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

December 1980

CRAZY 71

Marvel’s Crazy was the RC Cola of 70s humor magazines.  Even the mascot seemed off.  Mad had the genuinely famous Alfred E. Newman.  Cracked‘s Sylvester P. Smythe was a pale imitation, but at least they were playing the same sport.  Crazy launch with a similar concept — Irving Nebbish, whose name was perhaps a bit too on the nose — but (as this cover demonstrates) Irving was no match for the suspiciously violent Obnoxio the Clown.

I should admit that I can’t seem to get my hands on this physical issue, and it does not appear to exist in a digital format.  I recall that this issue’s parodies were of The Blues Brothers movie and WKRP in Cincinnati.  There was also a recurring feature where they would juxtapose two panels — one representing the fantasy and the other the reality.  I found these more disturbing than I suspect was intended.

What really sticks in my head is “Marvel Super Heroes That Didn’t Make It” bit.  This was an excuse to dump a bunch of half-baked juvenile super hero concepts like Captain Armenia and the Incredible Wino.  But I was there for Refrigerator Man.

Pretty dumb stuff, but 11 year old me would have proudly presented that to the Algonquin Round Table.

Comics I Read From December 1980

  • Avengers 205
  • Captain America 255
  • Cerebus 23
  • Daredevil 169
  • Ka-Zar the Savage 1
  • Marvel Team-Up 103
  • Moon Knight 5
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 52
  • Uncanny X-Men 143

December 1985

SWAMP THING 46

Touted as a “Special Crisis Cross-Over,” this issue of Swamp Thing had John Constantine say, “Cor blimey! The sky is red,” and then moved on with the American Gothic storyline.

After several “monster of the month” issues, Constantine finally lets Swamp Thing know that this has all been the work of the Brujeria.  Who are they, you ask?

The worst thing is… well, a lot worse.

Eventually, Constantine’s personality was fleshed out in his own comics, movies, and TV shows, but at this point he was simply a mysterious and unflappable dude who jerked Swamp Thing around.  Having him break down here was a highly effective way to let the reader know how high the stakes were.

He quickly recovers his cool and goes back to losing his patience with Swamp Thing’s ignorance.

So, it’s not so much that Alan Moore ignored the Crisis as he made it clear that the entire multiverse-shattering Crisis event was small change compared to what was going on in his comic.

Comics I Read From December 1985

  • Amazing Spider-Man 274, 275
  • Aquaman 2
  • Avengers 265
  • Cerebus 81
  • Coyote 16
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths 12
  • Daredevil 229
  • Epic Illustrated 34
  • Incredible Hulk 317
  • Mage 10
  • Marvel Fanfare 25
  • Miracleman 4
  • One 4
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 112
  • Punisher 3
  • Secret Wars II 9
  • Six from Sirius 2 2
  • Solomon Kane 4
  • Vigilante 27
  • Vision and the Scarlet Witch 6, 7
  • Web of Spider-Man 13
  • West Coast Avengers 7
  • Wonder Man 1
  • X-Factor 2

December 1990

DOOM PATROL 41

Having decided that they’ve spent enough time in an alternate reality observing a centuries old religious war, Rebis suggests a way to end the conflict.

You see where this is going, right?

Apparently, if you fight for your beliefs long and hard enough, it’s no big deal to abandon those beliefs in pursuit of victory.  (In 1990 I thought this was cynicism.)

I get the sense that this is a metaphor of some kind.

Meanwhile, we find out that the Judge Rock is a supporting character from an old, familiar story.

Rebis tries to explain how they are all finally free, but…

Things move in a sadly familiar direction.

To save you a trip to IMDB, it’s John Cazale.  He acted in only five feature films before dying of lung cancer.  All five films (The Godfather Parts I and II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter) received Best Picture Academic Award nominations, giving him the greatest batting average in the history of cinema.

Rebis remains philosophical, and Cliff remains Cliff.

Other Comics I Read from December 1990

  • Books of Magic 2
  • Cerebus 141
  • Dr. Fate 24
  • Elektra Lives Again
  • Fantastic Four 349
  • Hellblazer 38
  • Incredible Hulk 378
  • Miracleman 19
  • Nazz 2
  • Sandman 23
  • Yummy Fur 23

December 1995

INVISIBLES 17

Entropy in the U.K. begins with King Mob being tortured, and we learn that the story of the Invisibles crosses multiple multiverses as two of King Mob’s alter-egos are presented: Kirk Morrison and Gideon Stargrave.  Horror novelists Kirk Morrison is a thinly-veiled Grant Morrison and Gideon Stargrave is a thinly-veiled Jerry Cornelius (one of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion characters).  Stragrave also happens to be the main character of the first comic ever written (and also illustrated) by Grant Morrison, way back in 1978.

Having been shot before his torture began, King Mob is in bad shape.

This whole “crossing over into other universes, including our own” vibe is very clever and all, but this ended up being a two-way street, as shortly after this comic was published, Grant Morrison suffered from a facial abscess (similar to the one imaged above) and a collapsed lung.  Morrison wisely put the book on hiatus and when they brought it back, the narrative treated King Mob a lot better.

Interspersed throughout these torture scenes, we get glimpses of Gideon Stargrave’s adventures (as written by Kirk Morrison) and flash back to King Mob’s last meeting with Elfayed, who shares a brilliant metaphor for the consumptive nature of humanity.

Later the caterpillar metaphor returns, in case you didn’t get the point the first time.

Comics I Read from December 1995

  • Archangel 1
  • Captain America 448
  • Carnage: Mind Bomb 1
  • Cerebus 201
  • Daredevil 349
  • Doc Samson 2
  • Doctor Strange 86
  • Egypt 7
  • Eightball 16
  • Flash 110
  • Hate 21
  • Hellblazer 98
  • Impulse 11
  • Incredible Hulk 438
  • Kurt Busiek’s Astro City 5
  • Palookaville 8
  • Preacher 11
  • Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe
  • Seekers: Into the Mystery 2
  • Shade the Changing Man 68
  • Starman 16
  • Swamp Thing 163
  • Untold Tales of Spider-Man 6
  • Wildcats 25

December 2000

PROMETHEA 12

It’s no mystery that I am in love with Grant Morrison’s ideas and their point of view, but no one can touch Alan Moore when it comes to pure craft.  Grant Morrison is absolutely my favorite comic book writer, but Alan Moore is — technically speaking — the best writer in comics.

This issue of Promethea displays an almost frightening level of craft.

Each of these pages includes a Tarot card in the center, a large word or phrase spelled out in otherworldly Scrabble pieces, a poem in the middle, and a panel of Aleister Crowley telling a story/joke at the bottom.

The Major Arcana has 22 cards.  Guess how many pages a typical comic book has?

Each one of these pieces works as a separate work of art (and J.H. Williams III’s art is outstanding), but when read together, it is stunning.

As Crowley tells his joke, he ages from birth to death, often moving from left to right across the bottom of the page.

And just in case you didn’t already figure it out, the Scrabble pieces (each of which define or explain the card on each page, which is further fleshed out by the poem) are 22 different anagrams of “Promethea.”

Other Comics I Read from December 2000

  • 100 Bullets 19
  • America’s Best Comics Special 1
  • Authority 22
  • Avengers 37
  • Batman 586
  • Daredevil: Ninja 2
  • Detective Comics 753
  • Fantastic Four 38
  • Flash 169
  • Hellblazer 157
  • Hellspawn 4
  • Hitman 58
  • Hourman 23
  • Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority 5
  • JLA 49
  • JSA 19
  • Lucifer 9
  • Madman Comics 20
  • Marvel Boy 5
  • Midnight Nation 4
  • Planetary 13
  • Powers 8
  • Punisher 11
  • Sam and Twitch 17
  • Sentry/Fantastic Four 1
  • Starman 74
  • Superman Adventures 52
  • Tom Strong 11
  • Tomorrow Stories 9
  • Transmetropolitan 41
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 4
  • Ultimate X-Men 1
  • Zero Girl 1

December 2005

PLASTIC MAN 20

This is the last issue of Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man run, which has recently been collected and republished.  This final story found Plastic Man kind of pushed out of the way so Baker could do a series of humorous riff’s on famous DC moments.  This issue features a ton of guest stars, as heroes gather for the funeral of Billy Batson.

Baker tries to have it both ways, making fun of the excesses of (then) modern super hero comics, while also indulging in them — most obviously with the oversexed nature of the characters.

We get a pretty great riff on the Batman/Superman fight from the end of the Dark Knight Returns.

And we end in heaven, with Billy Batson as yet another dead hero who inexplicably becomes the Spirit.  I think this might be a Kingdom Come reference as well.

Other Comics I Read from December 2005

  • 100 Bullets 67
  • Adventures of Superman 647
  • All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder 3
  • Authority: The Magnificent Kevin 5
  • Books of Doom 2
  • Daredevil 80
  • DMZ 2
  • Down 2
  • Ghost Rider 4
  • GLX-Mas Special
  • Goon 15
  • Gotham Central 38
  • Green Lantern 6
  • Green Lantern: Recharge 3
  • Hellblazer 215
  • Infinite Crisis 3
  • JLA: Classified 15
  • JSA 80
  • Loveless 3
  • Lucifer 69
  • Marvel Zombies 1
  • New Avengers 14
  • Powers 15
  • Punisher 28
  • Punisher: Silent Night
  • Runaways 11
  • Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer 2
  • Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle 2
  • She-Hulk 3
  • Silent Dragon 6
  • Solo 8
  • Swamp Thing 22
  • Teen Titans 30
  • Testament 1
  • Thing 2
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four 26
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 87, 88
  • Wonder Woman 224
  • X-Factor 2
  • X-Men: Deadly Genesis 2
  • Y: The Last Man 40
  • Young Avengers Special 1

December 2010

NEW AVENGERS 7

Before James Gunn got famous he wrote the screenplay for a criminally underwatched super hero movie called The Specials.   It’s about the world’s seventh-best super hero team.  It’s shot like an Office-style mockumentary: scenes of them sitting around while the more popular teams do all the real work are intercut with fourth-wall breaking “confessional” interview segments.  The main plot driver is that the team is finally getting action figures.  I’m not doing a great job of selling this, but it’s great, and James Gunn himself has a surprisingly great turn as the shrinking hero Minute Man.  The running gag is that everyone keeps mispronouncing his name.  (“Am I wearing a tri-cornered hat?  Think, people!”)

Gunn said he came up with the idea for the script while he was watching My Dinner With Andre and found himself thinking “You know what would make this movie better?  If they were wearing super hero costumes.”

Here we have a great example of Brian Michael Bendis doing what he does best: making a bunch of people in super hero costumes sit around and talk.  Many pages are devoted to super heroes being “interviewed” about their ability to serve as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ nanny.  Here are some of the more entertaining panels:

Just as Luke and Jessica are about to give up, Squirrel Girl saves the day.

There’s also this very weird exchange between Squirrel Girl and Wolverine:

And Wong demonstrates that he’s much more Alfred than Jarvis:

Other Comics I Read from December 2010

  • Amazing Spider-Man 650
  • American Vampire 9, 10
  • Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine 4
  • Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis 4
  • Avengers 8
  • Avengers Academy 7
  • Batman, Inc. 2
  • Brightest Day 15, 16
  • Captain America 613
  • Chaos War 4
  • Chaos War: Dead Avengers 2
  • Chaos War Thor 2
  • Chew 16
  • Daredevil 512
  • Deadpool Max 3
  • Detective Comics 572
  • DMZ 60
  • Fantastic Four 586
  • Flash 7, 8
  • Generation Hope 2
  • Green Lantern 60, 61
  • Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors 5
  • Green Lantern/Larfleeze Christmas Special
  • Hellblazer 274
  • Incognito: Bad Influences 2
  • Incredible Hulk 618, 619
  • Invaders Now 4
  • Invincible 76
  • Invincible Iron Man 33
  • Iron Man: Legacy 9
  • Nemesis 4
  • Northlanders 35
  • Osborn 2
  • Scalped 44
  • Secret Avengers 8
  • Secret Warriors 23
  • Shadowland 5
  • SHIELD 5
  • Strange Tales II 3
  • Superior 3
  • Superman 706
  • Sweet Tooth 16
  • Taskmaster 4
  • Thor 618
  • Thor: The Mighty Avenger 7
  • Ultimate Comics Avengers 17
  • Ultimate Doom 1
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 151
  • Ultimate Thor 3
  • Uncanny X-Men 531
  • Walking Dead 80
  • Wolverine 4
  • X-Factor 212

December 2015

THE SHERIFF OF BABYLON 1

Before Mister Miracle and Strange Adventures, Tom King and Mitch Gerads teamed up for this Vertigo series, which was based on Tom King’s experiences as a counterintelligence officer in Iraq.

We meet Christopher as he puts himself in harm’s way in an attempt to diffuse a potentially violent situation.

The use of black panels with “BANG.” in white letters is a hauntingly effective way of communicating the sudden shock of gun fire in a medium without audio.

Opening in this manner makes us unsure if Christopher is completely out of his element or if he is the only normal person left in an insane world.

We also spend time with Nassir, who has lost three daughters to the war.

He has captured three Americans.

Nassir is a broken man, seeking balance as much as (or even more than) revenge.

Clearly this is going to be a nuanced tale.  While his actions are those of the “enemy,” Nassir is written as a man with understandable motivations.  In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, any attempt to understand the humanity of our enemy was dismissed as bleeding heart weakness.  Through Christopher and Nassir, King and Gerads show us that this is incorrect.

God help us if trying to save the life of a child is weak.  And embracing Nassir’s humanity is far from comforting.  Dismissing Nassir as an inhuman monster — complete with conveniently evil motivations — is the more comforting (and far weaker) idea.

It is clear that doing this terrible thing hurts Nassir.  But he pushes through that pain to avenge his lost loved ones.  Of course this vengeance is nonsensical.  Killing these men will not bring his daughters back.  Moreover, these are not the men who killed his daughters.  They merely look like them.  This is both horrifying and familiar.

Learning that there are no monsters doesn’t mean that there’s nothing under our bed.  It just means that it could any one of us hiding there.

Other Comics I Read from December 2015

  • Action Comics 47
  • All-New Hawkeye 2
  • All-New Wolverine 3
  • All-New, All-Different Avengers 2
  • All-Star Section Eight 6
  • Amazing Spider-Man 4, 5, 6
  • Batman/Superman 27
  • Black Magick 3
  • Bloodshot Reborn 9
  • Chew 53
  • Cyborg 5, 6
  • Daredevil 1, 2
  • Deadly Class 17
  • Descender 8
  • Doctor Strange 3
  • Dragon Age: Magekiller 1
  • East of West 22, 23
  • Eve: Valkyrie 3
  • Fight Club 2  8
  • Goddamned 2
  • Grayson 15
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 3
  • Howard the Duck 2, 3
  • Huck 2
  • I Hate Fairyland 3
  • Invincible 126
  • Invincible Iron Man 4
  • Invisible Republic 8
  • Ivar Timewalker 12
  • Jacked 2
  • Jughead 3
  • Jupiter’s Circle 2
  • Justice League 46, 47
  • Lazarus 21
  • Midnighter 7
  • Mighty Thor 2
  • Monstress 2
  • Ms. Marvel 2
  • Nameless 6
  • New Romancer 1
  • Ninak 10
  • No Mercy 5
  • Omega Men 7
  • Paper Girls 3
  • Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl 5
  • Plutona 3
  • Prez 6
  • Rebels 9
  • Red Wolf 1
  • Revival 35
  • Robin War 1
  • Rocket Raccoon and Groot 1
  • Saga 32
  • Secret Wars 8
  • Sidekick 12
  • Superman/Wonder Woman 24, Annual 2
  • Superman: American Alien 2
  • They’re Not Like Us 10
  • Tithe 7
  • Totally Awesome Hulk 1
  • Trees 13
  • Ultimate End 5
  • Violent 1
  • Vision 2
  • Walking Dead 149
  • We Stand on Guard 6
  • Where is Jake Ellis? 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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