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.
Speaking of Batman…
While Geoff Johns and Gary Frank are busy putting together Doomsday Clock, their hotly anticipated follow-up to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons seminal Watchmen, fans are still waiting for the third installment to their Batman: Earth One run of graphic novels. Now since these books are not on a set release schedule and exist in their own continuity, a delay between volumes is completely understandable. And it looks like it might be a while still: Johns was quoted in Nerdist in July 2017 that he and Frank, "Were in the middle of Batman: Earth One Vol. 3, and we were like 'OK, let’s put the brakes on that, because we need to tell this story right now. This is the time to do it..'" With 10 issues of Doomsday Clock left to go, it may be not be until 2019 for the next volume of Batman: Earth One.
Sometimes a series petering out isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s controversial All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder (yes, that title could have been much shorter) arguably ran out of gas after 10 issues, with much-mocked dialogue ("I'm the goddamn Batman") and dubious sex scenes. Despite decent sales and an amazing companion comic under the same banner, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman, to lean on, the book faced massive delays until it eventually stopped. Still, DC touted a return in 2010, a six-issue series titled Dark Knight: Boy Wonder, now set in the world of Dark Knight Returns -- but no real news on the subject has followed in the interim years.
Massive talents aren't immune
Legendary comics author/novelist Alan Moore has two notable uncompleted comics under his belt. The first being the often-over-looked 1963, a hilarious six-issue series that lovingly poked fun at the tropes of the Silver Age of comics, notably books like The Fantastic Four and the works of Jack Kirby, along with the behind-the-scenes industry politics of the time. The book was fantastic, but the behind the scenes drama meant the intended finale, an oversized annual drawn by Jim Lee, never saw the light of day.
The other notable comic that never saw closure by Moore was his four-issue mini-series Glory, which was his version of the Rob Leifeld character. This wasn’t Moore’s first rodeo of reinterpreting seemingly shallow characters from ‘90s-era Image Comics -- he wrote the best Supreme story ever published and did some rather interesting things with Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S.. Glory was a victim of the character shifting through publishers, and only two issues were ever released.
But sometimes there is hope…
Not all unfinished comics are dead in the water. Now that we are in the age of crowd-funding, nostalgia and rampant nerd obsessions, no property is ever entirely dead (if you don’t believe us, go ask your “Browncoat” friend about Firefly). Some unfinished comics find new life in other mediums. Take Joe Madureira’s cult hit Battle Chasers -- this was a series that ran a mere nine issues between 1998 and 2001, but somehow garnered enough love from fans to revitalize the property as a video game last fall. Now there’s talk about a new comics series to further the world.
Of course, hope can be a difficult thing to maintain. If you were one of the cool kids at the comic shop that read every issue of James Stokoe’s acid-fantasy comic Orc Stain, you know it hasn’t had a new issue released since 2012. Those who follow Stokoe on social media know that he has 30 issues planned, but has been working on other projects, some of which are almost as awesome as Orc Stain. In February 2017, Stokoe told a fan on Twitter that practical financial reasons were the primary reason the series hasn't continued. But we hold out hope for this one, because, frankly, there isn’t else like it.
What unfinished or cancelled comics are out there that you still hope to see return? What books have been gone too long to make you care?