We’re back — at the very end of May — with another installment of 5-10-15-20, where we look at comic book history in convenient five year installments. I’ve started to figure out the workflow of digging up all this information, and I’m curious: what sort of features are people interested in seeing? Significant releases? Character debuts? Industry happenings? Births and deaths? Funny covers? Please let me know in the comments.
FIVE YEARS AGO – MAY 2007
The #1 Comic Book Five Years Ago was Fallen Son: Captain America
Yep, another month with Jeph Loeb’s all-star adaptation of On Death and Dying at the top of the charts!
The summer of 2007 was also one with several controversies in the blogosphere about superheroes and their handling of women. We’ll see more examples in coming months, but May brought us the Adam Hughes designed Mary Jane Watson statue:
Our own Joseph Mastuontono chimed in, and his article links to a good round-up of other contemporaneous reactions. Despite the furor, the production of statues based on Adam Hughes designs, and of sexy superheroine statues has continued unabated.
May also brought the release of the much-delayed All Star Batman & Robin #5, a full year after the previous issue. As a special treat for the series’ detractors, it came with a variant cover by its writer Frank Miller:
Through the wonders of delays, people were complaining about this cover for months between its initial solicitation and its actual release. Here’s Johanna Draper Carlson with a recap of Wizard’s amazing cross-promotion .
On the other end of the spectrum, May 2007 also marks the actual launch (as opposed to its announcement, covered two months ago) of DC’s Minx imprint with the release of P.L.A.I.N. Janes, as well as the publication of Percy Gloom, the Eisner Award winning debut graphic novel by Cathy Malkasian. So it wasn’t all exploitation of women five years ago, even if Brian Pulido did somehow launch three different “Sexy Magic Woman” series from Avatar this month.
Five years ago DC’s first weekly series 52 ended, and Countdown began. I don’t want to think about Countdown ever again, as I’ve already spent far too much time dissecting it. I’m still fascinated by it, as a full-blown fiasco we all got to witness unfurl in real time. 52, on the other hand, was a fascinating experiment that mostly paid off: in the course of Countdown research I dug up links to the “exit interviews” with its architects (Dan Didio, Keith Giffen, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid) which make for far less depressing reading than the Countdown business. Not a lot else exciting going on at DC or Marvel five years ago, save for a book nearly as delayed as ASBAR: Ultimates 2 #13 by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch shipped this month, two years and five months after the volume began. There was nowhere to go after that but Loeb, and then the current volume of Ultimates, which to contrast with Ultimates 2 managed to have four pencillers on this week’s double-shipping issue alone.
Other books turning five this month:
Misery Loves Comedy, Ivan Brunetti’s compilation of work from Schizo and other locales
Left on Mission #1, a BOOM! mini-series I’ve never read, but appears to be the first steady gig that broke in Francesco Francavilla, for which I am grateful.
Criminal #6 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, the start of the “Lawless ” story arc
Collected editions of Casanova (by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba) and The Other Side (by Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart), two books with creative teams I often enjoy but books that we spoke harshly of in FBBP #17.5 and #28 respectively. I haven’t given either book a second chance in the ensuing five years, but I probably should.
Phonogram #6, yet another book I personally had loads of issues with upon first reading (see FBBP #79) and almost certainly deserves a second opinion.
The Boys #7, the first issue of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson and Whoever They Hire Who Draws Kind of Like Darick Robertson’s anti-superhero series to be published at Dynamite after DC realized it didn’t particularly want to publish month after month of thinly-veiled stories about their characters finding new ways to rape things.
Korgi volume 1, a cute all-ages graphic novel series by Christian Slade about a girl and her magic Corgi
First in Space by James Vining, a book that probably suffered by getting released not long after Laika, Nick Abzasis’s tour-de-force Sad Story About an Animal Shot Into Space
This month also marks the fifth anniversary of Spider-Man 3 and the accompanying sixth annual Free Comic Book Day.
The #1 Comic Book Ten Years Ago was Transformers Generation One #2
Ten years ago we were still in the midst of the 1980s Toy/Cartoon Renaissance, a place the #1 Spot will continue to inhabit for the next three months as well. Elsewhere in the industry, another juggernaut based on reselling children’s stories to adults began ten years ago this month: Fables! Bill Willingham’s open-ended saga of fairy tales behaving badly at Vertigo began in May 2002, with a debut issue that received pre-orders of a mere 23,000 copies: less than other first issues of the month such as CrossGen’s martial arts book Way of the Rat, Dark Horse’s cyberpunk remake Lone Wolf 2100, and Marvel’s MAX mini-series The Hood.
Yes, Brian K Vaughan and Kyle Hotz’s creation The Hood also debuted ten years ago. Though Vaughan had been kicking around the comics industry since the mid-1990s thanks to Marvel’s Stan-Hattan Project and had a number of Big Two gigs prior to The Hood (such as a rarely-remembered Swamp Thing revival and a Cyclops series I legitimately did not remember) this was the first book that really caught readers’ attention. Within a year he’d be at work on Runaways and Y the Last Man, but here was his first big book. The Hood wouldn’t appear again until 2006, when Dwayne McDuffie and Scott Kolins used him in the Beyond! mini-series, and the following year Brian Michael Bendis would fold him into his own Big Universe Building Event Series. Both The Hood and Fables are great examples of books that were introduced with little fanfare or attention, but with a decade’s hindsight are far more interesting and “important” (in whatever way you want to interpret that) than any of the more heavily hyped books of the moment. Does anyone remember Spider-Man: Quality of Life? Bruce Wayne: Murderer? They outsold both of these books by orders of magnitude.
One big seller people probably do remember is Spider-Man: Blue #1. This was the third mini-series for Marvel by the team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, following their successful pairing at DC, 2001’s Daredevil: Yellow, and 1995’s Wolverine/Gambit: Victims. The series was followed by Hulk: Gray in 2003, and an annual announcement of Captain America: White every year since 2007. I have not read a single of these mini-series, or indeed any Loeb/Sale joint since Batman: The Long Halloween. Am I making a mistake? Should my admiration for Sale’s artwork overwhelm my well-documented feelings about Jeph Loeb?
Elsewhere, ten years ago:
Superboy #100 marks the first time that Dan DiDio got a book he was writing canceled out from underneath him
The Authority #29 marks the end of Mark Millar and
Frank Quitely Chris Weston Art AdamsGary Erskine’s twelve issue run on the book. It also marks the last time anyone actually cared about the Authority.
Another Wildstorm series ended, with Adam Warren, Rick Mays and Kaare Andrews’s Gen 13 #77. I remember hearing nice things and enjoying the stray issues of the latter days of this series, with writing from Warren and John Arcudi and a number of talented artists, but never enough to track down all the back issues. Again, has this been a mistake on my part?
Tangled Web #14 featured “The Last Shoot”, a story by Brian Azzarello, Giuseppe Camuncoli and professional wrestler Scott “Raven” Levy. It explored the scenes from Amazing Fantasy #15 from the perspective of Crusher Hogan, and addressed the issue that you know, wrestling matches aren’t real fights.
The #1 Comic Fifteen Years Ago was Spawn #62
Spawn won the month fifteen years ago more or less by default. Marvel spent the whole month in the absurd “-1 issues” promotion, where every single book had a “negative first” issue, flashing back to stories featuring team-ups like Wolverine and Peter Parker’s parents. DC only managed to place five books in the top 30: Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA and four rapidly dropping Electric Superman books. Such was the state of superhero comics in 1997.
There were few notable first issues in May of 1997. Alongside all the -1s, Marvel debuted two familiar names: Heroes for Hire and Conan. While Heroes for Hire lasted nineteen issues (a record for a book with that name!) the Conan series was almost immediately retconned into a three issue mini-series subtitled Stalker in the Woods. Marvel’s series-of-mini-series run for Conan actually lasted two years, ending in early 2000. Dark Horse would pick up the license three years later. I had always thought there was a much longer gap between the two, but that’s only because everyone stopped paying attention to Marvel’s Conan comics some time in the late 1980s.
Alongside Spawn at Image, two creator-owned books (re)debuted. Zander Cannon’s The Replacement God and Other Stories jumped over shortly after a nine issue run at Slave Labor, while Mike Baron’s Badger returned after a forced hiatus following the end of First Comics in 1992, and a brief run at Dark Horse.
There really weren’t a lot of notable comics this month. Let’s see… Topps Comics — remember when Topps made comics? — debuted Jackie Chan’s Spartan X, which was co-created by Michael Golden. It had some pretty nice Golden covers?
Other notable events:
Sergio Aragones won the Reuben Award, one of the few “comic book” artists to receive the honor (alongside Will Eisner and fellow MAD contributors Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, and Al Jaffee)
- Writer and DC/Vertigo editor Lou Stathis passed away at 45 from a brain tumor. Here is a contemporary obituary from Stathis’s Vertigo colleague Stuart Moore
The #1 Comic Twenty Years Ago was Spawn #1
Here’s a far less surprising top ranking for Spawn. It’s been twenty years since Todd McFarlane’s creation debuted, selling over 1.7 million copies on the way to becoming the best-selling American independent comic book in history. The month also marked the final Marvel work for fellow Image co-founder Whilce Portacio, who left Uncanny X-Men as of May’s issue 290. At this point in time, Jims Lee and Valentino were the only remaining Image-eers with books coming out at Marvel.
How was Marvel coping with this loss? By giving Iron Man a swank new set of armor that eventually spun out into a new identity for James Rhodes…
…and by introducing CAP-WOLF!
(Cover and interior art by Rik Levins, writing by Mark Gruenwald)
DC’s summer crossover Eclipso: The Darkness Within kicked off with a bookend issue by Keith Giffen and Bart Sears. It introduced the concept of “Eclipso” as a malevolent spirit, as opposed to the dark split personality of adventurer Bruce Gordon, unwittingly paving the way for Jean Loring’s possession years later in Countdown .
Robocop vs. Terminator #1 is one of Dark Horse’s many media tie-in comics, notable because it teamed Frank Miller and Walt Simonson, a pairing that murders pretty much any film/TV tie-in comic before or since
Valiant kicked off its “Unity” crossover event, debuting two new titles: Archer & Armstrong and Eternal Warrior. The crossover featured interlocking covers by the aforementioned Miller and Simonson. I remember Archer & Armstrong being a fun rambling buddy comedy for the brief period Barry Windsor-Smith helmed it, and hope Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry’s impending relaunch lives up to my two-decades-old hazy fond memories.
Speaking of fun, Grant Morrison and various artists have an unusually mean (for Morrison) vintage of fun in May’s Doom Force Special #1, a book-length pisstake at the expense of Rob Liefeld and the rest of the Image tyros. R.I.P. Shasta, the Living Mountain!
Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1 becomes the First Ongoing Batman #1 Since 1989, a feat not touted on the cover in the same way it was for Legends of the Dark Knight #1. While Arkham has existed since the 1970s, it did not hold a prominent position in Batman mythos until the mid-1980s, and Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s “The Last Arkham” (starting in this issue) was the first major in-continuity push after the success of Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum to weave it into the Batbooks. This issue also introduces Jeremiah Arkham and Mr. Zsasz, both of whom have continued to appear in DC’s Batbooks.
Twenty-five years ago was a time of endings! Though it turns out he was fired on April 15, before prominent Internet coverage it took until May for most non-insiders to find out that Marvel had fired its editor-in-chief Jim Shooter. Only five years later he’d be riding high with that Unity crossover at Valiant. Of course, they’d fire him too a couple of months later. The firing ended Shooter’s nine year reign as EiC, lasting longer than everyone save for Stan Lee and Joe Quesada in the position. He was succeeded by Tom DeFalco.
That same month, Simonson ended his nearly five year run on Thor with issue 382. He was joined by Sal Buscema on art for the tail end of the run, and that’s Sal above.
Thor’s fellow Avenger doesn’t have any creative turnover, but May’s Captain America #332 officially kicked off the long-running storyline where Steve Rogers resigns and is replaced by violent jingoist John Walker. I’ve always liked this cover by Mike Zeck, even though I have no idea why Lincoln is over in the corner. And to complete 1987’s Avengers trifecta… Mockingbird!
Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom wrap up this plotline in West Coast Avengers #23, where a time-lost Mockingbird is stranded in the Old West, where she is drugged and sexually abused by the cowboy hero Phantom (nee Ghost) Rider. After sobering up and escaping his clutches, the two fight and Mockingbird refuses to save her rapist from plummeting off a cliff. She is eventually rescued, but in the present day the ghost of the Phantom Rider stalks her, eventually revealing that his death came at the hands of Mockingbird. Angrily declaring that “AVENGERS DON’T KILL!”, Hawkeye kicks his wife off the team and requests a divorce. This was all thankfully swept under the rug a year or two later when John Byrne took over the book, one of the new net benefits of his run.
THIRTY YEARS AGO – MAY 1982
Clearly the most significant release from this month was Love & Rockets #1, the world’s introduction to Los Bros. Hernandez. Advertising hype generally rings hollow, but Fantagraphics nailed it this time:
As a bonus, here’s the spec cover for L&R #1, printed in Amazing Heroes #11 from the same month:
May 1982 also saw Ann Nocenti’s entry into the world of comic book writers, with “The Streak”, a six page story with Greg LaRoque in Bizarre Adventures #32. It’s about a gambler who encounters Hermes, foreshadowing her Daredevil run mixing mythological figures with gritty New York alleys.
Speaking of mash-ups, Uncanny X-Men #160 by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson introduces S’ym, a demon based on Dave Sim’s Cerebus and a playful response to Sim’s “Professor Charles X. Claremont“. Sim answered back with Wolveroach the following year, and Marvel responded with a cease and desist .
Also turning thirty this month: Marvel Team-Up #120, the second (and final) appearance of lost gem TURNER D. CENTURY before he was murdered by Scourge in Captain America #319. He’s apparently been resurrected twice since then, but nothing came of it. One day, Marvel will realize TDC’s true potential. Until then, this book accounts for exactly 50% of his printed history. In this issue, he tries to kill everyone under 65 with a deadly phonograph attached to his flying velocipede, before being stopped by Spider-Man and Dominic Fortune.
THIRTY FIVE YEARS AGO – MAY 1977
Sabretooth debuts in Iron Fist #14 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Despite his current status as a marquee X-Men villain across all media, Sabretooth appeared in only fourteen comics over the course of his first decade, the bulk of those occuring in 1986-7 when he was a member of the Marauders during the “Mutant Massacre” crossover. It was during that crossover that his rivalry with Wolverine was established, though they wouldn’t be paired together as people with “a history” until Wolverine #10 in 1989. This should give hope to marginal villains everywhere.
Also debuting thirty-five years ago, though she isn’t named until her next appearance: Jocasta! Created by Jim Shooter and George Perez in Avengers #162, she was basically just a robotic shell for the “Bride of Ultron”, a female companion Ultron brainwashed his creator Hank Pym into helping him create by sucking the life/mind out of Pym’s wife Janet. I guess that’s why they called her Jocasta later. As of late she’s been a regular cast member of Avengers Academy, where Christos Gage has thankfully sidestepped almost all of the weird sexual tension between Jocasta and Pym. After all, she’s not named Electra.
FORTY YEARS AGO – MAY 1972
It’s the fortieth anniversary of Ghost Rider’s first appearance in Marvel Spotlight #5 by Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog. Though the character is familiar to comic fans and Nic Cage enablers as a Penance-Stare-dealing Spirit of Vengeance, his origin at the time of his debut is rather different than what I came to know in the 1990s: Johnny Blaze was a motorcycle mechanic who lost both his father and foster mother to separate motorcycling accidents. His foster mother made him swear on her deathbed to never ride in a stunt show. When his foster father and fellow stunt biker Crash Simpson discovered he had terminal cancer, he asked Johnny to take over for him. He refused, and his lover/foster sister condemned him as a coward for keeping his promise to her dead mother. Despairing, Johnny did the only logical thing: summoned Satan and sold his soul for the promise that Crash would not die from cancer. Instead, he dies performing a motorcycle stunt! Satan can be tricky, but that one was kind of a gimmie. Claiming Johnny’s soul, Satan transforms him each night into the skull-headed Ghost Rider, who stalks the alleys of New York… fighting crime. Not entirely sure what the Devil’s plan there was.
Also debuting forty years ago, DC’s Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Supervillains, a short-lived anthology focusing on various DC super-villains. It may be a total coincidence, but Mark Millar has frequently claimed that his idea for Wanted came from a pitch for a new Secret Society of Supervillains series for DC, another baddie-centric book DC rolled out not long after Wanted ended. I may be the only person who finds this interesting.
FORTY-FIVE YEARS AGO – MAY 1967
Though he doesn’t get a name for another couple of issues, Amazing Spider-Man #51 introduces Daily Bugle mainstay (and one of superherodom’s first major Supporting Characters of Color) Joseph “Robbie” Robertson. Robertson was created by Stan Lee and John Romita.
Last but not least, May 1967 saw the introduction of longtime Nick Fury paramour/S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Contessa Valentina Allegro de Fontaine. I’m sure that since Jim Steranko introduced her in the above sequence from Strange Tales #159, writers have inserted earlier encounters between the two in World War II or Bay of Pigs or at the Beatles’ concert at Shea Stadium, but this particular “meet cute” will always be canon to me.
FIFTY YEARS AGO – MAY 1962
Sonar turns fifty this month, created by Jon Broome and Gil Kane in Green Lantern #14. An outcast genius from the tiny nation of Modora, Sonar can be forgiven for developing a gun that is powered by absorbing sound and generally having a supercrime career that has nothing to do with actual sonar technology. Like all good midlist Silver Age villains, Sonar was last seen being tortured and killed in Flashpoint.
Also released in May 1962: Famous Monsters of Filmland #18, featuring a cover that I have assumed my entire life was a promo photo for mid-1970s Ozzy Osbourne, mainly because I never looked at it very closely:
You can check out previous installments of 5-10-15-20 here.