One of the harsh realities of being a comic fan is the painful moment when a favorite series is suddenly removed from your pull list, having been unceremoniously canceled due to low sales, changing market trends or some other nefarious force. Some books are canceled not due to any problems with the story or art, but because, for whatever reason, they didn’t find the audience needed to survive. Still others find themselves dead on the vine early on, due to a lack of fanfare surrounding the book’s debut.
But sometimes a book is a diamond in the rough — a well-crafted, innovative title that deserves a chance to survive in order to find the audience you just ‘know’ is there, somewhere. Over the years, DC Comics and Marvel have published — or in one case, never actually did publish — a number of series we feel deserve a second life, usually because the creators involved were firing on all cylinders, and the books were cut before they truly had a chance to find their audience.
Heck, even “X-Men” was canceled at one point — maybe there’s hope for some of these books yet.
“Chase” (DC Comics, 1998): Created by Dan Curtis Johnson and J.H. Williams III
For 10 issues — including a #1,000,000 issue, of all things — DC fans were treated to a Bond-eque, street-level view of the DC Universe though the eyes of DEO Agent Cameron Chase. Debuting in “Batman” #550, Chase was a plain clothes agent charged with investigating superhuman crimes in the world filled with aliens, monsters, gods, wizards and vigilantes. “Chase” was a book that was ahead of its time, its pacing and themes pre-dating similar titles like “Powers” and “Alias.” The title character’s backstory was a gripping and tragic one, a past where her father, the costumed hero known as the Acro-Bat, was viciously killed by the villainous Dr. Trapp — sending Chase on a path where she profoundly hated the world of heroes and villains and considered herself the first line of defense against these gods and monsters. In one very memorable arc (“Chase” #7-8), the DEO agent took it upon herself to discover the identity of Batman. Her presence made the DCU somehow richer and more fantastic, and the character could have become DC’s answer to Nick Fury or even something better, a semi-broken woman who was charged to take down gods using simple detective work and guts. A regular supporting character in the similarly canceled-too-soon “Manhunter,” Chase has resurfaced in the New 52 in a semi-adversarial role in the pages of “Batwoman,” which was, not coincidentally, co-written by her co-creator J.H. Williams III. It’s a darn shame “Chase” was not given the time to become an even greater part of the DC Universe, but at the time, fans didn’t gravitate towards the title’s elegant simplicity of a normal woman who found herself in extraordinary circumstances.
“Generation Hope” (Marvel 2011-2012) By Kieron Gillen, James Asmus and Salvador Espin
There are a plethora of X-titles on Marvel’s publishing schedule at any given time, so many that sometimes a great mutant title could get lost in the multiple X-Men, Wolverine and X-Force-led series. “Generation Hope” was such a title. Current “Iron Man” writer Kieron Gillen crafted a book dealing with themes of alienation, suicide and loneliness, all viewed through the lens of Marvel’s adolescent mutant population. The team, led by the ‘mutant messiah’ Hope Summers, represented the next generation of mutants and a rekindling of Xavier’s dreams. Despite its heady themes, the book was an action-packed romp combined with deft character development. A number of the characters have been shunted off into other books since “Generation Hope’s” cancellation, which speaks to the appeal of Gillen’s creations, but if left to survive, “Generation Hope” could have been the modern generation’s “New Mutants.” It’s certainly true that X-titles often become redundant due to the huge number of books Marvel publishes each month, but “Generation Hope” had a voice and a purpose which, sadly, was never truly realized.
“Dial H” (DC Comics, 2012-2013) By China Mieville, Mateus Santolouo, David Lapham and Alberto Ponticelli
What could have, should have been a Vertigo series (it was even edited by Karen Berger), China Mieville’s “Dial H” was another in a long line of attempts by DC to revive their classic “Dial H for Hero” property. This title had it all: It was written by a hugely popular contemporary science fiction novelist who came with a built in following; the book featured great artwork; it had, in Berger, one of the best editors in the business; the concept of the title was a fantastic premise; and it featured covers by the great Brian Bolland. The problem was, it was very non-super hero title was marketed towards a superhero audience. Some Vertigo loyalists wandered into the unfamiliar desert of DC proper, but not enough as one of the most innovative and exciting comics on the stands only lasted 18 issues. In a just world, Mieville’s name alone would have guaranteed a protracted run, but DC fans did not take to the experimental nature of the writer’s story. But man, for those of us along for the ride, it was exciting, with each issue introducing new and fevered superhero concepts for protagonist Nelson Jent to transform into. Heroes like Boy Chimney, Captain Lachrymose, The Rancid Ninja, Ctrl+Alt+Daffodil and Tugboat. The book even managed to include the decidedly mainstream superhero the Flash and still maintain its edge of insanity. It would have been great if Jent’s adventures could have continued, but despite critical acclaim, “Dial H” never found a steady audience. What could have been a Vertigo hit similar to “Transmetropolitan” became a DCU footnote.
“Saucer Country” (DC/Vertigo 2012-2013) Created by Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly
“Saucer Country” could have been Vertigo’s latest treatise on American mythology and politics, if it wasn’t whisked away so soon. Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly were crafting a political drama for the information age, a sort of “X-Files” meets “West Wing” mash-up that combined flying saucer folklore with the even stranger world of American politics. Each issue was like a lecture on the history of flying saucer and alien abduction history, a paranoid page turner that was as satirical as it was chilling. The series’ examination of modern American views on race combined with the amorphous world of UFO chasing made “Saucer Country” a distinctive experience, month after month, yet the brilliantly conceived title was lost in the noise of the New 52 and was given the ax after 14 issues despite rave critical reviews. “Saucer Country” was a totally original politically charged sci-fi thriller with a human heart — here’s hoping we hear more from Cornell and Kelly about its rumored resurfacing at an other publisher, soon.
“Spider-Woman” (Marvel, 2009) By Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
After 2006’s wel-recieved “Spider-Woman: Origin” by Brian Michael Bendis and the Luna Brothers, fans were promised an ongoing series starring Jessica Drew. Fans waited and waited, and finally, in 2009, Bendis and his frequent collaborator Alex Maleev premiered Drew’s monthly series, a noir espionage story that saw Spider-Woman become an agent of S.W.O.R.D., Marvel’s spacefaring spy agency. It was a riveting series, filled with alien espionage and super-human spy stories, and it proved to be a great direction for Jessica Drew, a character fans waited ages to see in her own book. Bendis and Maleev had just given fans an appetizer of how cool this premise was, and then it was gone. After fans waited three years for Bendis to explore one of his favorite characters, the series was canceled seven issues in due to Maleev burning out on it, having been producing the series not only for print, but as a motion comic at the same time. While understandable, it was a darn shame because “Spider-Woman” was one of those books which really stood out from the rest. Bendis did utilize Jessica to the fullest in the pages of his “Avengers,” but such a rich character deserves her own spotlight for more than a handful of issues.
“The Defenders” (Marvel, 2011-2012) By Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson
How do fans know that a “Defenders” title just isn’t viable in today’s market? Because Marvel tried launching one, helmed by two fan-favorite creators at the top of their game. Crafting huge stories, Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson presented big ideas, grand, cosmic concepts and bombastic superhero action, and like all the “Defenders” titles in recent years, no one reacted. Marvel did everything it could to make sure the title would succeed, giving the book a major push coming out of the massive “Fear Itself” storyline, putting two of the hottest creators in the biz on the title and giving them free rein to tell their surreal, strange story, all while marketing the hell out of the book. Alas, despite the book featuring the best written Dr. Strange in recent memory, despite Iron Fist coming off his own critically acclaimed series a few years earlier (also written by Fraction) and despite solid reviews, fans’ minds did not open wide enough to accept a new “Defenders” series. (A subsequent take on the team, “Fearless Defenders,” ended late last year with issue #12.) Marvel will be trying to reform its famous non-team team again, this time on Netflix as part of the company’s live-action series deal, and maybe there, the Defenders can thrive. In the meantime, seek out the trades on this can’t-be-missed series that, somehow, everyone missed.
“O.M.A.C.” (DC Comics, 1974-1975) Created by Jack Kirby
As Jack Kirby was coming to the end of his contract with DC Comics in the mid-70s, the greatest superhero artist to ever live sprung “O.M.A.C., the One Man Army Corps” from his fevered imagination onto the printed page, and unexpected fans were treated to eight of the most absolutely insane comic books anyone could conceive of. It’s just too bad it couldn’t have lasted longer. Set in a future only Kirby could imagine, “O.M.A.C.” told the story of Buddy Blank, an average Joe that would transform into the titular One Man Army Corps to take on adversaries that could only have burst forth from Kirby’s mind’s eye. The comics legend fit more concepts and story in a single page than most creators did in a whole issue, ambiguous little nuggets of brilliance that sprang fully-formed from Kirby’s mind and hand into the reader’s shared consciousness. “O.M.A.C.” was, quite simply, an insane concept in all the right ways. Part Philip K. Dick and part fevered dream, in retrospect, it might have been a little too much for fans of 1970s DC. O.M.A.C. lives on in the modern day in a very different form, and was fittingly the star of one of the freshest and most entertaining of DC’s New 52 relaunch. Sadly, the new O.M.A.C. was quickly canceled as well, showing that in the world of comics, sometimes even multiple generations can refuse to embrace innovation.
“S.W.O.R.D.” (Marvel, 2009) By Kieron Gillen and Steven Sanders
“S.W.O.R.D.” was like “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” in space, starring Beast, the green-tressed Abigail Brand and an elite group of alien agents working to keep the Earth safe from alien incursions. It was a hyper-active, smart, superhero sci-fi yarn that moved at a million miles an hour. It was cutting edge comic entertainment for the new millennium.
And it only lasted five issues.
Introduced in Joss Weldon’s ultra-popular “Astonishing X-Men,” Agent Brand quickly developed quite a fan following between her debut and the first issue of “S.W.O.R.D.,” so why did the book arrive D.O.A.? It seems Marvel’s fan base did not want a book about the X-Men and the Avengers support staff, even if the characters of “S.W.O.R.D.” were engaging, kick ass space badasses. The book, written by a new-to-Marvel Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Steven Sanders, would have been a great series to have on Marvel’s roster today, with the publisher’s current push of all things cosmic leading up to the “Guardians of the Galaxy” film. Like nothing on Marvel’s slate, “S.W.O.R.D.” was part espionage book, part superhero drama and part Doctor Whoish sci-fi adventure, but while Agent Brand has become Marvel’s go to character for all things alien-threatening-Earthish, the book was unable to last even half a year, but it darn well deserved to have gone a lot further.
“Aztek: The Ultimate Man” (DC Comics, 1996-1997) Created Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and N. Steven Harris
In Grant Morrison’s early bid to rule the world of comics, the master storyteller crafted an insanely popular run on “Justice League,” one which still resonates today. During this time, Morrison and his then-sometimes writing partner Mark Millar added Aztek, the Ultimate Man to DC’s pantheon of heroes. With ties to Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, Aztek was part of a wave of heroes that would serve the next generation of DC comics. It was cutting edge, brilliant, frenetic — and readers didn’t know what the heck to make of it. Aztek’s series only lasted ten issues before the series ended, the hero joined the Justice League and ultimately sacrificed himself, but imagine if the character stuck around. Morrison was already a budding superstar, but even bigger things were on the horizon for the wordsmith. Millar was only a few years away from becoming a household name by helping launch Marvel’s Ultimate line. Imagine if these two industry-altering creators had been afforded more time to flesh out Aztek’s story — we could have had potentially been treated to a classic example of long form, experimental storytelling. Alas, that was not he road traveled, and “Aztek” is to remain a semi-hidden gem in the mines of DC’s past.
“Thor, the Mighty Avenger” (Marvel 2010-2011) By Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee
When the first phase of Marvel Studios movies was in full swing, Marvel Comics rushed to fill the shelves with as many Captain America, Thor and Iron Man-starring titles as possible. There was no way the market could sustain so many comics starring the publisher’s newest marquee stars, and most titles died with a whimper, having stretched the franchises thin. In the case of “Thor, the Mighty Avenger,” however, this cancellation was met with unabashed disappointment from its readers. The all-ages book was the closest thing to Marvel Studio’s Thor readers could find. Writer Roger Langridge and artist Chris Samnee delivered a continuity-free, loving tribute to the Silver Age that truly captured the spirit of the God of Thunder in a thoroughly modern manner. Any reader drawn to the character by the film could have picked up the title and felt like they were in on the ground floor of Thor’s current adventures. It was a fluid, simple title that captured Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Silver Age magic, presented in a postmodern context that appealed to veteran and neophyte fans alike. Sadly, comic fans have been trained over the years to reject stories not connected to a complex continuity, so Langridge’s and Samnee’s “Thor” was cut tragically short.
“Doctor Voodoo, Avenger of the Supernatural” (Marvel, 2010) By Rick Remender and Jefte Palo
In recent years, Rick Remender has become Marvel’s go-to creator when it comes to huge, sprawlingly epic storylines. Remender’s imagination knows no boundaries, as he has proven in the past on “X-Force” and currently on “Uncanny Avengers” and “Captain America.” Imagine what Remender could have done, then, if had had more time to explore the supernatural side of the Marvel Universe with then-Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Voodoo. In Brian Michael Bendis’ “Avengers,” Jericho Drumm was elevated to the position of Sorcerer Supreme of the Marvel U when Stephen Strange had to step aside. The stage was set, the perfect writer was in place just before he broke huge — and the comic market said, “No.” Marvel could have had a fascinating character tied to a number of cultures’ magical folklore, a rich personality exploring boundless realms of ideas. Instead, readers got five issues and a boatload of unrealized potential.
“Agents of Atlas” (Marvel, 2008-2009) By Jeff Parker and Leonard Kirk
After a well-received miniseries in 2006 by Jeff Parker and Leonard Kirk, the Agents of Atlas were ready for prime time — or so it seemed. Sadly, they were instead the stars of a title canceled too early not once, but twice. “Agents of Atlas,” and “Atlas,” as it was called during the team’s second monthly, explored the ’50s using cross-genre characters from the mists of Marvel’s yesteryears. Parker assembled a team consisting of super spy Jimmy Woo, Gorilla Man, M-11 the Human Robot, Namora, the original Marvel Boy and the goddess, Venus. Each character was attached to a part of established Marvel continuity, and the book filled in the gaps between the Golden Age and Modern Age. Experimental and awesome, “Agents of Atlas” featured unpredictable adventures that seamlessly crossed genres while adding to the history of the Marvel Universe. Had the book continued, Marvel would have had a story engine on its hands, perfectly designed to fuel stories from the past, present and future, giving readers a glimpse of what happened in the Marvel U before the arrival of the Fantastic Four. Sadly, the series premiered during an industry downturn and it was unable to build enough of an audience to survive. That said, Marvel may still want to look towards “Atlas” once again to see if the title could perhaps find an online audience, because Marvel’s most unique super team deserves as many chances as they need to survive.
“Captain Britain and MI13” (Marvel, 2008-2009) Created by Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk
Oh, did Marvel have something, here. “Captain Britain and MI13” was like nothing the publisher had published before, mixing world myth with modern superheroics and a distinct vibe of constant innovation and imagination. The book fleshed out established characters like Captain Britain, Meggan and the Black Knight while giving them new mission statements even as it added to the Marvel Universe with the new wielder of Excalibur, a female, Muslim doctor named Faiza, and boy, did Cornell write one frightening Dracula. The book’s major story arc saw the lord of vampires team with Dr. Doom to wage war on Earth from his new headquarters on the moon. Yeah, it was that kind of awesome. The team’s leader, Pete Wisdom, cemented his reputation as one of the coolest characters at Marvel during the books run, sort of a super-powered John Constantine who did what he had to do to save his planet. Oh, and the series also featured a heroic Skrull who shapeshifted himself to look like John Lennon. “Captain Britain and MI13” muddled along for a phenomenal fifteen issues before Marvel pulled the plug, leaving fans with just over a year’s worth of some of the most fun stories Marvel published all decade.
“Vixen” (DC Comics, 1978) Created by Gerry Conway and Bob Oksner
Over the past couple of decades, Vixen has actually been a pretty major player in the DCU, appearing as a member of the Justice League, Suicide Squad and the Birds of Prey and playing a large role on the animated “Justice League Unlimited.” Not bad for a character who had her solo comic canceled even before the first issue hit the newsstands. That’s right: Vixen was going to be the first woman of color to headline her own solo title at DC, but the 1978 DC Implosion killed her book before the first issue shipped. Due to large snow storms causing distribution delays for many magazines, creating a log jam of product, DC took a financial bath and ordered a huge amount of titles to be canceled in one fell swoop, including Vixen’s. The character would have gone down in history as the first black woman to carry her own comic, and with comic legend Gerry Conway guiding Mari Jiwe McCabe’s adventures, the title could very well have had legs. But it was not to be, and “Vixen” is one of those few comics canceled before fans got to see a single panel. The hero had to wait to 2008, thirty years later, before she headlined her own solo series, this one written by G. Willow Wilson and illustrated by CAFU, a fantastic series that highlighted the character’s potential, potential that was delayed three decades when Vixen’s series was canceled at the last possible moment.
“The Thing” (Marvel, 2005) By Dan Slott
“Superior Spider-Man” mastermind Dan Slott proved he knew his way around the Marvel Universe with his cult smash “She-Hulk,” and the writer next moved onto another character he was perfect for: Ben Grimm, the ever lovin’ blue-eyed Thing. This was a match made in fanboy heaven as Slott’s once again proved that he could handle comedy, action and heart with equal gusto. Sure enough, Slott’s “Thing” was a fast-paced, hilarious tour of the Marvel Universe, and those lucky enough to pick up the book fell in love with his take on one of Marvel’s original heroes. Sadly, there just weren’t enough readers to allow Slott’s “Thing” to survive past eight issues. Reader ennui robbed fans of a book that dared to be fun, a book that understood that absurdity of the main character and reveled in it. Slott would go one to bigger and better things, but the cancellation of “Thing” so early was truly a shame.
“Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.” (Marvel, 2006-2007) Created by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen
It was the comic all the cool kids were reading, a new team book starring Marvel’s Photon, Boom Boom, Bloodstone, Machine Man and a brand new character, The Captain. Taking place on the periphery of the Marvel Universe, “Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.” was the single most hilarious mainstream comic published at the time, with an unfiltered Warren Ellis at the top of his game doing an out-of-control superhero parody that never actually attacked the genre. “Nextwave” added elements to all its cast members that remain to this day, and fans that supported it wished the series could last forever. In fairness to Marvel, it was Ellis and Immonen who left the title due to their hectic schedules. Ultimately, the book only lasted a year, but it is fondly remembered as one of the most daringly different projects Marvel has tried in recent years.