Armagideon Time

In the fall of 1991, I leveraged my popular Warhammer RPG campaign into a successful bid for the Sci-Fi Club’s presidency. It was an uncharacteristically outward-facing move for me, but I was motivated by a intense dislike of the org’s incumbent president — a patronizing “alpha” geek who wielded the leadership gavel with Orwellian gusto. I. on the other hand, had no agenda except to prevent such overcompensating turds from ruining everyone else’s fun.

I did make a few earnest, if halfhearted, efforts towards the beginning of my reign to organize group outings and other open participation events. These initiatives died a quick death after I decided that romantic pursuits were far more fulfilling than the dubious benefits of playing King of the Nerds. First there was a short ‘n’ doomed fling with an art student, almost immediately followed by a serious relationship with the woman who has remained my partner for almost twenty-five years now. Both were club members, which was mildly controversial because “double dipping” was considered “bad form” in a group with a massive gender disparity and had a difficult time wrapping their heads about concepts like “agency” and “you never had a shot, kid.” I didn’t care because, honestly, fuck that noise.

It was around the time I starting dating Maura that my comics reading habits underwent some major changes. These changes had nothing to do with my change in romantic status, but happened to coincide in way that formed a lasting mental association between the two events. Within the space of the last few weeks on 1991, nearly every title I followed on a regular basis went on hiatus or changed creative teams in a way that killed my interest in the series. Zot wrapped up on a decent if cursory note. Baker Street stalled out on a cliffhanger. The Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League run came to a drawn-out and overdue end, and was replaced with a more traditional and less interesting take on the team. The left the Legion of Super-Heroes as the only surviving title on my pull list, and even that series was suffering from some protracted wheel-spinning.

The stretch from 1992 to late 1996 was probably the nadir of my interest in comics. It was by no means a dead period, but it is full of odd gaps viewed from the perspective of a detached observer instead of an actual participant. Blame my stubborn refusal to give up on the Legion — and its cake-and-eat-it-too spin-off Legionnaires, which threw in a squeaky clean teen version of the team alongside the grizzled, grimdark “Five Years Later” one — as it guaranteed I’d make at least two monthly visits to the comic shop.

The original wave of Image titles almost entirely passed me by, apart from fragmented info Lil Bro picked up from his Kool Aid-drinking peers and a confused flip through a copy of Brigade #1 someone left in the Sci-Fi Club office. The only Image comic I picked up as it was being published back then was 1963, but that was Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, Rick Veitch, Dave Gibbons, and Don Simpson doing a Silver Age Marvel homage-parody. I’m not made of stone, people.

The weird thing is that I wasn’t entirely dismissive of the Image-led trend at the time. While the actual comics were very much Not For Me, the characters and concepts did fascinate the tiny part of me that remembered hashing out baroque badass superheroes for adolescent fancomics and Champions RPG runs. That alone might not be grounds for a revisionist appreciation of that aesthetic, but you can’t say the creators didn’t know exactly who their audience was and what they wanted. The problem is that their ambitions got entirely out of proportion with their ability to realize them, and shakiness of the material was masked by a dangerous amount of speculative hoodoo.

Mostly I remember the racks being crowded with an unsustainable excess of titles I couldn’t make heads or tails of. Even stuff by creators I would’ve taken a chance on stood a significant risk of falling through the cracks, though I was fortunate enough to find Keith Giffen & Tom and Mary Bierbaum’s weird and wonderful The Heckler out from the sea of Blood-Cyber-Force-Blade dross. (It didn’t last past six issues, of course.)

Though this was the golden age of DC’s alt-leaning Vertigo imprint, I barely sampled its roster of offerings. Based on the recommendation of one of Maura’s fanboy pals, I tried a couple of issues of Shade the Changing Man and the Rachel Pollack Doom Patrol, but was put off by affected quirkiness of the material. I picked up the third issue of Sandman Mystery Theatre in hopes that Guy Davis would eventually announce Baker Street‘s return as a Vertigo book. It never happened, but the series soon became a favorite of mine and was one of the few titles added to my pull list during this period.

Sometimes cover price was a deciding factor. I tried the first issue James Robinson and Paul Smith’s The Golden Age, loved the revisionist take on DC’s World War II heroes, and ended up waiting ten years to pick up the trade because I couldn’t commit to four bucks an issue at the time.

Comics’ Greatest World, Dark Horse’s attempt to add yet one more shared superhero universe to the already straining shelves, briefly got my attention thanks to the dollar-priced introductory issues and Adam Hughes’ art on Ghost. My interest didn’t survive his tenure on the series, which was woefully short.

I was still collecting manga floppies through this era, though the scene had already begun to shift away from my tastes. Oh My Goddess! somehow ended up on my pull list (and stayed there for most of the rest of the decade), alongside Adam Warren’s periodically released Dirty Pair miniseries.

In terms of mainstream Big Two comics, the LSH was my only constant during those three years. It was the only reason I picked up 1994′s Zero Hour, one of DC’s attempts at force rebooting its tangled continuity. The event ended up wiping the Legion’s history clean, leading to a fresh back-to-basics approach for the “super-teens in outer space” concept. At the time, I figured it was going to be my jumping off point for that franchise, but the “Archie Legion” reboot managed to win me over with its adorable, soap-operatic charm.

My Marvel experiences in those days were a bit more remote, as they were all driven by other people. Thanks to Lil Bro, I kept up with Captain America through the weirdness of the later Mark Gruenwald run and the (kinda boring) Mark Waid and Ron Garney run. (Gruenwald’s departure from the book was the moment where the “Marvel” of my fanboy youth ended. It ended earlier elsewhere, but Cap was the last comic where I felt that I could still recognize the characters as the ones I grew up with. That’s not a complaint, just an observational aside.)

I did not buy or read any issues of the lead-in “Onslaught” event, but I did buy every issue of every “Heroes Reborn” book. This is an undeniable fact, though I’m still not sure how it happened. Maura may have been the indirect cause. In her art school days, she had been a pretty avid comics reader and a big fan of the X-Men and especially the New Mutants. She didn’t drift away from the hobby as much as it drifted away from her. When the first issue of Generation X hit the stands in 1994, I bought a copy for her thinking that its “Even Newer Mutants” vibe might appeal to her.

It did, long enough to convince me to pick up all the Age of Apocalypse event books. It also somehow conditioned me to check out “Heroes Reborn,” if only out of the same impulse that makes folks slow down when passing a gory car accident. Don’t let the after-the-fact contrarians tell you otherwise. Those comics were terrible on multiple levels, and represented every sin of the 1990s piled into a creative tire fire.

They really should’ve marked the end of my non-nostalgic superhero fandom, but subsequent events would prove otherwise.

Related posts:

  1. Me and the Terrible ’90s: Part 4
  2. Me and the Terrible ’90s: Part 2
  3. Me and the Terrible ’90s: Part 1

5 Responses to “Me and the Terrible ’90s: Part 3”

  1. sallyp

    God… too much Liefeld art! It is like tiny daggers in my eyes.

  2. Crowded House

    Win this cover! Win it and marvel at all two facial expressions Liefeld is capable of drawing!

  3. Chris Wuchte

    Really enjoying this history of ’90s comics.

    It’s funny, I was just thinking today that I loved comics in the ’80s, completely drifted away through much of the ’90s, fell back in love with them through the 2000s, and now find myself utterly frustrated with them again. Maybe I’m destined to only enjoy them during even numbered decades. I guess that gives me something to look forward to in four years.

  4. Decker

    Are the two blondes on the Brigade cover supposed to be twins, or is that just one of an infinite examples of Liefield’s limits? It’s like watching somebody copy Eddie Van Halen. You can see how much he wants to be Art Adams, and how many hours he’s spent tracing him. It’s just never going to happen.

    I do remember Waid and Garney’s Cap as being one of the 90s bright spots, only to see it killed for Heroes Reborn.

  5. Arik

    The weapons that Rob Liefeld likes to draw look like they are one bad
    Hit before breaking. They were always the one joke that doesn’t happen.

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