Posted in Comics n Stuff, Miscellaneous

My Life in Comics: Back when the Future looked brighter.

As in my previous post, I looked into DC Comics more in the weeks and months after Zero Hour: Crisis in Time and one of the things that series did was give us a fresh start on the Legion of Super-Heroes.

The original iteration of the LOSH appeared in Adventure Comics 247 from February 1958. Originally used as side characters for the book’s lead Superboy (Superman when he was a boy) they were teems who were inspired by the legend of Superman nearly 1000 years in the future and travelled back in time to meet their idol. They became friends and came back time after time even getting joint billing on Superboy’s own eponymous title, eventually they supplanted  him there.

From 1958-1985 the LOSH were heroes from dozens of worlds many with powers specific to those worlds and others with unique abilities. They were almost exclusively human looking (and white, it was the 50s after all) but were aliens from worlds 🌎 like Braal, Winath, Colu and the Saturnian moon of Titan.

Things have a habit or changing and in 1985 there came a crisis.

In the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths, several titles got a bit of a reboot, including Superman, who now had never been Superboy. Without Superboy, do you get a legion he worked with, or could have inspired??

The initial solution to that problem was a ‘pocket universe’ which did have a Superboy and so when they travelled to meet that Superboy, that’s where they travelled back to. Even this was removed in a gentle re-boot which removed Superboy and Supergirl by adding new characters Kent Shakespeare and Laurel Gand and fitting them in retroactively. This didn’t really help, especially when the adult Legion was met by a teenaged version of the Legion, these Legionnaires were a modernised ‘back to basics’ approach with old characters young again and fresh new designs for the characters. It was all getting a bit convoluted and hard to get in to. For whatever reason, once Zero Hour came along a new start was possible and a full reboot was done.

This reboot era started on 16 August 1994 with Legion of Super Heroes #0 then carried on 2 weeks later on 30 August 1994 with Legionnaires #0.

This told the origin for the new team without the emphasis on Superboy’s example and with updated costumes, names and overall design aesthetic. The story opens with Braalian Rok Krin, citizen of Titan Irma Ardeen and Winathian Garth Rannz meeting enroute to Earth, on the same interstellar transport as wealthy philanthropist R.J. Brande. On Earth, Brande is the subject of a kidnap attempt, foiled by the native powers magnetic powers of Rok, the native telepathic power of Irma and the accidentally gained lightning powers of Garth. These three strangers using their powers to save another stranger becomes a symbol of co-operation in the new United Planets. These three become Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Live Wire and each take up Brande’s offer to join this new team he wants to set up. They are soon joined by Tinya Wazzo, the daughter of the ambassador from Bgztl and Brande’s PA the Carggite Luornu Durgo. Tinya is able to pass through solid objects and Luornu is able to split into three physically identical people, much like the rest of their people.

These two issues start the series off, Legionnaires #0 ends with several other young people being drafted from their home-worlds for membership.

This is where I came in, it was a new story with older stuff in there, neither undoing the previous tale, nor being so pale in comparison. This is the essence of a well done re-boot. I can’t say it was better than the pre-crisis version, nor can I say it was worse, these are personal preferences, not right and wrong thinking. All I can say is that I liked it. There was a hopeful sci-fi future that felt recognisable and also hopeful. There was super-hero action and more than a little soap-opera melodrama. That was my sweet-spot in the 90s. I enjoyed it, reading both of the series which moved from one series to the other similar to what the Superman titles had been doing.

From the ups and downs of the Legion’s fortune, the battle with the Daxamites and betrayals and divided loyalties, this was fun and dramatic and a period that I enjoyed so much.

It came to an end in the mid 00’s with another restart (the threeboot) and then the pre-crisis team ended up coming back and there’s another group now and so this post Zero Hour era is for the most part forgotten and I think that’s a shame. So I just wanted to look at this era, when we still believed in the future and there was some good comics available.

What about you? Did you read this era? Like it, dislike it?

Anyway I have rambled enough, TTFN internet people.

Posted in Comics n Stuff, Miscellaneous

My Life in Comics: A whole new Universe (no, not that one) to explore – Part 2

In the wake of the DC Universe altering Zero Hour, a whole bunch of jumping on points were deemed necessary as well as new series to start and new continuities to establish and in a smart (albeit cynical) move, DC had a 0 issue for almost all of their ongoing series. These would be origins, or stories about the past, or even things like re-stating the series’ premise and status quo. This led to a lot of issues in the months of August and September 1994 being good starts for new readers and I was one of them.

The first week started strong with the following issue 0s
Batman, Deathstroke: the Hunted, Flash, Legion of Super Heroes (more on that story later), Primal Force, Spectre, Superboy, Superman: The Man of Steel and Wonder Woman.

It was also the time that I started to frequent the other comic shop and for the first time since I was 10 or so, found my people. I spent much of the next 6 years spending my weekends there, both as a customer and then as staff, working a part time job for comic-money. Needless to say, I had a LOT of comics reading done in that time.

The following week brought Batman: Shadow of the Bat, The Demon, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Justice League America, New Titans, Starman and Superman.

The next week introduced Adventures of Superman, Detective Comics, Fate, Gunfire, Justice League Taskforce, Legionnaires (again, we’ll get to that) Outsiders, R.E.B.E.L.S. 94, The Ray, Steel and Xenobrood.

Finally the 0 issues came to an end with Action Comics, Anima, Aquaman, Catwoman, Damage, Darkstars, Green Arrow, Guy Gardner: Warrior, Lobo, Manhunter and Robin.

Some characters had multiple series, both Batman and Superman having one a week and the Legion of Super Heroes having two per month and those linked, but the rest were one offs giving you a taste of these new characters as well as a refresher on who they are and what they were about. Amongst those were new titles, Xenobrood, Manhunter, Fate, the retooled L.E.G.I.O.N. 94 (now known as R.E.B.E.L.S 94) and the critically acclaimed Starman. It was a big push by DC to gain new readers and market share and at least in my own case this was true.

I was already a fan of Superman, but here is where I started seriously collecting it, alongside Green Lantern, I also added Flash, Fate, Guy Gardner, New Titans, Damage, Manhunter and Justice League America to my rapidly expanding pull list.

It was a new world for me to run around in and it brought a new appreciation to this rival to Marvel and it set up a cycle of my rediscovering DC every few years as they tried this idea again and again.

As I look back, seeing what stuck and what didn’t, the thing that strikes me is how DC was trying something different in this era. We had a new Green Lantern, Wally West owning his position as the Flash, a new Green Arrow, new titles like Starman, Damage and Manhunter. This was daring and risky, but to me it was working and many of the characters that this era brought to prominence I followed for many years after, until the versions before that came back.

Anyway, I had no idea what I was saying here, but I leave with a question internet people. Do you remember this era? Do you remember it fondly? What worked for you, what didn’t? Did this work better or worse than say the Nu 52?

Ttfn Internet People, I am outta here

Posted in Comics n Stuff, Miscellaneous

My Life in Comics: A whole new Universe (no, not that one) to explore – Part 1

One of the other formative 90’s experiences was my more substantial foray into DC comics. It started with the new Green Lantern in Green Lantern vol 3 issue 51 which was the introduction of struggling artist Kyle Rayner receiving the last Green Lantern ring following the decent into madness of previous GL Hal Jordan. In real life, it was a time when I moved from my usual comic shop, to a new one on Slater Street.

Whilst I had read Crisis on Infinite Earths (or some of it) earlier and I had read issues of Justice League (America and Europe) and the odd Green Lanterns, my DC knowledge was less than expansive. I was however a fan of post-crisis Superman and the art of Dan Jurgens led me to the latest DC, Zero Hour: Crisis in Time. One of the reasons for this was that it seemed to offer a good jumping on point as well as sort out some of their continuity issues.

One of those things would prove to be true.

Zero Hour was a 5 issue series released between 12 July and 9 August 1994 counting down from 4 to 0 weekly.

The plot was that former hero Hawk, who became Monarch, who then became Extant was doing something to time that caused temporal anomalies and the past and future to be erased.

DC used this as a sort of clearing house event, removing the Justice Society from a position of prominence and giving a fresh start to Hawkman, whose continuity had been a mess for quite a while now.

It also sorted the Team Titans mystery bringing that idea to it’s conclusion. We also lost the Legion of Super Heroes in the build up to Zero Hour. It was then revealed that yet another villain was behind the whole thing and was simply manipulating Extant into doing his bidding. Hal Jordan, former Green Lantern of Sector 2814, now taking the name Parallax.

The series ended with 0 and the destruction of the DC Universe. It didn’t last as a second big bang occurred, this time with nascent super-hero Damage as the spark that caused it at the beginning of time.

Once this was done, history had been altered, a defined decade had come and gone since the emergence of Superman and now things were different, long time histories of the future now no longer existed, Guy Gardner had an alien heritage and all new heroes and villains were on the verge of breaking out.

It was the first time there was a DC event that I was on the ground floor for and I was glad of it. It was an exciting time as new and interesting things look like they were going to happen and I knew one thing more than anything else, I was going to be spending a lot more money on comics in the coming months.

I had no idea.

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My Life in Comics: Image is Everything part 8

So in the end, what did it matter?

30 years ago, Image Comics debuted in the comics marketplace and took the world by storm. 7 of Marvel’s biggest named creators just walked out and went into business for themselves. But beyond milking their fans for more dollar and narrowing the market share for the big 2, what has been the legacy of these guys doing it for themselves?

Much of the IP is still around from Spawn and Savage Dragon still being ongoing titles by the same company, to Wildstorm’s characters getting a second lease of life from the re-boot in The Wild Storm, to some of the post-Stormwatch characters being seen in the main DC Universe and several revival attempts of Shadowhawk, Cyberforce and Youngblood, the characters struck a chord and their fans keep interest in them alive.

It did two other things too, it made a non-big 2 comics company a viable business idea. Dark Horse did so much more super hero stuff with the Comics Greatest World event that had lots of really good ideas in it. Valiant comics burst forth as well from Jim Shooter amongst others. Now you have Boom Studios, IDW, Vault and a dozen more besides offering alternatives to the unstoppable behemoths of Marvel and DC.

Part of this was the other half of Image’s legacy. Moving more behind the scenes jim Valentino became a larger supporter of creator own series. If people wanted to do their own thing, Image was the place to do it, taking advantage of the hole left by Vertigo’s shrinking and eventual cancellation. Many creators doing work for the big 2 now also do Image titles, retaining IP ownership as well as much of the income and there’s no restriction as to what they can do. Sci-Fi, Super Heroes, Horror, Comedy, Romance, Fantasy and Noir are all up for grabs and there are success stories there. Several series have made it to films and television, including the sales juggernaut that was the Walking Dead as well as Invincible, by the same writer Robert Kirkman, who was inspired by the original 7 and has joined them in the upper management of Image Comics.

I suppose that was the real gain from Image. It was 7 guys showing you that it could be done, that you could do what you like and have it be yours. You could want to draw Batman, or write Spider-Man, but if you also had your own ideas, there was a place to do that. Image Comics showed so many people the way and even now, 30 years on, they still do. Whatever you like to read, there’s something for you and we are all happier for that fact.

There’s more that can be said, but better writers can say it. All I wanted to say was Image is 30 years old and from out of it came some pretty damn good comics. So for whatever reasons they had, well done for leaving and doing it for yourself. The comics world thanks you.

That’s all for me for now folks,

TTFN

Posted in Comics n Stuff, Miscellaneous

My Life in Comics: Image is Everything part 7

The final of those first 7 issues came later than the others and was less separated from the others. Whilce Portacio was an X-Men alum same as Jim Lee and very much came with Lee into the Image team.

Portacio had a style that was similar to Lee and Silvestri, but very much had its own flavour. He had a flair for action and metallic effects and this put him in the perfect aesthetic place to do Wetworks.

Wetworks 1 was released July 4 1994, a full two years into Image’s publishing era. Wetworks was the story of a military unit exposed to some unknown technology that coated them in a golden armour with unusual powers and abilities and these events brought them into a war between vampires and werewolves.

There’s a lot going on there, maybe two much, but this comic integrated into Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Universe of characters and found its place there.

Much like WildC.A.T.S. and others, it was a casualty of Wildstorm’s absorption into DC as a business and then their incorporation into the New 52 universe. I don’t know that I have seen any of these characters since then, but even just based on the visuals, that’s a shame. Maybe we will again one day.

Next time: What is, if anything, the point here.

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My Life in Comics: Image is Everything part 6

One of the more seasoned professionals of the Image 7 was Mark Silvestri. Silvestri was as much of a name in the 80’s as the 90’s and Rob Liefeld often referred to Mark as the best illustrator of the bunch. Seeing some of his Marvel work in the 80s, there’s evidence a’plenty that it was true.

When it was his time to put a number 1 out, it was one to look for, if you were in it for the art and in that regard he did not disappoint.

Cyberforce 1 was released 9 October 1992 and was the last of the initial creators’ first series to be released that year. Several of the creators’ studios put out companion titles, Rob Liefeld’s Extreme Studios and Jim Lee’s Wildstorm being the obvious culprits there, but this was the 6th number 1 of those initial debuts.

Cyberforce was very reminiscent of Marvel’s X-Men. Well to be honest that’s being generous. It was a more blatant copy than the subject of my previous post WildC.A.T.S. and this did not really help it stand out on an already stuffed marketplace. It did enough sales to warrant an ongoing and allowed Silvestri’s studio Top Cow to expand into other titles such as The Darkness and Witchblade, both of which proved successful at the time

The characters and concepts in Cyberforce have struggled to maintain their position in the marketplace and have had several reboots and restarts.

As of this writing there doesn’t seem to be a Cyberforce series being published, but maybe one will be along soon.

Next time: Things get shiny with the 7th founder’s first comic

T

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My Life in Comics: Image is everything part 4

Six of the seven Image founders were pencilled on the big selling franchises of Marvel, X-Men and Spider-Man. The outlier was Jim Valentino.

A lot of titles saw their launch in 1990-1991, titles that included New Warriors, Namor, Darkhawk, Deathlok and Ghost Rider, Marvel taking chances with reboot characters and lesser known properties. A very new teams/new ideas approach. One of those was the Guardians of the Galaxy. I could take about the Guardians at length, in fact I did in a separate dedicated blog.

But this was the place that I first saw Valentino’s work. It was eye-catching as well as having a clean style that suited the series and it is to date my favourite version of these characters, even to this extent.

My right arm

Two years into the series he joined the exodus and launched his first character Shadowhawk.

This was a collection of mini-series, rather than the ongoings that most of Image were doing. Shadowhawk was a gritty urban vigilante who delivered non-lethal, but brutal justice. The interesting thing about this title was it was narrated in the second person. Instead of I am Shadowhawk, or the traditional he is Shadowhawk, it was You are Shadowhawk. This allowed the character’s

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My Life in Comics: Image is Everything part 3

Although in 1992 these concepts were new to the comics buying world 🌎,  some of these concepts were not new at all.

One character that had already had a shelf life already and that was Erik Larsen’s Dragon. Originally a creation from his adolescent years it had only ever been printed on a small press scale. When the chance to go big on something creator owned a modified version of a character he already had fleshed out was obvious.  Paul Dragon became Savage Dragon.

Released 24 June 1992, a scant 3 weeks after Spawn #1, Savage Dragon started as a 3 part mini series introducing the titular character who was an amnesiac green humanoid with a fin on the top of his head and was also possessed of great strength and endurance.

This Dragon was found by the Chicago police and joined them as they battled an increasing number of post and non human being dubbed Superfreaks. The police needed their own and that’s where Dragon came in.

This series had everything a teenager would want in a comic, there was action, amazing visuals,  humour and women with physics defying boobs. But other than that and the jabs at comics tropes and famous names on comics, the Johnny Redbeard stuff alone earns the comic the title of Savage there was a couple of things that stood out, one was the sense of stakes. Characters were killed, or injured and these changes stuck. The other was it moved in real time. Whenever one story moved over several parts, breaks happened afterwards and so 12 issues were 1 year rather than the sliding timescales used by the big two.

Another thing to note is that it has been continuous since its inception and still under the pen of its creator. Even at issue 262, Erik Larsen is still the majority of the creative team. It is something of an Image success story in that it’s am ongoing series that was able to compete with the big two at their own game and do it well.

Savage Dragon started nearly 30 years ago and it’s still going strong.

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My Life in Comics: Image is Everything part 5

What do you do when you’ve set the sales records at the company you work for’s industry? You go into business for yourself.

After producing the highest selling single comic of all time, Jim Lee was on top of the comic world. His joining McFarlane and Liefeld on their exodus would have been one of the things that made it a serious threat to the big two. Now there are rumours and stories as to why he left, being very much a hard working company man, but whatever the reason, he did and when he was ready, took his shot with his own series.

Wild.C.A.T.S. Covert Action Teams issue 1 was released on August 1992. The series itself was a mix of Sci-Fi, spy drama and old school superheroes that matched Lee’s style perfectly as it was when he left X-Men. Overly muscled men, overly sexualised women and the kind of tech as well as accessories that were only ever seen in  90s comics. The basic plot is two alien raves waging a secret war using half-human hybrids as fodder. Whilst not the most egregious copy of a Marvel title, you can easily see many of the characters having parallels to many characters that Lee was famous for drawing.

This series also followed a mini followed by an ongoing, but this was different in that the numbering carried on with the first issue of the ongoing was issue 5 and so on. Much like Rob Liefeld’s Extreme studios, Jim Lee’s Wildstorm produced many related and unrelated titles including Stormwatch, Gen-13, Union and Backlash and others done by other creators as well as Lee. Again like Liefeld’s offerings, a lot of the Wildstorm stuff was expanded upon by people other than the original creators and this became a rich and interesting fictional universe that wasn’t bound to one of the big 2. Then DC bought it. For a while, Wildstorm acting like a seperate imprint and Jim Lee moved to DC’s management, but after 2011’s New 52 reboot, many Wildstorm concepts were imported, much of them were either underwhelming or misused and as a result are no longer what they once could have been.

However some of the more out-there ideas did see print once more in The Wild Storm a series written by Warren Ellis a few years back, proving that the concepts had legs then and can still work now. It’s sad that these interesting ideas never really had the chance to shine in the last 10-20 years.

Next Time: If you thought WildC.A.T.S. was blatant….

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My Life in Comics: Image is Everything Part 2

If there is any creator thought to be driving force behind Image Comics and it’s chief spokesman, it would be Todd McFarlane.

Whenever interviewed, he came across as loud and self assured and quite savvy for a young artist. He saw how creators could be shut out of any income from their creations when done through corporate owned characters. He saw Steve Ditko toiling in relative anonymity and Jack Kirby working long days to put food on his family’s table despite the two of them co-creating the Marvel Universe of characters with Stan Lee. Lee was a company man, so he was taken care of, but work for hire left them with no stake in the millions and millions those characters earned for the corporate entity that only saw their creations as work for hire. McFarlane wasn’t going to go like that, especially since he had given them a comic that on his talent had sold over 3 million copies. His take on Spider-Man changed how it would be done from then on and the earlier mentioned adjective-less Spider-Man series allowed him to showcase writing, pencilling and inking, he was a triple threat and demanded to be recognised. I sometimes think that if Marvel gave him some kind of award or trophy, the Image exodus wouldn’t have happened how it did, but it did and after Youngblood opened the door, McFarlane was the one who booted it wide.

Spawn #1 was released in early July 1992 and was like nothing else on the stands. McFarlane tried to bring a urban horror aesthetic to Spider-Man, a  departure from his crime noir origins and bright coloured action imagery. I don’t know if it fit really, but his redesigns on Wendigo, Lizard, Morbius and the Hobgoblin were eye-catching and memorable. He was able to go all in with this milieu when he produced Spawn, a character he had created many years earlier, but had not published.

Spawn was the story of Al Simmonds, a special forces soldier who was betrayed and murdered and ended up in the hell of Maelbogia. This iteration of the devil made a deal with Simmonds so he could see his beloved wife Wanda again. Al agreed and was sent back to the world, but 5 years later in a different body, which now was burned by hellfire and cursed with demonic powers. He had been forgotten and his wife, well she moved on and re-married, now having the child she had always wanted, but Al couldn’t give her. Spawn was full of dark urban landscapes and fantasy horror imagery, which suits the style that McFarlane drew with. It was visually interesting and full of intense themes and high drama. Free of the comics code authority’s rules anything went here, with brutal murder, dismemberment and all sorts of violence on display. It would be many years before I would read this myself and while I feel it isn’t for me, you can see the creativity and talent that went into it.

But McFarlane wasn’t done, he also went on to make toys, based on his now creator owned intellectual property, his approach was more sculpted in design, made more to be a collectors piece than a child’s toy and in other companies doing the same later and others trying to find the sweet spot between playability and cool-factor, he helped to change the action figure and collectables market. Proving as adept a business man as a comics pro, McFarlane has gone from strength to strength, but has maintained control over his characters and concepts. Whilst he has little to do with the month by month comics, with exceptions, his character has been constantly in new comics for the last 30 years having ebbs and flows of popularity, but over 300 issues later, Spawn is still going. Very few of the initial comics properties have had this level of longevity and it looks like the character and his universe shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.

Spawn was the proof that if you had a product and knew what to do with it, you could make it a success and was something of a blueprint for the rest of the Image publishing line, but alas, not all of the creators would follow it.

Just a quick one this time, next time the third of the multi-million sellers.