If your favorite director makes a movie but never gets past shooting the first few scenes, you'll probably never see it. If a novelist you like couldn't sell his latest project, you won't get a look at it until he's dead and academics are pillaging his attic. But if a comic book gets derailed halfway through, chances are at least part of it was already out on the stands, ready for the curious to page through it.
So here are ten tales of comicus interruptus—unfinished stories that might have changed the medium if they'd ever gotten onto the page, or, in a couple of cases, managed to change the medium in spite of perils like imploding publishers, nasty divorces, and freestyle bookkeeping. None of these series have been concluded yet, but all of them are in back-issue bins and on eBay for those who are still curious.
One of the craziest things about the comics world is the frequency with which comic books actually manage to return to the shelves after years of absence—anybody who lovedArchie Goodwin and Walt Simonson's Manhunter or Larry Marder's Beanworldhas a fanboy story with happy endings. Even devotees of Martin Wagner's old, beloved Hepcats can read hisblog (with a new story!) or check out the original series as a webcomic. A few of the following books are gone forever; some may come back; but without exception, they're all still worth a look.
(and "Alan Moore's Awesome Universe")
Watchmenand V for Vendetta creator Alan Moore wrote some of the best Superman stories in history, and he didn't do it for DC Comics. After Moore fell out with the company over reprint and merchandising rights to his creations, he went underground, writing ayear's worth of WildC.A.T.S stories for Image Comics here, a graphic novel for Gollancz there.
So when Rob Liefeld, newly split from Image and trying to flog his own characters under his Awesome Comics banner, approached Moore and asked if he would revamp a lame Superman ripoff character called Supreme, Moore agreed, as long as he was granted his new non-negotiable criterion: complete creative freedom. For superhero writers in the 90's, that caveat meant more adult-centric stories—tales that had sexual or violent content beyond what the traditionally kid-friendly genre had offered.
With Supreme, though, the book was already so violent and oversexed that the only radical thing Moore could have done with it would have been to make it into harmless fun.
Which is exactly what he did.
Supreme became a haven for all the pre-Crisis-style Superman stories Moore wanted to write, and so he went all the way, turning back the clock on the character to bring in silly fifties and sixties tropes like super-pets (Radar, the Hound Supreme), super-relatives (Suprema) and multicolored asteroids that harmed the hero in strange ways (Supremium meteors). Instead of Lex Luthor, Supreme fought a mad scientist named Darius Dax. Instead of writing for the Daily Planet, Supreme's alter ego Ethan Crane wrote comic books about a hero named Omniman.
The sweet-spirited book was a huge hit for Awesome. Moore initially worked with some of Awesome's in-house artists, some of whom were just starting out and didn't have much of a grasp of anatomy, let alone panel layout or perspective. Moore attracted more talented collaborators, though—like Rick Veitch (who adroitly mimicked classic comics artists fromJack Kirby to Wally Wood ) and newcomer Chris Sprouse, now one of the most in-demand artists in the industry.
Spurred on by success, Moore started to take a look at some of Awesome's other properties and began roughing out plot arcs for them, as well as ways to tie them in to one another's books with crossovers and time-traveling hero teams who jumped into past stories from future ones. He even got two issues of a new Youngblood series into print with art by Steve Skroce —the best two issues of the series ever written, bar none.
And then, two issues before Moore's latest Supreme story came to fruition, Awesome Comics went belly-up. Infighting among Liefeld's backers caused the company's cash flow to dry up, and all the Awesome books ceased publication, including Supreme. Bursting with ideas, Moore took revised versions of his pitches (along with collaborators Veitch and Sprouse) to Jim Lee at Wildstorm, which promptly gave him his own imprint—ABC, America's Best Comics . With them, Moore built an entirely new superhero universe.
Checker Books picked up Awesome's reprint rights and cranked out hardcover and paperback collections of Moore's work on Supreme and his Awesome Universe kickoff crossover, Judgment Day. Avatar bought Moore's suspiciously Promethea-like scripts for Glory.
But nobody except Moore knows what happened at the end of Supreme, or to Youngblood, transported into the past at the end of the book's still-hanging cliffhanger.
Sadly, another Alan Moore work makes the list: 1963, a riff on the origins of Marvel Comics with Rick Veitch, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, and others aping Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Originally, Moore and co. planned the sixties extravaganza to involve a time-travel subplot that would pit the heroes of the Silver Age against modern characters like Spawn and the WildC.A.T.S. But Image Comics schismed and left only a few of the characters written into the final script at the company that was publishing the book. The series was fun, inventive, beautifully drawn, and deader than disco just before its final issue.
There are a few books on this list that you might actually see one day, and Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's Planetary is one of them. After Ellis revived (and then entertainingly destroyed) flagship Wildstorm Comics title Stormwatch, Wildstorm asked him to come up with something else. Ellis responded with Planetary, a book that reworked thinly-veiled versions of characters like Doc Savage, the Shadow, and the Fantastic Four into a long-form story about the changing nature of fiction. Ellis's stock was already on the rise, and Cassaday became a sensation once the industry got a load of his pencils, so the book made a terrific splash.
Of course, the cost of consistent quality is pretty much the same the world over: delays, delays, delays. Planetary remained riveting from issue to issue, but over ten years after the book started and two years after the last 32-page issue shipped, the world has yet to see #27, the series finale (remember, 10 years is 120 issues in MCT—monthly comic time). Ellis swears the story is written ( he posted the first couple of script pages on his blog ), but John Cassaday has been drawing the X-Men for the last few years and is in demand everywhere in the industry.
Now that his run on the X-Men is done, of course, he may get the time to pencil that last story ( Ellis's newsletter announced that Cassaday has finally gone back to work on the series ). If he does, he has a fan base that circles the comic book store like a school of piranhas, waiting to devour the offbeat sci-fi saga's final few pages.
Alan Moore (him again) called this series "a poisoned chalice" in George Khoury's excellent (and, fittingly, long out of print) book on the series, but Miracleman goes down smooth with the average comics geek. A reworking of a British Captain Marvel knock-off called "Marvelman," the series was one of Moore's first professional gigs and predated all the big books of the 1980's superhero comics scene: Arkham Asylum, Watchmen, Swamp Thing, The Dark Knight Returns; Miracleman did it first.
Starting at Warrior magazine, the story changed hands and titles (it was still called "Marvelman" until it arrived stateside and a certain comics company objected) after Warrior folded, and Moore kept on writing the series for Eclipse Comics. After he had told sixteen issues worth of terrific stories, he passed scripting duties along to a little-known writer who was just hitting his stride on a DC series called The Sandman: Neil Gaiman, still several years away from his first New York Times bestseller.
Gaiman had finished one story and started on another (he had three planned with artist Mark Buckingham) when Eclipse folded. If you believe Eclipse co-owner cat yronwode (quoted in Khoury's book), her then-husband and business partner Dean Mullaney absconded with company funds and another woman; if you believe Mullaney , Eclipse never broke into the bookstore market in the way it wanted to and collapsed under that pressure. Whatever happened, Eclipse's assets (including, in theory, a 2/3 share of Miracleman) were sold at auction, and the buyer (Spawn creator Todd McFarlane) reportedly promised the company's share of the rights to Gaiman in return for his work on the Angela miniseries and the Medieval Spawn and Cogliostro characters.
There are so many two-sided stories here that it makes your head hurt: Gaiman says McFarlane never had the rights to begin with because of a clause in the Eclipse contract that causes the company's share of the rights to revert to the creators if Eclipse no longer owns them; McFarlane claims he has every right to use the character and has featured versions of him in action figures and statues. Further, Warrior editor Dez Skinn never actually bought the rights to the character from creator Mick Anglo, reasoning that since the publisher of the original series was long gone, nobody owned the rights. Worse, the scripts for the original Marvelman stories were frequently photocopied Captain Marvel comics, and DC owns Captain Marvel.
In short, everyone wants a piece of the action now that Moore and Gaiman have become comics legends. Moreover, the art on the series is particularly precious: issues 11-16 are the longest sustained work by Swamp Thing inker (and occasional penciler) John Totleben, an incredible artist who is now nearly blind from a debilitating illness called Usher Syndrome Type II.
Of course, since everyone wants it, nobody can reprint it with out being sued from six different directions. None of the singles are available for less than $12 (if you want to, you can pay in the hundreds for a copy of the climactic issue #15 ), and the old paperback collections sell for huge sums.
Using money Marvel paid him for the two projects he wrote for them—1602 and Eternals - Gaiman's company (co-owned with Joe Quesada), Marvels and Miracles (like that?) sued McFarlane with a large stack of complaints including ownership of the character , but the judge declared that the Miracleman situation was so complex it warranted a whole new trial. Instead, Gaiman sued McFarlane for, among other things, repeatedly publishing his work without paying him royalties (Gaiman wasn't credited on the TPB collections that included Spawn #9, for instance), and won the suit.
Still, the books themselves remain in limbo, though collectors count them among the best and best-loved work by half a dozen of comics' greatest creators. Gaiman still has scripts (and some art) for more of his story somewhere, though he's said nothing new about wanting to slog through more unrewarding rights litigation. "The rights status is looking a lot clearer these days," Gaiman told PW, "but not whether or not I'll ever get to finish it."
All may not be lost on Gaiman's Sweeney Todd,though. The tale of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street was to become a serialized story in Steve Bissette's adults-only anthology series Taboo, and Gaiman's first chapter saw print in one of the mag's last issues.
Sweeney started off with a "penny dreadful" insert that had loads of great-looking sketch material by the artist—Gaiman's frequent collaborator Michael Zulli ( Puma Blues )—and the serial's first chapter didn't disappoint: with a troubled protagonist who looked a lot like a certain comic book writer, the intro gave readers a glimpse of small horrors and suggested greater ones to come.
Taboowas one of those great anthology publications that spawn amazing projects (From Hell, Through the Habitrails,Lost Girls), but as a magazine it failed to catch on pretty spectacularly. Its limited market appeal was partly to blame ("Adults Only" comics are frequently porn, not introspective studies of violence or mature explorations of sexuality, and porn seekers were likely disappointed by Taboo), but the real kick in the backside came from the Canadian and British governments, which seized boxes of Taboo under obscenity regulations and brought the company the wrong kind of publicity—many outlets refused to carry it.
The Taboo model may never have been workable from a business standpoint, but it birthed some of the best comics ever written. And in the case of Sweeney Todd, which was briefly and astoundingly drawn in charcoal by Zulli, one of the greatest comic books only written a little.
"I would love to go back to Sweeney before I die," says Gaiman. "I did so much research for it, and had so much in my head. I don't know whether the economics would work for how long it was and how much Michael Zulli would have to draw. It might be a graphic novel, it might even be a novel."
Last Alan Moore book, promise: in 1990, Moore self-published a series set in his hometown of Northampton and two of the proposed twelve issues, both rendered by painter Bill Seinkewicz, looked like a million bucks when they hit the stands. The book's odd format and limited distribution would have been a handicap for another creator, but the book reportedly sold in, um, big numbers (apologies to Moore for stealing his joke). Unfortunately, everything from Moore's personal life to Seinkewicz's workload overwhelmed the project.
Ten pagesfrom the uncompleted issue #3 appeared in the first and only issue of Submedia Magazine, and Seinkewicz's assistant Al Columbia took over only to find himself swept away by the workload, as well. Moore had painful changes going on in his personal life, and the rumor was that Columbia became so frustrated that he set fire to his own artwork.
That combination killed Big Numbers, and it took Mad Love with it (though the company still exists for legal purposes). Moore told George Khoury that he's tried twice to revive the series, and that both times, the failure to do so was quite painful. There is, however, "a treatment worked out for Big Numbers as a twelve-part television show," Moore said. "That might never get made, or at some point in the future, it might."
Like Planetary, Shaolin Cowboyis a mind-blowingly beautiful comic book that slowed... and slowed... and slowed... and stopped. Geoff Darrow is probably best known to American comics aficionados as the guy who co-createdHard Boiled and The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robotfor Dark Horse with Frank Miller. To the rest of the world, he's the concept artist behind the wire-and-tube-intensive look of the Matrix movies.
It should come as no surprise that Darrow's style requires a lot of labor—when an interviewer asked the artist what advice he'd give young creators who want to draw like him, Darrow said, "Don't."
Shaolin Cowboy is (was?) published by Burlyman Entertainment, founded by Matrix creators Larry and Andy Wachowski. It hasn't published either of its titles—Doc Frankenstein and Shaolin Cowboy in over a year. Here's hoping that, with nothing to do after James McTeigue's Wachowski-produced Ninja Assassin due out early this year, the brothers will find some time to hassle their creators to put out some of their incredible comics.
Swamp Thing 88: The Morning of the Magician
Swamp Thing, Jesus. Jesus, Swamp Thing. That's not quite how it was going to go, but it was close enough to give DC the screaming mimis. During a series of time-traveling episodes, Swamp Thing artist Rick Veitch wanted to introduce our main hero to Christ himself, and he not only had the go-ahead, he had written the entire script before the powers that be decided that they couldn't let the book see print. Furious that the story had been approved and then rejected, Veitch vowed not to work for DC again until the book was published.
It never has been, but Veitch and DC mended fences eventually—he did an Aquaman series, a mini about the Question, and a graphic novel called Can't Get No and the series Army@Love in recent years. Pencils from the issue were on display at one point in a comic art museum—artist Michael Zulli had drawn part of the issue before it died, and JPEGS of the cover ( Swampy as a cross, yikes ) are still pretty easy to find.
Veitch still wants to finish the story that he was writing when he quit—he offered to complete the arc in time for DC to put it into their continuing collections of his work on the title.
"So far nothing has come of it," says Veitch. "I've offered to rework the issue so it no longer would be considered offensive. And I'd love to finish the whole Time Travel storyline, which Neil Gaiman helped me plot back in the day.
"The issue itself was completely penciled by Zulli, almost fully lettered and a few panels inked by Tom Sutton before the plug got pulled," the author recalls.
DC hasn't published any of Veitch's Swamp Thing work since his request, so maybe they're biding their time, and maybe they're just avoiding the issue. You should excuse the expression.
Grant Morrison's The Authority
Morrison took over two of the WildStorm Universe's biggest books (Wildcats and The Authority)when he made his triumphant return to DC's superhero comics, and fans got exactly two issues of each before they vanished from the shelves. During the New York Comic-con last year, Morrison swore up and down that Wildcats would get back on track—Jim Lee is a popular artist with a lot on his plate, everything is under control, please don't worry (the third issue still hasn't shipped, and the title has a bad reputation for losing editorial support before all the stories have been told).
On the subject of The Authority, though, Morrison was a little more downbeat. The story, with art by Gene Ha, was already running late when Morrison's duties at DC proper called, and he had to help write the weekly 52. By the time Morrison read the reviews of his first two issues of the series, he told Comic-con audiences, he had made his decision:
"I said, 'Fuck it.'"
The Work of Seth Fisher
In the 1999 an artist known only to regular readers of Heavy Metal drew a two-issue miniseries called Happydale: Devils in the Desert for DC's Vertigo imprint, which gave it the royal treatment—square binding, glossy paper, high page counts. His friend Andrew Dabb, 19 at the time, wrote the story, but it was the art that stood out, especially when the characters started hallucinating.
The artist was a guy named Seth Fisher, and after Happydale, everybody knew his name. His Green Lantern original graphic novel went through multiple printings, his Flash one-shot was terrific-looking, and soon he was working on stories like a Fantastic Four/Iron Man team up and a five-issue arc for Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, with other work just waiting for him and his strange, strange creatures.
Fisher's work always had a surreal edgeand horrible, fascinating monsters—not an uncommon affliction in comicdom, and not necessarily an undesirable one, as artists like John Totleben and Jim Woodring can attest. "I dream about these things," Fisher told a journalist during an interview for his Fantastic Four project. "I dream about other things too, sick twisted things that I can’t talk about without being arrested." The day after the final issue of Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan shipped, his friend and fellow artist J.H. Williams III (Promethea) announced that Fisher had fallen seven stories from the roof of a club in Osaka. Fisher was dead, and his life's work truncated just as it has begun to gain prominence and acclaim.
Fisher wasn't just a brilliant cartoonist, he was a game designer and a joker. His "Flowering Nose in Slugland" RPG is available free on his website - which has been modified slightly since his death. Pictures of Seth, of the pinball machine he designed, of his work, are all there, as is a short eulogy for him. The most poignant feature, oddly, is a little paper-doll game called "Dress the Seth" that used to let you put all kinds of clothes, artfully shaven chest hair, wigs, and strange accessories (a giant fish, for example) on a stylized little man who looks a lot like Fisher. The funky clothes and absurd accessories are still there, giant fish and all.
And, at least here, the odd little man is still smiling.