Greg Burgas writes about comics he bought after they jumped the shark. (Everyone here knows what jumping the shark means, right?) Rarely one to miss a chance to beat a few dead horses, I figured I’d write my own entry.
I grew up reading comic books, and by the early 1980s was buying a large number of titles, but four of them formed the core of my buying habits. All four of these jumped the shark in the 80s, but it took me a while to realize it and to stop buying them. Here they are:
- The Uncanny X-Men:
I count myself pretty lucky to have started reading this just as Chris Claremont and John Byrne were hitting the best part of their run. After all, their run is my pick for the most influential comics series since Lee/Kirby’s Fantastic Four, so I’m very happy I got into it when I did. Byrne left after #143, and Claremont’s scripts got increasingly byzantine; eventually, it was a common joke that many storylines in X-Men never actually completed.
That said, the comic was actually quite readable – if uneven – for several years following Byrne (with Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith illustrating), culminating in #175 (1983), in which Cyclops – always the series’ main character, for my money – marries Madeline Pryor and gets his happy ending (and they even get their own spotlight issue in which they head off on their honeymoon).
At this point John Romita Jr. took over as penciller. Romita has always been a decent nuts-and-bolts layout man, but his designs and faces have always seemed uninspired to me, and Dan Green’s inks were especially unsympathetic. The book went off into la-la land in #201 (1986), when – for marketing reasons – Cyclops returned to duel Storm for leadership of the X-Men, and lost. What? By the time I picked up my last issue the even-less-inspiring-than-Romita Marc Silvestri was drawing the book, and I realized that not only did I not have any idea what had happened in the book for the past year, I no longer cared.
I’ve rarely ever checked in on Marvel’s merry mutants since then. There’s really been no point, since the series for all intents and purposes reached its dramatic conclusion decades ago.
A lot of people started reading X-Men during Jim Lee’s run in the early 1990s, and I sometimes take delight in telling them that I’d given up on the series long before they read their first issue. 🙂
- The New Teen Titans:
- My first issue: DC Comics Presents #26 (1980)
- When it jumped the shark: vol. 2 #6 (1985)
- My last issue: vol. 2 #61 (1989)
This was DC’s ground-breaking series of the 1980s, making superstars out of Marv Wolfman and George Perez. While there’s some truth to the notion that it was intended as a knock-off of (or competition for) the X-Men, it quickly found its own voice with a completely different set of characters. For 50 issues of the first series it was absolutely outstanding. As DC’s best-selling title it was relaunched in 1984 using higher-quality paper.
But Perez left following vol. 2 #5 (1985), and the series was never the same after that. Wolfman was struck by a lengthy bout with writer’s block, and the stories dragged on and often didn’t make much sense. Even when Perez returned with #50 (1988) for a few issues, the magic was gone. The last issue I bought was part of an ill-advised Batman crossover. I’ve come back for the occasional Titans story since then, but none of them have been anywhere near as good as Wolfman and Perez.
- The Avengers:
- My first issue: vol. 1 #179 (1979)
- When it jumped the shark: #239 (1984)
- My last issue: #306 (1989)
This is the only one of these four series where I got on board after the series’ heyday. Really, its first heyday was in the late 60s under Roy Thomas, John Buscema and Neal Adams, but it had a couple of nifty runs in the 70s, first written by Steve Englehart, and later by Jim Shooter. My first issue was just after the Shooter run, and although it was a fun period – with art by John Byrne and then George Perez – I learned years later that the earlier stuff really was better.
Shooter returned for a controversial run in which one of the heroes has a breakdown and goes to prison. A lot of people hated that run, but I thought it was okay. No, it was really when Roger Stern came on board as writer that the series lost me. To be fair, he was hobbled for a while by the mediocre art of Al Milgrom and Joe Sinnott, but even though I’ve loved most everything else I’ve read by Stern, his Avengers run just never clicked for me. I think the series reached its nadir when the team appeared on Letterman.
After this, Buscema and Tom Palmer took over the art chores again, and it was a very pretty book, but the series lost many of its stars and the second-stringers who came on board just didn’t interest me. It seemed like the series became one long soap opera with rather uninteresting characters. I can’t honestly say I remember exactly which issue was my last, but I know the overhaul in #300 (by which time I think Stern had already departed) killed whatever interest I’d had left.
The book got amazingly worse throughout the 90s, but after Marvel’s “Heroes Return” relaunch it experienced a new golden age for nearly 5 years under Kurt Busiek and George Perez.
- The Legion of Super-Heroes:
- My first issue: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #223 (1977)
- When it jumped the shark: vol. 3 #5 (1984)
- My last issue: vol. 4 #76 (1996)
I started reading LSH at the tail end of their second golden age, as #223-224 were Jim Shooter and Mike Grell’s last issues. But, things didn’t go downhill from there, as they were followed by Paul Levitz and Jim Sherman, who produced several great stories. They took over the title from Superboy with #259 and went into something of a tailspin, but actually there was a bunch of fun stuff during this not-much-heralded era (I enjoyed the Reflecto storyline, for instance). Levitz came back a few years later and began his well-known and lengthy run on the title, first with Pat Broderick, and then with Keith Giffen.
I didn’t care for it.
Giffen’s art was inventive, but his characters’ postures and faces were very stiff. Levitz turned many of the characters on their heads and although it became a more plausible science fiction superhero title, the spirit of the book seemed to have vanished. But the book truly jumped the shark after it, like The New Teen Titans, was relaunched as a higher-quality-paper series, which started with a 5-part story which culminated in one of my favorite Legionnaires, Karate Kid, being killed off for really no good reason and to no good effect (since his wife, Projectra, largely disappeared from the book at the same time, thus destroying any character drama the death might have had).
I kept reading the book for years afterwards, and it had a few enjoyable periods, but was never really good again. The series got re-envisioned, then rebooted, and it was again somewhat entertaining for a while, but the magic was long gone at this point. Again, I’m not sure exactly when I stopped reading, but the issue above is my best guess.
On the bright side, the Legion has been relaunched at least twice since then, and has been fairly entertaining for long stretches. The current series by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson is fun, actually.
Since the 80s I’ve generally been more severe about dropping comics that aren’t doing it for me anymore, mainly because I finally had the revelation that it’s the creators, not the characters, that make a book worth reading. And really, there isn’t enough time to spend reading comics that you just aren’t enjoying. No doubt this is a big reason why I still read comics, after 30+ years.
(By the way, in writing this I was pleased to discover The Big Comic Book Database. Its content is still pretty raw, but the issue lists and covers alone make it a pretty valuable resource.)