Like any medium, there are few pieces of work that earn so much praise they become standards of their art form. Comic books are no different. The problem is, like film and music, some of these are not as good as the hype says they are. These are the books that have developed an aura of perfection around them, that to even be critical of a slight aspect earns the wrath of fans everywhere. Some can be good, but at the same time, they are not as revolutionary as they are made out to be. I have the utmost respect for the creators involved, but these comics don’t work that well. Sometimes the creators’ reputations drive the book’s fame, sometimes it is nostalgia. Here are 10 comic books that received a bit too much praise for their merit.
10. Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters
Much like The Dark Knight Returns, Mike Grell’s miniseries was an attempt to tell a grim and gritty story with a character that did not fit the ultra violent mold. Grell is a talented artist, and a good crime writer, but his grip on the character of Oliver Queen is woefully lacking, and that is what ultimately brings the series down. Gone are the defining elements of Green Arrow, with the superhero elements toned way down, and the violence turned way up. This was a character that previously locked himself away in a monastery after accidentally killing a criminal. Here, Green Arrow has no problem killing, and the idealistic man of the people approach to the character is replaced with much more violent, Objectivist view. Ultimately, Grell’s miniseries kicked off his long run with the character, something that would ultimately have a negative impact on the character until Kevin Smith came in with a much needed back-to-basics approach.
I loved this series. It was over the top gonzo journalism told through a science-fiction filter, with some excellent art along with it. However, that’s really all it is, a wonderfully twisted tribute to Hunter S. Thompson. There’s nothing revolutionary to the series, nor is the main plot particularly thrilling enough to stand on alone. The cartoony aspects of the series grow more and more absurd, and at a certain point, it stops being hilarious and starts to lose a little of its luster. For all of the fun that Spider Jerusalem’s insane actions offer, the series ultimately ends up a good, but not truly brilliant comic book.
8. The Ultimates
While Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch struck gold with the second Ultimatesminiseries, the first falls flat. Very decompressed, the story takes forever to get going, and the cast mostly feels like caricatures. For a story that tries to be grounded in realism, the sudden alien subplot near the end of the series comes off as odd, and overall, Millar seems to be trying to pack in too many “cool” moments. Instead of their desired effects, most of these scenes feel forced and clunky. The creators said they tried to re-do The Avengers as a Hollywood blockbuster, and it shows. Stylistic and widescreen, the miniseries is ultimately devoid of substance and overdosed on style.
7. Final Crisis
Love it or hate it, DC’s multiverse was a major part of its mythos, and the Crisistitles had done a great job of exploring the ramifications of it. Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis felt very connected, and shared a great story. Final Crisis feels so far removed from it that it is hard to see any of the connections. More of a New Gods story than a multiverse story, Final Crisis starts off as a murder mystery and then gets bogged down in a rapid-fire plot and a completely out of left field bad guy. Not really stand alone in its own right, the series seems more concerned with tying up elements from Morrison’s Batman run then telling its own full story. It is not really a Crisis story, and as a final take on the New Gods, it is ultimately lackluster.
6. Brian Michael Bendis’s Daredevil
Bendis is a writer that does his best work in the crime genre, and while he is certainly in his element with Daredevil, he missteps on many levels. Matt Murdock’s life as a lawyer is pushed to the side, isolating half of the character’s adventures. Similarly, Foggy Nelson gets played more for slapstick humor than anything else. While Bendis had the noir tone of the series down pat, his penchant for decompressed and drawn out stories proves to be the undoing of his run. Events took forever to get going, and much of the series used a big twist, only to not follow up on it later.
5. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four run
This is a prime example of a good run that has become deified in the eyes of many. There is no denying the impact of the Fantastic Four; the initial issues revolutionized what superheroes could be, and the kind of stories that could be done with them. For all of the Galactus stories and new characters, a lot of the stories were much of the same, with Reed Richards constantly getting the team into financial trouble. This got more noticeable as Lee and Kirby’s run went on, and by the end of it, it is easy to tell that they were starting to run out of ideas. The art is impeccable and some of the concepts wonderfully new for the time, but it is more of a mix of brilliance with mediocrity than a complete string is success.
4. Action Comics #775
The premise of this single issue is great, and definitely worthy of praise, but it is the execution that brings this one down. Much like Kingdom Come set the classic superheroes against their 1990s anti-hero equivalents; Action Comics #775 set Superman against The Authority-like team called The Elite. The idea was simple: show readers why the non-lethal heroism of Superman is better than the fight and kill style of The Elite. The problem comes from the storytelling methods. The pacing does not really flow, with a poor introduction of The Elite, and the final showdown fails to convey any of the action. The creators’ efforts are in the right place, but ultimately Action Comics #775 is just a disappointment on a good idea.
3. All-Star Superman
A multiple Eisner-winning title, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s miniseries aimed to “strip the Man of Steel down to his timeless, essential elements.” What happened instead was a revelry in Silver Age goofiness, where plot points came and went, Superman was rendered without a personality and at many times felt like a supporting character in his own book. Quitely’s art does not help; characters expressions are hard to read, and many figures end up with exaggerated anatomy, or in Superman’s case, looking fat. All-Star Superman tried to make the Man of Steel inspiring, but in the end it came off as too alien to the concept of the character, and too staid to really have that uplifting effect it set out for.
2. The Dark Knight Returns
Widely considered the best Batman story of all time, Frank Miller’s dystopian-future story is an odd take on the Dark Knight. There is no central plot to the comic, leaving only a forced fight scene between Superman and Batman as an out of place climax to the story. What truly damages is the book is Miller’s take on Batman. Gone are the traits that define Batman. The gothic atmosphere has been replaced with sterile militarization, and Batman went from a figure of the night who never kills to a hulking brute who has no problem using guns when necessary. While it was definitely a fresh take on Batman, The Dark Knight Returns falls flat due its misuse of the central character.
This is an interesting book. Widely considered the Citizen Kane of comics, Watchmen is almost universally praised and regarded as the standard every comic tries to match. It is meticulously plotted, and the effort that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons put into the series is very visible. The problem is that for all the effort, the story is terrible. A murder mystery in name only, Moore seems to forget what the plot is for attempts at layered story telling, preferring form over substance. In its effort to deconstruct superheroes, Watchmen leaves the plot to suffer. When the big twist finally comes around, the story has been so muddled in tangents and despicable leads that the reader’s investment in the story is all but gone. Moore’s attempts to tie the murder plot in with his Cold War story comes off as clunky and forced. Ambitious in scope, but a victim of its banality and negativity, Watchmen is ultimately an example of a lot of hard work put in for a disappointing product.