1. Heroes Reborn
While DC got all the press for their recent reboot, Marvel tried it in the 90's with horrible results. The Avengers and the Fantastic Four were sent to another dimension, and we were treated to 12 issues of "meh" at best storytelling.
Marvel farmed out the work on their major titles to Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and others at Image Comics. It was a "daring" move that they hoped would generate sales. Instead, the 12 issues we have of this storyline through various titles were met with confusion and ridicule in many instances. I mean, when Captain America is stacked more than Power Girl, you should see problems coming.
While they did manage to bring the team back to the "real world" later, they can never fail to admit the idea stunk. The concept might have been good, but their execution left a lot to be desired. You can get the trade paperback editions of their storylines now if you need a good laugh.
2. The X-Men Get a New Title...and a Million Copies of It
Any avid fan of The Uncanny X-Men from the 80's still had some hope as the 90's rolled in. Jim Lee was the top artist out there, and when we were told he'd be taking over a new X-Men title we were thrilled. You were hard-pressed to find a comic book fan who wasn't scrambling to find that coveted first issue of X-Men when it came out, certain we were holding a million-dollar collectible in our hands! What we didn't know was that Marvel was anticipating a sell-out, so they were feverishly printing and reprinting copies of this book.
At first we were proud and excited to say we owned that first issue that was sure to go up in value. Then we noticed comic shops and bookstores were still selling it. Then they couldn't give copies away. Now what could have stood as a landmark collector's item is notorious for being one of the least valuable back issues of the X-Men franchise.
3. Weird Cover Stuff
The 90's were a decade of dazzle for comic book covers. Never mind paper covers...no, the publishers decided what we needed were gimmicks!
We had foil-embossed covers! We had hologram covers! We had more variant covers than you could shake a stick at! We had lenticular covers! We had polybags with and without collectibles!
Some comics came bagged with trading cards! Some covers actually glowed in the dark! A few were die-cut to get them that extra edge! We had gatefold covers that spread out for miles (it seemed)!
Now this is considered a joke of the comic book industry. Whoever was selling holograms to the comic companies in the 90's retired a very rich man.
I have to admit I was right there grabbing holographic copies of Spider-Man comics thinking I was having something special to give to my sons one day. Now they are stuffed in a box somewhere in the attic collecting dust with my copy of X-Men #1. Still, if you were willing to destroy the comic itself to get the hologram off you had a cool collectible sticker.
4. The Clone Saga
Oh baby, if you want to look at a low point in the 90's, look no further than this "turning point" in the life of Peter Parker. This confusing mess of storytelling reigned supreme as the worst Spider-Man storyline of all time until "One More Day" came out ten years later.
What's so sad is that the original story this is based on from the 70's was actually a pretty good story. The Jackal (Professor Warren) created a clone of Gwen Stacy and later Spider-Man himself. Spidey had to fight the clone and disposed of his body later. The story left just a little ambiguity as to whether our Spidey was the real thing or the clone.
Looking back on this, it's easy to see where this could have indeed been a killer project for Marvel. It really did give them a chance to partially reboot Spider-Man while keeping the long-time fans happy by not erasing years of comic reading. Instead, the concept became so convoluted that even the writers themselves were unsure as to where it was going and who particular heroes and villains were. Aunt May was killed off (something I say should have been left alone) but she was subsequently brought back by saying it wasn't really her that died. Gwen Stacy's clone ran away and we never ever saw her again in any storyline. So many possibilities that were tossed aside.
Because of sales, the storyline continued on for far longer than it ever should have. If three clones were selling, why not add hundreds more and create "Maximum Clonage"? Let's bring back dead guys like Kaine and drag this sucker on for another year! Eventually Peter and Ben had to team up to find out who really was the clone, and we ended up with a reveal that Ben was the clone and Peter was real...or was he?
The only really cool thing to come out of the 90's Clone Saga was Ben Reilly's Spider-Man costume. I'm sorry, but whoever designed that one really nailed it as an incredible update to the suit while still paying homage to the original. I wish they'd still left that one around. It did come out in an action figure though, so it's better than nothing.
As I mentioned before, this was the potential for a reboot that could have worked, but they didn't have this mapped out well enough before they started and it soon became a write-as-we-go-along scenario that was doomed. Marvel had no lower Spider-Man point until they came out with "One More Day".
Two years ago they put out a miniseries by some of the original writers who were allowed to redo the saga in six issues with no interference from higher-ups like last time. In those six issues, they managed to put together a good story that would have made the saga (if they'd been allowed to do it right) one of the highlights of the 90's. Though the story feels rushed in some parts (there are several weeks that pass between most issues so the story can progress in a logical sense) it's still a lot better than the original.