Feb
21

5-10-15-20: Comic Book History for February 2012

Posted by on Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 at 09:58:12 PM

In the interest of making everyone feel old, inspired by Scientific American, and because I spend too much time digging through old comic book material anyway, here’s what will hopefully be a new monthly feature: 5-10-15-20, a look back at goings-on in the funnybook field in half-decade increments. Yesterday should’ve been the fiftieth birthday of Dwayne McDuffie, but instead today marks the first anniversary of his passing. If you’d rather go read one of his books or watch something he show-ran, I understand.

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The #1 Comic Five Years Ago Was: Civil War #7

Has it really only been five years since Civil War? On one hand, it seems like there have been at least a dozen events and big status quo shifts since All The Union Employees Stood Up to Tell Cap to Give Up. On the other hand, the very first FBB podcast was recorded in the immediate aftermath of said Civil War. It doesn’t feel like we’ve been doing this for five years, but here we are.

This month is also the fifth anniversary of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #1, the first in Marvel’s line of officially authorized Stephen King comics. It was a big deal, with midnight release parties at comics shops, and nearly 200,000 copies of the first issue sold. Five years later, the ninth Dark Tower mini-series The Way Station debuted at 15,367 copies. I assume they’re still solid seller in collected form, but long gone are the days of midnight release parties. On the other hand, five years into its run, The Dark Tower is still out-selling Static Shock, Mister Terrific, Black Panther, and Villains for Hire.

Speaking of Black History Month! it was five years ago this month that the late Dwayne McDuffie became the first writer of color to work on an ongoing Superman title with Action Comics #847. This, if my calculations are correct, give writers of color exactly 1 out of 1,935 issues of ongoing Superman books. This is a real coup for the New 52, which as of the May solicitations is merely 0 for 18.

Speaking of Black, Spider-Man: Back in Black began five years ago! Has it really been that long since Aunt May got shot, Spider-Man threatened to kill a lot of people and the Kingpin broke open a table full of cash in his prison cell? Yes. Yes it has.

The first New York Comic Con took place five years ago, as you may have noticed if you listened to that first FBB podcast. Among the things announced at that panel: DC’s Minx line, a series of graphic novels marketed towards young women. To check out our reviews of some of those books, you can check out a brief discussion of New York Four and Water Baby on FBBP #53, a guest review of Plain JANES by Gabe Mariani, Jamaal tackling New York Four, and FBBP #75, a post-mortem of Minx after it was shuttered about a year after its launch. I haven’t revisited any of these books in quite some time, but I remember a few of them quite fondly, and they can be picked up pretty cheaply these days:

Fun fact: David Hahn’s recent Image mini-series All Nighter was originally going to be a Minx book! You can read the whole first issue on Hahn’s site.

Also announced at NYCC07, Daredevil: End of Days, a mini-series written by Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack and drawn by Klaus Jansen and Bill Sienkiewicz. I had almost forgotten about this project, and assumed it dead, but last summer Bendis confirmed it was still coming out, with a scheduled Fall 2011 release. We’re still waiting!

Other new books of note from five years ago: Jeff Smith’s Shazam: Monster Society of Evil, Mark Waid and George Perez’s short-lived Brave & the Bold revamp, and the wretched (sadly not completely) prose Batman #663. But what about five years before that?

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The #1 Comic Ten Years Ago Was: The Dark Knight Strikes Again #3

That’s right! The epic conclusion of DK2, delayed and reworked after the terrorist attacks of the previous September, hit the stands a decade ago. Pretty much everyone hated it when it came out, though opinions have warmed considerably since then, with Brothers offering a fine appreciation of the book a few years back. I probably haven’t read it since its release, but even at the time I enjoyed it for what it was, a big noisy Kurtzman explosion, a sacred cow committing suicide. There were bits I found distasteful, and I’m tempted to give it a new read, in a world where we have seen Post 9-11 Frank Miller in full flower in the ghastly Holy Terror.

What other comics are turning ten?

  • Cage: the Brian Azzarello and Richard Corben Marvel MAX series that somehow David Brothers has never blogged about
  • Power Company: Kurt Busiek and Tom Grummett’s short-lived corporate superhero team book for DC. Though actually, eighteen issues isn’t a bad run at all these days.
  • The Order: No, not that one. This one spun off from Busiek and Larsen’s brief Defenders run. It was about the core members of the Defenders turning evil and trying to run the world Authority style, while Nighthawk and the B Team fight back working out of the playroom of a New York City mansion owned by the parents of the new Valkyrie, a spoiled teenage heiress. Also there is Papa Hagg, a Jamaican midget wizard floating around. I dug this up recently from my old comic boxes, definitely an odd footnote in the Defenders franchise.
  • Taskmaster: No, not that one either. The UDON Studios one where Taskmaster got a modern Spy Guy outfit and a certain subset of the Internet fell in love with it, cursing his subsequent return to the far superior Flamboyant Skeletor costume.

I don’t know that any of the following are historically significant, but looking up shipping lists, I definitely bought Blue Monday: Lovecats, Stray Bullets #23, and Dark Horse’s Chris Ware Rusty Brown Lunchbox ten years ago. I miss both Blue Monday and Stray Bullets. I do not miss the Rusty Brown lunchbox, as it’s currently sitting on my shelf, taking up space. I never even ate lunch out of it!

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The #1 Comic Fifteen Years Ago Was: Uncanny X-Men #343

I think that’s Gambit and Rogue on the cover? This is from the tail end of Scott Lobdell’s run, with art by Joe Madureira. I have not read this portion of X-History at all, and in fact superhero comics in general are a weird void for me around here. Marvel was in the midst of Heroes Reborn and the Clone Saga, DC was at a loss for what to do with their marquee characters after they killed and resurrected them. Books like Superboy and the Ravers were being published.

For lack of anything better to do, superheroes were just crossing over willy-nilly: Wildcats/X-Men, Shi/Daredevil, Cable/Prophet, Silver Surfer/Weapon Zero, Mars Attacks the Image Universe, and the sadly never-published Power Rangers Zeo/Youngblood were all solicited this month.

To make matters worse, February 1997 also marks the final month of Milestone comics with Hardware #50 released, though solicitations would trickle out for another month or two. Static #47 and Icon #44 were announced but never released. The fact that these books got pre-orders of between 4,500 and 5,700 show just how far the bottom had dropped out of the market in general and Milestone in particular, putting the books at or below the sales of titles like Cavewoman, Cyberfrog, New Bondage Fairies and Marvel’s unreleased move tie-in A Clueless Valentine .

This month also marked the (temporary) end of the Punisher, as Punisher #18 marked the end of his abortive revamp after a series of insane crossovers (Suicide Run, Countdown, Over the Edge) killed the golden goose that was 3-5 Punisher comics every month. For the first time in nearly a decade, March 1997 saw a complete lack of Punisher on the Marvel publishing slate. It wasn’t until almost two years later that Punisher returned to the scene as a crazy murderous angel in a Marvel Knights mini-series, and not until summer of 2001 that he was given his own ongoing series again. He’s had five books since then, but that’s just how Marvel works these days.

So dark were these times for superhero comics that I was reduced to having 25% of my superhero pull list (alongside Morrison’s JLA, Starman, and Hitman) be Ghost Rider, a book I bought solely due to a sick allegiance to Ivan Velez Jr.’s Blood Syndicate. But there were signs of life.

Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley launched Thunderbolts fifteen years ago, creating one of the few new enduring properties of the last two decades. Over at Acclaim, Christopher Priest and Doc Bright debuted Quantum & Woody, a great meta-comedy title that served as the stylistic template for Priest’s revamp of Black Panther a few years later. And in the indies, Linda Medley launched Castle Waiting and Jon Lewis debuted Spectacles. Paul Pope put out P-City Parade, one of his many oddly sized one-shots from this period that are always getting moved around my apartment because they don’t really fit anywhere. And though they weren’t special issues, February 1997 also saw new issues of The Invisibles, PreacherBone, Cerebus, and other fine titles. It wasn’t all gloom and doom. You just had to squint pretty hard to see past the bloody wreckage of the speculator boom.

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The #1 Comic Twenty Years Ago Was: X-Men #7

Speaking of the speculator boom! We weren’t quite There yet in February 1992, but all the pieces were falling into place. DC’s core franchises were all sort of wandering aimlessly, Marvel had gotten a taste of that sweet gimmick cover/polybag money in 1991, Valiant was ascending and Youngblood #1 hit the stands. As an adolescent fanboy I wasn’t immune to all the excitement, and had just started picking up the X-Books now that boring ol’ Chris Claremont had left. I don’t remember anything about this issue, but it looks like it had Omega Red in it! Over in Uncanny X-Men #287, the X-Traitor storyline was launched, which would eventually lead to Onslaught. DC had Justice League Europe #36 on the stands, marking Keith Giffen’s departure from the only DC book I regularly read, exactly five years after he and JM DeMatteis relaunched it. And first issues? There were a bunch!

  • Cage: The little-remembered Marc McLaurin/Dwayne Turner revamp where Luke traded his yellow shirt, tiara and first name for a permanent Onyx Madface.
  • Shadowman: The original psychic saxophone-playing avenger of the night! Don’t let Night Man fool you! Between this, Quantum & Woody, and the two Cage books, I wonder if companies deliberately launch titles like these for Black History Month.
  • John Byrne’s Next Men: Recently returned at IDW, Next Men was a big deal, as it was a top level talent from The Big Two leaving and doing his own superhero book elsewhere. I know he’s an industry punching bag these days, but Byrne was huge in the 1980s, routinely mentioned in the same breath as Miller and Moore. He and Miller went on to form the Legend imprint at Dark Horse, and Byrne encouraged Mike Mignola to try his hand at doing a creator-owned book called Hellboy, assisting young Mignola by hyping the book up in the pages of Next Men and helping him script the first mini-series. I have absolutely no fucking clue what is going on in the current Next Men title, besides Byrne apparently grinding some very strange axes against William Shakespeare and the Civil War, but twenty years ago Next Men was an important stepping stone in the industry.
  • Youngblood: …but not as important as Youngblood. Sure, the actual comic itself is terrible, so bad that a recent reprint had Joe Casey go in and completely rewrite all the dialogue. It still barely makes sense, never mind in context with the following issues. And sure, only five years later the Youngblood brand was so debased that it was crossing over with Power Rangers Zeo in a book that got under 10,000 pre-orders and never saw print. But without Youngblood, there might not be an Image. And joke all you want about some of the wretched excesses of Image in the 1990s, but without Image there might not be a Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Wood, Jonathan Hickman, Kieron Gillen, or a Jamie McKelvie in the comic book industry, to say nothing of all the books without “Blood” or “Blade” or “Spawn” in the title that they’ve published over the past two decades. Books like…
  • Madman: That’s right, Image published a good sized chunk of Madman and Atomics! Mike Allred is doing a good job of reminding everyone of this anniversary, with stuff like the big 20th Anniversary Coffee Table Book that just came out. One of these days I will actually read that Gargantua hardcover collection, at which point I might buy this anniversary book. I realize they have almost no overlap in material, I just feel guilty about dropping $100 on a book without having actually read the other.
  • And in a one-two punch directly at the heart of FBB4L comrade Gavin “Gavok” Jasper, this month marks the twentieth anniversary of Marvel’s WCW World Championship Wrestling comic, which Gav dutifully reviewed awhile back. It’s also the twentieth birthday of CARNAGE, who debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #361. And it only took him nineteen years to appear in a comic worth a damn !

Other significant multiples of five:

TWENTY FIVE YEARS AGO: Frank Miller wrapped up his work on Batman: Year One with David Mazzucchelli, and Elektra: Assassin with Bill Siekiewicz.

THIRTY YEARS AGO: Team America, the Heroes Who Do Motorcycle Stunts, not to be confused with US1, the Heroes Who Drive Semis and Talk on CBs, debut in Captain America #269

THIRTY FIVE YEARS AGO: Sha Shan, Flash Thompson’s Vietnamese assassin/battered girlfriend/physical therapist, debuts in Amazing Spider-Man #108

FIFTY YEARS AGO: Thanks to Johnny Storm’s irresistible urge to burn the hair off of hobos and drifters, Namor the Sub-Mariner returns in the pages of Fantastic Four #4, providing the first explicit link between the 1960s Marvel Comics and 1940s Timely Comics. This issue is very likely the Secret Origin of Roy Thomas, Mark Gruenwald, Geoff Johns and many others.

SEVENTY YEARS AGO: The Newsboy Legion make their debut in Star Spangled Comics #12. It would be nearly thirty years before Flippa Dippa joined to make the team complete.

So there you go. HISTORY! Does everyone feel old now?

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