DC Comics – 1990s

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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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*Not* Dating – America (Canada), Hong Kong

I like to think that my life is just a collection of in-between stuff that doesn’t count, while the times that I travel are when I am truly alive.

Or is that my real life is simply peppered with the travel episodes, which are more like fill-ins that don’t count towards the greater narrative arc?

In any case, after some unimpressive hookups, I was ready. So ready. Travel.

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Ok it’s not the best picture of me in a suit, but just imagine…

America (plus Canada)

My biannual trip back home. Every other year, that’s plenty for me. And, my best friend was getting married!

I was the best man. It was a big deal.

I seem to always travel for weddings these days. That’s cool; it’ beats funerals.

So, I flew to Seattle. My first time in the Pacific Northwest. Over the next few weeks, I would travel to Portland and Vancouver as well (being my first time in Canada). As well as stopping by my hometown Cincinnati, of course. It was right at the cusp of 2012 and 2013, and it was damn cold. I saw winter snow again after years on end in the tropics, and I’m not quite used to it. For the most part, like the last time I went back to the real world West, it wasn’t that big a deal reacclimating.

Seattle seemed surprisingly average. I expected it to be more liberal and crazy. I don’t mean grungey stoners everywhere, but a few more rock show flyers and headshops would have been nice. Mostly it was average white people and average suburban settings, the kind the world imagines from American television.

My best friend picked me up and I proceeded to stay at his place in Tacoma. We went out to bars there, bars in Seattle, as I met his lovely fiancé and social group as we traveled around Pike Place Market, home of the world’s first Starbucks, and further lame tourism.

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We celebrated New Year’s watching fireworks explode atop the Space Needle among the office workers. 2012 had come and went and the world did not explode as much as I’d hope. Sure the world is always evolving, however slowly, yet cosmic paradigm-shifting Singularities may be asking for too much.

Going to my hometown to see my family was uneventful. I took a week out to fly to Cincinnati, Ohio to see my mom and dad and sister and brother and several old friends. Ate food. Saw live music. Went to more bars. Some of which in Northern Kentucky which is still greater Cincinnati. The old friends who stayed in Cincinnati tended be the kind of people who just never leave home…

Remember Gwen? It was nice to see her again. She drove me around and invited me to her house and we caught up. Hung out with her growing son… And then met her new boyfriend. I sure didn’t have the confident swagger I had back in 2010. But good for her. Since then she isn’t the most active Facebook user to keep in touch with, but I have heard that she moved to the West Coast and I support her for that.

When traveling back home, it’s all about the people you meet. Still, when traveling back home, for me, a lot of it involves bookstores. To be more specific, a lot of it involves reading comics at booksstores. One of my favorite things to do in America is to simply go to Barnes & Nobles and sit down and catch up on graphic novels.

Naruto, One Piece, 20th Century Boys, and more manga. Transformers, the classic sort. I started to get into Judge Dredd. Fables, for Vertigo fix. Justice League & Aquaman by Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder’s Batman, Wolverine & the X-Men as authored by Jason Aaron. The indie masterpiece Habibi by Craig Thompson was a favored read.

Then I flew back. The wedding was underway. My friend immediately took me to Canon Beach, Oregon. Famed for that scene in the Goonies. A beautifully scenic beach town, though too bad it wasn’t the summer. We took residence in the hotel and rehearsed and set everything up, met some familiar faces and many more new ones. It was weird to see his family in Oregon, his mom and sister who were mere background when I was a teenager and we played video games in his house. It’s weird to meet your friend’s parents when you are an adult. I never know whether to call them by their first name or not.

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Goonies forever, remember?

It was good as weddings go. I can totally rock a suit, it’s a shame I wear a tie so seldom. There was the big party. Dancing. Photos along the shore. High-pressure afterparty. Staring at the stars at night. I made a brief speech, as my duties pertained. Now, according to movies, weddings were supposed to be a good place to meet girls. Let us just say it didn’t work out that way at all for me. I was not at all at the time of my so-called game. I’m not complaining, simply taking note.

And that was about it for Canon Beach. There was another old friend in town for the wedding, a great ol’ companion who followed me to Southern California and the place ended up suiting him more than it did me. He’s still there, living the good life.

While in Oregon, me and old friend decided more travel is always a good idea and went out to explore Portland. There was the proper super-liberal town I was waiting to see. Vegan donuts and graffiti and homeless people. I really loved Powell’s Books! Funny thing about Portland, it has the highest per capita of strip clubs of any city in America. Strip clubs where couples go and girls enjoy having a drink and it’s like a normalized bar-restaurant. With naked lady dancers. Contrast that with the gay bars there; while everywhere else I’ve lived has gay bars full of hip straight people, in Portland the gay bars are for real gays only. That’s the core of what I made of the city: strip clubs full of women patrons and gay bars with men only, and I found that odd.

Moreover, don’t you love the show Portlandia?

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Literally Portlandia

An interesting anecdote crossed my path. At a certain strip club, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a face that I swore I recognized from the news. It was MCAFFEY, the antivirus entrepreneur who was accused of drug-crazed murder in Belize and had recently escaped back to the United States. I was so starstruck, and I freaked out. It’s one thing to see a random B-list celebrity on the street in Los Angeles, it’s another thing to see someone fromthe news in real life. My friend made fun of me for shrieking and making such a big deal about it. I didn’t go up and ask for a selfie together, and that may have been a bad idea considering he had probably recently killed a man. Or he would’ve hacked my phone or something.

McAfee really was in Portland in January of 2013. Look it up.

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