It’s the end of the month, so that means another installment of 5-10-15-20. Not a lot of blockbuster debuts to discuss this month, although Vertigo has a couple of big scores that I probably don’t spend nearly enough time discussing. Do you have strong feelings about either book? Let me know in the comments!
FIVE YEARS AGO — July 2007
The #1 Comic Five Years Ago was Thor #1
Proving that absence does make the heart grow fonder, Thor scored his first (and as best as I can tell, only) #1 sales ranking after nearly three years of not having his own series. I’m sure that the popular creative team of J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Copiel helped, as did Marvel’s general hot streak relating to all things Civil War related in 2007. While I remember very little about this series besides some ripped-from-the-headlines stupidity — Tony Stark Doesn’t Care About Katrina Victims, Thor and the Warriors Three stop the genocide in Sudan by blowing up a bridge — there’s no denying this relaunch was an important building block towards the current Marvel Universe, and the centrality of the three core Avengers characters to Marvel’s publishing and film strategy.
DC’s best selling comic five years ago was Justice League America #11 featuring the one-shot story “Walls” by Brad Meltzer and Gene Ha. It was a story predicated on crying (a Meltzer trademark) and the concept of gravity not existing. It won the 2008 Eisner for Best Single Issue.
Elsewhere in the world of superheroes, Action Comics #851 was the penultimate step in the sentimental journey of “Last Son”, a five part story that took about two years for Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, and Adam Kubert to complete. Originally solicited to appear in February, this issue has 3-D segments for some reason. Marvel countered the 3-D gimmick with the death of Sabretooth in Wolverine #55 by Jeph Loeb and Simone Bianchi. This issue featured its own Atomic Age throwback, with a Greg Land variant cover homaging Crime Suspense Stories #22’s infamous decapitation cover from 1954.
Beyond the realm of the Big Two, David Lapham’s Vertigo OGN Silverfish turns five this month. In many ways this was an even more heartbreaking work than some of Lapham’s obvious mercenary jobs like Deadpool MAX or various Crossed books, because this felt so much like Stray Bullets with the serial numbers filed off. It’s been nearly eight years since the last issue of that book came out, and while it’s becoming easier to accept that it’s never getting finished, getting books that come close bring the pain right back.
It’s also been five years since Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons put out what is likely the last Martha Washington story, aptly titled Martha Washington Dies. Despite my claims to want to catch up on FBBP #114, I still haven’t read the back half of the Martha Washington story. Perhaps it will turn up on Dark Horse Digital?
Speaking of things I never finished, Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen #1 came out five years ago this month. I didn’t even realize they’d finished the series, probably because it took over a year for the second issue to come out, and the fifth and final issue didn’t ship until 2009. There’s a collection out, and since 2007 John Layman has really come into his own with books like Chew. Did anyone read this? Is it worth tracking down?
TEN YEARS AGO — July 2002
The #1 Comic Ten Years Ago was Transformers: Armada #1
What more can I say about Transformers? July 2002 is still right in the middle of the 1980s Cartoon Revival Mania, and I didn’t read any of these. In this series, the Transformers form an armada, I guess. This is in stark contrast to Transformers Generation One, where I assume they form generators?
July 2002 also is smack dab in the middle of the Bill Jemas/Joe Quesada era at Marvel. People will remember it fondly or ruefully depending on their own preferences. It was definitely a strange time. Does anyone remember when Scott Morse did an Elektra mini-series? Adam Warren and Keron Grant did “The Ever-Lovin’, Blue-Eyed End of the World” in Fantastic Four? A hardcover Captain America anthology featuring new work by Nick Bertozzi, Evan Dorkin, Dean Haspiel, Peter Kuper, David Lloyd, Darko Macan, Paul Pope, Frank Quitely, and Bruce Timm, printed alongside reprints from Simon/Kirby/Lee/Steranko/Miller? These are all things Marvel was putting out ten years ago.
Marvel also relaunched three of their marginal X-Titles this month: Deadpool, Cable, and X-Force were relaunched as Agent X, Soldier X, and X-Statix respectively. There were persistent rumors at the time that this move was made to skirt some sort of creator-participation contract with Rob Liefeld, who co-created all three title characters. This was addressed by Brian Cronin in one of his early Comic Book Urban Legends columns: theory BUSTED. Regardless, all three series are basically footnotes today: Soldier X lasted twelve issues and is almost completely forgotten. Agent X ran for fifteen issues, though the title character has popped up here and there since. X-Statix is likely best remembered, lasting twenty-six issues and spawning mini-series for team members Doop and Dead Girl.
We’re also ten years past Kurt Busiek’s big run on The Avengers, which ended in July 2002’s Avengers #56. The book would be passed around and marginalized for the next couple of years until Brian Michael Bendis took it over and blew it up.
Not a lot going on in the mainline DC Universe ten years ago, though DC’s other imprints had a bunch of debuts, big and otherwise. Here they are, in alphabetical order:
Automatic Kafka #1: Joe Casey and Ashley Wood’s short-lived series about a washed up drug addicted android superhero, also a vehicle for Joe Casey to remind you he has read all the same cool comics you have.
Gen 13 #0: Remember when Chris Claremont and Ale Garza rebooted Gen 13? Neither did I! This issue cost thirteen cents, which was a hot trend a decade ago, to sell the first issue of a comic at a super low price.
Hellblazer #175: Mike Carey begins his nearly four year run on Vertigo’s (and DC’s) longest running monthly
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen II #1: Before the move to Top Shelf, before the flexi-disc imbroglio, before LXG, before Harry Potter’s flaccid penis, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill began the second volume of LOEG ten years ago.
Stormwatch: Team Achilles #1: Micah Ian Wright and Whilce Portacio’s re-imagining of the Stormwatch property as a team of hard-nosed, gun-toting, superdupe killing proto-Boys.
Vertigo POP!: Tokyo #1: Jonathan Vankin and Seth Fisher launched another one of the many Vertigo imprints to quickly fall by the wayside. One of far too few works completed by Fisher before his sudden death in 2006.
Y the Last Man #1: I assume everyone’s familiar with this one.
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO — July 1997
The #1 Comic Fifteen Years Ago was Uncanny X-Men #347
Another month in 1997, and another X-Men book I haven’t read sits in the top spot. I believe this Gambit storyline was leading up to the revelation that he worked with Mister Sinister back during the Mutant Massacre. Gambit got a mini-series this month, unrelated to his complicity in a genocide. We also see Maggott down in the corner. He never got a mini-series, but fifteen years ago someone decided it was a good idea to give Maverick his own ongoing series. Yes, Maverick. Other releases from Marvel and DC this month included Strong Guy Reborn, Venom: Sign of the Boss, Impuse Plus Gross-Out, a series of “Pulp Heroes” annuals that featured stories like Electric Superman becoming an Old West gunslinger, and a comic where the Joker becomes a Satanist and tries to sacrifice Batman to Etrigan. Yeah.
But as bad as it may have been for superhero funnybooks, it was a banner month for funny funnybooks. In one month, we got new issues of Hate, Tykes, Scud the Disposable Assassin, Action Girl Comics, and Quantum & Woody. Plus Bone returned to its self-published roots with its twenty-eighth issue, Dark Horse launched its reprint series for Flaming Carrot and published a new Sergio Aragones series. Even big mean Frank Miller got in on the act with the humor one-shot Tales to Offend.
Also turning fifteen this month: Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson. I won’t lie, I was intensely into this book when it came out. It hit right as I was entering college as a prospective journalism major, full of piss and vinegar. I think the series fell apart, and the luster of Ellis’s bad boy persona wore off as I entered something resembling adulthood. Late-period villain The Smiler is still on our FBB List of Forbidden Topics, and I haven’t revisited the series since it ended, but in 1997, it was one of my favorite series.
TWENTY YEARS AGO — July 1992
The #1 Comics Twenty Years Ago was WildC.A.T.S: Covert Action Teams #1
The Summer of Image continues, as Jim Lee and Brandon Choi’s WildC.A.T.S. debuts. Sure, the series itself hasn’t been even remotely relevant since 2006’s abortive Grant Morrison/Jim Lee relaunch, but in its twenty years of publication the series spawned an animated series, featured memorable stints from Chris Claremont, James Robinson, Alan Moore, and Joe Casey, and was the book where Travis Charest came into his own as an artist. Its appeal endured enough for DC to take two of the characters who debuted in the issue — Grifter and Voodoo — and give them their own series in the New 52. Also premiering from Image this month was Brigade, Rob Liefeld’s second Image series whose characters are currently appearing in the relaunched Bloodstrike.
This month marks the first month that Marvel’s X-Titles were completely lacking in Image founders, but that didn’t stop them from introducing a slew of new characters. Who can forget Hazard, John Wraith, and the X-Patriots? What’s that? Everyone? Outside of the mutant realm, Marvel also gave Morbius his own series, as part of the “Midnight Sons” sub-line. I actually purchased Amazing Spider-Man #101 from some dealer when this was announced, convinced that Morbius’s first appearance would some day be as valuable as Incredible Hulk #181 or Amazing Spider-Man #129. In retrospect, I should have just purchased ten copies of New Mutants #98 for the same money. Or not entered into any sort of adolescent investments.
Speaking of bad ideas, in the midst of all sorts of variant gimmick covers (such as this month’s Spider-Man #26, with another kickin’ rad hologram cover) DC introduced a bold new concept twenty years ago: variant interiors. As part of the “Total Chaos” Titans event, a new series called Team Titans debuted featuring a team of Titans from a dark future. Each variant of the comic featured a different origin story for a different team member — Kilowatt, Mirage, Nightrider, Redwing, and Terra — along with the regular story. Fans could choose their favorite team member out a group of characters who had only briefly appeared before, or they could buy five copies of essentially the same comic. To my knowledge, no one bothered trying this again.
Also from DC: Lobo: Blazing Chain of Love, in which Lobo has sex with at least 214 women and endorses condom use:
Note to impressionable fanboys from 1992: do NOT bite any condoms, not even those given to you by Lobo. Opening the package with your teeth may damage the condom! Using teeth after the condom wrapper is open is also inadvisable.
FURTHER DOWN THE CHAIN…
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO — July 1987
John Byrne gave us the infamous Superman/Big Barda pornography shoot in Action Comics #593. For what it’s worth, Barda’s jealous husband Mr. Miracle broke up the shoot before readers could ascertain if DC’s official condom policy changed between 1987 and 1992.
David Micheline and MD Bright introduced the second (and most enduring) version of Blizzard in Iron Man #223. After years of fighting Iron Man and drunkenly hitting on She-Hulk, Blizzard was a member of Thunderbolts for several years during Fabian Nicieza’s run on the title. Most recently he’s been press-ganged into being a human bomb for the Mandarin in Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca’s Invincible Iron Man. Less enduring but no less impressive” IM #223 also debuts Tony Stark’s classic 1980s perm:
J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck took over all three Spider-Man books twenty-five years ago to do “Kraven’s Last Hunt”.
Marshal Law, Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill’s superhero killer debuts in his own series from Epic Comics.
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons wrap up Watchmen. I dug up my copies (water damaged in a flood eight years ago) for the occasion, and check out the hidden message on the back cover!
THIRTY YEARS AGO — July 1982
Doctor Doom bumps into his future heir Kristoff Vernard for the first time in Fantastic Four#247 by John Byrne.
Thirty years before The Dark Knight Rises ripped off Rocky IV, Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson rip off Rocky in Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7, as The Champion challenges Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to a series of boxing exhibitions for the fate of the planet. Even though
Rocky Balboa Ben Grimm is trounced by Apollo Creed the Champion, the Rocky One’s blue-collar grit and determination impress The Champ so much that they embrace as brothers, and Earth is spared.
Karma, Sunspot, Mirage, Wolfsbane, and Cannonball (not pictured) are introduced in The New Mutants graphic novel by Chris Claremont and Bob MacLeod.
THIRTY-FIVE YEARS AGO — July 1977
Jack Kirby draws his creation Captain America‘s comic for the last time in issue #214.
FORTY YEARS AGO — July 1972
Everyone’s favorite “Maggia” boss with an oddly shaped head, Hammerhead makes his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #113 by Gerry Conway and John Romita.
Batman engages in SHIRTLESS. DESERT. SWORDFIGHTING. for the first time in Batman #244 by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams.
Also debuting forty years ago this month is Gun-Hawks, a short-lived Western title from Marvel. It really deserves its own article, which is forthcoming.
FORTY FIVE YEARS AGO — July 1967
Back when coffee shops were weird beatnik hangouts rather than would-be corporate behemoths run by Harry Osborn, the Coffee Bean debuts in Amazing Spider-Man #53 by Stan Lee and John Romita.
FIFTY YEARS AGO — July 1962
Jane Foster begins her decades-long love affair/self-esteem demolition with Donald Blake/Thor in Journey into Mystery #84 by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby.
SIXTY-FIVE YEARS AGO — July 1947
Z-List Batman villain The Penny Plunderer shows up just long enough to enshrine a Giant Penny into the Batcave iconography, in World’s Finest #30 by “Bob Kane” and Bill Finger.
The Harlequin first appears in All-American Comics #89 by Robert Kahniger and Irwin Hasen. Molly Mayne had a crush on Green Lantern, and decided to become a super-villain to get his attention. He never took the bait, and ended up marrying a different supervillainess, Rose/Thorn. In the modern DCU, Scott’s first wife died, and he decided to finally court Harlequin. Unfortunately, DC’s Inexplicable Series of Justice Society Retcons made it so that Scott was still youthful, while Mayne aged like an actual member of the Greatest Generation. Luckily, Neron was around to offer Mayne a deal with the devil: youth for her soul. From there it was a simple task for Green Lantern to go into Hell and get her soul back, and they finally married. Then the New 52 happened and Alan Scott is gay. No word what this sister’s racket is now.
SEVENTY YEARS AGO — July 1942
Flash Comics by Gardner Fox and Everett Hibbard introduced The Shade, a thief with a magic cane and a wicked smile. He would appear sporadically for the next fifty-odd years, until James Robinson and Tony Harris revamped him into an immortal dandy scoundrel in Starman. He is currently appearing in his own limited series.
What Have We Learned?
People still loved 1980s toys ten years ago. People loved Image twenty years ago. Comic book characters age weirdly. The less said about superheroes’ love lives, the better.
See you next month!