This month, Rand Bellavia takes a look at his growing longbox, and reflects on comics released in December in 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013!

Rand Bellavia is back to share his fond memories of decades of comic collecting and reading in this month’s Random Access Memory.

December 1978

Avengers 181

A little before the Korvac Saga began, annoying government agent Henry Gyrich was introduced, just in time to remove the Avengers Priority Status.  Following the Avengers battle with Korvac, Gyrich returned to announce that the sheer volume of Avengers had become a national security concern — as well as, coincidentally, a confusing matter for readers, and a huge pain in the ass for poor John Byrne.  (Okay, Gyrich didn’t mention those other two things.  And while we’re in parentheses, let us pause briefly to give George Perez — who never seemed to mind cramming 22 heroes into a single panel — proper accolades for that amazing cover.)

After Gyrich makes his terms clear, Iron Man and Captain America do that thing that only happens in comics where you have a private conversation seven inches from the ear holes of the guy you’re secretly talking about.

Then, the other shoe drops:

Writer David Michelinie does something subtly audacious here:  he takes one of the most exciting tropes of the Avengers comic — the announcement of a new team line-up — and puts in rather unceremoniously into the mouth of the boring old US government.

And it’s so Hawkeye to be this indignant about this whole thing:

Of course equal opportunities and quotas are two different things, but Iron Man doesn’t seem too interested in exploring that line of argument:

Cap’s attitude here is totally why many Gen X readers were surprised by his behavior in Marvel’s Civil War.  His eagerness to compromise paints him as kind of a government stooge, and reads just as wrong-headed to me as Superman’s similar portrayal in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.  Don’t get me wrong, trying to bridge the gap between Tony and Gyrich reads right to me.  It’s just that in this instance “compromise” looks a lot like capitulation.

And for those wondering what Quicksilver was loath to even consider, he falls into a coma in the very next panel, bringing us rather unceremoniously into the next storyline.

Also, remember the good old days before Jim Shooter decided to break up the Pyms by turning  Hank into a wife-beater?

Yes, he had a history of mental breakdowns, but even when he lost his memory and was manipulated by Ultron into attacking the Avengers, it was his love for Janet that brought him back to the light.

Comics I Read From December 1978

  • Amazing Spider-Man 190
  • Captain America 231
  • Cerebus 7
  • Incredible Hulk 233
  • Marvel Team-Up 79
  • Uncanny X-Men 119

December 1983

Green Lantern/Green Arrow 6

The famous “drug” issue.  For those who haven’t read it, Green Arrow and Speedy encounter some drug pushers and drug addicts.  Ollie treats both groups with equal disdain, only to find out later that his teen sidekick is a heroin addict.  Rejected by his mentor, Speedy turns to Black Canary for help beating his addiction.

By the end of the issue, Roy is well enough to deliver this monologue:

Those not around in the 70s (these issues were reprinted in 1983, where I first read them) may find it a bit quaint, but I assure you that this was very shocking and powerful stuff when first published.

This comic also includes Green Lantern/Green Arrow 87, which introduced John Stewart, considered by many (i.e., those who don’t count Vykin from the Forever People or The Black Racer from the New Gods) to be DC’s first Black super-hero.

These days John Stewart is a man who takes his job very seriously — an ex-soldier and architect who is duty-driven and haunted by his past mistakes.   Which is another of saying that he has changed quite a bit since he was first introduced:

Even after spending ten whole issues hanging out with Ollie, Hal is still kind of clueless — mostly because that’s his role in this comic.  Also, note that Denny O’Neil creates a foil cop who “gets it,” if only so we don’t mistakenly read this as a diatribe against police officers.

In their first adventure together, Hal and John are protecting a racist Senator.  While being rescued, the Senator is “accidentally” covered in oil.

Note that John is not wearing the classic Green Lantern domino mask.  In a recent conversation I was having about this story with Cody White on the Facebook group “for the love of comic books,” he posited that O’Neil and Adams had Stewart refuse to wear the mask as a subtle dig at Marvel for asking Jack Kirby to redesign Black Panther’s mask in order to cover his Blackness.

Later, John and Hal stand guard during the Senator’s stump speech.

The Senator survives the attack, and the shooter is arrested, but John isn’t convinced they have solved the crime.  To his credit, Hal is eventually willing to investigate the matter.

Saga of the Swamp Thing 22

Just taking a quick moment to point out that back in 1983 I thought this was incredibly well-written:

In my defense, I was 14 at the time.  Reading it now, I can see that it is almost desperately overwritten.  But, more problematically:  What is such a poetic physical description doing in a visual medium?  Also — and I can’t believe I get to type this sentence without metaphor — What color is the sky in your world, Alan?  Clearly, even colorist Tatiana Wood was flummoxed by this, rendering a firmament that is clearly from a different galaxy.

Comics I Read From December 1983

  • Alien Worlds 6
  • Alpha Flight 8
  • Avengers 241
  • Camelot 3000 10
  • Cerebus 57
  • Defenders 129
  • Dreadstar 8
  • Elektra Saga 2
  • GI Joe 21
  • Hercules 1
  • Jack of Hearts 3
  • Marvel Fanfare 13
  • Marvel Team-Up 139
  • Nexus 5
  • New Teen Titans 40
  • Thriller 5
  • Twisted Tales 6
  • Uncanny X-Men 179
  • Vigilante 4

December 1988

Classic X-Men 32

Back in the 80s, graphic novel reprints of American comics were few and far between, which lead to things like Classic X-Men, which was just a way to put Chris Claremont’s X-Men back into print.  But, you may ask, how did they get the increasingly aging comic book demographic to rebuy the issues that most of them already owned?  Each issue had a new backup story written by Claremont and illustrated by John Bolton, that took place immediately before or after (or, in this case, during) the comic being reprinted.

This comic reprints the X-Men’s first encounter with Proteus.  In the original comic, Wolverine and Nightcrawler confront Proteus, and when we return to the scene, they have been defeated by his reality-distorting powers, and are rescued by Storm.  The new story in this issue basically takes place between those panels, and is essentially an excuse for Bolton to render a series of fantastically creative splash pages:

And Claremont does a great job of shifting the narrative voice and tone to match the illustrations.  Some pages are surreal:

Others horrifying:

And some are humorous:

Other Comics I Read from December 1988

  • Badger 46, 47
  • Black Orchid 2
  • Brought to Light
  • Cerebus 117
  • Dr. Fate 3
  • Gumby’s Winter Fun Special
  • Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown 2
  • Hellblazer 16
  • Incredible Hulk 354
  • Marshal Law 6
  • Next Nexus 4
  • Nexus 56
  • Punisher 18
  • Question 24
  • Stray Toasters 4
  • V for Vendetta 8
  • West Coast Avengers 43
  • Whisper 23

December 1993

Shade the Changing Man 44

 

Shade is stuck at the Salem Witch Trials, and all we really learn is that even with John Constantine guest-starring, Lenny is still the most interesting character in the book.

Don’t worry, she’s fine.

Comics I Read from December 1993

  • Animal Man 68
  • Aquaman: Time and Tide 2
  • Batman Adventures: Mad Love
  • Cerebus 177
  • Cerebus Companion 1
  • Daredevil: The Man Without Fear 5
  • Demon 44
  • Flash 87
  • Hellblazer 74
  • Incredible Hulk 414
  • Marvels 2
  • Palookaville 4
  • Sandman 57
  • Sandman Mystery Theater 11
  • Sin City: A Dame to Kill For 1
  • Spawn 16

December 1998

Hitman 34

If you’ve read any interview Garth Ennis has ever given, you’re likely aware that he is that rare “mainstream” comic book writer who hates super-heroes.  When he can be bothered to include a super-hero in his comics (usually because he’s writing a character who shares a world with them, like the Punisher or Hitman) they are usually dismissed as comic relief or dealt with brutally.

But Ennis clearly has a soft spot for Superman, and Hitman 34 rather unexpectedly gives us one of the best Superman stories of all time.

Tommy is hanging out on a Gotham rooftop when Superman happens to show up.  After some pleasant (and uncomfortable) conversation, Tommy can tell that Superman could use a sympathetic ear — Superman was, in fact, in Gotham hoping to talk with Batman — so he asks him what’s on his mind.  Turns out Superman had just come back from a rescue mission in space — a failed rescue mission:

Now Superman isn’t an idiot.  He knows he can’t save everyone.  He can live with that grim reality.  It’s the myth of Superman that’s weighing him down.

The notion that the dude from another planet is “everything that’s great” about America is a bold statement.  But Tommy can back it up.

Is now a good time to remind you that Garth Ennis was born in Ireland?  And he’s not done yet:

This is one of those single issues where nothing much happens, but it’s still pretty engaging from beginning to end.  Ennis may not love superheroes, but he sure gets Superman.

By the end of their conversation, Superman is so appreciative of Tommy’s kind words, that it never occurs to him to ask just what Tommy was doing on that rooftop in the first place, or how Tommy knew so much about Figs Kernahan, or consider how unlikely it was that Figs just happened to be sitting within eyeshot of the roof where Tommy just happened to be hanging out.

Or even, for that matter, to ask what exactly it is that Tommy does for a living. 

Invisibles 22

Volume Two comes to an explosive end, as the cover tries to warn you.  We flash forward to see our heroes in the future.  Lord Fanny has a warning for Jack Frost, and Grant Morrison proves that maybe this whole chaos magic thing is worth checking out with this frighteningly accurate prediction:

I mean, he even got the year right.  (And let me remind you that this was published in 1998.)

Also, King Mob’s journey from ultra-cool, ultra-violent superspy to marginally less cool (but still pretty cool) zen freedom fighter is complete.

Preacher 46

Gunther entertains us while hitting on Jesse’s mother:

And Jesse confronts the Klan, as only he can:

Other Comics I Read from December 1998

  • Avengers 13
  • Avengers Forever 3
  • Batman Chronicles 15
  • Batman/Hellboy/Starman 2
  • Captain America 14
  • Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty 6
  • Daredevil 4
  • DCU Heroes Secret Files 1
  • Flash 145
  • Grendel: Red, White, and Black 2
  • Heartthrobs 2
  • Hellblazer 134
  • Inhumans 4
  • Jinx Pop Culture Hoo-Hah
  • JLA 26
  • JLA/Titans 3
  • Kingdom 1, 2
  • Kingdom: Kid Flash
  • Kingdom: Nightstar
  • Kingdom: Offsping
  • Kingdom: Planet Krypton
  • Kingdom: Son of the Bat
  • Kurt Busiek’s Astro City 15
  • Legends of the DC Universe 13
  • Minx 5
  • Sin City: Family Values
  • Starman 50
  • Superman 80-page Giant
  • Superman Adventures 28
  • Torso 2
  • Transmetropolitan 18
  • Webspinners: Tales of Spider-Man 2

December 2003

New X-Men 150

In the unlikely event that the previous four issues hadn’t made it clear that Grant Morrison is not a fan of Magneto’s tired old super-villain shtick, Fantomex makes it pretty clear:

Then Professor X brings the verbal hammer down:

It’s nice that while making it clear that Magneto is the problem, Charles is self-aware enough to say that it’s time that we put away the old dreams and listen to what the new kids have to say.  A lot of people mention how cleverly Morrison recycles all the classic X-Men tropes, but that repetition was meant as a critique as much as it was an homage.  This critique is made overt by Xavier’s speech here, as well as by the introduction of so many new characters and concepts throughout Morrison’s run.  Sadly, most of those were eliminated almost immediately upon his departure from the franchise.

And, of course, Magneto — being Magneto — cannot or will not understand what Xavier is talking about.  All he hears is the part about being more inspiring when he was dead.

And Wolverine — being Wolverine — is all too eager to help Magneto out.

Interesting that Magneto dies as Xorn.  It works symbolically, with Magneto wanting to die as something good and inspiring, but it also gives future writers and editors a reasonable (in the comic book sense of “reasonable”) out for when they inevitably want to bring Magneto back — we never really see his head, maybe the mask was magic, Magneto used his powers to I can’t bear to finish this sentence, etc.

Then Chuck Austin, the “writer” who took over the book after Morrison, elected to almost immediately bring Magneto back, but — and I swear I’m not making this up — he did so by claiming that Xorn was — get this — not a character Magneto created, but an actual person who was pretending to be Magneto.  So, Xorn was a dude who pretended to be Magneto pretending to be… Xorn?  And when we finally see Xorn’s face, he just happens to look exactly like Magneto?  Which means that it was Xorn who — after spending years building good will as a teacher at Xavier’s school — went crazy, became addicted to Kick, put on Magneto’s costume and helmet (where did he get that, by the way?), tried to kill all humans and take over the world by reversing the earth’s magnetic poles, and got killed by Wolverine?  And he did all of this while somehow perfectly imitating Magneto’s power set and looking and sounding exactly like Magneto, all of which he kept carefully hidden for years while living in China and pretending to be… himself, I guess.

After all that, I’m not sure why I’m bothering to bring this up, but if Xorn wasn’t Magneto’s long game, then that means he was in fact killed during the destruction of Genosha that opened Morrison’s run, right?

Oh, and Austin gave Xorn a twin brother, too — conveniently also named Xorn — presumably so they could bring both Magneto and Xorn back from the dead if need be.

Plastic Man 1

If you like Plastic Man — or you like Kyle Baker — you’re going to love this comic.  If you like both, you’re going to adore this comic.  I swear if I were the lead character in Aladdin (can’t seem to remember his name), I would totally have used one of my wishes to make Kyle Baker a household name.  Every time he comes out with a new comic or graphic novel I think, “This will be the one that makes him famous.”  And I’m always wrong.  Don’t get me wrong, I feel lucky that this book lasted as long as it did — especially since the final story arc is one of the great comic stories of the early 21st century — but I’m so tired of pretty much everyone I show this comic to telling me that the art is “too cartoony.”  (And then changing the subject so they can tell me how much they love whatever new cartoon is so outlandishly popular.)

This first issue starts with Plastic Man out of sorts.  Sure, he appears to be having a good time all the time, but he broods harder than Batman next to a gargoyle at night during a rainstorm.  Luckily, he can use his super powers to mask his true feelings from the world.

Wondering where it all went wrong — and, seemingly aware that this is the first issue — he conveniently goes over his origin story.  For those who don’t already know, Eel O’Brien was a petty thief who was doused by some acid during a robbery.  Since this is a comic book, the acid doesn’t turn Eel into a Robocop supporting character, but rather transforms him into a human rubber band.

In Police Comics issue one, written and illustrated by Jack Cole and published way back in 1941, this is how Eel discovers what has happened to him:

Here’s Baker’s take on the same scene:

If you didn’t get the visual reference, Baker adds a funny new layer to Plastic Man’s origin by brilliantly quoting the imagery from R. Crumb’s “Stoned Again!”

Other Comics I Read from December 2003

  • 100 Bullets 48
  • Avengers 75, 76
  • Avengers/JLA 4
  • Batman 622
  • Batman: Death and the Maidens 5
  • Brit: Cold Death
  • Catwoman 26
  • Chosen 1
  • Empire 6
  • Fantastic Four 508
  • Flash 205
  • Goon 4
  • Gotham Central 14
  • Hate Annual 4
  • Hawkman 22
  • Hellblazer 191
  • Human Target 5
  • Incredible Hulk 64
  • JSA 55
  • JSA All-Stars 8
  • Losers 7
  • Lucifer 45
  • Masks: Too Hot for TV
  • Mystique 9
  • Planetary 18
  • Punisher 37
  • Red 3
  • Runaways 9
  • Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Negative Exposure 3
  • Teen Titans 6
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four 1
  • Ultimate Six 5
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 50, 51
  • Ultimate X-Men 40
  • Walking Dead 3
  • Wanted 1
  • Wolverine 9
  • Wonder Woman 199
  • X-Statix 17
  • Y: The Last Man 17

December 2008

X-Men: Magneto: Testament 4

Greg Pak has written a lot of great comics.  He’s justifiably known for Planet Hulk, but this is the comic that should have made him a household name.  It is ostensibly a Magneto origin, telling the story of Erik Lehnsherr/Max Eisenhardt’s childhood, and the discovery of his mutant abilities.  But, as Max is a Jew in Nazi Germany, this is also a harrowing account of the Holocaust.  Pak’s research is solid and his pedagogical intent made clear by the inclusion of a bibliography and a teaching/curricular guide in the back matter.

This issue includes an image of remarkable visual power.  Pak understood that overtly violent imagery might be interpreted as vulgar or melodramatic.  Without context, the image is benign, but as presented it becomes one of the most disturbing double-page spreads in the history of comics.

Max finds himself in a concentration camp, where he encounters Kalb, an older man who protected him as a young boy.

The following pages reveal what stole Max’s attention.

An unimaginably high mountain of glasses.  If Max were removed from the page, this image would be almost dada.  But with Max in the foreground, the image (and its implication) is all too real.  And genuinely horrific.

Other Comics I Read from December 2008

  • 100 Bullets 98
  • Action Comics 872
  • Air 5
  • Amazing Spider-Man 579-581
  • Amazing Spider-Man Family 3
  • Avengers: The Initiative 20
  • Captain America 45
  • Daredevil 114
  • Dark Reign: New Nation
  • DMZ 37
  • Ex Machina 40
  • Final Crisis: Revelations 5
  • Final Crisis: Secret Files 1
  • Ghost Rider 30
  • Goon 31
  • Green Lantern 37
  • Green Lantern Corps 31
  • Hellblazer 250
  • Hulk Family: Green Genes
  • I Kill Giants 6
  • Incognito 1
  • Incredible Hercules 124
  • Invincible 56, 57
  • Invincible Iron Man 8
  • JSA 22
  • Marvel Zombies 3 3
  • Marvels: Eye of the Camera 1, 2
  • Mighty Avengers 20
  • Moon Knight: Silent Knight
  • New Avengers 48
  • Nightwing 151
  • Northlanders 13
  • Phonogram: The Singles Club 1
  • Punisher Max X-Mas Special
  • Punisher War Journal 26
  • Punisher War Zone 1-4
  • Scalped 24
  • Secret Invasion: Dark Reign
  • Secret Invasion: Requiem
  • She-Hulk 36
  • She-Hulk: Cosmic Collision
  • Skaar: Son of Hulk 6
  • Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade 1
  • Thor: God-Size
  • Thunderbolts 127
  • Tiny Titans 11
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 129
  • Ultimatum 2
  • Uncanny X-Men 505
  • Unknown Soldier 3
  • Vixen: Return of the Lion 3
  • Walking Dead 56
  • War Machine 1
  • Wolverine 70
  • Wolverine: Manifest Destiny 3
  • X-Factor 38
  • X-Men/Spider-Man 2
  • X-Men: Noir 1

December 2013

Superman/Wonder Woman 3

This issue does a great job of demonstrating that both Batman and Wonder Woman get Superman.  And so, apparently, does Charles Soule.

Quick catch-up:  This is the New 52, which — in this case — means Superman and Wonder Woman are dating and Superman and Batman are best friends.  Here, Batman demonstrates that one of the advantages of being Batman is that you Notice Stuff.

Later, Wonder Woman gives Superman the perfect gift, and wishes us all a Merry Christmas.

Other Comics I Read from December 2013

  • 100 Bullets: Brother Lono 7
  • Action Comics 26
  • Amazing X-Men 2
  • Animal Man 26
  • Archer and Armstrong 16
  • Astro City 7
  • Avengers 24
  • Avengers Assemble 22
  • Batman 26
  • Batman and Robin 26
  • Batman/Superman 6
  • Bloodshot and HARD Corps 17
  • Brain Boy 0
  • Buzzkill 4
  • Captain America: Living Legend 4
  • Chew 38
  • Daredevil 34
  • Dead Body Road 1
  • East of West 8
  • Eternal Warrior 4
  • Forever Evil 4
  • Fox 2
  • Great Pacific 12
  • Green Arrow 26
  • Hawkeye 14
  • Indestructible Hulk 17
  • Inhumanity 1
  • Invincible 107
  • Iron Man 19
  • Justice League 26
  • Lazarus 5
  • Manhattan Projects 17
  • New Avengers 13
  • Pretty Deadly 3
  • Protectors Inc. 2
  • Revival 16
  • Rocketeer/the Spirit: Pulp Friction 4
  • Saga 17
  • Satellite Sam 5
  • Secret 4
  • Shadowman 13
  • Superior Foes of Spider-Man 6, 7
  • Superior Spider-Man 23, 24
  • Thor: God of Thunder 16
  • Three 3
  • Trillium 5
  • Unity 2
  • Velvet 2
  • Walking Dead 118
  • Wolverine and the X-Men 39
  • Wonder Woman 26
  • Young Avengers 13
  • Zero 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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