When you get right down to the heart of the matter, nearly everything in comics is technically "decided by fans," in the sense that fans are the people who spend the money to buy comic books in the first place; thus, if sales are not good enough to keep a comic book from being canceled, that is technically a case of the fans deciding to cancel a comic book title. However, even if you go beyond pure sales, fans can and definitely do have had an impact on how comic book companies do things.
Whether it is fan outcry or direct involvements by fans (in either suggestions or public votes), there have been a number of instances where fans have directly affected comic book history. Here are 15 notable examples (in chronological order).
15 INVISIBLE WOMAN'S POWERS
Other comics had certainly had an element of fan interaction in them before Marvel Comics, but Stan Lee took things to a whole other level when he began the "Marvel Age of Comics" in the early 1960s. Lee made fan interaction a key element of the success of Marvel. In Fantastic Four #11, Lee and Jack Kirby even worked in actual letters to the series into the comic book, having the characters respond to frequently asked questions.
Infamously, though, that issue also included their attempts to defend the Invisible Girl from all the hate mail she got for being seemingly useless (their "defense" was hilariously conceived - "She inspires them! Like Lincoln's mother!" but still). They got enough of those complaints that they decided to give her invisible force fields in Fantastic Four #22, eventually leading to her becoming the most powerful member of the team!
14 THE HULK GETTING A SECOND CHANCE
In the early days of Marvel Comics, they were limited to how many comic books they could release per month (due to the fact that their comics were actually distributed by a company owned by their competition, National/DC Comics). Thus, when they wanted to launch a new series, they had to get rid of an older series. When they launched Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes, they had to drop The Incredible Hulk after just six issues of his original series!
However, as time went by and Marvel's fan interactions became greater and greater, Stan Lee noted that he was getting a lot of letters, particularly from college students, who really loved the character. So first they brought the Hulk back as part of the Avengers (and then as a foe in Fantastic Four) before giving him his own feature in Tales to Astonish. The Hulk never looked back.
13 THE ORIGINAL CLONE SAGA
In the early 1970s, Stan Lee was promoted out of Marvel's Editor-in-Chief position and became the Publisher of the company. He stopped writing comic books full-time and took on more of an advisory role. However, his advisory role was relatively limited, as Lee was busy with other aspects of the company, plus being essentially Marvel's good-will ambassador at various conventions and college speaking engagements.
During the period, Spider-Man's girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, was killed off. Lee likely signed off on the idea in a general "Do whatever you want" sort of way, but when he saw the reactions from fans at the speaking engagements, he was quickly mortified. He told Amazing Spider-Man writer Gerry Conway to bring Gwen back any way he could. Conway complied by introducing a clone of Gwen and thus, the original "Clone Saga" began! Conway had no idea the can of worms he would be opening up.
12 SIEGEL AND SHUSTER GETTING THEIR DUE
At a certain point, if a company wants to do something that it has a legal right to do, then the only recourse that the public really has is to hopefully shame them into taking another approach (that and boycotts, but boycotts are relatively difficult to achieve). That was the strategy used in the mid-1970s to help Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster with regards to their famous creation, Superman (which the courts had ruled they had sold to National Comics for less than $200).
With the blockbuster Superman film highly anticipated, Neal Adams helped organize a public relations blitz regarding the fact that Siegel and Shuster would make no money off of their creation becoming a movie star. Public sentiment turned on Warner Bros., leading to them agreeing to pay Siegel and Shuster a stipend for the rest of their lives.
11 ZATANNA AND THE JUSTICE LEAGUE
For years, comic books have used some form of fan voting to influence the stories within the comics, even if it was as simple as "Did you like New Character X? Write in to let us know if you'd like to see more of him/her!" That sort of fan reaction was used frequently by Superman editor Mort Weisinger, who would run sort of "test" stories, wait to see the reaction and then do the story full-time (like a "Supergirl" debuting before the real Supergirl).
The Legion of Super-Heroes also let fans choose the leader of the team, but an even more significant fan vote happened in 1978 when fans got to pick the next member of the Justice League. They chose Zatanna and she became a major part of the team, especially as one of the central figures in the blockbuster DC crossover event, Identity Crisis.
10 AVENGERS #200
After his initial idea was squelched, David Michelinie had to come up with a new way to write Ms. Marvel out of the Avengers in Avengers #200. After bringing in three other co-writers (Jim Shooter, Bob Layton and George Perez), their final idea involved a being from Limbo falling in love with Ms. Marvel, wooing her to limbo where he used his machines to influence her into falling in love with him and then "impregnating" her with him so he could crossover to the main Marvel Universe. When that did not work, Ms. Marvel agreed to return to Limbo with him to live happily ever after.
Carol A. Strickland wrote a fanzine article about how this was essentially rape. Chris Claremont read the article, agreed and then resolved the situation in Avengers Annual #10 by having Ms. Marvel berate her former teammates for not looking out for her.
9 SPIDER-MAN'S BLACK COSTUME
While neither DC nor Marvel accept unsolicited story ideas nowadays (too much of a legal risk), in the old days, fans were allowed to send in ideas. They almost never went anywhere, but they were allowed to send them in. One fan, Randy Schueller, sent in an idea for Spider-Man to get a new black costume.
Jim Shooter wrote back and bought the story idea from Schueller for $220 and assigned Tom DeFalco to work on the ides with Schueller. It ended up going nowhere, but when Shooter was later thinking of character changes coming out of Secret Wars, he recalled the costume idea and so Spider-Man got a new black costume! Said costume eventually turned out to be an alien symbiote, and when Spider-Man split from the costume, the symbiote latched on to someone else and became Venom! All from this one fan suggestion!
8 AN AMAZING CONTEST
A year after Schueller's encounter with Marvel, Jim Shooter decided to go one step further and introduced the Marvel Try-Out Book, a comic book that described the various jobs involved in comic books and then had test pages where fans who were aspiring writers and artists could finish out the comic book story inside the comic and enter a contest for the best writer, penciler, inker, colorist, letterer, etc. The winners would get gigs at Marvel.
The winners were not announced until a number of years later, but amazingly enough, the person who won the penciling side of things was a young man named Mark Bagley, who went on to become one of Marvel's most popular artists on titles, like New Warriors, Amazing Spider-Man, Thunderbolts and Ultimate Spider-Man!
7 THE DEATH OF ROBIN
In the late 1980s, Batman writer Jim Starlin was not a fan of Batman's sidekick, Robin. Jason Todd had been introduced as a replacement for Dick Grayson a few years earlier and had already undergone a character reboot because fans grew bored with the original "Dick Grayson clone" that Todd was at first. However, the new "kid from the streets" take on the character was even less popular! Starlin wanted Robin out of the book, but DC wouldn't let him get rid of him.
Then his editor, Denny O'Neil, came up with an idea. DC had wanted to try an experiment in reader interactivity, so he proposed that they have a 1-900 number where fans could determine if an explosion at the end of an issue killed Robin or only injured him. Fans voted and, well, it did not go so well for the Boy Wonder.
6 THE ENDING OF ARMAGEDDON 2001
In 1991, as far as the general public was concerned, the internet was still a new-fangled thing that only people who were really into computers had access to. However, unsurprisingly enough, there was a sizable overlap between comic book fans and people who were really into computers. Thus, when the news leaked about the ending of DC's Armageddon 2001 crossover, the young internet was quickly abuzz with the spoiler being spread all around Usenet.
Armageddon 2001 was a story where a time-traveler named Waverider came to 1991 from 2001. A 1991 DC superhero turned evil and become the evil Monarch by 2001 and Waverider wanted to see if he could avoid the event from occurring. It was going to be Captain Atom who went rogue, but after so many fans spoiled it on the internet, DC changed the ending to make it be Hawk (of Hawk and Dove) become Monarch.
5 KNIGHTQUEST ENDING SOONER THAN EXPECTED
In 1993, DC shocked the world by having a new villain, Bane, succeed in breaking Batman's back, leading to Jean-Paul Valley (a young man who had been brainwashed into becoming an assassin named Azrael who Batman was training to be a normal hero) taking over as the new Batman. The whole point of the story from the perspective of Batman editor Denny O'Neil was to show people that a "grimmer and grittier" Batman would be a worse Batman.
So the plan was always to have Bruce Wayne take the role back from Jean-Paul Valley. However, writer Chuck Dixon noted that the return of Bruce Wayne was actually sped up by the negative fan reaction to "Az-Bats." So, Bruce took back the mantle sooner than intended.
4 THE SECOND CLONE SAGA
A similar situation to how Bruce Wayne returned to the role of Batman sooner than expected due to fan reaction occurred in the Spider-Man titles. The aforementioned "Clone Saga" was revisited in 1994 as an attempt to deal with Marvel's longstanding desire to get Spider-Man single again. They revealed that the clone of Spider-Man from the original "Clone Saga" that had seemingly died had actually survived. Now calling himself Ben Reilly, he returned to New York when Aunt May became fatally ill.
Eventually, after a stint as the new hero, Scarlet Spider, Ben was revealed to be the real Peter Parker and Peter was actually the clone. Peter and Mary Jane left New York and Ben took over as Spider-Man. Fans, who had responded well to the "Clone Saga" as a whole, went apoplectic and Marvel quickly reversed course and brought Peter back in less than a year.
3 DEADPOOL COMING BACK TO LIFE
When you look at the current popularity of Deadpool, it is amazing to remember that he did not even get an ongoing series until 1997. Not only that, but that series by Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness, which really developed the character into who you see in the comics today (and his film), had a difficult sales history.
Initially, Joe Kelly was told that he had to wrap things up by Deadpool #25. Fan reaction led to the series being un-canceled and it continued past #25. Once again, though, Kelly was told that Deadpool #33 would be the ending. Kelly figured that there's no way you un-cancel a book twice, so he wrote a proper ending for the issue. But sure enough, fan outcry led to the book getting un-canceled again. This time, Kelly had enough and moved on. The book continued for another 30 issues!
2 THE AMAZING RETURN OF SPIDER-GIRL
An even crazier history of a book managing to last well past what you would initially think was Spider-Girl, a series launched by Tom DeFalco and Pat Olliffe out of What If...? issue as part of a line of comics set in an alternate reality called MC2 where the sons and daughters of Marvel's original heroes were now the next generation of heroes. The entire line folded around Spider-Girl, but it kept going.
Along the way, it repeatedly would be close to cancellation and then fan outcry would get it a second life. This went on for a remarkable 100 issues before the book was finally canceled in 2006. However, fan outcry then got it re-launched as the Amazing Spider-Girl and it got an additional 30 issues! Even when that series ended, it continued in back-ups for a while. Few books ever had fan support like Spider-Girl
1 BILL FINGER GETTING HIS DUE
When it comes to comic book characters created as "work for hire" (that is, the company is considered the original owner of the character), companies are generally willing to acknowledge who created the character. There's no cost in saying "Spider-Man created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko." However, if a character was sold to a comic book company, then there is a financial motivation to not mess with that original deal. So, when Batman was sold to DC Comics, part of the deal was that Batman would only be referred to as being created by Bob Kane.
Helped spurred on by Marc Tyler Nobleman and Ty Templeton's Bill Finger biography, fans fought for credit for Batman's actual co-creator, Bill Finger, and DC eventually agreed to give him a "with" credit (thus still holding to their deal to say Batman was created by Bob Kane, just "with Bill Finger").
Have you ever signed a fan petition for something comic book related? Let us know in the comments section!