7 issues, 1986-1987
Not to be confused with Johnny Hart's Midnite Skulker -- a cloaked, graffiti-happy figure who marred the pristine walls of the comic strip landscape of the artist's prehistoric B.C. Also, not that you could. This Midnite Skulker relied almost exclusively on parody, putting most of its weight on revisiting Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns for its primary example, and generally populating the rest of its lineup with obvious caricatures of Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and so on.
|Here's Marvel's editorial crew. They are gnus. Commence laughing|
But that's the overview of the book. In specifics, it's the book's third issue (October 1986) which introduces the hero to the world of the Gnu Universe. It is ... and brace yourself, here ... the New Universe, but with gnus. I know, you didn't see that one coming, it took you by surprise. Please take a moment and gather your wits, you'll need them for the fast-paced journey awaiting you now.
Both of the books in this article will follow the same pattern; introducing the parodies of New Universe characters and taking some obvious lobs against the creative crew at Marvel Comics. With Skulker's creator E.Larry Dobias, though, the potshots seem impersonal. All young creators are encouraged to kill their idols, and the voodoo doll versions of the Marvel office editors seem to come complete with drumrolls and rimshots. An office of horned versions of Ann Nocenti, Eliot R.Brown, Archie Goodwin and Stan Lee shooting spitballs at each other doesn't have much in the way of satiric bite.
As for the inhabitants of the Gnu Universe, there's the on-the-nose Star Lantern (Starbrand), Troubleshooter and the Spitballs (In reality, Jim Shooter in "robot-armor made out of printing-press parts" teamed up with his editorial crew), Narc (Merc), Just-Nice (Justice) and a few others, including a version of Nightmask which I don't believe got a name, but I would have gone with Gnu-tmask, I guess. If I had a deathwish.
By the time the Midnite Skulker is done introducing all of the New Universe hot-takes, the story is over without much in the way of conflict or combat. This is the danger of parody books, you never know when the rush to fit in all the snide asides is going to completely extricate the core from your story.
Failed Universe (Blackthorne Publishing)
1 issue, 1986
Where Midnite Skulker's attack on the New Universe felt almost obligatory, Failed Universe (from writer Cliff MacGillivray and artists David Cody Weiss and Michael Kelley) practically seethes with personal injury.
Blackthorne was an interesting company, and either belongs in the "Quarter Bin Heroes" category more than any single other publisher ever or ... doesn't. Surviving primarily on licensed properties, reprint volumes, 3-D comics and parody books, Blackthorne managed to eke out a consistent top-five position among American comic book publishers and open up previously closed markets ... for about four years. That the quality among the books was wildly inconsistent never helped their case and, while a big and fateful licensing deal is theoretically what ended the company's lifespan, probably they weren't long for the racks anyway.
|This is, like, a third of the jokes in this thing.|
Points go to Failed Universe for keeping its parodies largely on the point of litigation, profit and opportunism: Sue-Force is a team of psychic lawyers who can summon a near-omnipotent being called "F.Lee Belly" (because he's fat, you see, and a lawyer, making it a double-layered joke), their version of Starbrand's power-granting tattoo is a big dollar sign, their Mark Hazzard is merely a Jerk and not a Merc (although pains are taken to mention his by-the-books big-screen paramilitary cynicism) and so on. On the other hand, there's a lot of pissing-your-pants gags and a few tepid broadsides involving ethnic stereotypes. The future of the industry, folks!
Many points for prescience go to Failed Universe, however, for making a silhouetted Mickey Mouse the mysterious figure which launches everything by giving their Starbrand his magic tattoo. How they saw that one coming is beyond me.
The thing about these targeted satires is the question, as it frequently is, of "who was this for?" The varying levels of smugness -- minor in the case of Midnite Skulker, weaponized in the case of Failed Universe -- seem to suggest it's an audience in an echo chamber, a group of dissatisfied cynics whose efforts to make their own stories are sidelined by an apparent need to howl at the gates of the empire they're meant to surpass in excellence and originality.
Or maybe everyone loves a piss-pants joke, that's also a possible motive.