The world of comics is full of unrealized projects, especially when it comes to the superhero genre. Marvel and DC ask creators to pitch ideas for the companies' respective characters, and for various reasons many of them get rejected. That doesn't mean that some of them aren't awesome. So we've compiled the ten best and/or most notable rejected superhero comic ideas, detailed what they were about and covered what happened to them.
Shoutout to commenter Jack Wearing, who suggested we tackle the topic in last week's top ten. And let us know in the comments of any other rejected projects of note you know about!
10. J/Arkham's Arsenal
What It Was: An admitted nerd, comedian Patton Oswalt is no stranger to comics, having written the one-shots JLA: Welcome to the Working Week and Serenity: Float On. He also wrote a couple Batman-related pitches. The first was J, a take on M where a group of C-list costumed villains hunt down the Joker, giving readers a look into the petty criminal underbelly of the DCU. The other was Arkham's Arsenal, a Elseworlds-style World War II story where Colonel Bruce Wayne leads a group of demented soldiers (and Dick Grayson) on a secret mission, Dirty Dozen style.
What Happened: As Oswalt said when he posted the pair of pitches: "A few years ago I pitched some ideas to DC Comics. They didn't bite." Shame.
9. Scrap Heap Iron Man
What It Was: Basically an attempt to reconfigure Iron Man, a superhero built around the endless resources of billionaire playboy Tony Stark, for the blue collar world, set in a town based on Flint, Michigan. The titular Scrap Heap Iron Man in novelist China Miéville's rejected pitch is named Dan and he's a former worker at the R&D plant that serves as the big bad for the story. That is, until the real enemy that shut down the plant that Dan and the rest of his "single bodied union" worked at is revealed: "Tony fucking Stark."
What Happened: Miéville doesn't exactly have the best luck with comics, as he was also once working on bringing Swamp Thing into the mainstream DCU, before the New 52 happened, but even so, it's doubtful that Marvel ever would have greenlit an in-canon miniseries that was all about taking down one of its most popular, recognizable characters. Miéville's pitch is an incendiary critique of the entire capitalist system and there's no telling what the comic itself would have been like.
8. Justice League Academy
What It Was: Joe Casey, in a recent interview with Timothy Callahan, revealed his super-populist pitch for a project called Justice League Academy, which would have the children of The Flash, Metamorpho, Animal Man, Adam Strange, Hercules and Plastic Man attending a secret school for training superheroes led by Batman (and, later, Damian Wayne). Not only would it have been a totally populist superhero book with its mix of teen drama and superheroics, but Casey's no stranger to the teen superhero school, having written the underrated/prematurely cancelled series The Intimates.
What Happened: By Casey's account, DC editorial just sat on the thing, never pitching the project to the higher-ups at the company. Eventually Marvel Comics came out with a similar project titled Avengers Academy, sinking Justice League Academy's chances.
7. The Superman
What It Was: You may not realize it, but Superman began life as a villain with telepathic powers gained from a mad scientist's experimenting. He also happened to be a breadline vagrant. That's how the story went in Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's "The Reign of the Superman," a short that Siegel submitted to various publishers that was consistently rejected, forcing Siegel and Shuster to just form their own damn fanzine to publish it in. The duo were so entranced with the Superman name, though, that they then created a comic book story creatively titled The Superman that they took to Consolidated Book Publishing, with the character now recreated as a superhero who apparently bore plenty in common with the duo's later creation, private detective Slam Bradley.
What Happened: Siegel and Shuster's pitch was rejected by Consolidated, which ceased publishing comics shortly after the pitch. Shuster was so distraught over the rejection that he then proceeded to burn the comic, with Siegel only managing to save the cover. Had things gone a bit differently, it's possible that the course of superheroes as we know it would have been radically changed. Perhaps we'd be stuck with two major publishers running crossovers between detective agencies instead of super teams.
6. Apocalypse 2099
What It Was: Grant Morrison has a
wealth of rejected projects that we know of, and one of the coolest (and lesser-known) of his unrealized comics is his and Mark Millar's pitch to revitalize Marvel's 2099 line in the early '90s. The first two titles would have been Iron Man 2099 (featuring an ultra-powerful suit of infinite possibilities piloted by a Stephen Hawking type) and a Captain America 2099 (featuring a shaken veteran of a war over the ruins of Atlantis digging up Cap's shield and taking over the mantle), leading into an event called Apocalypse 2099, where the martians from Don McGregor's Killraven would invade and a pivotal moment would involve Captain America inspiring a 200-foot Giant-Man to emerge from his 100-year coma to punch Galactus. The event would result in an Avengers 2099 ongoing.
What Happened: Marvel rejected the pitch, instead going with a storyline where Dr. Doom takes over the United States. Eventually sales on the 2099 line declined and every title was cancelled and their characters were consolidated into one series (2099: World of Tomorrow), which lasted eight issues. Who knows, maybe Morrison and Millar's pitch would have bolstered the line. More likely, no matter how awesome the project was, Marvel 2099 would have suffered the same fate anyway.
5. Marvel Publishing DC Comics
What It Was: In 1984, Warner Communications went to then Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter and asked if they might be interested in licensing DC's characters. Shooter's reaction was, of course, more or less "FUCK YEAH!" but Marvel's president at the time, Jim Galton, was not as enthusiastic. Nonetheless, Shooter eventually put together a business plan that was structured around what Shooter considered DC's top seven properties. Shooter believed they should start with those titles — which included the big three as well as Justice League, Green Lantern, Teen Titans and Legion of Superheroes — and if they were successful enough, start working on the rest of DC.
What Happened: Those pesky US anti-trust laws. Even though Shooter successfully convinced Galton to reconsider his initial rejection of the proposal (because, according to Shooter, Galton felt the characters must not be very good since they weren't selling too well at the time) and Warner was all for it, Marvel was at the time embroiled in an anti-trust lawsuit from First Comics. As Shooter puts it "I think it's safe to say that when you're being sued under anti-trust laws, it's a bad time to devour your largest competitor." Too bad Diamond didn't get that same memo about monopolies in America.
What It Was: In the mid-1980s, creators Frank Miller and Steve Gerber pitched revamps for DC's big three to be implemented after the publisher's Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover. According to comic book legend revealer Brian Cronin, the project was going to be called Metropolis and comprise three series: Dark Knight (written by Miller), Amazon (written by Gerber) and Man of Steel (written by Miller and Gerber).
What Happened: While it seems like a cohesive initiative, DC planned on taking pitches from multiple creators on each character and picking their favorites to move forward on. Gerber wasn't fond of the idea, so he and Miller walked away from the project. Miller ended up reworking his Dark Knight pitch into the classic Dark Knight Returns which led into his character-defining Batman: Year One, while George Perez and Bruce Patterson were picked to revamp Wonder Woman and John Byrne redefined Superman with the miniseries Man of Steel. Seemed to work out pretty okay there.
3. Superman 2000
What It Was: A superstar team of comic creators got together in 1998, united by their belief in a 15 year cycle of Superman getting reimagined for new generations, which they indicated would soon be starting anew since John Byrne had kicked off the last one with Man of Steel. That team, which included Mark Waid and Tom Peyer and future Superman reinventors Grant Morrison (All Star Superman and Action Comics) and Mark Millar (Red Son), drafted up a 21-page proposal tentatively titled Superman 2000, which outlined their new vision of Superman, "a role model for 21st Century global humanity." Morrison in particular was especially gung ho about the project, since one of his trademark "I met a comics character in real life!" moments partially inspired the idea after he ran into a Superman cosplayer at SDCC who had a conversation with him in character about Superman, a story he explains in detail in Supergods. The gang was given the greenlight for the first issue and set about putting it together with a projected publication date of January 2000. Then all hell broke loose…
What Happened: Basically, as is so often the case, DC editorial happened. Eddie Berganza was the brand new editor overseeing the Superman titles at the time and he was all too thrilled to have something like this be one of his first projects. Then Mike Carlin came back from wherever it is people like him vacation and threw a temper tantrum. DC had an unofficial policy in this era of keeping "big names" off of their core books, and the Superman 2000 team was undoubtedly filled with some of the biggest names in comics. On top of that, according to Morrison, editorial was adamantly opposed to letting him anywhere near their most iconic character. Hilariously enough, Morrison would be responsible for one of the most beloved Superman reinventions in the history of the character with All Star Superman.
2. Lois Lane, Girl Reporter
What It Was: Written by Dean Trippe with illustrations by Daniel Krall, Lois Lane, Girl Reporter was meant to be a series of young adult novels featuring the adventures of 11-year-old Lois Lane, a plucky kid reporter who travels the country investigating things and solving problems, meeting a young Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent along the way. The project would have added some fun elements to Lois' backstory, and even had some nice explanations of things for people obsessed with DC continuity (why doesn't Superman wear a mask?).
What Happened: Apparently, DC wasn't very interested in Trippe's pitch, so the project neve went anywhere. Which is a bummer because Lois Lane, Girl Reporter sounds like the perfect DC Comics project — a fun idea with broad appeal outside of the usual readers, but one that would still be of interest to the hardcore fans.
1. Twilight of the Superheroes
What It Was: After a long string of successes at DC, including Swamp Thing and Watchmen, Alan Moore turned his focus on a pitch that he felt would allow superheroes to finally reach the iconic status of gods. That pitch was titled Twilight of the Superheroes and Moore intended it to be Ragnarok for DC, an epic conclusion to the entire canon that would be set in the distant future of the universe, with future versions of John Constantine and Rip Hunter traveling back to present day to serve as harbingers. The story would span both timelines, with the future centered around society under superpowered rule, as various heroes and villains have united under "houses," such as the House of Steel, ruled by the literal power couple Superman and Wonder Woman, as well as the House of Thunder, which contained the Marvel family. A marriage between those two houses served as the inciting incident for the story, as various players seek to stop the marriage for fear of what the combination of those powers could mean.
What Happened: Around this time, Moore was having all manners of difficulties with DC, beginning with a controversy over ratings imposed on all DC titles to the soon-to-be-epic Watchmen rights situation so it's likely that more than anything, Twilight of the Superheroes never came to fruition because Moore was already on his way out from the company. But there's also the matter of the darkness of the material, which included such scenarios as Billy Batson getting murdered in some kind of bondage-play-gone-wrong incident and the alteration of prominent characters to turn them into seedier versions of their present-day selves. Of course, DC wouldn't flinch at that later, as Kingdom Come, Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis and Flashpoint all prove. But another impediment that doesn't get much mention is that Moore intended for the crossover to function in a way that minimized forcing readers to buy as many titles as possible. Yes, you read that correctly, Moore didn't feel like you should have to make a mad scramble through a bunch of titles you weren't interested in just to keep up with his superhero epic, nor did he feel other writers and artists should be forced to shoehorn his event into their titles. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly the type of insanity we just won't stand for in our superhero comics.
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 comic with Mike Prezzato, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery. His webcomic The Ghost Engine, with artist Eric Zawadzki, updates twice a week.
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set and functioning as the Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic who has contributed to No Tofu Magazine, Performer Magazine, Port City Lights, Spectrum Culture and various other international publications. By which he means Canadian rags you have no reason to know anything about. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.