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.

May 1978

Avengers 174

There was a time when I considered this my favorite comic. The one sentence plot description is that Iron Man, Thor, the Wasp, and Hawkeye confront the Collector, who quickly disposes of Iron Man, Thor, and the Wasp – leaving Hawkeye to somehow defeat the Collector and free the rest of the Avengers, who had previously been “collected.”

(It would seem that seeing super-heroes standing stiffly in glass cases is some sort of primal image from the collective unconscious, as it’s freakishly common. As I reread this, I was reminded of issues 8 and 9 of Grant Morrison’s JLA run, which told a remarkably similar tale, with the Key replacing the Collector, and Green Arrow replacing Hawkeye, and the JLA replacing the Avengers, in glass cases.)

Looking at the comic today, it seems hard to understand – or justify – why I held this issue in such high regard. Bill Mantlo’s script is serviceable, and he certainly gets Hawkeye’s voice right, which I’m sure I appreciated. At first glance, the art doesn’t seem that impressive. I admit I had to check the credits to see who drew it, and even the biggest late 70s comic book fan would have a hard time placing the name David Wenzel. And that’s particularly sad when you realize that he penciled most of the Korvac Saga. His art here certainly lacks the slick style of John Bryne or George Perez – his surface looks like a failed Sal Buscema impersonation – but his storytelling is rock solid.

Note the panel transitions on that page. They are all moment-to-moment, and timed such that the action unfolds in real time as you read. I’m not sure I can think of another comic page that so accurately mimics live action in its timing. Except maybe this one:

Nine year old me insists that that swashbuckler line kills

After Hawkeye defeats the Collector – in a not particularly satisfying or believable manner (as he’s falling unconscious he randomly fires off an electroshock arrow that ricochets off several things before striking the Collector and knocking him out) – and sets the other Avengers free, the Collector explains that he was collecting the Avengers not out of malice, but rather to preserve them from “the Enemy,” a god-like being who’s power even the Collector fears.

And, while the Avengers will have to wait another issue to find out who Yearrghh might be, we quickly see that it’s that blonde guy who killed Starhawk a few issues back.

Other Comics I Read From May 1978

  • Captain America 224
  • Defenders 62
  • Incredible Hulk 226
  • Marvel Tales 94
  • Marvel Triple Action 43
  • Marvel Two-in-One 42
  • Uncanny X-Men 112

May 1983

Justice League of America Annual 1

Justice League of America Annual #1

Speaking of team comics where everyone is placed in glass cases and the lamest member saves the day…

This JLA annual focuses on Elongated Man’s well-earned sense of insecurity. The story opens with an attack on the JLA watchtower that ends badly:

But just as you’re thinking, “That’s a strange way to end page 3,” you turn to page 4 to see Elongated Man waking up from a nightmare. And I know that the only thing lamer than Elongated Man is Elongated Man causing the death of the entire JLA only to realize that it was all just a dream, but this comic actually makes the whole “it was only a dream” thing work.

So, the JLA do that thing the JLA does every issue – you know, they split up into teams of three or four and each have a four-page adventure that gives each group a piece of the puzzle that they then piece together before going after the main villain. Yeah, let’s skip that, though, and just announce that they realize the main villain is Dr. Destiny! (That Skeletor-looking dude who used Morpheus’ dreamstone to make people’s dreams reality… Okay, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s okay.)

As you can see, Dr. Destiny has captured the Bronze-Age Sandman! See? More dream-related characters. It all makes sense!

The JLA confronts Dr. Destiny, who using Sandman’s dream dust, knock them all unconscious one by one.

You’d really think they’d have come up with a better strategy than rushing Dr. Destiny one by one – like, oh say, using any of their super-powers to attack him from a safe distance, or Firestorm turning the dust to sugar, or Zatanna saying “Tsud Nrut ot Ragus” from several feet away – but what can you do? But Elongated Man manages to reach out desperately and randomly hit the one button that frees the Sandman. I’d say the odds of that are about the same as the odds of Hawkeye firing off an arrow randomly and having it ricochet around and eventually hit the Collector.  And hey, check this out!

Doesn’t that look eerily familiar? (And this is just a random comic that happened to come out exactly five years after Avengers 174. This is crossing over into fetish territory.)

Anyhow, the Sandman hooks up with Superman, who was conveniently not with the JLA this whole time.

But it’s Elongated Man who really saves the day.

It’s almost like they’re trying to teach us a lesson of some sort…

Comics I Read From May 1983

  • Alpha Flight 1
  • Amazing Spider-Man 243, 244
  • Avengers 234
  • Camelot 3000 7
  • Captain America 284, 285
  • Cerebus 50
  • Coyote 2
  • Green Arrow 4
  • Grendel 1
  • Hawkeye 1
  • King Conan 18
  • Marvel Team-Up 132
  • Nexus 2
  • Peter Park the Spectacular Spider-Men 81
  • Saga of the Swamp Thing 16
  • Uncanny X-Men 172
  • What if 40

May 1988

Animal Man 1

Shortly after Alan Moore revolutionized super-hero comics, DC sent their top editors scrambling across the ocean in search of more Moore’s. Impressively, they came back with Grant Morrison (if you can’t get more Moore, get Moore’s son, am I right?), Jamie Delano, and Neil Freaking Gaiman, among others. (I don’t know what they were baiting their hooks with, but that is some mighty successful fishing.)  Morrison’s Animal Man was his first big assignment. Originally solicited as a four-issue mini, it soon blossomed into an ongoing series, with Morrison writing the first 26 issues.

Morrison, Gaiman, and Delano’s early work all suffered from trying just a little too hard to read like Alan Moore’s writing. I mean, check this out:

Luckily, a.) this sort of overwriting only takes place during the B’wana Beast b-story pages, and b.) all traces of Moore-ish pretention in the text boxes are gone by the end of issue four.

Most of the first issue is devoted to introducing us to Buddy Baker: Family Man. Buddy is coming off a period of semi-retirement, and – in the wake of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the more recent Legends crossover – is ready to once again devote his full attention to super-heroics.

We meet him performing the stereotypical heroic “good deed” of rescuing a treed cat. In the attempt he falls from the tree, but uses his animal powers to avoid hurting himself. In case you missed the Biblical references (tree, forbidden fruit, “the fall”), Buddy’s wife Ellen is introduced singing the following lyrics:

We meet Buddy and Ellen’s children: Cliff, a slightly obnoxious Dennis the Menace type, and the adorable toddler Maxine. Then, after appearing on television, Buddy is offered a job.

And there you have it: Ground Zero for the whole super-heroes in leather jackets thing. Stylish and practical!

Other Comics I Read from May 1988

  • Alien Worlds
  • Batman: The Cult 1
  • Black Panther 3
  • Cerebus 110
  • Crossroads 3
  • Detective Comics Annual 1
  • Dreadstar 38
  • Green Arrow Annual 1
  • Hellblazer 9
  • Incredible Hulk 347
  • Justice League International 17
  • Martial Law 4
  • Phantom 4
  • Punisher 11
  • Question 19
  • Swamp Thing 76
  • V For Vendetta 1
  • Wasteland 9
  • Web of Spider-Man 42
  • What The? 2
  • Whisper 16
  • Yummy Fur 10

May 1993

Spawn 10

Holy Allegory, Batman!

After writing and illustrating seven issues of Spawn, Todd McFarland was smart enough to realize that his concept could use some fleshing out. To give some indication of just how on top of the comic book world he was at this moment, he offered the next four issue to guest writers, claiming they could write whatever they liked, and those writers ended up being Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Dave Sim, and Frank Miller. Moore explored McFarland’s version of Hell, making the Violator much more horrific in the process. Gaiman introduced both Angela and Medieval Spawn, which is turn introduced the entire concept of multiple Spawn’s throughout human history, and Frank Miller… wrote something suitably unreadable, or at least unmemorable.

Dave Sim ported over his character Cerebus for an allegorical sermon on the value and importance of creator ownership.

Yes. Those are all the poor folks who created those Marvel and DC heroes you love so much. And in case that weren’t sad (or obvious) enough, there’s this:

Spawn meets Cerebus, and – apparently – Dave Sim really doesn’t trust his readers to understand a pretty simple allegory.

Cerebus then introduces Spawn to his daughter. All is well because his creator didn’t sell him. It’s as simple as that.

Except, of course, that it’s his creator that put him through all this misery in the first place. Apparently, Cerebus hasn’t read Animal Man.

Swamp Thing 133

Nancy A. Collins’ run on Swamp Thing remains largely unheralded, mostly because I imagine it’s remained largely unread. It’s actually pretty solid, especially once Scot Eaton and Kim DeMulder settle in as the regular art team. Alec and Abby’s daughter Tefe is a toddler during this run, and is just coming into her elemental powers. One of her first acts of creation is the bringing to life of some preposterously cute daisies. They dance around in the background for several issues – their language limited to a sing-song-y “la la la…”

This issue, the cute little flowers take center stage, as – for reasons – one of the flowers grows to the size of a Toho Studios Kaiju monster.

And, even while committing acts of unspeakable violence, Thunder Pedal remains pretty cute.

After running amuck, eating a lot of people, and destroying an impressive amount of property, Tefe is forced to take matters into her own hands.

Comics I Read from May 1993

  • 1963 2
  • Aliens: Sacrifice
  • Animal Man 61
  • Cerebus 170
  • Concrete: Eclectica 2
  • Enigma 5
  • Flash 78, Annual 6
  • Gregory 3
  • Hellblazer 67
  • Incredible Hulk 407
  • Maxx 2
  • Sandman 51
  • Sandman Mystery Theater 4
  • Sebastian O 2
  • Shade the Changing Man 37
  • Spectacular Spider-Man 202

May 1998

JLA 80-Page Giant 1

This collection of seven original short stories featuring the JLA is pretty solid. There’s a Giffen/Maguire story from the Bwahaha days, a Green Lantern/Martian Manhunter story from none other than Elliot S! Maggin, and a Secret Society of Super Villains tale written by Mark Millar.

Tom Peyer and Mark Pajarillo give us “For Sale – the Justice League?” a tale of the early days of the League. Basically, some rich guy offers the Justice League a ton of money, and everyone is happy to take it but Green Arrow:

Green Arrow refuses to consider taking the money unless the potential donor subjects himself to a brain scan from the Martian Manhunter. The rich man agrees, and passes without suspicion. Green Arrow still insists that he’s dirty, and is censured by the League. Eventually, this happens:

It all ends well, with Ollie offering an explanation, and poking fun at Hawkman, because someone decided that a reincarnated Egyptian prince who’s also somehow from the planet Thanagar would just have to be a Republican.

I find interesting that the story doesn’t require the “dirty” politician to be particularly dirty. It’s not like Ollie found evidence of him running a white slavery ring or even any good old fashioned money laundering. He simply was attempting to use his money and power for leverage, and that made him the enemy of the Justice League. If only Green Arrow would take on the lobbying industry.

Then there’s “Revelations,” an insane Wonder Woman and Aquaman story by Christopher Priest and Eric Battle. There’s something wrong in the ocean, and Wonder Woman is sent to help Aquaman deal with it. While they work, they talk (Priest addresses how they can speak underwater, so back off).

Arthur really starts to open up, and his sudden honestly makes Diana realize what’s really going on.

This, of course, does nothing to brighten Arthur’s mood. But, in for a penny, in for a pound…

And then we have this last page.

I’ve been looking at this page for 20 years now, trying to come up with another way to read those last two panels. The sudden splash of water means Diana submerged quickly, right? Arthur is standing uncomfortably still in the water, right?

Wonder Woman is blowing Aquaman, right?

Other Comics I Read from May 1998

  • 300 1
  • Avengers 6
  • Captain America 7
  • Dork 6
  • Flash 139
  • Gangland 2
  • Hellblazer 127
  • Hitman 28
  • JLA 20
  • JLA: Year One 7
  • Mage 7
  • Palookaville 12
  • Preacher 39
  • Starman 44
  • Stormwatch 7
  • Superman Adventures 21
  • Transmetropolitan 11

May 2003

Filth 11

Eleven issues in, our hero Ned Slade finally knows the score.

See, they told Ned that Greg Feely was just a para-personality that Ned had created where he could “vacation” once in a while. But – as is often the case in a Grant Morrison comic – it’s our man’s love for his cat that allows him to see the truth.

Desperate and on the run, Greg finds what he’s looking for:

It’s not so much that Ned Slade isn’t real as it is that the Hand can make *anyone* into Ned Slade at any time. There’s a never-ending stream of potential Ned Slades out there, just waiting to be created. And now that you know the truth, are you willing to do something about it?

Other Comics I Read from May 2003

  • 100 Bullets 44
  • 411 2
  • Alias 22
  • Amazing Spider-Man 53
  • Arkham Asylum: Living Hell 1
  • Automatic Kafka 9
  • Avengers 67
  • Batman 615
  • Blood and Water 3
  • Captain America 13
  • Catwoman 19
  • Daredevil 47
  • Detective Comics 782
  • Fantastic Four 69
  • Flash 198
  • Global Frequency 8
  • Gotham Central 7
  • Hawkman 15
  • Hellblazer 184
  • Incredible Hulk 54
  • JSA 48
  • JSA All Stars 1
  • Lucifer 38
  • Mystique 2
  • New X-Men 141
  • Powers 32
  • Punisher 26, 27
  • Reload 2
  • Runaways 2
  • Sleeper 5
  • Superman: Red Son 2
  • Startling Stories: The Thing: Night Falls on Yancy Street 1
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 40, 41
  • Ultimate X-Men 33
  • Ultimates 10
  • Wolverine 1
  • Wolverine/Doop 1
  • Y: The Last Man 11

May 2008

Batman 677

Many readers argued that Grant Morrison’s run on Batman was convoluted and hard to follow. They’re talking about the story, but it’s even truer about the physical comics themselves. Limiting ourselves to stories written by Morrison himself (the run makes a lot more sense if you’re familiar with the original source material, much of which was published in a volume called the Black Casebook), in order to get the whole story, you have to read 2 issues of 52, 28 issues of Batman, DC Universe 0, the 7 issue Final Crisis mini-series, 16 issues of Batman and Robin, the Return of Bruce Wayne 6 issue series, Batman: the Return, and 23 issues of Batman, Incorporated. That’s 85 issues spread out over 8 different comic titles.

The climax of Morrison’s run on the Batman comic was Batman: RIP. During the build-up to this story line, he gave several online interviews where he bragged that the story would feature the ultimate Batman villain, and that no one could *ever* guess who the Black Glove really was. Obviously, he was inviting someone to figure it out, and – masterfully – he followed the online forums and incorporated the best fan theories into the story itself, providing a near real-time response to the various theories that arose in the wake of his taunting.

Here Bruce’s girlfriend Jezebel Jet confronts him about the absurdity of his life’s mission.

Bruce’s responds with seeming evidence that he’s not the crazy one.

Clearly, Grant Morrison is the crazy one

As he goes on, Jezebel espouses one of the more popular online theories – that the ultimate adversary for Batman would be Bruce Wayne.

It’s not a bad guess, really. And the more Bruce ignores her, the more we think she might be on to something.

And then, for the first time, someone speaks a phrase we’ve been seeing in the background of the comics since the very first issue: ZUR-EN-ARRH.

Yeah, I know. But strap in. This is Grant Morrison.

Final Crisis 1

Final Crisis gets a bit of a bad rap, in my opinion. Yes, Grant Morrison expects a LOT from the reader. This is the ultimate reader response comic. It’s designed to read like watching the world end on live TV while someone else is constantly flipping the channels. So we get a lot of emotional and character moments and not a lot of developed set pieces.  (Imagine Lex Luthor pointing at Superman and screaming, “I’m going to kick your ass!” then several pages of unrelated moments with other characters, then coming to back to find Superman standing over Luthor’s unconscious body.)

But this is able to work because we already know all the story beats.  This is, after all, the Final Crisis.  We can assume that most readers have read Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis, Identity Crisis, the Jesus Crisis, etc.

I suppose it can make for annoying reading, and it is most certainly not for everyone, but I draw the line at critiques that insist that it doesn’t make sense or – worse – that it’s just gibberish; That Morrison was making it all up as he went along. I can almost understand that point of view if this is the first comic you’ve read by Morrison, but anyone who’s read his previous work should have some idea what to expect, and should also be willing to offer him some faith and/or cut him some slack.

In this first issue, the best evidence I can provide to demonstrate that readers are in good hands is the death of J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter.

Many found this death to be pointless and unnecessary. It certainly demonstrated an important plot point – that things were no longer business as usual in the super-villain community – and, let’s be honest, it’s not a Crisis without a major character death.  But more importantly, it symbolically represented the major background event surrounding the work: the death of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. (Consider that Mars is the fourth planet from the sun, and then tell me that Morrison doesn’t know what he’s doing.)

Final Crisis Sketchbook

This is the most entertaining sketchbook I have ever encountered. It includes many of Grant Morrison’s designs for new or revamped characters (while he rarely publishes his artwork, Morrison illustrates many of his scripts, and does most of his own design work) along with his original notes.

The art and notes for Morrison’s criminally underused “Super Young Team” (a team of Japanese superfans) are laugh-out-loud funny.

Most Excellent Superbat! Big Atomic Lantern Boy! And it just gets better…

Why don’t these characters have their own ongoing series?

Invincible Iron Man 1

Matt Fraction begins his Iron Man run strongly, and with a brilliant conceit. Throughout the issue, Tony lists his “Five Nightmares,” which also help frame the plot of the first story arc.

It makes sense that Tony’s first nightmare is that he loses his sobriety. Throughout this run, Fraction does a fantastic job of keeping Tony’s addiction at the center of who he is without necessarily making it a plot point, or the only important part of who he is.

Obsolescence is also a reasonable fear for Tony to have. And I like that it’s tied to his ego. Admitting that Rhodey’s armor could be better is essentially the same as confessing that he’s putting his best friend in danger simply so he can know that he has the best armor. Dick move, Tony.

What Iron Man reader hasn’t wondered why he doesn’t just offer armor to Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow, et al.? For God’s sake, Tony was the Director of SHIELD for years – why didn’t he give armor to all of his field agents?

At least Tony can admit that it’s all about him. I mean, imagine what cheap, commonplace armor would mean to the military or anyone with a spinal injury – or even a broken limb.

And Fraction leaves it to you to figure out that Tony could have easily avoided the fifth nightmare if his ego allowed him to ignore (or conquer) nightmare’s two through four.

Other Comics I Read from May 2008

  • 100 Bullets 91
  • Action Comics 865, Annual 11
  • All-Star Superman 11
  • Amazing Spider-Man 558-560
  • Avengers Classic 12
  • Avengers: The Initiative 13
  • Booster Gold 9
  • Brave and the Bold 13
  • Captain America 38
  • Cassanova 14
  • Crossing Midnight 19
  • Daredevil 107
  • DMZ 31
  • Exterminators 29
  • Fantastic Four 557
  • Ghost Rider 23
  • Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men 1
  • Giant-Size Incredible Hulk 1
  • Goon 24
  • Green Lantern 31
  • Green Lantern Corps 24
  • Hellblazer 244
  • Immortal Iron Fist 15
  • Incredible Hercules 117
  • Infinity, Inc. 9
  • JSA 16
  • Logan 3
  • Loveless 24
  • Marvel 1985 1
  • Mighty Avengers 13, 14
  • New Avengers 41
  • Nightwing 144
  • Northlanders 6
  • Programme 11
  • Punisher 57
  • Punisher War Journal 19
  • Scalped 17
  • Secret Invasion 2
  • She-Hulk 29
  • Thor 9
  • Thunderbolts 120
  • Thunderbolts: Reason in Madness
  • Tiny Titans 4
  • Transhuman 2
  • True Story Swear to God 11
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 122
  • Uncanny X-Men 498
  • Walking Dead 49
  • War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle 3
  • Wolverine 65
  • X-Factor 31
  • X-Factor: The Quick and the Dead

May 2013

Move along. Nothing to see here.

Comics I Read from May 2013

  • Activity 12, 13
  • Adventures of Superman 1
  • Age of Ultron 7, 8
  • All-New X-Men 11
  • Animal Man 20
  • Archer and Armstrong 12
  • Avengers 11, 12
  • Avengers: The Enemy Within 1
  • Batman 20
  • Batman and Robin 20
  • Blackacre 6
  • Bloodshot 0
  • Chew 34
  • Daredevil 26
  • Fatale 14
  • Five Weapons 4
  • Fury Max 12
  • Garth Ennis’ Red Team 4
  • Green Arrow 20
  • Green Lantern 20
  • Green Lantern Corps 20
  • Hawkeye 10
  • Indestructible Hulk 7, 8
  • Iron Man 9, 10
  • Justice League 20
  • Justice League Dark 20
  • Justice League of America 4
  • Legend of Luther Strode 5
  • New Avengers 6
  • Nowhere Men 5
  • Polarity 2
  • Powers: Bureau 4
  • Revival 10
  • Snapshot 4
  • Superior Spider-Man 9, 10
  • Thanos Rising 2
  • Thief of Thieves 14
  • Thor: God of Thunder 8
  • Uncanny X-Men 6
  • Walking Dead 110
  • Wolverine and the X-Men 29, 30
  • Wonder Woman 20
  • X-Factor 255, 256
  • Young Avengers 5

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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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