Welcome back to 5-10-15-20, a monthly column that looks at things that happened in comics using arbitrary five year jumps! I realize this is being published in April. I had finished the post a week or so ago, but got caught up researching something really dumb and forgot I hadn’t posted this until today, when I finished the research project. What do you think I was researching? Guess in the comments! There will be a prize, probably.
This time out I made a point to include when certain characters were created X years ago this month, and mention who created them. I know I’m late to the party as Tom Spurgeon has been posting for the past month on this very topic. While there’s no doubt that all the attention given to the monumental work people like Siegel, Shuster, Lee, and Kirby contributed to the comics landscape is deserved, and their treatment by the corporate benefactors of that work has been almost universally abhorrent, it’s also important to remember that there have been hundreds if not thousands of other creators working in the trenches, putting their backs into tilling the soil upon which Marvel and DC’s fertile IP grows. They’re not getting any money for their characters showing up in movies or video games or toy lines either. The literal least we can do as Team Comics is acknowledge they did stuff that made comics we like now possible.
The #1 Comic Five Years Ago Was: Captain America#25
Yes, it’s already been five years since Captain America died. Or is that “only”, since in five years Cap died, was replaced by Bucky, Skrulls invaded, Norman Osborn took over the country, Cap came back, took over SHIELD, watched Bucky die, found out Bucky didn’t really die, and he is now going to war against the X-Men. Either way, it’s been five years.
It’s also been five years since Buffy Season 8 launched out of Dark Horse. It, along with the previous month’s Dark Tower debut, briefly seemed to signal for some a Way to Save the Comic Book Industry: not just transmedia licensed books, but transmedia licensed books with the direct involvement of the creators. I can’t really think of many examples that have popped up in the past five years, but like Stephen King working on Dark Tower comics, Joss Whedon working on Buffy comics got people excited. After multiple reprints, the first issue of Buffy Season 8 sold nearly 200,000 copies, making it the best-selling female-fronted book since Fathom #1 way back in July 1998. Like Dark Tower, the bloom has gone off the Buffy rose, though at nearly 30,000 copies last month’s Buffy Season 9 #6 has retained a stronger audience than Marvel’s King books.
Another book turning five is Adam Warren’s Empowered, a book David Brothers reps hard for, but one I still have not read. I’m slowly working through Lone Wolf and Cub and the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. mega-sagas thanks to Dark Horse Digital, and Empowered is next on the docket. I really do have a disgusting backlog of things to read, though. For instance I picked up Jeff (Sweet Tooth) Lemire’s Complete Essex County a year or so back from one of Top Shelf’s regular sales, and still haven’t gotten past the first chapter Tales from the Farm, which also turns five this month. Other books debuting this month include Matthew Thurber’s 1-800-Mice and Rick Veitch’s Army @ Love. Where were you when you first laid eyes on these titles? That was where you were half a decade ago.
The #1 Comic Ten Years Ago Was: New X-Men #124
New X-Men #124 wasn’t a significant issue or anything; it was just happened to be a book in the midst of a popular run on a month where there weren’t any big debuts. DC put out a new Hawkman book by Geoff Johns, James Robinson and Rags Morales, the fourth or fifth attempt to give the character a viable ongoing. This time out it lasted 49 issues (66 if you count the Hawkgirl revamp) which for Hawkman is the equivalent of a blockbuster 300 issue magnum opus. Marvel’s response was their second (third if you count Nightstalkers) Blade series, released under the MAX imprint in conjunction with Blade II hitting theaters. Solicited as an ongoing by Christopher Hinz and Steve Pugh, it was quickly downgraded to a six issue mini-series. Time and again, Blade has proven to be a hard sell without Wesley Snipes involved.
Elsewhere in the comics world of March 2002, Gail Simone landed her first Big Two writing gig with Deadpool #65. Whether this is an occasion of celebration or a date that shall live in infamy will be up to individual tastes. But alongside Studio Udon, Simone created two characters in this issue recently seen in David Lapham and Kyle Baker’s Deadpool MAX series: Agent X and “Crazy” Inez Temple. (Speaking of Baker, his biblical graphic novel King David turns ten this month too.)
It’s also been ten years since Dark Horse began the first comprehensive US translation/reprinting of Osamu Tezuka’s masterwork Astro Boy.
The #1 Comic Fifteen Years Ago Was: Superman #123
Fun Fact: Though they’re riding high on the sales chart now, DC had a nearly five year drought between #1 books a decade and a half ago. After Superman #123, DC wouldn’t top the charts again until December 2001 with the release of DK2 #1. Electric Superman was one of several big “events” DC orchestrated in an attempt to regain the mass media attention that his death garnered back in 1992. After Superman died and came back, Clark Kent died. Then Superman died again. Then Lois and Clark got married. Then Lois left Clark. Then Superman turned blue. Then red. Then back to normal and he tried to take over the world. Then Lex Luthor became President. It all sorts of blurs together. This one was a big seller, though!
The fourth issues of Dork and Optic Nerve hit the stands in March of 1997. Fifteen years later we’re up to Dork #11 and Optic Nerve #12. Of course Evan Dorkin and Adrian Tomine haven’t been sitting on their thumbs, both have many other irons in the fire. Dorkin’s currently working on the excellent Beasts of Burden with Jill Thompson (reviewed on FBBP #132), television work alongside his wife Sarah Dyer, and various other comics projects. Tomine released his first graphic novel Scenes from an Impending Marriage last year, does a lot of illustration work, and is spearheading Drawn & Quarterly’s excellent reprints of Yoshihiro Tatsumi‘s work. Still, there’s something great that I miss about 1990s comics where you’d get an irregularly published pamphlet with whatever the cartoonist has been doing for the past several months. Tomine seems to feel the same way, if the last Optic Nerve strip is any indication. Curated graphic novels are great and all, but who doesn’t miss the weird letters, album sleeves, pin-ups, experiments, music recommendations, sketches and proto-blog-aggregations of books like these, or Palookaville #10, Acme Novelty Library #10, or Action Girl Comics #10, all books released in March 1997?
Other books turning fifteen this month:
Xero #1 by Christopher Priest and Chriscross, one of DC’s late 1990s books where they shared ownership of the characters with their creators. Chris Claremont’s Sovreign Seven is perhaps the better known example. Xero only lasted twelve issues, but depending on how you count it, it’s only the third (fourth if you consider Green Lantern Mosaic as a John Stewart solo title) ongoing starring a black character in the DC Universe, after Black Lightning and Steel .
Resurrection Man #1 byDan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Jackson Guice. The original RM lasted a respectable twenty-eight issues, and Abnett and Lanning were recruited to write the currently running revival last year.
Titans: Scissors, Paper, Stone by Adam Warren, an Elseworlds that signalled his debut outside of what was still considered the manga “ghetto” in 1997. It’s certainly the first time I was aware of him, which is a sad statement in a way: after years of working on acclaimed adaptations of the Dirty Pair and Bubblegum Crisis franchises, the thing that raised his profile was an alternate-universe one-shot of a then-moribund DC property.
The Tenth #1: I couldn’t tell you anything about this book besides the fact that its covers suggested it was riding the wave of the Bad Girl Phenomenon (check out the protagonist’s outfit!), but it’s historically significant because it’s the writing debut of one Tony Daniel, current hit writer of Batman.
Ka-Zar #1 by Mark Waid and Andy Kubert, a high-octane creative team that worked hard to make people care about Ka-Zar. It didn’t work for me, but I also wasn’t really buying superhero comics at the time and have never read it. Has anyone? Is it worth checking out the recent reprints?
CROSSOVER WATCH: 1997 was smack-dab in the middle of a period where every company was crossing over with every other company. It was supposed to guarantee boffo sales. This month was no different. Fifteen years ago, fans got to see dream teams like Batman vs. Aliens, Azrael/Ash, and Spider-Man/Badrock.
The #1 Comic Twenty Years Ago Was: X-Men #8
Same as last month, Jim Lee’s X-Men ruled the charts. David Brothers still loves this stuff, and this issue features the Gambit/Bishop pie fight he discusses. It also features the first appearance of Bella Donna, Gambit’s ex-wife who I am told has made her triumphant return from limbo in this month’s Scarlet Spider #3, just in time for her 20th birthday.
It’s also been twenty years since Flash #62, Mark Waid’s first issue in what was a landmark run for both Waid and the Flash. Waid would go on to write or co-write nearly ninety issues of the series over the next eight years, introducing Bart Allen, the Speed Force, Wally West’s marriage to Linda Park, and other building blocks to the Flash mythos. It was a remarkable run on a Big Two book, made all the more impressive in that it was Waid’s first big writing gig if you do not count Impact Comics, and I certainly do not.
Over at Image, Youngblood #2 introduced Jim Valentino’s Shadowhawk in a back-up feature. I guess Shadowhawk was pretty popular for awhile, and he falls somewhere on the mediagenic landmark First Black/HIV-Positive Superhero charts. Then again, so does Youngblood’s own Chapel, introduced last month. Rob Liefeld, not to be outdone by introducing twelve members of Youngblood in the first issue, introduces another dozen characters in the second issue, as Youngblood’s encounter with Prophet (unrecognizable in his new revamp courtesy of Brandon Graham, Simon Roy and friends) is interupted by the Berzerkers: Wildmane, Battleaxe, Grey, Psi-Storm, Cross, Kirby, and Darcangel. They’re on the run from Lord Darkthornn and his Disciples of Doom. Darkthornn is basically a Darkseid ripoff, but it’s okay, because Kirby is a cigar chomping dwarf who says “heckuva” almost as much as The King himself did. Amazingly, The Berzerkers eventually got their own mini-series.
GIMMICK COVER WATCH: 1992 was smack-dab in the middle of a period where every company was doing gimmick covers. It was supposed to guarantee boffo sales. This month was no different. Twenty years ago, fans got to pay extra for a green foil cover on Incredible Hulk #393, a silver-ink cover and a fold-out pop-up centerfold in Ghost Rider #25, and multiple covers (all bound onto one copy) in Lobo’s Back #1.
GOING FURTHER BACK
TWENTY FIVE YEARS AGO – MARCH 1987
Iron Man #219 features the debut of The Ghost! Created by David Michelinie and Bob Layton, the mysterious spy and original Occupy Wall Streeter appeared sporadically to bedevil Iron Man for about twenty years before being brought onto the Thunderbolts team by Andy Diggle and Robert De La Torre in 2009. Since then, he’s become a staple member of the team, and is rumored to be taking over the Iron Man mantle in the near future thanks to this promotional image.
I have always loved that “print some line art in another color” effect for invisible people.
Also debuting this month: Rictor in X-Factor #17 by Louise and Walter Simonson. Rictor has bopped around with a number of X-Teams over the years, currently appearing in Peter David’s modern incarnation of X-Factor. After a series of implications and abandoned storylines in X-Force during the 1990s, David explicitly established Rictor’s homosexuality as he entered into a relationship with teammate Shatterstar. The two first kissed in X-Factor v2 #45, which makes it the first gay kiss featuring a superhero co-created by a husband and wife and a character created by Rob Liefeld that I am aware of, unless I am forgetting Rob Liefeld’s influence on the work of Roy & Dann Thomas or Tom & Mary Bierbaum.
Speaking of social relevance, both Daredevil #243 (by Ann Nocenti and Louis Williams) and Power Pack #30 (by Louise Simonson and Val Mayerik) tackled the same topic: that Crack is Bad. This may seem quaint now, but both were years ahead of Pee-Wee Herman.
Elsewhere this month, Dark Horse released Paul Chadwick’s Concrete #1, and Harrier Comics put out Deadface #1, introducing Campbell’s Bacchus. Though neither character is currently appearing in any comics today, they’ve been mainstays of the creator-owned comics landscape for decades. Concrete is up at a great price on Dark Horse Digital, and Bacchus is set to receive a pair of omnibus collections later this year from Top Shelf.
THIRTY YEARS AGO – MARCH 1982
Contest of Champions #1 came out, the first “mini-series” from Marvel Comics. Originally intended to accompany the 1980 Olympics, it was pushed back because America boycotted the Red Soviet Moscow Olympics that summer. I’m really curious what changes this book underwent in the intervening two years, because its story involves heroes from around the world competing on international teams at the behest of the cosmic Grandmaster and the embodiment of Death. It also introduced a bunch of International Heroes, almost none of them of any lasting consequence. It is one of the first “event” comics, though.
Meanwhile in Captain America #270, JM DeMatteis and Mike Zeck introduced Marvel’s first gay supporting character, Cap’s old Brooklyn buddy Arnie Roth. While he was never explicitly identified as gay, they did everything they could to established that lifelong bachelor Arnie was in love with his “best friend” and “roommate” Michael.
Regardless of the lack of details, Arnie’s tearful reunion with his “friend” Michael inspires Cap to finally declare his love for Bernie Rosenthal, making for a suprisingly sensitive if coded depiction of a gay couple in a comic from 1982.
THIRTY FIVE YEARS AGO – MARCH 1977
Incredible Hulk #212 by Len Wein and Sal Buscema introduces Constrictor, a mercenary who has appeared regularly throughout the Marvel Universe. More recently he became a more heroic figure in Dan Slott’s Avengers: The Initiative series. Shown below in his first appearance, he was hired to kill Hulk’s old pal Jim Wilson, who years later would become part of the Black Heroes Who Are HIV Positive trend alongside Shadowhawk and Chapel.
March 1977 also saw the release of John Carter: Warlord of Mars #1, a comic adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs character who recently became one of Disney’s biggest film flops. The run was recently reprinted in omnibus form, and while I’ve never heard much prsie for it, it does feature early work by luminaries such as Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Frank Miller, George Perez, and Walt Simonson, as well as journeyman efforts from veterans like Marv Wolfman, Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane.
FORTY YEARS AGO – MARCH 1972
It was a Sweet Christmas in
July March forty years ago, as Luke Cage, Hero for Hire made his debut. Created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita, Hero for Hire #1 was the first superhero comic featuring a person of color in the title role, and the first issue also features the first appearances of Shades and Comanche. Fun fact: though he makes frequent use of the exclamations “Sweet Sister!” (first used in HFH #3) and “Christmas!” (first used in HFH #11), Luke Cage does not utter the words “Sweet Christmas” until Bill Mantlo and George Perez took over Luke Cage, Power Man with its twenty-seventh issue. Here’s a video of the late and sorely missed Dwayne McDuffie explaining why Luke would be saying any of this.
Everyone’s favorite Unfathomable Cosmic Being with Three Faces, the Living Tribunal debuts in Strange Tales #157. LT was created by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Marie Severin. He was last seen being unfathomably cosmic and freaking out the squares — or Absorbing Man at any rate — in Avengers Academy #7.
FIFTY YEARS AGO – MARCH 1962:
The Hulk! Though the original Hulk series was something of a flop, canceled after only six issues, this first issue by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby still sets the template for the character for the past half century. Bruce Banner, Rick Jones, General “Thunderbolt” Ross, and Betty Ross all make their debut in this issue, along with the far less iconic Gargoyle. Subsequent issues of the book saw Hulk do battle with the Toad Men, Mongu, Tyrannus, General Fang, and the Metal Master. It’s probably a good idea that this series was put on the backburner, as outside of the initial concept, Lee and Kirby were not firing on all cylinders here.
And last but not least, Mark Waid was born fifty years ago (March 21, 1962), thus allowing the aforementioned Ka-Zar and Flash books to get published.
SIXTY FIVE YEARS AGO – MARCH 1947:
- Longtime C-list DC villain Sportsmaster debuts in All American Comics #85, created by John Broome and Irwin Hasen. He wasn’t given the name “Sportsmaster” until later, and several villains have held the title. A Sportsmaster was last seen getting his heart ripped out by Plastic Man in Flashpoint.
So there is your punctuated comics history for March. A goofy Golden Age character getting his heart ripped out by a fallen hero in the middle of an overheated alternate reality crossover. Sounds about right.