This month, Rand Bellavia takes a look at his growing longbox, and reflects on comics released in April 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016!

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

April 1981

What If 27

If What If taught us anything, it’s that any change — no matter how insignificant — will result in everybody dying.  What If Ms. Marvel Never Demonstrated Her Feminism By Exposing Her Naval?  The heat death of the universe, that’s what.

What If perfectly distills one of the weirder tropes of superhero comics:  All heroes are destined to die, but they get better.  And with What If, we don’t even require a glorious resurrection scene, as these stories are even more imaginary than the imaginary stories that appear in the other Marvel comics.  But what does it say about us that we enjoying seeing our heroes die this much?

This is one of the best examples — and justifiably so, as the Phoenix force is genuinely frightening in its power, and “Dark Phoenix” is the most popular story in one of the most popular comic runs of all time.  Though adding “The X-Men ask:” to the title seems a bit hacky and desperate.

Predictably, the Phoenix’s need for power gets the better of Jean once again.

This sets the scene for a Korvac Saga-style finale, with Jean handily disposing of the X-Men one at a time.

Of course it comes down to Scott and Jean.  Jean wins.  Cue Heat Death of the Universe.

Comics I Read From April 1981

  • Amazing Spider-Man 218
  • Avengers 209
  • Captain America 259
  • Cerebus 25
  • Daredevil 173
  • Fantastic Four 232
  • Ka-Zar 5
  • Moon Knight 9
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 56

April 1986

Daredevil 233

The finale of Miller and Mazzucchelli’s “Born Again” does not disappoint.  In fact, it ups the ante by involving the Avengers.  And Frank Miller does more to define Captain America in these three panels than most others do writing his comic for a year.

In fact, as this issue deals primarily with Nuke, the comic feature Cap as much as Daredevil.

Cap doesn’t yet know that Nuke was part of the same program that created the Super Soldier formula.  All he knows is that:

This comic is so good that you almost don’t notice the narrative shift from third to first person in that second panel.  Also, this moment of poignancy is undercut a bit by our knowledge that Matt’s response in not due to a lack of patriotism but rather the result of his blindness.

Comparing this scene with similar scenes between Superman and governmental authority in The Dark Knight Returns, it seems that Miller has a higher option of Cap than Superman.

Swamp Thing 50

When people talk about 1986 being a watershed year for comics, they’re talking about Watchmen, Maus, and The Dark Knight Returns.  But this month gave us the last issue of Daredevil‘s “Born Again” and the last issue of Swamp Thing‘s “American Gothic.”

John Constantine spent the last 12 issues sending Swamp Thing on seemingly unrelated “monster of the month” adventures.  It was all in preparation for their fight against the “Big Bad,” which they would each battle separately.

John is in the company of some of the greatest magicians in the world, while Swamp Thing — accompanied by the greatest supernatural beings the DCU has to offer — confronts their unknown villain more directly.

Etrigan the Demon is the first to face the enemy.

And it turns out that Evil can focus their attention on two things at once.

Prepare for the heat death of Sargon’s universe.

Next up is Dr. Fate, who does about as well as Etrigan.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch:

Unlike Sargon, Zatara has yet to return from the dead.

Surely the Spectre will fare better than Dr. Fate and Etrigan.

 

And what’s Swamp Thing doing here anyway?

And what has that last year of stories been all about?

After his meeting with the Parliament of Trees, Swamp Thing was disappointed, but they taught him more than he thought.

Finally, we see the embodiment of evil for what it is.

He’s looking at the finger of a giant hand.  The hand reaches up to meet a similarly sized hand that descends from the heavens.  The hands clasp together.  The long anticipated ultimate battle of Good and Evil ends in a handshake.  (This is better than it could have been.  When I first read this I was genuinely worried that they were going to arm — or worse, thumb — wrestle.)

Swamp Thing is as confused as everybody else.  Well, everyone except the Phantom Stranger.

Comics I Read From April 1986

  • Alien Encounters 6
  • Amazing Spider-Man 278, 279
  • Avengers 269
  • Batman:The Dark Knight Returns 2
  • Cerebus 85
  • Last Days of the Justice Society of America
  • Mage 12
  • Marvel Fanfare 27
  • Miracleman 8
  • Moonshadow 8
  • The One 6
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 116
  • Power Man and Iron Fist 124
  • Scout 6
  • Shadow 3
  • Solomon Kane 6
  • Uncanny X-Men 207
  • Vigilante 31
  • Vision and the Scarlet Witch 10
  • Web of Spider-Man 17
  • West Coast Avengers 11

 

April 1991

Hellblazer 42

Garth Ennis’ began his inaugural John Constantine story “Dangerous Habits” by given John terminal lung cancer.  The story heats up quite a bit this issue, as he confronts Old Scratch himself.  But first he seeks help from an old friend.

Turns out Brendan has kept pretty busy since John last saw him.  There is a pool in his basement filled with holy water.

Of course, being a Garth Ennis comic, it’s the best stout anyone has ever tasted.  And of course, being John Constantine’s friend, Brendan is not long for this world.

So Brendan dies, and up pops the First of the Fallen.

John suggests they offer Brendan one final toast.

John puts the candles out, changing the stout back to holy water, which — it turns out — does not agree with the Prince of Darkness’s tummy.

This is a great story in an of itself, but it also significantly ups the stakes on a story that already had pretty high stakes in the first place.  (I mean, it’s not Heat Death of the Universe, but it’s pretty intense stuff.)

Other Comics I Read from April 1991

  • Animal Man 36
  • Cerebus 145
  • Detective Comics 629, 630
  • Incredible Hulk 382
  • Legends of the Dark Knight 18, 19
  • Marc Spector: Moon Knight 27
  • Milk and Cheese 1
  • Miracle man 20
  • Palookaville 1
  • Sandman 27
  • Shade the Changing Man 12
  • Yummy Fur 24

April 1996

Invisibles 21

This is the issue were Dane starts to come into his own.  He recovers memories of his time in the Invisible College.

These words and images were taken from a dream that Grant Morrison had, because of course they were.

Dane is contacted by Barbelith, a satellite/cosmic traffic light that pops up frequently to enlighten the Invisibles (and humanity in general).  Barbelith also first appeared to Morrison in a dream, but Morrison’s subconscious was likely informed by Philip K. Dick’s VALIS, as well as the name of the true God in Sethian Gnosticism (Barbelo) — both of which Morrison was almost certainly familiar with.

Gnostics believed that we are living in a false world created by the demiurge YHWH.  In order to show us that we were “in the Matrix,” Barbelo incarnated into YHWH’s false world as:

Barbelith’s words connect ideas from Gnosticism and Philip K. Dick’s VALIS and Radio Free Albemuth into the Invislbles’ larger concept of life as a game we have all chosen to play.

The phrases “Try to remember” and “It’s only a game” are the first text boxes in issue 12 (“Dead Man Fall”), making it clear that the voice speaking to a dying Bobby Murray throughout that issue was Barbelith’s.

Dane tries to visit his mother but is ambushed by servants of the Outer Church.  Remembering Tom O’Bedlam’s instruction, he finds a magic world on the telly and finally embraces his power as Jack Frost.

Boy is there to “rescue” him, and he learns that his past is more connected to the Invisibles than he thought.

Comics I Read from April 1996

  • Batman: Black and White 1
  • Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight 83
  • Bone 24
  • Captain America 452
  • Cerebus 205
  • Flash 114
  • Flex Mentallo 1
  • Hellblazer 102
  • Hitman 2
  • Medieval Spawn/Witchblade 1
  • Preacher 14
  • Seekers 5
  • Sin City: That Yellow Bastard 3
  • Spider-Man: Legacy of Evil
  • Starman 19
  • Swamp Thing 167
  • Untold Tales of Spider-Man 10
  • WildCATs 28

April 2001

Hitman 60

This is the final issue of Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s Hitman.  Even while working in the DC Universe, Ennis tends to avoid super-heroic high adventure (no Heat Death of the Universe to be found) but the story still doesn’t end well for anyone.  Not that this is a surprise, for the readers or the characters.

Most of their friends are dead, and the deck is stacked against them.  Tommy wants to go it alone, but Natt isn’t having it.

Things don’t go well.

And it gets worse.

McCrea delivers some cinematic imagery.  Hard to believe that someone hasn’t tried to film this yet.

As you might imagine, Natt can’t stay on his feet long enough to get to the chopper.

As they lie together bleeding out, Tommy shares a dream he had, and curtain.

Other Comics I Read from April 2001

  • 100 Bullets 23
  • Amazing Spider-Man 30
  • Avengers 41
  • Batman 590
  • Detective Comics 757
  • El Diablo 4
  • Enemy Ace: War in Heaven 2
  • Fantastic Four 42
  • Flash 173
  • Green Arrow 3
  • Hellblazer 161
  • JLA 53
  • JSA 23
  • Lucifer 13
  • Planetary 14
  • Powers 10
  • Promethea 14
  • Starman 78
  • Tomorrow Stories 10
  • Transmetropolitan 45
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 8
  • Ultimate X-Men 5
  • Zero Girl 5

April 2006

Gorilla Gorilla

Long before he rode Tiny Titans to glory, Famous Cartoonist Art Baltazar teamed up with Disney to unleash Gorilla Gorilla, the story of a gorilla and a lizard who are roommates.

I love the kid logic of the President rewarding Gorilla Gorilla with a TV remote and a cell phone.

Back in 2001, my band Ookla the Mok released Smell No Evil, a rock opera about a space rocket test monkey and the boy who loved him.  (“His Monkey Made a Man Out of Him.”)  One of the songs (“Song of Kong”) asks the musical question ‘What if King Kong and Godzilla were roommates?”   (The answer, of course:  the Heat Death of the Universe.)  Another song on the album is called “Gorilla (gorilla).”  This is not a coincidence:

In honor of this comic (and, I suppose, the recently released Godzilla vs. Kong) here is a lyric video for Ookla’s “Song of Kong”:

Ookla the Mok : Song of Kong (Lyrics video)

A lyrics video of Ookla the Mok’s song “Song of Kong” from their CD Smell no evil. Available here : http://amzn.to/1TOmBulVideo created by @ltgtutoNerd Respo…

Other Comics I Read from April 2006

  • 100 Bullets 71
  • Amazing Spider-Man 531
  • American Virgin 2
  • Astonishing X-Men 14
  • Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight 203
  • Batman: Secrets 2
  • Battle Pope 6,7
  • Captain America 17
  • Daredevil 84
  • Desolation Jones 6
  • DMZ 6
  • Ex Machina 19, Special 1
  • Exterminators 4
  • Fury: Peacemaker 3
  • Goon 17
  • Hellblazer 219
  • Incredible Hulk 94
  • Infinite Crisis 6
  • Invincible 31
  • Loveless 6
  • Lucifer 73
  • Marvel Zombies 5
  • New Avengers 18, Annual 1
  • Nextwave 4
  • Planetary 25
  • Punisher 32
  • Runaways 15
  • Swamp Thing 26
  • Teen Titans 34
  • Testament 5
  • Thing 6
  • Ultimate Extinction 4
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four 29
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 93
  • X-Factor 6
  • X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl 4
  • Y: The Last Man 44
  • Young Avengers 11

 

April 2011

Dark Horse Presents 1

The reboot of Dark Horse Presents was mighty indeed, and well worth seeking out in back issue bins.  This debut issue included the return of both Paul Chadwick’s Concrete and Michael T. Gilbert’s Mr. Monster, a Harlan Ellison story, and the opening chapters of ongoing stories by comics legends Howard Chaykin, Neal Adams, and Richard Corben!

With all that gold — did I mention there’s also a Star Wars story illustrated by Paul Gulacy, and work by Carla Speed McNeil and David Chelsea? — I was not prepared for my favorite work in the issue to be from the only creator I was unfamiliar with:

This brilliant strip is by Australian cartoonist Patrick Alexander.  I’ve spent a lot of time looking at that page.  Impossibly, each panel seems funnier than the previous one.   Alexander’s work is featured in several issues of Dark Horse Presents and is always amazing.  This strip was also included in the debut issue:

Other Comics I Read from April 2011

  • Amazing Spider-Man 658-659
  • American Vampire 14
  • Area 10
  • Avengers 12
  • Avengers Academy 12
  • Avengers: Children’s Crusade 5
  • Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth 2
  • Batman and Robin 22
  • Batman, Inc. 5
  • Brightest Day 23, 24
  • Captain America 617
  • Casanova: Gula 4
  • Chew 18
  • Deadpool Max 7
  • Detective Comics 876
  • DMZ 64
  • Fear Itself 1
  • FF 2
  • Flash 10, 11
  • Generation Hope 6
  • Green Lantern 66
  • Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors 9
  • Green Wake 1
  • Hellblazer 278
  • Herc 1
  • Incredible Hulks 626, 627
  • Infinite Vacation 2
  • Invincible 79
  • Invincible Iron Man 503
  • Journey into Mystery 622
  • Mighty Thor 1
  • New Avengers 11
  • New York Five 4
  • Northlanders 39
  • Osborn 5
  • Power Man and Iron Fist 4
  • Punisher Max 12
  • Ruse 2
  • Scalped 48
  • Secret Avengers 12
  • Secret Warriors 26
  • Silver Surfer 3
  • Sweet Tooth 20
  • Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates 3
  • Ultimate Captain America 4
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 157
  • Uncanny X-Men 534.1, 535, 536
  • Walking Dead 84
  • Who is Jake Ellis? 3
  • Wolverine 8
  • X-Factor 218

April 2016

Wonder Woman: Earth One volume 1

This is the first of a trilogy of original graphic novels, the final volume of which was recently published.  As the cover makes clear, Morrison’s plan was to bring Wonder Woman back to her feminist/bondage roots.  Yanick Paquette’s art (and page layout) is fantastic in all three volumes, which makes the anatomy on this cover all the more puzzling — Wonder Woman’s neck is too long and her head appears too small for her body.

Weirdly — given how much the opening Paradise Island scenes in the Wonder Woman films pop — this volume doesn’t really take off until Diana finds herself in “man’s world.”

Diana discovers a dying woman.

The writing and art combine perfectly to convey the sadness and horror that Diana is feeling.

Diana expresses her anger and disappointment to the soldiers who have gathered to stop her.

In this reimagination, Steve Trevor is Black, which makes this scene even more uncomfortable.

Much of the story is told in flashback, as Diana is on trial on Paradise Island.  Etta Candy’s testimony is wildly entertaining.

Steve’s testimony is great, as well.

Wonder Woman is amazing and pitch-perfect throughout, but Etta is the sassy star of the book.

Other Comics I Read from April 2016

  • A-Force 4
  • Action Comics 51
  • Aliens: Defiance 1
  • All-New Hawkeye 6
  • All-New, All-Different Avengers 8
  • Amazing Spider-Man 10, 11
  • Archie 7
  • Batman/Superman 31
  • Black Road 1
  • Black Widow 2
  • Bloodshot Reborn 12
  • Camp Midnight
  • Chew: Demon Chicken Poyo
  • Criminal 10th Anniversary Special
  • Daredevil 6
  • Detective Comics 51
  • Discipline 2
  • Divinity II 1
  • Doctor Strange 7
  • Doctor Strange: Last Days of Magic
  • Dragon Age: Magekiller 5
  • East of West 25
  • Empress 1
  • Faith 4
  • The Fix 1
  • Grayson 19
  • Green Lantern Corps: Edge of Oblivion 4
  • Howard the Duck 6
  • Huck 6
  • Injection 9
  • International Iron Man 2
  • Invincible 127
  • Invincible Iron Man 8
  • Jacked 6
  • Jupiter’s Circle 5
  • Justice League 49
  • Justice League: Darkseid War Special
  • Karnak 3
  • Midnighter 11
  • Mighty Thor 6
  • Mockingbird 2
  • Moon Knight 1
  • Ms. Marvel 6
  • New Romancer 5
  • Ninak 14
  • No Mercy 9
  • Old Man Logan 4, 5
  • Omega Men 11
  • Postal 12
  • Power Man and Iron Fist 3
  • Red Wolf 5
  • Rocket Raccoon and Groot 4
  • Sex Criminals 15
  • Sheriff of Babylon 5
  • Spider-Man 3
  • Starve 8
  • Superman 51
  • Superman/Wonder Woman 28
  • Superman: American Alien 6
  • Totally Awesome Hulk 5
  • Velvet 14
  • Vision 6
  • Walking Dead 153
Share.

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.

2 Comments

  1. Jarmo Seppänen on

    Great stuff, as usual! I noticed that surprisingly there were only couple of issues I remembered, but it was all the more interesting to read.

    • Thank you. Believe it or not next month it will have been five years since I started this column, which means I will have completed the cycle of my comic reading life from 1976 to 2016. Of course I’ve read five years of comics since then, so — starting in June — I will continue with a “five years ago” column to bring it all up to date.

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.