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.

December 1977

Avengers 169

When I was a kid comics rarely came out late. I didn’t know at the time that books that failed to ship by their solicited date were returnable – meaning, stores could only return unsold issues and get their money back if the book was late. So, to avoid the near occasion of late issues, editors would purchase “inventory” issues – done-in-one stories that would only see the light of day when the solicited story was running late. Of course, these stories were by definition bland and lifeless – they couldn’t change or advance any character, or even reference continuity.

In case you haven’t figure it out already, Avengers 169 – which was meant to be the third part of the Korvac Saga – was a dreaded inventory issue.

To be fair, this issue – which I’m pretty sure has never been reprinted – wasn’t terrible. It was reminiscent of a Justice League of America story – a five chapter tale with an intro and an epilogue sandwiching three chapters where the team split up to achieve three goals simultaneously (in this case, the “team” was Captain America, Iron Man, and Black Panther, so we got three short solo adventures).

Why no one thought to call in a fourth Avenger to look for that last bomb is as useless a question as why Beere went to the effort of building a battle suit, or bothered warning the Avengers about the bombs in the first place. But of course the Avengers succeed in retrieving the three bombs, only to learn it was it was all a ruse!

I continue to await What If Avengers Mansion Suffered a Blackout?, where we watch Beere slowly defrost for 15 pages, then Iron Man discovers too late that freezing causes his chest-plates to malfunction, and – like all good What If issues – we end with a panel of the Watcher crying as Earth explodes.

Other Notable Comics From December 1977

Cerebus 1

Who could have predicted that a seemingly one-note parody of Conan the Barbarian starring an aardvark (mis)named Cerebus would blossom into one of the most interesting and complex – at 300 issues, a true graphic *novel* – comic narratives of all time? The answer is no one. And – no matter what he says now – certainly not Dave Sim. (Sure, Sim kind of lost his mind about 2/3 of the way through, but High Society and Church and State still hold up.)

Other Comics I Read From December 1977

  • The Man from Atlantis 2
  • Nova 18
  • Spidey Super Stories 32

December 1982

Epic Illustrated 16

One of the great issues of Epic Illustrated, this one has no less than three stories illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith (one written by Archie Goodwin), as well as stories by Charles Vess, Rick Veitch, Marc Hempel, Denny O’Neil and Carl Potts. But the unexpected treat here is “Arnold the Isshurian” a short comedy piece written and illustrated by a young Dave Sim.

Other Comics I Read from December 1982

  • Alien Worlds 1
  • Avengers 229
  • Camelot 3000 3
  • Cerebus 45
  • Dreadstar 2
  • Ka-Zar 25
  • Kull 2
  • Marvel Fanfare 7
  • Marvel Team-Up 127
  • New Mutants 2
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 76

December 1987

Nexus 44

The main characters take a back seat this issue, as we follow tertiary character Kreed as his fights for his life against Duncan and Roberta, two bounty hunters who are reported to be “the best.”

This is just a great action sequence by Steve Rude. Layout is visually interesting and storytelling clear. There’s a lot to learn in these four panels.

Eventually Duncan gets close enough to inject Kreed with a paralyzing nerve toxin. Duncan and Roberta close in to collect their bounty.

And Kreed gets his action hero one-liner.

With Duncan down, and Roberta trapped in the open, Kreed is victorious.

Or is he?

Other Notable Comics From December 1987

Swamp Thing 71

This cover was my (and I imagine many North American’s) first exposure to the art of Dave McKean. I didn’t learn (or even know, as the signature is hard to decipher) his name until Black Orchid came out, but I have a vivid memory of looking at this cover and thinking, “Holy crap! Who drew that?”

The only thing I recall about the story inside is that John Constantine survives a plane crash by going into the bathroom and surrounding himself with a preposterous amount of seat cushions. Rather than consider whether this would work or not – I imagine it would work about as well as jumping up in the air just as a falling elevator hits the ground – I feel the need to point out that this is one of those scenes that could only really work in comic book form. If this were a film, we’d be forced to acknowledge how insane it is that all the other passengers just silently watched this strange blonde fellow as he wandered the plane gathering fifty seat cushions and stuffing them into the bathroom.

Other Comics I Read from December 1987

  • Alien Legion 3
  • Badger 35
  • Blood: A Tale 4
  • Captain Justice 2
  • Cerebus 105
  • Classic X-Men 20
  • Forever People 3
  • Grendel 15
  • Hellblazer 4
  • Incredible Hulk 342
  • Justice League International 12
  • Man of War 2
  • Marvel Fanfare 37
  • Question 14
  • Sonic Disruptors 4
  • Wasteland 4
  • The Weird 1

December 1992

Doom Patrol 63

The last Grant Morrison issue. Before we get into the story itself, we have to talk about that cover. Now, I’m a big Richard Case fan, but the figure work here is alarmingly off. Like, Rob Liefeld off.

This one just keeps on giving.

This one just keeps on giving.

Crazy Jane’s overly long legs can be ignored, if only because that was such a common trope of 90s comics, but where exactly do those legs come together? And for the sake of all that is holy, where is her waist? That’s gotta be the longest torso in the history of humanity.

This epilogue issue begins with Crazy Jane trapped in a world – seemingly our world – where her stories of Robot Men and Patrols of Doom get her promptly placed in an asylum.

But of course no one believes her, so – as they do – the Keysmiths destroy the Empire of Chairs.

As that is happening, we see that in the “real” world, Jane is undergoing electroconvulsive therapy, against the wishes of her primary care physician.

But this therapy appears to work, and Jane is set loose in the world. After a short period of time living a normal – but sad and empty – life, Jane disappears forever.

Cliff fulfills a promise, and the Mystery Coin remains a mystery.

Importantly, Cliff’s last words to Jane quote the first conversation they ever had, way back in Doom Patrol 19, Grant Morrison’s first issue.

And then, in perhaps the best last page of a comic series ever, we encounter a faith that may as well be Grant Morrison’s Mission Statement:

X-Factor 87

Peter David and Joe Quesada give a seminar in how to craft a series of counseling sessions into one of the best super-hero comics of all time.

1992 was a strange time for comics. Circulation has settled down to less than 100,000 readers per book, but – thanks to the speculator boom generated in the wake of the Death of Superman – certain titles could manage to sell ten times those numbers. No fools they, Marvel promptly relaunched their biggest franchises (i.e., Spider-Man and the X-Men) with new titles and multiple covers. The new X-Men 1 (bolstered by five interlocking covers) sold well over a million copies. Superstar artist Jim Lee got to hand pick his own team for the book. Uncanny X-men got second pick. Then Peter David was hired to assemble the table scraps into an All-New All-Different X-Factor!

And he did a great job. Three months into the relaunch, his “Island of Misfit Mutants” team was the only X-book I was still reading. This issue comes toward the end of his run, but it serves as a great character analysis of the team, with each member getting three pages with a therapist, allowing David to summarize his take on what drives each character.

No one questions that Quicksilver is a dick, but no one ever bothered to ask why. And, in one page, David not only answers that question, but does so in a manner such that every reader has to admit that if they were Quicksilver, they’d be a dick, too.

Strong Guy was the only character I was unfamiliar with at the beginning of David’s run. Having played him for comic relief the entire time, this was a haunting revelation.

Each character gets their day in court, and then Valerie Cooper – their government handler – demonstrates, perhaps too predictably, that she has no idea what drives each character.

The issue ends with one final revelation: the psychiatrist was Doc Samson. I always wondered why it was so important to mask this for the whole issue. I mean, did anyone really expect it to be Dr. Faustus or Moonstone?

Ookla trivia: this issue got name-dropped during the sermon at the center of the Ookla the Mok song “Welcome to the Con”:

LINK: (please create a hotlink so when people click on “Welcome to the Con” they are taken to
this URL): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_znSJ3KlY_c

Other Notable Comics From December 1992

Vertigo Preview 1

The first official publication of Vertigo Comics. Contains sample pages of the six existing titles that formed Vertigo (Sandman, Hellblazer, Doom Patrol, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and Shade the Changing Man) plus previews of brand new titles Death, Enigma, Sandman Mystery Theater, Mercy, Kid Eternity, Sebastian O, and Black Orchid.

Comics I Read from December 1992

  • Animal Man 56
  • Cerebus 165
  • Fast Forward 3
  • Flash 73
  • Gregory 2
  • Grendel: War Child 5
  • Hate 11
  • Hulk: Future Imperfect 1
  • Incredible Hulk 402
  • Ren and Stimpy Show 3
  • Sandman 46
  • Shade the Changing Man 32
  • Spectacular Spider-Man 197
  • Spider-Man 2099 4
  • Swamp Thing 128

December 1997

Flash 134

Having broken both of Wally West’s legs during their first storyline, Grant Morrison and Mark Millar took the opportunity to give original Flash Jay Garrick some much appreciated time in the spotlight. Golden Age Flash villain the Thinker is dying, and Jay is determined to save him. While searching for the Thinker’s Thinking Cap, Jay discovers that Johnny Thunder’s dementia is worse than he thought.

After many brief adventures (including a fascinatingly meta conversation with Wally West and Dick Grayson about the Golden, Silver, and Bronze ages of super-heroes), Jay let’s poor Johnny know that he lost his “dog,” and stumbles upon what he’s been looking for the entire time.

But sometimes even the Flash isn’t fast enough. By the time Jay rushes to the hospital, the Thinker has already expired. Jay uses the Thinking Cap to bring him back, with surprising results.

I really can’t recommend this issue enough. It’s one of the key “done in one” issues of the 90s, and arguably the highlight of Morrison and Millar’s collaboration. Morrison also uses this issue to very cleverly hide the first appearance of the new Johnny Thunder. Early in the issue, Johnny wonders where his Thunderbolt has gone. Later, Jay mentions losing Johnny’s pen while signing autographs. In between, we see this:

The child imaged there is Jakeem Williams, who – in JLA 28, published a year and a half later – realizes that the pen contains Johnny’s Thunderbolt, and takes on the mantle of Jakeem Thunder.

Preacher Special: Cassidy: Blood and Whiskey

This Cassidy solo adventure – which takes place well before he meets Jesse and Tulip – tells the story of his first encounter with another vampire.

Eventually, Cassidy’s loneliness overcomes his dislike of Eccarius, and they hang out a bit. Eccarius introduces Cassidy to a group of vampire-worshipping humans, and that goes about as well as you would expect.

After some brutal truth-telling, Cassidy and Eccarius begin to get along.

But Cassidy doesn’t take it well when he discovers that Eccarius is feeding off of his human worshippers.

Other Notable Comics From December 1997

Avengers 1

Heroes Return, and they brought George Perez back with them! Working with writer Kurt Busiek, Perez created a lengthy and satisfying run on the Avengers that was almost immediately forgotten after Brian Michael Bendis wedged Spider-Man and Wolverine onto the team.

 

 

 

 

JLA: Year One 2

This series – from Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn, and Barry Kitson – is a delight from beginning to end. Best bit of this issue is when the Flash tries to give Black Canary some fashion advice:

Other Comics I Read from December 1997

  • Captain America 2
  • Cerebus 225
  • Gog 1
  • Hellblazer 122
  • Hitman 23
  • Invisibles 13
  • Jinx 4
  • JLA 15
  • JLA: Paradise Lost 2
  • Longshot 1
  • Preacher 34
  • Prometheus 1
  • Scarecrow 1
  • Starman 39
  • Stormwatch 3
  • Superman Adventures 16
  • Transmetropolitan 6
  • Uncle Sam 2

December 2002

New X-Men 135

Always ahead of the curve, Grant Morrison was writing about the millennial urge to subvert expectations by questioning liberalism way back in 2002.

Kind-hearted, well-meaning Charles Xavier simply cannot imagine a world where children would reject his open-minded vision of the world. And Quentin Quire – who knows how to push all of Xavier’s buttons – is about to teach him a lesson.

And that Magneto/Guevara t-shirt is perfect.

And that Magneto/Guevara t-shirt is perfect.

Not knowing how to handle Quentin, Xavier consults some of his former students.

Interestingly, Wolverine – the only X-Men to join as an adult, and the character often presented as having the best connection with the youngest students – is flat-out wrong here. Quentin Quire isn’t just going through a phase, as all will learn to their detriment.

Punisher 19

Garth Ennis’ Marvel Knights Punisher run was kind of all over the place – bouncing wildly from the broadest possible humor to subtler emotional moments to genuine horror. This quieter issue was one of the best of the run.

In his and Steve Dillon’s initial 12-issue Punisher run, Ennis introduced Frank’s three neighbors, most notably the mousy Joan. When last they saw each other, Frank left her a large amount of money and a note that simply said, “Just go.”

Here we join a severely wounded Punisher stumbling across a farm house that happens to be owned by Joan. She patches Frank up and watches over him while he recovers.

Steve Dillon shows us that his perfect work with facial expressions expands beyond human faces.

And we once again see Joan’s character-defining lip-bite.

Yes, there’s lots of violence and mayhem – this is, after all, an issue of the Punisher – but the conversation between Frank and Joan is so much more interesting.

With the help of Joan and Frankie, Frank dispatches of his enemies. Eventually, Frank is fully healed, and Joan tells him what he needs to hear.

Other Comics I Read from December 2002

  • Alias 17
  • Amazing Spider-Man 48
  • Automatic Kafka 6
  • Avengers 61, 62
  • Batman 607
  • Captain America 7
  • Daredevil 40
  • Elektra 18, 19
  • Fantastic Four 64
  • Fight for Tomorrow 4
  • Filth 7
  • Flash 193
  • Global Frequency 3
  • Gotham Central 1, 2
  • Hate Annual 3
  • Hawkman 10
  • Hellblazer 179
  • Hellblazer: Lady Constantine 1
  • Incredible Hulk 48
  • JLA/JSA: Vice and Virtue
  • JSA 43
  • Lucifer 33
  • Mek 2
  • Point Blank 5
  • Powers 26
  • Promethea 24
  • Total Sell Out
  • Truth: Red, White, and Black 2
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 32, 33
  • Ultimate War 1
  • Ultimate X-Men 26
  • Vertigo Pop: London 2
  • War Stories: J for Jenny
  • X-Statix 6
  • Y: The Last Man 6
  • Zero Girl: Full Circle 2

December 2007

Pax Romana 1

I really expected Jonathan Hickman to revolutionize comics. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved the books he’s created and written in the last decade, but I miss his art. His graphic design sense – making every comic page poster-worthy while still telling a story – is much missed.

This is one of Hickman’s earlier works. Basically, it’s your run of the mill “What if the Catholic Church got hold of time travel technology and used it to guarantee that they never lost control of political power in Europe” stories.

The secret to time travel:

The Church sends a group of scientists and mercenaries into the past

…never considering that the mercenaries might have ideas of their own

And we’re ready for the real story to begin.

Other Comics I Read from December 2007

  • Action Comics 860
  • American Virgin 22
  • Avengers: Initiative 8
  • Batman 672
  • Black Adam 5
  • Booster Gold 5
  • Brave and the Bold 9
  • Captain America 33
  • Crime Bible: The Five Lessons 3
  • Crossing Midnight 14
  • Daredevil 103
  • DMZ 26
  • Ex Machina 33
  • Exterminators 24
  • Faker 6
  • Fantastic Four: Isle de la Muerte
  • Flash 233
  • Green Lantern 26
  • Green Lantern Corps 19
  • Hate Annual 7
  • Hellblazer 239
  • House of M: Avengers 2, 3
  • Hulk vs. Fin Fang Foom
  • Immortal Iron Fist 12
  • Invincible 47
  • Justice Society of America 12
  • Loveless 21
  • Migthy Avengers 6
  • New Avengers 37
  • Northlanders 1
  • Order 6
  • Powers 28, 29
  • Programme 6
  • Punisher 53
  • Punisher War Journal 14
  • Runaways 29
  • Scalped 12
  • She-Hulk 24
  • Special Forces 2
  • Thor 6
  • Ultimate Power 9
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 117
  • Ultimates 3 1
  • Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite 4
  • Uncanny X-Men 493
  • Walking Dead 45
  • World War Hulk: Aftersmash: Warbound 1
  • X-Factor 26

December 2012

Hawkeye 6

Come on, just look at this page!

If that isn’t among the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen, you don’t love comics.

And if this exchange between Clint and a neighbor doesn’t make you smile, you’ve lost the capacity to experience joy.

The Tracksuit Bros are back!

And Clint gets his ass kicked.

The Bros inform Clint that if he doesn’t get out of Dodge, people will get hurt. But as he’s preparing to leave, he has a conversation with his conscience.

And you can probably figure out how the story ends for yourself.

Other Comics I Read from December 2012

  • Action Comics 15
  • Activity 10
  • All-New X-Men 3, 4
  • Amazing Spider-Man 699, 700
  • Animal Man 15
  • Archer and Armstrong 4
  • Aquaman 15
  • Avengers 1
  • Avengers Arena 1
  • Avengers Assemble 10
  • Batman 15
  • Batman and Robin 15
  • Blackacre 1
  • Captain Marvel 8
  • Daredevil 21
  • Daredevil: End of Days 3
  • Fantastic Four 2
  • FF 2
  • Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE 15
  • Fury Max 7
  • Great Pacific 2
  • Green Lantern 15
  • Green Lantern Corps 15
  • Happy 3
  • Hellblazer 298
  • House of Fun 1
  • Indestructible Hulk 2
  • Invincible 98
  • Iron Man 3, 4
  • Justice League 15
  • Legend of Luther Strode 2
  • Mara 1
  • Nowhere Men 2
  • Punisher: War Zone 3
  • Saga 8
  • Secret Service 4
  • Swamp Thing 15
  • Sweet Tooth 40
  • Thief of Thieves 11
  • Thor: God of Thunder 3
  • Walking Dead 105
  • Where is Jake Ellis? 2
  • Winter Soldier 13
  • Wolverine and the X-Men 22
  • Wonder Woman 15
  • X-Factor 248, 249
[su_signoff]
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About Author

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. Rand is like the Internet, except he smells nice.

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