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.
My first sustained reading of any comic book was a subscription to the Avengers that started at issue 158 and ended with issue 169. This Jim Shooter-written run included the introduction of Graviton (with art by Sal Buscema), a classic three-part Count Nefaria story (with art by John Byrne), the three-part Bride of Ultron story, and the beginning of the Korvac Saga (both drawn by George Perez).
In the middle of all that was this stinker. Perhaps I would have enjoyed this Champions cross-over story more had it not been surrounded by so many classic issues, but as it was, this comic stands out in my mind primarily for being a lackluster story with artwork that – no offense to George Tuska and Pablo Marcos – didn’t appeal to eight-year old me.
Other Comics I Read From June 1977
- Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 10
- Spidey Super Stories 26
- Star Trek 46
Looking back at the comics I read this month in 1982, I have a lot of fond memories but no specific insights to share. Rather than bore you with plot summations, I thought I’d just point out a few of the iconic covers that Marvel was cranking out at this time.
Amazing Spider-Man 223
We start with a cover that may not mean much to most, but – for reasons passing understanding – has become a touchstone in my (and several of my friends) lives. To this day, anytime anyone begins a sentence with the word “suddenly” there are at least three other humans I can count on to blurt out “…the Super Apes!”
As a big fan of prog rock, now is as good a time as any to point out that I feel like I get to see the Red Ghost in person on a regular basis.
Who would have guessed that Ed Hannigan would pencil the best Avengers cover ever? I’m sure Klaus Janson’s inks fooled more than one into thinking this was a Frank Miller cover. Speaking of whom…
While the Avengers cover uses a lack of background to reinforce the powerful image that was being presented, here Frank Miller uses it to represent the ironic isolation Daredevil feels as a result of being overwhelmed by sensory input. The lack of visual content also invites us to experience the world through Daredevil’s sightless eyes.
One of the most iconic images of the 80s, and another great cover from Frank Miller. Those who complain that Wolverine doesn’t wear his mask enough have this image to blame.
Other Comics I Read from June 1982
- Amazing Spider-Man 233
- Captain America 273, 274
- Cerebus 39
- Hercules 1, 2
- Ka-Zar 19
- Marvel Fanfare 4
- Marvel Team-Up 121
- Tales of the New Teen Titans 4
- Wolverine 2
Avengers Annual 16
This annual functioned as a sequel to the Contest of Champions, with the Grandmaster and Death breaking the Avengers up into groups and forcing them to fight near impossible battles. Each battle was given its own chapter and illustrated by a different artist.
While the story wasn’t particularly impressive, the art teams assembled were. We got to see (among others) John Romita, Jr. inked by Bill Sienkiewicz:
Marshall Rogers inked by Bob Layton:
and Jackson Guice finished by Kevin Nowlan:
Lots of cavalier death in this one. By the end of Round One, only two Avengers remained standing:
Recognizing a no-win situation when he sees one, Hawkeye has an idea:
And he wins! Or does he?
While this functions as a solid character moment for Hawkeye, I have always also read it as a subtle nod to the infamous editorial error in the original Contest of Champions that allowed the Grandmaster to win even though it was actually a tie.
Dr. Fate 3
Dr. Fate, possessed by Dr. Stoner and the Lords of Chaos, faces off against the Justice League and the Phantom Stranger.
Things don’t go well for the Justice League.
But then again, nothing is as it seems.
When facing the forces of chaos, the Phantom Stranger knows that there is only one weapon of any value.
Humans seek meaning. Our cultures – our very lives – are an attempt to carve order out of chaos. The Phantom Stranger knows that love and community are all that stand between us and the existential terror of meaningless chaos.
Justice League 5
This issue may be the most famous of the Bwahaha Justice League, as – after four issues of build-up – the tension between Batman and Guy Gardner finally comes to a head.
Amusingly, the big fight is over with one punch.
And more amusingly, Black Canary misses the whole thing.
For my money the best bits are the images of Blue Beetle: head tipped back in laughter in panel two, and wiping tears from his goggles in panel four.
This is it. The big finale to Watchmen! I could spend this entire column discussing this issue, but it’s all been said before. I just want to talk about these four panels:
That’s Sally Jupiter – the original Silk Spectre – kissing a photograph of Eddie Blake, the Comedian. Here’s what we know about Eddie Blake:
- He was Sally’s teammate in the Minutemen, the premiere super-hero team of the 1940s
- He was recently killed by former teammate Ozymandias
- In 1940, he sexually assaulted Sally – his attempted rape stopped by teammate Hooded Justice
- He was (secretly) the father of Sally’s daughter Laurie, the current Silk Spectre
It’s been thirty years since I first saw these panels, and I’m still unsure what to do with them. Am I supposed to read Sally as weak and pitiable? (A betrayal of the ideals of feminism and all she stood for as a super-hero? Unable to properly process her pain, shame, and fear, and transforming it all into some monstrous form of love?) Or are we meant to see something else there – something so much simpler yet infinitely more complex? We’re fond of saying that love can conquer all, but do we really mean it? Can love conquer sexual assault? Can there be forgiveness for such an act? What should we forgive?
For me, this is the single most haunting image in Watchmen.
“She’ll never make that mistake again or so she says tonight / But she kisses his picture and turns out the light” — Ron Hawkins
Other Comics I Read from June 1987
- Amazing Spider-Man 293, Annual 21
- American Flagg 45
- Avengers 283
- Badger 29
- Cerebus 98
- Classic X-Men 13
- Detective Comics 578
- Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters 2
- Grendel 9
- Incredible Hulk 335
- Justice League Annual 1
- Marvel Fanfare 34
- Nexus 38
- Punisher 3
- Question 8
- Scout 20
- Swamp Thing 64
- Vigilante 45
- Web of Spider-Man 31
- Yummy Fur 5
Amazing Spider-Man Annual 26
I don’t really recommend you read this comic. It’s here for one self-serving reason: I make a cameo appearance. (Cameo is a generous term – more like I’m there as an Easter egg.)
Back in 1992, my friend John Kalisz was working as one of “Romita’s Raiders,” which meant he hung around the Marvel offices ready to do whatever needed to be done. Emergency colors on two pages of Night Thrasher. Check. Background inks on Secret Defenders. Check. Erase the penises from those ghosts in that Spider-Man one shot. Check.
He was assigned to do background inks on this Amazing Spider-Man annual. And he kindly drew me (and Adam English, my songwriter partner in Ookla the Mok) into the page above.
I know. It’s hard to find. Let me help.
Still not seeing it? How’s this?
Got it? Here it is properly oriented.
Given the insanely small space he had to work with, those are pretty good caricatures of us as we looked in 1992.
Doom Force Special
Ripped from its early 90s context, this one-shot Doom Patrol spin-off seems even weirder than it did 25 years ago. If you can’t tell, it’s really nothing more than Grant Morrison making fun of Rob Liefeld for 55 pages.
More lines means better people face! Wait a minute – so you’re saying you *don’t* have 48 teeth?
This one’s got the whole checklist: Too many (overdeveloped) muscles. Unnecessarily complex claws. Pouches! A visor *and* headfins. Thighs the circumference of an adult male’s waist. Image cropped to hide the fact that the artist can’t draw hands or feet. No discernable understanding of foreshortening (or perspective in general).
As over the top as this parody was, Morrison was dismayed to learn that many readers still didn’t get the joke:
And, as the cover promised, one of our noble heroes didn’t make it out of this comic alive.
Yet the rest of the team finds the courage and strength to go on.
Doom Patrol 57
Last issue ended with Robot Man finding teammate Joshua Clay shot to death, and the Doom Patrol’s leader – the wheelchair-bound “Chief” Niles Caulder – standing and holding a smoking gun.
Most of this issue is expository, as Niles relates to Robot Man how he’s been playing the long game, and has been the bad guy all along. Having built Robot Man’s body, Niles is wise enough to render Robot Man immobile before beginning his confession.
He begins by admitting that Robot Man was a test run for Caulder’s own bid at immortality, and unveils the “perfect” humanoid body he has created:
Then Caulder unleashes a long lecture on the nature of chaos and how it helped create the Doom Patrol.
Unknown to Caulder, the ultimate Big Bad (aka The Candlemaker) has been brewing inside Doom Patrol member Dorothy Spinner for years. As catastrophe would have it, the Candlemaker broke free of Dorothy’s control at the same moment that Niles was unveiling his masterpiece.
After making short work of the Chief, the Candlemaker turns to poor immobile Robot Man.
And things look pretty grim for the Doom Patrol.
Sandman is – at its heart – a fairly long, convoluted story about stories. One of the ways writer Neil Gaiman communicates this is by incorporating the characters of Cain and Abel, who were used by DC as narrators of the short story anthologies House of Mystery and House of Secrets. This particular short story features Cain and Abel sharing Mysteries and Secrets, and is most notable for Jill Thompson’s adorable artwork:
Abel tells a sanitized version of his and his brother’s origin story (the DC origin story, not the Biblical one).
But don’t worry. Cain still finds a way to kill Abel before the end.
Other Comics I Read from June 1992
- Animal Man 50
- Batman: Catwoman Defiant
- Cerebus 159
- Flash 67, Annual 5
- Hate 9
- Hellblazer 56
- Incredible Hulk 396
- Shade the Changing Man 26
- Spectacular Spider-Man 191
- Swamp Thing 122
- X-Factor 81
The “kick ass” opening to this issue is about as bloody as the comic gets.
But that’s the point. Since the very first issue, King Mob has been presented as the ultimate “cool” action hero – killing without hesitation, and seemingly without remorse. “You look like someone with an interesting story to tell” is a nice call back to issue 12 of volume one, where we see the life story of a random henchman who King Mob killed in issue one, and learn that in the world of the Invisibles, there is no such thing as a minor character.
Just in case anyone reading still thinks all that blood and murder is “cool,” King Mob’s meaningless ultraviolence is followed by a scene of Jack and Fanny obtaining the Hand of Glory by dancing – acquiring one of the most powerful magical items in existence using the pretty much the most non-violent method imaginable.
And, for those who missed the juxtaposition, there’s also this:
In the previous issue, King Mob admits that his “karma is a minefield.” One last time then, for the slower members of the class:
Also, Takashi’s grandfather invents time travel, or is killed by Little Boy:
Not much plot this issue, but lots of great character moments and dialog, and Steve Dillon does some amazing work with facial expressions as Jesse apologizes to Tulip:
And Starr tries to cover his unfortunate head scar:
While Starr’s personal relationship with body horror has only begun, here we see him already utterly unhinged – completely unconcerned with the mission to which he had dedicated his life, and ready to throw away the earth itself for the sake of revenge.
Pride and Joy 2
Fathers and Sons. Jimmy and his son Patrick discuss their differences
While Jimmy’s relationship with his own father was very different
Enjoy the quiet moments, ‘cause there’s violence and horror just around the bend.
Other Comics I Read from June 1997
- Batman: The Long Halloween 9
- Cerebus 219
- Darkness 6
- Dreaming 15
- DV8 8
- Flash 128
- Hellblazer 116
- Hitman 17
- Jinx 1
- JLA 8
- Milk and Cheese’s Latest Thing
- Preacher: Good Old Boys
- Spectacular Spider-Man 248
- Starman 33
- Stormwatch 49
- Supergirl 12
- Superman/Madman Hullaballo
- Untold Tales of Spider-Man 23
- Weird War Tales 3
This is probably Grant Morrison’s most difficult – and least understood – mainstream comic series. It’s also his personal favorite. While the Invisibles was conceived as the ultimate conspiracy thriller, with the anarchistic, young, and strange fighting for good while the orderly, old, status quo stood for evil, it became clear to Morrison by the end that everyone was on the same team and we’re all just playing parts. So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that his major follow-up to the Invisibles was a story where the heroes (the Hand) were the ones protecting us from the Strange. Sure, these heroes were themselves highly strange, but it’s important to note that their job was to keep us on the path to “Status Q,” i.e., to make sure that we were never aware of just how weird the world really was.
Ned Slade, a worker for the Hand, is forced to abandon his vacation early. In a riff on Total Recall, his vacation was taken place inside another personality
Because of the premature circumstances surrounding his retrieval, Ned/Greg is confused and therefore not quite ready to go back to work.
Meanwhile, Spartacus Hughes – a rogue agent who is the reason Ned was needed back so abruptly – is attempting to sell I-Life to a perverted billionaire.
While Simon ends up being a minor character, that last panel alone qualifies him as one of the most horrifying villains in comic book history.
Other Comics I Read from June 2002
- Alias 10
- Amazing Spider-Man 42
- Avengers 55
- Batman 604
- Black Widow: Pale Little Spider 3
- Cage 4
- Captain America 3
- Catwoman 8
- Daredevil 34
- Detective Comics 771
- Elektra 11
- Flash 187
- Green Arrow 14
- Hawkman 4
- Hood 2
- Hulk: The End
- Incredible Hulk 41, 42
- JSA 37
- Lucifer 27
- Marvel Knights Double Shot 3
- Midnight Nation 12
- Morlocks 3
- New X-Men 127, 128
- Promethea 21
- Punisher 13
- Spider-Man: Blue 2
- Spider-Man: Quality of Life 2
- Thing: Freakshow 1
- Transmetropolitan 57
- Ultimate Spider-Man 23
- Ultimate X-Men 19
- Ultimates 6
- Wonder Woman: Hiketeia
- X-Force 129
J. H. Williams III joins Grant Morrison for The Black Glove, a three-part Agatha Christie-riff that reintroduced the International Club of Heroes, AKA the Batmen of All Nations. That men from all nations of the world would be inspired by Bruce Wayne to put on variations of Batman’s costume and fight crime – let alone that they would hold an annual convention-like get-together – is one of many “silly” ideas from the 50s that Morrison brought out of retirement.
Knowing his audience isn’t exactly on his side, Morrison opens by having Robin (Tim Drake) express our concerns/feelings of reservation.
Robin meets the Knight and Squire, who Morrison fans have seen before in his JLA Classified run.
This is bit nit-picky, but Five-A-Side is played with what Americans would call a soccer ball. Clearly, Morrison’s script called for the Knight to be tossing a “football” around, Williams didn’t consider the source of the reference, and the mistake made it to the final printing.
The rest of the Club of Heroes is made up of (in order as imaged below): The Musketeer, Dark Ranger, El Gaucho, Raven Red, The Legionary, Man-Of-Bats, and Wingman.
Interestingly, these characters are each imaged throughout this storyline in the distinctive style of a popular comic book artist. The Knight and Squire are drawn as if by Ed McGuinness, who drew the Morrison-scripted JLA Classified story that first reintroduced them. Gaucho is clearly drawn in the style of Howard Chaykin. The Legionary is Dave Gibbons. Ranger is Chris Sprouse. Man-of-Bats is Steve Rude. Wingman is less clear. Joe Kubert, perhaps? Carlos Ezquerra? The Musketeer I can’t quite get a grip on. Please submit your opinions as comments.
This issue is really just set up. We meet our heroes, look at some beautiful artwork, and the Legionary is stabbed to death (23 times, as all fans of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar might know).
New Avengers 31
The Avengers fight Ninjas! No, really. A lot of ninjas. Too many ninjas. Spider-Man and Hawkeye can’t believe it, either.
Yes, that’s Hawkeye under the Ronin costume.
Also, this amuses me:
There’s just something about a lady that makes such an absurd threat, and then immediately delivers on it.
Eventually – as the cover spoils – Elektra ends up with yet another hunk of metal shoved through her sternum. This time, however, she doesn’t stumble toward Matt Murdock’s house, but rather reverts to her true Skrull form.
This was — of course — shocking, and led to the massive “Secret Invasion” story line. (Why do all Marvel cross-overs have to have the word “secret” in them – or, for that matter, all DC cross-overs “crisis”?)
As I recall, when this issue came out, Marvel got the word out that the last page was going to forever change everything in the Marvel Universe forever! Except that wasn’t the last page of the book. This was:
That’s Jessica Jones feeding her (and Luke Cage’s) infant daughter. And check out that last panel. Green eyes! How Skrully!
Yeah. Nothing ever came of this page. As in: nothing. Baby wasn’t a Skrull, and no reference to her eyes – green or otherwise – ever again.
Other Comics I Read from June 2007
- Action Comics 851
- All-Star Superman 8
- American Virgin 16
- Avengers Classic 1
- Avengers: the Initiative 3
- Brave and the Bold 4
- Captain America 27
- Criminal 7
- Crossing Midnight 8
- Daredevil 98
- Daredevil: Battlin’ Jack Murdock 1
- DMZ 20
- Ex Machina 29
- Exterminators 18
- Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears 5
- Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Special
- Hellblazer 233
- Immortal Iron Fist 7
- Incredible Hulk 107
- Invincible 44
- Invincible Iron Man 19
- JLA 10
- JLA: Classified 39
- Midnighter 8
- Mighty Avengers 4
- Powers 27
- Punisher 48
- Punisher Presents Barracuda 5
- Punisher War Journal 8
- Runaways 27
- Scalped 6
- She-Hulk 20
- Spirit 7
- Stormwatch PHD 8
- Thunderbolts 115
- True Story Swear to God 6
- Ultimate Spider-Man 110
- Uncanny X-Men 487
- Walking Dead 38
- World War Hulk 1
- World War Hulk: X-Men 1
- X-Factor 20
Last month I wrote about how the best way to establish the heroic bona fides of an anti-hero is to place them near unrepentantly evil characters. Here we have a textbook example of this as The Will – a morally compromised bounty hunter – enters a brothel and is surprised to find that his moral compass still functions:
Immediately after The Will saves this poor girl, the story immediately reminds you that he remains dangerous to our narrator and her family – he may have a conscience, but that only makes him that much more unpredictable.
Other Comics I Read from June 2012
- Action Comics 10
- Amazing Spider-Man 687, 688
- American Vampire 28
- American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares 1
- Animal Man 10
- Aquaman 10
- Avengers 27
- Avengers Academy 31, 32
- Avengers Assemble 4
- Avenging Spider-Man 8
- Batman 10
- Batman and Robin 10
- Batman Incorporated 2
- Batwoman 10
- Captain America 13
- Casanova: Avaritia 4
- Chew 27
- Dancer 2
- Daredevil 14
- Dark Horse Presents 13
- Defenders 7
- Fantastic Four 607
- Fatale 6
- FF 19
- Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE 10
- Fury Max 3
- Green Lantern 10
- Green Lantern Corps 10
- Hellblazer 292
- Hit Girl 1
- Incredible Hulk 9, 10
- Invincible 92
- Invincible Iron Man 518
- Journey into Mystery 639, 640
- Justice League 10
- Justice League Dark 10
- Manhattan Projects 4
- Mighty Thor 15
- Mind MGMT 2
- Near Death 9
- New Avengers 27
- Planetoid 1
- Punisher 12
- Ragemoor 4
- Secret 3
- Spider-Men 1, 2
- Swamp Thing 10
- Sweet Tooth 34
- Thief of Thieves 5
- Ultimate Comics Ultimates 12
- Uncanny X-Men 13, 14
- Walking Dead 99
- Winter Solider 6, 7
- Wolverine and the X-Men 12
- Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha and Omega 5
- Wonder Woman 10
- X-Factor 237, 238
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