What they should have learned: Writers Mary Joe Duffy and later Mike Baron melded elements of men’s adventure novels and VHS-era crime films to superhero comics elevating Frank Castle from a fairly one-note Spider-Man foil to a compelling anti-hero whose popularity continues today.
What they actually learned: Marvel and DC Comics churned out scores of deadly gun carrying anti-heroes trying to recreate Frank’s success over and over again.
What they should have learned: Alan Moore’s magnum opus is a one-of-a kind blend of world building, non-linear narrative, and alternative history to create a true mind-spinning work of unparalleled depth.
What they actually learned: Swearing and death scenes makes you “mature.”
Batman: The Killing Joke (1988)
What they should have learned: With it’s sickening violence, lurid nightmarish colors, and elaborate backgrounds Moore’s most controversial DC book is a masterpiece of tension that takes Batman & the Joker’s conflict to it’s furthest logical conclusion and intends to sicken the reader.
What they actually learned: Rather than being the apex of grimdark “The Killing Joke” inspires a generation of readers and writers to decide that Batman should ONLY be grimdark to the point that characters like Harley Quinn and The Mad Hatter have quadruple digit body-counts. Also Barbara Gordon remains crippled for years despite Moore regretting making that part of the story.
Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man (1988)
What they should have learned: A young artist takes some visual risks and becomes popular by eschewing Marvel’s house style of the time creating a unique and striking visual. The time experimenting with Spider-Man gives McFarlane the tools to create his wildly popular original series Spawn.
What they actually learned: Rather than inspire companies to take risks with their artists the popularity of McFarelane, Jim Lee, and Rob Liefeld inspire Marvel & DC to make their house style an amalgam of “The Image Style” resulting in eyesores like “Extreme Justice” and “Force Works.”
What they should have learned: By mixing cartoon antics and high fantasy Jeff Smith proved that child friendly comics can reach a wide audience and that cartoonish books don’t have to be simple or boring.
What they actually learned: Once the value of a mint condition copy of Bone #1 shot to $100 in Wizard’s Price Guide speculators started looking at black and white indy comics like they were lottery tickets.
What they should have learned: Another genre mash-up this neo-noir mix of violence, sex, super-heroics and gritty story-telling FINALLY gave Marvel a critically acclaimed Mature Readers title that could compete with DC’s Vertigo line.
What they actually learned: Writers see Bendis’s take on The Purple Man and conclude that sex crimes are an easy way to show how bad your villain is. Thus paving the way for sleaze-fests like “Identity Crisis” and “Kick-Ass II.”
Ultimate Spider-Man #1 (2002)
What they should have learned: By taking a thoughtful slow build a young Brian Michael Bendis proved that with clever dialog and solid pacing that character building can be just as exciting as superhero action.
What they actually learned: You can pad-out a one-issue story to six issues then sell it as a trade.