The Five BEST Status Quo Changes In Superhero Comics
5. First Major Avengers Line-Up change With "Cap's Kooky Quartet"
When the Avengers debuted in 1963, they were essentially not much more than the Marvel version of DC's Justice League of America. Stan Lee simply took all of his headlining heroes (minus Spider-Man) and put them together as one mighty team. The team could have remained as this JLA knock-off forever, and sales would have probably been fine, but a mere two years later, Stan shook things up big time, and had all the Avengers quit except for Captain America, who then recruited three former villains to the line-up - Hawkeye and mutant siblings Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.
It was daring, it was crazy, and it was an unqualified success, as "Cap's Kooky Quartet" became fan favorites themselves. This move showed that Marvel was willing to do stuff that their "distinguished competition" would not, and the Avengers became a brand that was synonymous with constant change.
4. The Death of Gwen Stacy
One of the sacred rules of superhero comics, at least in the first few decades of their existence, was that the hero always saves the day. No matter how many times the mustache-twirling villain has the damsel in distress tied to the railroad tracks, it never resulted in a bloody, awful mess, because the hero always won. And despite the many changes made by Stan Lee and company in the early Marvel days to elevate superhero comics into something more mature, by and large, during Silver Age Marvel, the hero always won in the end still. That all changed with Amazing Spider-Man #122, published in 1973, where the Green Goblin's plan ends up killing the love of Peter Parker's life, Gwen Stacy.
This one event sent shock waves among comics fans, with hundreds writing in to the Marvel offices angrily wondering how they could do something like this. Stan Lee was even doing damage control on his college campus lecture tours, promising Gwen would be back some day. (She never did come back.) The death of Gwen Stacy was seen by many as the start of the "Bronze Age" of comics, were the same Silver Age characters were still being used (unlike the transition from the Golden Age to the Silver Age, where many characters were just replaced) but were starting to be handled in a more mature fashion. The death of Gwen Stacy meant anything could happen in the pages of Marvel Comics, there were seemingly no sacred cows anymore, even if really there still were. But for the average reader back then, the death of Gwen Stacy meant that now anything was possible, and that occasionally, the hero sometimes loses.
3. The Death of Robin
This one is significant for several reasons, reader participation being one of them, and remains significant, even though it was undone some 17 years later and the formerly dead character now headlines his own comic series. Back In 1988, Batman was right smack-dab in the middle of a new wave of popularity thanks to Frank Miller's Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, not to mention Alan Moore's The Killing Joke. Tim Burton's upcoming Batman movie was creating mega buzz even in the pre-Internet age. Batmania: Phase II was upon is. But there was still that nagging reminder of the campy sixties Batman in the form of the kid sidekick with the little green trunks and the pixie boots. Even though this Robin was Jason Todd, as Dick Grayson had graduated to Nightwing at this point, it didn't matter: what Robin symbolized mattered, and to readers of the time, he made them think of Burt Ward and Superfriends. He had to go.
So at the end of the 1988 story A Death in the Family, DC put it up to the readers to vote if Robin should live or die, after being beaten brutally with a crowbar by the Joker. They were asked to call a 900 # and cast their vote, and Robin was voted to die. The bloodthirsty masses had spoken, and so it was done. This change gave an extra gravity to the Batman mythos, though, as Robin was more powerful as a costume hanging in memoriam than as a living character, a constant reminder for Batman of his one great mistake that he couldn't ever undo. Although DC swore for years that Jason Todd's death would never be undone, in 2005 writer Judd Winick did just that, and Jason returned from the grave as the anti-hero called the Red Hood. Marvel did a similar story with the return of Captain America's kid sidekick Bucky, but where that met with much praise, Jason's return has been viewed more skeptically. Although I have read some decent stories featuring Jason Todd since his return, I'm still not convinced they were good enough to have his death reversed entirely - one of the biggest and most important status quo changes in Batman's 70+ year history.
2. The Introduction of the All-New, All-Different X-Men
It is hard to believe now, but once upon a time, The X-Men series was cancelled. From 1970 to 1975, there were no new X-Men stories being published by Marvel, and it is doubtful that many fans back then even cared. Although they debuted in 1963 in a comic from the powerhouse team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to a decent amount of success, within a year and half Kirby left the book and sales never really recovered. Although never an out-and-out bomb (in 1969, the year they were cancelled, Uncanny X-Men outsold Justice League, Flash and Detective Comics) X-Men still wasn't seen as something worth continuing with new stories. The X-Men book continued on as a reprint title, until they finally ran out of stuff to reprint. It was then someone at Marvel had the genius idea of revamping the book completely.
The X-Men were no longer the five teenagers under the tutelage of Charles Xavier, they were an older crop of international mutants, including the German Nightcrawler, the African Storm, the Russian Colossus and of course, the Canadian Wolverine. The only female holdover from the old team, Jean Grey, was elevated to the Phoenix, and was now the most powerful hero in the Marvel universe. Within five years, the Uncanny X-Men were Marvel's biggest selling title, and under the care of writer Chris Claremont and artists Dave Cockrum and John Byrne, they advanced superhero storytelling in much the same way Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had advanced it from the DC Silver Age goofiness a decade earlier. Because of this success, the X-Men became a franchise, a franchise that kept the entire comic book industry afloat during many troubled times for the comic book industry.
1. The Post- Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe
In the early eighties, DC Comics was a company in serious trouble. They were the home of some of the most famous and heavily licensed characters in the world, but sales on their comics were mostly terrible. Marvel was outselling DC by something like two to one. The only comics that were making a profit or had any kind of success were The New Teen Titans and (believe it or not) The Legion of Super-Heroes. There was no buzz around books like Superman, Batman and the rest; they were viewed by modern comic book fanatics as relics of a bygone era in their execution. At one point, Marvel almost bought the license to the DC characters, it was that bad. So in 1985, DC decided they had to make a drastic change. They rebooted almost their entire universe in the twelve part mini-series Crisis on Infinite Earths.
The end results of the newly revamped DC Universe were some of the very best superhero comics ever produced; John Byrne's Superman reboot Man of Steel, Frank Miller's Batman: Year One and George Perez' re-imagining of Wonder Woman all breathed much needed new life into these old icons. Gone were many tired old tropes associated with the characters, and they all felt fresh again for the first time in decades, and those just mentioned characters were just the tip of the iceberg. Although not in continuity per se, DC also produced Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns during the post-Crisis period. It was a golden era for DC, and certainly in the case of Batman, he's never been unpopular again. The post-Crisis DCU had its share of hiccups, but the new improved quality made it all totally worth it. The post-Crisis DC Universe was the template for how a good reboot was done.
Previously by Eric Diaz: