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

June 1980

Uncanny X-Men 137

One of my comic book pet peeves is when the cover copy is blatant false advertising, and this is one of the worst offenders.  Even 40 years later this book is worth like $200 max, and that’s in near mint condition with a CGC rating of 9.6 or higher.

This is, of course, peak Claremont/Byrne X-Men.  With an ending so shocking that even the writer didn’t see it coming!  (More on that soon.)  What you need to know:  Jean Grey had upgraded from Marvel Girl to Phoenix, and it turns out those massive powers came with quite an appetite.  (You eat one middle-sized star…)

Phoenix had inadvertently caused the death of billions, so it isn’t really unreasonable that Lilandra wants her taken off the game board.  But of course the X-Men fight back.  One by one, the X-Men fall until it’s down to Jean and Scott against the world.

Inspiring words, but this is the original Rocky, not any of the Rocky sequels, so their heroic proof comes in the form of a noble defeat rather than an actual victory.

And because this is a double-sized issue, everyone breaks free for another big fight scene.  But this time the X-Men are fighting to subdue Jean.

Not surprisingly, their heart isn’t in it, forcing Jean to admit that she is powerless before Dark Phoenix.

After all that it comes down once again to Jean and Scott against the world.  But this time Jean has a secret plan.

I know it was only a few years before they brought Phoenix back (her name should have served as sufficient warning that she’d return) but it seemed like a long time to me, and at the time this death really mattered.  Part of why Jean’s death was so shocking was that it wasn’t the author’s original intention.  This issue (as approved, written, and illustrated) was supposed to end with Jean being stripped of her Phoenix powers and returning to her original Marvel Girl power set.  But when editor-in-chief Jim Shooter saw the issue, he thought that Jean was getting off too easy for having killed an entire planet’s worth of sentient beings, and insisted that she die.  The story as original written was later published as Phoenix: The Untold Story.

Comics I Read From June 1980

  • Avengers 199
  • Batman 327
  • Captain America 249
  • Cerebus 17
  • Marvel Team-Up 97
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 46
  • Unexpected 202
  • Untold Legends of the Batman 3

 

June 1985

DC Comics Presents 85

Don’t really have anything to say about this comic, but I wanted to point out that Alan Moore had a pretty good month, with this Superman/Swamp Thing team-up, one of the best Superman stories ever, and an infamous issue of Swamp Thing.

Superman Annual 11

Before Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons teamed up for this fantastic Superman annual.  Part of what makes it so great is his “fun” use of Wonder Woman, Batman, and Robin.

It’s Superman’s birthday, and his friends arrive at the Fortress of Solitude to help him celebrate, but find this:

The world Superman is in is Krypton, had it not exploded.  And it turns out his dad is pretty bitter about the whole “apparently I was wrong about the end of the world” thing.

Meanwhile, Mongul shows up to helpfully explain what’s going on to Batman, Wonder Woman, and Robin.

Back in Superman’s fantasy, he is driving his son home when he is stopped by a Kryptonian Klan rally.

This is more evidence that anyone claiming that comics weren’t so overtly political (and were therefore better) in the 80s is full of it.  And honestly, I preferred this story better back then, when I could read it as a science-fictional warning from a far distant reality.

As Superman’s fantasy becomes increasingly tainted, he starts to realize it’s not real.

The Black Mercy comes off Superman and attaches itself to Batman.  I wonder what his fantasy will be?

Honestly, is there anything better than righteously pissed-off Superman?  His fight with Mongul is epic, and these panels are legendary.

Then, for once, Robin gets to save the day.

Swamp Thing 40

This is the “feminist” issue of Swamp Thing, and while Moore certainly swings for the fences, it was kind of problematic, even by 1985 standards.

This issue is called “The Curse” and it’s about a werewolf.  (Sure it is.)  Some of the problems with this story are mechanical in nature, as best represented by that first panel.  Can you imagine any store in the history of ever displaying their knives like that?  Can you imagine Chekhov just leaving his gun on the table at the beginning of the first act?

Our point of view character is in a remarkably bad marriage.

Steve Bissette takes a page from the early Neil Jordan film “The Company of Wolves” with this great transformation scene:

The American Gothic storyline featured Swamp Thing confronting a series of American horror tropes, which — as much as anything — explains how he ends up the middle of all this.

The “I am woman” line is a bit much, but Steve Bissette and John Totleben sure can draw can’t they?

Significantly, Phoebe is unable to bring herself to kill her abusive husband.  Instead, she lashes out at all of the trappings of suburbia that encage her.

But it’s not enough.  Also, we get another really great diptych from Bissette and Totleben.

Don’t get me wrong, this is powerful stuff, but there’s something off here.

Yes, the nickel silver knives.  Good news for housewives, indeed.  I mean, I know that this is a horror comic, but even 35 years ago, I remember thinking that this was overly bleak.  And if lycanthropy is the metaphor, I’m not sure I’m tracking it properly.  Are we supposed to think that women are monsters that need to put themselves down to save us the trouble?  That doesn’t make sense, as her unwillingness to kill her husband — who so desperately deserves it — makes it clear that she’s not out of control or dangerous in the way that werewolves are typically portrayed.  So was she punishing herself for her inability to kill her husband?  Was suicide really her only option?  What is our takeaway meant to be?

Comics I Read From June 1985

  • Alien Encounters 1
  • Alpha Flight 26
  • Amazing Spider-Man 268
  • American Flag 25
  • Avengers 259
  • Black Dragon 3
  • Cerebus 75
  • Coyote 13
  • Cloak and Dagger 2
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths 6
  • Daredevil 223
  • DC Comics Presents 85
  • Defenders 147
  • John Bolton’s Halls of Horror 1
  • Longshot 1
  • Losers Special 1
  • Marvel Fanfare 22
  • Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu 4
  • Nexus 13
  • One 1
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 106
  • Raphael 1
  • Secret Wars II 3
  • Solomon Kane 1
  • Super Powers 1
  • Uncanny X-Men 197
  • Vigilante 21, Annual 1
  • Web of Spider-Man 7, Annual 1
  • West Coast Avengers 1

 

June 1990

Animal Man 26

It’s the final issue of Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, and the hero finally confronts the mysterious Big Bad, and it’s…

Grant Morrison?

Buddy sees his life in four-colors, including the death of his family.

Buddy quickly moves on to bargaining.

As early as 1990, Morrison identifies the problem with “realistic” comics.  But Morrison isn’t above using his own pain to make his story better.

And here we have my vote (this month anyway) for the greatest four panels in the history of comics:

Buddy wakes up in his house, sad and alone.  Then he hears a knock at the door.

That would have been a great way to end the comic, but the coda manages to take it up a notch.  As always, The Writer gets the final word, repeating a story he told earlier in the run, well before we had any clue that this mysterious new character was Grant Morrison.

The theme of maudlin nostalgia that is so important throughout Morrison’s work finds its most pure expression here.  Morrison waits for a response but there is none.  Foxy never existed.  Or worse, in a pitiful reversal of Puff the Magic Dragon, Foxy no longer cares.

This final image is echoed in the text of the final panel of Morrison’s Doom Patrol:  “The is another world.  There is a better world.  There must be.”

 

Doom Patrol 35

Speaking of Doom Patrol…

This is the issue that introduces us to Danny the Street:

Those ominous looking creatures in the last panel are The Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E.  And that’s not an acronym but rather an indication of how they communicate.  Everything they say is a seven word sentence with the first letter of each word spelling out NOWHERE.  And yes, Morrison manages to have their dialogue make sense contextually throughout the comic.

Legends of the Dark Knight 9

And, not to be outdone by Alan Moore five years earlier, Grant Morrison has an even more impressive DC month, with his Animal Man climax taking place the same month as the introduction of Danny the Street, along with an issue of his Batman classic “Gothic” and the secret origin of the multiverse in “Flash of Two Worlds.”

Secret Origins 50

Other Comics I Read from June 1990

  • Atlantis Chronicles 5
  • Batman 452
  • Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children 13
  • Cerebus 135
  • Concrete: Odd Jobs
  • Dr. Fate 19
  • Dreadstar 59
  • Eightball 3
  • Give Me Liberty 1
  • Hellblazer 32
  • Incredible Hulk 372
  • Shade the Changing Man 2
  • Spider-Man 1
  • Yummy Fur 21

June 1995

Instant Piano 4

Instant Piano is a great place to find some never reprinted Kyle Baker stuff, like this chapter from an unfinished story called “You Are Here” (which is completely unrelated to his original graphic novel, also called “You Are Here”).  This chapter is essentially eight pages of Baker passing the Bechdel Test.

Like a lot of Baker’s best work, not much happens, but the dialog, character work, and art make it more than worth your while.  I’ve said before that his comics read a lot like sitcom scripts in that the characters are monstrous but in an entertaining way.  Clearly the main plot point here is that their friend is literally in need of being talked off the ledge, but the characters are much more concerned about who can use the only bathroom in their apartment.

Of course this is the 90s, so even the moments of seriousness need a touch of ironic detachment.

Comics I Read from June 1995

  • Amazing Spider-Man 404
  • Aquaman 11
  • Cerebus 195
  • Daredevil 343
  • Druid 4
  • Egypt 1
  • Flash 104, Annual 8
  • Goddess 3
  • Hate 19
  • Hellblazer 92
  • Impulse 5
  • Incredible Hulk 432
  • Invisibles 11
  • Preacher 5
  • Ruins 1
  • Sandman 70
  • Shade the Changing Man 62
  • Spider-Man: The Lost Years 1
  • Starman 10
  • Swamp Thing 157

June 2000

Empire 1

Empire is Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s Dr. Doom riff:  What would the world look like if the Bad Guy (in this case Golgoth) ever won?  We are introduced to the world through Golgoth’s lifelong friend Sebirus.

Sebirus also notes that Golgoth only ever reveals his humanity in the presence of his daughter.

During a dinner party that evening, Sebirus dispatches a would-be assassin.

Turns out there is (or at least was) an assassin, but the intended victim was Delfi.  They rush to her room to find it empty and covered in blood.

Sebirus’ noble intentions mean nothing to Golgoth.  All he hears is that his second-in-command publicly  implied that Golgoth might be wrong about something.  That he might not have every single aspect of his kingdom under his complete control.

Finally, Golgoth’s humanity is revealed not in his ability to spare his lifelong friend but rather in his tacit acknowledgement that killing Sebirus has created an unbridgeable rift between him and his daughter.

 

Other Comics I Read from June 2000

  • 100 Bullets 13
  • Avengers 31
  • Batman: Dark Victory 9
  • Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood 3
  • City of Silence 2
  • Detective Comics 747
  • Hellblazer 151
  • Hitman 52
  • Hourman 17
  • Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority 1
  • JLA Annual 4
  • JSA 13
  • Kurt Busiek’s Astro City 22
  • Lucifer 3
  • Marvel Boy 1
  • Planetary /The Authority: Ruling the World
  • Powers 3
  • Preacher 64
  • Punisher 5
  • Reinventing Comics
  • Sam and Twitch 11
  • Shock Rockets 3
  • Starman 68
  • Transmetropolitan 36
  • Vertigo Secret Files: Hellblazer 1

June 2005

Solo 5

Solo was a great book for fan’s of comic art.  The Deluxe (oversized) hardcover collection of the series is out of print but if you can find a copy, snap it up.

Every issue has something to offer, but Darwyn Cooke’s issue is particularly spectacular.  I miss Darwyn  Cooke.  It opens with a Slam Bradley framing piece about Story (and Catwoman).

This issue is jam-packed with great stuff, including this five panel history of the comics retail industry:

…and Cooke’s origin story:

The art style and color palette shifts with each story, so you go from a yellow and cartoony autobiographical story to a blue and noir-ish Question story.

Then into this vibrant red Batman splash page.

I miss Darwyn Cooke.

At the end we return to Slam Bradley and the promise of more stories to come.

I miss Darwyn Cooke.

 

Other Comics I Read from June 2005

  • Adventures of Superman 641
  • Amazing Spider-Man 521
  • Astonishing X-Men 12
  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book One 1
  • Authority: Revolution 9
  • Battle Pope 1
  • Captain America 8
  • Daredevil 74
  • Dream Police 1
  • Ex Machina 12
  • Flash 223
  • GLA 3
  • Gotham Central 32
  • Green Lantern 2
  • Hellblazer 209
  • House of M 1, 2
  • Incredible Hulk 82
  • Invincible 23
  • JLA 115
  • JSA 74
  • Losers 25
  • Lucifer 63
  • New Avengers 8
  • OMAC Project 3
  • Planetary 23
  • Powers 11
  • Punisher 22
  • Runaways 5
  • Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witch Boy 2
  • Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight 3
  • Seven Soldiers: Zatanna 2
  • Spider-Man: House of M 1
  • Swamp Thing 16
  • Teen Titans 25
  • Too Much Coffee Man: How to Be Happy
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 78
  • Walking Dead 19
  • Wolverine 29
  • Wonder Woman 217
  • X-Men Unlimited 9
  • Y: The Last Man 34
  • Year One: Batman/Scarecrow 2
  • Young Avengers 5

June 2010

Avengers Academy 1

Christos Gage seems to be the best-kept secret in super-hero comics.  I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of his, and while he continues to get work, he doesn’t appear to get a lot of critical attention.  This was a great Avengers side-series, and one of my favorite things to come out of the Marvel Civil War storyline.

Most of the main characters were new (or newish) but there were some familiar faces, like Henry Pym.

…and Tigra.  These more established characters were used to introduce us to the new kids, and the problems they each faced.

As the first issue of a new concept, much of our time is devoted to “who they are and how they came to be.”

Pym explains why they’ve been brought together:

But we don’t really get the main story hook until the end of the issue.  The revelation that Pym isn’t being entirely honest about his motivations for forming Avengers Academy is what really makes the story tick.

Other Comics I Read from June 2010

  • American Vampire 4
  • Astonishing X-Men 34
  • Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis 2
  • Avengers 2
  • Avengers Prime 1
  • Batman 700
  • Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne 3
  • Brightest Day 3, 4
  • Captain America 606, 607
  • Chew 11
  • Daredevil 507
  • Daytripper 7
  • Demo 5
  • DMZ 54
  • DV8: Gods and Monsters 3
  • Existence 3.0 4
  • Fantastic Four 580
  • Flash 3
  • God Somewhere
  • Greek Street 12
  • Green Lantern 55
  • Hellblazer 268
  • Incredible Hulk 610
  • Invincible 72
  • Invincible Iron Man 27, Annual 1
  • Iron Man: Legacy 3
  • Joe the Barbarian 6
  • Light 3
  • Marvel Zombies 5  4
  • Nemesis 2
  • New Avengers 1
  • Northlanders 29
  • Powers 5
  • Punisher Max 8
  • Secret Avengers 2
  • Secret Warriors 17
  • Serenity: Float Out
  • SHIELD 2
  • Spider-Man: Fever 3
  • Sweet Tooth 10
  • Thor 611
  • Ultimate Comics Avengers 9, 10
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 11
  • Uncanny X-Men 525
  • Unknown Soldier 21
  • Walking Dead 73
  • Wolverine: Weapon X 14
  • Wonder Woman 600
  • X-Factor 206

June 2015

Airboy 1

This mini-series kind of falls apart, but the concept is solid, and James Robinson’s eagerness to plumb his own failings (as a writer and as a person) is intriguing.

This essentially belongs to the “my comic about me” autobiographical genre, but with an Orchid Thief twist.  The book opens with writer James Robinson meeting artist Greg Hinkle.

They discuss the Airboy project over drinks.  It’s clear that neither creator has a connection to this remarkably out-of-date character.  It’s also clear that Robinson’s life is spinning out of control.

Things quickly get out of hand, even by Robinson’s standards.

Of course, because this is a comic book called Airboy, the issue ends like this:

Other Comics I Read from June 2015

  • Action Comics 41
  • All-Star Section Eight 1
  • Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows 1
  • Batman/Superman 21
  • Big Man Plans 3
  • Black Widow 19
  • Bloodshot Reborn 3
  • Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier 9
  • Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps 1
  • Chrononauts 4
  • Copperhead 8
  • Daredevil 16
  • Darth Vader 6
  • Dead Drop 2
  • Deathlok 9
  • Descender 4
  • Empty 4
  • Fade Out 7
  • Fight Club 2  2
  • Fox 3
  • Grayson 9
  • Groot 1
  • Howard the Duck 4
  • Injection 2
  • Invisible Republic 4
  • Ivar Timewalker 6
  • Jupiter’s Circle 3
  • Justice League 41
  • Kaptara 3
  • Lazarus 17
  • Legacy of Luther Strode 2
  • Mantle 2
  • Material 2
  • Midnighter 1
  • Minimum Wage: So Many Bad Decisions 2
  • Ms. Marvel 16
  • Nameless 4
  • Ninak 4
  • No Mercy 3
  • Old Man Logan 2
  • Omega Men 1
  • Pastaways 4
  • Prez 1
  • Princess Leia 4
  • Punisher 19
  • Rat God 5
  • Rebels 3
  • Revival 30
  • Saga 29
  • Secret Identities 5
  • Secret Wars 3
  • SHIELD 7
  • Southern Bastards 9
  • Spread 8
  • Star Wars 6
  • Starve 1
  • Superior Iron Man 9
  • Superman/Wonder Woman 18
  • Surface 3
  • Thief of Thieves 29
  • Thors 1
  • Tithe 3
  • Trees 10
  • Ultimate End 2
  • Walking Dead 142
  • Weirdworld 1
  • Where Monsters Dwell 2
  • Wicked + the Divine 11
  • Zero 17
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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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