Some folks call it the Dark Age…
Some say it’s still part the muddled Modern Age of Comics we live in now.
I call it the Bastard Age of comics. A thoroughly unloved and irregular era of comics history marked by garish art and dubious writing. And loath as I am to say it, I myself as a fan am as much of a product of the era as Extreme Justice. Missing the glory days of the 80s, I was one of many fans who came to the dance too late. Not knowing any better I was tossed into a turbulent period that weeded out the fair-weather fans and left only the true die-hard lovers of the medium.
For those who need official bookmarks this much maligned a began in November 1989 when the publication of DC’s Legends of the Dark Knight started the variant cover craze and ended with the publication of Ultimate Spider-Man #1 (October 2000 .) It was a time of garish art (cough-cough Liefeld), ill conceived crossovers (Bloodlines anyone?), ludicrous gimmicks, and bad writing. Here are just a few of the reasons why the era is so loathed.
. Despite being a critical darling and having decent sales DC canceled it’s 1992 Justice Society of America comic strictly because editor Mike Carlin had a personal dislike of writer Len Strazewski, and thought “that senior citizen super-heroes was not what DC should be publishing.”
. The success of books like Lady Death combined with the depravity of post-Urotsukidoji/pre-Sailor Moon anime fandom caused countless comic stores to become havens for soft-core pornography.
. Not only did Marvel use a crossover-event (Identity Crisis, no not THAT Identity Crisis) to launch it’s team book Slingers, it shipped the first issue with four variant covers with each variant featuring a different sub-plot section. This forced readers to buy all four copies.
. Upshot publisher Triumphant Comics thought the next big thing for the collectors market would be individually-serial-numbered comics. Remember those old Mad Magazines covers that would read “copy 3,785 of 10,000: Collect Them All!?” Triumphant thought that was a legitimate selling point!
. At some point Dan Jurgans actually thought turning The Atom into a teenager would be just the move to make him a hot character.
. As a promotional stunt an issue of Malibu’s ‘The Protectors’ featured an actual hole in the cover etched in by a laser.
. The QVC network began hawking autographed copies of books like Punisher 2099 #1 for prices upwards of $50.00! (Plus Shipping & Handling)
This is just a few examples of the vast level of stupidity and lack of foresight that had clutched the market at the time. Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones summed up the spirit of the early, crazy days of the 90s best with a scene in their Mighty Magnor series in which the heads of two publishers argued on the floor of a comics convention over who’s superhero universe was “newer.”
What really hurts about the ordeal is that it wasn’t all bad. Despite the near self-destruction of the industry, despite the bone-headed stupidity and bare-boned capitalism of it all I actually have many, many pleasant memories of reading comics during this period. It stings me that despite nostalgic affection I have for such books as Astro City, Bone, Firearm, Untold Tales of Spider-Man, Impulse, Starman, Leave it to Chance, Quantum & Woody, Usagi Yojimbo, The Ray, Marvels, Young Justice, Peter David’s Hulk, Mark Waid’s Flash and so many more, that they were all pretty much irrelevant to the big picture. Instead the era will be best remembered for the Clone Saga, the decadence of the early Image titles, The Death of Superman, Lady Death, the Heroes World debacle and Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies.
And try as I might to only buy quality books and avoid crazed speculator hype I do have some confessions to make in regards to some dubious decisions on my part.
. I once paid over $10 for a back issue just because it had a silver foil cover.
. I owned a near complete set of Marvel Superheroes Series III trading cards
. For much of Highschool my favorite comic was Gen 13 even though I honestly didn’t get into the plots very much.
. I actually bought some of Jim Shooter’s Plasm #0 trading cards.
. I once had my hair cut in a Impulse-esc bowl style. (It didn’t turn out well.)
. On UHS’s wrestling team, I chose the nickname “Violater” after the Spawn Villain.
. I’ve read 2 whole venom mini-series. 3 if you count the Daniel Way revival I reviewed for Spider-Fan.
. I religiously followed 2 of the Image Launch titles. (Shadow hawk & Savage Dragon).
. Of all the new superhero universe launches to come out during this period I was initially the most excited about Dark Horse’s Comics Greatest World line.
. I honestly avoided Heroes Reborn, but thought the idea of a female Bucky was pretty neat at the time.
. To this day I still can’t look at Mark Gruenwald’s landmark 10-year run on Captain America without snickering and thinking of Capwolf.
. I once traded two Thor trading cards for a Sleepwalker
. There actually was a point in my life when I considered Spawn, Azrael, and X-Man to be awesome characters.
. After reading Tom DeFalco’s run on Fantastic Four, I honestly wished they didn’t’ stop with Mr. Fantastic and put the whole team out of it’s misery.
. I actually thought Wolverine was a better character without his ademantium.
. I was REALLY psyched for Zero Hour.
. AND Maximum Carnage
. AND Age of Apocalypse
. AND Executioner’s Song
. AND Bloodlines
That’s all for now. But if any other survivors of the era of comics that everyone loves to hate wishes to come forward and confess their sins feel free to share them at PaulSebert@gmail.com