Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Face-Shaped Covers
Die-cutting technology was one of the earliest gimmicks employed on comic covers in the 90s, although it seemed early on to focus primarily on providing interesting flaps for gatefold covers on event issues. Along with embossing and foil, die-cutting made up probably what was the original triumvirate of gimmick covers – and yet, only two comics to my knowledge ever thought of not only die-cutting the entire comic, from stem to stern, but decided to do it in the shape of the hero’s face!

The sensitively-titled Crazyman vol 2 no.1 from Continuity Comics cut the entire book in the shape if its hero’s manhandled face, topping it off with an open ‘homage’ to The Prisoner television series with an off-panel (or off-head, in this case) voice reminding Crazyman that he was not only not a person, but not even a number! Wow, how terribly rude. Meanwhile, Malibu’s The Ferret – the superhero who lives in a cage under your dorm-mate’s desk and rolls around like an idiot when you blow pot smoke in its face – duplicated the effect with the snarling maw of its hero play-doughed into the relatively square-cut format of a comic book cover. Well, at least no one ever used die-cutting to blast a bullet hole right through the middle of a comic, imagine how tacky that would have been…

Milestone Comics
Milestone launched in 1993 under a landmark licensing deal with what was effectively its parent publishing company, DC Comics, which allowed the founders of Milestone Media to retain copyright and licensing control of the character, despite using DC’s publishing services. It was a marvel of a compromise in the era which saw creator-owned publishing make a tremendous leap forward, wherein dynamic new publishers could take enviable risks while the elder company footed the bill and reaped a bit of the cred. Of course, the new bosses these days apparently don’t see a lot of potential in publishing anything they don’t own lock, stock and barrel, so goodbye Milestone pretty much.

The mission of Milestone was, in no small part, to redress the imbalance of minority representation in mainstream comics, and to do that, you know, what with the predominance of big white Aryan-looking muscle-builders and pin-up models making up the vast majority of mainstream superheroes, you have to have a LOT of underrepresented minorities, and all kinds, too; women , African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, non-English speakers, Muslims, Jews, the non-traditionally gendered, all of which Milestone had in abundance, and which they showcased routinely.

And yet, when I was working at a comic shop in the 90s and customers would ask “What’s good this week?”, I would reply “I’m really enjoying Static, Blood Syndicate and Icon, have you read any of the Milestone books” and they’d sneer and go “Uh, that RACIST company?” So I guess what I’m saying is I wasn’t really all that shocked when people sent Donald Glover hate mail about being a black Spider-Man, basically.

While Cable is undoubtedly the godfather of the 90s superhero – all cyborg parts, big guns, tiny feet and convoluted backstory – Lobo was certainly the, er, midwife maybe? The dog-sitter? He was something relatively important, anyway.

Although he began as a lightly annoying and decidedly melodramatic figure in DC’s problematic Omega Men comic (guess how many female characters in Omega Men were former prostitutes, had rape-based origins, or both?), Lobo evolved into a “rude dude with attitude”, a smart-ass unkillable biker, loaded with chains and cigars and crazy hair, out-toughing Wolverine and overdoing the ultra-violence to a degree which made the knives, blood and cross-hatching of your average Image imitator comic look like a Golden Book about a toy horse that lacked confidence.

In fact, Lobo’s over-the-top personality and cartoonish-level of violence evolved to a point where he transcended the original intent of the character and became self-parody. Usually that’s a sign of trouble, but it was Lobo’s strength to make a mockery of the entire state of the medium. He may not have been a character who laughed at himself, but he was the distillation of the absurd excesses of the decade, to say the least. I don’t quite get the dolphins, though.

Kevin Smith 
The question as to whether Smith makes a better raconteur than a screenwriter is a matter best left to the ancient masters, although one time I heard him get interviewed on NPR and the guy went a real long way to not flat-out say “Now, no one likes any of your movies any more, why is that?” Even as a comic writer, most of his … influence … on the medium was relegated to the 2000s and retroactively establishing in canon that Batman sharted himself (this is why Flashpoint happened, by the way, to get rid of that story from continuity). His Daredevil run – marred by the usual late releases and blow-up ending – was played for a bit more of a publicity angle than a story or character angle. It was “Kevin Smith writes Daredevil” with “Kevin Smith” in big letters and “Daredevil” in wet Alpha-Bits, as it were.

Smith’s influence on the comics of the Nineties, though, came as the filmmaker somehow managed to legitimize an obsession with the errata and arcana of comics, despite the fact that none of the characters in his movies who were obsessed with comics were particularly likable, noble or aspirational. Perhaps they made fans feel better about low expectations, which is certainly what I imagine his wardrobe is intended to do. “Jean shorts that brush the asphalt! I guess I’m not doing too bad” says a man wearing an empty Bud Light 24-pack box as underwear, one might imagine.

Everyone versus Predator, Alien and Terminator
It’s tricky to establish where Dark Horse Comics’ first legitimate hit came from, but it has rarely tapped into the zeitgeist more powerfully than by pitting Aliens versus Predators, a match-up none of us knew we needed and now is considered part of a necessary part of a balanced breakfast by several professional medical organizations.

Naturally, after the pairing had been thrown together a few times in a few different environments, the temptation to fold another vital 1980s sc-fi/horror franchise into the mix, resulting naturally in Aliens vs Predator vs Terminator, and from there Terminator vs Robocop, Superman vs Aliens, Batman versus Predator, Aliens vs Predator vs Witchblade and Darkness, Superman and Batman versus Aliens and Predator, Predator vs Magnus Robot Fighter (which seems like a wasted opportunity for bringing Robocop back into the mix), Predator vs Judge Dredd, and then Tarzan, the JLA and Dark Horse’s entire “Comics Greatest World” line versus assorted Predators.

Surely you could tie all of that up into one coherent story, but on the other hand did you realize that you’re pitiably mortal and life is a flicker and then it’s gone? Perhaps you should spend some more time with your loved ones.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Was Wildstorm the only company that bothered featuring the Aliens (or Predators, or Terminators, etc.) in a way that actually affected the overall story, e.g. allowing Warren Ellis to get rid of the last little bits of the StormWatch universe so he could introduce the Authority?

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