Rand Bellavia is back to share his fond memories of decades of comic collecting and reading in this month’s Random Access Memory.

Author’s Note: Random Access Memory is me looking back at the specific comics that shaped my life. Each month I go back in time – in five year intervals – to examine key comics that came out those months. (The idea is that after five years of monthly columns, I will have covered an entire lifetime – in this case, fifty years – of reading comics.) I also list all the comics I read that particular month. This will afford readers the opportunity to chastise me for not reading specific comics, and/or laugh at the horrible, horrible choices I made in the past.

April 1977

Avengers 161

Oh man did I love this comic. Look at that cover! (Note the eight-legged ants!) This may have been my introduction to Ant-Man, and it was certainly my introduction to Henry Pym’s deeply flawed psyche. But let’s begin with more important matters: Wonder Man gets a new costume!

The Beast makes his first (and, as far as I know, last) fashion statement. The goggles and colors (provided by writer Jim Shooter) echo those of 3D-Man, which I can’t imagine was a selling point.

I assume penciler George Perez was the actual creator of the design, and – give the man his due – the yellow “Kirby Stipes” cleverly form a W and M across Wonder Man’s chest.

But it doesn’t take long to launch into the action, as the Avengers are attacked by Ant-Man. Note that while Henry Pym remained an important member of the Avengers throughout their entire run (as Giant-Man, Goliath, and Yellow Jacket) Ant-Man hadn’t been seen since Avengers 2. Sadly, this wasn’t a time travel fiasco, but rather a demonstration of how tenuous Henry Pym’s grasp of reality had become.

Later we realize that Pym had been manipulated by Ultron-8, an artificial life form Pym had created.

Ultron makes short work of the Avengers until he encounters the Scarlet Witch.

But eventually even she falls before the might of Ultron’s encephalo-beam. When the dust settles, the Vision, the Beast, the Scarlet Witch, and Captain America are “dead,” leaving Iron Man, Wonder Man, and the Black Panther (joined the following issue by Thor) to seek vengeance. (Spoiler Warning: while Ultron-8 hates the Avengers, and has no respect for human life, he nonetheless designed his encephalo-beam to conveniently cause its victims to fall into a death-like coma.)

True Story: When I first saw this panel (at eight years of age) I didn’t understand that it was an overhead shot, and assumed Jarvis had accidently hit the “negate gravity” or “open portal to Hell” button when he switched the lights on in the previous panel.

Captain America 211

Was Jack Kirby ever as gleefully insane as he was during his late seventies Captain America run? I mean, look at this:

Thanks to the triumph of Nerd Culture, we all know who Arnim Zola is. But did you know that that grinning mask of horror was what Arnim Zola looked like as he poured out of his creator’s imagination? And – as you can see from the cover – Nazi-X doesn’t even get a chest-face. He’s forced to weaponize women against Captain America with no face at all.

Fantastic Four 184

Somehow George Perez managed to concurrently pencil the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. And both books looked great. This is a pretty straight-forward seventies Marvel story: a villain we’ve never seen before attacks the Fantastic Four, vowing to kill them for no discernible reason. And he succeeds!

Having dispatched with his enemies, the Eliminator then (conveniently) kills himself, all while (super conveniently) narrating his actions out loud in a way that no one ever has.

But wait! Because they had clearly run out of pages and had more story to tell, the *same* page where Human Torch goes nova *and* the Eliminator narrates his suicide not only reveals that the Fantastic Four are, in fact, still alive, but also divulges how they managed to trick the poor doomed Eliminator in the first place.

Other Comics I Read From April 1977

  • Amazing Spider-Man 170
  • Eternals 13
  • Incredible Hulk 213
  • Invaders 18
  • Iron Man 100
  • John Carter Warlord of Mars 2
  • Marvel Two-in-One 29
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 8
  • Red Sonja 4
  • Spidey Super Stories 24
  • Tarzan 2
  • Thor 261

April 1982

Avengers 211

There was a time when Avengers membership shake-ups were so reliable you could set your watch by them. Avengers 151 (its cover boasting “At Last: the New Line Up!”) was dedicated entirely to the selection of a new team. Exactly 30 issues later (issue 181 – “Seven of you will remain as Avengers, the rest of you are out!”) the same thing happened. And here we are at issue 211 – precisely 30 issues later – and guess what happens?

It’s not an Avengers membership drive unless several heroes no one else in the room has ever heard of crash the event.

There’s also a pretty decent character moment between Wonder Man and Hercules, disguised as an unnecessary fight scene.

And eventually, they get around to revealing one of the most boring Avengers line-ups of all time:

Other Comics I Read from April 1982

  • Cerebus 37
  • Daredevil 185
  • Ka-Zar 17
  • Marvel Fanfare 3
  • Marvel Super-Hero Contest of Champions 2
  • Marvel Team-Up 119

April 1987

Dr. Fate 1

Two months after J. M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen launched their legendary Justice League run, they debuted (with DeMatteis writing and Giffen penciling) a four-issue Dr. Fate mini-series. Unlike Justice League, this series offered a fairly serious take on the character. How serious, you ask? “The first issue includes a one-page mini-lecture on the Kali Yuga” serious.

The super-hero Dr. Fate is a combination of Nabu, a Lord of Order, and Kent Nelson, Nabu’s human host. We quickly learn that Nelson’s body can no longer tolerate the demands Nabu is putting on it. We also learn that Nabu’s relationship with the other Lords of Order is more acrimonious that we (and Kent) had been led to believe.

Nabu takes another host – a young child named Eric Strauss. After aging him into an adult body, Nabu quickly “trains” Eric, then abandons him shortly after sending him into battle with Typhon, a Lord of Chaos.

Happy stuff. Issue one ends with Eric at Arkham Asylum, under the care of Dr. Benjamin Stoner, who has surrendered to the Lords of Chaos.

Justice League 3

But don’t let that get you down. Giffen and DeMatteis (along with penciler Kevin Maguire) are back for another round of Justice League-style frivolity.

Eventually, the JL find themselves venturing into Russian airspace, and Guy Gardner couldn’t be happier.

Things get a bit more serious when it looks like a Russian nuclear warhead is about to go off, and even Batman seems concerned.

But all is well in the end, when a character we just met the previous issue conveniently sacrifices himself to save the more financially viable characters.

Other Comics I Read from April 1987

  • American Flagg 43
  • Avengers 281
  • Batman Annual 11
  • Cerebus 95
  • Classic X-Men 11
  • Detective Comics 576
  • Grendel 7
  • Incredible Hulk 333
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 128
  • Punisher 1
  • Question 6
  • Scout 18
  • Swamp Thing 62
  • Vigilante 43
  • Watchmen 10
  • Web of Spider-Man 29
  • Yummy Fur 4

April 1992

Hellblazer 54

The Royal Blood storyline continues, where John Constantine goes head to head with the demon that possessed Jack the Ripper – and has now taken possession of Prince Charles. (Charles is never named or imaged directly, but the implication is more than clear.)

This storyline was published right around the time that Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell was starting to come out. So, it seemed like a bit of dirty pool for Garth Ennis to reveal in a single page the theory that Moore was carefully crafting over hundreds of pages, but what can you do?

This story is a great opportunity for Ennis to firmly establish Constantine as a working class hero, and Constantine makes it clear that his willingness to banish the demon does not necessarily put him on the same side as the crown.

The issue ends unexpectedly, with that rare moment where Constantine isn’t in complete control.

Residents: Freak Show

This graphic novel seems to have slipped through the cracks. I don’t hear it talked about much, and – in fact – am only aware of it myself because I happened to bump into it at an independent book store in 1992. If you don’t already know, the Residents were an avant-garde band that grew into an art collective of sorts. This graphic novel, published by Dark Horse, was a companion volume to the Residents’ CD-ROM (remember those?) multimedia project of the same name.

And the talent contained within these pages is difficult to believe. The 80-page anthology is framed throughout (18 pages total) by Kyle Baker, and includes a 10 page short story by Brian Bolland, and 7 page stories from (among others) John Bolton, Richard Sala, and Dave McKean!

Currently out of print, a new copy can be obtained through Amazon for $25 – but hurry, as similarly graded copies are going for much higher on Ebay.

Other Comics I Read from April 1992

  • Animal Man 48
  • Cerebus 157
  • Doom Patrol 55
  • Eightball 8
  • Flash 64, 65
  • Incredible Hulk 394
  • Legends of the Dark Knight 32
  • Moon Knight: Divided We Fall
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 189
  • Question Quarterly 5
  • Sandman 38
  • Shade the Changing Man 24
  • Swamp Thing 120
  • X-Factor 79

April 1997

Invisibles 5

At this point, all of comics fandom can be divided into two large piles: those who have read the Invisibles, and those who have decided not to. If you’re currently in the latter group, and are willing to be swayed, one of things I most like about the series is that every single issue offers at least one brilliant character moment and *at least* one mind-blowing idea.

Here, King Mob (the “cool” “dark” action hero of the book) visits an old girlfriend for a massage. After reminiscing a bit, the conversation turns a bit more serious.

Turns out she knows him well-enough (and has known him long enough) to call him on some of his bullshit. And this conversation turns out to be a key moment in the series, as it causes King Mob to question everything about himself and what he’s experienced, while also expressing thoughts that almost certainly had occurred to most readers. Personally, this scene showed up just as I was beginning to question whether King Mob was a critique of the action hero or just another representation of one.

Then later (or was it earlier?) we learn how to time travel.

Preacher 26

The conclusion of the “Origin of Cassidy” two-parter. Because this is a Garth Ennis comic, a lot of this issue takes place in a pub.

And because Garth Ennis is a great writer, this tiny moment between Cassidy and Jesse will resonate through the entire series.

This issue also offers another one of Ennis’ primary tropes: the over-romanticizing of America – New York City specifically, in this case.

Other Comics I Read from April 1997

  • Batman: The Long Halloween 7
  • Big Book of the Unexplained
  • Bone 27
  • Cerebus 217
  • Darkness 4, 5
  • DV8 6
  • Eightball 18
  • Flash 126
  • Generation Hex 1
  • Hate 27
  • Hellblazer 114
  • Hitman 15
  • Impulse 26
  • Iron Lantern 1
  • JLA 6
  • Kurt Busiek’s Astro City 6
  • Palookaville 10
  • The Shade 3
  • Starman 31
  • Stormwatch 47
  • Strangers in Paradise 5
  • Super Soldier: Man of War 1
  • Underwater 9
  • Unknown Soldier 3
  • Untold Tales of Spider-Man 22
  • Vermillion 8

April 2002

Captain America 1

While the post-9-11 reboot of Captain America fizzled out quickly, it began pretty spectacularly. Part of this, of course, was the sincere, stellar artwork of John Cassaday, but John Ney Rieber’s script for the first issue was undeniably strong.

The issue opened (perhaps unnecessarily) with Cap digging through the wreckage of the twin towers before being confronted by an angry Nick Fury, who reminds Cap that the country could put his special skills to better use.

The key scene in the issue, though, involves Steve Rogers’ random encounter with a young Arab man.

The scene unfolds predictably, but Cap’s voice-over reclamation of “ if we [blank] then the terrorists have won” really works here.

And, as always, it is Cap’s empathy that makes him truly super-heroic.

Importantly, the steely gaze in the final panel makes it clear that we won’t be dealing with a right wing straw man Captain America who conflates empathy with surrender. There is a real enemy to be fought, but finding and defeating that enemy is going to be a lot harder than walking outside and attacking the first brown-skinned people we see.

And Cap walks away, sure that we are up to the task. Let’s try to not let him down.

Ultimate Spider-Man 21

While not all of Brian Michael Bendis’ reimaginations of Spidey’s villains into a 21st century context worked, I was a huge fan of Kraven the Reality TV Hunter. Kraven announces his next big game prey will be Spider-Man. And after months of build-up, this issue we finally get the big confrontation/fight scene:

Spidey also gives a pretty great little speech before swinging away.

Ultimates 4

As most comic fans know, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates had a major influence on the Marvel cinematic universe, right down to the casting of Nick Fury.

This scene was funny in 2002, and is hilarious fifteen years later. But man, did they get Iron Man wrong.

Not much happens this issue, as it’s mostly build up to the huge fight scene that makes up the entire next issue. Spoiler Warning: Cap has a plan.

Other Comics I Read from April 2002

  • 100 Bullets 35
  • Alias 8
  • Amazing Spider-Man 40
  • Avengers 53
  • Avengers: Celestial Quest 8
  • Batman 602
  • Catwoman 6
  • Daredevil 32
  • Detective Comics 769
  • Flash 185
  • Hawkman 2
  • Hellblazer 173
  • Incredible Hulk 39
  • JSA 35
  • Lucifer 25
  • Marvel Knights Double Shot 1
  • Morlocks 1
  • New X-Men 125
  • Powers 19
  • Promethea 20
  • Startling Stories: the Megalomaniacal Spider-Man
  • Transmetropolitan 55
  • Ultimate Marvel Team-Up 15
  • Ultimate X-Men 17
  • Wolverine 175
  • Wolverine/Hulk 3
  • X-Force 127

April 2007

Batman 665

Grant Morrison’s epic Batman run (which began in the Batman comic, then spilled over into Batman and Robin, Final Crisis, the Return of Bruce Wayne, and two volumes of Batman, Incorporated) was predicated on the notion that every single thing that happened to Batman in every single DC comic actually happened to one dude in a ten year period of time.

Needless to say, making that work took some doing. This issue introduces one of the more important conceits, The Black Casebook:

It also features some great character-defining dialog between Batman and Jim Gordon.

Other Comics I Read from April 2007

  • 100 Bullets 83
  • 52 48-51
  • American Virgin 14
  • Avengers: the Initiative 1
  • Brave and the Bold 3
  • Crossing Midnight 6
  • Daredevil 96
  • DMZ 18
  • Ex Machina 27
  • Exterminators 16
  • Fallen Son: the Death of Captain America 1, 2
  • Fell 8
  • Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears 3
  • God Save the Queen
  • Green Lantern 19
  • Hellblazer 231
  • Immortal Iron Fist 5
  • Incredible Hulk 105
  • Invincible 40
  • JLA 8
  • JLA: Classified 37
  • JSA 5
  • Loveless 18
  • Madman Atomic Comics 1
  • Marvel Adventures: Avengers 12
  • Midnighter 6
  • Mighty Avengers 2
  • New Avengers 29
  • Nightly News 6
  • Punisher 46
  • Punisher Presents Barracuda 3
  • Punisher War Journal 6
  • Runaways 25
  • Satan’s Sodomy Baby 1
  • Scalped 4
  • She-Hulk 18
  • Stormwatch PHD 6
  • Testament 17
  • Thunderbolts 113
  • True Story Swear to God 5
  • Ultimate Power 5
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 108
  • Uncanny X-Men 485
  • Walking Dead 37
  • Wonder Man 5
  • X-Factor 18

April 2012

Avenging Spider-Man 6

The Omega Effect is a three-part story that starts here and crosses over to Punisher 10 and Daredevil 11. The story was co-written by Greg Rucka and Mark Waid, and it’s one of the more entertaining Marvel scripts of the last decade. At this time, Rucka was writing the Punisher and Waid Daredevil. Neither writer was working with Spider-Man which perhaps explains why his part of the cross-over is relegated to the “I wasn’t aware that that ever existed” title Avenging Spider-Man.

And it’s a real shame that neither writer has done extended work with Spider-Man, as their use of him is a huge part of what makes this cross-over so entertaining.

This story takes place during Dan Slott’s pre-Superior Spider-Man “No One Dies” issues. The main plot is taken from Waid’s Daredevil run, where DD has come into possession of the Omega Drive – they really may as well have just called it the “Marvel McGuffin” – which has the entire underworld chasing after him.

Punisher 10

This issue picks up where Avenging Spider-Man left off, with Spider-Man annoying the Punisher, and Daredevil getting to know the Punisher new partner.

As it turns out, Spidey enjoys annoying the Punisher.

I mean, he really likes it.

And it turns out the Punisher has a sense of humor, too. A fairly dark one, but that’s no surprise.

Daredevil 11

Plot wise, this cross-over kind of fizzles – we end up pretty much where we started, with Daredevil still in possession of the Omega Drive – but Mark Waid makes a fantastic point about the “suffering hero.”

Goon 39

Foolishly, I assumed that Eric Powell would never top his issue 34 “Sparkly Vampires” Goon cover, but “Plots based on primary colors rule!” may be the best cover copy in the history of comics.

As the cover promises, the Goon tries his hand at super-heroics this issue, with hilarious results.

Then, just when all seems lost: A Costume Change!

And thankfully, Powell wasn’t kidding about multi-colored Goons:

This issue also features the Death of the Goon! And the Return of the Goon!

Every single page of this issue is entertaining. If you’re curious about the Goon, or Eric Powell’s work in general, this done-in-one issue does a great job of communicating Powell’s sense of humor, and even while making fun of the more embarrassing aspects of super-hero comic art, you can still see what an amazing artist he is.

Other Comics I Read from April 2012

  • Action Comics 8
  • Activity 5
  • Amazing Spider-Man 683, 684
  • American Vampire 26
  • Animal Man 8
  • Aquaman 8
  • Avengers 25
  • Avengers Academy 28
  • Avengers Assemble 2
  • Batman 8
  • Batman and Robin 8
  • Batwoman 8
  • Blackest Night Special Edition 1
  • Brilliant 4
  • Captain America 10
  • Casanova: Avaritia 3
  • Chew 25
  • Creepy 8
  • Daredevil 10.1
  • Dark Horse Presents 11
  • Defenders 5
  • Fantastic Four 605
  • Fatale 4
  • FF 17
  • Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE 8
  • Green Lantern 8
  • Green Lantern Corps 8
  • Hellblazer 290
  • Incorruptible 29
  • Incredible Hulk 7
  • Invincible 90
  • Invincible Iron Man 515
  • Irredeemable 36
  • Journey into Mystery 636
  • Justice League 8
  • Justice League Dark 8
  • I, Vampire 8
  • Manhattan Projects 2
  • Men of War 8
  • Mighty Thor 12.1, 13
  • Moon Knight 12
  • Near Death 7
  • New Avengers 25
  • Northlanders 50
  • Ragemoor 2
  • Saga 2
  • Scalped 58
  • Secret 1
  • Swamp Thing 8
  • Sweet Tooth 32
  • Thief of Thieves 3
  • Ultimate Comics Ultimates 9
  • Uncanny X-Men 10, 11
  • Walking Dead 96
  • Winter Solider 4
  • Wolverine 304
  • Wolverine and the X-Men 9
  • Wonder Woman 8
  • X-Factor 234

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The Author

Rand Bellavia

Rand Bellavia

Rand Bellavia is half of the Filk Pop Nerd Rock band Ookla the Mok. They’ve been playing at science fiction and comic book conventions since 1994. Their clever, media-savvy lyrics, catchy melodies, and accessible power-pop sound have made them a cult-sensation with nerds everywhere. With song titles like Super Powers, Welcome to the Con, Arthur Curry, Kang the Conqueror, and Stop Talking About Comic Books or I’ll Kill You, it’s easy to see why.

Rand and Ookla the Mok have won four Pegasus Awards, and the 2014 Logan Award for Outstanding Original Comedy Song. Ookla the Mok had the most requested song on Dr. Demento in 2012 (“Tantric Yoda”) and 2013 (“Mwahaha”). Rand co-wrote the theme song for the Disney cartoon Fillmore, and his vocals are the first thing you hear on Gym Class Heroes’ Top Five hit “Cupid’s Chokehold.”

In his secret identity, Rand is the Director of the Montante Library at D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York. He has lectured and presented at international conferences on the subject of comics and libraries, and whatever your favorite subject is, he probably knows more about that than you do.

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