DC Comics – 1990s

Previous: Marvel Comics – 1990s

DC vs Marvel, the original nerd debate…

First of all, I grew up on Marvel. The House of Ideas, “Stan Lee presents…” all that. It sustained me during my awkward adolescence. And then, I grew out of it.

By the middle of my high school years, I was still very much obsessed with comics but my standards were higher. While Marvel always focused on art, DC focused more on writing. It’s a fact you can look up: in comics scriptwriting there is a style called the Marvel style in which the author makes a brief outline, and the artist effectively tells the story (like a film director) and afterwards the author fills in the dialogue. It evolved from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby doing a dozen comics a month during the Silver Age in the 60s.

DC is more traditional. They do scripts with all the panel layouts and details written in, and depending on how visual a thinker the writer that can include a lot of detail. Think of a film/TV script except the writer actually has authority. So while Marvel had all their famous artists  and had all their editorial-controlled characters in endless crossovers, DC had far more literary stories. Especially back in the 90s. Marvel always outsold the latter, but DC won awards and eventually even created the Vertigo imprint for more mature, adult-oriented work.

DC Goodreads shelf

For me, it mostly began with the seminal Death of Superman event. Remember that? Doomsday, the four replacements, the post-resurrection mullet. It was awesome! Like many casual readers, I ate that up. Unlike many others, I stuck around and went backwards and learned all about such histories as the Eradicator and so on.

However, an important character like Superman will soon get his own post. Batman as well. Then Vertigo, and various authors. This post is simply about DC in general in the decade.

Starting from that jumping point, Dan Jurgens was one of the main architects of the Superman mythos in the 90s and he was also briefly in charge of the Justice League. If you remember from the Death of Superman graphic novel, there was the Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, Fire & Ice. That actually goes back to the 80s Justice League. (80s post next. It’s tricky writing these things going backwards chronologically.)

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Dan Jurgens was also unfortunately responsible for writing and illustrating the 1994 crossover Zero Hour. It was itself a pale shadow of the epic Crisis on Infinite Earths of the 1980s – again, next post – and frankly it wasn’t that good. Green Lantern turned out to be the villain, they tried to fix some continuity problems, and they released special issue number “zero”s with new origin stories.

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Some of the tie-ins were good, some weren’t. I read many of them. In doing so, I realized I had a lot of work ahead of me to master this new universe. Exciting times for an escapist teen… I proceeded to go to my local bookstore, back when Borders was a thing (RIP Borders!) and read all the graphic novels I could. I did my usual thing of searching for discount back issues at used markets. On Wednesdays I filled up my pull list with the best of DC.

Yes, the teenage me of the mid-90s really wanted to focus all his attention on learning about the DC Universe. Seemed like a good idea at the time, seemed I had nothing better to do. I am glad I did. The fondest memories of that age.

Let’s continue with writer Mark Waid and the Flash.

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Looks like the Flash is already getting some new buzz with the TV show. I heard it’s good. I’ll binge-watch it later.

The Flash does in fact have one of the greatest rogues gallery in comics, right up there with Batman in Spider-Man, and they’re called the Rogues. Captain Boomerang, Captain Cold, the Trickster, Grodd. There were many Flashes in fact, and my incarnation will always be Wally West the former Kid Flash. I loved that he had no secret identity, that he grew up in the community of superheroes. I enjoyed the generational and family elements with all the different Flashes. There was time travel, speedster ninjas, all you could want. None of that lame dystopianism that other superhero comics faked in bad attempts to be relevant; Mark Waid always knew how to write with heart and respect to the genre. Waid made Flash a must-read comic, added the Zen-style “speed force” to it all, and also created Impluse.

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Mr. Waid’s true opus was the 1996 miniseries Kingdom Come, brilliantly painted by Alex Ross of Marvels fame. While Marvels was about the past, Kingdom Come was about the future. With much commentary about bad 90s comics, the plot concerned an aging Superman coming out of retirement to save a bitter, cynical world from violent antiheroes.

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Every page contained a thousand references. This kind of story must be studied to be fully appreciated. I also liked the less-acclaimed followup, The Kingdom, which further fleshed out the setting of tomorrow.

Peter David was a fine writer, let me reiterate. While I first came across his writing in the X-Men spinoff X-Factor, and of course the Hulk, my favorite of his work was Aquaman (Also Supergirl, but about that later Superman post…)

Aquaman has always gotten an undeserved bad rap, damn you Superfriends cartoon! It was the 90s, they had to make him “badass” with the hook for hand and long hair. But I think it worked. I enjoyed the mythology of Atlantis, the politics of his being a king, and the revamped origin story in which he was raised by dolphins.

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David also created Young Justice, after Justice League of America became popular, with Superboy, Robin, Impulse, and the new Wonder Girl all in their own team hi-jinks. It was a hilarious teen book, essential reading, even though Superboy and Robin had plenty going on in their own corners of their mentor’s DC Universe franchises (which I will definitely address later…)

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Too bad the Young Justice cartoon didn’t work out.

I really had a soft spot for the 90s Green Lantern, written by Ron Marz. Styled more like Peter Parker than Clark Kent, Kyle Rayner was a relatable secret identity. Hal Jordan and the science fictional space opera of the Green Lantern corps had been done away with — don’t worry it would all come back in the 2000s, but while Hal was off being Parallax and destroying the cosmos or something the ring went to this great new guy. He was just trying to make ends meet while learning how to be a superhero. He eventually joined the JLA, had a green-skinned girlfriend, and seemed like he would be the permanent replacement GL.

kyle rayner

Until he wasn’t, and they reset the status quo. I did adore Hal Jordan’s return and the 2000s Green Lantern, but it’s a shame Kyle Rayner was mostly left by the wayside.

What I particularly appreciated about the 90s DC Universe was how most of the heroes generational. From the Teen Titans growing up, to the new Green Arrow being the original Green Arrow’s son, as well as Nightwing and all those Robins; it seemed like there was a real timeline the universe felt more solid that way.

Perhaps that comforted me in the awkwardness of my late teens? Who knows. In any case, I read and I read.

I also must mention the Ray, and the work of Christopher Priest. He never got the recognition he deserved, but he created his own smart little mythos with the Justice League Task Force and the Ray. The latter was an obscure character from the 1940s Golden Age with light powers, who was just cool enough to have revamped next generational version and Priest’s writing was very good indeed.

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I could go on and on. I’ve left out so much. The Power of Shazam! by Jerry Ordway, the Spectre by John Ostrander. It was one of my favorite eras of comics. I still have to get into Superman, the Legion of Superheroes in the 30th century, Batman, and the Justice League of America. There was the One Million crossover, going in the complete opposite of Zero Hour with issue number “one million” instead in the 853rd century. That was great science fiction. But that will be in my Grant Morrison post when I get around to it.

Speaking of which, DC did have their fair share of annual crossovers. Some of them of them actually were good.

Let me end on the note of Final Night, a well-done storyline wherein the Sun Eater blocked out our sun and the world was going to end. Instead of punching villains, it was about the human element of dealing with a post-apocalyptic scenario. In the end, the former Green Lantern Hal Jordan would be redeemed by sacrificing his life to reignite the sun. Then he became a ghost and became the Spectre, then he was redeemed again and came back to life. But that’s a story for another time indeed.

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Then, as it goes in studying superhero comics, I went backwards in time to that other magical decade I so love.

After high school, during part-time college, from nineteen to my early twenties. I devoted all my energies to catching up with the history of these iconic American history. From Ohio to California, I scoured comic conventions like bugs feasting, read trade paperbacks at libraries and most of all I hung around Half-Price books seeking out discount history lessons. Bit by bit, I filled in the gaps and I read it all.

Next: DC Comics – 1980s

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13 thoughts on “DC Comics – 1990s

  1. Pingback: Marvel Comics – 1990s | Ray H to the C

  2. Strange — you’re missing the true cornerstone of the DC revival in the nineties: Grant Morrison’s JLA. JLA corrected the franchising mistake of Justice League Europe/International/etc. by dropping all the minor characters and retrenching around big heroes fighting big menaces… exactly what the comic industry was missing at the time, especially when Marvel’s version (The Avengers) were busy doing crossovers, splitting the adventure on two coasts, and filling the pages with minor characters that weren’t focused on the team as much as their own personal lives.

    JLA’s success led to other teams being formed. Young Justice, Titans and JSA each expanded on the idea of the DC universe being core teams that were interrelated and friendly to each other without having to come together only at times of major crisis. This, in turn, began to play out in the solo books as we saw Impulse use Jay Garrick, Green Lantern use Alan Scott and Wonder Woman use Donna Troy all in their stories.

    *THAT* is the true golden moment of DC in the 90s. It collapsed when DC tried to respond to the success of NuMarvel with a similar, darker DC comics — and no one wanted to really read about a murdering Wonder Woman, a JLA with minor characters, and then more beloved heroes getting killed. 2011’s New 52 launch is in direct response to that.

    (I will be looking at the mentality behind New 52 more on my own blog too.)

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    • Oh Grant Morrison will definitely be getting a detailed post of his own. I suppose you’re right; if I have to start things off with Death of Superman then I should’ve mentioned JLA more than just in passing with regards to Young Justice and Kyle Rayner.

      Grant Morrison is my absolute favorite writer. I have an epic thesis in mind to soon write. However… JLA wasn’t my particular favorite. I know it saved DC in the 90s, this is true. But the subject of this blog is about my story, what I grew up reading. I prefer Grant Morrison’s more psychedelic work anyway, and I preferred the solo tales of Flash by Mark Waid and Aquaman by Peter David in the superhero universe. JLA was fun indeed though and displays why DC heroes are mythological icons.

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  3. I actually never knew that there were different styles for creating comics such as giving the artist just an outline or have basically everything settled and the artist has to bring life to the texts.

    I watched in the past few days The Flash. Is it good? I don’t know as I have no idea about the comics. Thus far there are different Flashes in. The show but no one knows the identity of them yet besides Barry Allen and Dr. wells…

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    • The script model varies depending on the creative team. Sometimes the writer is specific, sometimes they’ll make general comments to let the artist fill it in, and sometimes it’s a balance in between.

      Scripting, though, was necessary because the early creators could not keep up with demand and often delegated others to carry on the art chores of their characters while keeping control at the writing stage. Siegel and Shuster did this with Superman, for example.

      Marvel’s model came about because Stan didn’t come into Timely as part of a team (like Siegel and Shuster did at DC) and wasn’t an artist. Add to that editorial duties, and he decided to come up with a system that allowed he and Jack to outline things in general, Jack do the art, and then Stan modify the story to fit. That model faded as the company grew in the 70s, though.

      Now, we have a mixture of those models — and a third model: the writer/artist who changes it as they go along because they do it all.

      (As for The Flash comics, the present series is decent but keep in mind that it writes long story arcs because it’s aimed at trade collections… like too many series these days. Barry’s identity is known to other heroes and his girlfriend, but that’s it.)

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      • Thank you for giving me some insights.

        Long story arcs are just too comon in everything, comics, tv shows, books, games and whatnot. However people are going for it otherwise they would not continue with it anymore (I belong to that group, I have a completionist syndrom in games and other things..)

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  4. I had no idea that DC was my literary and Marvel more art-centered. I mean, when you wrote it out, it made sense. Especially since I always considered my self a DC girl 😉

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  5. I’m definitely on team DC myself! They’ve both had some great comics in the past, but Superman and Batman just can’t be topped for me. Superman has one of the best villain galleries of all time and Batman’s thought provoking issues tend to be great in many different series. Ironically, I believe that DC also holds the better artwork in the 2010’s, but I can definitely see what you mean back when it all started out.

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