DC has not been one of the "Big Two" comic book companies for more than half a century simply because it has the longest-running title in history or some of the most recognizable and important fictional characters in the world, but because the publisher has produced some of the most entertaining, critically acclaimed, and groundbreaking stories of all time. But even with DC's pick of the best writers and artists in the industry, the pressures of producing dozens of comic books a month in competition with the books of Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, and a dozen other publishers have sometimes led to hasty decisions, ill-conceived ideas, and hacked-out work, resulting in some of the worst DC storylines ever.
We understand the hard work and dedication that goes into producing comic books, but the story arcs on this list are so bad that they do a disservice not only to the iconic characters they are about, but also to the dedicated fans who shelled out their hard-earned money to buy them. Some of the creators who developed these stories are titans of the industry - writers and artists who helped the medium transcend previously conceived notions of what comic books can be. But even titans fall, and when they do, the crash is both horrible and spectacular to behold. Here are the worst, most hated DC comic arcs of all time.
Whether you love his sense of humor and irreverent movies or you hate them, there's no question that Kevin Smith is a true comic book fan. References to comic books and comic book characters are ladled over everything he does, from his movies, to his SModcasts, to the AMC reality show Comic Book Men. Smith has even owned multiple comic book shops for decades, including Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, which serves as the setting for many of his productions. But being a movie writer and lover of comic books isn't enough to guarantee a successful series, and Batman: The Widening Gyre (2009-2010) is an excellent case in point.
The story, written by Smith and illustrated by longtime friend Walt Flanagan, finds Batman embroiled in a conflict between Poison Ivy and Etrigan the Demon. Distracted by the reappearance of old flame Silver St. Cloud and the arrival of a violent new "hero" named Baphomet in Gotham, Batman blunders through just about every mission he embarks upon, requiring aid at every turn. His judgment apparently clouded by St. Cloud, the "world's greatest detective" drops his guard and reveals his identity to the clearly unstable Baphomet, who reveals himself to be the villain Onomatopoeia and promptly slits the throat of Batman's paramour.
Thankfully, only the first six issues of the intended 12-issue series were ever published. Not only is Smith's Batman a clumsy fool who overestimates his abilities and soils himself when things go wrong, but he so disbelieves that he is worthy of love that he drags St. Cloud out of the car by her hair and roughs her up to make sure she is not a robot. Sex and controlled substance references unnecessarily pervade The Widening Gyre, with Poison Ivy incapacitating Batman with synthesized weed and St. Cloud referring to Batman as "Deedee" because their first night of intimacy went into double-digit orgasms. The series has been called "the worst Batman comics," and DC has been bashed for Smith's hiring and called "so insecure that they beg for the table scraps of other media."
Comic book fans are pretty vocal about their disappointment with a series, story arc, or the characterizations of their favorite heroes, but they usually reserve their vitriol for the aisles of comic book shops or spread it anonymously online. Rarely has a title been so bad that a fan actually packed up the books they purchased and shipped them back to DC in protest, as at least one fan did with Amazons Attack! by Will Pfeifer and Pete Woods.
Launched as a six-issue limited series in April 2007, with seven tie-in issues across four other titles including Wonder Woman, Amazons Attack! finds the full fury of the all-female warrior society descending upon Washington, DC, in retaliation for Wonder Woman's illegal detention and torture by the Department of Metahuman Affairs. Accompanied by chimeras, hydras, cyclopes, "Stygian Killer Wasps," and other mystical creatures, the Amazons take out centuries of frustration with "Man's World" by mercilessly slaughtering any males they come across, including unarmed men and children. After decapitating the head of the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, the Amazons then attempt to assassinate the president of the United States, first on land, and then in the air, aboard Air Force One.
The series was supposed to define Wonder Woman and her purpose, both as an Amazon and as a superhero in Man's World, but she barely impacts the events of the story, relying on Supergirl, Nemesis, Batman - with a last-minute magic spell courtesy of Zatanna - and others to save the day, appearing in fewer than 30 pages of the entire 160-page story. Meanwhile, her entire race of Amazons are painted as morally bankrupt, bloodthirsty drones in service to uncaring "gods." Reviews of the series eviscerated the storyline, with one reviewer summing it up as an "unnecessary, unwanted, sexist, and kinda racist story that leads us all wonder, what the hell DC was thinking!"
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns took the comic book world by storm when it debuted in February 1986. The first issue sold over a million copies and the four-issue series is now widely considered one of the most important and influential comic books of all time. Frank Miller's tale of an aging Batman coming out of retirement to stop the rising tide of violence in Gotham City perpetrated by Two-Face, the Joker, and a violent gang called the Mutants has been called a "masterpiece of storytelling," and in 2005 made Time's list of the 10 best English-language graphic novels of all time.
So when Miller returned to tell another tale of a seething, aged Batman in the dark, twisted future world he created, anticipation was high - as were expectations that Miller's sequel, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, or DK2 (2001-2002), could live up to the original.
DK2 contained more heroes and a continuation of the sort of political satire found in the original, with Batman training his former enemies to rebel against Lex Luthor's corrupt government. But absent was anything even remotely revolutionary about his take on Batman or superheroes, in general. The story - which doesn't even really begin until the second of the three issues - is incoherent or just plain "ridiculous" at times. Worst of all, Miller's artwork is clunky, simplistic, and just plain "weird" throughout. Anatomy appears irrelevant and the features of some characters are so distorted they are almost unrecognizable from panel to panel. Splash and double-page splash pages, usually reserved for epic-scale, poster-worthy scenes are used more to meet page requirements than anything else, as they are simplistic and, like the series itself, fail to make any sort of "splash" at all.
We're sympathetic to DC writers. It can't be easy crafting original stories designed to challenge the hero when that hero has been around as long and is as powerful as Superman. There are only so many different types of Kryptonite or magic imps from another dimension to rely upon before it all starts feeling redundant. Those limitations, plus a 1995 release date - right smack-dab in the middle of the speculator bubble crash, when big guns and pouches were all the rage - make Superman: At Earth's End an almost forgivable entry in DC's Elseworlds line. Almost. As one reviewer put it, this comic falls into the category of "stories that simply get it wrong on every possible level imaginable."
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic future and is a semi-sequel to Kamandi: At Earth's End. Earth's heroes are all but forgotten and Superman, sporting the look of a hermit on steroids, is greatly diminished due to lack of adequate sunlight. Dwelling in a hovering city that allows him to slowly regain his strength, he looks down upon the ruins of Gotham City and finds that the remains of his old friend Batman have been taken from their resting place, along with the bodies of his parents. Heading off to investigate in what would become his final mission, Superman encounters bat creatures, lion-men, robots, cyborgs, mutant SS troopers, and a pair of Hitler clones.
Though the basic premise is not all that bad on its own, noted poet, author, and comic book scribe Tom Veitch does not give us Superman, or even an approximation of the Superman that we all know and love. Though he can fly and is supposedly back up to strength, the Superman in Earth's End relies on weapons to do most of the work, including a gun so ludicrously huge that it would probably even make Rob Liefeld roll his eyes. Not only does he have no problem mowing down his enemies, but this Superman is so devoid of any semblance of hope that, after being mortally injured, he would rather give up and take his own life rather than live out his days as a *gasp* cyborg.