Welcome to 90s Week at Living Between Wednesdays! This whole idea was inspired by a collection we acquired recently at Strange Adventures, where a guy who had been buying comics at another store for over twenty years had picked up his comics faithfully every week or so, read them once, then stored them back in the bags he brought them home in, receipts and all. Each of us picked a bag at random to review, which we’ll be doing later this week in lieu of reviewing new stuff. Until then, we’ll be talking about all things 90s, so feel free to put on a Full House rerun, rock out to the Stone Temple Pilots’ Core, and strut your stuff in your HyperColour T-shirt.
For my introductory 90s Week post, I’m going to discuss five titles that may have slipped under some fans’ radar, as the creators of these books were generally known for more famous works. Obviously, it’s more fun to have a go at the crappier offerings of the decade, but we’ll get to that in due time, and I thought it might be nice to start things off on a more positive note. So, in no particular order…
Captain America by Mark Waid and Ron Garney: Taking the reins from longtime writer Mark Gruenwald, the new creative team hit the Star-Spangled Avenger like a much-needed shot of Super-Soldier Serum. Cap’s new adventures were tightly plotted and fast paced, reducing the character’s penchant for patriotic speeches and returning him to the frantic action he was originally known for. First, in Operation Rebirth, Cap and his back-from-the-dead love interest Sharon Carter were forced to team up with the Red Skull to stop a group of Nazis from using a Cosmic Cube to reshape reality to their purposes. In the second storyline, Man Without A Country, Cap was exiled from American soil for teaming up with the Skull, but he still had to find a way to stop robotic villain Machinesmith from assassinating Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, the poorly-timed and thoroughly godawful Heroes Reborn relaunch of Captain America derailed the Waid/Garney express just as it was building up renewed fan interest in the title. The duo returned to the book when Heroes Reborn ended, but the book never quite regained its momentum. The full run is once again available in the Operation Rebirth collection, and if you’re one of the many fans of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s current Cap adventures, you owe it to yourself to check out the best the previous decade had to offer.
1963 by Alan Moore and Friends: If Supreme was Alan Moore’s tribute to the Silver Age of DC, then 1963 was his salute to the Mighty Marvel Age of Comics. Published as six separate issues with different protagonists taking part in a larger, interconnected plot, 1963 had a little something for everyone who loved the classic Marvel archetypes. Mystery Incorporated was his homage to the Fantastic Four, The Fury was an acrobatic wisecracker a la Spider-Man or Daredevil, and Horus: Lord of Light riffed on Thor and his godly supporting cast…you get the idea. The art chores were handled by a who’s who of past Moore collaborators, like Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben. Presented as highlights from the fictional Image Comics published thirty years earlier, 1963 was to eventually contrast the heroes of a more innocent decade with the ultraviolent Image heroes of 1993 in a concluding chapter—the 1963 Double Image Annual. Image founders like Todd MacFarlane and Jim Lee were on tap to provide art for the issue, which sadly never saw print for a variety of reasons, including Moore’s falling-out with co-creator Bissette. Damn shame, though, since any one of these issues provides enough material for a dozen lesser writers to crank out stories for years to come…much like anything Moore writes, really.
Unknown Soldier by Garth Ennis and Killian Plunkett: While he and artist Steve Dillon were creating the most entertaining blasphemy ever seen month after month in Preacher, Garth Ennis still found time to revisit one of DC’s classic World War II heroes in this gritty, suspenseful four-parter. A lonely, Mulderesque FBI agent is put on the trail of Codename Unknown Soldier, a shady operative who vanished into obscurity following the end of WWII, becoming a covert assassin who took part in pretty much all of the US’s dirty dealings from 1946 to the present (the present being 1997, of course). It’s sort of like Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Shadowplay—The Secret Team in Brought To Light crossed with a particularly great X-Files episode. Ennis adds a final twist to the mystery of the Soldier’s identity that is somehow both satisfying and maddening at the same time.
Untold Tales of Spider-Man Annual #1 by Kurt Busiek and Mike Allred: For a good stretch in the 90s, UTOS was the only remotely readable Spidey title. The stories were sandwiched between existing continuity from Spidey’s early years, and made for a good antidote to the Clone Saga and all the foolishness that came with it. However, everything awesome about the title was on full display in this double-sized issue, drawn by Allred and inked by Marvel vet Joe Sinnott. The story dealt with Webhead’s rivalry with the Human Torch, resulting in Spidey asking Susan Storm out on a date (mostly to piss off her brother). Sue, feeling neglected by Reed and not married yet, agrees to join the Wall-crawler at a local pizza joint. Meanwhile, the Torch summons Sue’s super-stalker, Namor, and tells him that Spider-Man has kidnapped her. Good old-fashioned misunderstandings and mayhem ensue. It’s pretty tough to read this issue without a big goofy grin plastered across your mug.
The Copybook Tales, by J. Torres and Tim Levins: Back before 80s nostalgia, fanboy humour, and nonstop pop culture references were commonplace, Canadian creators Torres and Levins indulged in all of the above with this charming black-and-white series from Slave Labor Graphics (now available in one volume from Oni Press). The series followed the semi-fictionalized misadventures of two would-be comic creators, Jamie and Thatcher, caught between their desire to grow up once and for all and the relentless pull of nostalgia. Told both in flashbacks to the guys’ misspent youth scouring back-issue bins and agonizing over girls, and in the present, where they struggle with the perils of responsibility, The Copybook Tales wonderfully balanced nerdy humour, twentysomething angst, and a very relatable coming-of-age story.