This month: Batman and Superman meet for the first time! Patton Oswalt writes the Justice League! Warren Ellis writes the hell out of a Batman/Planetary crossover! The Philip K. Dick parody that inspired The Truman Show! Plus three Grant Morrison comics!

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.

June 1978

Amazing Spider-Man 184

Few things were more annoying to nine year old me than a comic cover featuring an amazing moment that did not occur in the actual comic.  The teaser image on this cover does happen, but not until the very last page of the comic:

As a child, I was genuinely concerned for Spidey.  I mean, how is going to get out of this one?  Frustratingly, I wasn’t able to find out until years later, when I picked up issue 185 at a comic book store.  (Spoiler warning: Spidey was fine.  So absurdly fine that the main plot point of the issue was that Peter Parker couldn’t graduate from college because he was missing a physical education credit.)

Other Comics I Read From June 1978

  • Avengers 175
  • Cerebus 4
  • Star Wars 15
  • Superman 327
  • Thor Annual 7
  • Uncanny X-Men 113

June 1983

Daredevil 199

 

Not much to see here – just admitting that in 1983, when I first read this cover copy, I thought (for way longer than I should have) that the issue would feature Daredevil fighting a very shiny little person.

Comics I Read From June 1983

  • Alien Worlds 3
  • Alpha Flight 2
  • Avengers 235
  • Camelot 3000 8
  • Cerebus 51
  • Dreadstar 5
  • Ka-Zar 28
  • Marvel Fanfare 10
  • Marvel Team-Up 133
  • New Teen Titans Annual 2
  • Peter Park the Spectacular Spider-Men 82
  • Sword of the Atom 1
  • Uncanny X-Men 173

June 1988

Animal Man 2

For anyone who missed the whole “we’re destroying the Garden of Eden” metaphor introduced in issue one, Grant Morrison makes it even more clear in the second issue.

Also included is the obligatory “cameo from a much more popular super-hero” that occurs in pretty much every second issue.

Later, Animal Man faces his first real threat, a rat-human hybrid created by the B’wana Beast .  (If you don’t already know, it’s probably best that you keep it that way.)

And then we get one of those magic storytelling moments that can really only work in comics.

Remember that feeling of déjà vu Buddy had after shaking hands with Superman?

This issue also includes a text piece from Morrison that has never been reprinted – I was surprised that it didn’t show up in the Animal Man Omnibus.  One thing that makes the essay of interest is that it demonstrates that – even though this story shows a pretty heavy Alan Moore influence in both the style of the writing and the dark-edge to the story itself – Grant Morrison was clearly interested in moving away from the Watchmen-inspired Dark Age of super-hero comics from the very moment that it started.

Those words were published exactly one year after Watchmen 12.

Wasteland 10

 

In retrospect, Wasteland may have been one of the bravest publishing decisions ever made by a major comic book company.  Wasteland was a “psychological horror” anthology comic.  Every issues featured three short stories that were the type of horror that would burrow into your head long after you finished reading – as opposed to the more visceral horror that was popular at the time; the kind that would shock you for a moment, and then never be thought of again.  These stories were genuinely creepy, and remarkably adult in their focus and content.  And bear in mind that this was published years before Vertigo came along to formalize (or, depending on your point of view, ghettoize) DC’s “adult” comics.

Every Wasteland story was co-written by the team of established comic pro John Ostrander and “newcomer” Del Close.  Del Close’s name may have been unknown to readers of comics, but he was no stranger to comics of the stand-up variety.  Close was responsible for formalizing, developing, and teaching what we have come to know as improvisational comedy.  Pretty much every “modern” sketch comedian you have ever heard of (from the original SNL cast on down) studied under Del Close.  And, as they say, the best comedy comes from some seriously dark places.

The story I’m focusing on in this issue isn’t particularly horrifying.  In fact, it’s an homage to the work of Philip K. Dick.  Also, anyone who has seen the Jim Carrey film The Truman Show will have a hard time believing that the creators of that film hadn’t read this story.

Not only does our main character resemble Philip K. Dick (and – like him – work in a record store), but they gave him the not-at-all-clever name Dick Phillips, just to be sure that we’re aware that they’re aware of their source material.  The “help stamp out solipsism” graffiti still amuses me.

Behind the scenes, we see that Mr. Phillips’ life is being manipulated by alien beings who are studying him for some unknown purpose.  He is living in an artificial reality – nothing surrounding him is “real,” and all the people he encounters are robots created by the aliens.

Strangely, after establishing this plot point, we shift point of view to his (we have to assume robotic) wife and child.

Mary Phillips is understandably unhinged by the revelation that her child is a robot.

And we get the perfect PKD twist:

In order for the simulation to function properly, Mary had to believe that she was a real person.  When confronted with the unreality of her baby, she assumed her husband was also unreal, as the alternative was unthinkable to her.

And, just in case you were inclined to give the makers of The Truman Show a break, we end with the revelation that the aliens are, in fact, filmmakers.

And am I nuts, or did Ed Harris kind of base the look of Christof on the alien director from this short story?

 

Other Comics I Read from June 1988

  • Badger 40
  • Batman: The Cult 2
  • Black Panther 4
  • Cerebus 111
  • Concrete 8
  • Crossroads 4
  • Hellblazer 10
  • Incredible Hulk 348
  • Marvel Fanfare 40
  • Nexus 49
  • Punisher 12
  • Question Annual 1
  • Swamp Thing 77, Annual 4
  • V For Vendetta 2
  • Web of Spider-Man 43
  • What The? 3
  • Whisper 17

June 1993

Maxx 3

Today, Image Comics stands tall as a fantastic example of how you can generate a near-endless parade of quality comics simply by offering reasonable terms to your artists.  While the philosophical underpinnings that drove the Image machine were there from the start, readers of Walking Dead, Saga, Sex Criminals, and the like would be shocked to note that most of the early Image books demonstrated an alarming lack of storytelling ambition.  Honestly, Sam Kieth’s Maxx was the first Image book that kept my interest beyond the first issue.  Part of this is my personal love of Kieth’s art:

That panel can be appreciated without explanation, but here’s the complex backstory nevertheless.  Our hero is being attacked by the Isz, the primary inhabitants of the Outback, a strange place the Maxx finds himself shifting in and out of.  In the real world, the Maxx is a homeless super-hero whose only friend is a social worker named Julie.  In the Outback, Julie is the Jungle Queen, and the Maxx is her protector.

Mr. Gone is our Bad Guy.  Here he and the Maxx speak for the first time.

Gone tells Maxx that the Outback is real, and the “real world” is an illusion, but bear in mind that he’s the Bad Guy.

After confronting Gone, the Maxx seeks out Julie to make sure she is okay.

As confused as he is, the Maxx still knows horseshit when he smells it, and he calls Julie on it.

The Maxx’s story and themes were certainly a lot more ambitious (and adult, in the best sense of the word) than other material published by Image at the time.

Comics I Read from June 1993

  • 1963 3
  • Animal Man 62
  • Batman/Grendel 1
  • Cerebus 0, 171
  • Dork 1
  • Eightball 11
  • Enigma 6
  • Flash 79
  • Grendel: War Child 10
  • Hellblazer 68
  • Incredible Hulk 408, Annual 19
  • Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo 1
  • Last One 1, 2
  • Palookaville 6
  • Sandman 52
  • Sandman Mystery Theater 5
  • Savage Dragon 1
  • Sebastian O 3
  • Shade the Changing Man 38
  • Spawn 11
  • Spectacular Spider-Man 203
  • Spider-Man 37
  • Spider-Man Unlimited 2
  • Swamp Thing 134
  • Urban Legends 1

June 1998

Invisibles 17

 

One of the things I love most about Grant Morrison is that he’ll express — and abandon — an idea in four panels that other writers would base an entire comic series on:

What a brilliant idea – and one that becomes more complex and horrifying the more you think about it.

And then, later in the same issue, Morrison doubles down on time travel, explaining the mechanics of it in an almost reasonable manner:

I don’t know what I love more: finally finding a cool science fiction use for homeopathy, or the understanding that when Lang is asking Takashi how “we” would look to four dimensional beings, he’s really asking how he (a two dimensional being) might look to us (three dimensional beings).  And the answer is, of course, “like a comic book.”

JLA Secret Files 2

This one-shot from Christopher Priest fills in the gaps in Grant Morrison’s JLA run between the dissolution of the JLA at the end of Rock of Ages and the expanded reformation that takes place in the following issue.

We open with Aquaman showing up at the Kansas home where Superman grew up.

Clearly, Priest’s character work is solid.  Superman, Aquaman, and Batman discuss potential JLA members, then we join Huntress on the JLA satellite.  Feeling a bit overwhelmed, she gets some surprisingly good advice from Steel’s niece.

Steel isn’t so sure about accepting his invitation, either.

Not a lot happens, but we learn how we got from point A to point B, and it is an absolute joy to read such spot on characterizations and pitch-perfect dialog.

Other Comics I Read from June 1998

  • 300 2
  • Avengers 7
  • Captain America 8
  • Eightball 19
  • Flash 140, 80-Page Giant 1
  • Gangland 3
  • Hate 30
  • Hellblazer 128
  • Hitman 29
  • Hulk 467
  • Iron Man 7
  • JLA 21
  • JLA: Year One 8
  • Preacher 40
  • Red Rocket 7 7
  • Starman 45
  • Stormwatch 8
  • Superman Adventures 22
  • Transmetropolitan 12

June 2003

JLA: Welcome to the Working Week

 

This never-reprinted JLA one-shot was written by comedian and nerd-messiah Patton Oswalt.  It’s a fun little story: basically, a large group of civilians are teleported to the JLA watchtower during an emergency, then one of them is left behind, and he happens to be a major super-hero nerd.  He sneaks around the watchtower, silently observing – and live-blogging – the heroes during their downtime.  This doesn’t result in a high-stakes, high-adventure plot, but it makes for a fun read, and provides the opportunity for some great character-defining moments.

This may be the best one-page description of the Martian Manhunter ever:

And just in case you need proof that Oswalt gets Batman:

 

Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth

Warren Ellis’ Planetary run included three stand-alone cross-over issues with the JLA, the Authority, and Batman.  This is the only one of the three worthy of inclusion in the Planetary story canon.  And it should come as no surprise to learn that it is also the only one of the three to be illustrated by regular series artist John Cassaday.

One of the primary conceits of Planetary is that our heroes have dis/uncovered the multiverse, which is represented visually using a model taken from the (non-fictional) mathematical concept of the “Monster Group” – described by Ellis as “a theoretical snowflake existing in 196,833-dimensional space.”  In this story, a man named John Black has the unfortunate ability to access this snowflake, generating a multi-dimensional field which causes things and people from alternate dimensions to shift in and out of phase all around him.

As the Planetary (at this point made up of Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner, and The Drummer) are investigating this phenomenon they encounter Batman, who has been inadvertently brought into their reality by John Black’s power.   Always up for a good fight, Jakita challenges Batman

…who seems up for some fisticuffs.

But as Jakita confronts Batman, Black’s powers kick in, shifting Batman in and out from multiple universes.  He shifts to the original Bob Kane Batman (with gun and everything) and then to Adam West’s Batman:

The Drummer has an unfortunate encounter with Neal Adams’ classic seventies Batman.

Note the reference to the “one punch” meme from JLA’s Bwahaha period.  Elijah Snow even quotes Black Canary – regretting that he missed the punch – before he finds himself face to face with Frank Miller’s Batman from the Dark Knight Returns.

Eventually, everyone figures out that they’re on the same side, and a refreshingly empathetic Batman comforts John Black, who is clearly not in control of his newly obtained powers.

By the way, the Batman you’re seeing here is an until now unseen future Batman, designed by Alex Ross.

And, as Batman is fading back to his home reality, Jakita tries to get the final word:  “I totally beat you up, you know.”

Other Comics I Read from June 2003

  • 100 Bullets 45
  • Alias 23
  • Amazing Spider-Man 54
  • Arkham Asylum: Living Hell 2
  • Astro City: Local Heroes 3
  • Avengers 68
  • Batman 616
  • Blood and Water 4
  • Born 1
  • Captain America 14
  • Catwoman 20
  • Daredevil 48
  • Detective Comics 783
  • Empire 0
  • Fantastic Four 70
  • Filth 12
  • Flash 199
  • Goon 1
  • Gotham Central 8
  • Hawkman 16
  • Hellblazer 185
  • Incredible Hulk 55, 56
  • Invincible 5
  • JSA 49
  • JSA All Stars 2
  • Losers 1
  • Lucifer 39
  • Mystique 3
  • New X-Men 142, 143
  • Promethea 26
  • Punisher 28
  • Reload 2
  • Runaways 3
  • Sleeper 6
  • Startling Stories: The Thing: Night Falls on Yancy Street 2
  • Superman: Red Son 3
  • Tokyo Storm Warning 1
  • Truth: Red, White, and Black 6
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 42
  • Ultimate X-Men 34
  • Undercover Genie
  • Wolverine 2
  • Wolverine/Doop 2
  • Y: The Last Man 12

June 2008

Final Crisis 2

 

At this stage of the story, the engine driving the plot is the mystery of who and what killed Orion.  His body shows no entrance or exit wounds, but Batman is convinced that he was shot – if you’re a hammer all problems look like nails, and if you’re Batman all murders involve guns.  He sends John Stewart to investigate:

Later, Flashes Wally West and Jay Garrick discuss Batman’s theory.

Wally elaborates, as the Jaws theme gets louder.

After all these years…  Can it really be?

Yes, that’s Silver Age Flash Barry Allen – last seen dying during the original Crisis, way back in 1985 – running faster than the Black Racer, the New Gods version of Death Incarnate.  (And, of course, the bullet that killed Orion.)

Other Comics I Read from June 2008

  • 100 Bullets 92
  • Action Comics 866
  • Amazing Spider-Man 561
  • Avengers: The Initiative 14
  • Batman 678
  • Booster Gold 10
  • Brave and the Bold 14
  • Burnout
  • Captain America 39
  • Criminal 4
  • Daredevil 108
  • DMZ 32
  • Ex Machina 37
  • Exterminators 30
  • Fantastic Four 558
  • Ghost Rider 24
  • Goon 25
  • Green Lantern 32
  • Green Lantern Corps 25
  • Haunt of Horror: Lovecraft
  • Hellblazer 245
  • Immortal Iron Fist 16
  • Incredible Hercules 118
  • Infinity, Inc. 10
  • Invincible 50
  • Invincible Iron Man 2
  • JSA 17
  • Kick-Ass 3
  • Mighty Avengers 15
  • New Avengers 42
  • Nightwing 145
  • Northlanders 7
  • Programme 12
  • Punisher 58
  • Punisher War Journal 20
  • Red Mass For Mars 1
  • Runaways 30
  • Scalped 18
  • Secret Invasion 3
  • She-Hulk 30
  • Skaar: Son of Hulk 1
  • Thor: Reign of Blood 1
  • Thunderbolts 121
  • Tiny Titans 5
  • Ultimate Origins 1
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 123
  • Ultimates 3 4
  • Uncanny X-Men 499
  • War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle 4
  • Water Baby
  • Wolverine 66
  • X-Factor 3
  • Young Avengers Presents 6

June 2013

Batman/Superman 1

Greg Pak does a fine job writing the initial Batman/Superman story line, but it is artist Jae Lee who really shines.  Note how Superman’s narrative starts at the far left of the double-page spread, and Batman’s at the far right, both moving down and toward the middle of the page – the panels forming the shape of a bat, with the negative space forming Superman’s shield

And then there’s this page, with the ornate piping creating panel divisions and forming the border of the page’s center panel — somehow simultaneously intimating both Batman and Superman’s symbol.

And, when they finally confront each other we get a great look into each character’s head:

And it is clear that even at their very first meeting — when both were far from the mature heroes they would become — they still managed to intimidate one another.

Other Comics I Read from June 2013

  • 100 Bullets: Brother Lono 1
  • Adventures of Superman 2
  • Age of Ultron 9, 10
  • All-New X-Men 12, 13
  • American Vampire: Long Road to Hell
  • Animal Man 21
  • Astro City 1
  • Avengers 13, 14
  • Avengers Assemble 16
  • Batman 21
  • Batman and Robin 20
  • Batman Incorporated 12
  • Blackacre 7
  • Captain Marvel 13
  • Daredevil 27
  • Daredevil: End of Days 8
  • East of West 3
  • Fatale 15
  • Fury Max 13
  • Hawkeye 11
  • Great Pacific 7
  • Green Arrow 21
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 3, 4
  • Indestructible Hulk 9
  • Invincible 103
  • Iron Man 11
  • Jupiter’s Legacy 2
  • Justice League 21
  • Justice League of America 5
  • Kick-Ass 3
  • Lazarus 1
  • Legends of the Dark Knight 9
  • Manhattan Projects 12
  • Mara 5
  • New Avengers 7
  • Powers: Bureau 5
  • Revival 11
  • Superior Spider-Man 11
  • Thanos Rising 3
  • Thor: God of Thunder 9
  • Uncanny X-Men 7
  • Walking Dead 110
  • Wolverine and the X-Men 31, 32
  • Wonder Woman 21
  • X-Factor 257, 258
  • Young Avengers 6

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