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

March 1980

Avengers 196

I’ve been a Taskmaster fan for 40 years — since the day this comic arrived in my mailbox — so I’m very happy that the he finally seems to be getting his due.  The Taskmaster has got two great hooks (three if you count that costume).

Hook One:  I love the idea of a criminal mastermind whose scheme is to train henchmen for other criminal masterminds.

Hook Two:  His super-powers.

Who doesn’t love a character who can be illustrated using any other character’s powers?  And his origin story is right in the absurdity sweet spot.

“Photographic reflexes” is one of those phrases that reads pretty cool.  We’ll all have to wait until Black Widow comes out in May to see if it sounds ridiculous when said out loud.

Also, I’m not sure this counts as a hook, but right from the start, Taskmaster’s pragmatism was appealing to me.  Unlike other super-villains, he knew when to cut and run.

Comics I Read From March 1980

  • Amazing Spider-Man 205
  • Cerebus 14
  • Marvel Team-Up 94
  • Super-Villain Team-Up 17
  • Uncanny X-Men 134

March 1985 

Saga of the Swamp Thing 37

According to legend, the art team of Steve Bissette and John Totleben were big fans of The Police and wanted to draw Sting.  Writer Alan Moore obliged, and that’s how we got John Constantine.  But John Constantine’s debut issue was actually penciled by Rick Veitch.

Most of the issue involves John checking in on several of his friends from all over the world.   And John was never quite as Sting-y as he is in this issue:

The topic of conversation is the Boss Level villain who Swamp Thing will face in issue 50, and every member of John’s team seems to have a different opinion about what he will be facing.

The little green thing in the fist panel of each page is Swamp Thing, whose body was destroyed in the previous issue.  Throughout this issue he learns to regrow his body.  (He gets a lot better at this later.)

One of the first songs written for my band Ookla the Mok was “Stranger in the Mirror,” and while that song has never been given a proper studio recording, it has maintained a baffling (to us, anyway) cult status with our fans.  I imagine that at least part of the song’s charm is down to our (equally baffling, to be honest) decision to make the main character of the song John Constantine.  I should admit that it wasn’t conceived as a song about Constantine.  After the first chorus, I wrote the line “after that Newcastle incident I thought that I’d seen it all” and just decided to lean into it with lines like:

“I had a friend in a convent (Nergal said, “Get thee to a nunnery”) / And another friend who stuttered and quoted Lovecraft / I had a girl in New York City / They were all killed by the Invunche.”

Many years later I heard Alan Moore pronounce Invunche and was pleased to note we got it right.

Here’s a lyric video of Adam and I performing the song in his bathroom:

Ookla the Mok : Stranger in the mirror (A John Constantine Story)

A live lyrics video of the song Stranger in the mirror by Ookla the Mok. http://amzn.to/1TOmBul Video by Ookla the Mok and @ltgtuto

Back in the comic, Constantine visits Swamp Thing, and — despite his gruff manner — clearly has much to teach our hero.

And here we see “a girl in New York City” getting “killed by the Invunche”:

Comics I Read From March 1985

  • Alien Legion 7
  • Alpha Flight 24
  • Amazing Spider-Man 265
  • American Flagg 22
  • Avengers 256
  • Badger 6
  • Cerebus 72
  • Cloak and Dagger 1
  • Conan the King 29
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths 3
  • Daredevil 220
  • Defenders 144
  • Dreadstar 18
  • Gargoyle 2
  • Kull 10
  • Mage 6
  • Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu 1
  • Moonshadow 2
  • Nexus 10
  • Omega Men 27
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 103
  • Sisterhood of Steel 3
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3
  • Vigilante 18
  • Web of Spider-Man 4

March 1990

Animal Man 23

At this stage of the story, Animal Man has been driven nearly insane with grief over the death of his family.  He is stuck back in time — trying to change their fate — yet somehow, there is much more interesting stuff going on in the present:

These are all characters that were erased during the original Crisis on Infinite Earths.  They were brought back by the Psycho Pirate (the guy in red), who is the only person in the DCU who remembers them.  While this was only a few years after the original Crisis, crib notes are still offered:

I’m pretty sure that the “monsters” alluded to are a quick dig at the “grim and gritty” Watchmenization of the DCU — more proof that Morrison has been poking at that bear for over 30 years.

As more and more deleted characters make their way back into the continuity, Psycho Pirate asks them to introduce themselves.

It’s pretty clear that the Psycho Pirate is a stand in for Grant Morrison — the actual person and huge fan of super-hero comics, not to be confused with the character of Grant Morrison (the Author, who is later confronted by Animal Man in issue 26).

The meta-narrative continues, as these newly reborn characters explore their surroundings and discover the nature of their world.

Doom Patrol 32

Speaking of weird…

It’s almost impossible to imagine that Morrison was publishing Doom and Patrol and Animal Man at the same time.  I adore both of these comic runs, but this specific issue of Doom Patrol holds a special place in my heart.  There’s just so much going on and it’s all so wonderfully creative.  Most writers would make an idea like the Pale Police and spin it into its own series, but with Grant Morrison you get a one-page description and a few action panels.

The Pale Police are agents of the Cult of the Unwritten Book, and while the Pale Police didn’t make the transition from the Doom Patrol comic to the Doom Patrol television show, a shocking amount of this story’s plot did.

Here we see the Pale Police in action:

If your Jumble skills are underdeveloped, their dialog in the third panel is “Happening?”, and the fourth panel unscrambles “You are the gateway.”  The bottom panels are both “Nowhere to run.”

And it turns out that anagrams are a great way to sneak adult language into an all-ages comic book:

 

Other Comics I Read from March 1990

  • Atlantis Chronicles 2
  • Cerebus 132
  • Dr. Fate 16
  • Dreadstar 56
  • Eightball 3
  • The Elvis Mandible
  • Green Arrow Annual 3
  • Hellblazer 29
  • Incredible Hulk 369
  • Legends of the Dark Knight 6
  • The Question 36
  • Sparrow

March 1995

Brooklyn Dreams 4

DC never had much luck creating adult non-genre comics lines.  The 80s had Piranha Press, which gave us Why I Hate Saturn and a bunch of great comics and graphic novels that almost no one ever read.  The 90s spawned Paradox Press, which gave us (among other things) a bunch of really fun “Big Books,” and this masterpiece.

Brooklyn Dreams, written by J.M. DeMatteis and illustrated by Glenn Barr, is DeMatteis’ most nakedly autobiographical work, and is similar in tone and narrative style (if wildly different in plot) to Moonshadow.  Originally published in four paperback volumes, it is been in and out of print as a collected edition ever since.

If you’re familiar with DeMatteis’ work at all, you won’t be surprised to learn that Brooklyn Dreams is funny, quirky, and deeply spiritual.

He has some interesting things to say about romantic love, and why we seem obsessed with it at the same moment that we are — culturally speaking — turning away from organized religion.

After musing about romance and spirituality, our narrator talks about his last acid trip.

This was, of course, the Big One — when he realized that we all are one.

I think most of us, even those who have never done a hallucinogenic drug in their lives, will find the experience described below familiar:

While this moment is certainly associated with hallucinogenic drug use, it can also be triggered by external stimulus — a poem, a piece of music, a painting, a sunset…

The German’s have a word for everything.  The German word for this moment — when all of the information in the universe seems to rush into your head all at once, and you instantly feel like it all makes sense and all is well — is “sehnsucht.”  The best English translation we have for it is “deepest yearnings,” which is two words and still not even close.

Glenn Barr uses a cartoony illustration style for the panels that take place in the past, and sketchy, more realistic renderings for the present-day framing sequences.  The transition above is a great example of how well that technique works.

Another common aspect of the sehnsucht moment is that the feeling (and the sense of knowledge that accompanies that feeling) tends to go away as quickly and mysteriously as it arrives.

Then we learn why this was our narrator’s last acid trip.

Comics I Read from March 1995

  • Amazing Spider-Man 401
  • Aquaman 8
  • Book of Magic 12
  • Cerebus 192
  • Demon 58
  • Flash 101
  • Happy Birthday, Martha Washington
  • Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor 1
  • Hellblazer 89
  • Impulse 2
  • Incredible Hulk 429
  • Invisibles 8
  • Madman Comics 6
  • Preacher 2
  • Sandman 68
  • Shade the Changing Man 59
  • Sin City: The Big Fat Kill 5
  • Starman 7
  • Stray Bullets 1
  • Swamp Thing 154
  • Tank Girl Movie Adaptation

March 2000

Invisibles 2

This is the penultimate issue of the final volume of the Invisibles.  This volume counted backwards from 12, which made this issue two.  The cover shows two people staring at one another with a digital collage of many other faces between them.  This is actually a pretty good visual representation of the sehnsucht moment experienced in Brooklyn Dreams.  One of the main themes of the Invisibles is that we are all connected.  We are all one.  It also should be noted that the negative space between their faces also creates an optical illusion of a cup.  The Holy Grail is only found when we look into the eyes of the Other.

In the story itself, George confronts what he thinks is his dead friend Flint, but it’s not him.  It’s Lord Fanny’s dead friend John-a-Dreams.

The idea of wearing a body suit to enter the world of the Invisibles is teased throughout the series, and made clear here.  The implication is that we are all in the Matrix, but it’s not a matter of being manipulated by evil machines or capricious gods.  We are all just playing a game.   You have decided to play this round as the person you currently think you are.  There are no good guys or bad guys.  We are all just playing a game.

The last time we saw King Mob he was bleeding to death in a phone booth.

The final storyline of the Invisibles was illustrated by a horde of different artists, which “illustrates” the fluid subjective nature of reality while also pointing to Grant Morrison’s unique position as creative monarch.

Grant Morrison has claimed that Audrey Murray is the main character of the Invisibles.  Her only other appearance is in “Best Man Fall,” issue 12 of the first volume, which tells the life story of Bobby Murray, a previously unnamed henchman that Gideon killed in the very first issue.  Bobby is, of course, the husband she refers to.

Ending King Mob’s story by having him be saved by the wife of a man he casually murdered is probably the best example of Morrison’s tendency to “find the light within the darkness.”

JLA 41

Grant Morrison’s JLA and the Invisibles may not appear to have much in common, but they were published concurrently, and have many common themes.  Interestingly, both runs climaxed in the same month.  (There was one more issue of the Invisibles, but it was an epilogue that took place years after the main events of the story.)

We all know that Batman is cooler than Superman.

But perhaps the coolest thing about Superman is Batman’s complete and utter faith in him.

This is an “all hands on deck” comic book story.  Throughout the issue, we hop madly about, and many heroes are given their moment to shine, including Morrison’s old friend Animal Man.

Animal Man’s plan involves using (real-life evolutionary biologist) Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance to create more super-heroes.

Meanwhile, Zauriel rallies the angelic troops in heaven.

Zauriel gets his “I’m Spartacus!” moment.

J’onn connects Bruce and Clark.

Bruce encourages Clark, and Aztek makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Bruce continues to support Clark, while the leaders of the world consider giving in to chaos.

Luckily, there are angels on their shoulders to offer an alternative.

Animal Man’s plan worked!

This is vintage Grant Morrison.  Super-heroes are meant to symbolically inspire us to become our best selves.  Here they literally allow us to do just that.  If this isn’t a Silver Age moment, I’m not sure what is.

And, of course, all of this reminds Superman how he got the name.

This is what a win looks like, and we could sure use one now.

Other Comics I Read from March 2000

  • 100 Bullets 10
  • Authority 13
  • Avengers 28
  • Avengers 2: Wonder Man and the Beast 1
  • Batman: Dark Victory 6
  • Deadenders 3
  • Detective Comics 744
  • Eightball 21
  • Flinch 12
  • Geeksville 0
  • Hellblazer 148
  • Hitman 49
  • Hourman 14
  • JSA 10
  • Preacher 61
  • Punisher 2
  • Sam and Twitch 8
  • Starman 65
  • Transmetropolitan 33

March 2005

Seven Soldiers: Guardian 1

The second of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers series to launch, Manhattan Guardian was a story of a fairly down-to-earth hero working in a world with strangeness literally just below the surface.  In the subways of Manhattan, pirates fight for control of the underground.  This becomes a wonderful metaphor for comics culture, with pirates fighting and dying for control of a world that the mainstream is completely unaware of.

And just like in the world of comics, there are two pirates vying for supremacy.  As you might guess, No-Beard represents Grant Morrison.  Which means…

And I’ll give you three guesses who All-Beard looks like.

 

Vimanarama 2

What if you finally met the girl of your dreams, and it tuned out she was the reincarnated lover of an ancient god?

But of course Gods are only as powerful as the belief we have in them.

The idea of immortal invulnerable super-heroes experiencing pain for the first time is a pretty entertaining one, and the last panel on this page has one of my favorite lines of dialog ever.

Other Comics I Read from March 2005

  • 100 Bullets 59
  • Adam Strange 7
  • Adventures of Superman 638
  • Authority: Revolution 6
  • Captain America 5
  • Countdown to Infinite Crisis
  • Daredevil 71
  • Deadshot 4
  • Ex Machina 9
  • Fantastic Four 524
  • Flash 220
  • Goon 11
  • Gotham Central 29
  • Green Lantern: Rebirth 6
  • Hellblazer 206
  • Human Target 20
  • Incredible Hulk 79
  • Invincible 21
  • JSA 71
  • Losers 22
  • Marvel Knights Spider-Man 12
  • New Avengers 5
  • Ocean 5
  • Plastic Man 15
  • Pulse 8
  • Punisher 18
  • Runaways 2
  • Secret War 4
  • Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight 1
  • Sleeper Season Two 10
  • Spider-Man Unlimited 8
  • Spider-Man/Human Torch 3
  • Swamp Thing 13
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four 17
  • Ultimate Secret 1
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 73, 74
  • Ultimates Two 4
  • Walking Dead 16
  • Wolverine 26
  • Wonder Woman 214
  • X-Men: Phoenix Endsong 4
  • Young Avengers 2

March 2010

Batman and Robin 10

One of the trademarks of the 60s Batman television show was the scene (usually late in the second act) where Batman and Robin solved a preposterous series of clues simply by talking it out with each other.  Grant Morrison boldly adds one of these scenes to this issue of Batman and Robin, except in this instance Dick Grayson is playing the role of Batman.

Initially, Damian Wanye’s Robin is having none of it.

Damian has been enjoying his time with the Dick Grayson iteration of Batman more than he thought he would.

Damian is dour and serious, just like his dad.  But also like his dad, he prefers to work with someone who is upbeat and playful.

Other Comics I Read from March 2010

  • Action Comics 887
  • Amazing Spider-Man 623-627
  • American Vampire 1
  • Astro City: The Dark Age: Book Four 3
  • Avengers: Initiative 34
  • Batman Confidential 42
  • Blackest Night 8
  • Bronx Kill
  • Captain America 604
  • Chew 9
  • Dark Avengers 15
  • Daytripper 4
  • Demo 1
  • Detective Comics 863
  • DMZ 51
  • Fantastic Four 577
  • Girl Comics 1
  • Greek Street 9
  • Green Lantern 52
  • Green Lantern Corps 46
  • Hellblazer 265
  • Herc: Fall of an Avenger 1
  • Incredible Hulk 608
  • Invincible Iron Man 24
  • Joe the Barbarian 3
  • Marvels Project 7
  • Mighty Avengers 35
  • Nation X 1
  • Nemesis 1
  • New Avengers 63
  • Northlanders 26
  • Powers 3
  • Punisher Max 5
  • Scalped 36
  • Secret Warriors 14
  • She-Hulk Sensational 1
  • Siege 3
  • Spider-Woman 7
  • Superman: Secret Origin 5
  • Sweet Tooth 7
  • SWORD 5
  • Thor 608
  • True Story Swear to God 12
  • Ultimate Comics Avengers 5
  • Ultimate Comics New Ultimates 1
  • Ultimate Comics Spider-Man 8
  • Ultimate Enemy 3
  • Uncanny X-Men 522
  • Unknown Soldier 18
  • Wolverine: Weapon X 11
  • X-Factor 203

March 2015

 

If you’ve read comics for any period of time, you notice this cycle:  just as you’re starting to wonder why you’re bothering to read comics at all, a bunch of amazing comics come out all at once.  This is one such month.  In the wake of Saga’s success, Image’s creator-owned science fiction bonanza started right here, with the launch of Descender, Surface, Invisible Republic, and the relaunch of Manhattan Projects and Invincible.  You also got Ultra Comics and Nameless from Grant Morrison, and Kyle Starks gave us the wonderful Sexcastle.

Multiversity: Ultra Comics 1

This cover references Flash 163, which looms pretty large in Grant Morrison’s imagination.

While Pax Americana gets the most attention, this issue is the heart of the Multiversity series.  And while many of the most dramatic comic book covers never deliver on their promise, Ultra Comics treats the cover as if it is the opening panel of the story.

Those who dare to turn the page after that dramatic opening will find a rather boring sequence of a dude in a suit reading a comic book.

Don’t trust this guy.  He turns out to be The Gentry (the anthropomorphic winged egg who is the Big Bad of the series) in a disguise.

One of the great sequences in this book is when we get to see Ultra work his way through comics history in four panels, the first two representing the no-nonsense Greatest Generation heroism of the Golden Age and the in-your-face science fiction insanity of the Silver Age…

…and the last two representing the calculated existential angst of the Bronze Age and the grim and gritty ultra-violence of the Dark Age.

There is a lot of fun meta-narrative, if you’re into that sort of thing.   (I am.)

All of Grant Morrison’s Greatest Hits are here, including the idea that we are the voice inside every comic book character’s head.  These characters are alive because we are, and they are immortal so long as someone is around to read them.

Those “text” text boxes represent imagined fanboys complaining online about the comic.  And it should go without saying that using meta-narrative to critique meta-narrative is pretty damn meta.

The Gentry makes his final move to defeat Ultra, but is in turn defeated by Ultra Comics itself.

Using “criticism” (in both senses) to defeat the Gentry is pretty fun, you have to admit.  It’s a very 21st century update of Morrison’s JLA finale — the hero defeats the villain by using the power of “all of us” — in this case, instead of turning everyone in the world into a super-hero, Ultra simply uses the reader’s criticism of the comic itself to win the day.

Surface 1

Not to be outdone by Grant Morrison, Ales Kot checks in The Surface, a brilliantly imaginative (and shamefully under-read) four-issue mini-series.  This is one of those, “It’ll All Make Sense in the End (Maybe)” mini-series, but — assuming you like philosophical musings punctuated with action sequences — the trip itself is pretty great, as well.

And there’s some Quantum Physics 101 thrown in for good measure:

“We Are All Uncertain Ghosts of Stardust” is the title of my forthcoming Shoegaze Dreampop album.

Q:  “What is the traffic light about?”

A:  “It’s art!”

 

Other Comics I Read from March 2015

  • Action Comics 40
  • All-New Hawkeye 1
  • Avengers 42
  • Batman 40
  • Batman and Robin 40
  • Batman/Superman 20
  • Big Man Plans 1
  • Black Widow 16
  • Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier 6
  • Captain Marvel 13
  • Casanova: Acedia 2
  • Chew 47
  • Chrononauts 1
  • Cyclops 11
  • Daredevil 14
  • Darth Vadar 3
  • Deathlok 6
  • Descender 1
  • Divinity 2
  • Dream Police 6
  • East of West 18
  • Empty 2
  • Goon: Once Upon a Hard Time 2
  • Grayson 8
  • Invincible 118
  • Invisible Republic 1
  • Ivar Timewalker 3
  • Justice League 40
  • Manhattan Projects: the Sun Beyond the Stars 1
  • Ms. Marvel 13
  • Nameless 2
  • Names 7
  • New Avengers 31
  • Outcast 7
  • Pastaways 1
  • Postal 2
  • Powers 2
  • Princess Leia 1
  • Punisher 16
  • Rat God 2
  • Rat Queens 9
  • Revival 28
  • Saga 26
  • Satellite Sam 12
  • Secret Avengers 14
  • Sexcastle
  • Sheltered 15
  • Sidekick 10
  • Spread 6
  • Star Wars 3
  • Storm 9
  • Superman 40
  • Superman/Wonder Woman 17
  • Supreme: Blue Rose 7
  • They’re Not Like Us 4
  • Thief of Thieves 27
  • Thor 6
  • Valiant 4
  • Walking Dead 138, 139
  • Wayward 6
  • Wicked + the Divine 9
  • Wytches 5
  • Zero 15
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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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