Creative Differences1 of 13
Creators move back and forth between the publishers fairly regularly (in some cases working for several simultaneously), but there have been several occasions where creators known for working for just one publisher exclusively decides, for one reason or another, to leave - and it makes an impact.
Here are ten examples of the biggest, most impactful creator exoduses from mainstream publishers.
Grant Morrison Leaves Marvel (2004)2 of 13
Marvel Comics recruited Grant Morrison in 2000 on the heels of his successful JLA run, leading to introductory works such as Marvel Boy and Fantastic Four: 1234 before hitting a stride with the seminal New X-Men in 2001. Working with Frank Quitely and others, Morrison put the X-Men franchise back on the top of the Diamond charts with a leather-clad, pared-down take on the team dovetailing with the original X-Men movie's success.
Morrison's Marvel tenure was relatively brief however, as in 2003 he was recruited back into the DC Comics' fold and left off with New X-Men's "Here Comes Tomorrow" released in 2004, with plans for a Silver Surfer series with Quitely and several other unspecified Marvel projects left unfulfilled.
Following a productive few years as a DC exclusive writer, including creating the seminal All-Star Superman, an extended run on Batman which introduced the character of Damian Wayne, and numerous other major contributions, Morrison has now expanded to work for multiple publishers - as well as in projects outside comic books - but has not (yet) returned for more Marvel work.
Stan Lee Sues Marvel, Joins DC (2002)3 of 13
There is no person more synonymous with Marvel Comics than Stan Lee, who co-created nearly all of Marvel’s most popular characters including the Avengers, the X-Men, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Daredevil, the Inhumans, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, and Thor. So when Lee actually filed suit against Marvel in 2001 citing unpaid royalties (a lawsuit that resulted in a $10 million payout for Lee), it came a shock to some fans.
Possibly more shocking, however, was when Lee, who had spent nearly the entirety of his career at Marvel, began working on a series of special one-shots with DC Comics. Entitled Stan Lee’s Just Imagine…, the 13 issues under that umbrella showed the DC Universe as if Lee had created many of its top characters, including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Catwoman, Aquaman, Robin, Shazam, and the Justice League, along with numerous secondary characters.
John Byrne Leaves Marvel For DC (1986)4 of 13
John Byrne rose to superstar prominence working with Chris Claremont through some of the most essential years of the X-Men, including as the artist of the “Dark Phoenix Saga.” Byrne parlayed that success into penciling and writing Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight, as well as drawing Avengers and co-writing Hulk.
But in 1985, DC Comics rebooted its entire universe with the reality-altering Crisis On Infinite Earths, necessitating a retelling of Superman’s updated origin. Enticed by such a project, Byrne departed Marvel and created the six-issue Man of Steel - a miniseries that included the first-ever variant covers in American comic books.
Byrne remained on the Superman titles until 1989 when he returned to Marvel, taking on writing duties for West Coast Avengers, writing and drawing Sensational She-Hulk (having brought the character into Fantastic Four a few years prior), writing and drawing Namor the Sub-Mariner, and writing Iron Man.
Chris Claremont Leaves Marvel (1991)5 of 13
Chris Claremont wrote Uncanny X-Men and various spin-off titles for 17 years, from 1975 until 1991, defining and creating many of the characters that still anchor the X-Men to this day.
But shortly after the launch of the Uncanny-less X-Men title in 1991 that resulted in a blockbuster 8+ million in sales, creative differences emerged between Claremont, co-writer/artist Jim Lee, and editor Bob Harras. That led to Claremont leaving the title with X-Men #3, as well as Marvel as a whole.
Claremont had a back-up plan however - becoming a member of the then-developing Image Comics alongside Jim Lee, with a creator-owned title called The Huntsman drawn by Whilce Portacio. That project - and Claremont's involvement in Image's foundation - fell through, leading the writer to other work including a Star Trek OGN and an Aliens/Predator maxiseries.
Claremont ended up returning to Marvel in 1998 as editorial director, and eventually came full-circle back to the X-Men for a second run.
Jack Kirby Leaves DC for Marvel (1976)6 of 13
In 1976, Jack Kirby came back to Marvel having departed for DC Comics six years prior - and Marvel promoted it with aplomb with its first Marvel Comic Con. He resumed work on Captain America, the character he had co-created in 1941, and created the Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles treasury edition one-shot.
In his second term at Marvel, which lasted until 1978, Kirby created the Eternals, the Celestials, Machine Man, and Devil Dinosaur. He also adapted 2001: A Space Odyssey and penciled what is widely considered Marvel’s first graphic novel, The Silver Surfer: The Ultimate Cosmic Experience - his final comic book collaboration with Stan Lee.
In 1979, Kirby embarked on a career in animation for Hanna-Barbera – a decision that eventually led him to work again with Lee on The New Fantastic Four cartoon.
Jim Lee Leaves Image for DC (1998)7 of 13
Jim Lee was arguably Marvel’s second-biggest star when he left to co-found Image (just behind fellow Image co-founder Todd McFarlane), so to say he was one of the company’s linchpins and driving forces is an understatement.
Lee’s art, including his X-Men #1 and creator owned Image imprint Wildstorm, helped stoked the speculation boom of the 90s and forged a path for independent creators to make their own fortune in comic books.
Then suddenly, in 1998, six years after Wildstorm was founded, Lee sold to DC, delivering his company, characters, and himself over to rejoin the Big Two.
In the 19 years since, Lee has risen through the DC ranks to become co-publisher alongside Dan DiDio, and was an instrumental creator/designer in 2011’s “New 52” linewide reboot.
Steve Ditko Leaves Marvel for Charlton/DC (1966)8 of 13
Steve Ditko is one of the founding fathers of Marvel Comics, having co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange alongside Stan Lee and even designed Iron Man’s red-and-yellow armor. Ditko and Lee reportedly butted heads often in Marvel’s early days – especially on Amazing Spider-Man, where Lee would often rework Ditko’s plots while scripting his already-drawn pages. This dispute later led to the credit “co-plotter” being added to Ditko’s name.
Creative and personal differences – some owing to Ditko’s deeply held Objectivist beliefs – led to a split in 1966, with Ditko departing Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel entirely after #38. According to Lee, Ditko’s final straw on the book was Lee’s plan to reveal the Green Goblin’s secret identity as Norman Osborn. Ditko wanted it to be a random villain, new to the story, while Lee felt that lacked drama after the build-up of his secret. Ditko quit when Lee went with his planned story.
Ditko went to Charlton Comics, where he created the Question, Captain Atom, and Ted Kord – all of whom later became part of DC Comics and loosely inspired some of the characters of Watchmen. Ditko then ventured to DC where he co-created Hawk & Dove and the Creeper.
In the 90s, he did eventually return to Marvel, where he co-created Squirrel Girl.
Alan Moore Leaves DC Twice (1989, 2009)9 of 13
It is a common perception that writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons redefined superhero storytelling with their 1986 limited series Watchmen, which gave form to a stark, literary voice that had previously been rare in comic books. In previous years, Moore had redefined Swamp Thing, written a final story for Superman, and numerous other well loved tales.
After Watchmen, Moore created The Killing Joke, a defining work for the modern take on the Joker, and proposed a story entitled “Twilight of the Superheroes” which took place many years in DC’s future and would have reestablished the idea of the DC Multiverse, which had been done away with in 1985’s Crisis On Infinite Earths.
Moore quit DC in 1989, citing the publisher’s poor policy on royalties for his work and its derivative licensing.
Moore eventually returned to mainstream comic books with Rob Liefeld's Maximum Press and then Jim Lee's Wildstorm - and there launched an imprint, America's Best Comics. When Lee sold Wildstorm to DC, Moore reluctantly agreed to continue on with the launch of ABC so as not to scuttle work that had already been done, and with Lee’s assurance that he would not have to deal directly with DC. Under the ABC line, Moore launched Tom Strong, Promethea, Top 10, Tomorrow Stories, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
After DC editorial interfered with a gag that would have slighted Marvel Comics in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #5, Moore became angry with the publisher, eventually leading him to exit DC once again.
Moore extricated League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from DC to publish elsewhere, with several new volumes since.
Brian Michael Bendis Leaves Marvel for DC (2017)10 of 13
Brian Michael Bendis got his big break reinventing Spider-Man for Marvel's Ultimate Universe. Ultimate Spider-Man led to Bendis taking over Marvel's Avengers franchise with the controversial "Avengers: Disassembled" - a story that revolutionized the team and made them Marvel's top franchise.
After that, Bendis became Marvel's go-to writer, reinventing everything from the X-Men, to Spider-Man (again), to Iron Man, the Defenders, and more. So when the writer announced his departure from Marvel after nearly 17 years, well, let's just say it was the exclusive contract heard round the world.
Bendis is taking his reputation for revolution to DC's Superman line, where he'll relaunch both Superman and Action Comics later this year.
Image Founders Leave Marvel (1992)11 of 13
In 1992, a group of Marvel Comics artists including top talents Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen, Whilce Portacio, and Jim Valentino did the seemingly unthinkable and exited the mainstream publisher to start their own company, Image Comics.
Founded on the nascent principles of creator-owned comic books, the creators retained full rights to their own creations, even when their characters occasionally crossed over. Each creator established their own line – notably Lee’s Wildstorm and Silvestri’s Top Cow – and launched their own titles within those lines.
For a time, some Image founders like Larsen and Valentino continued to work for Marvel while balancing their creator-owned projects - but those work-for-hire pursuits eventually were discontinued.
Spawn #1 set the table, however, with 1.7 million in sales and a movie, animated series, and toyline that redefined what was thought possible for creator-owned comics and drove speculation and interest to Image's other titles.
Jack Kirby Leaves Marvel for DC (1970)12 of 13
While Steve Ditko beat him to the punch by exiting in four years prior, Jack Kirby quitting Marvel in 1970 for DC Comics still sent shockwaves through the industry. The first major “defection” of its kind, Kirby’s exit left few working Marvel founding fathers save Stan Lee remaining at the publisher.
His departure stemmed from his dissatisfaction with the way his partnership with Lee had progressed, with Kirby feeling financially and creatively slighted. He was promised free rein to create his own wing of the DC Universe – the Fourth World. In his four-year tenure at DC, Kirby created the New Gods, Mr. Miracle, Darkseid, the Anti-Life Equation, and every other classic element of the Fourth World, many of which have come to define the cosmic aspects of DC Comics.
Kirby’s DC creations weren’t limited to the Fourth World – he also created characters such as the Demon, Manhunter, Kamandi, a new version of the Sandman, OMAC, and more.
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