StarmanNo fewer than three attempts to revive the semi-popular Golden Age hero had floundered woefully before someone at DC Comics asked the question everyone else was missing – what if the new Starman collected absurd vintage knickknacks and deeply resented his father?
Grounding Jack Knight, reluctant inheritor of the Starman mantle and son of the original fin-headed hero not only made him distinct from his predecessors, but also created touchstones with a maturing Gen-X audience who saw themselves reflected in the hero. Apartment crammed to the gills with toys? Check. Being dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood? Check. Complicated issues with father and brother? Check. Incipient cultural hipsterism? Check and double-check.
While the book frequently fell in love with its own mythology, under series creator writer James Robinson, its literate approach to shared-universe storytelling also created one of the most consistent voices in superhero comics, particularly from the blood-and-cookie-cutter era of the 90s.
The 1990s certainly didn’t originate the porn comic – Tijuana Bibles were filling that particular void, as it were, well back in the Thirties – but they did see the debut of the glossiest, highest quality porn comic yet produced. Boasting the highest page rate the industry had ever seen (a whopping 800 clams per page, which also describes some of the content*), Penthouse was able to attract a veritable T-and-A-list of creators including Adam Hughes, Kevin Nowlan, Altuna, Corben, Manara and many more. Rapid over-expansion of the line and the increasingly erratic behavior of the unfortunate George Caragonne led to Penthouse Comix’s decline in quality and eventual cancellation – in the US, anyway. The book’s popularity failed to flag overseas, and in the bizarre alternate reality of modern-day Spain, the magazine’s passed more than 100 issues.
*I’m very sorry
Best known for assorted Batman arcs, a series of color-themed very serious limited series about assorted mainstream superheroes, and the script for Firestorm starring Howie Long (an American classic), Loeb emerged from the Nineties as the greatest enigma of the era; his stories are universally reviled bestsellers. They consistently top sales charts and are considered, both by critics and fans, as hot garbage on a wet bedpan.
How is this possible? Well, mainstream comics has a history of elevating its least-beloved writers to positions of financial celebration. Having been the scripter of Rob Liefeld’s Captain America run seemed to have cemented his reputation early on, but his work in film and television afforded him the liberty to pick high-profile assignments and he’s had a good run of luck working with fan-favorite artists. You can’t discount either association, and also that comic fans maybe don’t have the world’s most discriminating taste either.
The Nineties wouldn’t have been the Nineties without Chris Claremont’s last truly great x-creation, the Cajun dipshit Gambit. Cooler than cool in his leather trenchcoat and form-hugging padded lycra bodysuit, Gambit looked like he would have smelled like a fishing boat hauling open-air urine samples across a field of wet particle board. The bayou surely wouldn’t have been kind to that kind of outfit, but then again probably he mostly smells of Axe bodyspray.
Gambit was clearly invented to be the new cool X-Man, and in true Claremont style he couldn’t just be ONE cool thing; he had to be ALL the cool things. A Cajun cat burglar with energy powers who was also a martial artist who had a fighting staff and trademark playing cards he could charge with deadly energy and which he could throw with laser-like accuracy, he was also the chosen one of a highly superstitious cult of thieves, has a dark and mysteriously shameful past, has untapped psychic powers, is the only man for popular X-Man Rogue, just … just, you know, a lot of stuff all on one guy. And then he stuffs his hair into that mullet-maker of a mock turtleneck.
In the mid-Nineties, Marvel Comics seemed eager to get out of the comics biz, having become the Gordon Gekko of dumb shit nobody needs. Picking up a toy manufacturer, movie studio and distribution company to add to their charm bracelet, they tested the waters of farming their books out-of-house … to guys who’d publicly walked out on them a coupla years earlier.
Revamped versions of the core Avengers and the Fantastic Four were introduced as part of an alternate universe under the pens of Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, although the latter enjoyed a real short run – he either jumped or was pushed, the verdict is still out. Confusing, uninspired, kinda ugly and basically pointless, the experiment lasted a year before the heroes were reintroduced to the mainstream continuity and the entire adventure was officially declared to be – and I kid you not here – not an alternate universe at all but rather a sad baby’s dream.