Top 5: September 2010

Top 5 Quality Titles that Got Cancelled Because You Weren’t Reading Them

5. The Circle
When high-profile creators make independent titles all their own, it usually draws in readers.  Such was the case with Ed Brubaker’s Criminal, for example.  But when Brian Reed came out with The Circle, the readership just didn’t follow him.  Of course, perhaps being the writer of Ms. Marvel and Illuminati may not have garnered enough of a fanbase to pick up the Image Comics title.

Touted as a ’21st Century A-Team’, The Circle‘s lone story followed the gathering of a group of operatives that are, for various reasons, put on missions that are not exactly ‘legit’.  It was a basic formula that actually came across as exciting and enjoyable thanks to Reed’s obvious interest in his project.  Unfortunately, the book never had a chance, with sales never picking up to a point where a noticeable drop-off would doom the book.  In his end-of-issue comments, Reed asked readers to try to spread word of the book, but by the end of the first story, five issues in, it was clear that the sales would not allow the title to continue.

The Circle had potential but never had a chance to take off – and all because you didn’t read it.  I hope you’re proud of yourself.

4. The Order
One of the by-products of Civil War was an influx of new and retooled comics from Marvel representing the “50 State Initiative” in which registered heroes would make up super teams in each of the 50 states.  While of course no one would be interested in reading about a group’s non-adventures in Montana, for a state like California, it gave a new stage to be set.  The last issue of Civil War introduced this team as the Champions, calling back to the B-list team from decades before made up of the likes of Iceman, Angel, Hercules and Ghost Rider.  Unfortunately, after the issue was published, Marvel learned that they could not use the name anymore as their trademark on it had lapsed and was used for the ever-mediocre comic based on the table top RPG of the same name.  The answer to the problem was a name change, so when the ongoing came out, The Champions became The Order.

Led by a former actor known for portraying Tony Stark, The Order was made up of regular people who had been genetically enhanced with super powers to make the state.  This seems a bit odd – with so many heroes in the Marvel Universe, you would expect that for a high-profile state like California, the Initiative team would be more established heroes…or at least Initiative training graduates.  And that was perhaps a problem with gaining attention – The Order really didn’t fit with what the rest of the post-Civil War Marvel U was doing.  It didn’t help that the only partially well-known character was Tony Stark assistant Pepper Potts – and before the original Iron Man movie familiarized the character with movie goers.

But that didn’t mean the book itself wasn’t excellent.  Matt Fraction and Barry Kitson provided a story of a team of celebrity heroes that performed like you’d expect celebrity heroes to.  In the first issue nearly the entire team introduced in Civil War is expelled from the program for getting publicly drunk while living the LA night life, breaking a morales clause in their contracts.  From there, a relatively untested team came forward and performed to a state where the city of Los Angeles requested they set up base somewhere else, eventually sending them to San Francisco.

The title only lasted 10 issues before coming to an end, actually getting a decent amount of closure for the characters.  Fraction, while initially lamenting its lack of readership, later came back and said that he had intended to only run the title for 10 issues, but I don’t know about that one.  He took the mayor of San Francisco he had created and used her in almost the exact same role to get the X-Men into the city a couple of years later, so in some way the legacy of The Order continued on.  But seriously, you should have read it.  It was good.

3. The Irredeemable Ant-Man
It’s a long-understood quality that super-heroes have a set of morals that guides their everyday actions.  Those morals shift greatly from character to character, but almost everyone has one.  Spider-Man has his “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”.  Wolverine has his samurai-based code of honor.  Punisher has his belief that criminals must be put down by any means necessary to protect the innocent.  And so on.  But what happens when you get a hero that has absolutely no morals?  What if your protagonist is simply doing it for…no real reason?

Such was the case with Eric O’Grady, star of Robert Kirkman’s Irredeemable Ant-Man.  A lowest-level SHIELD agent, O’Grady stumbled his way into the Ant Man legacy when his friend (trained by Hank Pym to use the system) was killed in an AIM attack and O’Grady took the costume from his corpse and used it to save his own skin.  From there, he decided to keep the Ant Man armor by tarnishing his friend’s legacy in the process.  Rather than using the Ant Man powers as a hero, though, Eric instead uses it to see women, such as a fellow SHIELD agent and even Ms. Marvel naked.  He even managed to seduce his dead friend’s girlfriend and had sex with her on his grave.  Seriously.

Suffering from the low sales expected for an Ant-Man comic, Marvel ceased soliciting the title past issue 12, despite the excellent quality of the title itself.  In fact, in later issues the title itself began making fun of its inevitable cancellation, tying in other Marvel comics that had been canned for poor sales.  The title wrapped up most of the storyline threads and gave a satisfying conclusion with Eric entering the Initiative program and being tossed over to Avengers: The Initiative before eventually joining up with Norman Osbourne’s Thunderbolts.  But he wouldn’t have needed to had you just bought his damn book.

2. Captain Britain & MI-13
International heroes are often a tough sell in American markets.  The original Excalibur kept an audience largely because it featured popular X-Men characters Nightcrawler and Shadowcat, and had light-hearted stories that were a far cry from the perpetually morose scene of the other X-Men books.  Chris Claremont recently tried to redo the book with New Excalibur, using British heroes Captain Britain and Pete Wisdom, but the title was mediocre at best and didn’t last long.  With the character free, writer Paul Cornell grabbed Pete Wisdom for his Wisdom mini-series.  Absolutely no one read it, but critics praised the title heavily.  Marvel apparently thought that was enough to give Cornell the green light to launch Captain Britain & MI-13 from the mini’s story.

Perhaps the title never really had a chance.  After all, besides Pete Wisdom and Captain Britain, the title’s cast was made up of the likes of Blade, the Black Knight, and the WWII vampire Spitfire.  But Cornell and artist Leonard Kirk made each issue a must-read for those who actually took the time to give the title a look.  Characterization was spot-on, the missions were interesting and entertaining, and they even managed to make Blade interesting for the first time in…well, ever.  Cornell really understood what he was doing, and it showed with every issue of Captain Britain.

Unfortunately, not many people gave the title a chance.  Readership dwindled to the point where, unfortunately, Marvel cancelled it at issue #15.  Had it survived, the title certainly would have played well into the X-Men’s current Curse of the Mutants vampire story.  Both Blade and Spitfire have been pulled for it.  Both Pete Wisdom and Captain Britain have faded back into obscurity, though the organization was dusted off and brought out for the Heroic Age special, also written by Cornell.  But since the writer has signed an exclusive contract with DC, it looks like we’ve seen the last of the organization for a while.  And I blame you.

1. Nextwave
Nextwave is love.  I really could just say those three words and anyone who has read the title would understand and be satisfied.  But you didn’t read the book, which is why it’s on this list.  And that is why I whole-heartedly despise you.  Because Nextwave is love.  And because of you, my love is gone.

Warren Ellis wanted to write something irreverent and hilarious, without being held down by silly things like “characterization” or “continuity”.  So he apparently blackmailed Marvel into giving him D-list heroes like Monica Rambeau (the Captain Marvel during the Secret Wars era), Tabitha Smith (X-Force‘s Boom Boom/Meltdown), Aaron Stack (Machine Man), Elsa Bloodstone and the Captain (representing every generic “Captain” character ever) and made them Agents of HATE (the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort).  Tabitha’s kleptomania nabbed the team evidence that HATE actually was being funded by terrorists and didn’t seem to care, so they went on the run.  Dirk Anger, leader of HATE, didn’t appreciate it and gave chase in HATE’s headquarters – three flying submarines grafted together with steel girders.

To say Nextwave was absolutely ridiculous was selling it far short.  Monica would frequently think back to her times in the Avengers, with flashbacks featuring a chauvinistic Captain America telling her to shut up and make his dinner.  Aaron Stack would refer to all humans as “fleshy ones” and speak with great disdain for them.  Tabitha was presented as mindless, yelling out the likes of LOL and ZOMG out loud, much to the confusion of all others.  Dirk Anger would frequently switch between brilliant (to him) plans and wanting to kill himself.  Nextwave was a satirical look at the Marvel U with no rhyme or reason – it was simply an act to amuse itself.

And the title even shined beyond the story.  Issue #5 came out in two versions – one regular and one in black and white newsprint paper.  This edition, called the “Crayon Butchery Variant”, came with instructions for readers to color it themselves with crayons and return it to Marvel for a potential prize.  Pages from the winning entry were provided in the letters page of issue #10.  Issue #11 came with a splash page so awesome, that it took six editions of the title to show.  To get the entire scene, a reader would have to find all six variants and buy them.  The letters page proudly declared itself as “Nextwave: Blatantly wasting your money since 2006.”  Editor Nick Lowe even created a theme song, with the guitar tabs and lyrics provided in the first hardcover collection of the title.

The ending of Nextwave came at issue 12, for debated reasons.  Ellis initially said that he had planned to go 12 issues before passing it off to another writer.  Then it became that the rather low readership could not justify the services of series artist Stuart Immonen.  Marvel has placed the title on “hiatus” until Ellis would produce more, apparently in a series of minis, though no future of the book has been announced.  Personally, I would argue had you just bought the book when it came out, we’d have more Nextwave to enjoy and I’d probably be more focused on another Top 5 topic.  After all, Nextwave is love.  Did I mention that?

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