Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Topps Comics
Has there ever been a company which captured the zeitgeist of the 1990s comics landscape better than Topps? Other companies may have produced content which better mirrored our culture’s most Smashmouthy era, but only one company boasted sixty years’ experience in producing useless trinkets that consumers were encouraged to buy blindly in hopes of Powerball-like levels of beneficial speculation and whatever was left over got dumped in the ocean.

The ocean of polybags that comprised the Topps line was primarily licensed material – there were wildly popular X-Files, Xena Warrior Princess, Mars Attacks and Jurassic Park comics, obscure 90s-era arcana like Duckman and Dragonheart, and of course the ambitious Kirbyverse line – although it produced one legitimate original breakout star among the Bad Girl set in the form of the nearly-bare rumped Lady Rawhide. Primarily, though, the draw seemed to be that practically every issue came packed with a collectible, which was – whoa, hold the phones here – a Topps trading card! Wow, how’d they swing that?

At some point in its abbreviated publishing history, Rob Liefeld's Extreme line of comics (distinct but running simultaneously with his Maximum Press endeavor) indulged in a line-wide event wherein all of its male characters were transformed into hot female versions of themselves. That's ... that's almost literally all there is to say about this storyline, except for its taglines, which were "Strange things are abreast at Extreme Studios" and "Extreme is busting loose." Boobs, you see.

If there was any irony in the experiment, it was surely that the company was staffed by artists who'd been repeatedly criticized for their inability to render the female form with anything remotely resembling accuracy, and then they decided to draw nothing but women in every title for a whole month. 

Swimsuit Issues
Speaking of the "Babe-ification" of comics, the 90s was the breeding ground for the swimsuit issue, sparked by the eternally top-selling media-magnet annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Marvel produced a line of these books for five consecutive years, and famously - unlike most of its imitators - thought to include beefcake poses of some of its male characters. Hope you paid the money to see Captain America's butt, because that's what you're gonna see. 

It probably also helped that pinups are a lot easier to draw than actual comic books, plus that many of these books had always been thin excuses to market a barely-clad avenging superheroine to the most lucrative market of all: horny people. Later incarnations of swimsuit issues in assorted hands would also come to include real-life models performing the roles of the title character, including an Avengylene book wherein Avengylene is apparently the kind of person who wanders around the desert in her underwear without her trademark costume and weapons, as we all do on occasion.

If Malibu's pre-sale superhero universe had a flagship character, it was almost certainly Prime. Created by a murderer's row of Eighties-honed but otherwise generally-underrated talent (Gerard Jones, Norm Breyfogle, Bret Blevins on costume design among a couple others) , the character was a Nineties' riff on the Captain Marvel premise. 

Young Kevin Greene could summon a super-powered adult self - magic words, however, were a little clean for the end of the Twentieth Century - Prime materialized out of suffocating green gunk ejected from its juvenile host's chest. Majorly gross, but cool, which is pretty much the state motto of 90's comics.

Marvel still owns the Malibu characters, although they haven't seen the light of day in a while, even though the entire catalog of Marvel Universes are getting a chance to stretch their legs with a current company-wide shakeup (I swear I saw Teen Hulk in one of the promo images), so there's every chance to see a pretty innovative character from that era return, even in a new form.

Glow In The Dark Covers
Glow in the dark touches may make sense on any kind of media you look at in the dark – posters and wall art, those decorative stars and moons you sometimes see on ceilings – but comic books have an immediate shortcoming: They’re meant to be read. This is pretty difficult to do in the dark, and if you can it means you have the braille edition and the glow-in –the-dark feature is all but useless for you.

Complicating matters is that the ink used for these covers never was exactly the brightest light in the night, no matter how much you lamp-blasted them beforehand. Dave McKean’s abstract illustration of a face across the cover of the Sandman Special, for instance, risked looking like phosphorescent accident in the best-case scenario, but just seemed like an indistinct shape out of the corner of the eye in practicality, while the Spectre cover boasting the same enhancement didn’t really look like a pale figure as much as it did a scattering of drinking straws in spilled milk. Probably could read ‘em by blacklight, but then you don’t have to enhance anything for that to work …

1 comment:

Tom said...

For your consideration, the half-aborted Prime Sega CD game from an aaaaaaancient game humor site. I share this with you mostly for the included mp3 of the Prime theme song, which is seven minutes long and the god-damnedest thing you've ever heard. http://sardoose.rustedlogic.net/reviews/segacd/prime/index.htm

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