This month, Rand Bellavia takes a look at his growing longbox, and reflects on comics released in December in 1979, 1984, 1989, 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009, and 2014!

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

January 1979

Daredevil 158

This is pretty much ground zero for Frank Miller’s comics career.  He didn’t start writing Daredevil for another ten issues, but it’s immediately clear that something special is happening.

At the time, Marvel had no way of knowing that the new artist on Daredevil — a book that I promise you no one cared about in 1979 — would revolutionize comics, yet they introduce him exactly as they would have if they were writing that copy today.

And I love that the art is Pure Miller right from the start.  Was anyone else laying out a five-panel page in “wide-screen” format before Miller?  It’s pretty common to see this now, but it was pretty radical at the time.

Also, note the stylized addition of the red DD onto the ink silhouette — another Miller trademark.

Comics I Read From January 1979

  • Avengers 182
  • Captain America 232
  • Incredible Hulk 234
  • Iron Man 121
  • Marvel Premiere 47
  • Marvel Team-Up 80
  • Marvel Two-in-One 51
  • Uncanny X-Men 120

January 1984

What If 44

What If… may as well have been titled “This Issue: Everyone Dies!” as the basic conceit quickly shifted from “Let’s see how the ripple effect of one small change would alter the Marvel Universe” to “Let’s see how any small change would result in the destruction of the universe.”

I was a huge fan of the first run of What If, but looking back at most of my favorite issues through the sad eyes of experience, I have to admit that most of them don’t really hold up.  But I can still stand by this one.  For many reasons, including that amazing Sienkiewicz cover and that odd fact that This Issue: No One Dies!

So, it turns out that if Captain America were not discovered by the Avengers (way back in Avengers 4), America would have tumbled into a fascist nightmare.  This fall would be largely assisted by the 1950s Captain America, who was driven insane by a faulty super soldier formula, and placed on ice.  Believe it or not, that’s all canon, but in this story the mentally unstable Cap is defrosted due to the country’s discernible lack of Captain Americas.

Then Senator Chadwick, after winning reelection with Cap’s support, pulls the only move in the Marvel Universe Senator playbook by pushing a registration bill.

Then, stealing a move from DC’s Start a Race Riot playbook, Chadwick hires a sniper to “almost kill” Captain America.

Some time later, the real Cap finds his way back from suspended animation and is discovered by Navy sailors who recognize him as the Real Deal.  Needless to say, Cap is less than enthused about the world he wakes up in:

And, as is always the case in stories like this, it does the heart good to see which of your favorite characters are fighting on the side of the angels.

Eventually, the two Captains face each other, during a nationally televised political rally.

And even though their costumes are identical, we can tell who the real Cap is, as no one else can speechify like that while fighting.

His doppelgänger is unconscious long before Cap runs out of things to say, so he turns to his audience:

And like all good fairy tales, we get a happy ending.

Comics I Read From January 1984

  • Action Comics 554
  • Alpha Flight 9
  • Amazing Spider-Man 251, 252
  • Avengers 242
  • Badger 3
  • Captain America 292, 293
  • Cerebus 58
  • Conan the King 22
  • Coyote 4
  • Defenders 130
  • Elektra Saga 3
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow 7
  • Hercules 2
  • Jack of Hearts 4
  • Mage 1
  • Marvel Super-Hero Secret Wars 1
  • Marvel Team-Up 140
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 89
  • Phoenix: the Untold Story
  • Saga of the Swamp Thing 23
  • Silverheels 2
  • Somerset Holmes 3
  • Twisted Tales 7
  • Vigilante 5

January 1989

Dreadstar 42

In its heyday, Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar was the best.  Great characters, a solid plot, and high stakes.  Like all great space opera, it was serious without being humorless.  Shortly after porting the series from Marvel’s Epic imprint to First Comics, Starlin reimagined the series as an outer space police procedural, shifting to a much darker tone.  (The penultimate issue of Starlin’s run featured the death of a major character and his last issue was devoted mostly to Dreadstar’s contemplation of — and eventual attempted — suicide.)

Peter David took over an issue later, and the tonal shift cannot be overestimated.  Suddenly, we were back to space opera, but this was a much more fun (and funny) space opera.  Mostly illustrated by Angel Medina, David’s Dreadstar run is one of the great unreprinted comics of the 80s/90s.

This is the second issue of David’s run, so the overall plot is just getting started.  All you need to know is that Dreadstar and his crew have a Baby on Board.  The baby was literally found floating in space, and this issue opens as a race of giant turtles shows up looking to forcefully take the baby out of Dreadstar’s hands.

But the real reason I’m here is because of these two panels:

Because me and my friends were all hopeless nerds, I spent my twenties unable to toss anything to anyone without uttering the phrase, “Skeevo!  Go deep!”

Other Comics I Read from January 1989

  • Animal Man 8, 9
  • Black Orchid 3
  • Cerebus 118
  • Doom Patrol 19, 20
  • Dr. Fate 4
  • Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown 3
  • Incredible Hulk 355
  • Question  25
  • Sandman 2, 3
  • Sensational She-Hulk 1
  • Stray Toasters 4
  • Swamp Thing 83, 84
  • V for Vendetta 9
  • Wasteland 16
  • Whisper 24
  • Yummy Fur 14

January 1994

Swamp Thing 140

And then he woke up.  Yes, Grant Morrison and Mark Millar used that tired old trope to begin their Swamp Thing run.  To be more accurate, to begin Mark Millar’s Swamp Thing run.  Back in 1994, Millar was Speedy to Morrison’s Green Arrow (neither having ascended to Robin or Batman status at the time).  But Green Arrow can launch a book, so Morrison agreed to co-write the first four-issues with Millar, giving the book the sales boost needed to keep it going for another few years with Millar as the sole writer.

Interestingly, back when Millar was laboring in even more obscurity as the writer of the The Saviour (it’s never heard of you, either) he published an editorial in issue 6 which included the following rant:

I don’t know who did what here, but this page is pure Morrison:

Tonight, the role of Alec Holland will be performed by Terence McKenna.  (And the role of Jenny will be performed by Self-Transforming Machine Elves.)

While the notion that every issue of Swamp Thing was Alec Holland’s elaborate, drug-induced dream is pretty sweaty, tying it to psilocybin and DMT is kind of clever, given Holland’s work on a bio-restorative plant formula and Alan Moore’s retconned origin linking Swamp Thing to plant consciousness.

Also, Phil Hester does a pretty great Big Scary Swamp Thing.

Comics I Read from January 1994

  • American Freak: a Tale of the Un-Men 1
  • Animal Man 69
  • Aquaman: Time and Tide 3
  • Cerebus 178
  • Demon 45
  • Flash 88
  • Hellblazer 75
  • Hellstorm: Prince of Lies 12
  • Incredible Hulk 415
  • Marvels 3
  • Palookaville 4
  • Sandman 58
  • Sandman Mystery Theater 12
  • Shade the Changing Man 45
  • Sin City: A Dame to Kill For 2
  • Spawn 17
  • X-Factor 100
  • Yummy Fur 32

January 1999

JLA 27

Five years later, and Mark Millar is still eating scraps from Grant Morrison’s table — in this instance, a fill-in issue in the middle of Morrison’s justifiably lauded JLA run.  The shock twist at the end is that Millar’s one-shot is a lot of fun.

For those of you who weren’t there at the time, Mark Millar wasn’t always the suspiciously aging enfant terrible of comics.  He spent most of the 90s writing really solid, fun super-hero comics.  His run on Superman Adventures was undeniably great, and downright wholesome.

In this story, Millar folds Ray Palmer (The Atom) back into the JLA:

Alas, Flash and Green Lantern are more impressed with Ray than he is with them, and he declines their invitation to join the new Justice League.

Next we spend some time with Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, who are having another one of their casual lunches:

Then we get to the story part of the story:  Amazo is back, and he’s better than ever!  He beats his way through the JLA so quickly that the reserves have to be called in.

If you don’t already know, Amazo is an android created by Professor Anthony Ivo, and gifted with the powers of all the JLA!  (Why anyone smart enough to create an android with the powers of all the JLA couldn’t find a way to monetize that genius and retire the richest man on the planet is a question for another day.)

After the reserves show up, Steel quickly determines that they are facing Amazo 2.0:

But Steel has no solution to offer, so it’s up to Ray Palmer to figure out what to do next.  I presume it is purely for dramatic effect that he whispers the solution into Superman’s ear and let’s him have the big shouty victory panel.

This is a clever notion — a cute idea, in the best sense of that term.  However, like many good ideas for super-hero stories, it doesn’t really hold up to traditional logic.  I mean, it’s one thing to imagine you could program an android to absorb and reflect the power sets of anyone they encounter, but why (or, for that matter, how) would you program an android to lose those powers as members of the JLA (who are still standing in front of you, using those powers) tell you that they quit?

After Amazo’s oddly human breakdown in the face of defeat, the JLA go back to chatting it up.

Millar’s insistence that Superman and Batman have sophisticated senses of humor is welcome, as is their tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment that they have a unique place in the league.

Other Comics I Read from January 1999

  • Avengers 14
  • Avengers Forever 4
  • Big Book of Vice
  • Captain America 15
  • Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty 7
  • Daredevil 5
  • Fanboy 1
  • Fire
  • Flash 146
  • Grendel: Red, White, and Black 3
  • Heartthrobs 3
  • Hellblazer 135
  • Hitman 35
  • Inhumans 5
  • Kurt Busiek’s Astro City 16
  • Mage: the Hero Defined 10
  • Minx 6
  • Preacher 47
  • Sandman Presents: Lucifer 1
  • Starman 51
  • Superman Adventures 29
  • Transmetropolitan 19
  • Webspinners: Tales of Spider-Man 3

January 2004

Invincible 10

Invincible came out of the gate as a fun take on the teenage super-hero.  For nine issues, Mark Grayson (our titular hero) engages in some classic super-heroics.  The stakes are often high, but the emphasis is on fun and adventure.  Imagine Peter Parker if his dad was Superman — still having the typical problems of a teenager, but without all that “my parents are dead and my uncle got shot on my watch and my girlfriend will eventually get killed by my best friend’s father who I will much later find out had secretly impregnated her” angst.

Issue ten is when Robert Kirkman pulls the rug out from under us (and Mark).  Omni-Man — Invincible’s super-heroic father — heads off at a moment’s notice (as he often does) and Mark secretly follows him, arriving just in time to find his father fighting The Immortal, a super-hero that Mark — demonstrating that he doesn’t know what words mean — thought had been killed in an earlier issue.

And, just as Mark is struggling to make sense of what he heard, he sees this:

In an instant, the character and the reader realize that Invincible’s life is darker and a lot more violent than we had previously imagined.

And trust me, it’s going to get so much worse for all of us.

Other Comics I Read from January 2004

  • Avengers 77
  • Batman 623
  • Batman: Death and the Maidens 6
  • Batman: Gotham Knights 49
  • Brit: Cold Death
  • Catwoman 27
  • Chosen 2
  • Daredevil 56
  • DC: the New Frontier 1
  • Fantastic Four 509
  • Flash 206
  • Global Frequency 11
  • Gotham Central 15
  • Hawkman 23, 24
  • Hellblazer 192
  • Human Target 6
  • Incredible Hulk 65, 66
  • JSA 56, 57
  • Losers 8
  • Lucifer 46
  • My Faith in Frankie 1
  • Mystique 10
  • New X-Men 151, 152
  • Plastic Man 2
  • Possessed 6
  • Powers 36
  • Punisher 1, 2
  • Runaways 10
  • Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Negative Exposure 4
  • Sleeper 12
  • Superman: Birthright 6
  • Teen Titans 7
  • Two-Step 2
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four 2
  • Ultimate Six 6
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 52
  • Ultimate X-Men 41
  • Ultimates 13
  • Walking Dead 4
  • Wanted 2
  • Wolverine 10
  • Wonder Woman 200
  • X-Statix 18
  • Y: The Last Man 18

January 2009

Final Crisis 7

Final Crisis comes to an end.  Better people than me have devoted a lot of words and web-space to parsing out the plot and references, so I’ll just point out two pretty cool moments:

1. Superman defeats Darkseid by singing into the Miracle Machine.  It’s up to us to determine what he sang.  (Did he sing a known song or compose an original melody?  Did he sing lyrics, or just music?)

My money’s on “I am Superman and I can do anything.”

2. The Green Lantern Corps work as one

…to create a huge green stake.  Somewhere Alan Scott is smiling.

Oh, and while we never get to know what song Superman sang, we do learn what he wished for:

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 2

In this Final Crisis crossover comic, we see Superman’s encounter with Vampire God (and former Monitor) Dax Novu.

This looked pretty cool in 3D, by the way.  The Bleed (the liquid in Dax’s hand) is the only thing that can cure a dying Lois Lane, but how can Superman get it to her if he can’t hold it?

No big shock that Superman’s plan involves a whole lot of punching.  You can probably also guess that during their fight, Dax engages in some classic stock-villain dialog*

After some serious fisticuffs, Superman leaves Dax alive, so the Green Lantern Corps have something to do in Final Crisis 7, and the Supermen make their way home.

Back on Earth, Superman saves Lois as only Superman can.

I love this idea, but doesn’t transporting the Bleed in your mouth count as it being “held or bottled”?  And if it cannot be consumed, are we to assume that just having it on Lois’ lips is enough to save her?  What if she swallows some by accident?

*And then, at the very end, we get the answer to Dax’s villainous question about Superman’s tombstone:

Mighty Avengers 21

During his lengthy and lauded run on the Avengers, Kurt Busiek began the redemption of Henry Pym, which Dan Slott completed during his run on Mighty Avengers.

Slott begins with Hercules confronting Pym about his lack of leadership, and Henry finally coming clean.

Pym was content to be the brains of the outfit, quietly leading from behind the scenes, until one dark day:

So Hank isn’t the smartest guy in the room.  Boo hoo.  And his friends really let him have it.

This loving confrontation puts Henry Pym on the path to becoming Earth’s Scientist Supreme.

Other Comics I Read from January 2009

  • 100 Bullets 99
  • Action Comics 873
  • Air 6
  • Amazing Spider-Man 582, 583
  • Amazing Spider-Man Extra 2
  • Astonishing X-Men 28
  • Avengers: The Initiative 21
  • Back to Brooklyn 3
  • Batman and the Outsiders Special 1
  • Captain America 46
  • Daredevil 115
  • Dark Avengers 1
  • DMZ 38
  • Face of Evil: Solomon Grundy
  • Fantastic Four 562, 563
  • Ghost Rider 31
  • Green Lantern 38
  • Green Lantern Corps 32
  • Heathentown
  • Hellblazer 251
  • Hulk Family: Green Genes
  • I Kill Giants 7
  • Incognito 2
  • Incredible Hercules 125
  • Invincible 58
  • Invincible Iron Man 9
  • JSA 23
  • Kick-Ass 5
  • Marvel Zombies 3 4
  • Marvels: Eye of the Camera 3
  • New Avengers 49
  • Nightwing 152
  • Northlanders 14
  • Phonogram: The Singles Club 1
  • Punisher Max X-Mas Special
  • Punisher War Zone 5, 6
  • Scalped 25
  • She-Hulk 37
  • Skaar: Son of Hulk 7
  • Sub-Mariner: the Depths 4
  • Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade 2
  • Thunderbolts 128
  • Tiny Titans 12
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 130
  • Uncanny X-Men Annual 2
  • Unknown Soldier 4
  • Vixen: Return of the Lion 4
  • Walking Dead 57
  • War Machine 2
  • Wolverine: Manifest Destiny 4
  • X-Factor 39
  • X-Men/Spider-Man 3
  • X-Men: Magneto: Testament 5

January 2014

Superman/Wonder Woman 4

Add Charles Soule to the list of writers who get Superman.

Writing may be difficult, but getting Superman really isn’t.  So why can’t DC hire one of the many writers who consistently demonstrate that they get Superman (Soule, Morrison, Waid, Tomasi…) to work on a Superman film script?

Other Comics I Read from January 2014

  • 100 Bullets: Brother Lono 8
  • Action Comics 27
  • Adventures of Superman 9
  • Afterlife with Archie 3
  • All-New X-Factor 1, 2
  • Amazing X-Men 3
  • Animal Man 27
  • Archer and Armstrong 17
  • Astro City 8
  • Avengers 25
  • Avengers Assemble 23
  • Batman 27
  • Batman and Robin 27, Annual 2
  • Batman/Superman 7, Annual 1
  • Bloodshot and HARD Corps 15
  • Black Widow 1, 2
  • Chew 39
  • Daredevil 35
  • Dead Body Road 2
  • Deadly Class 1
  • Detective Comics 27
  • East of West 9
  • EGOs 1
  • Eternal Warrior 5
  • Fatale 19
  • Five Weapons 6
  • Forever Evil 5
  • Fox 3
  • Green Arrow 27
  • Hawkeye 16
  • Indestructible Hulk 18
  • Inhumanity 2
  • Inhumanity: Superior Spider-Man
  • Invincible 108
  • Iron Man 20
  • Justice League 27
  • Minimum Wage 1
  • New Avengers 13
  • Pretty Deadly 4
  • Rat Queens 4
  • Revival 17
  • Saga 18
  • Sex Criminals 4
  • Shadowman 14
  • Sheltered 6
  • Superior Spider-Man 25, 26
  • Thief of Thieves 19
  • Thor: God of Thunder 17
  • Three 4
  • Unity 3
  • Velvet 3
  • Walking Dead 119, 120
  • Wolverine and the X-Men 40
  • Wonder Woman 27
  • Young Avengers 15
  • Zero 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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