DC Comics – 1980s

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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

“One punch…”

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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.

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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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