With all the creative team issues surrounding DC’s New 52, including the rumored departure of Gail Simone from Jason Sacks’ favorite The Fury of Firestorm we thought it would be a good time to look back on some of the biggest creative team shake-ups in recent comics history.
Any time you attempt to merge art and commerce, you’re naturally going to run into some conflict, but for the past couple decades, comicdom has seen some crazy switcheroos taking place on series. Occasionally the results are for the best, like the one that made Alan Moore a comics hot shot or pretty much anything Grant Morrison is involved in, but just as often everyone– creators, readers, characters and publishers– lose when a creative team is nixed in the middle of a run.
10. Robert Kirkman in Artist Trouble
Danny Djeljosevic: It’s funny how both of Kirkman’s major creator-owned ongoings, Invincible and The Walking Dead had artist shakeups early in their run.
Nick Hanover: What’s even funnier is that the two departing artists in question, Cory Walker and Tony Moore, had both worked with Kirkman in the past on Battle Pope, where Walker replaced Moore for a couple issues. Moore and Walker had long histories with Kirkman so it’s easy to see why he’d select them to be his co-creators on what would become his two defining works, but for whatever reason, neither artist stuck around with each weirdly enough only remaining on interior art duties for seven issues, though both would continue to do covers for some time.
Danny: Charlie Adlard replaced Tony Moore on The Walking Dead which was actually an upgrade, in my opinion. I love me some Tony Moore, but his style found better use drawing wild fare like Fear Agent than a serious, depressing zombie drama.
Nick: Ryan Ottley similarly worked wonders on Invincible, though his career was notably kickstarted by Kirkman plucking out of webcomic obscurity to replace Walker. Ottley has grown with Invincible which has enabled him to shape the book into a series that’s as beholden to his unique style as it is to Kirkman’s writing.
Danny: Both are very gory.
Nick: That’s Danny Djeljosevic everybody: the King of Understatements.
9. Doom Patrol Gets the Grant Morrison Treatment
Danny: If nothing else, Doom Patrol taught the world one thing: if Grant Morrison takes over for you on a comic book, that comic book goes completely bonkers.
Nick: Fresh off the back-to-back success of Animal Man and Batman: Arkham Asylum, DC decided to see just how good Morrison really was by handing him the reins to the perennially failing Doom Patrol, a series that was then written by Paul Kupperberg. Morrison essentially turned Doom Patrol into a post-modern analyzation of 20th century thought through the medium of comics. It was unlike anything anyone had seen before.
Danny: It revamped the Brotherhood of Evil as the Brotherhood of Dada, had a sentient transvestite street and introduced the world to Flex Mentallo, among a dozen other oddities. And what’s best is that it’s totally in line with the original Arnold Drake/Bruno Premiani issues, which were pretty bizarre for ’60s Silver Age comics.
Nick: That last point in particular is key to understanding why Morrison is so successful: despite how revolutionary his concepts are, he’s an obsessive comic fan at heart and truly believes that there’s no reason why the giddy insanity of the Silver Age can’t be used as a device for arty deconstructivist thinking.
Danny: Morrison has this amazing ability to totally revolutionize comic book properties while still maintaining what made a particular book such a success to begin with.
Nick: In fact, Morrison was so good at revamping characters like Animal Man and the misfits of the Doom Patrol that the two properties have long since struggled without him. Although in the former case we are seeing great strides as a result of Jeff Lemire’s efforts on the relaunch.
8. Marvel Hands Avengers and Entire Marvel Universe Over to Brian Michael Bendis
Nick: People probably didn’t realize this at the time, but Avengers was where the Bendisification of Marvel began. After the back-to-back success of Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man and its offshoots and Daredevil, the powers that be at Marvel decided to hand off the ailing Avengers to Bendis. But instead of simply taking over for the departing Geoff Johns, Bendis decided to completely obliterate that little comic sandcastle.
Danny: Geoff Johns had a nice little run with Kieron Dwyer and other artists along for the ride, Chuck Austen delivered a forgettable fill-in run and then Bendis comes in with “Avengers Disassembled,” which violently did away with the classic setup of the Avengers (Hawkeye, Jarvis, mansions and Quinjets) in favor of an all-star New Avengers featuring Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine and, uh, Spider-Woman, Luke Cage and The Sentry. Suddenly, The Avengers became Marvel’s most popular comic book, which it had not been for a long-ass time.
Nick: With Bendis at the helm, the Avengers’ stable soon became the first serious threat to the X Family’s dominance and formerly second tier characters like Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel became true power players. Bendis himself became an “architect” of the Marvel Universe and most of Marvel’s major events came out of his storylines.
Danny: Bendis has been the Dungeon Master of Marvel for SIX YEARS now, making his Avengers run this mega-epic that will surely overshadow all subsequent Avengers runs for years to come.
Nick: Or at least until Marvel starts cloning Bendis and he truly is writing every book the company has.
Danny: That would be a great cost-cutting measure (sorry Dan Slott and Zeb Wells).
7. The Seductive Powers of TV Result in Alan Moore Making Swamp Thing Relevant
Nick: It’s crazy to think, but if it hadn’t been for a tv career pulling Martin Pasko away from Swamp Thing, Alan Moore may never have broken through in the states.
Danny: DC had published The Saga of the Swamp Thing to cash in on the silly ’82 Wes Craven film, and Martin Pasko wrote it for 19 issues before moving on to an industry that promises more money (this will be the ongoing circular narrative of the comics industry until the world ends). But that made room for Moore to take over with #20 and just totally revamp the thing as this ecological Southern Gothic horror comic.
Nick: With his work on Swamp Thing, Moore basically paved the way for an entire legion of crazy British folk, including
Grant Morrison, who would even take over the series at one point, and future Vertigo stars Peter Milligan, Garth Ennis and Neil Gaiman. Under Moore’s direction, Swamp Thing became an immensely cerebral series about what being human means with legendary stories like “The Anatomy Lesson” showing off how much potential there still was in comics.
Danny: It also shows how much potential any character can have under the right circumstances, and with the right creators at the helm. I’m pretty sure nobody back then predicted a comic about a talking plant man would make for an enduring classic.
Nick: Except for the Man-Thing team, of course.
Danny: Man-Thing fans had to wait a while for his success, dick jokes notwithstanding.
Nick: Who doesn’t love some Giant-Size Man-Thing?
6. Warren Ellis Gets Three Failing X-Titles, Gives Up on Superheroics Afterwards
Danny: In the year 2000, Marvel’s entire X-Men line jumped forward six months as part of an attempt to revitalize the franchise. Chris Claremont returned to the Uncanny as well as adjective-less X-Men and others got a new writer and/or penciler, but the biggest change was the Counter-X label, where Warren Ellis and some co-writers (Brian Wood, Ian Edginton and Steven Grant) took over Generation X, X-Force and X-Man, respectively.
Nick: At the time all three series were in serious trouble, lagging behind in sales and relevance, so placing Ellis on the titles after he’d debuted the “cinematic comics” concept with The Authority must have seemed like a surefire success to Marvel. Unfortunately that’s not quite what happened.
Danny: The initiative wasn’t exactly a success, Warren Ellis ditched the books after half a year and the entire line of X-Books were revamped yet again a year later. WHOOPS.
Nick: Worse, they were such a flop that they scared Ellis away from mainstream superhero books altogether for some time, though the “Shoot” debacle at Vertigo which resulted in him leaving Hellblazer because of editorial cowardice probably didn’t help either. Luckily, Ellis bounced back four years later with a reinvention of Iron Man. But it’s unfortunate that this poorly received effort kept Ellis away from that later X-Revamp.
Danny: Ellis would go on to take part in another X-Revamp, but a minor one in the form of taking over for Joss Whedon on Astonishing X-Men, just as the entire team relocates to San Francisco.
Nick: The best thing about that series was the fact that Ellis didn’t even have to create a British character all dressed in white for it since one was already in existence in the form of Emma Frost.
5. Chris Claremont’s “Revolution” is a Revolutionary Fail
Nick: Of course, the other end of the Counter-X story is Chris Claremont’s grand return to the series that made him famous. Labelled by Marvel at the time as “Revolution,” the event that returned Claremont to the fold was an odd mixture of forward thinking and backwards tactics, like the bizarre decision to bring back trading cards to go along with the issues. Like the NBC debacle that saw Jay Leno’s primetime fiasco bring down Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show, it’s hard not to lay some of the blame for Ellis’s Counter-X failure at the feet of Claremont and Marvel editorial. Claremont’s writing, which had been so fresh in the ’70s and ’80s, suddenly felt tired and drab and it didn’t click with current readers.
Danny: You can’t really go home again, can you? Even if you spent 20 years building these characters and inventing the most influential parts of the franchise’s mythology, if you come back a few years later it’s hard not to be seen as some kind of intruder.
Nick: And yet Claremont got two more chances at the X-Franchise, first with the horrifically named X-Treme X-Men and then once again on Uncanny a few years later. The equivalent would be if the cast of Friends got together every half a decade to relive the glory days.
Danny: Let’s not forget X-Men: The End and X-Men Forever.
Nick: Or New Excalibur, where his notable contribution was having a character suffer a stroke. Or whatever the fuck GeNEXT was.
Danny: I just have one last thing to say, and it’s a video:
4. Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo Refuse to Turn Fantastic Four Into a Sitcom, Get Fired
Danny: Mark Waid can’t catch a break, can he? His run on Fantastic Four with the late, great Mike Wieringo proved to be a fan-favorite success until Marvel Publisher Bill Jemas demanded that the book get revamped as a goofy suburban sitcom with superpowers. Waid and Wieringo didn’t like this idea, so they were fired. Bad move.
Nick: It’s important to note that this wasn’t too long after Bill Jemas created the critically acclaimed masterpiece that was Marville, which dramatically reversed Marvel’s fortunes and ignited the industry…
Or at least that’s the version of reality Jemas was apparently living in when he suggested Waid turn Fantastic Four into comics’ first three camera comedy.
Danny: Even if Jemas was unaware, everyone else knew this was a bad idea. The resulting controversy led to Waid and Wieringo immediately returning to the book for a couple more years.
Nick: Without a laugh track, even! Worse, the entire incident added another nail in the coffin of Jemas’s executive career, which was already dying a painful death due to other instances of editorial interference. Not too long after clashing with Waid, another of Jemas’s story suggestions would result in a massive controversy for the company when Jemas drafted up Trouble. You know, the story where Aunt May sleeps with both Ben and Richard Parker and turns out to actually be Peter’s mother? Yeah, that one.
Danny: How appropriate.
3. The X-Titles Get Properly Revamped
Nick: Only a year after the gigantic disappointment that was “Revolution,” Marvel decided to make another go at reinventing the X-Titles by bringing in some fresh blood. The three biggest X-Series were given to entirely new creative teams, with Peter Milligan and Mike Allred taking on X-Force while Joe Casey and Ian Churchill took over Uncanny X-Men. But the biggest coup was Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely radically altering X-Men and rebranding it New X-Men.
Danny: Morrison was at the creative helm for this relaunch, which saw the X-Men adopting new costumes a touch more similar to the films (yet distinct from them), becoming a global organization in the form of the X-Corps franchises and becoming a lot weirder thanks to the writer’s usual touch. And again,
it also got to the heart of what makes the X-Men so great — the idea of evolution and dealing with bigotry, and equating that with youthful rebellion against previous generations. It was the most dramatic reinvention of the franchise since the massively popular Jim Lee era.
Nick: New X-Men also showed off Morrison’s brilliant use of comics’ inventiveness with storylines that featured such villains as Cassandra Nova, the evil twin Professor Xavier actually tried to strangle in the womb with their umbilical cord, and John Sublime, a “sentient bacterium.” X-Force was inventive in a different way under Milligan and Allred, with exquisite pop art visuals and a cheeky satire of a story, where X-Force became reality tv celebs rather than angry mercenaries with pouches.
Danny: X-Force was the most drastic change, because the writer, artist, style and characters all changed, essentially betraying fans of Shatterstar and Cannonball, but who cares about those fans?
2. Peter David+Editorial= BFFs
Nick: As creative shake-ups go, Peter David is basically a magnet. David has had major conflicts on several of his biggest titles, including Incredible Hulk, the series that made him famous, which he left after twelve years due to a disagreement with Marvel editorial.
Danny: That’s some serious principle on his part, ditching something you put a dozen years of your life into. How does someone even follow that? Who was unlucky enough to follow a legendary run?
Nick: Hilariously enough it was our boy Joe Casey. In between, David also left his other big series, X-Factor, because he was tired of dealing with crossovers. It’s important to note that both of these series were in serious trouble before David joined them and fell into disarray after his departure, which makes you wonder why Marvel didn’t just leave the dude alone.
Danny: After 12 years, you start to take your talent for granted, I guess. Marvel’s seemingly gotten better about it these days with “The Architects” and all the other creator-promotion initiatives, so it looks like they’ve learned since then. Must help that one of the main heads of the creative side is an artist.
Nick: David’s editorial issues went beyond even Marvel, though, as his Aquaman run ended due to “creative differences.” Even there the trend of him taking over a failing title and rejuvenating it continued, but “creative differences” in this case was specifically because David wanted to kill Aquaman and turn him into the water equivalent of Swamp Thing, which didn’t sit so well with DC editorial.
Danny: …but then they later did it anyway, after Aquaman was killed and resurrected.
Nick: So I suppose what “creative differences” really meant there was “nah, we’ll just steal your ideas and roll them out years on down the line.”
Danny: #AlanMoore #TwilightoftheSuperheroes
Nick: And yet another Top Ten is born…
1. Wonder Woman Never Met a Creative Team She Couldn’t Shake
Nick: The only creative team shake-up more massive than Peter David’s career is Wonder Woman’s latter day existence. After George Perez and John Byrne had back-to-back runs revitalizing the character post-Crisis, Wonder Woman went through 10 creative teams with appearances by most of DC’s big stars, including Phil Jimenez, Gail Simone and Greg Rucka, and cameos from the likes of JMS, Allan Heinberg and novelist Jodi Picoult.
Danny: Let’s not forget Phil Hester! But yeah, why can’t DC keep a Wonder Woman writer? Why is this character so problematic in nearly every single capacity?
Nick: A lot of it has to do with DC not giving creators a lot of flexibility or room for growth. Jodi Picoult in particular got shafted as her was not only microscopically short but was also forced into the abysmal “Amazons Attack!” crossover. There’s also DC’s bizarre belief that every Wonder Woman reboot should be paired with a costume change, as was the case with Allan Heinberg and JMS’ debuts.
Danny: Some stability would be REALLY nice.
Nick: DC’s belief that Wonder Woman is a character built around style rather than substance should tell you all you need to know about why they haven’t been able to make the character work for anyone for quite some time. At least the most recent incarnation of the title appears to be on the right track, pantslessness notwithstanding.
Danny: They’re letting Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang just do their thing, which is good. I hope they don’t quit prematurely and continue the trend.
Nick: You’re forgetting there are two trends at stake here: the Wonder Woman curse and the increasing number of departing New 52 teams.
Danny: Aw, crap.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his newest comic, “Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men,” over at Champion City Comics.
When he’s not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for “Partytime” Lukash’s Panel Panopticon.