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

May 1979

Avengers 186

I got a fever and the only cure is more Cow Nurse!

Let me complete Quicksilver’s ellipses for him:  “…Milk soup?  Really?  I can’t even begin to unpack all the things that are wrong with that.”

Cow Nurse gets an origin story!

Next, Vision treats us to an alarmingly unnatural sentence.  Editors should really make writers read their scripts out loud before they submit them.

Ah, Henry Peter Gyrich.  Now there’s a douche you can set your watch to.  Just a few issues earlier, Cap was defending Gyrich from the rest of the Avengers, but even Cap’s patience has limits.

Gee, I wonder who Cap is going to call?

Oh to live in such a simple world.

Comics I Read From May 1979 

  • Amazing Spider-Man 195
  • Incredible Hulk 238
  • Iron Man 125
  • Uncanny X-Men 124
  • War 15

May 1984

Captain America 296

J. M. DeMatteis’ Captain America run ended with an impressive (and — especially for the time — extremely ambitious) story involving the Red Skull’s “final battle” with Cap.  The pieces he had put in place over the previous 30 issues all came together in this final 10 issue story.

The “you” on the cover is Nomad — Cap’s partner at the time.  Nomad had been hypnotized by the Red Skull into administering a drug to Cap that reversed the anti-aging effects of the Super Soldier serum.

Early in his run, DeMatteis introduced Arnie Roth, a childhood friend of Steve’s.  Arnie was Steve’s protector — in fact, Bucky’s portrayal in the First Avenger movie was pretty clearly based on Arnie.  This makes the Steve/Bucky shipping a little more interesting, as —  while it wasn’t overt — any reasonable reading of the text makes it clear that Arnie is gay.  (When we first meet him, he is asking Cap to save his “roommate” Michael from Baron Zemo.)

Of course, being Captain America’s oldest friend (not to mention being gay and Jewish) makes him a bit of a target for the Red Skull.  A captured Cap finds himself forced to watch his old friend perform a grotesque cabaret.

I suppose one could read all of that to refer to Roth’s Jewishness — and I suppose it offered 1984 Marvel some plausible deniability, if they felt they needed it — but you’d have to try pretty hard not to read Arnie’s sexuality into this.  But Cap — who’s greatest super power is clearly his ability to sermonize while performing great feats of strength and agility — does his level best to render the implicit explicit.

Fear not, Arnie isn’t yet another “kill your gays” victim.  He survives this mental and physical assault.  The Bucky panels represent Steve’s feelings of guilt and helplessness, and also set up the next issue, which came out just a few weeks later.

Captain America 297

As you may recall from three sentences ago, Cap is old and at the mercy of the Red Skull.  Baron Zemo gets his turn at bat, and decides to make Cap relive his worst moment.

But this is Steve Rogers we’re talking about.  Even Thanos knows that you don’t give Cap a second chance.

Cap grabs Bucky before the plane explodes, which means that Bucky is…

Zemo is so shocked by this turn of events that he shifts directly from quoting Anakin Skywalker to quoting Luke Skywalker.

Strangely, the Red Skull loves it!

Because of course the Red Skull has a God Machine.  Why his master plan didn’t involve using this machine to — oh, I don’t know — recreate reality as he wished is a question for another column.

Now bear with me.  Here we have an in continuity (i.e., no retconning necessary) explanation for Ed Brubaker’s Winter Soldier storyline.  In other words, Earth-616 Bucky died in that explosion during World War II, but Cap’s will — aided by Red Skull’s God Machine — brought him back from the dead (or, if you must, created an alternate timeline where Bucky was rescued by the Soviets and made into the Winter Soldier).

Comics I Read From May 1984

  • Alpha Flight 13
  • Amazing High Adventure 1
  • Amazing Spider-Man 255, 256
  • Avengers 246
  • Cerebus 62
  • Conan the King 24
  • Coyote 6
  • Defenders 134
  • Kull 5
  • Marvel Super-Hero Secret Wars 5
  • Marvel Team-Up 144
  • New Teen Titans 1
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 93
  • Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner 1
  • Ronin 6
  • Saga of the Swamp Thing 27
  • Super Powers 2
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1
  • Thriller 9
  • Uncanny X-Men 184
  • Vigilante 9
  • West Coast Avengers 1
  • What If 46
  • Zot 3

May 1989

Skreemer 2

This is the story that should have put Peter Milligan up there with Gaiman, Morrison, and Ennis.  Sadly, it was a little too far ahead of the curve.  If it had come out just a few years later, it would be considered one of the pillars of Vertigo.  As it stands, it’s largely unread.  (And a weird footnote in Steve Dillon’s career.)

Skreemer is, as the trade ads put it “a retro-future gangster epic.”  Yeah.  That didn’t get me to read it, either.  Given the sprawling nature of the story — it takes place over three generations and (years before Pulp Fiction) the story is presented out of chronological order — Skreemer could be forgiven for being a bit of a hot mess, but it is one of the most tightly plotted comics I’ve ever read.  It is a joy to reread the story once you know how it all fits together.

Skreemer is about free will vs. determinism, dystopian gangsters, prognostication, and ultimately, hope.  It is also about what it means to be a moral person, and what one should (or can) be willing to do to retain their sense of morality in an immoral world.  It’s a weird hybrid of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America and it’s totally worth your time.

We never really meet the narrator, but we spend a lot of time with his parents and grandparents.

Charles Finnegan is a good man in a bad world.  Let’s see how far we can push him.

Charles had inadvertently entered a church.  Confronted by the life-sized image of a crucified Jesus, he falls to his knees.

Spoiler note: the hope I mentioned comes a lot later.

But Charles is made of stern stuff, and the next time we see him, his wife has just given birth to the narrator’s father.

It won’t be.

Other Comics I Read from May 1989

  • Avengers West Coast 48
  • Badger Goes Berzerk 1
  • Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children 1
  • Cerebus 122
  • Dr. Fate 7
  • Dreadstar 46
  • Hellblazer 20
  • Incredible Hulk 359
  • Question Annual 2
  • Whisper 28

May 1994

Dork 2

If you know Evan Dorkin it’s probably from Beasts of Burden — or maybe from seeing Milk and Cheese on Johnny Galecki’s t-shirt on Rosanne — but if you like smart humor comics, you really need to check out Dork.   The entire run has been collection in one form of another, but the Critics at Large columns from this issue have never been reprinted.  These were created by Dorkin and Kyle Baker and originally published by the New York music and culture magazine Reflex.  Knowing that they wrote and drew the strip together, it seems clear that their most obvious common ground was Charles Schulz.  The artistic similarities are pretty obvious, and, in the second panel, Kyle even riffs on the “How I hate him” punchline from the very first Peanuts strip.

Ostensibly these strips were reviews of New York city concerts, but they typically devolved rather quickly into lists of Kyle and Evan’s complaints and neuroses.  Here Kyle hates on audience members while Evan pines for Juliana Hatfield.

Dorkin’s work tends to be pretty busy (small panels with lots of words and figures) and adding another writer/artist to the mix makes for a pretty packed page, but they play off of each other really well, and both men are genuinely funny.

Comics I Read from May 1994

  • Amazing Spider-Man 391
  • American Freak: a Tale of the Un-Men 5
  • Animal Man 73
  • Books of Magic 2
  • Cerebus 182
  • Demon 49
  • Dreadstar 2
  • Flash 92
  • Hellboy: Seeds of Destruction 3
  • Hellblazer 79
  • Hellstorm: Prince of Lies 16
  • Incredible Hulk 419
  • Marshal Law: Super Tribunal 1
  • Maxx 8
  • Palookaville 5
  • Sandman 61
  • Shade the Changing Man 49
  • Sin City: A Dame to Kill For 6
  • Swamp Thing 144
  • Violator 1
  • White Like She 1
  • Witchcraft 1, 2

May 1999

Preacher 51

One of the strangest — and most endearing — traits of Garth Ennis’ writing is his casual insistence on including fully-developed female characters in his profoundly masculine stories.  This isn’t hard and shouldn’t be remarkable or admirable, but we’re all trapped in a world we never made.  This is the first of two issues where he takes a look back at Tulip’s past.

We open with her alpha-male father drunkenly bragging to his sycophantic friends about how much he is looking forward to raising his soon-to-be-born son.  (One of his friends asks what he will do if his child is a daughter, and everyone dismisses him as if he had suggested the child might be a ball-peen hammer.)  The fact that he is in a bar with his friends while his wife is giving birth is telling, as is his response to a phone call from the hospital:  “Damn wife died.  Damn kid’s a girl.”

Eventually, he finds the courage to meet his daughter, who immediately begins to reshape his myopic world view.

As a child, Tulip is — perhaps predictably — a tomboy.  Unpredictably, her father has transformed from a sexist stereotype into a full-blown feminist.

Admittedly, this is a bit of a fantasy, but — in a story with vampires, ghost cowboys who shoot bullets that can’t miss, and a guy who can control people with his voice — surely moments like this are acceptable:

After the parent-teacher conference, Tulip questions her father’s patience with Mrs. Carlyle.  His response is thoughtful, kind of heart-breaking, and clearly a formative experience for Tulip.

This being an issue of Preacher, Tulip’s father experiences some vaguely humorous body horror and expires before Tulip makes it out of high school.  The next issue fills in the gap between high school and meeting Jesse.

Other Comics I Read from May 1999

  • Action Comics 755
  • Adventures of Barry Ween: Boy Genius 2
  • Authority 3
  • Avengers 0, 18, 1999 (Annual)
  • Avengers Forever 8
  • Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight 119
  • Black Widow 2
  • Captain America 19
  • Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty 11
  • Cruel and Unusual 2
  • Flash 150
  • Flinch 2
  • Hellblazer 139
  • Hitman 39
  • Hourman 4
  • Human Target 4
  • Incredible Hulk vs. Superman
  • Inhumans 9
  • Invisibles 9
  • Jinx: Torso 4
  • JLA 31
  • Madman Comics 13
  • Planetary 4
  • Scene of the Crime 3
  • Starman 55
  • Superman Adventures 33
  • Team Superman 1
  • Tom Strong 2
  • Transmetropolitan 23

May 2004

Patrick the Wolf-Boy Rock and Roll Special

My band Ookla the Mok has been playing at comic book conventions since the mid-90s.  When we are guests at cons, we typically perform concerts on Friday and Saturday nights and spend the rest of the weekend signing merchandise at our table in the dealer’s room.  If you attend enough of these cons, you tend to get pretty friendly with the other poor fools who spend their weekends hocking their nerdy wares at convention center tables in strange cities.

Art Baltazar and Franco weren’t even comic book famous back when we met them.  (I think we met at the Pittsburgh Comic Con in 2001.)  If you’re a fan of their newer stuff, you really should give their pre-Tiny Titans stuff a shot, and Patrick the Wolf Boy is a great place to start.

Shortly after meeting us, Art made his love of Ookla known in the credits page of the Patrick the Wolf Boy Summer Special:

That issue also included a back cover photo of Art, Franco, Adam and I (photo-bombed by the very cool and talented Todd Webb, who I can’t believe was ever that young):

We stayed in contact over the years, and eventually Art let me know that they wanted Ookla to make an appearance in their Patrick the Wolf Boy Rock and Roll Special.

Left to right that’s Adam English, me, and Chris Gajewski.  Adam’s never been that jacked and I’ve never been that thin, but Chris really was (and still is) that generically handsome.

At any rate, Patrick finds his way into our room and trashes the place Tasmanian Devil-style while we’re in the elevator.

We also made an appearance on the back cover photo-collage, so you can compare Art’s cartoon version of us with the real deal:

Other Comics I Read from May 2004

  • Adventures of Superman 628
  • Astonishing X-Men 1
  • Authority: More Kev 1
  • Avengers 82, 83
  • Avengers/Thunderbolts 4
  • Catwoman 31
  • Daredevil 60
  • DC: New Frontier 4
  • Fantastic Four 513
  • Flash 210
  • Gotham Central 19
  • Hellblazer 196
  • Human Target 10
  • Incredible Hulk 72
  • Invincible 13
  • JSA 61
  • Light Brigade 4
  • Losers 12
  • Lucifer 50
  • Marvel Knights Spider-Man 2
  • Plastic Man 5, 6
  • Punisher 6
  • Runaways 15
  • Seaguy 1
  • Secret War 2
  • She-Hulk 3
  • Superman: Birthright 10
  • Swamp Thing 3
  • Teen Titans 11
  • Two-Step 3
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four 6
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 58, 59
  • Ultimate X-Men 45
  • Walking Dead 8
  • Wolverine 15
  • Wolverine/Punisher 3
  • Wonder Woman 204
  • X-Statix 23
  • Y: The Last Man 22

May 2009

Mighty Avengers 25

Dan Slott’s Mighty Avengers run did a lot of rehabilitate Hank Pym, reaffirming his heroic status and establishing him as earth’s Scientist Supreme.  But not everyone got the memo, and here Reed Richards makes his lack of respect for Hank a little too clear.

Hank gives as good as he gets, but Reed doubles down.

The responses of everyone around Hank and Reed make this pretty entertaining, but it works primarily because the exchange is perfectly in character for both men.

Other Comics I Read from May 2009

  • Action Comics 877
  • Amazing Spider-Man 593, 594
  • Astonishing Tales 4
  • Astro City: Dark Ages Book Three 1
  • Avengers: Initiative 24
  • Back to Brooklyn 5
  • Batman in Barcelona: Dragon’s Knight
  • Blackest Night 0
  • Captain America 50
  • Dark Reign: Fantastic Four 3
  • Dark Reign: Hawkeye 2
  • Destroyer 2
  • Ex Machina 42
  • Fantastic Four 566
  • Flash: Rebirth 2
  • Ghost Rider 35
  • Green Lantern Corps 36
  • Hellblazer 255
  • Incognito 5
  • Incredible Hercules 129
  • Invincible 62
  • Invincible Iron Man 13
  • Marvel Zombies 4 2
  • Mighty 4
  • New Avengers 53
  • Northlanders 17
  • Outsiders 18
  • Planet Skaar Prologue
  • Scalped 29
  • Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye 2
  • Secret Warriors 4
  • Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade 6
  • Thunderbolts 132
  • Uncanny X-Men 510
  • Unknown Soldier 8
  • Walking Dead 61
  • War Machine 6
  • Wolverine 73
  • Wolverine: Weapon X 2
  • X-Factor 43

May 2014

The Field 2

These days Ed Brisson is getting some much deserved attention for his X work at Marvel, but I’ve been a big fan of his since Comeback came out in 2012.

The Field is a great four-issue mini that opens with a pretty delicious concept:  A guy wakes up naked in a field with no memory of who he is or how he got there, and the cell phone in his hand starts getting text messages telling him to run for his life.

After dropping you into that scenario — complete with a lot of people trying to kill our man — issue two starts to flesh out what might be going on:

Our man has no idea if he should (or can) trust the very needy man who has — depending on your perspective — rescued or kidnapped him.  We cut to a bar where our man’s rescuer/kidnapper left behind a whole lot of dead bodies.

The use of the word “again” might clue you in that we’re dealing with a time loop/Groundhog Day situation.  Meanwhile, our man gets a text telling him to go to the men’s room, where he gets a bit more information:

Following the rules of these sorts of things, the guy in the men’s room is killed immediately after giving Grant the specific information he needs to propel the story forward.

Then, on the last page of the issue, we meet the Tomorrow Men:

See you in issue three.

Other Comics I Read from May 2014

  • Action Comics 31
  • Afterlife with Archie 5
  • All-New Doop 2
  • All-New X-Factor 7, 8
  • Amazing Spider-Man 2
  • Amazing Spider-Man: Who Am I? 1
  • American Vampire: Second Cycle 3
  • Apocalypse Al 4
  • Archer and Armstrong 20
  • Avengers 29, 30
  • Batman 31
  • Batman and Robin 31
  • Batman/Superman 10
  • Bloodshot and HARD Corps 22
  • Black Widow 6
  • Brain Boy: The Men from G.E.S.T.A.L.T. 1
  • Captain Marvel 3
  • Chew/Revival 1
  • Cyclops 1
  • Daredevil 3
  • Dead Body Road 6
  • Deadly Class 5
  • East of West 12
  • Fatale 22
  • Green Arrow 31
  • Hulk 3
  • Invincible 111
  • Iron Man 25, 26
  • Iron Patriot 3
  • Justice League 30
  • Minimum Wage 5
  • Moon Knight 3
  • Ms. Marvel 4
  • New Avengers 18
  • Original Sin 1, 2
  • Powers: Bureau 10
  • Punisher 5
  • Rat Queens 6
  • Revenge 3
  • Revival 20
  • Saga 19
  • Satellite Sam 8
  • Secret Avengers 3
  • Shadowman: End Times 2
  • She-Hulk 4
  • Sheltered 9
  • Shutter 2
  • Southern Bastards 2
  • Starlight 3
  • Superman: Doomed
  • Superman/Wonder Woman 8
  • Thief of Thieves 21
  • Thor: God of Thunder 22
  • Trees 1
  • Trillium 8
  • United States of Murder Inc. 1
  • Unity 7
  • Veil 3
  • Velvet 5
  • Walking Dead 127
  • Wonder Woman 31
  • Zero 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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