Purging the stereotype of 1990’s comics

I watched this video about Marvel’s pretty dismal reboot of some of their titles back in the 90’s, and on the whole its fine but uses the lazy stereotype of 90’s comics being all bulging Liefeldesque characters and really, not very good.

It seems to be the view of Millennial commentators that the 90’s were crap but the truth is the 90’s were probably the decade where one could still be surprised by what the mainstream would do with even Marvel producing quality work at the end of a decade where the majority of their output was instantly forgettable

Say the 90’s to a certain age and type of fan and they’ll think of Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man or Spawn, Jim Lee’s X Men or Image work, but many will think instantly of this piece by Rob Liefeld .

There’s nothing defensible about that piece. In every way it is awful It represents a small part of 90’s comics. It doesn’t represent say, Preacher, Sandman, The Invisibles, Grendel, Love and Rockets, Sin City, Concrete, Nexus, Yummy Fur, From Hell, Bone and Hate plus many, many other titles showed a real diversity when one walked into a comic shop.Even mainstream superhero titles weren’t all bad with Marvels, Kingdom Come and enjoyable runs on Batman stood out in a decade where you could still get a variety in terms of comics.

But of course there were piles and piles of trash much of which still live in dealers 50p boxes but as a decade, the 90’s were more diverse and adventurous than most of your YouTube generation critics give it credit for. Indeed one could make the argument that it was a golden decade for comics and personally, I like to think it was as the number of great comics that came from that decade after the Cold War and before the War on Terror.

What happens is though, that there’s an assumption for history from people that look only at it from one point of view which is often the view of the lazy consensus. As is often the case the truth is more revealing, not to mention interesting than the commonly accepted view of it.

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What I thought of Savior #1

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Around 25 years ago I worked for a comics distribution company in the UK called Neptune Distribution, and we had a publishing arm called Trident Comics. By far our most successful comic was Mark Millar’s very first printed work, Saviour.

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Saviour’s plot was that the Antichrist was real, pretending to be Jesus Christ born again and just happened to be the planet’s only superhero as after all, Christ has super powers really, so Mark just played with that idea over Saviour’s all too short run.

So here I am having a shufty through this weeks comics and I see a comic written by Todd McFarlane with Brian Holguin called Savior with this synopsis attached to it.

What if the MOST DANGEROUS man on Earth was also the one trying to do the MOST GOOD?

The world is real. The people are normal. And then he appears! A man appears with no background, no memory, and no place to call home. But he has powers. Powers that seem resemble those we learned about in Sunday School. Could it be?! Is it possible that this man is much, much more than that? Is it possible that he is our “SAVIOR” in the flesh? And if he is, then why doesn’t he know who he is or how he got his powers?

Strip away the spandex and trappings of the traditional comic superhero and ask yourself a simple question: “How would I react if GOD suddenly appeared in front of me, but everything we had been taught about him seems out of whack?” What you would have left, beyond your own doubts, is the presence of a man who has to deal with the fact that his appearance in the world is seen as both a blessing and a curse.

Some will see him as a hero, a messiah. Other will see him as an enemy because there isn’t room for a person with god-like powers to disrupt the status quo of what we already believe. Some will rally behind him. Others will denounce him. But none of us will be able to ignore him.

It isn’t quite Mark’s tale, but it’s the same basic idea, so I threw caution to the wind and bought it off Comixology to give it a go. As a comic, it’s pretty dreadful. Yes, the art by Clayton Crain is fine but there’s pages of Claremontesque speech balloons that simply are just endless amounts of poorly written exposition that thinks it’s trying to be Warren Ellis but isn’t.

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It also suffers from the cardinal sin of too many modern mainstream comics in that it’s got one eye on a film/TV adaptation as it flows from opening exposition into the first big action scene and really, by this point I don’t really care. None of the characters we’ve been introduced to are anything but flat one-dimensional people, and the interesting idea quickly hits beats that anyone that’s seen the Nic Cage film Knowing will be familiar with.

In reality both McFarlane and Millar too the same idea and executed it differently, and yes, it’s hard to really judge a series after one issue but I can’t be arsed wading through cliches when to be honest, Mark’s Saviour of 25 years ago is still more interesting and it’s dated dreadfully.

If you really want to see the idea of a born again Christ in the modern age done well then I highly recommend Russell T. Davies’s The Second Coming that he wrote for ITV in 2003 and starred Christopher Eccleston. It’s a better, more entertaining, deeper, less cliched, dreary and obvious than this effort here from McFarlane.

Overstreets World of Comics-Comic book documentary from 1993

This is a cracking find. Overstreet’s World of Comics is a documentary based around the San Diego Comic Convention in 1993 and details the world of comics as they were in those days just before the great comics bubble of the early 90’s went POP! It’s a fascinating watch to see how people thought that comics were going to be a huge investment for the future, and that comics coming from the likes of Valiant were massive investments. They weren’t. The entire market went down the toilet and a number of the companies featured in this film like Topps, went under, and companies like Marvel nearly went bankrupt.

What is striking is how comic focused San Diego was then as opposed to the big pop culture event it is. It’s about the medium of comics and there’s a lovely bit in the film about Golden Age artists like Murphy Anderson, a history of EC Comics, as well as a great interview with Jack Kirby, the man who built the house that Marvel are now exploiting for their films like The Avengers and Captain America. ┬áIt is however, Todd McFarlane who hogs a lot of time on the film because at that time Spawn was the biggest selling comic in the world, selling around a half a million to a million copies on average per issue. There’s a certain sad irony looking back at this seeing McFarlane talk with such idealism; something that vanished when the money started flooding in.

The film does have some amazingly tacky music running through it that makes it feel like a health and safety training video you see on the first day of a new job, If you can ignore that then this is a great bit of archive, if only to see Stan Lee say with a straight face that he hates taking from what other people have done….