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.

September 1977

Marvel Two-in-One Annual 2

This issue was the climax of the first major storyline featuring Thanos, and it looms large in any Bronze Age Marvel fan’s memory. Given the importance and popularity of the issue – not to mention the presence of Warlock, the original Captain Marvel, and the Avengers – it’s weird that the story took place in a Marvel Two-in-One annual, and weirder to note that the featured team-up was the Thing and Spider-Man.

While this story was the climax of a much larger story that ran through Jim Starlin’s runs on both Warlock and Captain Marvel, it was more precisely the direct continuation of a story that began in Avengers Annual 7, which climaxed with Thanos prying the Soul Gem from Warlock’s corpse. (Well, technically from his forehead, but I wanted to make it clear that he was dead at the time.)

One plot contrivance later, the Thing and Spider-Man find themselves in the middle of the battle, and we finally learn Thanos’ motivation.

In retrospect, his name was a dead giveaway.

It doesn’t take more than that to get Ben Grimm to say “It’s Clobbering Time!” But, the Thing is no match for Thanos, and Ben’s utter defeat causes Spider-Man to behave in an unexpected manner.

But of course Spidey wasn’t really fleeing, but rather gathering his wits for a more intelligent attack.

Spidey’s sacrifice frees the Avengers, and Thanos doesn’t appear too happy about that:

And seriously, has Spider-Man ever looked so lifeless? But check it out: the Thing is all better! He and Thor attack Thanos and end up on the receiving end of perhaps the greatest villainous one-liner in the history of comics:

But then, just as all seems lost, Spider-Man (who, in the words of John Cleese, “got better”) does… something, and Warlock… comes back to life? I don’t know.

At any rate, Thanos soils himself at the sight of Warlock’s reanimated corpse – for a guy with such a hard-on for Death, you’d think he’d be less afraid of zombies – and is promptly… turned into a statue by Zombie Warlock. I guess.

Trust me, if you were reading comics in 1977, this was the story of the year.

Other Notable Comics From September 1977

Avengers 166

Jim Shooter, John Byrne, Thor, Wonder Man (using Captain America’s shield!) and the Vision team up to kick Count Nefaria’s ass.

Other Comics I Read From September 1977

  • Amazing Spider-Man 175
  • Batman 294
  • Flash 256
  • Marvel Team-Up 64
  • Return of the New Gods 15
  • Uncanny X-Men 108

September 1982

Camelot 3000 1

Here’s another book that seemed so important at the time, but feels a bit quaint and over-blown in retrospect. Still, I have a soft spot in my heart for this title. There are some great character beats from Mike W. Barr, and amazing artwork from Brian Bolland.

We open in the future – the year 3000, I’m guessing – and aliens are invading the earth! All hope seems lost when our young POV character stumbles across an ancient stone casket:

Through the magic of expository dialogue, we learn why future earth is getting its ass kicked so easily:

As a 13 year old, my inner Neal Degrasse Tyson responded very strongly to this plot point.

Eventually, King Arthur finds Merlin, who helps him find Excalibur. But, not even thousands of years of rest could cure Merlin of being a dick:

Other Notable Comics From September 1982

Daredevil 190

Elektra Lives! The climax of Frank Miller’s game-changing run on Daredevil.

Nexus 3

The third (and final) issue of Nexus volume one. This magazine sized black and white issue was actually a book and record set – anyone out there remember flexi-discs?

Other Comics I Read from September 1982

  • Avengers 226
  • Cerebus 42
  • Hercules 4
  • Ka-Zar 22
  • Kull the Conqueror 1
  • Marvel Graphic Novel: The New Mutants
  • Marvel Team-Up 124
  • Vision and the Scarlet Witch 2
  • What If 36

September 1987

Justice League International 8

Whatever scale they used to measure the level of humor Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League, I’m pretty sure they peaked it with this issue. We open with Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, enjoying a quiet night out:

And, because this is a Giffen/DeMatteis comics, the “Bwahahas” are never far away:

In a classic joke that never gets old, we time cut to Booster and Beetle in costume, and the laughter continues.

Then Booster meets the foreign liaison to the new international Justice League.

But the rest of team wants in on the laughs, as well.

This gives Martian Manhunter and Captain Atom the opportunity to display their dry senses of humor.

Other Notable Comics From September 1987

Batman: Son of the Demon

This original hardcover graphic novel features – in a roundabout manner – the first appearance of Damian Wayne. This story, which showed Batman falling in love – and fathering a child – with Talia al Ghul, was long considered out of continuity, until Grant Morrison decided that every single Batman story ever happened to poor Bruce Wayne in a single decade.

Blood: A Tale 1

J. M. DeMatteis followed up Moonshadow with another “adult” comic – this one painted by Kent Williams. Blood was perhaps a bit too complex (or at least a bit too metaphorical) for most readers, and while not as lauded as Moonshadow, is just as beautiful to look at, and will more than hold the interest of fans of Inception-style “dream inside a dream inside a dream inside a dream…” stories.

Hellblazer 1

John Constantine gets a solo comic! It was meant to be called Hellraiser, but Clive Barker had something to say about that. Having been written so mysteriously in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, it was hard to see Constantine as a mere mortal – I recall being disappointed that he vomited at the smell of rotting food in a refrigerator – but writer John Delano got Constantine’s sense of moral outrage correct right from the start. This story was adapted for the short-lived live-action Constantine television series, but, removed from their political context – and stripped of their political subtext – these early Delano-written stories lost much of their impact.

Other Comics I Read from September 1987

  • Alien Legion 1
  • Badger 32
  • Cerebus 102
  • Chronicles of Corum 7
  • Classic X-Men 16, 17
  • Doc Savage 2
  • Dreadstar 34
  • Grendel 12
  • Incredible Hulk 338, 339
  • Justice League International 9
  • Man of War 1
  • Marshal Law 1
  • Marvel Fanfare 36
  • Miracleman 12
  • Nexus 41
  • Phantom Stranger 3, 4
  • Punisher 5
  • Question 11
  • Scout 23
  • Solo Avengers 1, 2
  • Sonic Disruptors 1
  • Spectacular Spider-Men 134
  • Swamp Thing 67, 68
  • Twisted Tales 1
  • Underworld 1, 2
  • Vigilante 48, 49
  • Wasteland 1
  • Yummy Fur 7

September 1992

Sandman 43

This issue opens with one of the immortals meeting Death:

Then we move on to our main story: Dream and Delirium fly on an airplane!

Of course, plot mechanics were never the primary appeal of Sandman. There’s a clever bit of foreshadowing – that doesn’t pay off for about twenty issues:

And dream has a pleasant conversation with a little girl:

Other Notable Comics From September 1992

Swamp Thing 125

Writer Nancy Collins’ run starts to come together, just as artists Sean Eaton and Kim DeMulder find their inner Bissette and Totleben. Features the first appearance of Tefe’s horrifyingly cute flower creations.

Comics I Read from September 1992

  • Animal Man 53
  • Army of Darkness 3
  • Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight 39
  • Batman: Sword of Azrael 2
  • Cerebus 162
  • Doom Patrol 60
  • Flash 70
  • Green Lantern: Ganthet’s Tale
  • Grendel: War Child 2
  • Hellblazer 59
  • Incredible Hulk 399
  • Shade the Changing Man 29
  • Spectacular Spider-Man 194
  • Spider-Man 2099 1
  • X-Factor 84

September 1997

Preacher 31

Not a lot of happens in this issue. Mostly it’s just an excuse for Garth Ennis to talk about how much he loves Bill Hicks.

Jesse stumbles into one of the last performances of Bill Hicks’ life – he died of pancreatic cancer at 32 – and it quite literally changes his life.

Ennis honors Hicks’ memory by acknowledging that he and Jesse share the same allegiance to the truth, simultaneously pointing out that Hicks was always more of a preacher than a comedian.

Other Notable Comics From September 1997

Flash 130

Grant Morrison and Mark Millar begin their one-year run on the Flash by breaking both of Wally West’s legs.

Hitman 20

The Ace of Killers – the first truly epic Hitman story – ends, and somehow every member of Section 8 makes it out alive.

Invisibles 10

King Mob ends his time in the past, where he meets a young Edith Manning, confronts a guy from the 1920s who also calls himself King Mob, and learns how to operate the Hand of Glory.

JLA 12

The Flash, Aquaman, and Green Lantern race against time to stop Darkseid from taking over the earth. Time wins.

Other Comics I Read from September 1997

  • Batman: The Long Halloween 12
  • Bloody Mary: Lady Liberty 3
  • Cerebus 222
  • Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold 1
  • Flash 131
  • Flash Secret Files 1
  • Hellblazer 119
  • Ragmop 1
  • Red Rocket Seven 2
  • Sin City: Family Values
  • Speed Force
  • Starman 36, Annual 2
  • Transmetropolitan 3

September 2002

Fantastic Four 61

We know from the cover that the Thing is mad at someone, and this glorious splash page wastes no time in making it clear who the enemy is:

Or does it?

For those who don’t know, Ben Grimm grew up on Yancy Street, and for some (never revealed) reason, the “Yancy Street Gang” has been pranking him as long as he’s been the Thing. These pranks (and Ben’s angry reaction to them) have always proved to be a great source of amusement for Johnny “Human Torch” Storm.

For whatever reason, this last prank is the one that pushes Ben just a little bit too far. Coincidently, the Yancy Street Gang appears to have left Ben a clue – the cake was delivered with a receipt listing the bakery’s address. So, Ben storms off to find out who bought the cake, and Johnny stops laughing.

Conceptually, this is brilliant. The notion that there is not – nor has there ever been – a Yancy Street Gang is bold. And once you’re there, having Johnny as the “mastermind” behind it all seems pretty obvious. But my favorite aspect of this whole this is the reveal itself: Sue is smart enough to figure it out from context, and her desperate hope that Johnny might have been piggy-backing on the actions of a genuine Yancy Street Gang is the kind of self-inflicted obliviousness that only a loving sibling can display.

Johnny runs after Ben, unsure what can do but unwilling to wait for his own demise and – as Ben rounds the corner to where the bakery is – they’re both in for a shock:

This story works because Mark Waid allows the characters to be intelligent, and assumes that the reader is just as intelligent. Thus, we figure it out as Johnny does. Sue to the rescue once again.

Which leads to the one thread of the story that connects to the larger story Waid is telling: Sue has been worried about Johnny’s lack of maturity, and this misadventure convinces her that he’ll never learn to swim unless she throws him into the deep end.

Often when individual comics are collected into trades or hardcovers, it’s common practice to remove any traces of editorial content – like “last issue” summations or “next issue” blurbs. In most cases, this is welcome, but here we have an example where the next issue blurb was clearly provided by the author, and its removal steps on Waid’s intended punchline. In the original comic, the last line of dialog in the comics was Sue’s “Don’t screw it up,” followed by a silent beat panel, and, below that, “Next Issue: Johnny screws it up.”

Other Notable Comics From September 2002

Captain America: Red, White, and Blue

This original hardcover graphic novel reprints the first issue of the then current Captain America run, but the rest of its pages are filled with brand new short stories from artists as varied as Alex Ross, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Tony Salmons, Paul Pope, Frank Quitely, Mark Waid, Bill Sienkiewicz, David Lloyd, and Evan Dorkin. Good stuff.

Ultimates 8

This issue opens with a surprisingly effective action set-piece that introduces Hawkeye and Black Widow to the Ultimate Universe. I’m surprised they haven’t found a way to sneak this scene into an Avengers movie yet.

Other Comics I Read from September 2002

  • 100 Bullets 39
  • Alias 14
  • Amazing Spider-Man 45
  • Automatic Kafka 3
  • Avengers 58
  • Avengers Icons: Vision 2
  • Batman 607
  • Catwoman 11
  • Daredevil 37
  • Detective Comics 774
  • Elektra 14
  • Elektra: Glimpse and Echo 3
  • Fight for Tomorrow 1
  • Filth 4
  • Flash 190
  • Green Arrow 17
  • Happy Endings
  • Hawkman 7
  • Hood 5
  • Incredible Hulk 45
  • JSA 40
  • League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 3
  • Lucifer 30
  • New X-Men 132
  • Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta
  • Point Blank 2
  • Powers 23
  • Promethea 22
  • Punisher 16
  • Spider-Man: Blue 5
  • Superman 186
  • Thing: Freakshow 4
  • Transmetropolitan 60
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 26, 27
  • Ultimate X-Men 22
  • X-Men Unlimited 38
  • X-Statix 3
  • Y: The Last Man 3

September 2007

JLA/Hitman 1

Nearly a decade after the rather humorless ending to Ennis and McCrea’s Hitman series, it was a joy to spend more time with Tommy, Natt, and the gang. McCrea’s style is looser and more playful – looking like Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Strikes Back in places – and it’s nice to note that even a writer as cynical about super-heroes as Garth Ennis is still capable of grasping the aspirational appeal of Superman.

Hitman was a comic about a Hitman (Tommy Monaghan) who happened to live in the DC Super-Hero universe. Sure, he had super-powers, and – initially, at least – he’d bump into Batman here or Green Lantern there, but, once the comic hit its stride, the super-powered trappings of the book’s origins fell away pretty quickly.

This two-part story spins out of a single issue from the original series when Tommy spends a random evening helping Superman deal with a crisis of faith. The highlight of this issue is a brief confrontational conversation between Wonder Woman and Superman.

Superman attempts to explain to Wonder Woman how he and Tommy met, and what their conversation meant to him. Wonder Woman won’t have it, unable to accept that Tommy’s actions might trump his vocation.

Wonder Woman’s framing of her argument in warrior terms makes good sense, as does Superman’s insistence that he is not, in fact, a warrior. What he is, or at least what he sees himself to be, does as fine a job as anything I’ve seen to explain the difference between Superman and Wonder Woman, and what they might consider to be their Super Hero Mission Statements.

Other Notable Comics From September 2007

Batman 669

Grant Morrison and J.H. Williams III’s fantastic “Batman of Many Nations” storyline ends, and another piece in Morrison’s overall Batman epic in put in place.

Thor 3

Thor sat out Civil War, causing Iron Man to authorize the creation of “Clor,” a clone or Thor who was responsible for the death of Bill Foster. Finally, Thor confronts Iron Man, and Tony’s got some ‘splainin’ to do. Anyone who read Civil War and desperately wanted someone to beat the crap of Tony Stark should give this issue a look.

Other Comics I Read from September 2007

  • 100 Bullets 85
  • Action Comics 856
  • All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder 7
  • American Virgin 19
  • Astro City: Dark Age Book Two 4
  • Avengers: Initiative 6
  • Batman/Lobo 2
  • Black Adam 2
  • Booster Gold 2
  • Captain America 30
  • Casanova 9
  • Crossing Midnight 11
  • Daredevil 101
  • Daredevil: Battlin’ Jack Murdock 4
  • DMZ 23
  • Ex Machina 30
  • Exterminators 21
  • Faker 3
  • Flash 232
  • Green Arrow: Year One 5, 6
  • Green Lantern 23
  • Hellblazer 236
  • Immortal Iron Fist 9, Annual 1
  • Incredible Hulk 110
  • Infinity, Inc. 1
  • JSA 9
  • Madman Atomic Comics 4
  • New Avengers 34
  • Order 3
  • Programme 3
  • Punisher War Journal 11
  • Scalped 9
  • She-Hulk 21
  • Stormwatch PHD 11
  • Super-Villain Team-Up: Modak’s Eleven 3
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 113, 114
  • Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite 1
  • Uncanny X-Men 490
  • Walking Dead 42
  • World War Hulk 4
  • X-Factor 23
  • Y: The Last Man 58

September 2012

Happy 1

This four-issue series from Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson, seems to have been created on a dare or a bet. If you put your ear to the comic and listen closely you can hear a drunken Morrison arguing that anyone can crap out an ultra-violent story with a foul-mouthed anti-hero protagonist and just enough magical realism to sell it to Hollywood for big money. I’m not sure who called him on this (if you said it was the spirit of Mark Millar’s bank account, you’re probably not far from the truth) but away he went.

This first issue is mostly grim world building. Our story, such as it is: Nick Sax, a sad ex-cop who has turned to wetwork and alcohol (not necessarily in that order) gets shot, has a near-fatal heart attack, and hallucinates a blue cartoon unicorn while in the ambulance.

What makes it all work is the ridiculous character design of Happy, especially when set against the grim, dark filth of the world he occupies. Happy – who can only be seen or heard by Nick, of course – is trying to enlist him to help save a kidnapped little girl. Nick assumes the girl is as much a product of his dying brain as Happy, but the hook of the story is that she does exist, and Happy is her imaginary friend.

Eventually, Nick is on his feet, unsure if he’s actually alive or dead, unconscious or wandering about in a hallucinatory state, and we end our first issue with Happy’s upbeat mantra:

Ironic Twist/”Happy” Ending: the debut episode of Happy, starring Christopher Meloni as Nick Sax and Patton Freaking Oswalt as Happy, will air December 6 on the SyFy network.

Other Notable Comics From September 2012

Hawkeye 2

Matt Fraction and David Aja continue the best super hero comic of 2012.

Other Comics I Read from September 2012

  • Action Comics 0
  • Activity 8
  • Amazing Spider-Man 693, 694
  • American Vampire 31
  • American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares 4
  • Animal Man 0
  • Aquaman 0
  • Archer and Armstrong 2
  • Avengers 30
  • Avengers Academy 36
  • Avengers Assemble 7
  • Axe Cop: President of the World 3
  • Batman 0
  • Batman and Robin 0
  • Batman Incorporated 0
  • Captain America 17
  • Captain Marvel 4
  • Chew 28
  • Dancer 5
  • Daredevil 18
  • Defenders 10
  • Dr. Strange Season One
  • Fantastic Four 610
  • FF 22
  • Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE 0
  • Fury Max 6
  • Goon 42
  • Green Lantern 0
  • Green Lantern Corps 0
  • Harvest 2
  • Hellblazer 295
  • Hitgirl 3
  • Incredible Hulk 13, 14
  • Invincible 95
  • Invincible Iron Man 524, 525
  • Journey into Mystery 643, 644
  • Justice League 0
  • Justice League Dark 0
  • Manhattan Projects 6
  • Mars Attacks 4
  • Mighty Thor 19, 20
  • Mind MGMT 5
  • Near Death 11
  • New Avengers 30
  • Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm 1
  • Punisher 15, 16
  • Punk Rock Jesus 3
  • Revival 3
  • Spider-Men 5
  • Swamp Thing 0
  • Sweet Tooth 37
  • Thief of Thieves 8
  • Uncanny X-Men 18
  • Walking Dead 102
  • Winter Solider 10, 11
  • Wolverine and the X-Men 16, 17
  • Wonder Woman 0
  • X-Factor 243, 244

 


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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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