What is overhype? It’s 1997. You’ve got Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” on repeat, you’re opening your heart to Digimon, reading Wizard magazine, blissfully unaware that, apparently, “John Romero’s About To Make You His Bitch.” Seriously. In full page print ads, John Romero and Eidos Studios didn’t promote their upcoming game Daikatana with screenshots, promotional artwork, or even mentioning “Daikatana.” Instead, they trademarked the phrase “Suck It Down.”™ Not unlike some sort of digital Ouroboros, the only thing that sucked when Daikatana eventually came out three years later was itself.
We bring up a video game in this listicle about overhyped comics because Daikatana is the overhyped muse from which these 15 works draw their life-force. Whether its through overzealous advertising, dashing decades of goodwill built up by beloved franchises upon the jagged rocks of disappointment, or displaying levels of hubris heretofore known only to Batman villains wearing wax wings, these comics failed to live up to the hype. Sometimes, a work can build up hype through stellar opening issues, only to suddenly derail itself on absurd plot points. Not all overhyped works are necessarily bad — they just fail to live up to their potential, like buying a ticket to the first Titanic voyage or Ja Rule’s Fyre Festival.
15. BATMAN: R.I.P.
In Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel’s “Batman: R.I.P.,” a cabal of super-villains reveal their master plan: “Make Batman take a bunch of drugs and just, like, see what happens.” What happens is that while tweaking out on weapons-grade cocaine and super heroin, a fallback personality emerges, The Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh. This hallucinating Batman fights crime with a baseball bat with Bat-mite serving as his fifth dimensional spirit guide.
If you haven’t caught on, “Batman: R.I.P.” is amazing. The problem is that it failed to deliver on the demise of the Batman that was going to be “better than death,” to quote Morrison. To see the mega death of Batman, you need to check out Final Crisis, which was disappointing to those foolish enough to believe that “Batman: R.I.P.” would contain the death of the Batman.
Mark Millar’s Nemesis was coming off hot on the success of the Kick-Ass movie, but you mix that in with stellar promo art and some Daikatana-worthy “Makes Kick-Ass look like $#!T” slogan and you’ve got a hype-train running at hyperbolic speed for a comic with the simplest of premises: “What if Batman was evil?”
Ultimately, Nemesis was regarded as a quasi-juvenile attempt at being ultra violent, yet so over the top at times that it becomes hilarious. Nemesis is a supervillain for the fun of it, driving an Iron Man 2 edition Audi that morphs into Kaneda’s bike from Akira. At one point, Nemesis fights 97 riot guards on his own, just to impress some convicts in a prison that Nemesis intentionally meant to get captured in. Nemesis is ridiculous, beautifully gory, and we kinda love it. But man, that hype.
13. FINAL CRISIS
Final Crisis by Grant Morrison is great… in a collected edition format. Despite being the crisis to end all crises, with its own Countdown to Final Crisis companion series simultaneously reminding us of the upcoming crossover while generating hype on a weekly basis, Final Crisis’ initial release was met with some confusion. See, in order to actually understand the plot of Final Crisis, you really needed to be reading “Superman Beyond,” which contained plot points integral to understanding Final Crisis. Otherwise, you have Superman popping in with a wish-machine straight out of nowhere.
Look beyond Final Crisis’ arcane release, however, and you’ll find one of DC’s better crossover events. We also get a satisfying Batman death that totally makes up for “Batman: R.I.P.,” with Batman making an exception to his no-kill rule while simultaneously being faster than the blink of an eye.
12. CIVIL WAR
“Whose side are you on?” asked Marvel throughout 2006. Sure, Civil War’s promotional material was all about hero on hero violence, prompting you to decide whether you support Captain America and civil liberties, or Iron Man and throwing enemies of the state into a negative zone prison. Top off this call to arms with promotional artwork of shattered shields and ruined armors, and you got fans in a fervor frothing for the final fight. What we finally got after sitting through all the civil stuff was just a street fight.
Civil War by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven isn’t devoid of action, as the Punisher returns to ensure that Cap doesn’t cross the line by enlisting villains. Since its release, Civil War has been regarded as one of the better Marvel works, but it failed to deliver on the superhero on superhero action that fans had been clamoring for.
11. AVENGERS/X-MEN: AXIS
In Axis, a crossover event written by Rick Remender, the X-Men and Avengers fail to stop Red Onslaught — the Red Skull rocking Professor X’s powers. Magneto brings in super-villains and Deadpool to prevent World War Hate, where the Red Skull would turn the planet into a free-for-all. Solid premise, reminiscent of Villains United, however that’s just the preamble. The villains set the stage for The Inversion, where everyone’s moral alignment is flipped in the clunkiest way possible.
The X-Men begin planning to exterminate humans, Captain America slaps Nick Fury, and Hulk becomes Kluh, a swearing soccer-hooligan. Axis is a union of two stories that never should’ve met. “Axis” started with heroes infiltrating concentration camps, only for Kluh to call us “Sweetheart.” We signed up for villains fighting psychic nazis, not heroes turning into Snidely Whiplash.
10. ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER
A prequel to The Dark Knight Returns featuring the art of Jim Lee, All-Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder (2005-2008) by Frank Miller was a hype generating machine. Each issue increased the series’ notoriety, from Batman preferring sex with masks on to issue #10 being printed with uncensored swears.
The problem with All-Star, besides its release schedule, was that its Batman was somewhat psychopathic. Robin asks, “Didn’t you just waste a whole pile of cops, big guy?” to which Batman never actually replies. Apparently, every cop in Gotham is a dirty cop, so it’s cool? Also, if The Dark Knight Returns’ Batman claims that Dick named The Batmobile, why does All-Star Batman call it the Batmobile, which is now “totally queer” according to Dick? All-Star does give us “The Goddamn Batman,” though, so it’s not all bad.
9. FEAR ITSELF
Fear Itself by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen was initially presented as a reflection on the plight of the audience, with heroes addressing legitimate fears and worries currently strangling the zeitgeist. What we actually got was a hammer fight. The primary antagonist of Fear Itself is Sin, the Red Skull’s daughter, who introduces herself by clarifying that she is worse than her father. Subtle. Sin finds an evil Mjolnir and awakens The Serpent, who summons more hammers.
As Joe Quesada explained, “You will absolutely see the real world inject itself into this story.” He’s technically correct, as the common worries of the audience are presented in a rapid-fire fear-mongering blast of trigger phrases splattered against global backdrops: “Autism rates up! Suicide popular! Home foreclosure amidst Juggernaut rampage!” You can’t have a story that both addresses serious issues and has Iron Man get turnt for magic weapons.
8. BATMAN: DEATH OF THE FAMILY
For years, the Joker has been Batman’s nemesis, the two locked in an endless cycle of Batman refusing to break his no-kill rule, and Joker unable to end his greatest love. “Batman: Death of The Family” by Scott Snyder, Greg Capello and Jonathan Glapion, however, asks, “What if Joker fell out of love with Batman?” If “Batman: Death in The Family” had the death of Jason Todd via crowbar, surely “Death of The Family” was going to be crowbars for everyone.
While “Death in The Family” had repercussions for the Bat-family lasting years, “Death of The Family” featured zero consequences, let alone Bat-family deaths. In the most shocking scene, Joker reveals that he’s cut off the faces of all of Batman’s loved ones! Except he didn’t — fake out! This scene is basically a summary of “Death of The Family” — all talk, no substance.
In order to generate some hype for the stagnant Ultimate Universe, Marvel decided to shake things up with Ultimatum, a crossover event written by Jeph Loeb. Throw in Ultimates 3 being heralded as a prelude, in addition to the “March on Ultimatum” banner plastered on every Ultimate title leading up to the event, and you’ve got a solid amount of hype. In Ultimatum, Magneto has been pushed to the brink, summoning a gigantic tidal wave that crashes over Manhattan.
Loeb wrote Ultimatum while dealing with the death of his son, and it shows through the brutal, unceremonious manner in which characters are killed off one after the other: Blob cannibalizes the Wasp. Dr. Strange is strangled by his cape until he bursts. Daredevil drowns and The Thing crushes Doom’s head like a metal grape. Though these weren’t our classic 616 characters, they still deserved a better demise.
6. HOLY TERROR
Released on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Holy Terror had all of the controversy-based hype leading up to its release. Frank Miller described the work as “a piece of propaganda… bound to offend just about everybody,” centered around Batman (but not Batman for litigious purposes) fighting Al-Qaeda. So, Holy Terror was basically the Grand Theft Auto of comics, hype-wise.
In response to IEDs filled with nails and razorblades, Fixer (not-Batman) teams up with not-Catwoman to defend Empire City from terrorists. Fixer/Miller’s levels of “let’s get us some killing done” levels of enthusiasm blurs the line between hero and terrorist, complete with that bizarre psycho-sexual vibe that was running throughout All-Star Batman and Robin. Oh, Holy Terror is also pretty racist, coming across as trying super hard to be edgy.
5. X-MEN: SECOND COMING
To advertise “X-Men: Second Coming” by Mike Carey, the proverbial second coming of Hope, the time-traveling redheaded Mutant Messiah, Marvel released a teaser image depicting spectral X-Men under the caption “To Save The World, One Of These X-Men Will Die.” About six pages in, you realize that it’s Nightcrawler.
“Second Coming” spoiled itself in trying to create hype. From the prologue we learn that someone close to Wolverine dies, while in the first issue Nightcrawler is just bleeding pathos. Kurt asks Cyclops if he truly believes in hope before reminding everyone he’s religious, then becomes outraged when he discovers Cyclops’ secret murder team — just obvious “I’m definitely going to die by the end of this” signs. Advertising the death of a character to hype up a comic is a tried-and-true tactic, so making it the cornerstone of your blockbuster X-Men crossover spectacular is just predictable.
4. THE CLONE SAGA
From 1992 to 1994, Spider-Man’s “Clone Saga” had fans speculating on who the real Spider-Man was, and it didn’t matter at all. Since “Clone Saga” basically cloned money, writers and editors were encouraged to keep this train wreck on the rails for as long as possible — like, 100 plus issues, five trade paperback volumes long as possible.
First of all, this is a story that hinges on the idea that being a clone matters — and it doesn’t — but here’s the broad strokes: Peter Parker is a clone. Ben Reilly is Spider-Man. Clones don’t have to worry about responsibility apparently, so Peter decides to be happy with Mary Jane. Aunt May dies. Doc Ock dies. Lady Doc Ock is a thing. Aunt May and Doc Ock are alive because whatever. Ben Reilly is a clone. Peter Parker is Spider-Man. “Maximum Cloneage!” Spider-Man wears a dope hoodie. And scene.
3. COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS
DC’s Countdown to Final Crisis was a 51-issue series serving as a spiritual successor to 52. Purportedly, Countdown would lead up to Final Crisis, except it didn’t. In fact, most of Countdown was deemed non-canon, because Countdown to Final Crisis contradicted plot points in Final Crisis. DC just took your money on a weekly basis for a year, then declared that none of it mattered.
At least seven plot lines are mashed together to form the prison loaf that is Countdown, resulting in characters stating how convoluted things are. So, we’re going to save you 51 issues of your life right now: The Monitors debate if they should do something for 26 issues. Mary Marvel turns evil twice. Jimmy Olson is kidnapped and then double-kidnapped. Never do cocaine off of mirrors when you know Mirror Master. Darkseid has a sweet couch.
2. ONE MORE DAY
For months, Marvel ominously advertised One More Day, showing Spider-Man reaching across an impossible distance to his wife Mary Jane. So much hype led to the dumbest thing Spider-Man has ever done: trading his marriage with MJ to Mephisto, in order to prolong Aunt May’s already stupid-long life. Why resort to a deal with the devil? Because Aunt May’s injury was a repercussion of Spidey’s unmasking during Civil War. Also, an octogenarian gunshot wound apparently cannot be healed by time-travel, magic or the X-Men’s Elixir saying “get better” over the phone.
Joe Quesada basically proposed One More Day because he thought Spider-Man should be single. Instead of exploring the responsibilities of being a good partner or how sometimes even superheroes cannot save a marriage, we get devil divorce. One More Day promised to change everything, and it did — many fans just dropped Spider-Man altogether.
1. IMAGE UNITED
For years, Image United was an idea that was too good to be true, like Duke Nukem Forever or Chinese Democracy. Robert Kirkman attempts to write this crossover, while every Image artist gets to draw their original characters. This results in pages with little cohesion, like Savage Dragon’s veiny armpits clashing against Die-Hard’s vague hands. Depict every character leaping/dodge-rolling and it feels as if everyone is floating, which summarizes Image United — just loose ideas corralled onto a page.
The quote-unquote plot: Omega Spawn, who is Spawn rocking the horns from Legend, makes every Image villain rampage because reasons. Curse kills Savage Dragon, and then everything just sort of ends. See, only three issues of the six-issue Image United series has been released — with #0 being wasted on Fortress, a new character no one will ever care about — and that’s just fine.
What comic do you think was overhyped? Still holding out hope for Image United #4? Let us know in the comments!