Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Valiant / Acclaim / Defiant / Broadway

There is a quartet of comic book companies whose assorted rises and falls can be tracked alongside the career path of one man, former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief and former Mort Weisinger punching bag Jim Shooter.

When the indy comic book boom truly picked up, Shooter and fellow former Marvel editor Bob Layton had already been in place, establishing Valiant in 1989 after attempting – and failing - to outright purchase Marvel’s entire brand with the aid of the Allman Brothers former manager and some other monied ne’er-do-wells. The result was, instead, Voyager Communications which launched Valiant with a mix of old licensed Gold Key and new characters.

Shooter’s famously difficult personality saw him asked to leave Valiant, immediately prior to the company’s purchase by a video game company and rebranding as Acclaim. Subtly, Shooter put his efforts behind “Defiant” Comics, which featured all-original characters which I’m also sure no one can name except the ludicrous title “WARRIORS OF PLASM.” When Defiant collapsed, Shooter found himself producing books for Broadway Video, which has gone down in history as the most famous comic book company ever.

And where did Shooter end up? Overseeing the line of Gold Key characters acquired by Dark Horse comics. The legend continues…

What can a comic book company stick in a polybag? Usually it was trading cards bouncing around the landfill-generating, non-biodegradable, “casual flip through” blocking see-thru bodybag which gathered no shortage of Nineties titles in its indiscriminate embrace. Oddly, the less reputable, more fly-by-night and just generally less worth reading a company was, the more often they broke out the polybags, preventing their horrible comics from being read. There seems to be a glimmer of brilliance in that.

Besides trading cards, polybags also held scratch-off tickets, mini-posters, cassette tapes, in one case a black armband for those of you mourning Superman, certificates of authenticity and sometimes nothing at all. Sometimes it was just a polybag.
Of course, the Nineties polybag had nothing on the original polybags, in which overstock comics were often sold by secondary-market distributors in packs of three to five. That was back in the Seventies and Eighties though, when we as a nation were morally stronger and just generally better.

BloodlinesIn the Nineties, with the wild rand rampant success across the field by upstart young publishers flooding the market with fresh young superheroes, DC became desperate to infuse a little young blood into their own line. A little TOO desperate, as a matter of fact.

A line-wide “event” taking place across the year’s annuals saw normal human beings fed upon by huge, Art Adams-designed alien “parasites” (They’re awful big for parasites), and some of them gaining powers as a result. Unsubtly dubbed New Blood, here’s a list of the resulting superheroes: Homeless grunge rocker magic-user Anima, Geist and Argus who shared the powers of being invisible in the dark LIKE WE ALL ARE, space-shaman Pax, the unfortunate Gunfire who transformed everything he touched into a gun, Hulk ripoff Loose Cannon, the hook-handed Hook, sword-handed Razorsharp, the blade-bodied Edge, radical mind-controlling skater dude Jamm, a half-Vietnamese half-black hero named Mongrel WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT, and like forty others with tough-guy Nineties names like Nightblade, Myriad, Terrorsmith, Ballistic and Krag.

The one highlight of Bloodlines was Hitman, helmed by Garth Ennis and John McCrea and a refreshing bit of genuine over-the-top violence and vulgarity in a sea of mediocre attempts at same. Most of the New Bloods vanished without fanfare, and probably don’t even exist anymore. Good.

HIVWhat had been the plague of the Eighties became the character arc of the Nineties, as characters – primarily supporting characters – infected with HIV/AIDS became somewhat common on the ground. Well, relatively speaking – there were more characters with HIV than there were characters with bovine tuberculosis, anyway.

Two members of DC’s inclusive and absurd New Guardians – Jet and Extrano – were infected by their battle with a blood-tainted vampire named the Hemogoblin, while supporting characters Amy Beitermann in The Spectre and Jim Wilson in The Hulk not only had the disease, but also were depicted being seriously, bloodily injured and subsequently avoided by HIV-phobic pals.
No one tops Jim Valentino’s Shadowhawk, however, a District Attorney deliberately injected with HIV-infected blood by a vengeful gang of crack dealers. I’m not sure how much more early 90s you can make an origin like that, unless he’s drowning in hypercolor tee-shirts while it happens.

Bike Shorts Wonder WomanAs the Nineties toughened up heroes and tried to make everyone a little more grim and a little more serious, Wonder Woman presented something of a problem – she’s got a star-spangled onesie, how do you update that for the black leather and sneers crowd? Taking into account that she started off as an undeniably feminist hero and was a princess from an island of amazon warriors, you’re juggling a lot that you’ll need to communicate with the character’s costume.

This is probably why they settled for “Cartoon lesbian biker.” Of course, the costume was a disaster and was loathed universally, which is probably why they tried it again fifteen years later. At least then they got rid of the bike shorts.

1 comment:

neofishboy said...

Oh man, Hitman had one of the best covers of its time ... ENTER NIGHTFIST! HE WILL HIT YOU WITH HIS FIST!

Also, I must say I'm shocked that it took until 1988 for someone to come up with Hemogoblin. It's one of those things that seems so obvious in hindsight.

Popular Posts