Previous: Marvel in the 80s
Although I consider the 80s to be the peak, if I still had all those boxes you would find more 90s Marvel than anything else. It would almost be embarrassing, revealing my guiltiest pleasures of camp boys adventure stories. How fun they were.
I have since sold all my Marvels on ebay, saved others, but the memories remain. Again, Goodreads Marvel shelf
It was the 1990s comic boom, when gimmicks and crossovers and COLLECTIBLE NEW ISSUE 1! desperately pleaded you to buy multiple copies. The economy was good, everyone thought they’d get rich by selling Spawn # 1 (they wouldn’t) and I was in the thick of it. More on Image comics in a moment.
Marvel upped their crossovers like never before, and I’d like to start with Infinity War. That is pretty much the epitome of the era. Not to mention they’ll apparently make a movie of it.
Infinity Gauntlet, by Jim Starlin, was brilliant. The villainous Thanos destroyed half of all life in the universe. It was cosmic. Jim Starlin’s space opera mythos will get its own post eventually. However, after Infinity Gauntlet concluded, the franchise was totally milked. The Infinity Watch series with Adam Warlock, The Infinity War and Infinity Crusade crossovers, it kept going. And I, at the time, loved it.
Another crossover was Avengers: Operation Galactic Storm, about an outer space war between the Kree and Shi’ar empires going to war. Perfect example of this sort of thing. 19 parts I think? It took me forever to track down each one and read the whole thing.
What really deserves mention on this sort of thing is Spider-Man. Oh, Spider-Man in the 90s…
I actually remember going to the bookstore and seeing part 2 of Maximum Carnage and being totally enthralled. I barely knew what was going on, but they hooked me. I had to read them all.
I was totally completist, reading all 14 chapters at full price as they came out. No hunting for back issues, it was the first time I experienced the rush of going to the comic store on Wednesday to read the latest installment.
There sure were a lot of Spider-Man comics back then. Web of, Amazing, Spectacular, Unlimited
I didn’t even understand all those characters, Iron Fist and Deathlok as well as Venom and Carnage. But I liked sensing more to the story.
Met my best friend in the middle school cafeteria, when we noticed each other reading Spider-Man comics
Later in the 90s, Spider-Man would be haunted by the endlessly-complicated clone saga. It got less fun. Too convoluted for its own sake, and even the most diehard fans had enough.
No wonder the franchise was eventually rebooted.
There were some actual good comics in the early 90s. Peter David’s Hulk comes to mind. Although it kept changing tone – Peter David is a great writer but he seems to make it up as he goes along – I jumped in during the Pantheon era. Fun stories like Rick Jones’ wedding, with superheroes in suits!
A better recommendation for Hulks to read might be the awesome Future Imperfect:
Meanwhile, in another corner of the Marvel Universe there was Ghost Rider.
I remember a whole “Spirits of Vengeance” thing with spinoffs galore. It was no Vertigo, but I ate it up as superhero-friendly horror. Morbius the Living Vampire and whatnot. Y’know, there wouldn’t have been a Blade movie if not for those.
Speaking of movies, my original Guardians of the Galaxy was not of that blockbuster movie. The Guardians were a superteam from the 30th century, and only in the last few years did Marvel create a contemporary outer space team of misfits. Anyway, the 30th century version got their own series in the 90s. I always liked that cosmic, Silver Surfer stuff. It was obscure, not a big seller, but I enjoyed the world-building very much.
Speaking of more obscure, the New Warriors. Where Mark Bagley, famed artist of Spider-Man, got his big break. Written by X-Men 90s scribe Fabian Nicieza, the team consisted of Marvel rejects in limbo who could be thrown together. Nova, Speedball, Firestar, some positive diverse characters thrown in for good measure; nothing else to do with them so why not make a new group? I recall it was pretty good. I like team book dynamics. The comics themselves I didn’t actually collect, they belonged to my best friend (mentioned above, the Spidey fan) and I read them all. Ah, bonding.
That said, it’s about time I talk about actual good comics. Like, comics with heart that embrace the superhero genre but are a bit more intelligent. Comics for grownups, nostalgic they may be, but for grownups nonetheless. There wasn’t much of that at Marvel in the mid-90s, but some arose.
The great Mark Waid, very esteemed writer, had began to write for Marvel after leaving DC’s Flash and took up Captain America with Ron Garney. It was mighty good stuff.
And then Marvel had to go and fuck with that.
Backstory: many of the “hot” artists of the late 80s/early 90s had let their stardom go to their head, and proceeded to leave Marvel and found Image Comics. The vast majority of Image Comics were, of course, utter garbage. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was true. Some good eventually came out of, for example, Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon and Jim Lee’s Wildstorm imprint (which will get a post of its own), but the absolute worst as everyone knows would be Rob Liefeld.
In 1996, Marvel followed up the subpar Onslaught crossover from X-Men with the “Heroes Reborn” event, in which the Avengers and Fantastic Four get rebooted in an alternate reality And get drawn by Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee. Now, I kind of liked Jim Lee’s Wildstorm studio updating the Fantastic Four and Iron Man.
But Rob Liefeld’s Captain America was legendary in its garbageness.
And the worst thing is that Mark Waid’s Cap had to be cancelled for that! Much has been said of how terrible Liefeld is, and I’ll let you google more if interested.
They came back year later, and Captain America tried to continue where it left off, but that off-year really set the Marvel Universe back.
Although it did usher in one of my absolute favorite things ever: Avengers by Kurt Busiek and George Perez
That was what superhero comics were always meant to be.
When the Avengers returned, they avenged with all barrels firing. Kurt Busiek wrote with heart, with respect, and utilized the history and continuity of these characters to tell some truly great stories of triumph over evil. With art by George Perez, it was the pinnacle.
(Busiek also previously wrote the brilliant Marvels with painter Alex Ross, about an everyman witnessing classic superhero events from the Golden and Silver Age, and made the universe come alive for me as much as anything.)
I read the whole Avengers run since the restart, #1-56. I continued to religiously read Avengers when noted DC author Geoff Johns took over for a little while, and then when Brian Michael Bendis came I quit all Marvel two issues in. But that’s a story for my future Marvel – 2000s post.
The next post will not be about Marvel in the 2000s. For, during my teenage years I was so obsessed with comics that one whole universe could not handle my great thirst. I got into a whole other company, and it was even better.
Next: DC Comics – 1990s