This month, Rand Bellavia takes a look at his growing longbox, and reflects on comics released in February 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.

February 1979

Avengers 183

In issue 181, the government added the Falcon to the Avengers to fill a racial quota.  Two issues later he finally gets a moment to weigh in on the matter.

I know this is a comic book from 1979, but bear with me.  Affirmative Action and quotas are not the same thing.  If no qualified candidate from a specific minority group applies for the job, the government is not required to conscript someone.  In issue 181, former Avenger Black Panther was offered to have his membership reinstated and refused.

And, even if I buy into the notion that they are legally required to fill a quota, why didn’t the government just ask the Falcon if he was interested in joining the Avengers?  (Or, better yet, ask Captain America to ask the Falcon to join the Avengers?)  Why not keep conscription as Plan B, and roll the dice on filling the quota without having to, you know, be forthright about filling a quota?

And, of course, all of this ignores the Avengers’ history of offering membership to mutants, aliens, synthezoids, reformed criminals, Celestial Madonnas, the recently undead, time-traveling cowboys, Norse and Greek deities…  (And let’s not forget Forgotten Ones.)

Comics I Read From February 1979

  • Avengers 183
  • Captain America 233
  • Cerebus 8
  • Fantastic Four 206
  • Incredible Hulk 235
  • Iron Man 122
  • Uncanny X-Men 121

 

February 1984

Saga of the Swamp Thing 24

The JLA guest-stars in an issue of Swamp Thing, allowing Alan Moore to gift us with his take on Superman.

This is a great conceit.  We all know someone who knows a whole lot about a whole lot and is only too happy to “helpfully” share that information.  Now imagine that person with the powers and abilities of Superman.

And it’s important that Superman isn’t written as egotistical or obnoxious — he simply has information no one else does and wants to be sure that his friends have that information.  Of course, the other members would find him insufferable, but that’s more about their emotional response than his intention.  I mean, how can Firestorm bring this up without looking like a total jerk?  Also, Bissette and Totleben’s Hawkman is a revelation.

But before the JLA can determine a proper plan of action, Swamp Thing confronts Woodrue with the fatal flaw in his plan:

And Woodrue’s reaction to the loss of his connection to the Green is heartbreaking.

These are the little moments that made me fall in love with Alan Moore’s writing.

Comics I Read From February 1984

  • Alien Worlds 7
  • Alpha Flight 10
  • Avengers 243
  • Badger 4
  • Cerebus 59
  • Defenders 131
  • Dreadstar 9
  • Hercules 3
  • Iron Man 182
  • Manhunter 1
  • Marvel Fanfare 2
  • Marvel Super-Hero Secret Wars 2
  • Marvel Team-Up 141
  • Nexus 6
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 90
  • Ronin 5
  • Thriller 6
  • Uncanny X-Men 181
  • Vigilante 6

February 1989

Animal Man 10

Around issue 6 of Grant Morrison’s 26 issue Animal Man run, he starts to pepper in various indications of the larger story he is telling.  Here the odd little background images, moments, and scenes begin the slow process of taking over the book.

Physicist James Hightower (introduced in earlier issue with no context or connection to Animal Man — or any other DCU characters) finds his way to Arkham Asylum, where the Mad Hatter drops some knowledge, and we begin to see that the “Coyote Gospel” one-shot may have not been a one-shot after all.

Hightower then meets Roger Hayden.

The Psycho Pirate played a pivotal role in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths.  At the end of the book, the DC multiverse was collapsed into one universe, and everything about the multiverse (including the characters and events that has been removed from continuity) was deleted from the memories of the remaining DCU characters, except for poor Roger, who remembered it all.  This knowledge (along with the fact that no one else was able to confirm his version of reality) caused him to be placed in Arkham.

Also, CoIE was written by Marv Wolfman, who apparently gave James Hightower Roger’s name.

This scene isn’t revisited until the last pages of issue 26, when we learn that the child is Grant Morrison.  Hightower’s unique super-power — the ability to perceive comic scenes that other characters remain unaware of — will come in handy when he and Buddy meet one another a few issues from now.

Doom Patrol 21

Speaking of meta-fiction, the same month all that nonsense was taking place in Animal Man, this issue of Doom Patrol (also written by Morrison) finds our heroes fighting the Scissormen, who inhabit the fictional city of Orqwith, which is finding it’s way into our reality by…

Look, just read this:

It’s time to play:  Influence, Imitation, or Theft!  Fans of the blind Argentine writer/philosopher Jorge Luis Borges (and hey, who isn’t?) will note that Morrison’s Orqwith bears a striking resemblance to Borges’ Tlön, from the 1940 short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.”

Honestly, the Borges story makes Doom Patrol seem downright boring and reasonable.  The inhabitants of Tlön subscribe to “subjective idealism,” the philosophical notion that the material world does not exist.  Thumbing their noses at the Gnostics, these people even refuse to accept that things like emotions, beliefs, and desires are real.  Therefore, their language doesn’t use nouns, so “upward behind the onstreaming it mooned” would be their way of saying “The moon rose above the water.”  And you thought the language of the Scissormen was hard to make out!

And, to cement the clear influence of Borges on Morrison, Tlön first appears in our world in book form, and then begins physically infringing on our reality.

But back to Doom Patrol.  After hearing all this, Robot Man asks the greatest meta-fictional question in the history of comics:

I find it fascinating that half a year before Animal Man stares out at us and cries out, “I can see you!” Robot Man looks us dead in the eyes and asks us for permission to exist.

Oh yeah, and Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” is told in three parts, the third of which is a “post-script” that takes place seven years after the first two sections, when earth is well on its way to becoming Tlön.

Sandman 4

 

While I was reading Black Orchid and Sandman from their first issues, I wasn’t fully on board the Neil Gaiman train until I read this.  Seeking his spear and magic helmet, Dream descends into hell, where he discovers that Lucifer is — as we always sort of expected — David Bowie.

Note the early mention of Dream’s siblings — and also that Dream’s parents were pioneers of that whole “name your kids with the same first letter” thing.

Of course Lucifer isn’t keen to just give the helm back, so Dream challenges the demon who “possesses” it to a battle of wills.

The stakes get higher as the game continues:

Choronzon has the advantage as they enter endgame.

Being a demon, poor Choronzon has no response to that.

Then, having regained his helm, Dream prepares to leave Hell.

And once again, Dream has the perfect answer.

As Dream leaves, Lucifer assures the denizens of Hell that “One day I shall destroy him,” and 20 issues later, he makes good on that promise in the most unexpected manner imaginable.

Other Comics I Read from February 1989

  • Badger 48
  • Cerebus 119
  • Concrete Color Special 1
  • Detective Comics 598
  • Dreadstar 43
  • Hellblazer 17
  • Incredible Hulk 356
  • Question  26
  • Secret Origins 39
  • Sensational She-Hulk 2
  • Swamp Thing 85
  • V for Vendetta 10
  • West Coast Avengers 45
  • Whisper 25

February 1994

Spawn 18

After writing and illustrating seven issues of Spawn, Todd McFarlane reached out to some of the biggest names in comics to write four one-shot issues.  These writers were Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Dave Sim, and Frank Miller, and while the script quality wasn’t always up to expectations (I’m looking at you, Frank Miller), there is no doubt that these four names brought the book new attention and credibility.

Four issues after these one-shots, McFarlane stopped writing and drawing the book.  Issues 16-18 were illustrated by Greg Capullo and written by Grant Morrison.  Apparently building on Neil Gaiman’s “Medieval Spawn,” Morrison offered up “Anti-Spawn,” later (mercifully) given the new name “The Redeemer.”

Most of the Spawn guest-writers have acknowledged that it was the kiddie pool full of money (rather than the burning desire to play in Todd McFarlane’s sandbox) that attracted them to Spawn.  But the most interesting thing about these comics is that even when slumming it a bit, these writers couldn’t completely silence the uniqueness of their voices.  In Morrison’s case, you get moments like this:

And leave it to Morrison to find Spawn’s emotional heart, complete with some maudlin nostalgia.

Though Spawn’s wife has remarried since his death, she still seems to be the safest place to store the memory.

It seems strange that it took 18 issues (and another writer) to mine the pathos that provides such a solid foundation for the Spawn concept.

Comics I Read from February 1994

  • American Freak: a Tale of the Un-Men 2
  • Animal Man 70
  • Aquaman: Time and Tide 4
  • Captain America: Drug War
  • Cerebus 179
  • Demon 46
  • Flash 89
  • Grendel Tales: the Devil’s Hammer 1
  • Hellblazer 76
  • Hellstorm: Prince of Lies 13
  • Incredible Hulk 416
  • Mystery Play
  • Ren and Stimpy Special: Powdered Toast Man
  • Sandman 59
  • Shade the Changing Man 46
  • Sin City: A Dame to Kill For 3
  • Swamp Thing 141

February 1999

Hitman 36

By this point in the series, Garth Ennis was alternating between short silly action tales, and darker, emotional stories of pain and loss.  In the “Father’s Day” story line, Tommy (who thought he was an orphan and only child) meets his father, who had murdered his mother and sister.

Unlike the traditional revenge narrative, it’s clear that Tommy didn’t necessarily confront his father with the intention of killing him, and that makes the scene that much more powerful.

At the end of the issue, we see Tommy’s birth, and his mother’s death.

Ennis wisely allows the Bible and John McCrea to do the heavy lifting here.

And we learn why Sean took Tommy under his wing, and also why he and Connie have remained so close.

Invisibles 12

After nearly 50 issues carefully laying out the good vs. evil battle of the Invisible College vs. the Outer Church, Grant Morrison needs only two panels to reframe the entire series.

This issue, which starts the third (and final) volume — it was 12 issues long and counted down from 12 to 1 — begins the destruction of the character’s (and our) notions of good and evil.  When someone is drowning you can’t be bothered to determine if they have the correct belief system.  You rescue them.

Preacher 48

Jesse’s side-gig as the Sheriff of Salvation, Texas comes to an end.  That he would defeat Odin Quincannon was never in question, so this issue is all about the quiet — and unexpected — moments.

Gunther Hahn was the first friend Jesse made in Salvation.  Throughout the story he was Jesse’s steadfast confidant.  He even courted Jesse’s mother.  All of this is why it was such a gut punch to find out the truth about Gunther’s life before he came to America.

Still feeling betrayed by Cassidy, Jesse’s already low patience for this sort of weak/evil behavior was entirely gone.

Gunther reaches out to his friend — to a man of the cloth, no less — and asks if there is a path to forgiveness for a man such as he.

As powerful as this scene is on it’s own, it is a fantastic foreshadowing of Preacher’s climax, where Cassidy confronts Jesse and repeats the question, “Can’t you reach out a hand to a friend?”

Jesse last encounter with Cindy Daggett goes very differently.

I doubt that any Preacher readers didn’t want to see Jesse and Tulip back together, but that didn’t stop us from wanting to give Cindy a happy ending.

And Ennis and Dillon give us exactly what we wanted.

Other Comics I Read from February 1999

  • Action Comics 753
  • Avengers 15
  • Avengers Forever 5
  • Batman Chronicles 16
  • Captain America 16
  • Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty 8
  • Daredevil 6
  • Flash 147
  • Grendel: Red, White, and Black 4
  • Hellblazer 136
  • Hourman 1
  • Human Target 1
  • Inhumans 6
  • JLA 28
  • Minx 7
  • Planetary 1
  • Sandman Presents: Lucifer 2
  • Starman 52
  • Superman Adventures 30
  • Transmetropolitan 20

February 2004

DC: The New Frontier 2

If you’re not already on the Darwyn Cooke train, this is a great place to board.  New Frontier is a retelling of the early days of the DC universe.  In this scene we see a young Hal Jordan, as a soldier during the Korean War.  The war has just ended, and Hal is surprised by a North Korean soldier as he awaits evacuation.

New Frontier was adapted into one of DC’s most successful animated feature films, and while this harrowing scene remains in the cartoon, it is played out in silence (i.e., without Hal’s thoughts as a voice-over).

Without the inner monologue, this scene doesn’t seem nearly as powerful.

(The red middle panel is one more bullet point in a very long list of what makes comics such a fantastic storytelling medium.)

The regret Hal feels can be communicated in silence but why he feels it is lost without the thought boxes.

We also get a great confrontation between Wonder Woman and Superman.

Superman is a pure hero — a role model and a figure of hope.  Wonder Woman is more of a warrior, who is not afraid to face reality and get her hands dirty.

Diana’s pointed reference to Superman’s tag line stings.

Cooke’s characterization of Wonder Woman is spot on.  Unlike the cold action heroes of the Reagan era, Wonder Woman’s emotional connection to those she fights for drives her warrior spirit.  This makes it impossible for her to abandon these women simply because the war is over.  And, I would imagine, this characterization had some influence on the writing of the Wonder Woman feature film.

Other Comics I Read from February 2004

  • Avengers 78, 79
  • Batman 624
  • Batman: Death and the Maidens 7
  • Batman: Room Full of Strangers
  • Brit: Cold Death
  • Catwoman 28
  • Chosen 3
  • Coup D’Etat: Sleeper
  • Daredevil 57
  • Fantastic Four 510
  • Flash 207
  • Goon 5
  • Gotham Central 16
  • Hawkman 25
  • Hellblazer 193
  • Human Target 7
  • Incredible Hulk 67
  • JSA 58
  • Light Brigade 1
  • Losers 9
  • Lucifer 47
  • My Faith in Frankie 2
  • Mystique 11
  • New X-Men 153
  • Plastic Man 3
  • Pulse 1
  • Punisher 3
  • Runaways 11
  • Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Negative Exposure 5
  • Secret War 1
  • Superman: Birthright 7
  • Teen Titans 8
  • Tom Strong 25
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four 3
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 53
  • Ultimate X-Men 42
  • Walking Dead 5
  • Wolverine 11
  • Wonder Woman 201
  • X-Statix 19
  • Y: The Last Man 19

February 2009

Secret Warriors 1

Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Warrior run was hugely influential on the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

You probably recognize the guy in the eye-patch as Nick Fury Classic.  The agent he is talking to is Quake, or Daisy Johnson, the point of view character from the Agents of SHIELD television series.  She is the main character of this comic, and it could be said with confidence that it is her appearance here that launched her into Agents of SHIELD.  Which should have given comic readers a clue where MCU Phase Two was headed.

Other Comics I Read from February 2009

  • 100 Bullets 100
  • Adventure Comics 0
  • Astonishing Tales 1
  • Avengers: The Initiative 22
  • Batman 686
  • Captain America 47
  • Daredevil 116
  • Dark Avengers 2
  • Detective Comics 685
  • DMZ 39
  • Fantastic Four 564
  • Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds 3
  • Ghost Rider 32
  • Green Lantern 39
  • Green Lantern Corps 33
  • Hellblazer 252
  • House of Mystery 10
  • Incredible Hercules 126
  • Invincible 59
  • Invincible Iron Man 10
  • JSA 24
  • Marvels: Eye of the Camera 4
  • Mighty 1
  • Mighty Avengers 22
  • New Avengers 50
  • Nightwing 153
  • Northlanders 15
  • Outsiders 15
  • Scalped 26
  • She-Hulk 38
  • Skaar: Son of Hulk 8
  • Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade 3
  • Thor 600
  • Thunderbolts 129
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 131
  • Uncanny X-Men 506
  • Unknown Soldier 5
  • Walking Dead 58
  • War Machine 3
  • X-Factor 40
  • X-Men Origins: Sabretooth
  • X-Men/Spider-Man 4

February 2014

Eternal Warrior 6

Greg Pak should be a bigger deal than he is.  His work is consistently readable and interesting, and often brilliant.  If you’re not familiar with him — or, if you’ve read Planet Hulk and some of his other Marvel work and want to see what else he’s done — his eight issue run on Eternal Warrior is a great place to start.

As the title tries to warn you, Eternal Warrior is about a soldier named Gilad who cannot die.  In this story, we join him as the proverbial man who has seen too much.  Gilad’s pretty much given up on humanity, but his granddaughter convinces him to venture out into the world, and he begins to see it through her eyes.

When they encounter a people enslaved by a cruel dictator, Gilad’s granddaughter spurs him into action, despite his reservations.

Gilad is eager to leave, but who could say no to that face?

Gilad pushes on, and despite Caroline’s naive hope, finds himself seeing and hearing things he has seen and heard far too many times before.

…including the threat of nuclear annihilation.

And then this heartbreaking panel:

And Gilad’s reluctance crumbles.

Other Comics I Read from February 2014

  • Action Comics 28
  • All-New X-Factor 3
  • Amazing X-Men 4
  • Animal Man 28
  • Apocalypse Al 1
  • Archer and Armstrong 0
  • Astro City 9
  • Avengers 26
  • Avengers Assemble 24
  • Batman 28
  • Batman and Robin 28
  • Batman/Superman 8
  • Batman: Joker’s Daughter
  • Bloodshot and HARD Corps 0, 19
  • Black Widow 3
  • Chew 40
  • Daredevil 36
  • Dead Body Road 3
  • Deadly Class 2
  • Fatale 20
  • Five Weapons 7
  • Fox 4
  • Great Pacific 13
  • Green Arrow 28
  • Hawkeye 15
  • Indestructible Hulk 19
  • Iron Man 21, Annual 1
  • Justice League 28
  • Kick-Ass 3 6
  • Lazarus 6
  • Manhattan Projects 18
  • Minimum Wage 2
  • Ms. Marvel 1
  • New Avengers 14
  • One-Hit Wonder 1
  • Punisher 1, 2
  • Rat Queens 5
  • Revenge 1
  • Satellite Sam 6
  • Secret 6
  • Secret Avengers 15, 16
  • Shadowman 15
  • She-Hulk 1
  • Sheltered 7
  • Sidekick 5
  • Superior Foes of Spider-Man 8
  • Superior Spider-Man 27, 28
  • Superman/Wonder Woman 5
  • Thor: God of Thunder 19
  • Three 5
  • Trillium 6
  • Unity 4
  • Walking Dead 122, 122
  • Wolverine and the X-Men 41, 42
  • Wonder Woman 28

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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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