This month: It’s the original Guardians of the Galaxy, the first issue of The Falcon, and Sandman makes an appearance in JLA.

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.

July 1978

Avengers 176

The Avengers plus the original Guardians of the Galaxy — plus pretty much every Marvel super-hero who didn’t make a regular appearance in another book — all gathered to answer the question: Who is the Enemy?  They feed all of their collective knowledge, power, and raw animal cunning into a computer, and (click-bait warning) You Won’t Believe What It Spits Out:

Having recently lost their priority government clearance, the Avengers, et al. are reduced to taking a cross-town bus to Forest Hills Gardens.   And this guy answers the door:

But they find nothing out of order.  You’d think the dude’s outfit would have been a dead giveaway.  That, or the fact that he’s got the body of a weight-lifter from a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

But Iron Man tamps down his desire to kill Hawkeye, channeling his rage into one more attempt to find a trace of the Enemy in Michael’s home.

However, as the yellow box says, “However…”

The Enemy/Michael/Korvac goes on like this for several pages.  Then, his cosmic awareness letting him know that the last page is approaching, he wraps it all up.

Tune in next month for the surprisingly violent death of literally everyone in this comic (bar two).

Other Comics I Read From July 1978

  • Defenders 63
  • Incredible Hulk 228
  • Marvel Team-Up 74
  • Marvel Triple Action 44
  • Uncanny X-Men 114
  • What If 11
  • Wonder Woman 248

July 1983

 Falcon 1

Back in 1983, the writer we now know as Christopher Priest was working for Marvel as a writer/editor named James Owsley.  This was my first exposure to his work, though I’d been a fan of the Falcon ever since my open-minded parents got me the Mego doll of “That Great Black Super-Hero,” and I recall being very pleased with this series — especially the authenticity of the dialogue.

Now, I was hardly from the streets, and this was long before P.C. culture began to take hold, but even as a 13-year-old from upstate New York, I understood that there were no actual Black men out there sporting tiaras and bellowing “Sweet Christmas!” whenever they were startled.  And I have a distinct memory of thinking this was the first time I read a comic book starring a Black character that came even close to capturing the lives, concerns, and speech patterns of early 80s Black America.  Also, Paul Smith draws good.

Of course, the mini-series has some of the problems you might expect from a 1983 Marvel comic, but much of it holds up.  And putting Miguel’s pain and plight at the center of story gives it a real heart.

And — importantly — even the Falcon’s kindness and concern can’t prevent Miguel’s life from falling apart.

Eventually, Miguel stumbles drunkenly into the super-villain de jour (the so terribly-named-it’s-almost-meta Nemesis) and gives the Falcon someone to save.

And we wrap things up with a conversation between the Falcon and Sgt. Tork, a cynical police detective who should be a much more popular character than he currently is.

I still dream about what Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker would do with a series featuring Frank Tork and Jean DeWolff.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow 1

These reprints of the O’Neil/Adam Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics were a godsend to 13 year old me.  Remember, back then trade paperback collections were few and far between, so getting a chance to read these historical comics a decade after they came out — with such amazing new covers from Neal Adams — was a real treat.

If you don’t already know, O’Neil’s brilliantly simple concept was to bounce the straight-laced (and laughably unhip) Hal Jordan against the gruff (and unabashedly liberal) Oliver Queen, and let the sparks fly.  The story starts with Green Lantern stopping a young “hoodlum” from attacking an older “businessman.”

Oliver takes Hal on a walk, explaining how his assumption that the older, richer man was a victim and the younger, poorer man a criminal was a poisonous one.

Eventually, Hal is approached by an older Black man, and we get three of the most popular and important panels of early 70s comics.

Now, of course, this is somewhat ridiculous.  Hal certainly could have responded that he “bothered with” the Black skins each of the eleven-teen times he saved the earth from destruction, but that would require him to be more self-righteous — and a lot less empathetic — than O’Neil wants him to be.

Even so, Hal is a stubborn man, and insists that he can make the rich old landlord see reason:

So, finally convinced that not all authority has everyone’s best interests in mind, Hal learns the lesson Oliver wants him to.  Except he doesn’t.  Almost immediately, the Guardians give Hal a questionable mission, and he can’t seem to find it within himself to question their orders.  Always eager to fly into a rage, Ollie flies into a rage.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit how many times teenage me managed to cram the phrase “some hideous moral cancer is rotting our very souls” into casual conversations.

Eventually, Ollie turns his rage upon the Guardians themselves.

And, we get the set up for a classic run of issues: Oliver Queen and Hal Jordan on a road trip across America, accompanied by a Guardian of Oa!  As Zonker Harris said to Mike Doonesbury and Mark Slackmeyer, “Call me when you find America!”

Comics I Read From July 1983

  • Alpha Flight 3
  • Amazing Spider-Man 245
  • Avengers 236
  • Captain America 286, Annual 7
  • Cerebus 52
  • Cload and Dagger 1
  • Daredevil 200
  • Defenders 124
  • Grendel 2
  • Hawkeye 2
  • King Conan 19
  • Marvel Team-Up 134, Annual 6
  • Moon Knight Special Edition 1
  • Nexus 3
  • Peter Park the Spectacular Spider-Men 83
  • Ronin 2
  • Saga of the Swamp Thing 17
  • Somerset Holmes 1
  • Sword of the Atom 2
  • Twisted Tales 4
  • Uncanny X-Men 17

July 1988

Animal Man 3

When I first read these issues, I had little good to say about Chas Truog’s art.  But the more time I spend with these pages, the more I love his work.  It’s only deceptively simple — note the insane amount of background detail in those first two panels — and the storytelling is just perfect.

Tipping the camera on that first panel perfectly communicates both the speed at which Maxine is running and the terror that drives that speed.

So, the Baker’s neighbor comes to the rescue, but it’s the hunter’s friend who ends up firing the fatal shot.

And, because it’s a Grant Morrison comic, it all comes down to the kittens.  Actually, this demonstrates not only a brilliant understanding of how children process trauma, but also provides some good advice for the rest of us — control what you can control, help what you can help, save what you can save.

Meanwhile, B’Wana Beast fails to save the life of his best friend, and it’s utterly heartbreaking.

And thank God Truog resisted the urge to have one of the gorilla’s covering his mouth.

Hellblazer 11

Just a little over three years separate the first mention of the “Newcastle Incident” in Swamp Thing 37 and Hellblazer 11 — the issue that reveals the details of the event — but it sure seemed like a longer period of time to me at the time.

Having introduced the “Newcastle Crew,” they enter the Casanova Club to find a bunch of dead adults, and one living child.

John learns that a demon had been conjured, and — thinking he knows the demon’s name (Norfulthing) he attempts some conjuring of his own.

And, to put it lightly, it ends badly for all concerned.

I always wondered why the payoff image to this story was so poorly illustrated.  At any rate, what is supposed to be communicated is that John was holding Astra’s hand as he lead her out of hell, and while he managed to escape hell, Astra did not, and all John was holding was her severed arm.

Way back in 1992 my songwriting partner and I wrote a song called Stranger in the Mirror.  Since we truly couldn’t imagine a circumstance where anyone who’s name we didn’t know would ever hear our songs, we amused ourselves by making John Constantine the main character, and seeding the song with some fairly obscure references from Swamp Thing and Hellblazer — as well as one inexplicable Watchmen reference.  The song was on our original demo tape, but has never made an appearance on an Ookla the Mok studio album, the result of which being that bootleg recordings (of the demo and live performances) started showing up on Youtube, often getting more views than our officially released material, which has led to such embarrassing situations as:  You’re pitching yourself as a songwriter to some ad people from New York City and they open the interview by asking about “Stranger in the Mirror.”

At any rate, Ookla released a double live album last fall, and Stranger in the Mirror was part of our final encore, so have at it.  Or, check out this acoustic live performance, filmed in a bathroom mirror!

Other Comics I Read from July 1988

  • Badger 41, 42
  • Batman: The Cult 3
  • Cerebus 112/113
  • Crossroads 5
  • Dreadstar 39
  • GI Joe: European Missions 3
  • Incredible Hulk 349
  • Marshal Law 5
  • Neat Stuff 11
  • Nexus 50, 51
  • Punisher 13
  • Question 20
  • Swamp Thing 78
  • V for Vendetta 3
  • Wasteland 11
  • Web of Spider-Man 44
  • What The? 4
  • Whisper 18
  • Wolverine 1
  • Yummy Fur 11

July 1993

Shade the Changing Man 39

No one would believe it now, but in the 90s, comic book nerds mentioned Peter Milligan in the same breath as Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis.  I get why he’s fallen out of favor — he often brings a Wes Anderson level of quirk to his stories, and he left comics for a big chunk of the last 20 years to write scripts for Hollywood — but I remain a faithful reader.

One of the things I most enjoy about Milligan’s stories is how entertaining his narrative voice can be.

This issue might as well have been titled “Post-Modernism for Dummies.”

And just as you’re thinking, “Is he going to go on like this?” Milligan ups the ante.

The character introduced in this issue is a writer named Miles Laimling.  He meets our main characters and they have a standard bizarre Shade the Changing Man-style adventure.

And what will happen to our new friend Miles?

And, for those who need it spelled out in large block letters.

Of course, the meta-meta-commentary here is that Stanley Lieber planned on writing the Great American Novel, and — not wanting his “real” name to be sullied — used the pseudonym Stan Lee when he wrote comics.

Comics I Read from July 1993

  • Animal Man 63
  • Batman/Grendel 2
  • Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight 50
  • Cerebus 172
  • Enigma 6
  • Flash 80, 81
  • Hate 13
  • Hellblazer 69
  • Incredible Hulk 409
  • Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo 2
  • Sandman 53
  • Sandman Mystery Theater 6
  • Spectacular Spider-Man Annual 13
  • Spider-Man 38
  • Swamp Thing 135
  • Vertigo Jam

July 1998

JLA 22

Grant Morrison gets Superman.  So much so that he believes that Superman exists, and in fact has to exist.  His proof?:  If Superman didn’t exist, someone would just create him.

Well, what would you call it?

Vertigo’s Sandman (the Daniel version of Dream) makes a rare appearance in the DCU — with full permission from Neil Gaiman.

Then, you slowly realize that you’re reading a horror story.

The combination of horror and hope on this next page is really remarkable.  Because Grant Morrison gets Superman.

It has trapped the JLA outside the “real” world, and the only way in is through Dream’s realm.  And the JLA have to give up their powers to cross over.  And Grant Morrison gets Superman.

This issue also contains a memorable moment between Dream (Daniel) and Green Lantern (Kyle).

Other Comics I Read from July 1998

  • 300 3
  • Avengers 8
  • Avengers/Squadron Surpreme ’98 1
  • Captain America 9
  • Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty 1
  • Flash 141
  • Hellblazer 129
  • Hitman 30
  • Invisibles 18
  • Iron Man 7
  • Jinx: True Crime Confessions 1
  • JLA: Year One 9
  • Jonny Double 1
  • Madman/Jam 1
  • Mage 8
  • New Gods Secret Files 1
  • Peepshow 11
  • Preacher 41
  • Starman 46
  • Stormwatch 9
  • Superman Adventures 23
  • Superman for All Seasons 1
  • Tangent Comics: The Superman 1
  • Transmetropolitan 13

July 2003

Avengers 69

So far, Geoff Johns’ Marvel work has been pretty limited.  We’re talking about a one year Avengers run, three four-issue minis (Vision, Thing, and Morlocks) and a single issue of Ultimate X-Men.  Of those, Red Zone is the only thing that really sticks out to me.  (Okay, I also recall that in earlier Avengers issues he made poor Henry Pym utter the phrase “I’m not a theologist” (the proper term is theologian) and had Thor comically misuse the phrase “Methinks thou dost protest too much,” but that’s part of a larger conversation I’d like to have with Marvel’s early 21th century editorial staff.)

Red Zone is the kind of sprawling “the world is ending and we need to call in every reserve Avenger” story that these big teams books are made for.  In this case, terrorists release toxic gas at Mount Rushmore, and Captain America learns that both the illegal gas and the terrorists are American made.

Eventually, we all learn that new Secretary of Defense Dell Rusk is the man behind the attack.  And anagram fans will no doubt have already determined that Dell Rusk is in fact the Red Skull.  Once revealed, he gives this horrifyingly prescient speech:

Later, Skully taunts a helpless Cap, revealing his true plan.

But who should take the fall for such a gruesome event?

Other Comics I Read from July 2003

  • 100 Bullets 46
  • Alias 24
  • Amazing Spider-Man 55
  • Arkham Asylum: Living Hell 3
  • Batman 617
  • Blood and Water 5
  • Born 2
  • Captain America 15
  • Catwoman 21
  • Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score
  • Daredevil 49
  • Detective Comics 784
  • Empire 1
  • Fantastic Four 500, 501
  • Flash 200
  • Global Frequency 9, 10
  • Gotham Central 9
  • Hawkman 17
  • Hellblazer 186
  • Incredible Hulk 57, 58
  • Invincible 6
  • JSA 50
  • JSA All Stars 3
  • Losers 2
  • Lucifer 40
  • Mystique 4
  • New X-Men 144
  • Possessed 1
  • Powers 33
  • Punisher 29
  • Red 1
  • Reload 3
  • Runaways 4
  • Sleeper 7
  • Startling Stories: The Thing: Night Falls on Yancy Street 3
  • Superman: Birthright 1
  • Teen Titans 1
  • Thor: Vikings 1
  • Tokyo Storm Warning 2
  • Trouble 1
  • Truth: Red, White, and Black 7
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 43
  • Ultimate X-Men 35
  • Ultimates 11
  • Wolverine 3
  • X-Statix 1123
  • Y: The Last Man 13

July 2008

Batman 679

So, last month Batman was pushed to his limit — and just as he was beginning to consider the possibility that the Big Bad behind the Black Glove might be Bruce Wayne — he hears the trigger word (“Zur-En-Arrh”) implanted by Dr. Hurt during a “space medicine” experiment (way back in 1963’s Batman 156) and wakes up homeless and with no memory.  Somehow he cobbles together a very strange looking Batman costume and struggles on.

Get it?  He’s Batman!

Oh, and Bat Mite is back.  And, apparently Batman can talk to gargoyles.

Always eager to help, Bat Mite summarizes Batman 156 for us.

We learn what happened to Batman after Jezebel said the keyword “Zur-En-Arrh”

Then Bat Mite says the four words that serve as the thesis statement for Morrison’s take on Batman:

So, even though he has no memory of who he is or what he’s doing, Batman is still able to function because Batman created and stored a back-up personality to run automatically in the event that his “hard drive” was ever compromised.

Meanwhile, Alfred kindly disposes yet another popular fan theory regarding who Dr. Hurt might really be.

Also, we learn that Batman minus Bruce Wayne may not be the best of all possible Batmans.

And how creepy is it that Charlie Caligula can see Bat Mite?

Other Comics I Read from July 2008

  • 100 Bullets 93
  • Action Comics 867
  • Astonishing X-Men 25
  • Avengers: The Initiative 15
  • Black Panther 39
  • Booster Gold 1,000,000
  • Brave and the Bold 15
  • Captain America 40
  • CBLDF Presents: Liberty Comics 1
  • Criminal 5
  • Daredevil 109
  • DMZ 33
  • Ex Machina 38
  • Fantastic Four 559
  • Final Crisis 3
  • Final Crisis: Requiem
  • Final Crisis: Rogue’s Revenge 1
  • Ghost Rider 25
  • Goon 26
  • Green Lantern 33
  • Green Lantern Corps 26
  • Haunt of Horror: Lovecraft 2
  • Hellblazer 246
  • Hellblazer Special: Chas 1
  • I Kill Giants 1
  • Incredible Hercules 119
  • Infinity, Inc. 11
  • Invincible 51
  • Invincible Iron Man 3
  • Joker’s Asylum: Penguin
  • JSA Annual 1
  • Marvel 1985 3
  • Mighty Avengers 16
  • New Avengers 43
  • New York Four
  • Nightwing 146
  • Northlanders 8
  • Pilot Season: The Core
  • Powers 29
  • Punisher 59
  • Punisher War Journal 21
  • Scalped 19
  • Secret Invasion 4
  • Shannon Wheeler’s Postage Stamp Funnies
  • She-Hulk 31
  • Skaar: Son of Hulk 2
  • Thor 10
  • Thunderbolts 122
  • Tiny Titans 6
  • Ultimate Origins 2
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 124
  • Uncanny X-Men 500
  • Walking Dead 50
  • War Heroes 1
  • War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle 5
  • Wildcats 1
  • Wolverine 67
  • X-Factor 33

July 2013

Batman and Robin 22 

Another great issue of Batman and Robin (or in this case, Batman and Catwoman), and another opportunity for colorist John Kalisz to shine.

Imagine that page in black and white.  The art is most certainly solid — figures and storytelling are both great — but it’s the color choices that really make that page stand out.

Most of this issue involves Catwoman tricking Batman into breaking international law to save a little girl — which seems odd as you would imagine Batman would break any number of international laws if he were convinced that a child was in danger.  (And yes, I know this is “Exhibit A” for why super-heroes don’t work in a real-world setting, but let us have our fun.)

Of course he saves the child, and I love how Batman’s grim mask slips away the moment he interacts with her.

Sheltered 1

So many amazing Image titles have come out since Saga, but many of them have kind of fizzled into nothing after their first story line.  It seems clear that the creators didn’t have much mapped out other than that initial story, and perhaps Image should have a more hands-on editorial policy.  World building on a limitless canvas takes a lot more than just a good writer. 

One solution might be to eschew ongoing monthly comics in favor of “seasons,” so the creators have time to work up each major story line.  Another is to follow the lead of Ed Brisson, who has very casually (and far too quietly) built up an impressive run of original stories short (and tight) enough that he clearly knew the ending before the first issue was released.  Most of Brisson’s comics for Image (The Comeback, The Field, The Violent, Mantle) and Boom (Cluster, The Last Contract) have great ideas, solid characters, exciting stories, and are complete in four to eight issues.

Even Sheltered — perhaps his most popular creator-owned work (hopefully his recent work at Marvel will provide his original work some much needed attention) — ended after a tightly plotted 15 issues.

Sheltered takes place in a “prepper” community — several families that have comes together to live off the grid in preparation for the coming end of the world, either by Act of God or Government.  And just as it would appear that God was a little more patient…

…we get the twist that drives the story.

The rather brilliant concept behind Sheltered is that if you raise your children to be completely sure that the end of the world is coming — complete with the crippling fear and paranoia inherent in that belief — they might just decide that the world would be better served without you.  And so, by the end of the first issue all the parents are dead, leaving the kids — completely convinced that the end of the world is imminent — to run a self-sustaining camp that is completely cut off from the rest of civilization.  (i.e., The perfect set up for a very 21st century Lord of the Flies riff.)

Other Comics I Read from July 2013

  • 100 Bullets: Brother Lono 2
  • Adventures of Superman 3
  • All-New X-Men 14
  • Animal Man 22, Annual 2
  • Aquaman 22
  • Astro City 2
  • Avengers 15, 16
  • Avengers Assemble 17
  • Batman 22, Annual 2
  • Batman Incorporated 13
  • Batman/Superman 2
  • Blackacre 8
  • Captain Marvel 14
  • Chew 35
  • Daredevil 28, 29
  • East of West 4
  • Five Weapons 5
  • Great Pacific 8
  • Green Arrow 22
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 5
  • Hawkeye 12, Annual 1
  • Indestructible Hulk 10, 11
  • Invincible 104
  • Iron Man 12, 13
  • Justice League 22
  • Justice League of America 6
  • Lazarus 2
  • New Avengers 8
  • Powers: Bureau 6
  • Revival 12
  • Rocketeer/The Spirit: Pulp Fiction 1
  • Satellite Sam 1
  • Scarlet 1
  • Superior Foes of Spider-Man 1
  • Superior Spider-Man 13, 14
  • Thanos Rising 4
  • Thief of Thieves 15
  • Thor: God of Thunder 10
  • Uncanny X-Men 8
  • Walking Dead 112
  • Wolverine and the X-Men 33
  • Wonder Woman 22
  • X-Factor 259
  • Young Avengers 7, 8

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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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