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.
This was my introduction to the mighty John Byrne. Just one month later, he would take over as penciller on Uncanny X-Men. This is the first part of a pretty great trilogy of issues (all penciled by Byrne). This first issue is mostly setup – the Lethal Legion show up with suped-up powers, kick the Avengers around a bit, then mysteriously lose their powers as Count Nefaria is revealed as the real Big Bad – but Byrne’s layout keeps things exciting throughout.
Byrne draws every panel as if it’s a full-page splash. Every hero and villain is given a “cool” pose in just about every panel. And Byrne’s camera is constantly moving for the best possible angle on the action.
Other Comics I Read From July 1977
- Captain America 214
- Invaders 21
- Marvel Team-Up 62
- Marvel Two-in-One 32
- Super Villain Team-Up 14
- Thor 264, Annual 6
Anyone looking for evidence that Tony Stark is a slimy douche-nozzle need look no further than Avengers 224, where he dates newly divorced abuse-victim Janet Pym while neglecting to inform her that he also happens to be her (and her ex-husband’s) friend and teammate Iron Man.
It all starts with Tony (as Iron Man) noticing that <gasp!> Janet is attractive!
Quickly changing into his millionaire playboy costume, Tony immediately courts Janet, leaving out a few minor details.
Thanks to the conventions of early 80s comics, we get to see inside Tony’s head, which only makes him look like more of a two-faced jerk.
As he always does, Captain America acts as Tony’s conscience, pointing out the obvious emotional damage he is injecting into the already tumultuous lives of two of his oldest friends.
Then, oddly, Thor weighs in:
But even Thor at his least sensitive thinks Tony is a dick for not telling Janet the truth.
Being an adult human, Janet ends the relationship immediately, and it has not been spoken of since.
Other Comics I Read from July 1982
- Cerebus 40
- Daredevil 188
- Fantastic Four 247
- Ka-Zar 20
- Marvel Graphic Novel: Dreadstar
- Marvel Team-Up 122
- Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 71
- Uncanny X-Man 162
- What If 35
Gumby’s Summer Fun Spectacular
Holy crap do I love this comic. Writer Bob Burden (creator of Flaming Carrot and Mystery Men) brings the perfect sense of childlike wonder and imagination to the story, and Art Adam’s illustrations are perfection. If you’re not familiar with Art Adams, he’s the artist the Image guys in the early nineties were trying to imitate with all those extra lines.
The story is gloriously insane. Plot points occur as fast as Burden can think of them and Adams can draw them. If it’s fun, throw it in – who cares why?
Why does the babysitter suddenly transform into a werewolf? Who cares! Nice touch that it’s her first ever transformation, as well. And can you think of a better time for the saucermen to strike?
Then, more spacemen show up.
No. Space Bears! Let’s all say that together: “Space Bears!”
Inexplicably, Gumby is voted leader of the pirates!
Which leads to perhaps my favorite single comic panel of all time:
Other Comics I Read from July 1987
- Action Comics Annual 1
- Avengers 284
- Badger 30
- Cerebus 99, 100
- Chronicles of Corum 6
- Classic X-Men 14
- Concrete 3
- Doctor Fate 4
- Dreadstar 33
- Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters 3
- Grendel 10
- Incredible Hulk 336
- Justice League 6
- Nexus 39
- Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 131
- Phantom Stranger 1
- Question 9
- Real War Stories 1
- Scout 21
- Swamp Thing 65, Annual 3
- Vigilante 46
- Web of Spider-Man 32
Doom Patrol 58
Last issue, Josh was shot dead by the Chief, and the Candlemaker had ripped the Chief’s head off and left Robot Man’s brain in chunks suitable for sautéing with beurre noir and capers.
Most of this issue is taken up with an elaborate fantasy sequence where Robot Man imagines he is a real man who dreams of being a robot.
Eventually, Robot Man wakes up.
But how could he possibly still exist?
So, joined by old friend (and John Constantine stand-in) Willoughby Kipling, Robot Man and Dorothy prepare to take on the all-powerful Candlemaker.
Other Comics I Read from July 1992
- Animal Man 51
- Army of Darkness 1
- Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children 30
- Cerebus 160
- Flash 68
- Hellblazer 57
- Incredible Hulk 397
- Sandman 41
- Shade the Changing Man 27
- Spectacular Spider-Man 192
- Swamp Thing 123
- X-Factor 82
First appearance of Section 8!
Smack dab in the middle of Ennis and McCrea’s first really big Hitman storyline, The Ace of Killers – where Tommy, Natt, Detective Tiegel, Catwoman, and the Demon find themselves fighting an endless army of Mafia henchmen *and* the forces of Hell – walking punchline Sixpack (a homeless alcoholic who lives in a tattered super-hero costume and talks endlessly of his – presumably imaginary – adventures) decides to get the old team together and lend a hand.
The “old team” is Section 8: Friendly Fire (the only member with legitimate super-powers – but he can’t seem to use them without killing or injuring an ally), Phlegm and Shakes (two poor men who’s abilities are sadly predictable), Jean de Baton-Baton (who defeats his enemies with the power of his Frenchness), the Defenestrator (yes, he walks around with a large plate glass window under his arm, looking for the opportunity to throw someone through it), Bueno Excellente (about whom the less that’s said the better), and Dogwelder.
Apparently, one evening at the pub, Garth Ennis, John McCrea, and Steve Dillon had a contest to see who could come up with the worst super-hero, and Steve Dillon’s Dogwelder won.
Hitman was a very strange comic.
The Key has finally figured out to defeat the Justice League:
In a typically convoluted super-villain scheme, the Key is keeping the JLA unconscious and imagining themselves in alternative universes, with – luckily for us – wild new power sets and visually stimulating new costume designs. But because he knows the JLA always wins, he is confident that eventually they will figure out that they’re in an elaborate fantasy world. So he sets things up so that when they inevitably wake up, the resulting power-surge will give him the power he needs to become a god (or something like that, I wasn’t reading that closely).
And, of course, the Key is right. The JLA may be defeated and utterly at his mercy, but Batman plans for everything.
Unfortunately, Batman figures out the Key’s plan a moment too late…
But thankfully, new member Green Arrow is there to save the day, using one of his father’s ridiculous trick-arrows.
And we end with an odd character beat that I’ve always loved.
The beginning of Rock of Ages, certainly Grant Morrison’s crowning achievement on JLA, and perhaps his best super-hero story arc ever.
A huge part of the appeal of Rock of Ages is the insane scope of it. The elevator pitch is essentially: What if three major crises happened at once? Each issue pulls back further to reveal how last issue’s crisis was nothing compared to this issue’s crisis – which, by the way, the JLA is trying to resolve. As such, the first issue is mostly set up of the first crisis, which is that Lex Luthor has created an Injustice League, recruiting an arch-enemy to combat each of the seven JLA members.
We also get a great moment between Martian Manhunter and Aztek:
And an even better one as Batman and Superman enter into battle with the new Green Arrow for the first time:
While Preacher is probably most known for its casual blasphemy, body horror, and ultra-violence, it also provides some of the greatest diner conversations in the history of narrative fiction. Here Tulip fails to talk some sense into Jesse and Cassidy.
Pride and Joy 3
Jimmy tells his son Patrick about his secret former life as a petty thug, including the worst moment of his life:
Jimmy eventually found the boy’s father, and the conversation didn’t go the way he expected it to:
And, speaking of conversations not going the way Jimmy expected them to:
I didn’t really fall in love with Transmetropolitan until around issue three. The only thing that kept me reading after issue one was my trust in Warren Ellis and what I saw as a very weird visual origin story behind Spider Jerusalem, Transmetropolitan’s main character.
Here we see Spider at the beginning of the issue, all hair and beard, looking for all the world like Alan Moore. (I mean, come on: tell me Darick Robinson didn’t use a photo of Alan Moore for photo-reference on panel two.)
Then he enters his shower/cleansing unit, and emerges as Grant Morrison.
And if the shaved head isn’t enough to convince you, check out the suit and King Mob-like glasses:
Other Comics I Read from July 1997
- Batman: The Long Halloween 10
- Bloody Mary: Lady Liberty 1
- Cerebus 220
- Flash 129
- Hate 28
- Hellblazer 117
- Invisibles 8
- JLA Secret Files 1
- Kurt Busiek’s Astro City 8
- Peepshow 10
- Starman 34
- Stormwatch 50
- Strangers in Paradise 7
- Superman Madman Hullabaloo 2
- Underwater 10
- Untold Tales of Spider-Man 24
- Weird War Tales 4
Slade is still not sure who he is, let alone what he’s supposed to be doing.
So his bosses kindly provide him the exposition we’ve all been waiting for:
Using various hand shapes to define each element of the Filth’s operation is pretty clever. The Fist deals with violence, the Finger addressed sexual perversion, the Horns battles the Satanic, etc. The most brilliant aspect of this concept is that Morrison gets to have it both ways: writing perhaps the strangest, most perverse story of his career, but it’s ultimately about keeping the world safe from that very strangeness and perversity. “We are the hand that wipes the arse of the world.”
Slade is introduced to iLife, the invention of Dr. Soon, who found a way to befriend rather than fight disease.
iLife has been hijacked by Spartacus Hughes, who sold it to the highest bidder, a conveniently depraved billionaire. In a riff on George R. R. Martin’s Sandkings (and/or one of the Simpsons Halloween short stories) his plan to pervert the innocent iLife ends in his own destruction.
I suppose this is the sort of stuff that causes readers to claim that Morrison’s stories “don’t make any sense.” But it all seems pretty clear to me. The smaller something is, the quicker the life cycle. At a microscopic level, thousands of generations have passed in the time it took Hughes to sell iLife. And if you need the whole “bio-ship” thing explained, you probably shouldn’t be reading Grant Morrison comics.
By the end of the issue, Spartacus Hughes is killed by Slade and Nil, with the help of Dimitri-9 – a former Russian cosmonaut and assassin who also happens to be a talking monkey. Manipulated and frustrated beyond the point of reason, Slade makes his first rational decision of the series:
New X-Men 129
Professor X and Jean Grey meet the mysterious Fantomex, whose visual appearance and basic personality are based (not so) loosely on the Italian comic book character Diabolik, who was, in turn, based on early 20th century French detective character Fantomas. If that’s not enough to convince you of the character’s origins, Fantomex’s real name is Jean-Phillipe, and the actor who starred in the Danger: Diabolik film adaptation was John Phillip Law.
Later in New X-Men, it is shown that – like Wolverine – Fantomex was a victim of the Weapon Plus program. In fact, he is eventually revealed to be Weapon XIII – a reinterpretation of Wolverine’s Weapon X designation quietly revealed during this exchange:
Turns out Weapon Plus had a hand in the creation of several other important Marvel Characters, including Captain America, Nuke, and Deadpool.
Y: The Last Man 1
After writing a 20 issue run of Swamp Thing that no one ever read, Brian K. Vaughan sucked it up and came back with Y: The Last Man, which is very likely why you know who Brian K. Vaughan is. Y is the story of Yorick, who begins the series as the answer to the question What if Jack Knight (from James Robinson’s Starman) had no super powers and even less sense of direction? He wanders the issue fairly aimlessly, dropping pop culture references like breadcrumbs – presumably so he can find his way home. Also, he has a helper monkey named Ampersand.
Suddenly: Plot happens!
Every male (of every species) on earth suddenly dies horribly. Cut to Yorick and his (male) helper monkey:
Bet we’ll see you next month.
Other Comics I Read from July 2002
- 100 Bullets 37
- Alias 11, 12
- Amazing Spider-Man 43
- Automatic Kafka 1
- Avengers 56
- Batman 605
- Cage 5
- Captain America 4
- Catwoman 9
- Daredevil 35
- Detective Comics 772
- Elektra: Glimpse and Echo 1
- Flash 188
- Green Arrow 15
- Hawkman 5
- Hellblazer 175
- Hood 3
- Incredible Hulk 43
- JSA 38
- League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 1
- Lucifer 28
- Morlocks 4
- Powers 21
- Pro 1
- Punisher 14
- Spider-Man: Quality of Life 3
- Thing: Freakshow 2
- Transmetropolitan 58
- Ultimate Spider-Man 24
- Ultimate X-Men 20
- Ultimates 7
- X-Statix 1
Rather than pick this one apart, I’m going to focus on the amazing art of J.H. Williams III. Check out this double page spread:
So much to love. The colors are perfect. The fact that the bat-shaped panels actually work as a storytelling device. The huge black glove bursting the through the entire thing without disturbing the bat-shape. But even if you stripped all that away, you’d still have several remarkably evocative illustrations.
A big part of Grant Morrison’s Batman was that nothing could surprise or shake him, since he was prepared for anything and everything, and the painting that ends this issue is the first great (if subtle) example of this.
Civil War: Fallen Son: the Death of Captain America 5
The cover indicates that this issue centers on Tony Stark, but the main focus is Steve Rogers’ funeral, and Sam Wilson’s eulogy.
As he continues to narrate the long life of Steve Rogers, he asks those who participated in – or were affected by – each chapter to stand, until finally we are left with this image:
Unable to find the words during the funeral service, Tony finally has his say in a more private setting.
Madman Atomic Comics 3
All comic book artists have influences, and, over the years, many have taken a moment to list or display those influence in their comics. But none quite so impressively – or exhaustively – as Mike Allred does in this issue of Madman Atomic Comics. The entire issue is devoted to a single conversation between two characters, but each panel of their conversation is illustrated in the style of a different artist. To make it a little easier to figure out, Allred was kind enough to place the art styles in roughly chronological order. Still, I have yet to see a complete list of the artists homaged.
Here we have (I think) Charles Schulz, Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, Hank Ketcham, and Charles Addams.
Jumping ahead a bit, I love this page with what I’m pretty sure are homages to Dave Stevens, Charles Burns, The Hernandez Brothers, Chester Brown, and Dan Clowes.
Finally, I’m pretty confident that that’s Paul Pope on the left and Craig Thompson on the right, but I’m unsure about the middle panel. Any ideas out there?
New Avengers 32
When we last left our heroes, they had just discovered that Elektra was actually a Skrull in disguise. This month, the New Avengers talk about it on the flight home!
Of course Spider-Man breaks the silence. And Wolverine conveniently points out why any one of them could easily be a Skrull.
Then, Luke reminds everyone that he knew something was up, and Spider-Woman has a terrible idea:
New Avengers: Illuminati 4
Brian Michael Bendis is the Kevin Smith of comics: You think you want him to stop writing scenes of people sitting around talking, until he writes something else, and then you realize how much you miss those scenes of people sitting around talking.
I don’t know what actually happens in this issue, but it opens with the helplessly male members of the Marvel Illuminati having a fantastically entertaining conversation about women:
Then Namor shows up to school Reed. And Tony’s not done making a fool of himself just yet:
This issue places the focus on Lincoln Red Crow, President of the Tribal Council, Sheriff of the Tribal Police Force, manager of Crazy Horse, the local casino, and – ostensibly – the Big Bad of the series.
Of course, as we get to know him, and see the world through his eyes, we realize things are more complex than we first thought:
Other Comics I Read from July 2007
- 100 Bullets 84
- All Flash 1
- All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder 6
- American Virgin 17
- Avengers Classic 2
- Avengers: Initiative 4
- Bakers: Babies and Kittens
- Brave and the Bold 5
- Captain America 28
- Criminal 8
- Crossing Midnight 9
- Daredevil 99
- Daredevil: Battlin’ Jack Murdock 2
- Deadpool/Great Lakes Avengers: Summer Fun Special
- DMZ 21
- Exterminators 19
- Faker 1
- Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears 6
- Goon 19
- Green Arrow: Year One 1, 2
- Green Lantern 21
- Hellblazer 234
- Incredible Hulk 108
- Invincible Iron Man 20
- JLA 11
- JLA: Classified 40
- JSA 7
- Order 1
- Punisher 49
- Punisher War Journal 9
- Stormwatch PHD 9
- Super-Villain Team-Up: Modak’s 11 1
- Testament 19
- Thor 1
- True Story Swear to God 7
- Ultimate Power 6
- Ultimate Spider-Man 111
- Uncanny X-Men 488
- Walking Dead 39
- World War Hulk 2
- World War Hulk: X-Men 2
- X-Factor 21
- Y: The Last Man 57
Batman: Earth One
While one could question the wisdom of tweaking Batman’s origin story, Geoff Johns manages to come up with a few compelling notions – and even the less desirable changes become easier to accept when it is understood that the Earth One series of original graphic novels is not meant to alter or interact in any way with the current DCU.
The most striking change is that young Bruce Wayne is an entitled dick. I know it’s not hard to imagine that the son of a millionaire socialite would be a spoiled brat, but I suppose I always took it in stride that his innate goodness was both a tribute to the goodness of his parents and yet another sign that super-hero narratives are meant to be aspirational – the same impulse that allows us to accept that a stranger from another world would come to earth with unstoppable super-powers and choose to serve humanity rather than conquer it.
And there’s a lot to like about a bratty young Bruce Wayne – especially in the wake of Damian Wanye – but there’s a line:
Crossing over to Spider-Man territory – making Bruce even partially responsible for his parent’s death – seems remarkably wrong-headed. But that aside, Bruce’s off-putting demeanor sets up the Bruce/Alfred relationship nicely.
The butler thing is kind of played out, wouldn’t you say? Does anyone think Warren Buffet or Mark Zuckerberg has a butler? The idea that rich people have butlers is juvenile. In other words, something an entitled ten year old might imagine. Alfred is, in fact, an old family friend who unexpectedly finds himself the guardian of a ten-year old child. Reading the situation brilliantly, he understands that allowing Bruce to think that he is in control of their relationship is the best and most loving thing he can do – control being something grieving children are sorely lacking.
Alfred also happens to be ex-military, with the training and knowledge to reasonably help Bruce in his quest. But first, he has to beat the crap out of him:
Gary Frank’s art shines throughout. The opening sequence – showing one of Batman’s first (mis)adventures, and how wildly unprepared Bruce really was – is particularly brilliant.
Captain Marvel 1
If you haven’t read Kelly Sue DeConnick’s entire Captain Marvel run, you’re only punishing yourself. For decades, writers have tried to find the right place for Carol Danvers in the Marvel Universe:
She entered this world in the mid-seventies as Ms. Marvel (nothing screams second wave feminism quite like Farrah Fawcett’s hair and a costume with an exposed navel). Then there was the Avengers 200 debacle (if you don’t know, you’re better off), and her brief eighties tenure as Binary:
…yes, that’s Carol on the cover of Uncanny X-Men. The nineties brought her back to the Avengers as Warbird (where her primary personality trait was alcoholism). And, finally, Carol enters the twenty-first century as Ms. Marvel, with what sadly passed as a more reasonable costume (and, thanks to Frank Cho, much much larger breasts):
But DeConnick doesn’t mess around. We open with Captain America practically begging Carol to take the name Captain Marvel:
While the story moves nicely, the solid dialog and sense of character are what really stick out in the first issue:
The much ballyhooed (and infinitely teased) cross-over between the 616 and Ultimate Marvel Universes started here. The best bit of the series was Peter Parker’s realization that in this universe he died at a very young age
But then, armed with that knowledge, Peter still thinks it would be a good idea to swing by Aunt May’s house:
Is anyone out there reading Ales Kot’s stuff? If you like Grant Morrison – particularly if you like Grant Morrison’s Big Ideas – you need to start reading Ales Kot’s stuff. It’s smart and raw and thoughtful and inspiring. As far as I can find, the Wild Children one-shot is his earliest professional work. It’s dark, and perhaps tries a bit too hard to be the Invisibles, but I’ve never been one to take away points for ambition.
Wild Children is a “kids take over the school” riff, but with a pretty satisfying meta-textual twist. Students with guns take over the school, taking several teachers hostage. They dose the teachers with LSD, and then execute one of them.
Or do they?
They unveil a large bomb that is very real. Trust me.
So, is the bomb real or not? How can fake bullets kill a teacher? The treachery of images, of course. (“Ceci n’est pas une pipe.”)
As the police approach the kids, rifles raised, the truth is revealed:
And, in case you still don’t get it:
Now, let me guess (and confirm) your current thought:
Are those kids dead? Were they ever alive? What is real? What does it all mean?
Other Comics I Read from July 2012
- Action Comics 11
- Activity 7
- Amazing Spider-Man 689, 690
- American Vampire 29
- American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares 2
- Animal Man 11
- Aquaman 11
- Avengers 28
- Avengers Academy 33
- Avengers Assemble 5
- Avenging Spider-Man 9
- Axe Cop: President of the World 1
- Batman 11
- Batman and Robin 11
- Batman Incorporated 3
- Captain America 14, 15
- Chew: Super-Agent Poyo
- Dancer 3
- Daredevil 15
- Dark Horse Presents 14
- Defenders 8
- Fantastic Four 608
- FF 20
- Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE 11
- Fury Max 4
- Goon 40
- Graveyard of Empires 4
- Green Lantern 11
- Green Lantern Corps 11
- Grim Leaper 3
- Hellblazer 293
- Hit Girl 2
- Incredible Hulk 11
- Invincible 93
- Invincible Iron Man 520, 521
- Journey into Mystery 641
- Justice League 11
- Justice League Dark 11
- Manhattan Projects 5
- Mighty Thor 16, 17
- Mind MGMT 3
- Near Death 10
- New Avengers 28
- Planetoid 2
- Powers 11
- Punisher 13
- Punk Rock Jesus 1
- Revival 1
- Saga 5
- Secret Service 3
- Swamp Thing 11
- Sweet Tooth 35
- Takio 2
- Thief of Thieves 6
- Uncanny X-Men 15, 16
- Walking Dead 100
- Winter Solider 8
- Wolverine and the X-Men 13, 14
- Wonder Woman 11
- X-Factor 239, 240