Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Mid-century Marvel preferred its scientists to its sorcerers, and late-century Marvel had invested more heavily in anti-heroes than abracadabra, so Doctor Strange has always inhabited a weird position of almost constant stasis within the company. As the Very Serious Nineties came around and competitor DC was emerging as a front-runner in an otherwise-neglected genre with what was effectively a horror-based line (at the time, anyway), so Marvel followed suit the best it could by shunting Doctor Strange out of his comfort zone and into Midnight Sons and Marvel Edge lines.

Now part of Marvel’s horror-themed sub-universe (along with Ghost Rider, Morbius the Living Vampire, and a mouthful of a comic titled Darkhold:Pages  From The Book of Sin), Doc dropped his Sorcerer Supreme tag and picked up the very hep, very 90s “Chaos Magic” while adopting a few sets of new togs. The first set was pretty much an over-drawn 90’s riff on his old Gene Colan-drawn fully masked outfit and wasn’t any uglier than any dozen other dumb outfits of the era, another was a sort-of anemic goth John Lennon look, and the last was a maternity blouse with a topographical map of a lasagna on the front. He also took to saying things like “The Doctor is most definitely … in” which is just the sleaziest thing to say, hands down.

The Secret Defenders
Despite an arguably successful run throughout the Seventies and Eighties – they never set the word on fire, but The Defenders was a comic-rack standard for almost 250 consecutive issues, which ain’t nothing to sneeze at – Marvel felt the best way to revive their second-string team of third-string characters was to keep them secret.

With Doctor Strange at the helm, the Secret Defenders returned as a rotating team of Marvel’s top-tier numbers-uppers, including Wolverine, the Punisher, Hulk, Spidey, and former Defenders Iceman and The Angel under a big banner reminding folks that they had once been X-Men. And then also Nomad, Sleepwalker and Thunderstrike, but whatever. Eventually, Dr.Strange handed the roster over to lesser mystic, chromedome and victim of a blasted Earth campaign/Warren Ellis scripted miniseries Dr.Druid who replaced the rotating team lineup with something called The Cognoscenti, which sort of makes it feel like Frasier Crane assembled his own super-team.

Fluorescent Green ink (Hulk)
Although four-color printing was increasingly a distant memory by the time the 90s had rolled around, a lot of hay was made about the addition of “fifth color”, typically a raspy fluorescent green or orange added in flat spots to help pop a central cover image. DC utilized it a few times with the Underworld Unleashed and Bloodlines events, but the most striking application in the 90s came with its use on the cover to The Incredible Hulk #377, early in 1991, which framed a monochrome Dale Keown Hulk against the flashy background. More striking than the bright contrast itself, of course, and leaving a much more significant impression is the ultimate fate of any other comic stored flat against that cover for more than a couple of years, which surely now has a weird green smudge effect on it from where the fluorescent  ink rubbed off.

Silver Surfer/Green Lantern
Marvel and DC crossovers had once been the stuff of fanboy dreams and rare treasury-edition comics so oversized that a man of an average height could use two of them laid side-by-side as a cheap mattress. By the Nineties, the crossovers had become so rote that even the most mildly relevant mash-ups could appeal to the formula, thus one of the poorer concept crossovers – matching Silver Surfer, who at the time was helming his most-successful solo run, with the new Green Lantern, whose comic was still in the process of being yelled at by diehard fans of the previous ringslinger.

Fitting the mandatory formula, one villain from universe A wandered over to universe B and in the classic one-in/one-out arrangement, someone went back, and in this way Terrax the Tamer and the Cyborg Superman got to be villains in a landmark exchange of intellectual properties the likes of which we’ll thankfully never see in a post-credits sequence in a Marvel Studios movie.

Image celebrated itself relentlessly throughout the Nineties, and surely one of the celebrations during which they most loudly tooted their own horn was the acquisition of the skills of Alan Moore. Primarily, Moore was scripting Rob Liefeld’s Supreme and doing with that character pretty much the only thing you can do – disregard the bloviating about it being an “homage” to Superman, embrace the fact that it’s actually an open rip-off of Superman, and then write a bunch of stories completely deconstructing Superman.

Moore also brought with him the ambitious 1963 line, a densely-woven, tongue-in-cheek legitimate homage to the early Marvel Comics’ style, illustrated by an army of alt creators and Kubert School grads, complete with knowing nods to the Hulk and Dr.Strange (which is why this is getting covered during Defenders Week, y’see). Never lacking for ambition, Moore’s goal was the literally have the worlds of the upstart 1960s and the mainstream 1990s literally collide against a multiversal backdrop of indy and alt comic creations – who would win? Well, not to spoil anything, but the Nineties won by bringing out their most powerful weapon; the Image creators got mired in a series of internal scuffles and abandoned the project just before its completion. Hooray for modernity!


Michael Hoskin said...

>Eventually, Dr.Strange handed the roster over to lesser mystic, chromedome and victim of a blasted Earth campaign/Warren Ellis scripted miniseries Dr.Druid who replaced the rotating team lineup with something called The Cognoscenti, which sort of makes it feel like Frasier Crane assembled his own super-team.

Label me a pedantic nerd, but a) the Druid mini-series came immediately after Secret Defenders b) Druid wasn't bald in those days c) the line-up continued to rotate but had three people (Druid/Shadowoman/Cadaver) as regulars instead of only one (Strange) and d) the Cognoscenti was a person and not even an actual member of the group.

Also, I guess, e) these were some aggressively terrible comics, such that their creators have disowned them, as well they might.

Calamity Jon said...

Thanks for exhaustively fact-checking my joke! Boy, I sure appreciate it, as does everyone who gets their jokes fact-checked! Can I send you a thank-you in the mail? Something on fire, perhaps?

Michael Hoskin said...

Another joke, I hope? I'm lousy at fact-checking things that don't involve comics.

I don't mean to offend (or agitate you into an arsonist). In the future I'll withhold corrections.

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