A brilliant writer can spin gold out of pretty much anything. Few mediums prove this as aptly as comic books. When it comes to superhero comics, we’re often talking about characters that have been around for decades. Superman couldn’t fly when he entered the scene back in 1938, and Batman debuted a year later sporting purple gloves and carrying a gun. These days the Man of Steel soars through the clouds and the Dark Knight wouldn’t be caught dead with either of those original accessories.
Writers put their own spin on established favorites, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes this pushes the character to even greater heights, but in other cases, they become unrecognizable. A writer can make you care about a character that was once meaningless to you, but they can also take one that you love and ruin them. The good news is that comic teams are always changing, so if you hate the direction of the book, eventually it will be handed over to someone whose ideas you may like better.
Just about every beloved character has gone through a dark time, often in stark contrast to an incredible run that preceded it. Ultimately, it’s all part of the magic of comics and fans have gotten used to those ups and downs. Still, we are incredibly protective over our favorite heroes and don’t like to see them changed for the worse.
Here are 15 Comic Runs That Ruined Amazing Characters.
15 New 52 Teen Titans (2011-2014)
It shouldn’t be that difficult to make a good Teen Titans book. The team has been reinvented multiple times since their 1964 inception. Marv Wolfman and George Perez created the most well known version of the Titans in the early ‘80s. The Geoff Johns run of the early 2000s is excellent as well. Let’s also not forget about the beloved cartoon – obviously we’re not talking about Teen Titans Go!
The point is, these are awesome characters and the continually evolving roster always leaves room for new members. DC’s New 52 was the perfect opportunity to reintroduce everyone's favorite teen heroes. Unfortunately, we got a book so lackluster that it was canceled and relaunched after thirty issues. Scott Lobdell’s writing was dated and gave us little more than pale facsimiles of the characters we loved.
14 All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder (2005-2008)
You'd think that if anyone were capable of writing the Dark Knight well that it would be the guy who reinvented him. Batman has gone through a lot of changes over the years, but none nearly as impactful as Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns. That’s not even the only legendary story Miller wrote about the Caped Crusader; he also penned Batman: Year One.
While it is true that The Dark Knight Strikes Again had already weakened Miller’s Batman credibility, All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder was meant to be his grand return. This comic didn’t just ruin Batman - it bastardized every single character involved. The story was problematic, the characterization awful, and the dialogue sounded strangely like a sad Frank Miller imitator, rather than the legend himself. This failure was made all the more heartbreaking by its contrast with Jim Lee’s masterful artwork.
13 Uncanny X-Men #412-443/X-Men #155-164 (2002-2005)
A great many writers have tried their hand at writing Marvel’s marvelous mutants. Even among the less than stellar X-Men runs, no one managed to destroy these unforgettable characters quite as much as Chuck Austen. What made his terrible characterization stand out even more was the fact that over on New and Astonishing, Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon, respectively, were penning some of the greatest X-Men stories ever told.
Apparently, it wasn’t bad enough that Austen was ruining characters in Uncanny X-Men. After Morrison wrapped up his landmark run on New X-Men, Austen was tapped to take over. Unfortunately, the mandate from on high dictated that Xorn should not only return, but also be established as a separate character from Magneto. The way Austen did this undercut Morrison’s entire story, which had built to one of the most devastating comic climaxes of all time.
12 Ultimate Iron Man (2005-2008)
When Tony Stark’s mother was pregnant, she got blood from a mutated monkey in her mouth. This caused him to develop neural tissue all over his entire body, which somehow led to experiments that turned him blue. No, we did not make any of that up. In fact, Tony’s backstory was so convoluted that Mark Millar later basically wrote it out of existence.
The Ultimate line is meant to be a reimagining of familiar characters. However, what Orson Scott Card created didn’t even leave the essence of Tony Stark intact. Perhaps his greatest offense was giving him superpowers. Part of what people love about Tony is that he’s just a normal guy – well, a genius with tons of money – but not superhuman. This character didn’t even need his suit in order to be indestructible and with that decision, Card lost a vital piece of the Iron Man puzzle.
11 Death of Superman (1992-1993)
Not only did this storyline destroy the character of Superman for a while, but it has also been credited with the downfall of the entire industry. Sure, that’s a bit dramatic, but The Death of Superman really did alter the comic landscape forever. However, it wasn’t even the poor handling of his death that ruined Superman, but the even worse decisions regarding his near immediate return.
It’s not that The Return of Superman is a bad story. It’s actually better than the arcs that precede it. The problem is that DC removed the stakes; when the Man of Steel was in danger, fans needed no longer worry about his fate. While it’s true that Marvel had already killed and resurrected characters such as Jean Grey, this was the first time that fans truly felt tricked. The ramifications of this can be seen across DC continuity ever since.
10 Amazing Spider-Man #509-514 (2004-2005)
J. Michael Straczynski is one of the best writers to tackle Spider-Man and Mike Deodato Jr. is an incredible artist. That being said, this story ruined basically every character involved. Most of all, it decimated everything fans thought they knew about the women in Peter Parker’s life.
Gwen’s death at the hands of the Green Goblin was one of the most heartbreaking Spider-Man stories ever told. Would you believe that the reason behind Osborn tossing her off that bridge was that she secretly gave birth to his twins? Aside from ruining Gwen Stacy with this affair, “Sins Past” also painted Mary Jane in a negative light. She knew this terrible secret and never told Peter!
Comic fans can suspend their disbelief, but for that, you need a good story. To be fair, this wasn’t the narrative that JMS wanted to use, but rather an idea thrust upon him by editorial.
9 Nightwing #118-124 (2006)
There are some authors who are amazing at writing certain characters… and absolutely awful at writing others. Bruce Jones was responsible for one of the Hulk’s best runs. He was also behind Nightwing’s worst. “One Year Later” was a great opportunity for DC to shake up the status quo and some titles really took advantage of this. Unfortunately, Nightwing wasn’t one of them.
“Blood Brothers” was a single arc that managed to ruin not only Dick Grayson, but Jason Todd as well. The premise is basically this: Jason decides to dress up as Nightwing and go on a murderous rampage to convince Dick that they should team up. It could be cool if either of these characters were actually written like themselves. Instead, Jason was reduced to a sad imitator begging for attention and Dick wound up dressed as Nightwing in a fashion show.
8 Wonder Woman #178-203 (1968-1972)
Wonder Woman was created to smash the patriarchy, but other male writers haven’t always understood that, with some feeling she was better suited to secretarial duties than heroics. The saddest part about this update was that Dennis O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky went in with the best of intentions, hoping to give Diana a Women’s Lib makeover. This independent, empowered Wonder Woman sported an entirely new wardrobe. She also gave up her powers, opened a mod boutique, and took up martial arts.
O’Neil is an excellent writer – who has since denounced this iteration of Wonder Woman – and Sekowsky’s art is gorgeous, but the story they told didn’t garner the reactions they were hoping for. In fact, one of their most vocal detractors was Gloria Steinem, who argued that stripping Diana of her powers and costume did anything but keep her feminist essence intact.
7 New 52 Suicide Squad (2011-2014)
Most of DC’s New 52 was great, especially early on. Suicide Squad squandered its cool premise with a boring story and poor characterization. Humor, interesting team dynamics, and anything that would make these characters remotely sympathetic was sadly absent from this new interpretation.
One of the biggest issues with this relaunch is undoubtedly Harley Quinn. It’s not just her drastic costume change – which was a fairly natural evolution from her appearance in the Arkham Asylum games – but her personality as well.
This version of the Joker’s former paramour was so derided that DC sought an extreme direction change, which they found in Harley’s solo title. Husband and wife duo Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti took the violent psychopath from the pages of Adam Glass’s Suicide Squad and turned her into a lovable maniac whose hobbies included roller derby and rescuing stray animals.
6 Wolverine vol 3 #50-55, #310-313 (2007, 2012)
Of all of the crimes perpetrated against Wolverine, one of the worst would have to be finding a way to make the Berserker boring. Logan may often suffer from overexposure, but there are plenty of great Wolverine stories. Sadly, Jeph Loeb didn’t write any of them.
First of all, there’s a retcon in which Logan isn’t a mutant at all, but rather a subspecies of human evolved from canines, known as Lupines. That’s just Loeb’s “Evolution” arc though. He later returned to the book for another crazy revelation: the man who started Weapon X was Wolverine!
Although that whole Lupine thing was later written out of continuity, no one has really touched the idea that Logan is the man behind the curtain. What could they possibly say to make any sense out if it? The only real star here is Simone Bianchi’s incredible artwork.
5 Avengers vs. X-Men (2012)
The Avengers and the X-Men have a knock-down-drag-out brawl. Does it sound cool in theory? Sure, these are comic book fans we’re talking about and who among us doesn’t enjoy a good smackdown? However, in execution, this story was not only disappointing, but these veteran writers showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the characters as well. Even the usually amazing artists seemed to be phoning it in on this one.
The talent on this book was undeniable, but that was probably also what ruined it. There were simply too many writers and most likely too much editorial involvement. Nothing the characters did made sense. Scott Summers had become a religious zealot and the other X-Men were onboard?
The fights were more like WWE matches than real battles and watching them unfold was anything but enjoyable. It’s nearly impossible to care about the fates of characters who are acting nothing like themselves.
4 Daredevil: Shadowland (2010)
Frank Miller built Daredevil up into one of Marvel’s greatest characters. Writers Ann Nocenti, Brian Michael Bendis, and Ed Brubaker - working with artists John Romita Jr., Alex Maleev and Michael Lark, respectively - continued that trend. Andy Diggle isn’t a bad writer, but his characterization of the Man Without Fear was shaky at best. The drop in quality was made all the more obvious by the fantastic work that preceded it.
As their new leader, Daredevil had been trying to use the Hand for good. Of course, they were actually corrupting him all along... Except not really, because DD was actually possessed by a demonic force. In other words, Daredevil wasn’t responsible for any of his actions and nothing really changed at story’s end.
Mystical elements can be difficult to work into the context of Marvel’s street level heroes, but Shadowland was just a mess that damaged its central character.
3 Spider-Man: One More Day (2007-2008)
Writer J. Michael Straczynski despised this story just as much as fans. He even requested that his name be taken off of it. For one thing, “One More Day” undid much of JMS’s esteemed run on Amazing Spider-Man. It also erased the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, one of Marvel Comics’ most beloved romances. The couple made a deal with Mephisto, trading their life together in order to save Aunt May.
To be honest, the events set in motion by this weren’t all bad. Although it was off to a rocky start, Dan Slott’s run that followed this much-maligned story would go on to become revered. However, the way that Marvel chose to bring Peter back to basics didn’t make any sense at all. The characters were poorly rendered and Aunt May was once again robbed of what could’ve been a fitting, albeit tragic end.
2 Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal (2010)
There were plenty of casual fans who knew nothing about Roy Harper before Arrow made him a more household name. Roy had been relatively stable since his exploits as a teenage sidekick resulted in him becoming a junkie. It was inevitable that someone was going to steer him off the rails eventually, but it was J.T. Krul who finally went too far.
The impetus for Roy’s downward spiral was the loss of his daughter, Lian. This could’ve been an opportunity to tell a story about the catastrophic effects of grief, especially for someone with a history of addiction. Instead, we are treated to one ridiculous plot point after another: Roy ties up Jade, but can’t perform. He relapses on “China Cat” – did he pick up his drug lingo watching Columbo? Then, he beats up some thugs to protect the dead cat that he thinks is Lian. It’s difficult to imagine a more character-destroying story than this.
1 Ultimates 3 (2008)
When Marvel launched their Ultimate line in 2000, the results were undeniably excellent. Although Ultimate Spider-Man may have been the most consistent, Ultimates was probably the best – at least for those first two volumes. Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch not only redefined the team for a new generation, but also influenced how they would later be portrayed in the MCU. The only bad part about how great those stories were was how far things fell when Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira took over for Volume 3.
Gone were the elegant art and masterful storytelling. In their place were versions of your favorite characters you never wanted to see, ruined for no reason other than edginess that felt like a throwback to the ’90s. Who cares about politics and pop culture when you’ve got incest and a sex tape? If Marvel hadn’t already planned on ending the Ultimate Universe, this comic would’ve done it.
What are your least favorite comic runs? Let us know in the comments!