Bart Simpson has been in fourth grade since 1987, and all that time he has loved one comic book above all others.  Now (for some values of now, anyway), those stories can be told!  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Radioactive Man #1000 awaits!


Writer: Steve Vance
Penciler: Steve Vance
Inker: Bill Morrison
Colorist: Cindy Vance, Mike Sakamoto
Editor: Steve Vance
Publisher: Bongo Comics
Cover Price: $2.25
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $5.00

Previously in Radioactive Man: That #1000 on the cover isn’t the truth, at least in our universe, as this is in fact the sixth issue of this limited series.  (The previous ones were numbered #1, #88, #216, #412 and #679, each parodying a particular decade of comics history.)  In-universe, though, this is the big anniversary issue of Bart Simpsons’ favorite comic book, coming out in the grimdark 1990s, and the Todd McFarlane parody cover should be the first hint as to what we’re getting into, y’all…

We open with Claude Kane III, who is secretly the hero called Radioactive Man, mooning over his lady-love Gloria Grand, only to once again fall into a funk about the strange lightning-bolt shrapnel stuck in his head.  Removing it would mean certain death by atomic fire, so he has to find ways to work around that.  (Previous issues had him repeatedly wearing hats, only to find that, by the 1970s, they’re not longer in fashion.)  There are a couple of references to pop culture (Citizen Kane gets a nod), but much of the parody is saved for the superhero comics of the 1990s, as Radioactive Man has a meeting with his destiny!

And also, Bug Boy.  But mostly the destiny thing…

Expositionary panels abound at this point, filled with the same blunt “explain everything that has happened up to this point” theory that so many Image books of the era were full of, including Fallout Boy and his lost twin brother bringing up the spectre of Claude’s missing mother, a couple of cops (based on Spawn’s recurring Sam & Twitch characters) discussing the state of the Superior Squad and a tiny worm who comes upon one of Radioactive Man’s most terrible foes!

“Prawn.”  Heh…  I laughed pretty hard at this circa ’94, though it’s lost some of its resonance now.  Whether that’s because Spawn has been around forever and become baked into the spirit of all the comics that come after or because it’s just a dumb joke is unclear.  I’ma go with the one that’s all high-falutin’ and sounds profound.  Speaking of sounding profound, Bug Boy’s plan to fix Claude’s bolt issue turns out to be another hat (this one huge, ridiculous and Kirby-esque), but he is suddenly greeted by our police duo, now working with the superhero oversight division of the NSA.  Thus, changes are afoot for him, whether he wants them or not…

The idea that Claude’s alter-ego is out-of-touch and stodgy is another bit of story that feels all-too-real, what with Superman having to face that charge repeatedly since about 1980 or so, but the alterations to his world to make him cooler don’t really work all that well…

Note the massive, bunched-up cape in the shoulders of his suit, a nice visual touch.  Steve Vance ends up being something of a one-man band in this series, writing, drawing and editing, and his ability to combine the language of comic books with the idiosyncrasies of ‘Simpsons’ design is actually kind of breath-taking.  When the wicked Dr. Crab makes a public challenge to Radioactive Man, Claude sets off to fight him, only to see that the marketing division has more in mind for him than just a new cape…

90s riff: He’s a clone, you guys.  And he’s dismantled the Superior Squad from within, now setting his sights on Claude Kane’s super-identity.  A sudden battle with the villainous Pneumatica ensues, because reasons, during which Claude’s new giant cape nearly gets him killed, but ends up saving the day.  He then confronts Dr. Crabs, who has finally found a way to revert his own terrible mutation: The Regresso Ray!

Speaking of Regresso, I’d love a nice beef noodle soup right now.  The ray is successful in turning Prawn back into the human he once was, but also manages to turn back the clock for Radioactive Man, giving him what is truly the greatest power in comics: THE RETCON!

This, aside from being one of the greatest costume designs ever (and a nice visual nod to the debut of the Big Red Cheese, back in the 1940s) is another nod to 90s comics in the form of added, improbable back story.  The first appearance of Radioactive Man, after all, was shown to us a few months previously, and he was always the bolt-headed do-gooder we see in these pages.  Radio Man is cool enough that I’m willing to overlook any and all of that.  And, of course, going back to the (inserted) status quo 1940s has other, unforeseen side effects…

Before he can enjoy his victory, though, Radioactive Man is psionically compelled to turn around, under the command of the worm we saw earlier in the issue, now calling itself Radioactive Worm!  (Because “Head Master” seemed a little too on-the-nose…)  A Captain Marvel hero riff definitely deserves a Captain Marvel villain riff, but no matter the era or name, Claude Kane III is still a giant klutzy dolt…

Reverting to his modern self, Radioactive Man angrily goes after the Worm, but (in the manner of so many comics of the era) accidentally commits murder in so doing…

But, y’know…  He was just a worm.  And a real 90s hero would have flat-out ripped the villain to pieces with a pithy retort and a lament of their lost memories.  Just then, Pneumatica attacks once more, but Claude is stopped at the last second by… his dad?

After all, there was a Chekhov’s gun set up back at the beginning about what happened to Claude’s mother, and that sucker need to be fired.  The issue wraps up quickly, with new Radioactive Man banished by Claude’s lawyer, the Kane family setting off for home to have a home-cooked cybernetic meal and Dr. Crabs returned to his original crab-state, laughing in the shadows with Richard Nixon’s preserved head in a jar.  (Nixon was a recurring gag in the early issues of this book, which made it awkward that he passed away during the run.  Also, I’m not sure if this is a ‘Futurama’ reference or not, but I’m going to say it is.)  The final page is a neat little throw-away joke…

…that ends with the trademark self-deprecating humor of Bongo Comics and their patron TV show.  All in all, though, this book is pretty wonderful, with every page serving up references to comics and pop culture in ways that are both funny and meaningful, while making sure that no one learns any lessons or makes any changes (which is the greatest reference of all to the comics they’re lampooning.)  Radioactive Man #1000 doesn’t just tease the comics of the 1990s, but all eras of superhero floppies, and does so with wit and real knowledge of the material, making it one of my favorite comics as well as Bart’s, earning a dead-solid 5 out of 5 stars overall.  These issues aren’t particularly well-remembered in the modern age, but they are wonderful nonetheless, and I continue to recommend them to fans of comics of any age…



The best parody is the loving parody, but this issue isn't afraid to (accurately) tell you everything dumb about comics, and that makes it a fave-rave.

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About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

1 Comment

  1. The ‘worm sized electric chair’ remark is a reference to a Golden Age story where Mr. Mind was, as a matter of fact, sent to the worm sized electric chair.

    Also, this issue actually predates the Futurama animated series’ debut by around three to four years, so the ‘Nixon as a head in a jar’ gag really showed up first in this comic! Whether Groening’s animation writers were aware of it or it was just a coincidence is something I can’t say, though.

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