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.

April 1978

Avengers 173

I’m not sure why, but this whole “The Avengers are mysteriously disappearing one by one” storyline really appealed to me as a child. Part of it was the mystery, but I think it was also the fact that teleportation resistance wasn’t a part of any super-hero’s power-set. There was no way to prevent this sort of attack and no one was safe.

After bubbling under the surface for several issues – it started way back in Avengers 168 when the Two-Gun Kid, who vanished while Hawkeye was talking to him – the story finally takes center stage this issue, as the remaining Avengers devote their full attention to figuring out what is happening and how they might stop it. They consult with several Avengers-adjacent heroes (Captain and Ms. Marvel, Jocasta, etc.) to no avail. Eventually, Black Panther gets an idea:

And, because dramatic timing is so damn easy in comics:

I admit that even at nine years old, it annoyed me a bit that – after milking this plotline for nearly half a year – things came to a head so abruptly. That’s four (half of the remaining eight) Avengers disappearing in the space of three panels!

But Black Panther’s parting counsel was sound, and – using the advanced technology of the Guardians of the Galaxy – the remaining four Avengers discover that they were, in fact, being collected by the Collector.

Just in time, too, as they were nearly out of pages.

Other Comics I Read From April 1978

  • Captain America 223
  • Captain Marvel 57
  • Cerebus 3
  • Defenders 61
  • Fantastic Four 196
  • Incredible Hulk 225
  • Marvel Team-Up 71
  • Monster Hunters 15
  • Peter Park the Spectacular Spider-Man 20
  • Scary Tales 15
  • Star Wars 13
  • Thor 273

April 1983

Ronin 1

I was 14 years old when Ronin came out, and – having read his Daredevil run – was already a huge Frank Miller fan. I have a very distinct memory of thinking two things as I read each issue: I’m not old enough to be reading this, and I am so smart because I totally get this, even though I’m not old enough to be reading this.

I was also too young to have absorbed the many films, novels, and comics (I’m looking at you, Moebius) that had such a profound influence on Ronin. So, for about a year, I thought Frank Miller’s genius was unparalleled in human history.

And it remains true that Ronin presents a complex and nuanced story, even to a mature adult. The simple fact that Ronin featured all-new characters in an all-new world, and the story was designed to have a beginning and an end was oddly fresh territory for American comics at the time. And evidence for the story’s complexity can be found in the fact that while the main plot of Ronin takes place in a dystopian future, most of the first issue is devoted to the distant past, as we follow a young Samurai who has pledged his life to defend his master. This, it turns out, is a rough gig, as the master is in possession of a very special sword:

After they stave off an attack from Agat’s minions, the Samurai notes that his master’s sword drinks the blood of those it has slain.

Of course the Samurai fails to protect his master – otherwise the comic would be called Samurai. In an attempt to regain his honor, the Samurai prepares to commit Seppuku, but is stopped by the spirit of his master.

So, the young Samurai becomes a young Ronin – a masterless Samurai – and roams the earth, carrying his master’s sword with him.

We next see him as an older man. He saves the life of a young woman and her son. While he feeds them he tells her that he is in this town because he has learned that Agat lives here, and he has come to kill him.

After defeating Agat’s guards, he and Agat battle:

When I first read this, I was worried that he had killed the baby to “prepare” the sword, so didn’t see this coming:

And all of that is just a prelude for our real story, which – as previously mentioned – takes place in the distant future, and involves the Ronin taking over the body of a man with no arms or legs. No, really. Well, okay, it’s possible that the limbless man created the Ronin with his mind — with the help of a sentient computer — and used the Ronin’s narrative to power his own revenge fantasies. (If you were born without arms and legs, wouldn’t you fantasize about being a dude with a magic sword who ran around hacking the arms and legs off of bad people?)

Comics I Read From April 1983

  • Avengers 233
  • Camelot 3000 6
  • Cerebus 49
  • Dreadstar 4
  • Green Arrow 3
  • Hulk Annual 12
  • Iron Man 172
  • Killraven GN
  • Marvel Fanfare 9
  • Marvel Team-Up 131
  • Omega Men 4
  • Twisted Tales 3
  • Uncanny X-Men 171

April 1988

Miracleman 14

Marvel/Miracleman is justly famous for being Alan Moore’s first “important” super-hero statement. It may be a bit overwritten by current standards, but it is most certainly a great story well told, and is deserving of praise. But I have come not to exegete Alan Moore’s writing, but rather to praise the art of John Totleben.

The plot of this issue is essentially, “Holy Shit, Kid Miracleman is back!” The story is framed by images –
and suitably poetic accompanying text – of Miracleman dancing. One of my favorite Elvis Costello lines is “She looked like she learned to dance from a series of still pictures.” Which is a very clever way of saying that the task of communicating dancing with a pencil and ink is not an easy one.

But Totleben is no ordinary visual artist.

I mean, look at this.

Note how the movement is full of grace, but also sorrow.

You can animate from these cells.

I love the power communicated in the physical explosion from the balled up figure to the fully outstretched one.

Such elegant work. And the surface is as impressive as the figure work. Unparalleled, I think, in the history of comics.

But – as the very next issue will make all too clear – Totleben is also revered as a horror artist. This simple sequence is one of the most effecting (and horrific) scenes I’ve ever read.

Kid Miracleman has finally been freed from the mind of young Johnny Bates. He wastes no time in killing all those around him.

The power that he has over the nurse (we know that there is nothing she can do but hope he shows her mercy) is made clear – and somehow more frightening – by his moment of kindness.

And then we learn that it was truly only a moment of kindness.

Tune in next issue for the original “What would really happen to a major metropolitan area if two beings with the power of Superman fought each other?” story.

Other Comics I Read from April 1988

  • Badger 38, 39
  • Black Panther 2
  • Cerebus 109
  • Concrete 7
  • Crossroads 2
  • Hand of Fate 3
  • Hellblazer 8
  • Incredible Hulk 346
  • Justice League International 16
  • Martian Manhunter 4
  • Marvel Fanfare 39
  • Nexus 47, 48
  • Phantom 3
  • Phaze 1
  • Punisher 10
  • Question 18
  • Sonic Disruptors 7
  • Swamp Thing 75
  • Wasteland 8
  • Web of Spider-Man 41
  • What The? 1

April 1993

Hellblazer 66

As the cover tries to warn you, Constantine spends most of this issue tied to a chair.

Patterson is your typical caricature of a rich white racist. They’re so easy to hate, and they make great antagonists, especially when your protagonist is a lot more anti than hero most days.

Having read this when it came out a quarter century ago, it makes me more than a little sad to note that it could have been written just as honestly and convincingly yesterday.

His gloating complete, Patterson lets Constantine go, which is never a good idea, really. But sometimes, things happen that no one can plan for.

And then, Garth Ennis does an amazing thing. He rubs Constantine’s face in his own ignorance.

Sure, he had a plan. We all have a plan. And when we’re middle class and white, that plan is often a long and complex one. Because we can afford to be patient. But, in a moment of unexpected violence, Constantine learns that not everyone has that privilege.

Comics I Read from April 1993

  • Animal Man 60
  • Atom Special 1
  • Cerebus 169
  • Concrete: Eclectica 1
  • Enigma 4
  • Fight Man 1
  • Flash 77
  • Grendel: War Child 9
  • Incredible Hulk 406
  • Peepshow 4
  • Sandman 50
  • Sandman Mystery Theater 3
  • Sebastian O 1
  • Shade the Changing Man 36
  • Spectacular Spider-Man 201
  • Swamp Thing 132
  • Vertigo Visions: The Geek
  • Yummy Fur 30

April 1998

Flash 138

When last we left Flash, he was racing against Krakkl, his imaginary friend, with the fate of both of their worlds on the line. Knowing that even if he wins – and even if he can live with knowing that he was responsible for the death of his friend’s entire world – he’s only going to be made to race again and again until he finally loses, Wally decides to change the rules.

So, off he goes. As he’s running, in the time between pico-seconds, Krakkl offers his speed (and life force) to Wally.

I’m not crying, you’re crying…

Then, in a moment for the Silver Ages, we see that Flash’s plan involves using the speed of everyone on earth. Literally, during the seconds it takes him to race home, everyone on earth is running and offering their speed to Wally. Through the Speed Force, that’s how. You shut up!

So, of course Flash wins the race.

…and finds a way to save Krakkl’s world, as well!

Other Comics I Read from April 1998

  • Avengers 5
  • Big Book of Bad
  • Captain America 6
  • Cerebus 229
  • Gangland 1
  • Hellblazer 126
  • Hitman 27
  • Invisibles 16
  • Jinx: Buried Treasures
  • JLA 19
  • JLA: Tomorrow Woman
  • JLA: Year One 6
  • Kurt Busiek’s Astro City 14
  • Preacher 38
  • Red Rocket 7 6
  • Starman 43
  • Starman: The Mist
  • Stormwatch 6
  • Transmetropolitan 10
  • Wonder Woman: Donna Troy

April 2003

Runaways 1

Brian K. Vaughan is one of those writers who brings his A-game to his creator owned properties, and kind of slums it when writing for Marvel or DC. But Runaways seems to be the notable exception. I would guess that this is because – unlike most work-for-hire writing – Vaughan found a way to play in Marvel’s sandbox with his own toys. In other words, if he seems more invested in these characters than he did in Mystique or Green Lantern, it’s probably because he created them.

The story is pretty a simple one: What if you discovered that those boring dinner parties that your parents have with those other couples – forcing you to spend time with all of their annoying children – were actually secret super-hero meetings?

Then again…

What if they were secret super-villain meetings?

And super-villains aren’t really known for leaving witnesses, are they?

Other Comics I Read from April 2003

  • 100 Bullets 43
  • 411 1
  • Alias 21
  • Amazing Spider-Man 52
  • Astro City: Local Heroes 2
  • Automatic Kafka 8
  • Avengers 66
  • Batman 614
  • Blood and Water 2
  • Captain America 12
  • Catwoman 18
  • Daredevil 46
  • Detective Comics 781
  • Elektra 21, 22
  • Fantastic Four 68
  • Filth 10
  • Flash 197
  • Global Frequency 7
  • Gotham Central 6
  • Hawkman 14
  • Hellblazer 183
  • Incredible Hulk 52, 53
  • Invincible 4
  • JSA 47
  • Louis Reil 10
  • Lucifer 37
  • Mystique 1
  • New X-Men 139, 140
  • Orbiter
  • Powers 31
  • Punisher 24, 25
  • Sleeper 4
  • Spidey and the Mini-Marvels 1
  • Superman: Red Son 1
  • Tom Strong 20
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 39
  • Ultimate X-Men 32
  • X-Statix 10
  • Y: The Last Man 10

April 2008

Big Amoeba

If you’re not familiar with Art Baltazar, you’re missing out on some of the most charming comics ever produced. Art is mostly known (along with co-writer Franco) for writing and illustrating comics aimed at children: Superman Family Adventures, Tiny Titans, other “little” versions of famous properties (Little Archie, Li’l Battlestar Galactica, Itty Bitty Hellboy), Aw Yeah Comics, and Patrick the Wolf Boy being some of the better known of his many creations.

One of his least known (and most charming) works is the stand-alone graphic novel Big Amoeba. While it is certainly appropriate for children, this one is aimed at adults and falls into the category of romantic comedy. In fact, it’s a vaguely fictionalized version of how Art met his wife.

The story begins with Art complaining to friend and collaborator Franco that he’s tired of being an unknown comic book artist.

He soon hatches a plan to launch his own comic book awards, the Big Amoebas!

Sometime later, Art is approached by a stranger at a diner who recognizes him as a comic book creator.

Much later, Art shows the Big Amoeba ballot to Franco:

What Art doesn’t tell Franco is that he also made the editor up so that he could rig the election, and give himself all the major awards.

Art’s plan is going off without a hitch, until his mysterious admirer shows up to support him.

Art feels tremendous guilt, and is unsure what to do.

Of course, he does the right thing, which is this case involves only counting the actual ballots that were submitted.

In a neat twist, he manages to nab three Big Amoebas (including Best Inker) anyway. So the story ends with Art not only gets the girl, but also getting the recognition he was seeking, as well!

X-Men: Divided We Stand 1

This short story from writer Matt Fraction and illustrator Jamie McKelvie is one of the better Nightcrawler pieces I’ve read. It’s a pretty simple story. Scalphunter (I know…) is lying low in the middle of nowhere, working as a short order cook, and hoping to stay under the radar. Nightcrawler finds him, realizes that he is, in fact, only a clone of Scalphunter (really, I know…), and leaves him be, advising him to make things right with God on his own terms.

Like I said, a pretty simple story, but the execution is fantastic.

It would appear that Scalphunter… (hold on, I’m going to look up his real name, so I can stop typing the word Scalphunter) John Greycrow found a good place to lay low, as this priest is the only customer that ever bothers to enter the diner he works at. All poor John is looking for is some peace and quiet, and his only customer likes to talk quite a bit.

Of course, the priest is talking about more than food and art.

Later that night, John is surprised by Nightcrawler, who – in case you didn’t already figure it out – is also the priest.

Then, just like a plate of migas, Kurt combines all the metaphors into one delicious monologue, and brings it all home.

Kurt leaves John with some parting words of grace, and we next we see John, he is wearing a necklace we hadn’t seen before.

Other Comics I Read from April 2008

  • 100 Bullets 90
  • Action Comics 864
  • All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder 10
  • Amazing Spider-Man 555-557
  • Avengers Classic 11
  • Avengers: The Initiative 11, 12
  • Batman 676
  • Booster Gold 8
  • Brave and the Bold 12
  • Captain America 37
  • Cassanova 13
  • Criminal 3
  • Crossing Midnight 18
  • DC Universe 0
  • DMZ 30
  • Ex Machina 36
  • Exterminators 28
  • Fantastic Four 556
  • Ghost Rider 22
  • Goon 23
  • Green Lantern 30
  • Green Lantern Corps 23
  • Hellblazer 243
  • Hulk vs. Hercules: When Titans Collide
  • Immortal Iron Fist 14
  • Incredible Hercules 116
  • Infinity, Inc. 8
  • JSA 15
  • Kick-Ass 3
  • Logan 2
  • Loveless 24
  • Mighty Avengers 12
  • New Avengers 40
  • Nightwing 143
  • Northlanders 5
  • Order 10
  • Powers Annual 1
  • Programme 10
  • Punisher 56
  • Punisher War Journal 18
  • Scalped 16
  • Secret Invasion 1
  • She-Hulk 28
  • Thor 8
  • Thor: Ages of Thunder
  • Tiny Titans 3
  • Ultimate Human 4
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 121
  • Ultimates 3 5
  • Uncanny X-Men 497
  • Walking Dead 48
  • War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle 2
  • Wolverine 64
  • World War Hulk Aftersmash: Warbound 5
  • X-Factor 30

April 2013

Daredevil 25

For all the praise it received, it seems that Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s Daredevil was still a bit underrated. The decision to take Daredevil back to his “Devi May Care” roots was remarkably bold – the book had been consistently morose and noir ever since Frank Miller defining seventies run – and the execution of this lighter tone was wildly successful. But, regardless of the tone, Daredevil has always been an action-adventure book at heart, so light-hearted or not, Waid and Samnee provided some harrowing moments, this issue being a particular highlight.

Daredevil finds himself confronting a stronger, faster version of himself – a blind (and similarly powered) assassin.

They fight for a very long time, and Daredevil seems more worn out than his sparring partner. In a desperate attempt to end the battle, Daredevil lures his combatant into a store and sets off the alarm and sprinkler system, effectively shutting off their hearing and radar sense. His assumption is that since he has had more years to adjust to blindness, he would have the advantage. Then, the unexpected:

Creepiest use of those four words ever. And Daredevil figures it all out a little too late.

But of course, Ikari let’s Matt live, if only so Mark Waid can write yet another perfect next issue blurb.

Other Comics I Read from April 2013

  • Action Comics 19
  • Age of Ultron 4-6
  • All-New X-Men 10
  • Animal Man 19
  • Aquaman 19
  • Archer and Armstrong 9
  • Avengers 9, 10
  • Batman 19
  • Batman and Robin 19
  • Batman Incorporated 10
  • Bedlam 6
  • Blackacre 5
  • Captain Marvel 12
  • Chew 33
  • Daredevil: End of Days 7
  • East of West 2
  • End Times of Bram and Ben 4
  • Fantastic Four 6, 7
  • FF 6
  • Five Weapons 3
  • Fury Max 11
  • Garth Ennis’ Battlefields 6
  • Great Pacific 6
  • Green Arrow 19
  • Green Lantern 19
  • Green Lantern Corps 19
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2
  • Hawkeye 9
  • Indestructible Hulk 6
  • Invincible 102
  • Iron Man 8
  • Jupiter’s Legacy 1
  • Justice League 19
  • Justice League Dark 19
  • Justice League of America 3
  • Manhattan Projects 11
  • Mara 4
  • New Avengers 5
  • Polarity 1
  • Red Team 3
  • Revival 9
  • Saga 12
  • Secret Service 6
  • Snapshot 3
  • Snow Angel
  • Superior Spider-Man 7, 8
  • Thanos Rising 1
  • Thief of Thieves 13
  • Thor: God of Thunder 7
  • Uncanny X-Men 4, 5
  • Walking Dead 109
  • Winter Soldier 17
  • Wolverine and the X-Men 28
  • Wonder Woman 19
  • X-Factor 254
  • Young Avengers 4

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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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