Cancelled television show and unfinished films have a certain mystique about them in the pop culture zeitgeist. There is an air of wonder of what could have been surrounding them, producing dozens of think pieces about why they never came to fruition, furious comment section debates about if their cancellation or abandonment were justified, and frequent petitions to bring them back.
The sad truth is that often there are too many moving pieces in TV and movies to keep things going. It’s a small miracle that anything gets made, considering all the cooks in the kitchen.
Comic books have a long history of suffering the same fate, but for different reasons. While yes, publishers will cancel a book due to low sales and on rare occasions a publisher will go bankrupt and take all their titles down with it, there are many unfinished comic book series that became so due to the creative team (which by comparison to film and TV is relatively small) no longer producing it, for various reasons.
Unfinished comics are by no means reflective of a lack of quality
One of the more legendary examples of an unfinished book is the incomplete run of Miracleman (née Marvelman) by writer Neil Gaiman. Now, the history behind the legal rights to this character and his series is so convoluted it deserves its own thorough article to explain it, but basically back in the early ‘80s Alan Moore revitalized the character as his first real deconstructionist superhero comic, which was something of a dry run for Watchmen and would later influence some modern Superman stories (the parallels between Moore’s run and the film Man of Steel are evident in the final act of both works). After Moore left the book, up-and-comer Neil Gaiman took over the book and completed a handful of issues out of run before the publisher, Eclipse Comics, went bankrupt in 1994.
In 2013, Gaiman and artist Mark Buckingham returned to the property to finish the work they started more than 20 years prior. This announcement was made after Marvel acquired the property and republished the first six issues of their first story arc. However, despite all-new Miracleman material being solicited by Marvel in 2016, nothing else has been released. Marvel has removed all references to Gaiman and Buckingham’s second arc in their series “The Silver Age” from their website, rendering its status currently unknown. In August 2017, Bleeding Cool quoted Buckingham as saying Miracleman is very much still a work in progress, meaning a return of one of the most dynamic superhero comics ever produced still looks possible.
Miracleman isn’t Marvel’s only lost soul in the comic ether
Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver’s stellar series S.H.I.E.L.D. stopped production after Vol. 2. issue #4 (the 10th total in its run) in 2011, with two issues left to go before its conclusion. Since then, there has long been updates and discussion that the final issues of the series were in some form of production as recently as September 2017, when Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort told ComicBook.com that Hickman's dialogue for the final two issues had been completed (which would be the writer's first Marvel work since Secret Wars). No release date has been yet announced for these issues, and Hickman has teased potentially joining DC Comics via social media.
Publishers have also declined to release a previously announced comic, such is with Marvel's Killraven miniseries, which was announced back in 2007 and slated to run five issues, written by Robert Kirkman (before he was a multimedia mega-star) and penciled by Rob Liefeld. Liefeld stated back in 2011 on Twitter that five issues had been completed, and "It is up to Marvels discretion to release those issues." But for reasons really unknown, the series has never seen the light of day, even as fully colored pages have made their way online.
DC Comics is also no stranger to unfinished business
In 2009, it was announced that cult-favorite filmmaker and occasional comic scribe Kevin Smith and artist Walt Flanagan (as seen on AMC’s Comic Book Men) were working on a 12-issue follow-up to their three-issue Batman: Cacophony series. Smith is notorious for leaving comic books unfinished (only one ossie uf of Daredevil/Bullseye: The Target was released) or leaving massive gaps between issues (Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil that Men Do), but when he and Flanagan released the first six issues of Batman: The Widening Gyre on a semi-regular schedule in 2009 and 2010, it seemed that concerns were assuaged. Yet after issue #6 -- which was always going to be followed by a long break before #7 -- the series didn't continue.
Smith said he planned on completing the final six issues in 2014 under the name Batman: Bellicosity, but there's been a dearth of updates since. It wouldn’t be so bad if that last issue didn’t end in a massive cliffhanger. Given the changes DC has seen since 2010 with the New 52 and Rebirth, perhaps the time isn't right for this Batman tale.