Does the following count as anime/manga?
We all know the theme song.
There was a certain cartoon — a classic American cartoon of the 1980s that happened to be brought to you by Ronald Reagan’s toy advertisement deregulation. (So THAT’S why there were so many awesome 80s shows which were basically advertisements for toys.) A certain program we all grew up with, and it had Japanese origins.
In the early 80s Hasbro bought up several toy lines of transforming robots hailing from Japan. Marvel was hired to create the backstory, as the comic company had done with G.I. Joe. Jim Shooter and Dennis O’Neil created the Autobots vs. Decepticons of the planet Cybertron premise, with all the character profiles and so on.
The show was produced by Japan’s Toei Animation, and it was a hit. Transforming robots, what’s not to love! There was also Gobots that predated it a bit, from Tonka and Hanna-Barbera, and the less said about that.
To me, the highlight was 1986’s Transformers: The Movie, set in 2005, a brilliant piece of outer space escapism that killed off Optimus Prime and had all Cybertronians facing off against the planet Unicron. AWESOMENESS.
And I fucking hate the new Hollywood blockbuster movies. They are shit. I’m not even going to get into that. No, I am all about the Generation 1.
Going back to the post My History of Comics, when I was about 11 I moved into some relatives’ house and inherited a ton of 1980s Marvel Comics. I didn’t mention that many of those comics were the original Transformers. I had almost all the issues from # 1 to 55 written by Bob Budiansky, although there were gaps filled in later.
It was originally intended to be in the mainline Marvel Universe, and issue 3 featured Spider-Man vs. Megatron! That full issue to this day can’t be legally reprinted by other companies.
Actually, it was fascinating to me and much better than the TV series. Optimus Prime died early on, replaced by Grimlock. Prime did come back to life. Megatron died and came back too. The Headmasters spinoff featured more complications, and it built up to an epic mythology. Even a crossover with G.I. Joe.
It got even better after 56 as writer Simon Furman took over the franchise until the final issue 80. He said that at the time Hasbro was winding down the product line and he was given free reign. He incorporated much of the futuristic film’s characters, and told of the secret origin of the Transformers. Most of those issues are rare and valuable today; I didn’t read much until reprints in graphic novels years later.
I did however eat up the short-lived 12 issues of the Generation II written by Furman. It was pure 90s Marvel, violent, and I an adolescent just loved it.
Nowadays, it’s hard to recall that there was a time when the popularity of Transformers was uncertain. In the early 2000s, Pat Lee led a resurgence with high-quality art in the anime style, and Dreamwave was licensed to publish new Transformers comics.
Now a proper grownup, I geeked out as only a well-read adult can. I’m too old for toys. Most of the time. There more decorations than toys. Yet will not apologize for my taste in fine literature.
The first two miniseries were actually not that great, but then an ongoing series by Brad Mick got much better. I felt they were building up to the film’s 2005 year, and then they were going to get into Arcee and the female Autobots, when Dreamwave abruptly went bankrupt and the whole thing was stopped short at issue 10.
Simon Furman also wrote an amazing prequel set of series, The War Within, on the ancient beginnings of the Cybertronian civil war. The art and redesigns were meticulous. Two 6-issue miniseries, but then a third one cancelled in the middle.
IDW took up the mantle and currently publishes many Transformers comics. I hear some of them are supposed to be good. Sadly, I got burnt out on reboots and moved abroad and don’t follow.
I really should get around to reading Last Stand of the Wreckers…
Previous: DC Comics – 90s
I think we can all agree that the 80s was among the top decades ever. In the world of comics (at least, American mainstream superhero comics), it was the decade the medium finally matured into a respectable art form for adults.
I definitely grew up on Marvel, but in my later teens I chose to focus on DC, and from my early and mid-twenties I spent untold hours scouring for back issues to fill in the historical gaps.
The truth is, Marvel was revolutionary in the 1960s but DC — that stuffy old company famous for square-faced Superman and Adam West-era Batman — did catch up. Green Arrow/Green Lantern by Dennis O’Neil in the 70s comes to mind. By the 80s, there were plenty of literary books.
As for Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, it says a lot those seminal tomes were published by DC. But you’ll have to wait until my inevitable Alan Moore and Batman-themed posts for more on those. Same bat-time, same bat-channel!
Allow me to skip ahead in the timeline of the DC Universe, whereas the centerpiece would definitely be 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. The mega-crossover revitalized the entire multiverse, with a cosmic menace requiring the heroes of all the different earths and time periods and planets, and an ending that took all the realities and put them into one big universe. RIP Supergirl and Barry Allen Flash…
Written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by George Perez, it was a masterpiece.
Speaking of which, to go a bit further back on that creative team: Wolfman and Perez tother first came to prominence with the New Teen Titans. We forget now, but for a time they were the rivals to Marvel’s X-Men. That successful.
Sidekicks Robin, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl were joined by newcomers Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven. Changeling/Beast Boy too. You may know the cartoon.
Cyborg was futuristic-transhumanist science fiction, Starfire was space opera, and Raven was supernatural horror. All the neccesary genres for superhero adventures. Add that to character development and the occasional soap opera storylines, and the formula made for solid great comics. Too bad the Titans have never been able to live up to that pre-Crisis era since.
Pre-Crisis DC, that was back when there were all those numbered Earths. The Golden Age 1940s continuity was called Earth 2, with the Justice Society and the original Action Comes #1 Superman. Writer Roy Thomas, who might be the most knowledgeable man in all the field, wrote about the WWII-ea in All-Star Squadron. It was followed up Infinity, Inc., which wasn’t as good but interestingly showcased the sons and daughters of the Justice Society in modern times. I do like my superheroes generational, a sense of history.
Then Crisis happened. All those Earths were now one. History was rebooted. Earths 1 and 2 had the same timeline all along. It’s confusing, I know.
The first post-Crisis crossover to introduce this new streamlined universe was Legends, helmed by Marvel’s popular writer-artist John Byrne and John Ostrander. It pitted DC characters against Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, which the ultimate epic villain of Darkseid.
Then, the Suicide Squad grew out of Legends. This ragtag team of supervillains employed by the government was, in a word, awesome. Very cool, very badass. Who knew corny DC villains could be written with such edge? Captain Boomerang, Deadshot. And a lot of the characters died in these suicide missions, some of them not even coming back to life. And who doesn’t love Amanda Waller?
Apparently there will be a movie of the squad soon enough.
Most important of all, the new Justice League evolved out of Legends. It was the latest incarnation, the Justice Leauge International, most often referred to as the “Bwahaha! era.
Believe it or not, it was a comedy comic. Cowritten by esteemed writer J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen, it kind of showed what it was like to hang out as a superhero in the off time of saving the world. It had Guy Gardner as Green Lantern, who was refreshingly a dick for a superhero, Martian Manhunter as elder statesmen, best buds Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, girlfriends Fire and Ice, and of course Batman being super cool Batman.
I tracked down every single one of those issues. I still have the full run to this day, including Justice Leauge Europe. They did fight supervillains like Desparo and had crossovers with the extremely serious Suicide Squad, but mostly it was a return to comics being fun. Unfortunately, after Giffen and DeMatteis left the League became convoluted through the 90s until Grant Morrison revitalized the franchise with back-to-the-basics JLA. But that is a post for another day.
Previously: Growing up with the X-Men
The Uncanny X-Men were my absolute favorites when I was young, but those were not the only comics I was into. I had a great love for the whole Marvel Universe, and like the mutant corner of the epic tessaract room, I too was introduced to Spider-Man and the Avengers and the Fantastic Four by living in a house full of 80s comics…
I was never a Spider-Man completist, but with SO MANY Spider-Man spinoffs out there, Marvel really milked the franchise and I read a lot. Amazing, Spectacular, Web of. At least X-Men were teams and had spinoffs, how did Spider-Man get so many titles? The classic character, of course, has among the greatest rogue’s gallery. Peter Parker was also a relatable guy, and for this reason the underdog of superheroes because the most popular flagship of a whole company.
Some say that Spider-Man lost it when he got married. I didn’t think so, I liked the continuity and growth in the character’s life. Marvel has since, as all comics readers know, retroactively rewritten Spidey’s history so he was no longer ever married. Talk about a harsh annulment!
Speaking of Spider-Man and X-Men and more, Secret Wars was the perfect story to tie together all the superheroes. Required reading in 84, it was on of the great original crossovers. Secret Wars took all the main heroes and villains and thanks to the mysterious Beyonder they were put a planet to fight a war. Nowadays crossovers are a comics cliche, but back then it was a big deal. Certainly a big deal for me to read.
I read it out of order, finding random back issues and more until I completed the story years later. The chapter introducing Spider-Man’s new costume was hard to get — expensive (the costume was precursor to Venom) — but eventually I bought the bullet and paid.
That’s how it was back then, piecing together the Marvel Universe.
The sequel Secret Wars II sucked by the way. Trying to be philosophical and shit, the omnipotent Beyonder went to Earth and took human form and became a lame 80s hipster. Really terrible stuff.
But Marvel could do better.
This was the era of the great writer-artists. Truly great reads.
John Byrne’s science fictional Fantastic Four, took them to the Skrull Galaxy and Eon the Living Planet and the Negative Zone antimatter dimension and the microverse. Let us not forget, the mighty Galactus.
Walter Simonson’s high fantasy Norse epic of Thor, as Thor’s world was fleshed out in Asgard joined by Balder the Brave. The actual mythologies were utilized as Ragnarok occurred, the end of the world, with Allfather Odin himself fighting the evil Surtur.
Later I caught up on all the tradepaperback reprints of Frank Miller’s seminal noir-eque Daredevil (note that Miller is famed for Sin City, but this was his previous mainstream work leading up to that). Groundbreaking at the time.
That covers all the main genres of adventure stories.
“Da na na na NA NA!”
That’s supposed to be the X-Men Animated Series theme song. Remember that? If you’re a member of my generation, should be a fond memory…
Little did my early childhood self know, but there was a lot more to X-Men than that 90s Zeitgeist.
As detailed in my last post: My History of Comics, once upon a time in my adolescence I was given the awesome gift of about a hundred 1980s X-Men comics (as well as New Mutants and X-Factor spinoffs, more on that in a moment). Written by Chris Claremont, this was the crème de la crème of the superhero genre. It changed my reading habits — and hence, my life — forever.
Although these comics posts are mean to be about my experience, I will delve into the greater history of comics for a bit. In Marvel Comic’s “Silver Age” era in the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, that is, probably just Jack Kirby, created the X-Men. Cyclops, Angel, Best, Iceman, and Marvel Girl/Jean Grey. It was actually more of a failure compared to Fantastic Four and the Avengers at that time. Yet, in the late 1970s came the All New All Different X-Men and American superhero comics suddenly matured.
With an international cast, featuring the Canadian Wolverine and the African Storm as well as many others, it brought much-needed diversity to the superhero genre. In particular were the many strong, female characters. (Funny though it is that the X-Men were so feminist.)
It still pisses me off that the movies don’t get that. I’ll be complaining about the movies a lot in this post.
By the 1980s, the Uncanny X-Men were the best of the best. While Marvel was publishing a lot of cherished works, scribe Chris Claremont was building an amazing mythology unequaled with anything else out there. He took the metaphor of mutants-as-oppressed-minority and went with it unseen depths. He wrote with equal ease in outer space settings, as the alien Shi’ar Empire fought the Phoenix and the Brood. He wrote about magical concepts, with Colossus’s sister Illyana the ruler of the mystical demonic realm of Limbo. He was on fire, and he stuck with the characters on fire for 16 years from 1975 to 1991. Although, yes, if you wanna critique we was and is a very wordy writer.
My bundle of X-Mens covered about 180 – 240. But with many other heres-and-theres, I got the Dark Phoenix saga graphic novel collection and Classic X-Men reprints. The fun of collecting comics back then was to fill in the gaps and slowly piece together the greater story over the course of years. Then I got X-Factor 1 – 50, the spinoff featuring the original X-Men such as Cyclops, which covered many crossovers. As well as bunches and bunches of New Mutants.
By the time I hit the ground running, Magneto had joined the X-Men in issue 200 and then there was the Mutant Massacre and then for a darker period the X-Men had “died” in the Fall of the Mutants storyline in 225 and lived in Australia while being drawn by Marc Silvestri, and then the demonic Inferno crossover around issue 240 brought together X-Factor and others. Wow fun times!
Back: My hobby of comics
And now the history thereof:
Back in the 1980s, I was a weird little kid. I had an unstable upbringing, and although I was encouraged to read I didn’t really discover my passions until a bit older. I didn’t get into comics until that decade was over with, although as a small child I did typically love Ninja Turtles and Transformers without even knowing the original comic book origins.
By the time the 90s arrived, I was a hyperactive nerd with bad social skills and hailing from an increasingly-broken home. My destiny as an escapist comic geek was inevitable, it must have been. I did enjoy watching the brilliant X-Men and Batman cartoons, though I hadn’t read much of the source material yet.
Finally, my parents divorced. I remember it as a great relief.
I was about ten or eleven years old and my dad lived in Indianapolis, Indiana while my mom moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. The great question was which insane parent me and my sister were to stay with (spoiler: wasn’t going to be my mom). The answer to that question was postponed, as we were sent to stay with our loving older, richer, Jewisher relatives to live with for a year as my parents got it together and proceeded to fight each other in court.
It was an interesting year, living in a big house in actual American suburbs. Like you see on TV and everything. A taste of the good life!
But what really made it a good life was that my old relatives had an adult soon who had moved away. Their son was a comics fan, and closets upon closets upon basements in the house were filled with classic 80s and 90s Marvel comics. Lots of Star Wars toys as well, by the way.
Some of my best memories are of exploring that ol’ house. All the things I discovered…
Putting comics in chronological order. Making sense of the crossovers, filling in the gaps of storylines bit by bit. The Avengers. Fantastic Four. The story of Tony Stark losing his armor to James Rhodes, Captain America quitting, Spider-Man’s black costume, and marriage. Tie-ins to Secret Wars, Inferno, Acts of Vengeance, and more.
I lived in the Marvel Universe, I truly did.
Here’s the thing about superhero comics as hobby. To truly understand the profound continuity, you need to read a lot. Not just casually pick up an issue or even a graphic novel every so often, you need to obsessively understand everything that has ever happened to these characters over the course of decades. Hundreds of characters with their own biographies and histories and villains and to follow it all you have to basically become an expert.
Then, in the midst of figuring all this out, I started buying the latest 90s Marvel comics. Spider-Man and X-Men, of course. Crossovers like Maximum Carnage and the Phalanx Covenant. The early 90s did not measure up to the heyday of the mid-80s by any means, although as a dumb kid I was very impressed by those Image-era artists. And there was nothing better than Wednesdays at that fondly-remembered little comic shop in downtown Broadripple. It was my first. It’s gone now.
The time came and my dad moved to Cincinnati and me and my sister moved with him. Life was more or less stable from middle school to high school. But by that point, the damage was done. I could not move anywhere without finding the local comic shop and I was wired so that it was one of the most important things in my life. Soon I would meet my lifelong best friend in the cafeteria of our middle school, because we both read comics and didn’t sit with the cool kids.
But before I moved, I was given the greatest gift one could ever be given, a hundred-odd issues of 1980s-era Chris Claremont genius.
Remember what I said about continuity, about being an obsessive expert to truly understand the story? That goes quadruple for the epicness that is classic X-MEN.
Next: My early affair with the X-Men (and not that current movie shit, the original awesome groundbreaking All-New All-Different series…)