Better to quit while you’re ahead

No one’s safe from the ravages of time.

Athletes have an expiry date. Musicians become nostalgia acts at a certain point. Comic writers are no exception. I don’t know how it happens. Maybe they just fall out of touch with current audiences. Maybe they just run out of ideas.
Stan Lee is probably the most famous comic writer. He was involved in the creation of Spider-Man, Hulk, X-men, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, and way too many others to list. It’s a great resume, but these days he’s little more than a figure-head.

His name’s put on a lot of projects, but his actual role isn’t disclosed. BOOM! Studios released a series of titles with Stan Lee’s name prominent on the cover. However, the credits inside revealed he wasn’t the writer. Instead his name was there as “Grand Poobah,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

Alan Moore is the author of critically acclaimed works such as Watchmen and V for Vendetta, among others. But now he’s mostly seen as a crazy, bitter old man. Add in the fact that he’s been largely inactive for the past few years, and it’s possible his career is over too.

Like many veteran writers, he can’t escape the long shadow of his past works. He refuses to be involved in the film adaptations of his works and also refused involvement in the recent Before Watchmen. This might be a blessing in disguise though, considering the following examples.

Sometimes you need to be careful what you wish for. Historic franchises like Indiana Jones and Star Wars have had new additions that may have been better left undone. We’ve all seen disappointing sequels. It’s hard to follow a masterpiece, and it hasn’t worked out great in comics.

Chris Claremont was the writer of the X-Men for 17 years, writing many of the comic’s most famous story arcs. In the early ‘90s he left the title due to editorial clashes. In early 2000, he came back to the title. But the reception was below expectations. In 2009, a new X-Men title was started where Claremont told the stories he would’ve if he didn’t leave the book in 1991.

The results were less than spectacular, with Claremont killing off some of the most popular characters. Initial hype was high, but I think everyone was glad Claremont never tainted his legacy in the ‘90s with these horrible plotlines.

The most tragic example of an over-the-hill writer is Frank Miller. The writer of 300, Batman: Year One, Batman: the Dark Knight Returns, Sin City, and Daredevil: Born Again. Miller was one of the driving forces behind the grittier comics that we have today. Then at the beginning of the new millennium, it all went to hell.

Miller kicked off the 2000s with The Dark Knight Strikes Again, which resulted in mixed reviews and universal disappointment. He then started working on Holy Terror!, a graphic novel that was meant to show Batman v.s. Al Qaeda.

Thankfully Batman was taken out, but unfortunately it was still made.

The comic was released in 2011. It was also drawn by Miller, revealing his style of art has devolved to barely coherent scribbling. The plot was nearly nonexistent. Many pages didn’t have any script at all. Of what little writing there was, about half of it was the word “goddamn” used in nearly every sentence. I doubt DC are going to give him another shot at Batman now.

It’s hard to see artists and entertainers that we love become shadows of their former glory. We always want them to keep going. Diehard fans will always give a musician’s new album a chance, or an author’s new book, but sometimes this just leads to disappointment after disappointment.

It’s hard to just give up and cherish the past, but sometimes it’s for the best.


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