If you’re reading this you already know that comics can be such a wonderful thing. How many times have you got so into a series that you were counting down the days for the next issue? That excited little, giddy glee when you see the comic you’ve traveled to the dodgy edge of town to buy waiting for you on the new releases shelf (let’s face it the best comic shops are always in areas you wouldn’t wander into at night).
How many friendships have grown from having comics as a common interest? Seriously there are people who I absolutely can’t stand who I’m able to have an awesome conversation with when it’s about comics. Even the cliché and cheesy side of comics can lead to a few good laughs, affectionate banter while goodheartedly poking fun at the medium’s sillier side.
But then there is the dark mirror image to that fun. We’ve all been there. You get invested in some storyline, you buy into the incredible build, you’re excited, you get sucked in with those amazing posters and that catchy tagline like “Nothing lasts forever” that gets you all hot with anticipation. Only to be let down massively. It’s like when I was all geared up to watch the final episode of Deep Space Nine, waiting for that final epic space battle between the federation and the Dominion only to find they’d simply reused all the footage from the battles in previous episodes. That one stung bad!
Sadly for every Dardevil: Born Again or Fall of the Mutants there are many more stories that miss the mark. So take a seat and witness with my public therapy sessions as I revisit those storylines that were disappointing, uninspiring and in some cases were amongst the worst things ever to be drawn on a piece of paper.
Dark Knight Strikes Again
No one would deny Dark Knight Returns place in comic history as a ground breaking series. It came at a pivotal moment in the development of the genre as an artform just starting to be taken seriously. It was instrumental in the development of the graphic novel, certainly the first one I ever shelled money out for.
Showing a restraint very rare in the comics industry, DC refrained for so long from returning to the future world of the Dark Knight. Fifteen years it took for Frank Miller to bring us this long awaited follow up, and sadly I wish he’d never bothered. A lot had changed in comics between the two series. Gritty adaptations of superheroes were no longer seen as being cutting edge, fact is it had become fairly common. It wasn’t that long since we’d had the excellent Kingdom Come. Even so expectations were high, after all this wasn’t some other writer continuing the Dark Knight story, this was Frank Miller coming back to the world he had created.
What arrived in comic shops in 2001 was about as welcome as a tramp wandering in from the rain. Dark Knight Strikes Again is one of the ugliest comics I;ve ever read.The artwork is God awful, a weird explosion of garish colours and blocky, inconsistent sketching that frankly looks rushed and seems to deteriorate as the story progresses. It’s like being kicked in the face while having strobe lighting beamed into your eyes.
There’s no hidden beauty to redeem this assault on your eyeballs as the story is just as bad. When I first read this book (actually first is a bit misleading as I’ve only read it the once) I found myself rapidly scanning past panels as my interest and patience were worn down by a confusing story that my mind just gave up trying to keep up with. I’ll level with you, I’ve no intention of revisiting this horrible comic just to remind myself of the story for this column. Suffice to say it’s convoluted, goes nowhere and is just a virus on your eyeballs.
One scene did stick with me for all the wrong reasons. Bluntly, Superman gets it on with Wonder Woman in an unerotic display of superhero sex, during which their love throes send shockwaves around the world, causing volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and other displays of schismatic destructions. We ‘re flippantly shown an aircraft carrier being capsized in tidal waves, presumbly causing the deaths of the crew. So yes, two of the most virtuous heroes in the history of comics don’t give a flying fuck (pun intended) that their careless shagging probably causes the deaths of untold innocent people. Wonder Woman looks horrible in this comic by the way, and let’s face it any comic that can make her look bad is one to avoid.
I just want to point out this is not the Death of Superman storyline I’m talking about here, as that is as epic and well worked a story centred around a single brawl that you are ever going to find. Despite being an obvious commercial stunt, it’s worthy of being called the biggest fight of all time, an emotional ride, full of heroics with a true heartbreaking aftermath.
The graphic novel I’m including on this list of comic hell is a collection of all the stories featuring Doomsday after Superman’s death and rebirth. The main story is on the obvious rematch between Superman and Doomsday, as the Man of Steel sets off across the galaxy to make sure his nemesis is finished once and for all.
Like many return bouts it’s a disappointment. Having it set away from Earth robs the confrontation of the apocalyptic impact that we saw the first time around with Metropolis being destroyed around them. Not that there is much I the way of action anyway. Instead, this is a really pedestrian affair, with Superman for the most part stood around watching others tackle the big beast. It’s a long, drawn out story that finally sees Superman get involved wearing an unflattering new costume and dispatching Doomsday with a time travel device that I guess is meant to show brain over brawn but really comes across as a real bitch move.
Of course Doomsday strikes back many times in this collection (including the rather inevitable team up with Superman), but it’s a true case of diminishing returns. The ferociousness shown in their first battle is never replicated especially when Doomsday is given intelligence and a personality. Perhaps DC felt that they needed to evolve the character as there wasn’t much story potential in a relentless, raging beast who’s only role is to destroy everything in his path. Maybe they were right. If that’s the case though, why bother bringing him back?
The only thing to recommend this collection for is the horrifying origin of how Doomsday was created over centuries of genetic evolution. It’s a fittingly violent origin that only serves to emphasise how watered down the creature was to become. Don’t worry DC fans and not picking on you guys, from this point on it’s all about Marvel. By the way I think it’s so adorable you guys are finally trying to do your own shared movie universe. Bless you.
Acts of Vengeance
When this massive crossover occurred in 1989 I had cut back heavily on my comic buying, restricting myself to a few X-men titles a month. I was in my late teens and had other interests that were taking my time and cash. But in any case the quality of Marvel as a whole had been deteriorating for a while (I’d even come to ditch the X-men would be ditched during the dire shadowking saga).
However the poster for Acts of Vengeance, depicting several supervillains standing over the broken weapons of the Avengers was a striking, intriguing image. Still I never read it at the time.
Several years ago I discovered this massive 750 page tome collecting the Acts of Vengeance story and thought it may be fun to revisit and learn what I’d missed out on. God was I wrong. The premise behind this “story” is that the main villains feel that they’ll never defeat their regular foes because the heroes know them and their powers too well. So they come up with the idea of swapping foes, with the logic that the heroes will be unused to dealing with the new villains and vengeance will ensure (surely a better plan and frankly storyline would be to form one giant army and descend on the heroes one at a time).
Creatively there is a logic here in that it creates the opportunity for fresh matchups that we’ve not seen before, (such as Thor vs Juggernaught). Unfortunately they do nothing to mak any of these encounters remotely interesting. Every story is the same, villain shows up, attacks hero, they fight a bit for little reason and hero after winning or driving off the villain is left to scratch their head and stare off into the sunset thinking “wonder who’s behind all these attacks”.
The answer is Loki and eventually the heroes band together and go beat the shit out of him. There you go I just spoiled it for you, so no need to read this piece of shit crossover. I’ve just done you a huge favour.
Seriously, this is a bad storyline and it does not lend itself to being collected together and read as one. What it does confirm is that I was right to give up on Marvel around this time. The comics were so bad, the artwork laughably so. The Iron Man story where he battles The Wrecker is some of the worst art I’ve ever seen, it’s embarrassing that this made it’s way into print.
Gimmicks were obviously around at this time as for some reason Spiderman was running around with all these new cosmic powers. Something that naturally didn’t last. And then there is Quasar! There are three issues worth of story devoted to the most generic looking Superhero ever. Dull in character, powers and story he’s a total entertainment vacuum, how he was ever deemed worthy for his own series is beyond me. If you think I’m joking or being harsh then take a look at the Wikipedia page for this storyline. No one can even be bothered to a detailed piece on this. Hardly surprising as I found the stories so bland I ended up skipping large chunks of it.
Incredibly aside from this colossal telephone directory like collection there is a further collection of lesser tie ins, with a page count of a further 750. That’s 1500 pages of pure garbage and I challenge anyone to be able to sit down and read all of it.
I loved Ultimates and Ultimates 2 and consider them to be amongst Marvel’s masterpieces. An incredible retelling of the Avengers with a realism and cinematic scope that makes it a breathtaking triumph. Expertly written by Mark Millar, wonderfully illustrated by Bryan Hitch, these two volumes are everything a comic in the 21st century should be.
Then Jeph Loeb and Joe Maduerira came along and thought “screw all that” and made it into a generic superhero comic. The cartoon, manga style is just so jarringly out of place, and there’s a massive overuse of splash pages with impossible superhero poses and laughable displays of human anatomy.
Combine this with a story and dialogue which is about as cliché as they come and you have a comic that resembles nothing to the previous chapters in the Ultimates. Every bit of character development seems to have been ditched in favour of a childish superhero fare that shouldn’t even be a part of the regular Marvel Universe let alone the more sophisticated Ultimate Universe.
Far as I’m concerned Ultimates 3 is just like the Star Wars prequels, they never happened.
Captain America: Born Again
I admit this entry is a bit of an odd one, because I’m not saying this is a bad comic. I loved Brubaker’s whole run on Captain America. The Cold war like theme of the story played to Cap’s strengths (I’ve never felt the character worked when in the more Cosmic or magic based stories), and the artwork was glorious, if I could sum up my own taste in how a comic should be illustrated I’d just point to the artists used throughout Brubaker’s tenure.
Born Again is the conclusion to Brubaker’s saga that included the Winter Soldier and Death of Captain America stories. His writing remains strong here and the artwork is done by one of my all time favourite artists Bryan Hitch. So why the inclusion here, you may ask?
It’s to do with the way Steve Rogers is brought back to life. I remember talking to a friend just after the assassination of Captain America story and we were discussing how great it was handled, how moving the reaction of the population of the Marvel Universe was. At the end of our chat my friend laughed and said “So, what do you reckon? Clone Steve Rogers or alternative universe Steve Rogers?”
Because we knew that eventually Rogers would have to return (personally I was enjoying Barnes as Captain America and would have been happy with Marvel being bold and holding off the return for another ten years) and it was going to be interesting to see how they were going to get around Cap being shot and his body resting at the bottom of the Arctic.
Well, Marvel’s solution was creative but I still felt cheated.
You see it turns out Cap wasn’t shot with any ordinary bullet, he was shot by a gun that instead displaced him in time. All along, the overall plan being that the Red Skull was to take over Roger’s body in the ultimate victory over his hated adversary. It’s one of those bullshit old school Dr Evil moments that makes you want to slap your head and yell “For God’s sake just kill him! You had him dead to rights, shoot him with a normal gun and be done with it!” It really makes your evil masterminds look like idiots when they do something like this, especially as the comic had succeeded in imbuing a realistic sense of motivations in it’s characters.
To make matters worse I don’t think Marvel has done anything decent with Rogers since his return. Even the immediate aftermath was underwhelming as regards the reaction of the superhero population, Cap being brought back should have been a massive emotional deal and should have made a massive impact on his first major storyline back.
Which brings us to….
I’ve been wanting to rant about Siege for some time, because it was such a waste of an opportunity to conclude several years worth of storylines in a spectacular fashion. I try not to play fantasy storyline writer, because I’ve never written a comic so what really do I know about the craft? But I am the sort of reader who is very easy to please, so if I’m seeing storyline opportunities which have been missed and missteps in storytelling then I think something has failed along the way.
My problems with Siege is that like so many storylines these days we are thrown into it with very little build. If you’re not a regular reader of Thor there is a good chance you’re not even aware that Asgard has been on Earth. Certainly there hadn’t been any simmering tensions that you could sense escalating into the biggest battle in Marvel history. Done right, this story should have had a year of build, a few incidents and confrontations here and there that cause mistrust between America and the Asgardians, setting the stage for an impending conflict that Norman Osborne would be happy to manipulate.
Instead the story relies on the predictable story of Osborne causing a tragedy in order to justify taking action Asgard. This is such an overused plot device that’s featured in everything from Star Wars to 9/11 conspiracy theories and it’s become boring.
Then we get the attack on Asgard (a mere ten pages into the first issue of the main title) and the resulting battle is a major disappointment. The art fails to express the epic scale needed for this being the highly touted biggest battle of all time. It’s missing the long range shots of the vast armies at war, check out the battle for America in Ultimates 2 to see what I’m talking about.
There’s also a severe lack of story to the conflict. It’s just endless brawling and shooting with no real purpose, no sense of objectives or keys to victory. There’s no flow to the battle, no sense of back and forth. You could really mix the panels containing the fight scenes into any order and it wouldn’t matter.
You can have a massive battle and still give it a story, take the battle of Agincourt or the stand of the 300 at Thermopylae, read any field battle in Shakespeare. Hell, take the battle scenes in Secret Wars, where at least you had some psychology to the action, even if it was as simple as having combatants getting knocked out and thus being taken out of the battle until there was only one triumphant side left standing.
When Cap and his forces arrive on the scene it should be a turning point, changing the tide of the battle. Yet when he does make his entrance there’s no real sense of who actually has the upper hand at that point, if the cavalry is going to come to save the day you need to show that the good guys are on the verge of defeat. Otherwise it’s just more guys joining the battle, which is kind of what we get.
What’s annoying is that this could have been so great, but even the stuff they had been building well they don’t take advantage of. Take the feud they had between the Avengers and Osborne’s dark avengers. The doppelgänger nature of the rivalry led to a natural, personal feud and Siege would have been the perfect place to have the ultimate showdown between the two sides. However it’s lost in the big mess of the larger battle. Surely a story could have been worked in where the Dark Avengers separate themselves from the main conflagration for some dark reason and the Avengers go after them and bring them down? Hawkeye taking down Bullseye, Ms Marvel taking down Moonstone, it writes itself really. But instead the big showdown is with The Void and I swear to God I thought I was reading Onslaught all over again.
There are some good moments in Siege. I especially liked the Avengers: Initiative side of the story where ironically it’s through the villains Taskmaster, Constrictor and Diamondback that we get the human story of fear and trepidation of combatants going off to war. Initiative also expands on the investigation into Osborne’s role in the stadium massacre which is a welcome side story from the events at Asgard (although Songbird who had pledged to bring down Osborne should have been included here, again another build up that was ignored).
Overall when I finished reading it I felt a massive dissatisfaction and could only think of ways it could have been so much better. And that is not how a major storyline should leave a reader.
Now after reading my sinister six of comics that darkened my favourite reading pastimes I’m sure you’ll notice a couple of glaring omissions. Where is the Clone saga? Where is Brand New Day?
Well the truth is, this isn’t meant to be an extensive lists on the worst comics of all time. Like all my articles, this is just my personal experiences of being a comic fan. So Clone saga isn’t covered here because I’ve never read it, never will and not going to pretend that I have. Likewise I haven’t read Brand New Day but I will say that erasing a good chunk of Spiderman’s history severely pissed me off and actually put me off reading Spiderman any further. Let’s face it, if you’re going to erase events from Marvel’s continuity there’s a lot of stuff that should take precedence.
So anyway, after this miserable experience I can console myself with the fact that I have less than a week to go before I get to see Age Of Ultron. A whole week before North America, sorry to my friends over the pond, I’ll try not to spoil the end of credits scene for you all.
Til next time, I’m Dazza