I don’t know if it’s because it’s been twenty years or because I’ve been seeing so many books from the Nineties sitting in my local comic store’s back issue bins but I have been in a mood to read some Nineties comics lately. Okay, let me clarify: I have been in the mood to read some Nineties comics lately.
We’re closing out 2013 today and I’d say that this was as weird a year as any when it came to comics and trying to come up with something to post on New Year’s Eve that was a sort of “year in review” type of post, I took a look at my current pull list and realized that I’m definitely not the type of person to be doing a “year in review” for 2013 because I have only read a handful of titles from the Big Two comics publishers and even those aren’t the Big Main from the Big Two. For instance, as much as I podcast about Robin, I have not been reading Batman or its associated titles since the New 52 relaunch. Yes, I have been checking out the Year Zero storyline digitally but for the most part I don’t feel like I connect with this version of Batman so I haven’t been reading him. In fact, I got so tired of DC this year that I dropped Nightwing and Batwoman within a month or two of one another and the only New 52 titles that I’m still holding onto with a tenuous grip are Earth 2, Wonder Woman, and World’s Finest. My Marvel reading is even slimmer with the upcoming reprints of Miracleman and the Ultimate Spider-Man all-ages title being the only books on my pull list (though for the record I have picked up an issue or two of Hawkeye and may grab a few more before deciding if I want to add it to my pull list). I have been reading more independent titles as of late, and while I don’t know what that says about me, I can at least say that they’re entertaining and worth the money (seriously, buy Rachel Rising and Herobear and the Kid. Do it now!), but an expert at “what’s current” in comics I am not.
What this year has made me think about, if you haven’t gleaned yet from the introduction to this piece is, 1993, because it felt so much like that. I started off this year with quite a number of DC books on my pull list and it dwindled down to what I just stated, mainly because I’ve been getting sick of the story-light, gimmick-heavy stuff that’s been going on. Oh a crossover that spins into a billion books … again and look … variant covers and 3-D covers and all sorts of covery coverness! You guys grab and fight over that, I’ll be over here with Scooby-Doo Team-Up. And a quick scan of Mike’s Amazing World in January 1993 and December 1993 shows kind of a similar path. At the beginning of 1993 I was buying all of the Batman, Superman, and X-Men titles. By the end of 1993 I was down to Batman and the Titans.
So … what was the reason for the drop in interest twenty years ago? I’d say money more than likely, but I remember that 1993 was the year that I became more discerning as a comics reader and collector. I had started collecting three years prior and looking at the end of 1990 I was reading the Batman titles, New Titans, and would pick and choose from whatever Superman and Green Lantern were doing. By the end of 1992 I was grabbing the latest HOT Image books and stuff like Venom: Lethal Protector #1. Because I liked Venom? Not really. Because that was what people were buying? Probably.
Plus 1993, when it comes to comics, was one of those years that was important because by the end of the year the bloom had definitely come off the rose as far as the comics speculation market was concerned with 1994-1995 being the time of the rather infamous market crash (I may be misremembering things and the market crashed in 1993 but things were still going strong at least at the beginning of the year). I remember that my loyalties, which were already to DC anyway, strengthened as a result of feeling burned by various crossover events and big number one comics, and by the time I started my senior year of high school in September 1994, I was eschewing most gimmicky books and sticking to my guns, even if I still bought crap like R.E.B.E.L.S. ’94 (and as to why I was buying that title, well, some things are better left unexplained).
But aside from my becoming more finicky, what makes 1993 so important? Why not choose 1992 (the birth year of Image, the Death of Superman) or 1996 (Kingdom Come, Marvel vs. DC) as the most Nineties year of the Nineties? Well, here are fifteen reasons based on what I was reading (so even though “Emerald Twilight” started in the Green Lantern books in 1993 I never bought the issues–in fact, I have never actually read the story–and I never got my free copy of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1). I’ve placed them in a particular order with the first item being something that is pretty awesome and still holds up well to the last one being best described as something I am embarrassed to actually have paid cash money for.
Reign of the Supermen. Every time I see some list about comics stories of the 1990s, the Death of Superman is on it and for good reason. But what always annoys me about what those lists say about the Death of Superman is that whoever is writing it suffers from poor memory and/or shitty research skills. First, they tend to forget that beyond Superman #75 there were two huge storylines–Funeral for a Friend and Reign of the Supermen–that, when combined, make up a complete story. So the death was actually the first part of it all. Second, they also neglect to mention how it came about, instead holding it up as some sort of symbol of the comic companies’ greed in the early 1990s. I’ll admit that Adventures of Superman #500 was probably overprinted and I definitely fell victim to the “buy two copies of the polybagged edition and open one” trick, but the storyline was less an effort to drum up sales and more a result of the editors and writers not being able to do what they wanted to do, which is marry Clark Kent and Lois Lane because of the impending Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman television show. Plus, DC wasn’t ready for the publicity that resulted from his death.
But it is one of the most important stories of the early 1990s and holds up excellently at that. Yes, there’s some stuff that might be a little clunky or bears explanation (Lex Luthor II and the Matrix Supergirl being the biggest examples) but other than that, you can buy the Death, Funeral, and Return of Superman in separate trades or one omnibus and have a great time with it.
Oh, and if you really want to go back in time to 1992 and 1993, here is a link to The Fortress of Baileytude’s extensive look at the Death and Return of Superman, which has some awesome news clippings and other memorabilia from the era.
The Return of Barry Allen. This completely snuck under the radar when I was sixteen. I can’t remember if I bought the whole thing or not, but I do remember and still think that this is one of the best Flash stories of the early 1990s and that’s saying a lot because that was one of the most consistently good books of the decade. Mark Waid comes on to the title and basically gives the fans what they have been bugging the editors for: the return of Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash. My personal experience with Barry Allen was limited to what I remember from cartoons as well as his death in Crisis on Infinite Earths, and even though I had first been introduced to Wally West as Kid Flash in the New Teen Titans back issues I was collecting, I knew that he became Flash at the end of the Crisis and was growing into his own in the role.
But the “original” Flash? Back from the dead? Well, this was going to be awesome. And it is, but not why you think.
What makes this very Nineties but also the most non-Nineties of the Nineties things on this Nineties list is that like I said, this kind of flew under the radar. The individual issues were not bannered “The Return of Barry Allen” and there was not a huge media hype surrounding the story. In fact, I don’t remember seeing much in the way of a mention of it in Wizard at the time (although to be honest, Wizard seemed to go out of their way to not mention anything from DC that wasn’t Batman) and there was no crossover with another book, gimmick cover, or anything else that would come to typify earth-shattering storylines in the 1990s. Furthermore, Barry came back looking exactly like Barry. He didn’t change his name to BLOODLIGHTING or something equally EXTREME and run around in a leather jacket with shoulder pads that had guns with pockets mounted to them or anything. He simply came back as Barry Allen.
Well, sort of.
This is one that I believe is in trade, although the trade may be out of print. The individual issues are still pretty easy to come by, though. And if you want to hear a great podcast presentation of the storyline, Hey Kids, Comics! did a great pair of episodes. Here’s part one and here’s part two.
Knightfall/Knightquest. If I’m going to mention The Death and Return of Superman, I have to mention the “Knight” trilogy, which happened at the same time. Funny enough, they were developed separately and entirely coincidentally, so it’s not like the success of the Death of Superman prompted the breaking of Batman. Now, while this did inspire quite a bit of the storyline for The Dark Knight Rises (a bloated movie if there ever was one), it’s actually not as good as the corresponding Superman story.
The basis of this one is that Bane gets out of prison, goes to Gotham City, breaks Arkham open and forces Batman to fight all of his other foes before finally getting into the Batcave and breaking Batman’s back over his knee. The art is … well, it’s good in places and mediocre in others (I love Jim Aparo’s Batman but this is definitely not his best) and the last part of it, KnightsEnd, is rushed and anticlimactic, but the idea behind it is actually pretty clever. What Denny O’Neil and company did when they had Bane break Batman was take Azrael, a brand-new character who was a normal-seeming guy who had just discovered that he’d been trained since birth to be an assassin for a secret order of knights called the Order of St. Dumas and put him in the costume. Now, why this when Dick Grayson was swinging around as Nightwing and Tim Drake was Robin? Well, Tim was too young to be Batman and at the time Dick was in the middle of the whole New Titans #100 debacle. Plus, in Azbats we got an EXTREME Batman, one who was all weaponed up and ready to kill. In fact, as Knightquest went on, his costume got more and more ridiculous, and Azbats made the cover of Wizard, being only the second DC character to do so (the first was … well, it was Batman) and IIRC, Wizard was all hype-tastic about it.
Then again, my memory may be cloudy on this one. But if you read this in its collected editions, you’ll see that yes, it’s a very Nineties story, but much like The Return of Barry Allen, it’s a bit subversive in that it is making fun of the EXTREME hero trope, showing bloodthirsty comics fans that a hero didn’t need to have massive amounts of deadly weapons or even need to kill. If you want a great take on it, check out the several episodes of Hey Kids, Comics! devoted to the saga.
Death: The High Cost of Living. 1993 is significant in comics history because it’s the year that DC officially launched Vertigo. Yes, there were mature readers titles before 1993 and most of those found themselves under the Vertigo banner, but the spinning off of the mature readers titles into Vertigo was important because they didn’t have to fall under the mainstream DCU. Death: The High Cost of Living was a three-issue miniseries that starred Death, the sister of Morpheus from The Sandman. It was also the only Vertigo series I bought, mainly because I saw a preview of it somewhere and was pretty attracted to the way Chris Bachalo drew Death. Yeah, I realize how that sounds, but this play on “Death Takes a Holiday,” which is available in trade paperback, is still one of the best single stories of the decade and is an excellent visual reminder of the early 1990s. I went to high school with a number of girls who dressed in a style we called “alternative” (I don’t think “goth chick” became a term until the late 1990s, although I may be wrong) and Death is one of the most (no pun intended) dead-on representations of that particular “style” of the time.
Cosmic Teams. At some point in the late 1980s and early 1990s, trading cards became as huge as comic books, and comics fans dove headlong into the craze. Marvel was first but DC soon followed with “Cosmic Cards” in 1992 and then Cosmic Teams in 1993. I bought pack after pack of Cosmic Cards from Sayville Card & Gift and managed to collect all but one of the cards in the series (Damn you, Booster Gold and your elusiveness!), but when Cosmic Teams came out I simply bought a box from the comic store and wound up with the entire series in one purchase.
In a sense, that’s indicative of this craze and the decade as a whole. It was all about some sort of instant collector’s gratification (and yes, I realize that if I were truly a collector I would have bought two boxes and kept one unopened)–you’d buy everything at once and show off how much you had instead of saving your pennies and riding your bike to the drug store or stationery store and buying a pack of ten or fifteen cards for 75 cents.
Funny enough, while the artwork on the Cosmic Teams set was pretty good, the set had a glaring omission. Because of rights issues, DC could not use Batman or any of Batman’s associated characters (Nightwing being the exception) so it was kind of an “Everyone Else” set. That shouldn’t take away from it, even if I wasn’t exactly psyched to have a Bloodwynd trading card (which I’m sure my local comics shop has in a nickel trading cards box).
Days of Future Yet to Come. Another storyline that was good but slipped under the radar is the third of the “Days of Future …” trilogy that started with “Days of Future Past” in Uncanny X-Men at the beginning of the 1980s and continued with “Days of Future Present” in several annuals toward the end of the decade. “Days of Future Yet to Come” took place in a couple of issues of Excalibur and featured the Britain-based mutant team heading to the alternate future and finally overthrowing the Sentinel rulers.
But the reason I put this story on this list was not because I particularly liked it a lot or anything like that (I sold my Excalibur issues years ago so I don’t remember it very well) but that this marked the end of Alan Davis’s tenure on the series and what followed was a shift in tone to a more serious book, kind of like how the “BWAH-HA-HA!!!” Justice League ended in 1991 and became more of a straightforward superhero book in 1992 (I’m simplifying for the sake of example here, so go with it). Excalibur became more tired to the other X-books and that meant serious stories and more angry characters and … well, I think I was done with the book by the end of the year because I had come to the title specifically because of how fun it was.
The Nineties did this to a lot of books, just as this decade is doing now.
Fatal Attractions. How do you do an X-crossover in 1993? HOLOGRAM COVERS! HUGE EVENTS! HUGE EVENTS IN BOOKS WITH HOLOGRAM COVERS! If you’re unfamiliar with this storyline it’s the one where Magneto returns and rips all of the adamantium out of Wolverine’s body and we find out that he had bone claws. This was odd in the way that it came out because it wasn’t like all the X-titles had a month to tell the story. Instead, each title had an issue under the “Fatal Attractions” banner starting in the spring and ending in the fall and the chapters of X-Factor and Excalibur only seemed to have a tenuous connection with the main story.
It wasn’t half bad, but it’s important in the grand scheme of the Nineties because when Professor X mind wipes Magneto, he winds up creating Onslaught, which would be big bad in the Crisis-esque cosmic rearranging of the Marvel Universe in the mid-1990s.
Prime #2. You know, the Malibu Ultraverse was actually pretty good. I remember that some of the titles had some real promise, but being that it was launched at the height of the comics craze, it was probably predestined to flame out (to this day, I’m amazed that Image Comics survived the mid-1990s). But I did read Prime for a few issues and it was pretty good, not the very least for the Norm Breyfogle art. I mention Prime #2 because I remember this issue of the series had a low print run compared to issue #1 and therefore was going for a little more money. Wizard, in its infinite pricing wisdom, jacked the price of Prime #2 incredibly high, making it seem that this was some sort of investment book. Right now, you can get it for a buck on eBay.
How many books like this did Wizard over-hype and over-price during the early 1990s? Remember when Stephen Platt did some good-looking Moon Knight covers and all of the sudden Wizard was listing those books for $10-$20 a pop? I can only imagine what things would have been like in 1993 if eBay had existed.
New Titans #100. I have already covered this one. Needless to say, it’s my personal moment of Nineties.
Bloodties. This is why I dropped the X-titles and with the exception of a few issues here and there over the years, never looked back. I picked up the five X-books toward the very end of the Image founders’ runs and stuck with them after Image launched because I was interested in what was going on. Bloodties was a sequel/aftermath of “Fatal Attractions” and was a crossover meant to celebrate the thirtieth anniversaries of both the X-Men and The Avengers. So I had to buy an issue of Avengers West Coast. Not only did this annoy me, but some story about Quicksilver and Scarlet Wish and God knows what else because I barely paid attention made me incredibly annoyed that I had shelled out so much money for it.
This came out in November, so it was basically me hitting bottom as a comics fan. After Bloodlines ended, I woke up with one of the biggest fanboy hangovers and decided … NO MORE. NO MORE would I waste my money on crap crossovers. Well, until I finished …
Bloodlines. Someone out there likes this, I know. But the idea that DC was going to spend the annuals of 1993 Imaging itself out with newer, bad-assier characters? Well, it seemed like it was going to be a good idea but when the B-teams are doing the art and the characters created aren’t so great? Well, by the time that DC got to “Bloodbath,” the two-parter that ended the crossover, it was less of an exciting moment in DC Universe history and more, “Okay, let’s get this crap over with, shall we?”
Bloodlines was one of the things that taught me what a flash-in-the-pan was when it came to comic books. And while it didn’t stop me from buying every crossover DC put out, I would often think twice when a huge cosmos-shattering event approached.
Cable #1. When I dared start reading the X-books, Cable was the MOST. IMPORTANT. THING. EVAR. In fact, the crossover “The X-Cutioner’s Song” was all about WHO. CABLE. WAS. It was supposed to be epic! So awesome! And then we got a Cable ongoing series!!! This was going to unravel every. single. question. Right? RIGHT?!!!!
First, I remember being suckered into buying the version with the gold foil on the title, then reading the story inside and not having any idea why this was worth the money I paid. Also, in perusing comics from the Nineties, am I the only one who notices that at one point about half of Marvel’s titles had the exact same style for their titles? I’m pretty sure that Marvel had a book called Slanted Block Letters because that’s what sold.
Bloodstrike #1. Blood on the cover. And a Liefeld wannabe artist doing the interiors. For $2.95. Every time I see this in a quarter bin, I die a little more inside knowing that I paid full price for it.
Deathmate. In issue #29 of Wizard, the company did a section called “Headlines of 2003,” which basically poked fun at the current state of comics by making predictions about the future. One of the headlines was “Deathmate Red Released.” At that point, the Rob Liefeld portion of the Image/Valiant crossover, Deathmate, had not seen the business end of a comics store because it was late beyond late. Just six months earlier, Wizard had hyped the crap out of Deathmate. I’ve already talked about my love-hate relationship with Wizard and I have other plans next year for Deathmate but let me finish up by saying that if there is any big EVENT event that is indicative of the Nineties, it’s not The Death and Return of Superman, it’s this one.
The Homage Studios Swimsuit Special. Oh man, I feel like I have to write a letter of apology and post it to Jezebel for owning this thing.
Let’s hope that 2014 is of better quality than 1993, shall we? Happy New Year!