for it to keep coming out. One of the finest comics out there and only a few issues away from at least a semi-closure.
Never heard of it. Who published it and is it collected in trade or HC?
Oh gods yeah. Loved that series, but it just kinda vanished. In the same vein, I absolutely adored Paul Grist’s ‘Kane’, ‘Burglar Bill’ and especially ‘The Weird World of Jack Staff’. He’s said he’d love to write and draw Jack Staff forever, but it just doesn’t sell well enough for him to be able to do so. His new ‘Mudman’ series is pretty swell, tho’.
Unfinished work always is a bummer. Especially when it’s your favorite series. There are too many series, comics and other mediums, that just go away quietly.
Nothing worse than an incomplete story, I’m hoping Miller follows Old Man Logan with a sequel, though the original release is a complete story in itself, you get the feeeling its just the start of something bigger.
Supposedly, there IS a sequal planned, just not anytime soon.
I want that ASB&R vol. 2 so bad.
I really enjoyed Miller’s dark take on Batman in All star Batman and Robin. I’ve always appreciated Miller’s understanding that, despite his heroic acts and sacrifices, the man is a damned, emotionally scarred, and tortured man teetering on the edge of sanity, if not fully plummeting through insanity.
These are really great examples. I think that you could add Milestone Comics to the list as well…I know that that has more to do with money and potential race issues but they had several books that had to be ground to a halt. I think this is an excellent article…maybe it will prompt people to pick up their lost work!
In some ways this is analogous to television shows too.
What about Saga?