Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Jumping the Shark


Doug:  You veterans out there will recall a couple of months ago when Karen and I requested some creative contributions from our readers.  Every now and then we get a bit rundown and it can be hard to come up with meaningful fodder for your discussing pleasures each day.  We've run several of your ideas over the past few weeks and have had a blast doing so.  Today we're back at it, with a missive from our ever-faithful Inkstained Wretch.  He wrote (with some minor editing by me):

Another idea that just popped into my head: A discussion of "jump the shark" cases for particular comic book series. I mean, at what point did a long-running, popular series go seriously astray?

We've talked in this comment section a couple of times about how the Avengers lost its way for years after the justifiably infamous 200th issue. Any other cases anybody would like to talk about?

Doug:  For those of you not "in the know", "jumping the shark" is a reference to a venerable American television program called Happy Days.  Set in the 1950's in David B.'s very own Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the show followed several friends through various sitcom situations.  It was very highly-rated, until that fateful episode when Fonzie, the King of Cool, -- jumped a shark.  In short-shorts and a leather jacket.  Jumped a shark.  All downhill after that, kids...  So today we're talking about comic series that were going along just swimmingly (ouch) until some event, creator, etc. just made it all head south in a hurry.  Have at it!


dbutler16 said...

To me, the X-Men jumped the shark when they introduced Rachel Summers, though I’m sure some people will say it happened when Byrne & Austin left, or maybe when the Morlocks were introduced. However, when Claremont decided to revisit that wonderful two-parter (which should have stayed a two-parter) Days of Future Past. I think this starts the ridiculously convoluted X-Men continuity many of us would come to know and hate, plus it signaled to me that Claremont had more or less run out of good ideas.

The Legion of Super-Heroes may have jumped the shark when the earth was destroyed, yes, destroyed, in 1992 (our time). Maybe it jumped the shark with the 5 Years Later stuff, though. I thought those stories were actually pretty god, but much too dark for the Legion of Super-Heroes, plus I hated the art. Giffen had certainly jumped the shark personally in terms of art by then.

dbutler16 said...

Whoops, I mean "I thought those stories were actually pretty good" not "I thought those stories were actually pretty god" though I imagine you got the idea.

Edo Bosnar said...

As far as Happy Days itself is concerned, that show actually jumped the shark long before that actual scene - I'd put it at the beginning of the third season, which is when the Fonz started to become the central character and much of the initial commitment to make it seem like the show was taking actually place in the 1950s was discarded.

Back to comics: in the case of X-men, it's hard to pin down a specific point, as dbutler noted, and I certainly agree with him about the convoluted continuity problems created by overuse of that distopian future timeline - however, there's also the introduction of magic and vampires as other storytelling devices that needlessly burdened the X-world. For me, though, the point of no return was issue #186 - the first "Lifedeath" story. As if the forced 'punk biker-chick' makeover for Storm wasn't bad enough, Claremont had to depower her as well. I kept reading X-men for a while after this just by force of habit, but I hardly remember any of the stories, because it just all became so unexciting and uninteresting. And this was only confirmed the few subsequent times I resumed reading the X-books for a while - like during the Mutant Massacre and Inferno stories.

The Defenders: jumped the shark completely and utterly when the three former X-men joined the team...

humanbelly said...

Gosh, so many different elements could contribute to comic-book shark-jump, though. And of course, a series will (as often as not) have an opportunity to jump back again, as it were. Heck, that could almost be a companion thread/topic, couldn't it?

New Mutants: Whatever issue it was that Bill Sienkowicz (sp) took over as artist, and proceeded on a dreadfully long run as an embarrassingly self-indulgent, dark-Picasso wannabe (or something). The book never truly recovered, as it eventually became X-Force, and got Leifelded and Cabled and probably several other indignities before its demise.

Conan: When Belit the She-Pirate was introduced as the love of Conan's life. The book ran for years after that, but for me it somehow lost something at that point.

Howard the Duck: Gerber did some inane, look-how-clever-I-am, self-indulgent text (with splash pages) issue to thumb his nose at the deadline, or something. It completely changed the reader's perspective of him from hip, anti-establishment rebel, to slacker, self-absorbed, kinda arrogant- well- jerk. That shift in perception shaded my enjoyment of the book after that.

Werewolf by Night: Don Perlin, penciler; Vinnie Colletta, inker.

Avengers: Multiple shark-jumps and returns. "The Crossing" was particularly horrible, of course. And as much as "DisAssembled" marks an unforgivable turn of events for many (well, on this page, probably most) of us, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the skis were at least starting to launch off the water with Busiek's "Kang Dynasty" storyline. The consequences were really far, far too huge in scope (earth enslaved; Washington DC wiped out; etc) to be able to accept that a return to anything like normal status quo would be possible, AND the entire event was completely unsupported or acknowledged- for the most part- by any other Marvel title. And this led to about a year of agonizingly decompressed stories that did nothing but wreak further destruction on the team on multiple levels. . . and then Bendis killed everything. Man, that's jumping a whole school of sharks in a row. . .


Anonymous said...

Avengers, as noted, got damp from 200-255, but certainly rallied thereafter, unlike HD. Defenders, I’d say from the 50’s onwards. Xmen I’d already jumped ship myself, but I remember those issues that Edo dislikes quite fondly. I remember 186 for the Smith art.

Cap – was pretty consistently good from TOS to #100 and up to the Secret Empire story. The Robbins followed by Kirby period wasn’t good. I remember Madbomb fondly for some reason, but Kirby’s post 200 stuff I have wiped from my memory banks.

Iron Man has always been up and down. Actually, I’d say he didn’t have an indisputable high point until the Michelinie/JRJR/Layton run.

Captain Marvel – so many good ideas at the start, but rarely fulfilled his potential for a long stretch. Usually had wet toes.

Doc Strange – post Englehart/Colan. Very hard to write the Doc well, or draw him imaginatively, so unless you’ve got a Thomas/Englehart writer and/or an artist like Ditko, Brunner, Colan or Nebres, you’re always circling the chum bucket.


J.A. Morris said...

All the Spider-Man titles jump when the 90s Clone Saga happened. I generally enjoyed all the titles, I'd collected the character for 15 years, had ever issue from 136 to 400-something. That was when I stopped collecting comics.

For X-men, I'd say Byrne & Austin's departure was the jump. Sure, there were a few nicely drawn issues by Smith & Cockrum, but every writer since 1980 has been referencing and trying to recapture the glory that was 108-143. It's not gonna happen. I like Romita Jr., but he was ill-suited to work on a team book in '83, his style just didn't work with those characters. I liked a few issues here and there,but I kept buying until #322...because I kept saying "it might get better". And because I was a "collector".

dbutler16 said...

Regarding what Edo Bosnar about vampires and such mucking up the pages of the X-Men, two of the worst X-Men issues I ever read were #159 and Annual #6, with Dracula gaining control of Storm. The stories just didn't grab me at all, and in the case of Annual #6, I disliked the art as well.

Also, I agree with Richard that the Avengers went into a slump, but then rebounded (well, more than once actually), thus I don't really consider them as having jump the shark, unless it was when Brian Michael Bendis started writing the series.

david_b said...

West Coast Avengers: Starting with regular series ish 1 (Milgrom and Englehart), a fall from such a great premise, well-executed in the Limited Series. Bryne helped it greatly, but I still never cared much for either Mockingbird or Tigra.

Avengers..? Yes, the issues 200-250 lanquishing, like they somehow entered some alternate universe where evey plotline and drawn panel suddenly seemed banal, trite and insipid. The bane of all Assembled collectors.

ASM: Gwen's first clone appearance. Still felt a slap in the face for mourning the loss of someone I barely knew if only in Romita reprints.

CA&F: "Robbins, Robbins, Robbins." I look back on Kirby taking over much more favorably now than back then, but still seemed a step back from the pinnacle of Englehart/Buscema's tenure.

FF: No shark-jumping per se, just lost interest when Medusa (and Buscema/Sinnott earlier..) left.

New Titans: When Robin and Kid Flash left, it just left a hole where a heart once beat, which only got worse when Perez first left.

And on the subject of artists..?

Don Heck entering the Bronze Age, both DC and Marvel. His Silver Avengers and Captain America made for wonderful reprints.

J.A. Morris said...

As much as I loathe #200, you could say that Avengers was almost shark proof (up to a point, I haven't read an issue since the early 90s).

Whenever the series got in a rut, they just created a new team and/or added new characters (Mantis,Captain Marvel II,Starfox). Sometimes the changes worked, sometimes not.

I'd say the same goes for Defenders, it was easy to ignore those team books for a few months and then pick one off the racks without missing too much.

david_b said...

Oops, left out Vish/Wanda getting married. Except for a few flashes of brillance, both characters suffered greatly IMHO.

Dougie said...

I'm in a negative frame of mind, so:

SLSH after the Earthwar (1978). Conway wrote a lot of dull, anti-government stories and Staton didn't seem a good fit.Then there were the Jimmy Janes Years. No offence, Mr. J but you weren't to my taste. In David B's apposite phrase, trite, banal and insipid comics.

JLA around 1982, certainly after Crisis on Earth-Prime. A book with no direction and tedious plots, albeit with pretty Perez covers. JLDetroit while unpopular, was at least an attempt to do something with the book.

humanbelly said...

@david_b: Oh, I daresay FF has had some shark-jump moments, but as a beloved flag-ship title, there was always a commitment to finding a way to jump it back. But you're right that historically it's managed to maintain a much more even cool than most other books. Really, the first time I can remember saying "I don't really like this book at all anymore" was the brief period that Walt Simonson took over the writing and art chores.

I think the next jump would have been the "Reed's really dead this time. We mean it!" period during the Ryan/Bulandi tenure.

Then there was the "Pier 4" or "Dock 4" era a few years later, with a bajillion people in an extended supporting cast. This was deceptive because the art was quite striking.

Then Reed taking over Latveria and taking on Doom's personna. . . sort of.

Death of the Torch was the final straw for me. After decades. . . DECADES. . . I quietly let my subscription lapse.

HB again

david_b said...


Totally agreed on FF, they've stayed relatively 'buoyant' from way too many shark attacks. The ones I can remember they rebounded from quickly were..:

1) The dozen-or-so final Kirby issues, then the dreaded Romita tenure in the early 70s. Urrg.

2) Wasn't a big Buckler fan, but grew to like him after Big John B.

3) Ben in his exo-skeletal suit.

4) HERBIE, I can say no more..

5) Waning last year of Byrne, when writing and art were both becoming very sketchy and weak.

6) Sharon Ventura becoming the 'She-Thing'..: 'Seriously..??'

7) Death of Johnny Storm, LONG after comic 'deaths' were even taken seriously. ("See, I didn't even mention him marrying a Skrull..")

8) Sue's increasingly ridiculous costume changes.

William said...

Oh Spider-Man, how many times have thee "jumped the shark"? Let me count the ways.

1. The First Clone Saga.

2. When Aunt May was going to marry Doc Ock.

3. When Peter and MJ actually got married.

4. The ret-con that MJ always knew Peter was Spider-Man.

5. The Second Clone Saga.

6. The return of Norman Osborn.

7. The "death" and return of Aunt May.

8. Spider-Man: Chapter One. (The first time that John Byrne let me down).

9. The "death" and return of MJ.

10. Pretty much the entire run of J. Michael Straczynski (but especially the following three entries):

11. Ezekiel and the "magic spider" theory.

12. Spider-Man: "Sins of the Father". (Featuring Gwen the ho-bag and her baby daddy, stormin' Norman Osborn).

13. Spider-Man: "The Other". (Organic web-shooters and wrist stingers anyone?)

14. Spider-Man becomes a full-time Avenger.

15. One More Day.

And the entire Marvel Universe jumped a blue whale with "Civil War", IMO. There would have been no getting back to "normal" after that one.

spiderkev said...

Spider-man;One More Day/Brand New Day.'Nuff Said?

Teresa said...

dbutler16...You beat me to it. The LSH Earth destruction. I was a diehard LSH fan and that stretched my loyalty to the limit.

Brad Meltzer on the Justice League. I haven't bought a JLA since his run. So boring and slow. The JLA members calling each other by their first names drove me crazy.

Spider Clones. That was it for me.

90s Fantastic Four, now with boob window. Done.

Anonymous said...

Dougie, I was a big JLA fan through the 70's and you are so right about the series hitting the wall. I was afraid after Dick Dillin passed away that it was just a matter of time and the sporadic George Perez appearances just weren't enough (though it was great when he had time to draw). Around the time you mentioned, it was just hard to keep interested. It was kind of like they were throwing things out to see if they would stick.


Rip Jagger said...

The worst case I can think of is Jonah Hex.

That long-running and surprisingly successful (relatively speaking) western series with its gritty hero jumped the shark completely and utterly when the saga was inexplicably shunted into a science fiction future and became merely "Hex".

It still hurts to think about it.

Rip Off

dbutler16 said...

david_b, regarding those FF jumping the shark moments, Ben's exoskeleton (which I disliked also) was shortly lived and was ultimately just a way for Roy Thomas to increase his strength, and I actually thought the HERBIE thing, while it sounded like an awful idea to introduce him, was actually well handled, plus HERBIE really didn't last very long - only about 8 issues. However, I do agree with your other FF shark jumping points.

Anonymous said...

After a 20 year vacation from collecting, I came back and started by collecting all the silver/bronze stuff I wanted back in the day and then working my way forward.
William’s post is really NOT making me look forward to the day I get to Spider Man.

david_b said...

Yep, Richard, TOTALLY agreeing on William's splendid layout.

I am extremely comfortable with grabbing both Masterworks and selected Silver/Bronze issues up through the Clone Saga.

That's where my heart said goodbye.

dbutler16 said...

I've also started going through Silve/Bronze Age comics after almost a 20 year hiatus, and I agree with yuo guys - The Clone Saga will be my stopping point. The Jackal has rellay been involved in some bad stories, eh? Both Clone Sagas plus he apparently gave most of the inhabitants of Manhattan the same powers as Spider-Man. Ugh.

Then again, I think Marvel Comics in general jumped the shark in the 1990's.

Redartz said...

I didn't mind the 1975 clone story so much; at the time it seemed as if she would walk off after issue 149 and disappear forever. The title definitely had high and low points in subsequent years, but for me the 'shark bite' was 1990 with McFarlane's new Spiderman book. Though I enjoyed his run on Amazing, the new title seemed unnecessary. Spiderman was, to me, a bit overused; a fault Marvel was frequently guilty of in the 90's (and don't get me started on the X books). Dbutler is correct about Marvel jumping the shark in the 90's, imho...

humanbelly said...

Boy, this is a great thread-- terrific discussion-fodder.

@William-- I'm driven. . . DRIVEN. . . to at least put in a counterpuntal word about the first three items on your Spidey list (no offense intended, mind you). I remember enjoying the whole extended Jackal storyline quite a lot when I first read it-- although I wasn't wholly on board w/ the Gwen Clone or the confusion with the extra Peter (didn't buy the science for one thing, even as a young goober). But it didn't drive me away from the book at all, and it was indeed a mystery, which was an element often used in Spidey that I liked a lot.

LOVED Aunt May's near-wedding to Doc Ock! In the context of the story, it was such a wonderfully appalling set of circumstances! And, man, the whole ending sequence was a true pulse-racer. Quite a splash panel w/ Ock's island blowing up, eh?

Pete & MJ's wedding? Sheesh, I would have attended if I could. It was such an enormous burden for the writers over the years, but it was also an unprecedented amount of growth for a hero who we'd seen start out as a teenager. I am crushed that Marvel simply couldn't find a way to stay committed to it and make it work.

@david_b: Re: the FF (still). Oddly enough, several years ago, I did a read-through of the entirety of the FF w/ my very young son, and a lot of those shark-jumps actually work surprisingly well when taken in a more continuous format. Particularly the Romita issues, the exo-suit and the Sharon Ventura storyline. They seem more. . . integrated, for lack of a better word.

Cripes, you know what we forgot (although you alluded to it)? The fact that "Alycia's really been a Skrull for several years" was, like, the ancestor of many later, horrible, illegitimate retcons. I nearly let my subscription lapse with that one, but succombed in the 11th hour. Truly hated that device. . . felt lied to. And then when the SHOULD have kept Johnny and Lyja together (hello? growth for the Torch? Is that too much to ask??), which would have been a tremendously engaging, ongoing sub-plot--- the writers punted.

That were a big one, it were. . .


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