All right, so this past Sunday afternoon, I held my nose and dove right in to a pile of 18 comics that were purchased on Sept. 14, 1990, for a whopping…$26.64? Great Scott! That would maybe buy you five or six comics today. On the flip side, I’m happy to report that most of these comics weren’t very good, so it sort of evens out. Amidst all the ads for movies like Darkman and Marked For Death, and defunct video game systems like Nintendo’s GameBoy and Atari’s Lynx (not to mention the occasional entertainment platform crossover, hence the ad for the crappy-looking Total Recall video game), what did I find? A lot of multi-part story arcs, storylines set in the same universe that don’t quite match up with each other, and plenty of dubious hairstyles, fashions, and anatomy. The more things change, eh?
Justice League Europe #19: This was the concluding chapter of the Extremist Vector storyline, which was actually pretty decent despite having a stupid Tom Clancyesque title. This story had the European contingent of the Justice League sparring with extradimensional doppelgangers of some of Marvel’s greatest villains (Dr. Diehard=Magneto, Tracer=Sabretooth, Gorgon=Doc Ock, etc.), unrepentant nasties who nuked their own Earth and now are threatening to do the same for the JLE’s home. However, we learn here that they aren’t actually alive, but are semi-intelligent robots from an amusement park called Wacky World in their own dimension, delusionally convinced that they’re alive or something! Whaaaa? The only one who’s for real is Dreamslayer, the super-powerful Dormammu analogue of the bunch. But he’s eventually defeated by a superheroic survivor of their Earth, Silver Sorceress, who for some reason wears a brown costume. She has silver hair, but still. This was pretty fun stuff, and it also had a swell teaser ad for the short-lived CBS Flash TV show in it. Unfortunately, since this was one of the best comics in the pile, things went downhill pretty quickly afterwards.
Uncanny X-Men #270: And so begins the X-Tinction Agenda, where the X-Men fought Apartheid, albeit in the form of fictional mutant ghetto nation Genosha. Some of this issue’s highlights include appearances by post-Siege Perilous l’il kid Storm (please don’t ask me to explain this), the X-Men and X-Force fighting over who gets to use the Danger Room (not unlike my sister and I arguing over who got to watch what on TV when we were kids), and Robotech-looking villains from Genosha attacking Xavier Mansion. The bad guys are led by a brainwashed Havok, who, if memory serves, is always getting brainwashed by someone or other. There’s some nice early Jim Lee art here, but holy crap, Chris Claremont does his level best to cover it all up with roughly a zillion word balloons.
Web of Spider-Man #70: In which Peter Parker rocks a dumbass mullet, turns into a Spider-Hulk, and meets some helpful yet suspiciously well-dressed hobos. He also runs up against a duo of toughs calling themselves the Hat Patrol, who are about as threatening as a New Kids On The Block reunion tour.
Avengers West Coast #64: This series was only worthwhile twice; in its inaugural four-issue miniseries, and the run by John Byrne beginning with issue #42 (perhaps the last decent run of John Byrne comics ever?). Sadly, this issue falls into the post-Byrne malaise, which lasted until the book’s cancellation at issue #102. Despite the appearance of the Great Lakes Avengers, and Wonder Man calling the Human Torch “Hot Pants”, this issue sucks big time. A computer geek who somehow ended up with Juggernaut’s Crimson Gem of Cytorrak sets the Avengers against one another using funhouse doppelgangers of other Avengers (a recurring theme in 1990, perhaps?). He does all this so he can steal Captain America’s shield and bring it to Show and Tell. You heard me.
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #16: Interestingly, this issue is titled “Uh, Houston, We Got A Problem”, four years before Apollo 13 ushered a slightly different phrasing into common parlance. That’s really the only thing that’s interesting about this terrible, terrible comic. Nick and his agents fight a bunch of bad guys in space in this surprisingly gory issue; Nick punctures one villain’s space suit with a knife, causing him to explode—he is very apologetic about it, so maybe that’s why the Comics Code didn’t object.
Aliens: Earth War #2: This was the third series Dark Horse released as direct sequels to James Cameron’s Aliens, and from what I remember, they were a pretty decent bunch of follow-ups. Written by Mark Verheiden, they took place some years after the end of Cameron’s film, following the adventures of a grown-up Newt and an alien-blood-scarred Hicks. In this third miniseries, the previously MIA Ellen Ripley shows up to help retake Earth from the invading, terraforming xenomorphs. Fresh-faced newcomer Sam Kieth came on board to draw this mini, and I remember his art being a really jarring change from Denis Beauvais’ elegant painting in the previous outing, and Mark Nelson’s detailed, realistic approach in the first series. Still, I liked that DH switched up the art style for each new installment—it sort of reflected the different approach of the directors on the films. This held up fairly well, but I was a bit lost, not having read the previous material in…jeez, nearly twenty years.
Knights of Pendragon #3: Other than the Alan Davis cover, and the appearance of hero-hating British detective Dai Thomas (who I just recently encountered again while re-reading Alan Moore’s Captain Britain run), this book—nay, the whole Marvel U.K. imprint—really didn’t have a lot to offer me. If I understand it correctly, Thomas is periodically possessed by a Knight of the Round Table, which comes in handy when he encounters a crazy black sludge monster that kills people by seeping into their orifices (ew!) before making them explode with an awesome sound effect—“BLURR-CHOWW!”. Oh man, this was a confusing book, and, for the most part, boring—never a good combination.
Excalibur #30: This is another book I never had a lot of use for, other than when Alan Davis was drawing it. Sadly, this is not one of those issues. Captain Britain’s shapeshifting girlfriend Meggan gets turned into a vampire, so the U.K.-based mutant team calls Dr. Strange for help. Wong answers the phone, and a tiresome wannabe Abbott-and-Costello routine ensues…
That, unfortunately, is the highlight of the issue.
Spelljammer #2, Dragonlance #23, TSR Worlds Annual #1: The DC Comics/TSR Role-Playing Game alliance was a short-lived attempt to bring together the disparate splinter nerd groups of comic geeks and gamer geeks. Obviously, the attempt at détente failed, since I didn’t bother to read any of these comics to review them. I remember when these books started up, I bought the first issue of the comic based on TSR’s Gammarauders game—I pretty much bought any first issue of anything at that point. I also remember, upon finishing it, thinking that I had quite possibly just finished the worst comic I had ever read, or ever would read. Ah, to be so young and naïve, unaware of the many issues of Countdown and Chuck Austen’s Uncanny X-Men that lay waiting for me in the future.
Thor #425: This is from that run of Tom DeFalco/Ron Frenz Thor issues where they were in full-on Lee/Kirby pastiche mode. That’s all very well-intentioned, but it makes for pretty stale leftovers in this case. Despite the presence of classic tropes like Surtur fighting Ymir, and the Doomsday Weapon threat of pulling the Twilight Sword out of its sheath (not as dirty as it sounds), it’s pretty lame. At this point in the series, every cover had a bombastic title like “If Death Be My Destiny!”, or “When Walks…The Wendigo!”. This issue’s cover copy reads “The Flame, The Frost, and The Fury!”. A more appropriate title might have been “If Cultural Irrelevance Be My Fate”, or maybe “The Discount Bin My Destination!”.
New Warriors #4: I could never get into these guys back in the day, and for the life of me, I still don’t see the appeal. Like, why the hell was Nova suddenly called Kid Nova when he was the same guy, only now a few years older? He was Kid Nova before! Wouldn’t he be Man Nova now? Yes, it sounds dumb, but it makes more sense. This issue’s title is “Genetech Potential”, which rolls right off the tongue. This was the second book I read in this pile where a modem was talked about like it was some kind of crazy, Star Trek-level piece of future technology. Anyways, the New Warriors fight a group called Psionex, whose collective team name is quickly eclipsed by the stupidity of their individual code names. Coronary? Pretty Persuasions? Mathemanic? Well, since they’re fighting a group led by an angry skateboarder, one that counts Speedball amongst its members, that actually sounds about right.
Spectacular Spider-Man #169: Spidey and the “Outlaws”—a gang of some of his not-actually-evil antagonists, like Sandman and the Prowler—unite to battle the Avengers, after some manipulation by the Space Phantom, who rules by the way. I love that crazy weirdo and his shape-shifting tomfoolery! For more Space Phantom background material than any sane person could ever want or need, see Busiek and Pacheco’s Avengers Forever maxiseries. What was I talking about again? Oh yeah. This ish was written by Spidey vet Gerry Conway, but it features self-inked Sal Buscema art, which is…not great. There’s a subplot where a creepy dude named Jason tries to put the moves on MJ. She’s not into it, and when she tries to back him off with a “For God’s sake!”, this is his response…
Wow. As far as come-ons go, it’s no “Gimme some sugar, baby!”, that’s for sure.
Iron Man #261: Armor Wars II continued in this issue, and didn’t do much to disprove the notion that most sequels really stink. John Byrne scripted it, employing one of these goddamn parallel narratives here that he used to occasionally try out—there’s two stories being told simultaneously at the top and the bottom of each page (one where Tony Stark is trapped in his nonfunctioning armor, and one where the Mandarin is hanging out with a little old man who’s somehow connected to Fin Fang Foom), and I can never tell if I’m supposed to read it page by page like normal or finish one story thread and then flip back to the beginning and read the other one. Either way, it’s confusing and annoying. Let Chris Ware do Chris Ware, for chrissakes! You ain’t up to it!
Dr. Fate #21: There was a DeMatteis-scripted, Giffen-plotted and penciled Dr. Fate mini a few years before this where an evil psychiatrist got his mitts on the Helmet of Fate and wreaked havoc in it, looking like an effed-up Dr. Fate with creepy green lips and fangs. In this issue, that guy returns, but Joe Staton isn’t really up to the task of conveying the craziness of Giffen’s version. There’s also some kind of hamfisted ecological message, an attempt to contact the souls of Kent and Inza Nelson, and a bunch of other Order vs. Chaos hoo-hah, but it’s not really worth discussing. Instead, you should seek out that miniseries. It will mess you up, no foolin’.
Starman #27: This issue features a bad guy named Nimbus, which is funny ‘cause that’s the name of the publishing company where Rachelle works. It’s also funny because the guy is essentially a big cloud, and not intimidating in the slightest. His real name is Andy Murphy, which is a nice tribute to longtime DC artist Murphy Anderson. The Will Payton Starman teams up with the David Knight Starman (who gets killed on, like, page two of the first issue of James Robinson’s revamp a few years later) to fight ol’ Nimby, as his friends probably called him. Pretty bland stuff, although it features a cameo by Oracle, far earlier than I remembered her going by that alias, and a brief appearance by Guy Gardner ogling a nudie mag when he’s supposed to be on JLI monitor duty. Whatta scamp!
X-Factor #59: This is one of those boring, “Private Lives” issues where not much happens. Archangel flirts with interracial romance, and the media says bad stuff about mutants. The next issue box promises a tie-in to the “X-Termination Agenda”, which I guess was maybe an alternate title for the “X-Tinction Agenda”. Let’s face it, though, they both sound stupid.
So there you have it. There’s not much else to say about these books, other than the sad fact that video game ads were just as prevalent in 1990 as they are today. One other point of interest—in the Stan’s Soapbox section of Bullpen Bulletins in a few of these comics, Stan Lee drops a cryptic mention of something called The Marvel World of Tomorrow. Sure, he’s probably referring to the gestating Marvel 2099 lineup, but I prefer to think he’s talking about Ultimatum. Clearly, that’s where all this was leading, right? Excelsior!