Much ado has been made about not only JH Williams III and W. Haden Blackman’s departure from “Batwoman,” and with good reason: it’s a great team leaving a top book at their peak because they couldn’t finish their story. And many likely will not continue to read the book for that reason, but that’d be a shame if its strictly because of the creative team shift. After all, Marc Andreyko has proven himself as an incredible writer of strong female heroes with “Manhunter” and Jeremy Haun is a beast of an artist in his own right.
Many times throughout comic history, great runs have been broken up, only to be replaced by someone else who no matter what they do have the deck stacked against them. Often, the book takes a downturn, but sometimes something different and magical happens: the book becomes something different that is equally as good or even better. I’m not saying that is necessarily what will happen here, but it happens.
With that in mind, with this week’s Countdown I wanted to look at the ten best creative team shifts ever. In this case, I’m only looking at books that – when the switch happened – had a beloved outgoing creative team or creator (as I am looking at both full creative team and/or writer/artist) and someone perceived as perhaps a downgrade coming in. Agree? Disagree? Have a better idea? Let me know in the comments.
Also, a quick thanks to MC editor emeritus Walter Richardson for the help with this.
1,000,000. Chuck Austen takes over after Grant Morrison’s “New X-Men” run
I had to throw this out there: this is the worst, worst, worst case scenario for a creative team switch. Grant Morrison’s “New X-Men” was a seminal run on the book that was inventive, respectful to continuity and revolutionary in many ways, and no matter who followed it up was going to have a hell of a time. The fact that it was followed by maybe the worst run in the history of the X-Men though is something truly incredible. Here’s a quick anecdote about the run to put it in perspective: Brandon Burpee, resident podcaster and beer aficionado, is a massive X-Men fan. He’s rereading the entirety of the run, including both “Uncanny” and adjectiveless, but skipping over the Austen stuff, which in his mind never really happened and will never revisit.
When asked for comment in the form of two words of thought on Austen’s run, Brandon responded via text with, in order:
He then finished with “Take your pick. I could go all day.”
10. Greg Rucka replaces Phil Jimenez on “Wonder Woman”
This is a bit of a cheat, as technically Walt Simonson and Jerry Ordway had a story in-between Rucka and Jimenez, but the latter creator had recently finished a run on the book. His work was very well received, as Jimenez was strongly influenced by George Perez (who had done a seminal run on the character previously) and you could see that throughout. When Rucka came in, he told a more human story about Wonder Woman, one that found Diana on a path of discovery and of determination, culminating in the infamous killing of one Maxwell Lord. People I respect have called this the defining run on the character, and something that they are confident you could hand to someone who doesn’t know the character well and they’d gain appreciation for her. It’s hard to disagree with them, and it’s unsurprising for a creator who has become so well known for his ability to write women so damn well.
9. Garth Ennis follows Jamie Delano on “Hellblazer”
The story of John Constantine was the longest running Vertigo comic ever, and one that was defined less by the man who created him (Alan Moore) or the person who started the series (Jamie Delano), but the man who followed Delano: Garth Ennis. This was before the movie or Ennis had written “Preacher,” and it was a time where there was a lot of different directions Constantine could go. Ennis redefined the character as more of a person – one with real relationships, even if one of his nearest and dearest was Swamp Thing – over his run that was the longest of any writer. Even though the series ran for freaking forever – 300 issues plus a litany of other releases – it was Ennis’ work that defined Constantine forevermore.Continued below
Well, until he got New 52’d. Let’s not talk about that, though.
8. Kieron Gillen redefines “Journey into Mystery”
Gillen’s work on Asgard was preceded by both J. Michael Straczynski and Matt Fraction, and while he wrote a bit of Thor business, everyone rightfully would point at his work with Kid Loki on “Journey into Mystery.” While JMS and Fraction themselves did a great job that did a lot for revitalizing Asgardians, Tom Hiddleston himself looks to Gillen as the man who gets Loki. As he said in a letter printed in “Journey into Mystery,”
You and I see Loki the same way. He’s one dark, anarchic, bottomless black hole of rage, hatred, pity and pain. An exiled outcast, a lost & lonely agent of chaos, who wouldn’t know what to do with familial forgiveness if it walked up to him in the street and slapped him in the face. I’ve had as much fun playing him as you’ve clearly had writing up. I know your run on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY has been so hugely popular. What an enormous honour to share Loki’s legacy with you. Here’s to bringing Norse back!
– Tom Hiddleston
That’s about as big of a compliment as you can have for your work, as Gillen clearly agreed with his response which was simply, “Crikey.” For a book that had a long, legendary run in its multi-titled span, Gillen came in after two greats and made the book something new, something unexpected and, most importantly, something truly great.
7. Mark Millar and Frank Quitely continue the story of Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s “The Authority”
It says a lot that Millar and Quitely coming onto a book could be perceived as a bad thing, but at the time, anyone following Ellis and Hitch’s run would have been received with trepidation. After all, Ellis and Hitch took what was once a batch of characters that were Wildstorm through and through and made them one of the most badass and fiercely intelligent superhero teams in the history of comics. Anything that followed would be judged and doubted from day one.
So Millar and Quitely did their own thing, fitting into what preceded their run but standing on their own two legs, with more ultra-violence and highly cinematic visuals paired with often insane concepts to make the book more of the same but something different entirely. It was a monster of a book, and sadly, the book ended up falling apart due to – tell me if you’ve heard this one before – DC’s editorial control.
6. Peter Milligan and Mike Allred change the tune to “X-Force”
Once upon a time, Marvel had Warren Ellis come in and do his own thing on a number of X-books and, frankly, it was okay. I love Ellis, but it wasn’t my favorite work ever, but it was very prominent for the time. With Ellis leaving the books though, Marvel wasn’t really sure what to with some of their books, such as “X-Force,” as sales were still mediocre. In the case of “X-Force,” they put Peter Milligan and Mike Allred on the book, and they just went nuts. They turned the book into one filled with new and disposable characters who were reality show stars, fitting into the world of today in a wonderfully prescient and hilarious and weird way. Eventually, it became “X-Statix” and beyond that went away, but once upon a time no one had any damn idea what this book would be, or if it would be any good. No one guessed it would be this, but ultimately it didn’t matter because it was awesome in every way a comic can be.
5. Peter David makes “X-Factor” a book for the ages
Preceded by Louise Simonson’s incredible run on the book which found Angel becoming Archangel and all kinds of other exciting and unexpected turns, writer Peter David came onto the book and made it entirely his own. Not only did he have a decent run right then and there, but eventually he came back with the “Madrox” mini and then a larger, unforgettable run that just recently ended. While his work on “Incredible Hulk” is certainly a landmark one in its own right, I think it’s fair to say that people associate David first and foremost with “X-Factor,” and when you look back on his career, it all started right there.Continued below
Note: there was a small gap between Simonson and David’s work, but I think it’s fair to say they were the runs that worked together the most.
4. The “Daredevil” shuffle revitalizes Matt Murdock in the Aughts
For a long time after Frank Miller left the book, “Daredevil” sort of disappeared from the minds of comic readers. Upon writer Kevin Smith’s arrival though in the late 90’s, everyone stood up and took notice, as sales skyrocketed and critical acclaim was bolstered.
Then a funny thing happened. David Mack joined the book, and it got better. And then Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev joined the book and had one of the most legendary runs ever on the character. And then Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark came on, and they told maybe my single favorite “Daredevil” story ever. And even Andy Diggle and Roberto de la Torre joined in and had a hell of a run as well (pre-Shadowland).
The “Daredevil” experience is pitch perfect proof as to how, even when a book is losing important creators, all is not lost. After all, eventually Mark Waid and Paola Rivera/Marcos Martin came to the book, and is well on the book once again.
3. John Byrne helps define the X-Men
Once upon a time, the X-Men weren’t all that. Then Len Wein and Dave Cockrum brought them back and Chris Claremont took over on writing, and the rest was history. But what some forget is John Byrne came onto the book with issue #108 and, from there, helped make it the book everyone knows and loves today. He helped cultivate Wolverine, he created Kitty Pryde, and he helped bring storylines like “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past” to life. He wasn’t just an artist, but a co-plotter, and while some choose to remember him for the rather ignorant things he says, I prefer to remember his legendary work that helped define my favorite heroes of all-time.
One of the most incredible things about Byrne doing all of that too is the fact that Byrne had done almost no work before really. Blows my mind.
2. Geoff Johns drafts Mark Waid, tells his own classic tale of “The Flash”
True story: Mark Waid’s work on the speedsters is my favorite work with the characters ever. His work with Wally West and, in particular, Bart Allen made me a massive fan of the characters forever. So when I found out he was leaving the book, I was a little apprehensive. I mean, this Geoff Johns guy, I guess his “Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.” work was pretty great, but following up Waid? I don’t know about that.
Sure enough, Johns writing an unforgettable run on Wally West as the Flash, continuing many of the things that made Waid’s run great but adding his own touches in the process. He did an exceptional job, and for me, the reason he finishes so high is because this did two things that the others behind it didn’t: he followed up what was one of the best runs ever on the character in my eyes and didn’t lose a step, and it redefined the ceiling of Johns as a writer. This led into his work on “Green Lantern” and eventually to his path of becoming arguably the biggest writer in comics.
1. John Romita replaces Steve Ditko on “The Amazing Spider-Man”
Steve Ditko, deservedly, is known as one of the greatest superhero artists ever. While that’s probably not entirely fair, as he’s just a flat out great artist, his work with Spider-Man was and is legendary. At the time, he and Stan Lee were at odds, and Ditko ended up leaving the book with issue #38 in an exit that, if the Internet existed then, would have caused a damnable riot. Romita had been brought over by Stan Lee, it seems, to replace Ditko, and in the process he redefined the character and created the look and feel of the character that so many know Spidey for. Many big moments, including ones like Mary Jane’s famous arrival (“Face it Tiger…you just hit the jackpot!”) and the “Spider-Man No More!” cover, were brought to life by Romita.Continued below
He even did the Amazing Spider-Man comic strip in the newspaper for a time, which was my introduction to the character. I remember to this day cutting out the strips and putting them into a notebook so I could read them in order, and a lot of that was because Romita was a freaking genius with the character.