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.

January 1978

Marvel Team-Up 68

This issue: Spider-Man gets laid!

The good news is that Peter can finally stop touching his Man-Thing, but the bad news is that he may have opened himself up to a whole new world of fear and burning.

Other Comics I Read From January 1978

  • Avengers 170
  • Black Lightning 8
  • Devil Dinosaur 1
  • Invaders 27
  • Machine Man 1
  • Spidey Super Stories 33
  • Superman 322

January 1983

Captain America 280

Over the last year or so, I’ve really found myself missing J. M. DeMatteis’ characterization of Captain America. The main story this issue involves the Scarecrow – and it has moments of genuine horror and sorrow – but my favorite scene is when Cap confronts The Coalition for an Upstanding America, who have been using his image on their MAGA posters.

Cap demands that they stop using him to promote their organization:

Of course he is well within his rights as they are using his image without permission – but more importantly to Cap, they are using him to pit Americans against each other, something he could never tolerate, as he represents all Americans.

“Mister, we could use a man like Steven Rogers again.”

Other Comics I Read from January 1983

  • Amazing Spider-Man 239
  • Avengers 230
  • Camelot 3000 4
  • Cerebus 46
  • King Conan 16
  • Marvel Team-Up 128
  • New Mutants 3
  • Obnoxio the Clown vs. the X-Men
  • Twisted Tales 2
  • Uncanny X-Men 168
  • What If 38

January 1988

Nexus 45

In the mid to late 80s, First Comics was the closest competition Marvel and DC had, and two of their biggest books were Nexus and Badger, both of which were written by Mike Baron. On three occasions Badger crossed over with Nexus (Nexus 5-8, 23, and 45-50) and these are some of the best issues of either book. This was the first issue the final – and most well-known – crossover.

One of my favorite aspects of these crossovers is the mysterious nature of them. Badger just kind of shows up – neither the reader nor the characters know how or why he’s there (Badger and Nexus clearly occupy separate worlds, if not entire universes and timelines). Badger takes everything in stride, and Nexus is the unwilling straight man to his antics. Nexus’ friend Judah occupies the space between the two, not entirely trusting Badger, but seeing his potential utility on their quest.

All of the Nexus-Badger crossover tales take place on a “bowl-shaped world.” This – and some of the world’s native populations – creates some difficulty in landing their ship.

Ever the pragmatist, Judah uses Badger to test the edibility of the world’s creatures.

And, in a brilliant series of panels, artist Steve Rude uses Looney Tunes physics to demonstrate the rapidity and violence of Judah’s food poisoning.

Other Comics I Read from January 1988

  • Badger 36
  • Cerebus 106
  • Classic X-Men 21
  • Dreadstar 36
  • Forever People 4
  • Hellblazer 5
  • Incredible Hulk 343
  • Justice League International 13
  • Martian Manhunter 1
  • Punisher 8
  • Question 15
  • Swamp Thing 72
  • Wasteland 5
  • The Weird 2

January 1993

Enigma 1

Enigma is one of the unsung masterpieces of comic art. Originally solicited by Touchmark, a line of adult-themed comics to be published by Disney, it (along with Grant Morrison’s Sebastian O and J.M. DeMatteis’ Mercy) was scooped up by DC’s fledgling Vertigo imprint when Touchmark failed to launch.

Written by Peter Milligan and illustrated by Duncan Fegredo (the first of several excellent collaborations between the two) this is a meta-narrative that (depending on your point of view) either uses super-heroic dual identities as a metaphor for coming out or uses closeted homosexuality as a metaphor for secret identities. And there are lots of lizards – that’s important, too.

The story and characters are interesting, there’s plenty of satisfying plot twists and turns, and the art is great throughout – including fantastic color work by Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh, who used the European process of “blue-line” coloring, where the artist paints directly onto special copies of the artwork, which was then placed over the original black and white art and photographed.

But my favorite aspect of the book is the narrative style. Sounding for all the world like poet/novelist Richard Brautigan, Milligan’s narrative voice is entertainingly sardonic. Check out the very first page of the book:

Later in the issue the narrator uses an asterisk as a textual footnote, and simultaneously as a scene-transition for the art – something that could only happen in a comic, yet also a technique I have never seen employed outside of this page:

As you may have guessed, one of the reasons this book isn’t better known is that it’s hard to describe, let alone sell. There’s a lot going on at every level. But make no mistake, this is Peter Milligan’s masterpiece.

Comics I Read from January 1993

  • AI 4
  • Animal Man 57
  • Cerebus 166
  • Clive Barker’s Hellraiser 20
  • Death: The High Cost of Living 1
  • Flash 74
  • Grendel: War Child 6
  • Hellblazer 63
  • Hulk: Future Imperfect 2
  • Incredible Hulk 403
  • Ren and Stimpy Show 4
  • Sandman 47
  • Shade the Changing Man 33
  • Spectacular Spider-Man 198
  • Spider-Man 2099 5
  • Swamp Thing 129
  • X-Factor 88

January 1998

Preacher: One Man’s War

This one shot special is essentially Herr Starr Year One. We open with a young Klaus Starr leading a rescue team against a group of terrorists who have hijacked a plane. The mission is successful, but a stray bullet kills a young girl who was on board the plane:

Starr’s actions – as well as his apparent disgust at the loss of innocent life – convince Brendal Hauptmann to recruit Starr into the Grail, a clandestine organization devoted to protecting the bloodline of Jesus. Starr is eager to join, and more eager to impress. His utility to the Grail seems to blind everyone he encounters to the obvious fact that he is a sociopath. Eventually he rises high enough in the organization’s ranks to be introduced to Jesus’ 20th century prodigy. Once Starr learns that the Grail’s 2000 year old plan for the Second Coming included forcing Jesus’ scions to mate with one another (this effort to avoid diluting the Holy bloodline results in a very “special” savoir) Starr makes his move.

Finally, Starr makes it clear that he and Hauptmann’s saw two very different things on the night they met.

Other Comics I Read from January 1998

  • Avengers 2
  • Captain America 3
  • Cerebus 226
  • Flash 135
  • Hate 29
  • Hellblazer 123
  • Hitman 24
  • JLA 16
  • JLA: Paradise Lost 3
  • JLA: Year One 3
  • Kurt Busiek’s Astro City 12
  • Mage 5
  • Preacher 35
  • Starman 40
  • Swamp Thing: Roots
  • Transmetropolitan 7

January 2003

Invincible 1

Oddly fitting that we’re looking at the first issue of Invincible the same month that last issue (144) comes out. Kind of hard to believe I stayed with this one to the end. It almost lost me twenty or so issues in, but I’m glad I stuck it out.

The initial concept is pretty simple: What if Superman’s teenage kid finally developed super-powers. Of course, the real story is much more complex (and has some really satisfying – and entirely unexpected –
twists and turns along the way) but for now let’s bask in the simplicity of the first issue.

This scene – from the middle of the issue – communicates the initial tone of the comic pretty well: loose, fun, playful. Our lead character (Mark/Invincible) lets his super-powered father (Nolan/Omni-Man) and his “normal” mother (Deborah/Debbie) know that his powers are finally kicking in. No need for a secret identity when you’re Invincible. The darkness and violence that would come to define the book is nowhere to be found here.

One of my favorite moments in the whole series is the mundane way that Mark finds out he has super-powers:

This is a great observation about the nature of super-strength – that it’s not a matter of exerting more power than usual. Regular body movements would simply result in fantastic feats of strength. A fantastic idea from Robert Kirkman that is perfectly illustrated by Cory Walker.

And, of course, Nolan responds to Mark’s newfound powers by hooking him up with his costumer, and eventually Mark comes up with a super-heroic nom de guerre ready made for word play:

Other Comics I Read from January 2003

  • 10 Bullets 41
  • Alias 18
  • Amazing Spider-Man 49
  • Avengers 63
  • Batman 611
  • Captain America 8
  • Catwoman 15
  • Daredevil 41, 42
  • Detective Comics 778
  • Dork 5
  • Elektra 20
  • Fantastic Four 65
  • Fight for Tomorrow 5
  • Filth 8
  • Flash 194
  • Global Frequency 4
  • Gotham Central 3
  • Hawkman 11
  • Hellblazer 180
  • Hellblazer: Lady Constantine 2
  • Hulk/Wolverine: Six Hours 1, 2
  • Incredible Hulk 49
  • JSA 44
  • Lucifer 34
  • Mek 3
  • New X-Men 136
  • Powers 27
  • Punisher 21
  • Sleeper 1
  • Truth: Red, White, and Black 3
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 34, 35
  • Ultimate War 3
  • Ultimate X-Men 27, 28
  • Unstable Molecules 1
  • Vertigo Pop: London 3
  • War Stories: Condors
  • X-Statix 7
  • Y: The Last Man 7
  • Zero Girl: Full Circle 3

January 2008

Y: The Last Man 60

This, the last issue of this highly regarded series, had a lot to live up to – and it totally stuck the landing. If you haven’t read Y, I suggest you give it a try – you’ll know by the end of the first issue is you’re on board or not. I don’t want to spoil too much, so I’m going to focus on a particularly powerful emotional moment:

The players here are a visible older Yorick Brown and Ampersand the monkey.

As Yorick’s brief anecdote hints at – and the entire series demonstrates over and over again – Ampersand was a less than helpful helper monkey.

Alas.

Other Comics I Read from January 2008

  • 100 Bullets 87
  • Action Comics 861
  • Amazing Spider-Man 546-548
  • American Virgin 23
  • Astonishing X-Men 24
  • Avengers: Initiative 9
  • Batman 673
  • Black Adam 6
  • Booster Gold 6
  • Captain America 34
  • Crime Bible: The Five Lessons 4
  • Crossing Midnight 15
  • Daredevil 104
  • DMZ 27
  • Exterminators 25
  • Fell 9
  • Flash 236
  • Goon 20
  • Green Lantern 27
  • Green Lantern Corps 20
  • Hellblazer 240
  • House of M: Avengers 4
  • Incredible Hercules 113
  • Infinity, Inc. 5
  • Marvel Zombies 2 4
  • Migthy Avengers 7, 8
  • New Avengers Annual 2
  • Nightwing 140
  • Northlanders 2
  • Order 7
  • Programme 7
  • Punisher 54
  • Punisher War Journal 15
  • Scalped 13
  • She-Hulk 25
  • Thunderbolts 118
  • Ultimate Human 1
  • Ultimate Secrets 1
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 118
  • Ultimates 3 2
  • Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite 5
  • Uncanny X-Men 494
  • World War Hulk: Aftersmash: Warbound 2
  • X-Factor 27
  • Young Avengers Presents 1

January 2013

Batman and Robin Annual 1

This adorable annual shows Damian’s softer side, as he sends his father on a sentimental wild-goose chase.

Of course, Damian isn’t *that* soft, as it is quickly revealed that he is not in London at all – and, in fact, the entire trip was designed to get Bruce out of Gotham, so Damian can play Batman.

As Bruce is lead around Europe by Damian’s videotaped messages, he learns things about his parents he never knew.

The story alternates between action sequences featuring Damian – with criminals and police alike wondering why Batman is so short – and scenes of Bruce following Damian on a trip through his parent’s past.

But of course, Bruce figures it all out.

And the best part of the whole story is the revelation that Dick Grayson used to go out dressed up as Batman when he was ten years old.

Other Comics I Read from January 2013

  • Action Comics 16
  • Activity 11
  • All-New X-Men 5, 6
  • American Vampire 34
  • Animal Man 16
  • Archer and Armstrong 5
  • Aquaman 16
  • Avengers 3, 4
  • Avengers Assemble 11
  • Batman 16
  • Batman and Robin 16
  • Batman Incorporated 6, 7
  • Blackacre 2
  • Captain Marvel 9
  • Change 2
  • Chew 31
  • Comeback 3
  • Daredevil 22
  • Daredevil: End of Days 4
  • End Times of Bram and Ben 1
  • Fantastic Four 3
  • Fatale 11
  • FF 3
  • Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE 16
  • Fury Max 8
  • Great Pacific 3
  • Green Lantern 16
  • Green Lantern Corps 16
  • Green Lantern Corps Annual 1
  • Hawkeye 7
  • Hellblazer 299
  • Indestructible Hulk 3
  • Infinite Vacation 5
  • Invincible 99, 100
  • Iron Man 5
  • Justice League 16
  • Legend of Luther Strode 3
  • Manhattan Projects 8
  • Mara 2
  • New Avengers 1, 2
  • Nowhere Men 3
  • Punisher: Nightmare 1-5
  • Punisher: War Zone 4
  • Punk Rock Jesus 6
  • Revival 6
  • Saga 9
  • Secret Service 5
  • Superior Spider-Man 1, 2
  • Swamp Thing 16
  • Thor: God of Thunder 4
  • Walking Dead 106
  • Winter Soldier 14
  • Wolverine and the X-Men 23, 24
  • Wonder Woman 16
  • X-Factor 250
  • Young Avengers 1

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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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