Deader Than Disco: Comic Books
Once these comics and creators were considered great. These days, they are considered Dork Ages at best, and widely reviled by everyone from fans to those who have never picked a issue in their lives.
- Todd McFarlane as an artist/writer has fallen to this level in some circles, with people criticizing him for his role in ushering in what some people view as the style-over-substance "Image Age of Comics". His crass contributions to getting Miracleman Screwed by the Lawyers also did him no favors in the popularity department. As a toymaker however he's still going strong.
- Frank Miller, initially the Patron Saint of bringing Darker and Edgier back to Batman comics, no longer holds the high reputation that he once had. It started when his later works (The Dark Knight Strikes Again, All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, his film debut The Spirit, and most infamously Holy Terror) faced major scrutiny among many comic fans, and now, even his earlier, critically acclaimed works are being hit with the same criticism. The final nail in Frankie's coffin may well have been the revelation of his extreme racism and sexism, views which crept increasingly into his work. The crux of this was the aforementioned Holy Terror which portrayed Arabs as an Always Chaotic Evil people who deserve to be horrifically tortured.
- The Comics Code Authority was established immediately after Dr. Frederick Wertham's book Seduction of the Innocent, which painted comics with a broad brush as contributing to deviant behavior and juvenile delinquency. The CCA was a committee that forced comic book companies to police themselves. Basically, this meant no profanity; no drug or alcohol use; no nudity or sex; no blood, gore or graphic violence; no pejorative depiction of authority, government, or law enforcement, and a host of other restrictions. For decades, most mainstream comics carried the approval stamp. This necessitated the need for publishers to establish separate lines such as DC's Vertigo so that more mature themes were allowed. In 2011, Archie Comics, the last publisher to still carry the approval stamp, dropped it from all of their books. The parent organization of the CCA, the Comics and Magazine Association of America, is now defunct and the intellectual property rights to the CCA approval seal were acquired by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
- The original Clark Kent version of Superboy is now generally perceived as the character that launched the Legion of Super-Heroes, but he was incredibly popular in The Fifties and early Sixties, when he was easily the second most popular character in DC Comics and far ahead of Batman and The Flash in terms of sales. A combination of overexposure and changing tastes meant that by the early Eighties, Superboy was very much sidelined as a character and the Reboot after Crisis on Infinite Earths removed him from continuity altogether.
- Dreamwave's Transformers Generation One comics went though this hard. When they were first announced, they had 'superstar manga-like artist' Pat Lee doing both all the promotions and a whole lot of art. The cast was straight from the old cartoon, coming during a period of 80s revival that ate those characters up like popcorn. It was advertised as a superb comeback, and sure enough, Dreamwave's entire original miniseries cracked the top ten in sales charts, with most issues even making it to #1. The success spread to the Transformers Armada comic as well, making it one of the only non-G1 comics to achieve mainstream success. They followed up with Transformers: The War Within, probably the most influential series to ever have Optimus Prime on the cover. Packaging art and merchandise of the time switched to a Dreamwave-esque style, and many of the designs of the various series (particularly War Within) would be incorporated into the following Transformers Cybertron.
But even at the height of its popularity, Dreamwave had its detractors. Complaints about fanfic-y plots and a fetish for the original 1984-85 cast abounded, and the general feel of the line reeked of faux-maturity. The artwork soon became one of the biggest complaining points, with "puffyformers" and "Dull Surprise" becoming common fandom terms to describe Pat Lee's art style (which all other artists on the payroll were forced to use). These complaints intensified with rumors that Pat Lee himself wasn't just a bad artist; he was a complete scumbag who refused to pay his employees, took credit from much better artists, and siphoned company funds into buying himself a Porsche. When Dreamwave went bankrupt from a mixture of flagging sales and Lee's embezzling, the public opinion of Dreamwave as a company flipped completely into "hate." Since then, aside from War Within, Dreamwave's books have pretty much vanished from the eyes of both the fandom and Hasbro (outside of the occasional Sunstorm toy), and many of the writers and artists who got their start there seem to regard it as an Old Shame. Even stylistically resembling Dreamwave books (using mostly the '84/85 cast, quoting Transformers: The Movie, killing off Puny Humans or GoBots) is enough to get alarm bells going in some circles.
- The fall of WildStorm is somewhat legendary in comics. It was a success story at first, being owned by Jim Lee at the height of his popularity and receiving attention from creators like Warren Ellis and even Alan Moore. Later on in 1999, it would be bought by DC, which caused no small amount of unease, but the launch of The Authority seemed to make the future certain for Wildstorm, becoming one of the iconic comics of the early aughts. But, as time went on, it became pretty clear that nobody at DC knew what to do with Wildstorm, least of all company president Paul Levitz, who regularly screwed with books and storylines. There's a clear trend of creators, often with long histories at DC and Vertigo, going to work at Wildstorm and then quitting the company forever - Alan Moore, Mark Millar, and Garth Ennis all saw some of their last DC stories come from Wildstorm. This also resulted in plenty of story lines being prematurely cut off or being left in the hands of people who couldn't care less about the comic, leading to massive Continuity Snarls. Ennis was particularly well-publicized; The Boys was one of Wildstorm's only decently-selling comics at the time, but Levitz refused to publish it, so Ennis took it to an independent publisher and bet that the relaunched comic would outlast Wildstorm itself. He turned out to be correct, as Wildstorm was dissolved in 2010 due to miserable sales.note DC attempted to move the few properties that still had some name recognition to the New 52 relaunch, but all of them have been cancelled since then, leaving the universe's future looking increasingly grim.
- The Ultimate Universe was created in 2000 as an Alternate Continuity to Earth-616, the canon Marvel Universe. The idea behind it was to update the origins of characters who had been around for four to five decades for the new millennium, and avoid the Continuity Lockout that comes with a canon that old, thus allowing the new Marvel fans of the Turn of the Millennium to start fresh. It worked for a good while, to the point that in virtually any discussion of a generally disliked story or severe Continuity Snarl in the main universe, you were guaranteed to get at least a few people recommending the critics to try Ultimate instead. Cracks began to appear when Jeph Loeb was hired to write the flagship book, The Ultimates; Loeb at his best is a polarizing creator, but this was a Loeb mid-Creator Breakdown over the death of his son, and the comic quickly turned extremely dark and violent, especially with the Crisis Crossover Ultimatum, which killed off many popular characters such as Cyclops and Wolverine (the event was originally intended as a Continuity Reboot that didn't pan out, so Loeb felt free to go wild). Sales tanked and critics skewered Loeb. An attempt was made to jump-start the continuity in the Marvel NOW! initiative, featuring relaunches of The Ultimates, Ultimate Fantastic Four, and Ultimate Spider-Man. Alas, the former two bombed and were swiftly canceled, leaving the entire line with only one book (a book that also had the benefit of having the same writer for its entire run). Meanwhile, the earlier parts of the continuity, many of which were written by the controversial Mark Millar, were increasingly looked at with scrutiny, mostly due to Milar writing many of his protagonists as very dark Anti Heroes, most infamously Wolverine being an ephebophile, The Incredible Hulk being a cannibal, and Yellowjacket being a Domestic Abuser. Today Marvel 616 is the most popular comic book narrative in the world, while Ultimate is frequently seen as "That universe full of Designated Heroes and a good Spider-Man," and many fans were counting down to the day the continuity is finally put out to pasture, even before Secret Wars (2015) destroyed the universe and transferred the remaining characters, including Miles Morales and the Maker to Earth 616. The minimal fanfare its demolition got aside from a single mini-series should tell you how far the setting fell.
- It's hard to imagine, but there was a time when Chuck Austen was a well-regarded figure and a legitimately popular up-and-comer in the world of comics. After a number of fits and starts, he was catapulted to fame by the twelve-issue miniseries US War Machine, which played on the mix of the manga boom and the popularity of mature comics to become a surprise hit. When he was placed on Uncanny X-Men, running simultaneously with Grant Morrison's seminal New X-Men, it was no surprise at all to readers.
The result? The Draco, an utterly nonsensical story about Nightcrawler being a demon and a conspiracy to appoint him Pope. An arc that served as a bizarre retelling of Romeo and Juliet that featured midair public sex. Juggernaut turning good and porking She-Hulk. The introduction of Creator's Pet Annie Ghazikhanian. Austen also had short runs on many other famous books, from The Avengers to Captain America, each time being chased off by increasingly irritated fans. He eventually jumped ship to DC, who handed him Action Comics, at which he proceeded to write a Derailing Love Interests plot that pleased neither Lois fans nor Lana fans. It would be his last mainstream work. Chris Sims summed him up thusly:"When you look at that crowd of new comics writers that was really making waves at the start of this century, guys like Bendis and Geoff Johns, Austen was right in there with them, with four solid years as one of the most prominent writers in that crop of creators. And yet, the best thing you can say about Austenís work in super-hero comics is that occasionally, it wasnít absolutely terrible."
- Identity Crisis was never lacking in detractors, but this was primarily because it was so big and popular; it was The Big Comic of 2004 That Everyone Was Talking About. Everywhere you went on comic sites, there were people debating over what Identity Crisis meant for the industry, whether its tonal shift boded darker stories, and whether the DCU would ever be the same again. But as the years ground on, the general opinion of Identity Crisis slipped from "controversial masterwork of our time" to "half-baked edgy fumble." Maybe it was how few of the story threads set up by Identity Crisis actually went anywhere or weren't promptly ignored or retconned, maybe it was how everyone tried to copy it at DC for a few years with increasingly weaker results, maybe it was that people started examining it and separating it from its hype and found that it was actually a very lacking story in many ways. Whatever it is, Identity Crisis has very few fans today, and whenever someone admits to remembering liking it, they'll usually be greeted by everyone else pointing out its plotholes.
- A possible contributing factor is writer Brad Meltzer, a rather successful novelist for whom Identity Crisis served as his first comic work. After such a "seminal" work, readers waited avidly for a massive followup work that never surfaced, as Meltzer returned to novels reasonably quickly. The only other notable comic on his resume is a brief and unremarkable run on Justice League of America, and consequently, he's remembered (if at all) as a one-hit-wonder at best.
- Crisis Crossover comics are very prone to this. Nearly all of them sell massively, get rave reviews, and are prophesied to change their universe forever. The number of these books that actually maintain their high reputation is considerably lower. Books like Bloodlines, Fear Itself, and Our Worlds at War litter quarter bins today, despite once dominating sales charts. Simply put, permanently changing something in shared-universe comics is tricky, "big events" are hard to get into if you don't know what was going on at the time, and the impact of a Crisis Crossover is hard to grasp when you know that everyone who died came back in a couple months and all the new characters starred in slow-selling books before getting canceled and killed off in the next crossover.
- "Endgame", the famous 4-part supposed-to-have-been Grand Finale for Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog has become this in recent years. At one time, it was a popular storyline, with how the stakes seem to rise, culminating in a one-on-one No-Holds-Barred Beatdown between Sonic and Robotnik. However, due to a combination of time passing and the bad publicity garnered towards writer Ken Penders in the wake of his lawsuit that led to the comic being forced into a Continuity Reboot, many fans have begun to call it nothing more than an Idiot Plot.
- The same goes for the Knuckles the Echidna spinoff series. Like "Endgame", the series was lauded for its storytelling and collection of characters. However, time was not kind to this title either, with many aspects being criticized, especially the fact that the series had a group of former Guardians who did jack shit to help save Mobius. However, while the stories and concepts have been criticized, many characters haven't, which makes Penders' lawsuit all the more bitter towards these fans.
- Romance comics were once a decently hefty genre, arising in the period immediately following World War II when adult comics readership increased and superheroes were being dismissed as passť. Flagship romance comics like Young Romance experienced resounding success. By the early 1950s, dozens of romance titles from major comics publishers were on the newsstands and drug store racks. Nowadays it's effectively dead and the small few, weak attempts made to revive the genre have failed miserably. This happened thanks to two compounding issues:
- The implementation of the Comics Code Authority, which meant the genre couldn't take risks and display things outside of the traditional, sweet and clean heterosexual mushiness. Since exploring sexy things outside prudish norms was a major reason people were picking up the books, this effectively robbed them of their appeal. When the sexual revolution of the '70s came around they were seen as even more boring.
- Romance comics were aimed largely at women, during a time period where comics were still widely seen as a boys-only thing, so they were never able to attain the same success as other, more generally-aimed comics. Not to mention women that read comics typically are reading for the same things as the men (superheroes, fantasy comics, the like), so once the Comics Code kept romance books from showing off the pulpy, subversive material that appealed to them, women lost interest. Many books could easily survive the loss of a demographic, but romance comics weren't one of them.
- Rob Liefeld, while never without detractors, was considered one of the most successful writers/artists during The Dark Age of Comic Books. He created several famous characters, such as Deadpool and Cable. He also helped start Image Comics and was influential through his work on Young Blood. However, after the Dark Age ended, he became a laughingstock for being a Lazy Artist (not drawing feet, creating unrealistic/generic character designs, and overusing pouches), and for copying other people (for example, Deadpool started of as a Expy of Deathstroke). Today, nearly nobody likes Youngblood, which is generally considered a poor rip-off of the Teen Titans, and Image has moved away from Superhero Comics like it. Cable and Deadpool are still popular, but that's thanks to other writers who developed them in different ways than Liefeld and are generally considered their true creators by fans. What little goodwill Liefeld still had by the 2000s dried up after a much-publicized feud with Peter David after the latter revealed that the character Shatterstar, who had been created by Liefeld for X-Force and was at the time being used by David in X-Factor, was bisexual. This move was very well-received by fans, but Liefeld was incensed that the move had been made without consulting him and many felt his comments on the subject treaded worryingly close to bigotry.
- Image Comics' Superhero books. Image had started off as a competitor to Marvel and DC, having taken disgruntled writers from the former, and like them it had a superhero Shared Universe. However, several factors came together to undo the setting; the failed 1995 Crossover with Valiant Comics, Deathmate, really damaged the company (and killed Valiant outright), while The Great Comics Crash of 1996 hurt it even more. The growing backlash against Dark Age tropes began draining sales, as Image's superhero lineup was largely made up of Nineties Anti Heroes in an era where people were looking for more traditional superheroes. Today, Image now specializes in Genre comics and creator-owned properties, like The Walking Dead, Saga and Rat Queens, which are all self contained. The only current Image Superheroes with a notable fanbase are The Savage Dragon and Spawn, both of whom long-ago moved away from their Nineties trappings. Note that two of the writers on this page, Liefeld, and McFarlane, used to be prominent in Image's superhero comics.
- In the late nineties and very early aughts, there was a trend for gritty books about superheroes who use their powers to overthrow dictators and violently put down extraterrestrial threats (the quintessential example of this being Wildstorm's The Authority.) The September 11th terrorist attacks and the resulting invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq greatly chilled publishers' appetites for such comics. Not helping matters was the fact that most such comics tended to get used by the writers to promote their own personal political beliefs.