It’s the end of the month, so you know what time it is: 5-10-15-20 time! No one guessed the really dumb research question from last month: I read over two dozen black and white issues of Luke Cage looking for the first recorded instance of “Sweet Christmas!” That means no one gets the Luke Cage toy I have lying around for some reason. On with the history!
The #1 Comic Five Years Ago was Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #1
Last month Captain America died, and this month Jeph Loeb begins mining his core competencies — jumping onto hot properties, using his rolodex of Big Name Artists, and working the untimely death of his son — into one mega-selling mini-series. Spoiler alert: we’ll be seeing more of Fallen Son in the future.
DC’s big push five years ago was World War III, a series of one-shots designed to accomplish the questions that 52 initially promised to answer: what happened in between Infinite Crisis and One Year Later. The actual 52 book addressed these questions elliptically at best, focusing instead on doing globe-hopping adventures focusing on a core set of characters. What remained for World War III was a series of fill-in creators using 52 star Black Adam’s genocidal rampage as an excuse to show him rip Father Time’s face off, punch Robotman’s head off, tear Frankenstein Jr.’s arms off, pull Terra’s heart out and keep it as a trophy, and literally bathe in blood. In between they answer questions that had already been addressed in the eight to ten issues of “One Year Later” books already published, such as:
How did Supergirl end up back from the 31st Century? Supergirl is shown coming out of an unexplained time portal back into the 21st Century.
How did Jason Todd find himself in New York pretending to be Nightwing? Jason Todd is shown in New York dressed up as Nightwing, saying he plans to adopt the identity of Nightwing.
How did Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Bullock get their jobs as cops back? Both are shown coming back on the job, and being welcomed back to the job by colleagues.
Why does Jason Rusch form Firestorm with Firehawk now? Why is Martin Stein missing? The two are shown merging to form Firestorm, while commenting on the absence of Profesor Stein.
There were other “mysteries revealed”, but they all pretty much fell into the category of tautological answers. “Why does Alan Scott work for Checkmate now?” “Alan Scott is working for Checkmate now.” That sort of thing. Still, 52 was enough of a phenomenon that all four WWIII issues were Top 20 books, making it plus 52 a full 40% of the Top 20.
Alongside issues of indie stalwarts like Optic Nerve and Love & Rockets, it’s been five years since the first issue of Johnny Hiro and the last (so far) issue of Superfuckers. Both of these are warm, funny Pop Comics. Fred Chao’s Hiro is a magic-realism romantic comedy about young New Yorkers. It’s a cheap and easy comparison, but Hiro reads a bit like a more mature Scott Pilgrim, if you replace most of the video game/indie rock signifiers with Japanese film homages and surreal cameos from David Byrne, Alton Brown, Grand Puba and Mayor Bloomberg. The first volume of Hiro is getting reprinted by TOR this summer, and Chao is working on the second volume. I can’t wait.
Superfuckers is a strangely endearing look at what would happen if the Legion of Super Heroes were all cast out of Harmony Korine films. There have been plenty of “what if superheroes were baaaaad” stories, from Wanted to Watchmen, Brat Pack to The Boys, all the way back to Superduperman and probably some Tijuana Bible about the Flash showing his dong or something. What sets Superfuckers apart is that you don’t get the impression that Kochalka is trying to criticize superheroes; he’s just telling a story about a bunch of horrible jerks who have superpowers. It’s no more an indictment of superheroes than Childrens Hospital is a damning portrait of the Americal medical system. It is, however, superfunny.
Other Books Released Five Years Ago This Month
- Nova #1, Richard “Dick” Ryder’s fourth ongoing series, and by far the most successful, running for three years when the previous three lasted twenty-one, eighteen, and seven issues respectively. Spinning out of Annihilation, the series ended with the start of 2010′s Thanos Imperative mini-series, where Ryder apparently died. Sam Alexander is the new Nova in town, and he’s already appearing in Marvel’s big AvX crossover and on the pleasantly goofy Ultimate Spider-Man television series, so it’s possible this series closed the book on Dick Ridin’ in the Marvel Universe.
- Amazons Attack #1, an event featuring Amazons Attacking the United States, which was revealed on the last page to be a cunning plan on the part of Granny Goodness to control the Amazons into getting killed off so that she could train a group of unpowered, mortal women to become a new army of Amazons that she could control. Amazons Attack also has the distinction of being one of the few (only?) Event Comics that actually caused the sales of comics tying into drop. It was under these conditions that DC chose to slot in best-selling author Jodi Picoult‘s run on Wonder Woman.
- And in the world of indie books that might still be readable half a decade later, April 2007 saw the American release of Garage Band (reviewed on FBBP #10), Gipi’s excellent graphic novel about youth and music and change. Amazon seems to be blowing out both Garage Band and Gipi’s similarly great Notes from a War Story (check out Jamaal’s review) and both receive a universal FBB Seal of Approval: literally A Bargain At Twice the Price.
The #1 Comic Ten Years Ago was Transformers: Generation One #1
Here is another blip that was heralded as The Savior of the Comics Industry: 1980s Toys Turned into Comics. Though there are still cottage industries built around Transformers and G.I. Joe over at IDW — bolstered no doubt by both properties being turned into feature film franchises — the return of Robots in Disguise to comic shops was the start of a real fad. In coming months, we’ll see the revival of Masters of the Universe, Thundercats, Voltron, Battle of the Planets, Ghostbusters, and probably other forgettable cartoons that turned into forgettable early 2000s comics. But this was the start of it all.
Marvel was still dominant this month, with fifteen of the top twenty spots and a 41% unit share of the industry, though there are few if any “milestone” issues among their releases. The most memorable book from their line a decade ago is a curio now: Captain America #1, the relaunch of the book under Books of Magic writer John Ney Rieber and John Cassaday. It was an attempt to reposition Captain America as a response to 9/11, from the issue’s alternately evoking a World War II patriotic mural and a stark FIGHT TERROR message on the second issue’s cover. This creative team only lasted six issues, with Cassaday leaving after the sixth issue, and Reiber slipping into “story by” credit the next issue, handing the book off to Chuck Austen. This volume of Captain America limped along under a variety of creators for awhile, but has long since been eclipsed by the 2005 series launched by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. But not everyone has forgotten it: Tim Callahan took a look at the full series just last week, but it was under the theme of “no one remembers that run before Brubaker’s.”
Speaking of things no one remembers, DC was taking a real beating ten years ago. The only books to crack the top thirty were Kevin Smith and Phil Hester’s penultimate issue of Green Arrow, an issue of JLA, and four parts of the Bruce Wayne: Fugitive event. What books were DC developing to combat this slump? How about Superman & Savage Dragon: Chicago, a follow-up to 1999′s Superman & Savage Dragon: Metropolis? Written and drawn by Erik Larsen, this seemed like the half of the crossover Image was meant to publish, but instead it came out through DC. It had orders of 18,386 in the direct market.
The same month, John Byrne launched a creator-owned DC Universe series Lab Rats featuring a group of teens investigating the paranormal. The book debuted with orders of 25,841, easily outstripping Byrne’s frequent nemesis Larsen, but 25,000 was a dismally low number for a Big Two launch a decade ago. Later Byrne would call Lab Rats, “the book that was killed by the internet. Trashed, savaged, shredded before the first issue had even come out. Retailers refusing to order it even for customers standing there with money in their hands.” This is why I have been calling Bergen Street Comics’s decision not to stock shelf copies of Before Watchmen as “Lab Rats all over again !”
Lab Rats lasted eight issues, and in the final issue Byrne killed the entire team and destroyed their organization in a confusing time paradox, as is his wont. When asked why on his forums, he explained:
When the time came for LAB RATS to go away, whether it was in 12 issues or 12 years, I wanted to make sure no other writer could toss off a reference to the characters in some other book. You know — as has happened too many times before, now. Isn’t it a pity we now have to deal with an industry in which one has to go out of one’s way to bulletproof — as much as possible — one’s storylines and characters? Can we imagine such a thing in the Golden or Silver Ages? Of course not. But, then, the people doing the books back in those days were actually deserving of the title “professional”.
This is a fascinating position for someone whose body of work includes extensive runs on Superman, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, and other books that referred to and often revamped characters created by people not named John Byrne during the Golden and Silver Ages. In fact, his last gig prior to Lab Rats was X-Men: The Hidden Years, a series explicitly devoted to writing retconny stories that slot themselves in between established pre-Claremont X-Men stories. I suppose that’s just Roy Thomas and Arnold Drake’s fault for not making X-Men so “bulletproof” that Claremont, Wein, Cockrum, etc. could not reference the characters later on. And had that happened, Byrne may have never gotten his big break drawing X-Men and he would not deserve the title of “professional” and… whoa. Byrne really does love time paradoxes!
This month also marks the 10th anniversary of me Legitimately Reading Manga. I am sure that I picked up some loose issues of Akira or Bubblegum Crisis or Lone Wolf & Cub before 2002, but based off a glowing review on artbomb.net I picked up April 2002′s Great Teacher Onizuka volume 1, and eventually collected the entire series, along with dozens of others over the past decade. It’s a fun read, and I definitely see why it is a smash hit, though (like so many other shonen manga) I really could have done without the semi-nude teenage girls, the lovingly rendered panty shots, the incessant statutory rape humor. That’s a natural part of the book — following street punk Onizuka as he stumbles into a teaching job he is hilariously ill-suited for — but there’s making the jokes and there’s lingering on the girl’s locker room for what feels like half a volume. GTO often fell into the latter camp. Still, a fun read and my doorway into a lot of great books.
Other Books Released Ten Years Ago This Month
- Halo & Sprocket #1: The blogosphere probably best knows Kerry Callen as the artist behind Great Comics That Never Happened on Comics Alliance and lots of other entertaining take-offs of bygone comics. But before that, he created H&S at Slave Labor, a whimsical series about a robot and an angel stuck living in the suburbs and trying to understand humanity. It was apparently pitched (and ran?) as a newspaper comic strip for a brief period, and that’s reflective of its breezy feel. I hadn’t thought about H&S for years, and am excited to see there were two collections published, the second seemingly full of material I’ve never seen.
- Dumped: Here’s another book I haven’t thought about in years. Andi Watson put out a bunch of books over the 2000s that didn’t seem to quite fit in. After the fantasy-filled Skeleton Key, Watson put out Slow News Day, Breakfast After Noon, and Dumped, all exceedingly non-fantastical relationship stories. I enjoyed them all (especially BAN) but lost track of Watson, who continued to do work for Oni while also writing some pre-Season 8 Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the hilariously ill-fated Bill Jemas re-imagining of Namor as a teen romance book. Marvel just released 15 Love, a story originally commissioned back around this time. I haven’t read it either, as I was waiting to hear someone — anyone, really — give it a review. Did anyone read it?
- My Friend Dahmer #1: Ten years before it became an acclaimed graphic memoir, Derf published a version of this story as a one-shot comic. I guess he went to high school with Jeffrey Dahmer? I’ve never rated Derf’s alt-weekly strip that highly, so I didn’t pick this up in 2002. If I keep hearing good things, I might have to give him a chance in 2012.
- Midnight, Mass #1: Speaking of someone who was not given a chance in 2012: John Rozum, ladies and gents! Midnight, Mass. was basically The X-Files if it starred Nick and Nora Charles. Originally conceived as supporting character/spin-offs from Rozum’s Xombi book at Milestone, they instead got two fun mini-series at Vertigo that I best remember for some striking covers courtesy of Tomer Hanuka.
April 1997 marks the dawn of Diamond Comics’s reign as an Effective Monopoly, as Marvel Comics returned to Diamond after declaring bankruptcy in December of 1996 and folding their disastrous Heroes World experiment in March. Many people like to point to some of the truly awful comics Marvel put out in the 1990s as the cause of this bankruptcy, but it’s not true: Marvel’s publishing was generally a profitable arm of an unwieldy, poorly organized amalgam of properties that Ron Perelman bundled in the hopes of selling the company before it all collapsed. That doesn’t mean they weren’t bad comics, just that they didn’t bankrupt the company.
And as bad as these comics may have been, they still sold! Witness Uncanny X-Men #345, by A Team of Editors who told Scott Lobdell, Ben Raab, Joe Madiuera, and Mel Rubi What To Do. It’s a prelude to Operation: Zero Tolerance, and features the first appearance of Maggott, who has two slugs that eat things to give him power I guess? I don’t know if I’ve actually read things with Maggott in them. He got killed in Frank Tieri’s Weapon X series, but was resurrected during the Necrosha event. I am trusting the Internet on this. Over in X-Men #65, they also introduced Dr. Cecilia Reyes, who I am pretty sure has never died but Wikipedia says that she may have also died in Weapon X.
The other big thing fifteen years ago was Amalgam Round Two, a series of one-shots featuring merging of Marvel and DC characters like Lobo the Duck and Thorion of the New Asgardians. I seem to recall hearing a couple of these were fun, but I don’t know that I ever read them.
Yeah, I really wasn’t reading any superhero comics in 1997. Neither was David Brothers: as we discussed in the last FBB podcast, he had given up a year earlier during Onslaught. But unlike David, I was still reading comics. Here’s a representative sampling of what I was picking up:
- Dark Horse Presents #120, featuring Evan Dorkin‘s last (to date) Hectic Planet story
- Dork #4, with the second Eltingville Comic Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Role-Playing Club story
- Jinx #7, the final issue of Brian Michael Bendis’s crime series to get published through Calibur
- Eightball #18, including the conclusion of “Ghost World“
- Squee #1, Optic Nerve #4, Stray Bullets #13, Paradise Sucks: I don’t really have anything to say about these except they’re fifteen years old now.
If I wanted to pretend I was an even hipper teen, I would pretend that I picked up Finder #3, The Waiting Place #1, Bacchus #24, A Distant Soil #19, and Hate #27. But I didn’t. I didn’t read those until later. I list them all just to remind everyone who likes to say that “comics sucked in the 1990s” that there were tons of great comics put out in the 1990s. Don’t let Maggott be the poster boy for a decade!
The Number One Comics Twenty Years Ago was X-Men #9
Not much new to say here: Jim Lee’s X-Men was still dominating the scene. Lee’s time with Marvel was almost over. Fellow Image co-founder Todd McFarlane had released his last Marvel book in 1991, and this month marks the end of Rob Liefeld (X-Force #11) and Erik Larsen (Spider-Man #23) as Marvel artists. This was still a Ghost Rider crossover.
Elsewhere in the industry:
- Green Lantern Mosiac debuts, ostensibly a John Stewart solo book, and therefore ostensibly DC’s second book with a black protagonist after Black Lightning. There had been periods where Stewart was the primary Green Lantern, as well a brief period where Shiloh Norman was the co-title character of Mister Miracle, but both series still featured the original (white) hero in a leading role. Co-created by Gerard Jones and Cully Hamner, Mosiac would last eighteen issues.
- Infinity War #1 by Jim Starlin and Ron Lim: The sequel to Infinity Gauntlet featuring a Cosmic Egg, Thanos’s first face turn and a lot of evil doppelgangers. This series is best remembered as the source of that six armed demon Spider-Man that recently popped back up in Carnage by Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain. It also led to two of the goofier aspects of Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan’s sublimely goofy run on Fantastic Four: Susan Richards is infected by her evil duplicate “Malice” and begins wearing a ridiculously revealing outfit and being mean to everyone, and the Thing gets his face sliced up by Wolverine and is afraid to let anyone see his ugly, infected mug.
- The second Marvel Swimsuit Special came out, with a weird framing story by Dan Slott, explaining that Pip the Troll teleported a bunch of heroes to Monster Island and then used the Mind Gem to persuade them to have a beach party instead of fighting. If you ever wanted to see Slott write commentary on a bunch of trashy softcore shots of superheroines (and Typhoid Mary!) along with pin-ups of Cable, Punisher, and Thanos in swimsuits, this book is for you!
- Sam and Max: Freelance Police #1 came polybagged with the debut issue of Dirt magazine, the male counterpart to Sassy that was edited by a group including Spike Jonze. As a youth, I discarded the magazine with a Crispin Glover cover feature, never listened to the free tape featuring an unreleased Nirvana song, and instead devoured the funnybook about the rabbit and the dog on the moon. What life might have been, had I chosen a different object out of this polybag!
GIMMICK COVER WATCH: We’re really getting into the Gimmick Age here. Spectacular Spider-Man had a full-on HOLOGRAM to celebrate Spider-Man’s 30th birthday, while Guardians of the Galaxy #25 had an etched foil cover to celebrate a Guardians of the Galaxy comic lasting more than two years. Silver Sable & the Wild Pack and Rust each had debut issues with appropriately hued foil.
My notes claim that Youngblood #3 has a glow in the dark cover, but I’m not sure why I thought that. It does have the first appearance of Supreme, in a five page sequence written and drawn by co-creator Brian Murray. There’s also a pin-up promising that BLOODSTRIKE IS COMING SOON, which means that we’ve now seen almost every Extreme property currently being revamped turn twenty. All except Glory, who won’t appear until 1993.
GOING FURTHER BACK
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO – APRIL 1987
Batman Annual #11 featured “Mortal Clay” by Alan Moore and George Freeman, a Clayface story that is, to my knowledge, one of the few Moore stories DC owns that has not been expanded out into a Big Event in the past decade.
It’s also been twenty five years since Peter Parker proposed to Mary Jane in Amazing Spider-Man #290 by David Michelinie and John Romita, Jr. For many of you, this may lead you to recall fan outrage at the dissolution of their marriage in One More Day. For the more senior readers, it may lead you to recall fan outrage at their marriage. For younger fans, this may lead you to wonder when Spider-Man was ever married, because it definitely wasn’t in the movies or the new TV show.
Also celebrating a silver anniversary: Floyd Farland: Citizen of the Future, Chris Ware’s entrance into the comic book world. This comic was a reprint of a series of college newspaper strips Ware did. I am relatively convinced I found this in a quarter bin once, years ago. But I’ve never found it, and so I am starting to think it was a dream. Then again, I just recently found a box containing a bunch of issues of Warrior, about a dozen Jack Kirby Kamandi issues, and Chuck Austen’s comic adaptation of the Halle Berry Catwoman film. It is possible for me to buy anything. And I do mean anything.
THIRTY YEARS AGO – APRIL 1982
Twenty years before Transformers ruled the comic charts, He-Man and Superman teamed up in DC Comics Presents #47.
Avengers #221 asked who would be joining the team, with lots of wild card possibilities. The two members joining thirty years ago were She-Hulk (for the first time) and Hawkeye (rejoining after one of his many “THAT TEARS IT, HAWKEYE’S CUTTIN’ OUT!” moments). Since then, nearly everyone on the cover has been an Avenger — I think ROM, Dazzler, and Silver Surfer are the only ones who haven’t been part of at least one Avengers line-up. The idea that an Avengers line-up featuring Luke Cage, Spider-Man, and Wolverine would be WAY-OUT is probably foreign to many of today’s fans.
In some impressive long-term planning, New Teen Titans #21 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez introduced (unnamed, in shadows) the Monitor and Harbinger, sowing the seeds for Crisis on Infinite Earths several years later. This issue also introduced Brother Blood, a villain contractually obligated to come back at least once every time they revamp the Titans. A back-up story by Wolfman and Gene Colan introduced the Night Force, currently starring in a revamp mini-series by Wolfman and Tom Mandrake.
Speaking of Wolfman and Colan, their version of Dracula (and his supporting cast) popped up thirty years ago in Uncanny X-Men #159 by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz. This was far from the X-Men’s last tussle with vampires, though both Marvel and Mark Millar would try to convince you these books never happened a few years back.
THIRTY FIVE YEARS AGO – APRIL 1977
Jack Kirby, well into his fourth decade of making funnybooks, introduces Mr. Machine/Machine Man/Aaron Stack/X-51 in 2001: A Space Odyssey #8. It’s been thirty-five years and I’m still not sure anyone’s figured out what to do with this character: is he a robot struggling to understand hoo-man emotion? A self-actualized, stretchy version of the Vision? A mutant-killing machine? Bender? He’s clearly got that Kirby Magic, because they’ve kept trying to use him for thirty-five years now. As a testament to that magic, DC decided to relaunch New Gods this month, almost five years after the cancelled the books out from under Kirby. Gerry Conway and Don Newton had the honors of working on the Before Watchmen of their day.
The same cannot be said for The Quintronic Man, created by Len Wein and Sal Buscema in Incredible Hulk #213. Or maybe, as per the Marvel Universe Appendix site, he was created by Bill Mantlo, John Buscema and Tom Palmer. I suppose this is for the courts to decide when the Quintronic Man movie hits. (The saddest thing about this joke is that the least likely part of it is any of the five people mentioned seeing a dime from the movie, much less fighting over their zero dollars in court.) Also called “The Five-in-One Threat”, the Quintronic Man was basically just a creepy early prototype of Voltron, except it could not split off into five tigers. It actually resurfaced recently, in Joe Casey and company’s Last Defenders, where the two(?) Quintronic Men sadly lost their creepy gargoyle faces. I like to think the Quintronic Man was the inspiration for the performer Mr. Quintron (inventor of the Drum Buddy!) but I realize this is almost certainly not so.
This amazing cover turns 35 this month. I could tell you why Prankster shoved pennies in his ears, but that doesn’t explain Superman’s murderous anger over it. Nothing in the story does, really. (Superman Family #184 by Neal Adams)
But surely the most important comic from April 1977 was Star Wars #1: a tie-in to some cheesy movie that hadn’t even come out yet, the book was farmed out to some kid named Howie Chaykin, who drew a really off-model cover. According to Jim Shooter, Star Wars (and Roy Thomas’s efforts to pick up the license) helped save Marvel from filing for bankruptcy nearly twenty years before they actually did.
FORTY YEARS AGO – APRIL 1972
Brave & the Bold #102 features a conflict between Batman and the Teen Titans over the relative grooviness of THE COMMUNE OF DEFIANCE! But first, in the words of Mark Waid, the panel that launched a thousand Grant Morrison scripts:
Elsewhere in comics… well, Kirby was still plugging away on the Fourth World. Turning forty this month: Lump, who you may remember as the thing messing with Batman’s mind during Final Crisis (Mister Miracle #8) as well as Forager, whose sister(?) you may remember knocking boots with Jimmy Olsen in Countdown to Final Crisis (New Gods #9)
FORTY FIVE YEARS AGO – APRIL 1967
What do you get for the man who ate everything on his forty fifth birthday? This and a million other fat jokes were made possible for Spider-Man when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin, in Amazing Spider-Man #50.
FIFTY YEARS AGO – APRIL 1962
Doctor Doom turns fifty! Look how young he looks! (Fantastic Four #5 by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby)
Doctor Light also turns fifty. He seems like a pretty reasonable guy, not some crazy rapist… (Justice League of America #12 by Gardner Fox & Mike Sekowsky)
SIXTY FIVE YEARS AGO – APRIL 1947
Per Degaton debuts in All Star Comics #35, created by John Broome and Irwin Hasen. I have never really understood Per Degaton’s deal. Is he an evil Archie Andrews from the future?
Superman and the Prankster have a complicated relationship with coins… (cover by Wayne Boring)
SEVENTY YEARS AGO – APRIL 1942
Jack Kirby draws Thor for the first time!
See you in May!