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Martin Wagner, Kevin Smith, Alan Moore, David Lapham, Grant Morrison, J. Michael Straczynski, and a lot of other comic book creators owe me some money!

January 8th, 2010
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Back in 1999, Tom Spurgeon wrote a piece in The Comics Journal entitled “Martin Wagner Owes me Fifty Bucks.” The subject of that piece, Martin Wagner, was the writer/illustrator of an acclaimed black-and-white comic book called Hepcats. What had begun as a comedic strip when Mr. Wagner was a student at the University of Texas gradually morphed into something much deeper, and the storyline “Snowblind” received an enormous amount of critical acclaim in the comics community in the early ’90s. But after the publication of Hepcats issue twelve in 1994, the series ceased publication, leaving the “Snowblind” storyline frustratingly incomplete.

In 1996, Mr. Wagner signed a deal with the small comic book publisher Antarctic Press to re-print the first 12 issues of Hepcats and then continue the series onward. This is when I started following the series. But while the twelve original issues were re-printed as planned, no new material ever arrived, and to this day the “Snowblind” story remains incomplete.

That is what lead Mr. Spurgeon to write his piece for The Comics Journal, expressing frustration that he (like many others) had invested in the storyline (both emotionally and monetarily), and if Mr. Wagner was not planning on finishing the tale, he owed us all our money back!  I suspect Mr. Spurgeon was not seriously asking for a refund check from Martin Wagner, but his piece expressed the frustrations of fans who follow the work of a particular writer and/or artist, only to have a beloved project left unfinished. (This is not unlike the frustration felt by fans of canceled TV shows whose storylines are left forever unresolved.)

After finally seeing the publication of the years-delayed final issue of Planetary (read my review of the series here and the final issue here) earlier this year, I got to thinking about the other criminally unfinished comic book stories that haunt me. You’d think most of these unfinished series would be small, indie books, whose creators ran into monetary difficulties that made it impossible for them to continue their series (as may or may not have happened to Mr. Wagner, depending on whose story you believe), but that’s not entirely the case…

Stray Bullets – David Lapham’s black-and-white self-published crime comic absolutely blew me away when I read the first issue back in 1995. I was familiar with Mr. Lapham’s work from the Valiant Comics line of books in the ’90s, but Stray Bullets was an entirely different sort of project. The series was told mostly through single-issue stories, each one spotlighting a different character and the tragic circumstances that would befall him/her. The series would jump, from issue to issue, around to different protagonists in different areas of the country and different years (from the ’70s to the ’90s). Of course, as the series progressed, the puzzle pieces began to fit together and readers started to see how the individual stories connected and related to one another. But the genius of the series was in the astounding quality of each tough, brutal gem of an issue. Sadly, after issue 32 the series vanished. The storyline that was in progress was never completed (Mr. Lapham has said in interviews that one issue remained), and I have always felt that the over-all storyline had a ways to go yet. I am devastated that this masterpiece may never be completed!

Daredevil/Bullseye: The Target – After knocking ‘em dead writing Green Arrow for DC and Daredevil for Marvel, filmmaker Kevin Smith began two limited series: Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do, and Daredevil/Bullseye: The Target. The Spidey series didn’t interest me, but I eagerly picked up The Target. I had loved Mr. Smith’s “Guardian Devil” run on DD and I wanted to see what he had planned for this new series spotlighting Daredevil’s long-time adversary Bullseye. Sadly, only one issue was ever published. The Spider-Man/Black Cat miniseries hit a similar snag after issue 3, but was eventually completed years later. No such luck, as of yet, for The Target.

Grant Morrison’s Wildcats (with Jim Lee) and The Authority (with Gene Ha) – I’m a big Grant Morrison fan, and when I heard that he was taking over the two central titles of the Wildstorm comics universe in 2006 I was thrilled. When I found out that he was working with two extraordinary artists, in the form of Mr. Lee and Mr. Ha, I was DOUBLY thrilled. The first issues came out of each title, and I was intrigued by both.  Wildcats was a frothy combination of familiar elements with a busload of new twists, while The Authority kicked off with a bold decision to keep the familiar characters off-screen, instead focusing on the group of normal Joes tasked with investigating an extraordinary phenomena — the Authority’s crashed shiftship. But my interest in the books quickly turned to frustration when issue 2 of Wildcats and issue 3 of The Authority never arrived. (Just a few months ago, Wildstorm did finally begin publishing a resolution to the Authority arc, but it’s written and illustrated by different creators. This doesn’t really satisfy me. And that one great issue of Wildcats seems to have been consigned to comic book limbo.)

The Twelve – J. Michael Straczynski began an intriguing project for Marvel Comics back in late 2007/early 2008. The Twelve was to be a twelve-issue limited series about twelve super-heroic adventurers from World War II who find themselves trapped by the Nazis and cryogenically frozen until a construction project awakens them in present day. This was an interesting elaboration on the basic concept of Captain America, and a fun (and sometimes tragic) look at how society has changed from the ’40s until today. Great scripts by Mr. Straczynski and sharp, detailed art by Chris Weston made this a series worth one’s time. But only eight issues were published. Issue nine never arrived, and now Straczynski is working for DC Comics (rather than Marvel), and Joe Quesada, Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, has announced that the series is on hold. (By the way, while I’m on the subject of Mr. Straczynski, I was also extremely disappointed by his abandoning his Supreme Power series after issue seven of the second series, right in the middle of a storyline! Readers were left hanging on a dramatic cliffhanger, but the next issue was never published. What is that all about??)

Big Numbers – I actually have never read this series, since when it first came to my attention it was already famously incomplete (and I’ve never felt like starting to read something that I know will never be finished), but no list of unfinished comic books could leave out this collaboration between Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz, two towering geniuses of the field. Only two issues (of the planned twelve) were ever published, back in 1990.

It kills me that the above comic book series were never finished (and don’t look like they ever will be). While I realize that there is a wide variety of factors that can lead to the sudden end of a series, I do tend to think that publishers and creators have an obligation to the fans who have paid for their work to not just abandon stories mid-way. Sigh. This list makes me sad.

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