Tuesday, June 24, 2014

90 FROM THE 90s Part One!

The 1990s were a boom-period for comic books, but chances are – even if you were an avid reader – you could barely keep up with the multitude of new titles, new companies, important crossover events, dynamic character debuts, and startling cover enhancements the decade brought us. Why pore over literally tens of thousands of spittle-flecked pages of dusty ol’ comic books when Your Humble Editor can bring you up to speed in a few hundred words or less? Climb aboard as we dive into 90 from the ‘90s!


The Spider-Clone Saga

One of the most loathed and belittled multi-issue story arcs of the decade, the Spider-Clone Saga was routinely blasted for being confusing, drawn-out and muddled, but from a distance it’s clear as pie:

Back in the 70s, Spider-Man fought a villain named The Jackal. The Jackal was a genetics expert who cloned an exact duplicate of Spider-Man and had the two fight, and then the clone died, the end. Twenty years later, the Jackal returned, the clone showed up again, and it was implied that the clone was actually the real Peter Parker and the guy they’d been making the comic books about for the last two decades was actually the clone. Well of course he wasn’t, that would make Marvel look like jackasses, the end.

That’s the short version, the long version also includes a second clone/pretender to the Parker legacy named Kaine, another one named Spidercide (PS a thing that kills spiders is “arachnicide”, so why not use that as a name, folks?), a supernaturally powerful guy named Judas Traveller who didn’t actually do much of anything, a cloned Gwen Stacy, and the believed-dead Green Goblin was behind it all. If any of that made sense to you, you’re unfit for military service, sorry.

What made the Spider-Clone Saga such a nightmare was that it was literally being written month-to-month with long-term plans routinely thrown out the window as quickly as they were made. The reason: The other staples of 90s comics - bankruptcy and arbitrary changes among the editorial staff.

Spawn vs Batman / Batman vs Spawn

In the Nineties, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many characters more popular than Todd McFarlane’s Spawn and everyone-but-Bob-Kane’s Batman, so it was natural that they’d cross over.

Complicating matters was that the pair crossed over in two unrelated books released relatively simultaneously and crafted by separate creative teams. If you’ve ever been confused as to which book is
which, here’s a handy guide:

The first, published by DC Comics, was called Batman/Spawn:War Devil, was written by Doug Moench, ChuckDixon and Alan Grant (uh-oh, that’s a lot of cooks!) and drawn by Klaus Janson, and had the two title characters pursuing demonic creatures who’d last manifested amidst the 16th century Roanoke Colony. In this book, Spawn is a lost soul who gains some inspiration from Batman’s example.

By contrast, Spawn/Batman was written by Frank Miller, drawn byTodd McFarlane, involved hobos being turned into missiles (?) and was something like forty pages of this:


Embossed metallic covers

Cover gimmicks were all the rage through the 1990s, and among the diecutting, glowing-in-the-dark and fluorescent inking on display, there started to come a point when the sheer number of alternate, variant and “enhanced” covers on display were so numerous that they accomplished the opposite of the intent – they effectively all blended together.

Nah, that looks great.
One of the most common cover gimmicks involved the combination of embossed and metallic covers, which proved to be a hand-in-hand natural with the 90s equal fascination involving characters wearing ridiculous armor. On the cover to Action Comics No.695, for instance, Superman forgets the principle rule of show business and stands with his back towards the audience – no worries, though, as the half that eats is reflected in the chest plate of a ginormous, embossed and foil-enhanced villain named Cauldron (Like I have to tell you who Cauldron is, why, after such a prominent debut, he became the most famous and beloved super-villain in the world and certainly not a throwaway generic 90s bad guy no one remembers). Likewise in Superman vol.2 No.82, the Cyborg Superman got an equally metallic treatment, and the shiny new Batman emerging from Knightfall got the treatment a couple of times as well.

Marvel broke out the silver and embossed cover gimmick on the 50th issue of Silver Surfer, which seemed a logical enhancement, while they also applied it to Silver Sable #1, which clearly they did to have embossed boobs on the comic.

The most egregious overuse of the gimmick, though, was a four-issue non-consecutive runs of Avengers (#360, #363, #366 and #369) featured single color, embossed, fully-figure metallic covers which gave its young fans the opportunity to experience what cataracts would be like in all the colors of the rainbow.

Belts and Pouches 

Let’s say you’re outfitting your shiny new character find of 1996 for their debut adventure against the snarling forces of sneering, noseless Creatine addicts from hell – the only enemy anyone in the 90s was allowed to fight. Now, if it’s a lady hero of the 90s, congrats, you’re done; once you’ve drawn her naked body, draw five or six lines at random intervals across it and she’s had a “costume” “designed”.

For the boys, though, you’re obligated to deck them out in mountains of gear in order to assert and affirm their limitless masculinity. Now, what says “as macho as a bull fucking a stallion in a hot dog stand?” Why, accessories of course! 

Thus the belt and pouch phase of the 1990s. Batman had long been comicdom’s coolest character, and his utility belt had long been part of the character’s charm. When Frank Miller added some heft and hew to the bat-belt in his inspirational mid-80s series The Dark Knight Returns (and also, at least in one scene, gave the caped crusader a portentous thigh-belt), it apparently resonated with the youngsters reading it then who would, years down the road, become comic book artists themselves.

So in an attempt to emulate the coolness of the original comic book cool guy, young artists succumbed, as do all false cool guys, to the wrong element of the cool – the clothes don’t make you cool, the attitude makes you cool, take it from me, Joe Writes-Fart-Jokes-About-Comics, the coolest guy around! So in addition to all the armor (totally cool, just like medieval knights), the shoulder- and knee-pads (exceptionally cool, just like hockey players), the headbands (unrelentingly cool, just like John Travolta in Staying Alive), belts and pouches got added to the mix. Hey, they’re cool too, or else middle aged women in the 1980s wouldn’t have owned so many of them (shout out to middle aged women, where my soccer moms at, thanks for reading my fart jokes about comics)!

What constitutes a valid placement for belts and pouches? Well, around the waist, or course, plus don’t forget to wrap a few around the character’s thighs and upper arms. Also, his lower arms and possibly his calves. You can throw a few around his chest, and don’t forget to attach several to his back – sure, the argument about the pouches was that they were very useful in combat situations, but putting them on the character’s back where he can’t reach them also makes sense. Since you’ve got these big shoulder-pads, put a few on there, and maybe some around the neck, plus don’t forget to utilize the space between the headband and collar – right over the face! Do it right and you can create an entire character out of belts and pouches, congratulations, you’ve ruled the Nineties. Now where to put these chains?

Hook Hand Aquaman

If you’re going to revamp any one character for the 1990s, you may as well make it Aquaman. Whatever the character actually had going for him, he’d ended up the repeated punchline thanks to his portrayal on Saturday morning cartoons – if you think a guy who rides around on flying fish, like, wearing a flying fish on each foot like a roller skate, and then flying that way something like two feet above the surface of the water, if you think that’s going to be improved by a hook for a hand then comic books aren’t for you.

Prior to the hook-handed years, Aquaman had been allowed a few sincere college tries. He’d briefly gotten a pretty sway new uniform until weird pedants jumped down the creative team’s throats (It was a “deep sea camouflage” outfit, and they pointed out that, you know, there’s no light in the deep sea so there’s no point to camoflage. I guess, I guess a deep sea camouflage outfit wouldn’t do much good on all the dudes hanging out in the bottom of the ocean like they do, all those dudes who are real and hanging out under the ocean, they wouldn’t need it). Another miniseries posited a political background to Aquaman’s origin (and created my favorite bit of character color – the much-maligned original uniform was declared to have been a prison uniform, which Aquaman wears as a reminder of his family’s banishment at the hands of pretenders to the throne). He was given some magic for a background, was made protector of the complicated chronicles of Atlantis, and given some political clout and a too-predictable environmental mission. Oh, then his hand got eaten off by pirahnas.

Over the course of three-quarters of a year, Aquaman abandoned his traditional look in favor of a sort of barbarian/Viking/Chippendale look, beginning with adding a brooding mane of long hair and leonine beard to his mix. Then a villain named Charybdis stole his ability to communicate with sea creatures (at which point the command “Piranhas, whatever you do, do NOT eat my hand” would have come in handy), Aquaman tied a harpoon to the stump, started dressing like a cross between a frog and a gladiator, and it all ends up with a cyborg hand and a complete reinvention but if you bought a commemorative Aquaman glass at Six Flags or the Warner Brothers Store then it had the old Aquaman on it, which we eventually returned to. Merchandising triumphs all!


Pete James (UWE) said...

On the plus side for Aquaman, at least it's easier for him to play slide guitar now. Guess I'm an "Ocean's half full" kind of guy.

Spiral said...

First of all, I choked on my coffee while laughing not once, but twice. Well done. Also, I bought both of those Spawn/Batman crossover titles and spent hours trying to reconcile the plots - '90s Kelley didn't have the grasp on comic licensing that '10s Kelley does. Damn Spawn ruins everything.

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