For the most part, superheroes in American comics are ageless and timeless; outside of Elseworlds tales and "imaginary" stories, the heroes in comics never age much, or have too much of their world around them change significantly. On occasion, though, the status quo will change in comics, giving writers (and fans) a new paradigm to play in. Sometimes it works, and the new status quo is around for the long haul, or at the very least, a very long time. Other times it doesn't work, but the editors try to force it down our collective throats anyway. Here are the five worst, and five best, major status quo changes in superhero comics.
The Five Worst Status Quo Changes
5. Mutant Decimation as a Result of House of M
House of M, Marvel's mega crossover event for 2005 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Oliver Coipel, was in and of itself a decent mini-series. The basic premise of House of M was that the Avengers and the X-Men, fearing how powerful the Scarlet Witch's reality altering powers had become since the events of Avengers Disassembled, get together and "do something about it." What they basically decided to do, or at least seriously considered "for the sake of the world", is kill the Scarlet Witch before she can alter reality again. The Scarlet Witch's brother Quicksilver warns her of their plan, and before the heroes can lift a finger, she alters reality to fit her needs and give all the heroes their heart's desires. By the end of the series, the heroes see through the new altered reality, and in a final act of spite against her father Magneto, Wanda Maximoff utters the words "No More Mutants" -and 99.9 % of the world's mutant population loses their powers in one grand gesture
The idea for this change, as per Marvel EIC Joe Quesada, as that there were simply too many mutants running around the Marvel Universe, and way too many mutant titles, and their status as a hated minority didn't make sense anymore if there were just so darn many mutants. Never mind that actual numbers don't always factor into prejudice (women make up more than 50% of the population of Saudi Arabia too; doesn't stop the the men from being prejudiced against them) by reducing the mutant population to just 198 people, well... that's not a race anymore, that's just a really good turnout for a party.
Add to that the fact that the 198 mutants were essentially all the mutants we already knew about, so the same amount of mutant super heroes and villains were running around the Marvel Universe as before. All Joey Q took away was the idea of the mutants we didn't see, the ones who weren't heroes or bad guys, the "little guy" everyday Joe mutant who the X-Men were defending. The main metaphor of what the X-Men was all about was suddenly neutered, and it would be another seven years (at the end of Avengers Vs. X-Men) before the whole endangered species part of mutantcy was finally over, and new mutants started popping up again. And it's no coincidence that the X-Men titles have been better than they've been in years with the central metaphor restored once again.
4. Spider-Man's Marriage is Nullified by the Events of One More Day
Back in 1987, Marvel Comics finally had Peter Parker marry his longtime girlfriend Mary Jane Watson, in a big media blitz that got them lots of mainstream attention. From the sound of things, the folks at Marvel instantly regretted that decision, as having a married Peter Parker "aged" Spider-Man too much in their eyes. Although I think the idea of having super heroes be eternally twenty-something is kind of stupid (I really don't think the readership cares at all if, say, Batman or Cyclops is forty) I do understand how youth is part and parcel of the appeal of what Spider-Man is all about. Nevertheless, the decision was made to have him be a married man, and for years Peter Parker was married to the hot redhead of his dreams. In fact, a whole generation of Spidey-fans grew up knowing only that version of the character.
But Marvel EIC Joe Quesada really hated the notion of a married Spidey, and in 2007, in writer J. Michael Straczynski's final issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, the entire marriage is undone in one giant retcon. After Peter's Aunt May has been shot, Spider-Man seeks mystical help to save her life. He encounters the demon Mephisto (who is essentially Satan) who offers to save her life if Spider-Man "gives him" his marriage. Spider-Man and Mary Jane agree to this, and that part of their history is erased so that, effectively, they have never been married in the first place.
To say fans hated this is something of an understatement. Even fans who agreed Peter should be single again for the sake of story thought the whole "wave the magic wand" retcon was one giant cheat. Giant continuity altering retcons were DC's deal; Marvel prided themselves on being more "real." So why not have Peter and MJ get a divorce? Or have MJ die? Any of those options would have been preferable, and many readers abandoned the Spidey books for good at this point, especially those who grew up with a married and happy Peter and MJ. It's been six years since One More Day, and the readership has more or less gotten used to the new status quo, but there are still readers out there who feel slighted by Marvel for the how the whole thing went down.
3. The Justice League Icons Are Replaced by Nobodies
Sometimes, it pays to follow trends. Other times... not so much. In 1980, DC saw the tremendous success Marvel's X-Men was having, where they took a second tier title from the sixties, kept the basic premise and a couple of key players, and heavily revamped the rest. DC took this same tack with their revival of the Teen Titans, a very broad and goofy comic that was never much more than a second tier book in its day. Much like Marvel with X-Men, they kept a couple of key players - in this instance Robin, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash - and introduced four new characters to the team who would quickly prove to be the team's most popular members. New Teen Titans took the X-Men formula to runaway success. DC then tried to do the exact same thing with their flagship team book Justice League of America...and failed pretty miserably.
In 1984, DC had key, iconic JLA members Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Green Lantern leave the title (Batman had left the year earlier to form his own team, The Outsiders.) In their place, the second tier JLAers like Aquaman, Martian Manhunter and Zatanna stayed on, leading an all new band of hip, young heroes. Well, they seemed hip and young to the forty somethings who wrote the book at the time anyway. There are a few reasons why this revamp failed: first off, unlike the Avengers, the League had a very steady line-up for almost a quarter century at that point. The Justice League were like the Elks Club for heroes, membership was for life, and new members were added very, very carefully, with few leaving for long. Wonder Woman most famously left when she lost her powers, and when she got them back the JLA made her prove herself worthy of rejoining, which, frankly, was kind of a dick move. But it illustrates the key difference between the JLA and the Avengers: The League did not just allow any superhero to join their esteemed ranks.
So in 1984, to suddenly have all the icons leave the book and replaced with cliches of 1984 MTV pop culture, like a breakdancer, Tina Turner and Madonna look-alikes, and a poster child for the 1984 USA Olympics Team, well...it was just doomed. Sure, JLA needed a revamp, but this one was wrong headed and painfully out of date a mere two years into it. Some team books thrive on constant membership changes, but others, like the Fantastic Four and the Justice League, always work best when the original concept is being done right.
2. Marvel Civil War's Four Year Long Aftermath
Marvel's 2006 event mini series Civil War was a pretty damn good read from writer Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven. It created a scenario that had hero vs hero without a definite "bad guy" to root against, and managed to invoke modern real-world politics and issues regarding what we as a society are willing to do in the name of safety and security, all while still being wrapped up inside a fun comic-book superhero saga.
But as cool as the initial mini series was, the fallout and status quo change in the Marvel Universe went on for years, arguably at the very least two years too long. In the post Civil War Universe, Tony Stark, the leader on the side of government registration of known superheroes, was portrayed as kind of a giant prick, as was every hero on the registration side, regardless of whether or not they actually had a point. Meanwhile all the heroes on the side of those against hero registration were painted as cool rebels. Despite saying that Civil War had no clear villains, it was clear that Marvel were painting the pro-reg side as the bad guys. The massive split between the hero community was interesting at first, but shouldn't have played out for more than a year or so. Instead, it continued on for something like four years, until the events of the 2010 Marvel event series Siege finally ended the registration act and united everyone again as one big happy family of good guys. And It was a long time coming too.
1. Flashpoint Results in the "New 52" DC Universe
This one is, as they say, still an open wound. In 2011, as a result of the time altering mini-series Flashpoint, the DC Universe underwent their biggest reboot since 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths. While Crisis was something DC desperately needed at the time, there is an argument to be made that the DC Universe was in no way "broken" as they were back then in the day, and didn't need to be "fixed." Sure, sales were down at DC, but DC Editor-in-chief Dan Didio decided they needed to cancel their entire line (even long running books like Action Comics and Detective Comics) and start from #1 with an all new continuity. Actually at first, DC didn't say this was a reboot, they said it was merely a relaunch - but it turned out it was indeed a reboot; they just didn't want to use the word and get the longtime fans in a tizzy. It worked too - the New 52 relaunch sold like gangbusters, at least initially.
Unfortunately,the "New 52" DC Universe is kind of a giant hot mess of inconsistency, All the characters are supposed to have been around for just five years in this new universe's timeline, making sure everyone is young and therefore appealing to teens and twenty-somethings (despite the fact that most comic book readers are in their 30s at this point.) Which means Batman has had five Robins in as many years, Superman has armor for some reason, and Wonder Woman now acts more like Xena and even has her origin to boot. She's apparently dating Superman too, but you wouldn't know that from reading her title, where he never appears. The Flash is once again Barry Allen, and although that book has been solid, the lack of the concept of the "Flash Family" and legacy means it lost something that made it unique. Green Lantern got by unscathed, due to his popularity, but his history makes as much sense as Batman's now that it's in a five year timeline. Sales are back to where they were pre-New 52, and someone at DC has got to be wondering if the whole damn thing was worth it. Marvel was wise; they saw what DC did right and what they did wrong with the New 52, and they relaunched their whole line at #1 with the Marvel NOW initiative, but didn't throw away their fifty-year continuity to do so.