Oh, the comics year that was 1988.
I was still relatively new to comics at that point; I bought my first superhero comic off a spinner rack in the summer of 1986. Because this was my early days of reading comics, I no doubt view much of 1988 through rose colored glasses.
Superman turned 50! I wasn’t reading the Superman books back then because I was strictly a Marvel zombie at this point in my life. But I was still amazed that a comic book character was on the cover of Time magazine. I still didn’t understand what a big deal Superman was, though, and more or less hated him because of his costume. Hey, I was 12.
One of Superman’s comics, Action Comics, would start its classic run as Action Comics Weekly in 1988. I’ve wanted to write about these issues for a long time, but it is daunting as hell. They’re filled with some great stories.
Batman: The Killing Joke was released. I bought it when I was old enough and I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Reading it again as an adult, I’m considerably less impressed, particularly the lengths it goes to set up the big dramatic moments. Barbara Gordon is never a character in this thing, which I suppose is obvious given her fate. But even before she’s shot: she is Batgirl (albeit somewhat retired) and she lives with the police commissioner of Gotham, a public figure. In what world would she answer the front door without checking to see who it is?
Thankfully, John Ostrander and Kim Yale were able to create something create out of this train wreck when they came up with Oracle.
Neil Gaiman’s first American work, Black Orchid, is published by DC. He’s done all right since then.
A number of prominent indie creators drafted and signed the A Bill of Rights for Comics Creators but, again, I was a Marvel zombie, so I knew nothing of this. I would have to imagine that actions like this would at least put the germs of the idea into the heads of the eventual founders of Image.
Speaking of which, The Amazing Spider-man hit #300 with art by some guy named McFarlane. It also featured a big showdown with some guy named Venom. Oh, and it was the official end of the black costume, to which I say “boooooooooo!”
Captain America was running around in a black and red costume and calling himself The Captain after being fired by the federal government. This was a great story line, less because of Cap losing his job and more because it turned the Red Skull into the head of a giant criminal organization built just to destroy Steve Rogers.
Marvel’s soon to be defunct New Universe line was cut in half, from 8 titles to 4, leaving just DP7, Psi-Force, Justice, and Starbrand. All four books would be canceled the following year. For what it’s worth, these were pretty solid superhero books, particularly DP7 and Psi-Force.
Marvel started a short lived tradition of having all of their annuals take part in a single event. The first event was “The Evolutionary War,” starring the High Evolutionary, who more or less becomes a Nazis for the sake of the story. It’s 11 annuals long. If you’re a fanboy, it’s a lot of fun. The Young Gods are introduced and, as far as I know, were never heard from again.
The big standout issue is Uncanny X-Men Annual #12 which takes place in the Savage Land. It features art by Arthur Adams and introduces us to Colossus’ long-lost-never-heard-from-again son. Avengers Annual #17 is also a lot of fun, mostly due to the team: Hulk (grey form), Yellowjacket (the villain), Hercules, Jocasta, the Beast, the Falcon, and Captain America in his Captain outfit.
Oh, Speedball makes his first appearance in Amazing Spider-man Annual #22. I realize that’s not particularly important to most people, but the New Warriors were fantastic.
Speaking of events, 1988’s X-books crossover was “Inferno,” coming hot on the heals of “Fall of the Mutants” (so much so that much of “Fall” was on sale in ’87, but cover dated ’88). This was the third crossover in what had now become an annual tradition for the X-books. “Inferno” was at least better connected than “Fall of the Mutants,” which was more of a thematic crossover than one based in story.
The art on the three main X-books at the time were particularly notable. Bret Blevins’ style was perfect for a supernatural story filled with demons and angst. Marc Silvestri was making a mark for himself on Uncanny X-Men and, gun to my head, I probably prefer his run over Jim Lee’s. There’s not much to be said about Walter Simonson on X-Factor because just saying his name should tell you it was great.
Marvel’s Epic line released what should have been the last issue of one of the greatest comics ever published, Strikeforce: Morituri.
I say “should have been” because Strikeforce: Morituri #20 came out in 1988. It was the last issue by creators Peter B. Gillis and Brent Anderson. A new creative team would take over, but the book went downhill quickly. Strikeforce: Morituri #20 was the first comic book to ever make me cry. I’m sure at some point I’ll get around to writing about this 20 issues.
Excaliber, Punisher War Journal, and Wolverine all debuted in 1988. Epic published Bill Sienkiewicz’ Stray Toasters, which is a beautiful and totally insane comic.
Notable new titles from DC that launched in 1988 were Animal Man by Grant Morrison and Chas Truog, Hellblazer by Jamie Delano and John Ridgway, and a new Starman by Roger Stern and Tom Lyle. We also saw the classic Cosmic Odyssey by Jim Starlin and Mike Mignola as well as the “Millienium” crossover.
The “Millenium” crossover introduced the New Guardians who, much like the Young Gods, didn’t not last very long. It seemed like comics were pre-occupied with creating new gods in 1988.
Two mainstay Batman villains, the KGBeast and Ventriloquist, debuted in 1988.
To me, the biggest independent comic to debut in 1988 was The Maze Agency, created by Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis, with art by Adam Hughes and Rick Magyar. It was published by Comico, which was one of the first independent comic book companies to cross my path. Really, Comico should get its own column by me at some point, they just published so many great books.