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

May 1980

Cerebus 16

This issue takes place in that brief moment after it was clear that Cerebus was excellent, but before there was any real indiction of what a massive story Dave Sim was going to tell.  In other words, at this point, Cerebus was “merely” a great comic book.

In this issue, Cerebus attends a costume party in an attempt to save Lord Julius from a mystery assassin.

Lord Julius is an early example of how Sim would cast Cerebus with his favorite celebrities, in this case Groucho Marx.  Eventually the assassin in revealed in a manner that is humorous in and of itself, but also plays with the tropes of these sorts of stories.

The Bad Guy is dispatched quickly — avoiding the requisite fight scene — giving an early sign that Cerebus is not your standard heroic comic book protagonist.

Comics I Read From May 1980

  • Amazing Spider-Man 207
  • Avengers 198
  • Captain America 248
  • Epic Illustrated 2
  • Marvel Premier 55
  • Marvel Team-Up 96
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 45
  • Untold Legends of the Batman 2
  • Uncanny X-Men 136

May 1985

Swamp Thing 39

As we begin the “American Gothic” storyline in earnest, the horror aspect of the book gets ratcheted up even more than usual.  This is the second issue of a two-part story involving underwater vampires.  We spend a lot of time with five people who are looking for their missing children.

It doesn’t end well for any of them.

Meanwhile, Swamp Thing is underwater, bearing witness to the birth (and rapid death) of the vampire’s offspring.

This creature turns his attention to Swamp Thing, and that doesn’t go so well, either.

Having recently learned that he can leave his body and regrow it elsewhere, Swamp Thing takes the opportunity to  grow himself bigger so he can redirect running water, and destroy the vampires.

The aquatic vampires safely dispatched, Constantine makes his appearance, and lets Swamp Thing know that there’s a larger story unfolding, and that things are going to get worse before they get better.

 

Comics I Read From May 1985

  • Alien Legion 8
  • American Flagg 25
  • Avengers 258
  • Badger 7
  • Cerebus 74
  • Cloak and Dagger 2
  • Conan the King 30
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths 5
  • Defenders 146
  • Dreadstar 19
  • Gargoyle 4
  • Mage 7
  • Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu 3
  • Moonshadow 3
  • Nexus 12
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 105
  • Secret Wars II 2
  • Time Beavers
  • Uncanny X-Men 196
  • Vigilante 20
  • Web of Spider-Man 6
  • Zot 9

May 1990 

Why I Hate Saturn

Piranha Press was a noble experiment from DC that resulted in at least one comics masterpiece.  Reading Why I Hate Saturn in 1990, I found myself thinking “Why isn’t Kyle Baker writing television comedy?”  Rereading it in 2020 I find myself thinking, “Clearly, everyone writing television comedy since 1990 has read Why I Hate Saturn.”

The first two acts of the story are pretty down-to-earth — mostly just characters talking entertainingly with one another.  The quality of Baker’s art guarantees that this never gets boring to look at.

One innovation on Baker’s part is to design the pages and block the panels so that the dialog can go above the art.  This not only saves him the hassle of drawing lines that are eventually going to be covered by text balloons, but also allows us to enjoy the art fully while simultaneously solving the “What order do I read the balloons in?” literacy problem that many comics present to new readers.  (Piranha Press was aimed at “adult” readers who weren’t necessarily into comics.)  In subsequent graphic novels, Baker would eliminate balloons and dialog tails entirely, relying on the blocking to make it clear who was speaking in the dialog boxes above each panel.

Friends Anne and Rick are young writers living in New York City.  Like most sitcom characters, a shocking amount of their time is spent complaining about their lives and sharing their entertaining observations about the world around them.

Also like most sitcom character, if you met these two in real life you would find them insufferable, but they are surprisingly engaging and attractive on the comics page.

Sometime after this conversation, Anne gives herself a makeover, and sitcom hilarity ensues:

Turns out that Rick isn’t nearly as smooth when the stakes are a little higher.

And, it turns out Anne isn’t much better.

Rick has been asked to make his column more Black, even though almost no Black people read the magazine he’s working for.  As he says, “Black music is in, Black culture is in, but Black people will never be in.”

By the third or fourth scene like this, we’re all asking the same question.  To put you out of your sitcom misery:  Yes, they will.

Then, about halfway through the book, we meet Anne’s sister Laura, who is convinced that she is the “Queen of the Leather Astro-Girls of Saturn,” and dresses the part.

The third act takes a pretty drastic turn into action-adventure:

At the very end, we return to normal life, just in time for Anne and Rick to break up.  (They remain friends.)

Other Comics I Read from May 1990

  • Animal Man 25
  • Atlantis Chronicles 4
  • Cerebus 134
  • Doom Patrol 34
  • Dr. Fate 18
  • Dreadstar 58
  • Flash Special 1
  • Hellblazer 31
  • Incredible Hulk 371
  • Legends of the Dark Knight 8
  • Sandman 17
  • Shade the Changing Man 1

May 1995

Invisibles 10

The first four issues of the Invisibles were all about Jack Frost’s initiation.  The next five issues showed Jack’s first assignmen with his Invisibles cell — a time-traveling adventure that also laid out the philosophical underpinnings of the series.  This issue — the first of thee single-issue stories that show us the larger world of the Invisibles — introduces Jim Crow, an ally from another cell, who is also a member of the Root Doctaz, a Voodoo Trip Hop band.

Like most of the Invisibles, this is all Peak Grant Morrison:  we get a solid critique of colonialism, then jump right into Cybergnosis, presented as if this was an idea that we were all already familiar with.

Next we learn that the bad guys have manufactured a new form of crack cocaine:

The oppressors are remote-controlling the poor, using their dead Black bodies to rape and murder.  (I assure you that 25 years ago, this was all much less on the nose.)  Of course, Jim Crow will have none of this.

As you might hope, things don’t work out so well for the bad guys.

“Let the punishment fit the crime…”

Comics I Read from May 1995

  • Amazing Spider-Man 403
  • Aquaman 10
  • Batman/Two Face: Crime and Punishment
  • Books of Magic 14
  • Cerebus 194
  • Dark Horse Presents 97
  • Druid 3
  • Flash 103
  • Goddess 2
  • Hellblazer 91
  • Impulse 4
  • Incredible Hulk 431
  • Madman Comics 7
  • Maxx 15
  • Peepshow 7
  • Preacher 4
  • Sandman 69
  • Shade the Changing Man 61
  • Starman 9
  • Swamp Thing 156
  • Tank Girl: The Odyssey 2
  • Underwater 3

May 2000

Punisher 3

It’s no secret that Garth Ennis is not a fan of super-heroes.  For the most part he avoids them, but whenever a character he writes (Punisher and Hitman being the most obvious examples) is forced to interact with super-heroes, they aren’t treated very well.  (Superman being the exception that proves the rule.)  While he is certainly having fun here, this is also an excellent example of how Garth Ennis uses the obligatory cross-over issue (in this case, the Punisher running into Daredevil) to critique the concept of the super-hero.

Frank has Matt at his mercy, and instead of killing him (or just walking away) he sets up a preposterously elaborate ethical discussion.

Frank explains the experiment to Matt:

Matt’s counterargument shows that they are approaching things from entirely different perspectives with almost no common pre-conceptions.

The primary difference between a super-hero trying to do good and a soldier at war is that the soldier doesn’t get to determines the rules.  Matt’s insistence that Frank has a choice — while true — is immaterial, as Matt can only respond to the choice Frank has already made, just like Frank can only respond to the choices that Dino has made (and — importantly for Frank’s argument — will continue to make unless Frank stops him).

But of course this was an object lesson, not a needlessly complicated suicide plan.

 Other Comics I Read from May 2000

  • 100 Bullets 12
  • Authority 15
  • Avengers 30, Annual 2000
  • Avengers 2: Wonder Man and the Beast 3
  • Batman Chronicles 21
  • Batman: Dark Victory 8
  • Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood 2
  • Big Book of the 70s
  • City of Silence 1
  • Detective Comics 746
  • Flash 162
  • Flinch 13
  • Geeksville 1
  • Hellblazer 150
  • Hitman 51
  • Hourman 16
  • JLA 43
  • JSA 12
  • Louis Reil 4
  • Lucifer 6
  • Marvel Comics X-Men 1
  • Palookaville 14
  • Planetary 10
  • Powers 2
  • Preacher 63
  • Promethea 8
  • Punisher 4
  • Sam and Twitch 10
  • Shock Rockets 2
  • Silver Age 1, 80 Page Giant
  • Silver Age: Dial H For Hero
  • Silver Age: Doom Patrol
  • Silver Age: The Flash
  • Silver Age: Green Lantern
  • Silver Age: Justice League of America
  • Silver Age: Showcas
  • Starman 67
  • Swamp Thing 3
  • Tom Strong 8
  • Transmetropolitan 35

May 2005

Seven Soldiers: The Guardian 2

I mentioned this issue in passing a while back when discussing Grant Morrison’s anxiety of influence, but let’s dive in for a closer look.  In this series Morrison creates a world of Subway Pirates, with two “main” pirates fighting for control of the Proud Nations Underground.

In case you’re not tracking the metaphor, this is all about comics.  All-Beard is Alan Moore, reigning king of the under-pirates, and No-Beard is Grant Morrison, the slightly younger, slightly cooler new pirate on the block.  And just like in real life, the guys are famous underground but almost no one in the real world has ever heard of them.

If you’re a comics fan, the feud between Moore and Morrison is pretty entertaining — even important.  But in the “real world,” it’s just a slap-fight among junkies, bums, and losers.  Also, False-Beard has got to be Stan Lee, right?

And tell me that doesn’t look just a little too much like Alan Moore.  Sounds a bit like him, too…

One of No-Beard’s followers is mortally wounded, and uses his last breath to put No-Beard in his place:

This is as autobiographical (and satisfying) as when the aliens told Sandy Bates that they liked his “earlier, funnier movies” in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories.

Of course, No-Beard and All-Beard must fight it out!

So:  No-Beard = Grant Morrison.  All-Beard = Alan Moore.  The Proud Nations Underground = Comics.  Six-Sided God Machine = Dice.

But who won, and what did he win?

Pretty grim assessment, Grant.

Other Comics I Read from May 2005

  • 100 Bullets 61
  • Adventures of Superman 640
  • Amazing Spider-Man 520
  • Astonishing X-Men 11
  • Authority: Revolution 8
  • Captain America 7
  • Daredevil 73
  • Desolation Jones 1
  • Ex Machina 11, Special Edition 1
  • Flash 222
  • Goon 12
  • Gotham Central 31
  • Great Lakes Avengers 2
  • Green Lantern 1
  • Hellblazer 208
  • Incredible Hulk 81
  • JSA 73
  • Losers 24
  • Lucifer 62
  • New Avengers 7
  • OMAC Project 2
  • Plastic Man 16
  • Pulse 9
  • Punisher 21
  • Punisher: The Cell
  • Runaways 4
  • Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight 2
  • Sleeper Season Two 12
  • Spider-Man/Human Torch 5
  • Swamp Thing 15
  • Teen Titans 24
  • Top 10: Forty Niners
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 77
  • Ultimates Two 6
  • Wonder Woman 216, 217
  • Y: The Last Man 33
  • Year One: Batman/Scarecrow 1
  • Young Avengers 4

May 2010 

Batman and Robin 12

In this issue Damian Wayne confronts Talia al Ghul, making it clear just how much he has changed since meeting his father.

Talia introduces Damian to his clones.  He is less than enthused.

It’s clear to both that their relationship is irrevocably shattered.

Meanwhile, Batman (i.e., Dick Grayson) has a confrontation of his own, with the mysterious Oberon Sexton.

Damian thought Oberson might be Bruce, but Dick knows better.

Even fans of Morrison’s New X-Men run didn’t see this one coming.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne 2

While we were following the adventures of Dick and Damian as Batman and Robin during Bruce’s absence, this series followed Bruce as he worked his way through time to get back home.

This issue Superman, Green Lantern, Booster Gold, and Rip Hunter travel to the end of time and find an engagingly creepy dude waiting for them.  Strap in for some patented Grant Morrison-style Science Fiction Nonsense.

We get a lot of Morrison’s Greatest Hits, including perennial favorite “we exist inside of a comic book.”

Oh, and remember that engagingly creepy dude?

Bruce has been working his way forward in time (and has so far made it from CaveBatman to PilgrimBatman), but — thanks to time moving laterally as well backward and forward — he’s also been waiting for his friends at the end of time.

And because Batman thinks of everything, it all works out just fine.

Other Comics I Read from May 2010

  • American Vampire 3
  • Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine 1
  • Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis 1
  • Avengers 1
  • Avengers Assemble 1
  • Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne 1
  • Brightest Day 1, 2
  • Dark Avengers 16
  • Daytripper 6
  • Demo 4
  • Detective Comics 865
  • DMZ 53
  • DV8: Gods and Monsters 2
  • Ex Machina 49
  • Executor
  • Fantastic Four 579
  • Flash 2
  • Girl Comics 2
  • Greek Street 11
  • Green Lantern 54
  • Hellblazer 267
  • Incredible Hulk 609
  • Invincible Iron Man 26
  • Iron Man: Legacy 2
  • Joe the Barbarian 5
  • Light 2
  • Marvel Zombies 5  3
  • Marvels Project 8
  • Northlanders 28
  • Punisher Max 7
  • Scalped 38
  • Secret Avengers 1
  • Secret Warriors 16
  • Spider-Man: Fever 2
  • Sweet Tooth 9
  • Thor 610
  • Ultimate Comics Avengers 8
  • Ultimate New Ultimates 2
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 10
  • Uncanny X-Men 524
  • Unknown Soldier 20
  • Walking Dead 72
  • Wolverine: Weapon X 13
  • X-Factor 205

May 2015

Material 1

Ales Kot unleashed two fascinating comics simultaneously.  The Surface was a four-issue mini-series.  Material was a much longer story that abruptly ended after four issues.  I still suffer.

Material follows three (unconnected?  we’ll never know) characters: a film director who — having found his muse — sets out to make his masterpiece, a young man recently released from Guantanamo Bay who struggles to adjust back to life as a free man, and college professor — and Marxist theorist — Julius Shore.

Shore argues that the acceleration we are experiencing come at the price of our imagination.

He points to the existential and social malaise that results from living in a world without an authority to appeal to.  How can one win (or even have) an argument if the participants no longer recognize the same presuppositions or accept any judgement as final?

(The answer to Shore’s question is Now Punisher knocks Daredevil out.)

After class, Shore has an interesting online encounter.

Apparently a big step toward AHI involves developing a sense of humor.

Whether this is a hacktivist or an actual AHI, it’s got a point:

Thinking that you’re not part of the problem simply because your participation in consumer culture is more intellectual (art, ideas) than physical (cars, property) doesn’t really absolve you, does it?

It’s all stuff.

Other Comics I Read from May 2015

  • A-Force 1
  • Afterlife with Archie 8
  • All-New Hawkeye 3
  • Batman: Earth One Volume 2
  • Black Widow 18
  • Bloodshot Reborn 2
  • Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier 8
  • Captain Marvel 15
  • Chew 49
  • Chrononauts 3
  • Convergence: Atom 2
  • Convergence: Batgirl 2
  • Convergence: Hawkman 2
  • Convergence: Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters 2
  • Convergence: The Question 2
  • Copperhead 7
  • Daredevil 15.1
  • Darth Vader 5
  • Deadly Class 13
  • Deathlok 8
  • Descender 3
  • Divinity 4
  • East of West 19
  • Fade Out 6
  • Fight Club 2  1
  • Fox 2
  • Goon: Once Upon a Hard Time 3
  • Injection 1
  • Invincible 120
  • Invisible Republic 3
  • Ivar Timewalker 5
  • Jupiter’s Circle 2
  • Kaptara 2
  • Mantle 1
  • Minimum Wage: So Many Bad Decisions 1
  • Ms. Marvel 15
  • Names 9
  • No Mercy 2
  • Ody-C 5
  • Old Man Logan 1
  • Outcast 9
  • Pastaways 3
  • Pisces 2
  • Postal 4
  • Powers 3
  • Punisher 18
  • Rat God 4
  • Rebels 2
  • Saga 28
  • Satellite Sam 14
  • Secret Identities 4
  • Secret Wars 1, 2
  • Star Wars 5
  • Storm 11
  • They’re Not Like Us 6
  • Thief of Thieves 28
  • Thor 8
  • Tithe 2
  • Trees 9
  • Walking Dead 141
  • Where Monsters Dwell 1
  • Wicked + the Divine 10
  • Wytches 6
  • Zero 16

 

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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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