I love 90’s comics.
It’s not nostalgia. No, the vast majority of my nostalgia with regards to comics comes from the 80’s, which is when I started reading them.
In fact, 90’s superhero comics actually drove me away from comics all together, but 90’s indie comics brought me back. But this post isn’t about those, it’s about the comics that supposedly drove me away.
I don’t think I appreciated 90’s superhero comics the way that I do now. Because while, yes, there was a lot of cash grabbing going on and, yes, there were a lot of horribly drawn comics coming out each month, in the end there was also a lot of bat shit crazy comics coming out every month.
There was something so purely and uniquely comics about the books that came out in the 90’s, in a way that I don’t think we’d seen since Marvel in the 70’s. And yes, more often then not the money men were involved in decisions in the 90’s, but if a creator or book had proven to be profitable, there were seemingly no limitations placed upon them or it.
Not only that, but in the 90’s there were just so many superhero comics being published that not everything was going to get the same amount of scrutiny, so this led to some bonkers stories being released while everyone was focusing on Spider-man or Batman.
It was glorious.
And it only got better when Image came along. There were NO restrictions on those creators, which is very clear if you read any of those early Image books. But they sold like hot cakes, which meant that Marvel and DC had to try to keep up, which meant removing some restrictions on their comics, too.
#5 – Age of Apocalypse
The fact that this event even happened is mind boggling. Think about it: Marvel stopped publishing the entire line of best selling X-Men comics and replaced them with comics that took place in an alternate reality. Not only that, but they did it for four months! That is a bold move, but I suppose their faith in fans to keep buying the books no matter what was strong.
Were the books good? Your mileage may vary. I enjoyed a lot of them. The world of Apocalypse was clearly well thought out and the changes to all the characters were great. Not only that, but the changes felt organic.
And the books were varied. Look at Generation Next. Look at X-Calibre. Look at Factor X. This might have been the most variety we’d seen from the X-books in decades.
The books being good is just gravy here. The sheer audacity of this event is worth commemorating.
#4 – Amalgam
Amalgam had no business being this good.
Honestly, the Amalgam events belong on this list if for no other reason than the name Mary Marvel Girl, but she was just one of many outstanding combinations of characters. Sure, there were some clunkers, but by and large the hybrid Marvel/DC characters were pretty great, and most of the books had stellar creative teams.
But what really made this line impressive was its depth. Even if you ignore the fictional histories they included in the annotations and letters pages, the way the books connected to one another was amazing. Someone, somewhere, has to have an Amalgam Bible and it’s got to be huge.
It’s kind of hard to believe that the two publishers worked together for so long to such a degree when you look at them now.
For what it’s worth, I don’t expect that we’ll ever see such a crossover again, but I’m not really sure that I’d want to.
#3 – DC One Million
It’s not just that this was a fun, ridiculous sci-fi superhero romp from Morrison and Semeiks, but it’s that the tie-in issues were, by and large, also a lot of fun. There’s something to be said for giving other creators a large canvas on which to work and letting them go crazy with only a handful of stipulations.
I will say this much: the fact that so much of the series revolved around the 853rd century did bug me a bit. For one, I don’t know why 833,00 years needed to pass for that future to be a reality. For that matter, I have a hard time believing that 833,00 years into the future would be so…well, pedestrian.
I realize that’s an odd point to have a problem with, but it seems like an arbitrarily chosen number that does more harm than good. Plus, the idea that there would be such a strong through line from our time to the 853rd century seems questionable at best.
Still, it’s a really fun series.
#2 – No Man’s Land
I think people tend to pass up No Man’s land when they think about major events in the 90s, probably because it took place in 1999. It’s the perfect end to the 90s, though, as far as superhero events are concerned, because it showcases a changing of the guard.
Consider: Bob Gale, Alex Maleev, Devin Grayson, Dale Eaglesham, Ian Edginton, D’Israeli, Greg Rucka, Frank Teran, Lisa Klink, Guy Davis, Phil Winslade, Jason Minor, Janet Harvey, Larry Hama, Paul Ryan, Bronwyn Carlton, Steven Barnes, and Rafael Kayanan.
Those are all creators whom, in 1999, most would not have associated with the Batman books. Many came from indie comics, some from Vertigo, a few from Marvel. I honestly don’t know where their careers took each of them, but you certainly recognize their names. At the very least, No Man’s Land introduced us to Greg Rucka’s Batman.
Don’t get me wrong, the event requires an incredible suspension of display: that the U.S. government would just cut off Gotham from the rest of the country and declare it ostensibly a non-entity. And you also have to accept that the thousands of super powered heroes across the DC galaxy would stand down (there’s an attempt to explain this, but it only involves Superman, and the explanation is undercut by the simple fact that that there are literally thousands of very powerful heroes flying around). But if you give yourself over to those two concepts, you enter a year long story about a post-apocalyptic Gotham, and who wouldn’t want to read about that?
The world of Batman is so full with so many wonderful characters that the creators never tread water. Even the ancillary books like Azrael, Robin, Nightwing, and Catwoman find (more or less) interesting ways to connect to the main titles. Nightwing’s arc is particularly good.
But as I said, this even represented a turning point in corporate superhero comics. It was a roll of the dice to bring in so many new creators from so many different comics and it paid off. In some ways I think this paved the road for Big Two editors to take chances on lesser known creators in the future. I feel like after the success of No Man’s Land, Marvel gave a shot to an indie crime comics creator named Bendis.
No Man’s Land is epic and intense and consistently great. It was very nearly #1 on my list, losing out if only because it’s over eighty issues long.
#1 – Death (and Return) of Superman
The Death (and Return) of Superman is the perfect superhero event.
- It was well planned. The collected editions lay it out pretty clearly: there were four chapters to this story. Superman died in the first. The world mourned in the second. We met the new versions of Superman in the third. And the real deal returned in the fourth and final chapter. There were no left turns made in an attempt to drag the event out. The sales department didn’t deliver any orders for chromium covered one shots or relaunched titles. This was a story that was driven by the creative team.
- The creative team was made up of some of the most talented professionals in the industry, none of whom were really big names. That’s not say that fans didn’t know who former X-Factor writer and Cable co-creator (you heard me, Liefeld) Louise Simonson was, or who long time DC writers and artists Roger Stern, Dan Jurgens, and Jerry Ordway were. But none of them were big the way that creators were becoming big in the 90s. This meant that they were professionals aka the comics actually came out on time. It also meant that the storytelling was clear.
- The Superman books had already been interlinked. One of the problems with later events is that they incorporated a line of comics that weren’t usually dependent upon one another. The Bat books, the Spider books, even the X books all had their own stories going on at any time. But the Superman titles had begun the “triangle period” a year earlier: each issue of every Superman book featured a triangle with a number on it, which reflected the order in which the comic should be read among all the other titles. In other words, the triangle would show up on 48 (and eventually 52) comics a year, connecting all four Superman books. It was a lot like reading a weekly Superman comic, although each title had some room to do its own thing. In other words, if you were already buying all the Superman books, you didn’t have to add more titles to your list (okay, fine, one Justice League comic).
- It matters to people when Superman dies.
The Death (and Return) of Superman wasn’t just a great event, but a statement on who Superman is and will always be. There is a purity that will never go away, not if they kill him off, split him into two characters, or reboot him over and over again. The true Superman always finds a way back.
Others of Note
Yes, the main series is something of a clusterfuck, although I do love me some Jurgens/Ordway art. But the #0 issues for the entire line are great. They’re not all winners, sure, but just the idea of them is great. Imagine if every year or so Marvel and DC released comics like this, comics that gave an overview of the series while telling a new story.
It’s also just gloriously 90’s because books like Damage, Extreme Justice, Gunfire, Guy Gardner: Warriors, and Xenobrood got #0 issues.
Here’s the thing that people forgot to mention when they talk about this famous storyline: it’s boring as hell. Azrael’s dissent into madness is not at all engaging. Bruce finally coming back isn’t nearly as triumphant as you would think. Really, the most poignant aspect of this event falls on the shoulders of Tim Drake, as he tries to figure out exactly what he should or shouldn’t be doing now that Bruce is gone.