This month, Rand Bellavia takes a look at his growing longbox, and reflects on comics released in July 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010, and 2015!

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

July 1980

Captain America 250

Can we talk about how John Byrne was simultaneously drawing this classic Captain America run and the Phoenix Saga on Uncanny X-Men?  That’s crazy, right?  This is the justifiably famous “Cap Runs For President (or does he?)” issue.  Rereading it today, it’s remarkable how little action there is in this comic.  There’s an opening fight scene, but otherwise, it’s just people (some of them in super-hero costumes) talking with one another.

It doesn’t take long for the members of the NPP to try to get Cap to run on their ticket.

Nice guy.  Soon Steve finds himself arguing with his friends about whether or not Cap should run, and cynicism seems to win the day.

Back in costume, Cap talks more directly with the Avengers about the matter.  And Iron Man seems a lot more concerned about governmental red tape and corruption than he did during the Civil War cross-over.

Not knowing where to turn, Cap finds himself remembering a civics lesson from his school days.

Eventually, Cap holds a press conference:

And of course he doesn’t run.

This is a fantastic example of how to use a larger-than-life comic book hero to address real-world matters.  And comics like this certainly helped form the nascent political mind of at least one 11-year-old.

Comics I Read From July 1980

  • Amazing Spider-Man 209
  • Avengers 200
  • Cerebus 18
  • Marvel Team-Up 98
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 47
  • Uncanny X-Men 138
  • What If 23

July 1985

Miracleman 1

Alan Moore’s reputation as the go to guy for “adult” super-hero comics can be traced back to this series.  This was my first exposure to the character of Marvelman, a 1950’s British rip-off of Captain Marvel/SHAZAM.  When Eclipse Comics republished this story in the US, Marvel forced them to change the character’s name to Miracleman, which put Moore off of Marvel for life.  (But, let’s be honest, if it wasn’t this, Marvel surely would have done something else to piss him off.)

This is a great example of Moore’s ability to take an old (often very silly and utterly unbelievable) premise and reimagine it in a more “realistic” manner, without violating the continuity of the original stories.  (This becomes impressively clear as the comic continues, but it’s also pretty obvious right out of the gate.)

In this first issue,  a traumatic event causes journalist Mike Moran to remember that (many years ago) he used to be a superhero called Miracleman.  He tells his wife his origin story, and she responds pretty much the way you would.

All of that, of course, is canon from the 50s Marvelman comics.

Mike later learns how he really got his powers, and also that all of his adventures were implanted in his mind while he was under sedation (on ice so he could be used as a super-heroic nuclear option when needed).  Eventually, the British government determined that these superheroes were too dangerous and decided to get rid of them.

Soon after this, Mike is reunited with Kid Miracleman, now an adult.  John brings Mike up to speed.

Did someone say “sinister”?

Tune in next issue, when Miracleman gets a serious ass-kicking.

 

Moonshadow 4

It’s amazing to me that J.M. DeMatteis and Jon J Muth’s Moonshadow isn’t talked about in the same hushed tones as Maus and Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.  It’s incredible start to finish, but I only have two quick things to point out about this issue.

One of my friends owns this page, and you need to know that it looks way better in real life.

And this is the single most important letters page I have ever read (and that includes the issue of the Hulk where I was awarded “Letter of the Month” and mailed the physical letters column page).

In July 1985, I was 16 years old, and I was tired of every adult I knew asking me why I was so into comics.  At the time, we were still a year away from all those “Zam! Pow! Comics Have Grown-Up!” articles that started to come out in 1986.  But I had this.

Letters from Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut in the same column!  This provided the credibility I so desperately sought — and seemed to satisfy the curiosity of at least one English teacher.

Comics I Read From July 1985

  • Alien Legion 9
  • Alpha Flight 27, 28
  • Amazing High Adventure 2
  • Amazing Spider-Man 269, 270
  • American Flagg 26
  • Avengers 260, Annual 14
  • Badger 8
  • Black Dragon 4, 5
  • Brian Bolland’s Black Book
  • Cerebus 76
  • Cloak and Dagger 3
  • Conan the King 31
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths 7
  • Defenders 148
  • Dreadstar 20
  • Longshot 2, 3
  • Mage 8
  • Marvel Age Annual 1
  • Neat Stuff 2
  • Nexus 14
  • One 2
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 107, Annual 5
  • Revenge of the Living Monolith
  • Secret Wars II 4
  • Super Powers 2
  • Swamp Thing 41
  • Tales of Terror 1
  • Uncanny X-Men 198
  • Vigilante 22
  • Vision and the Scarlet Witch 1, 2
  • Web of Spider-Man 8
  • West Coast Avengers 2
  • Zot 10

 

July 1990

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight 10

Grant Morrison and Klaus Janson’s “Gothic” ends here.  Morrison is still working out the kinks of traditional American superhero comics, and it’s clear that action sequences were crammed in at the request of his editor.  The issue begins with Batman’s anti-climactic (and poorly thought-out) escape from the elaborate death-trap that ended the previous issue.

Batman and Mr. Whisper have a fight scene in a subway tunnel, which chews up a few pages, and gives the Bad Guy the opportunity to remind us of his fiendish plot:

Whisper is planning to kill everyone in Gotham City when the tolling of the bell (at midnight, of course) in Gotham Cathedral shatters a vial of plague and disperses it.  The idea here is that the sacred architecture of the cathedral is designed in such a way that Whisper can collect the souls of the (apparently instantaneously) dead citizens of Gotham and offer them to the Devil in place of his own soul, which he sold to the Devil a long time ago.

Needless to say, Batman saves the day, while also allowing Gotham City to finally get some sleep.  (I never really understood the whole “huge bell in a centrally-located cathedral tolling at midnight” thing.)

The best part of this story are atmospheric, and the main plot points tend to take place either in flashbacks or quiet moments.  Long after the action ends, Bruce receives a mysterious package.

Alfred’s dry gallows humor is used to great effect throughout, and here we get my favorite Alfred line of all time.

Doom Patrol 36

Meanwhile, Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol are on Danny the Street, fighting the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E., moodily illustrated by fill-in artist Kelley Jones.

You may recall that the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. are so named because everything they say is a seven- word sentence that can be “acronymed” as NOWHERE.  They also have the ability to form their hands around the air and shoot real bullets, and have their eyes suspended from towers coming out of their foreheads, as one does.

The impressive thing here is that no amount of recreational drug use could give Morrison the ability to make these characters speak exclusively in acronyms and still make sense.  That’s just craft and hard work.

Of course, all of this just pisses Robot Man off.  As always, he just wants to know what the hell is going on.  Jones does a great job of illustrating how powerful Robot Man is by having him casually destroy one of the MfN without even turning to look at him.

There’s also a large man in Alan Moore cosplay (Simon Bisley’s cover makes the reference perhaps a little too clear) who appears to know what the hell is going on.

Turns out that the Tearoom of Despair is no match for Crazy Jane, but can we take a moment to fully appreciate the wonderful dream logic of a Man from N.O.W.H.E.R.E keeping a Tearoom of Despair within a tear in his sleeve?

And we learn that the huge bearded dude is “Flex Mentallo.”

Tune in next issue for Flex’s origin story (which will seem very familiar to anyone who read comics in the early seventies).  Flex will go on to be an important part of Doom Patrol, and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely will eventually spin him off into one of the most compelling four-issue mini-series in the history of comics.

 

Other Comics I Read from July 1990

  • Animal Man 27
  • Atlantis Chronicles 6
  • Batman 453, 454
  • Cerebus 136
  • Dr. Fate 20
  • Dreadstar 60
  • Eightball 4
  • Hard Boiled 1
  • Hate 2
  • Hellblazer 33
  • Incredible Hulk 373
  • Nation of Snitches
  • Sandman 18, 19
  • Shade the Changing Man 3
  • Spider-Man 2

June 1995

Invisibles 12

True Story:  Grant Morrison and Steve Parkhouse’s “Best Man Fall” is one of the greatest single comic issues of all time.  It manages to communicate the primary themes of The Invisibles and establish the important notion that there is no such thing as a minor character — all while being emotionally resonant, thought-provoking, and entertaining, and keeping the unique storytelling capabilities of sequential art front and center

This issue ends the first year of The Invisibles by giving us the life story of one of the security guards (Bobby Murray) that King Mob kills in the first issue.  When we meet King Mob, he epitomizes the 90s super-cool ultra-violent anti-hero, and his first huge step away from that trope is the humanizing of this red shirt that he so casually dispatches in his first action sequence.  This idea is further reinforced at the end of the series when King Mob’s life is saved by a (from his perspective) random woman who is Bobby’s widow, and — according to Morrison — the true protagonist of The Invisibles.

The issue opens with young Bobby playing Best Man Fall, a game where children select how they would like to die, are “killed” by the other children, and the winner is the one who performs the best death scene.

According to the Invisibles, life is just a game that we have all chosen to play, and the rules of the game require us to so associate with the character we are playing that we are unaware we are playing a game.

Bobby’s life is told in a seemingly random order, but I have arranged the panels in pretty much chronological order, so we can see things a bit more clearly.

Edith is (presumably) Edith Manning, an Invisibles agent who King Mob first meets while time traveling to the early 20th century and then meets again when she is much older.

We learn that Bobby grows up in a violent home.  As is so often the case, he is unable to prevent that cycle of violence from repeating.

Bobby’s fear is a major theme.  His older brother Stewie finds an old gas mask and regularly frightens him with it.

Stewie is a real piece of work.

As a young adult, Bobby makes his way in the world.

While this could be seen as a cool action scene — Bobby finally gets back at Stewie for years of torture — it plays out as tragic scene in context.  His first act of violence leads him down a terrible path.  This is, of course, symbolized by his abandonment of Boody, who he swore he would always protect.  (This sort of heartbreaking nostalgia for childish things is one of the primary themes of Morrison’s 90s work.)

When we next see Stewie, he’s had a major accident, and Bobby attempts a reconciliation.

Nevertheless, Bobby continues to seek love.

The good times don’t last, as Bobby is injured at war and is not up the challenges of parenthood.

The mask represents Bobby’s fear, but it also indicates that something is being hidden — either by Bobby or from Bobby.

Unable to find other work, Bobby takes a job as a security guard for some company he’s never heard of.

On his first day he encounters King Mob, who just happens to be wearing a gas mask.

The second panel below is from the first issue of the Invisibles.  At the time it was just a panel of an unnamed character dying in the background.  But that panel is a hyperlink to this entire issue.

Morrison uses this technique two other times in The Invisibles, with increasing shorthand.  In a later issue King Mob shoots an unnamed character and the bullet exits his head as five panels, each one a different scene from this (otherwise unseen) character’s life.  Later still, just before shooting another minor character in the head, King Mob says, “I bet you have an interesting story to tell.”

Comics I Read from July 1995

  • Amazing Spider-Man 405
  • Aquaman 12
  • Cerebus 196
  • Daredevil 344
  • Dark Horse Presents 99
  • Doctor Strange 80, 81
  • Egypt 2
  • Flash 105
  • Goddess 4
  • Hellblazer 93
  • Impulse 6
  • Incredible Hulk 433
  • Madman Comics 8
  • Mask 6
  • Peepshow 8
  • Preacher 6
  • Ruins 2
  • Sandman 71
  • Sandman Midnight Theatre 1
  • Shade the Changing Man 63
  • Skrull Kill Krew 1
  • Spider-Man: The Lost Years 2
  • Starman 11
  • Swamp Thing 158
  • Tank Girl: The Odyssey 3
  • Untold Tales of Spider-Man 1
  • Vertigo Visions: Prez 1
  • Wildcats 21

 

July 2000

Preacher 65

There are a lot of harrowing action sequences between Tulip and Herr Starr in this issue, but the primary confrontation is the long-awaited battle between Jesse and Cassidy.

Jesse gives Cassidy a righteous beat-down.  Cass surprises Jesse by not fighting back, and even more by appearing to offer genuine contrition.

Careful readers will recall that Jesse failed to offer a second chance to Gunther during the Salvation arc.  It would appear that Proud American Jesse seems less interested in offering second chances to his European friends.  Then again…

…it would also appear that Cassidy will be Cassidy.  But it turns out his goal wasn’t to defeat Jesse after all, but rather to finally face his own guilt “like a man.”

Now might be a good time to mention that Cassidy is a vampire.  Also, the phrase “act like a man” becomes more important in the final issue, when you realize that it’s less about machismo and more about no longer being a vampire.

Jesse tries (and fails) to save Cassidy, and is shot by Starr for his troubles.  Then Tulip kills Starr, and we end the penultimate issue of the series with this panel.

Definitely a “Where do we go from here?” moment.  As hard as it to believe, the last issue manages to provide a happy ending for all three of our main characters.

 

Other Comics I Read from July 2000

  • 100 Bullets 14
  • Authority 16, 17
  • Avengers 32
  • Avengers Infinity 1
  • Batman: Dark Victory 10
  • Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood 4
  • City of Silence 3
  • Dark Horse Maverick 2000
  • DC 2000 1
  • Detective Comics 748
  • Flash 164
  • Flinch 14
  • Geeksville 2
  • Hellblazer 152
  • Hellblazer Special: Bad Blood 1
  • Hitman 53
  • Hitman/Lobo: That Stupid Bastich 1
  • Hourman 18
  • Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority 2
  • JLA 44, 45
  • JSA 14
  • League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 6
  • Lucifer 4
  • Marvel Boy 2
  • Planetary 11
  • Promethea 9
  • Punisher 6
  • Sam and Twitch 12
  • Sentry 1
  • Shock Rockets 4
  • Starman 69
  • Transmetropolitan 37
  • Wonder Woman 160

July 2005

I create these columns in advance — basically, as I reread stuff that appeals to me, I grab the appropriate panels and write up a piece (or at least take notes).  Looking at notes I wrote months ago, I planned to discuss Desolation Jones 2, JLA Classified 10, and Ocean 6 (all written by Warren Ellis).  That was before So Many of Us.  I don’t feel like talking about Ellis’ work right now, so I’m going to leave this space blank.  A moment of silence for the many (so many) people who have come forward with their stories about Ellis.

 

Other Comics I Read from July 2005

  • 100 Bullets 62
  • Adventures of Superman 642
  • All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder 1
  • Amazing Spider-Man 522
  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book One 2
  • Authority: Revolution 10
  • Daredevil 75
  • Ex Machina 13
  • Flash 224
  • GLA 4
  • Goon 13
  • Gotham Central 33
  • Hellblazer 210
  • House of M 3, 4
  • Hulk: Destruction 1
  • Incredible Hulk 83, 84
  • Invincible 24
  • Iron Man: House of M 1
  • JLA 116
  • JSA 75
  • JSA: Classified 1
  • Losers 26
  • Lucifer 64
  • New Avengers 9
  • OMAC Project 4
  • Outsiders 26
  • Plastic Man 17
  • Pulse 10
  • Punisher 23
  • Runaways 6
  • Seven Soldiers: Guardian 3
  • Silent Dragon 1
  • Spider-Man: House of M 2
  • Swamp Thing 17
  • Teen Titans 26
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four 21
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 79, 80
  • Ultimate X-Men 61
  • Ultimates 2 7
  • Walking Dead 20
  • Wolverine 30
  • Wonder Woman 218, 219
  • Y: The Last Man 35
  • Young Avengers 6

July 2010

Superman 701

It’s easy to take shots at J. Michael Straczynski’s “Grounded” storyline — where Superman pulls a “Forrest Gump” and decides to walk across the United States to get know Americans better.  I understand that taking the high-fantasy concept of someone who can (most famously) fly and making him walk around and have conversations with strangers is not what most people are looking for in a superhero narrative, but I saw this as a pretty interesting place to start a Superman story.

It kind of fizzles out — Straczynski didn’t even finish the storyline — but it starts strongly with this issue.

Like “Best Man Fall,” this issue is essentially a hypertext link from a single page from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman.  You know, this page:

Here those five panels take up most of this issue.

Felicity unleashes a lot of anger and sadness at Superman, who quietly takes it.  And when he does speak, he doesn’t have a lot of answers.

Superman makes Felicity another promise.

These pages have been posted all over the Internet many times now, and most of them stop with Felicity dramatically stepping into Superman’s arms.  But I rarely see this next page included, which I think is the most important page of the story:

What makes Superman Superman is not his power or his moral certainty.  It’s his empathy.

 

Other Comics I Read from July 2010

  • American Vampire 5
  • Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine 2
  • Astro City: Silver Agent 1
  • Avengers 3
  • Avengers Prime 2
  • Avengers Academy 2
  • Avengers: The Children’s Crusade 1
  • Batman 701
  • Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne 4
  • Batman and Robin 13
  • Brightest Day 5, 6
  • Brightest Day: The Atom Special
  • Casanova 1
  • Chew 12
  • Daredevil 508
  • Daytripper 8
  • Demo 6
  • DMZ 55
  • DV8: Gods and Monsters 4
  • Fantastic Four 581
  • Flash 4
  • Girl Comics 3
  • Greek Street 13
  • Green Lantern 56
  • Hellblazer 269
  • Heroic Age: Prince of Power 3
  • Invincible Iron Man 28
  • Iron Man: Legacy 4
  • Light 4
  • Marvel Zombies 5  5
  • New Avengers 2
  • Northlanders 30
  • Peter Parker 5
  • Punisher Max 9
  • Red Mass for Mars 4
  • Scalped 39
  • Scarlet 1
  • Secret Avengers 3
  • Shadowland 1
  • Spider-Man/Fantastic Four 1
  • Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier 1
  • Sweet Tooth 11
  • Thor 612
  • Thor: The Mighty Avenger 1, 2
  • Ultimate Comics Avengers 11
  • Ultimate Mystery 1
  • Ultimate New Ultimates 3
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 12
  • Uncanny X-Men 526
  • Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age 1
  • Unknown Soldier 22
  • Walking Dead 74, 75
  • Wolverine: Weapon X 15
  • X-Factor 207
  • X-Men: Second Coming 2

July 2015

Prez 2

If you’re not reading Mark Russell, you’re not doing comics right.  His stuff is uniformly brilliant, and he is certainly one of my favorite “new” voices in comics.  His Prez reboot is great all around.  Here Prez is a young woman whose viral video made her an Internet celebrity.

Beth “Corndog” Ross, who Ohio votes for as a joke, ends up gaining momentum in a very strange turn of events.  But she is unaware that any of this is happening because she is at her father’s death bed.

And, because it’s not a Mark Russell story without some thought-provoking philosophical or social commentary, we get this brilliant exchange about viruses.

This, of course, seems particularly prescient when read in 2020.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Senators on both sides of the political aisle are threatening to change their votes if their candidates don’t agree to an increasingly insane list of demands.  Of course they don’t want the other guy’s team to win, so they change their vote to the joke candidate to make good on their threats.

You see where this is going, right?

Other Comics I Read from July 2015

  • A-Force 2
  • Action Comics 42
  • Airboy 2
  • All-New Hawkeye 4
  • All-Star Section Eight 2
  • Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows 2
  • American Vampire: Second Cycle 8
  • Archie 1
  • Batman/Superman 22
  • Big Man Plans 4
  • Black Widow 20
  • Bloodshot Reborn 4
  • Book of Death: The Fall of Bloodshot
  • Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps 2
  • Casanova: Acedia 3
  • Chew 50
  • Cyborg 1
  • Daredevil 17
  • Dead Drop 3
  • Deadly Class 14
  • Deathlok 10
  • Descender 5
  • Empty 5
  • Fight Club 2  3
  • Fox 4
  • Grayson 10
  • Groot 2
  • Guardians of Knowhere 1
  • Hawkeye 22
  • Injection 3
  • Invincible 121
  • Invisible Republic 5
  • Ivar Timewalker 7
  • Jupiter’s Circle 4
  • Justice League 42
  • Lando 1
  • Lazarus 18
  • Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond the Stars 2
  • Mantle 3
  • Material 3
  • Midnighter 2
  • Minimum Wage: So Many Bad Decisions 3
  • Ninak 5
  • No Mercy 4
  • Old Man Logan 3
  • Omega Men 2
  • Outcast 10
  • Pisces 3
  • Postal 5
  • Powers 4
  • Princess Leia 5
  • Punisher 20
  • Rebels 4
  • Revival 31
  • Saga 30
  • Satellite Sam 15
  • Secret Identities 6
  • Secret Wars 4
  • Sex Criminals 11
  • SHIELD 8
  • Sidekick 11
  • Southern Bastards 10
  • Starve 2
  • Superman/Wonder Woman 19
  • Thors 2
  • Tithe 4
  • Trees 11
  • Ultimate End 3
  • Walking Dead 144
  • We Stand on Guard 1
  • Weirdworld 2
  • Where Monsters Dwell 3
  • Wicked + the Divine 12
  • Wolf 1
  • Zero 18
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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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