Armagideon Time

The combination of “1990s” and “comics” tends to produce a negative reaction from the less troglodytic segements of fandom, and and not without justification. It was an era when the confluence of unfortunate trends and speculative mania damn near succeeded in choking the funnybook biz to death with a flood of nigh-unreadable gimmicky nonsense.

The sheer volume of undercooked, recipe overprinted crap relased during the decade has made the 1990s the “go to” era for easy-peasy, fire and forget Nobody’s Favorite posts. The books are easy to find (though very difficult to get rid of, to the lament of retailers and would-be investment barons), rarely lasted more than a few issues, and are packed to the gutters with identikit badasses sporting ludicrous names and laughable levels of overaccessorization.

Yet as much as snarky riffs on “1990s comics” have become the mother-in-law jokes of comics commentary, those broad dismissive strokes neglect the many good (if not great) works to emerge from that period. I’m not just referring to the wealth of quality “indie” books (“non-spandex stuff” in vulgar parlance) which emerged during those years, but also a small number of mainstream superhero titles which managed to think outside the pander box.

Grant Morrison’s relaunch of JLA is probably the most widely recognized of these efforts — alongside Garth Ennis’s Hitman, James Robinson’s Starman, and Kurt Busiek’s Thunderbolts — but there were plenty of lower profile, shorter-lived works which attempted to swim against the currents of uninspired crap. The majority seemed to originate out of DC, though that might just be my failing memory filtered through my reading biases at the time — ephemeral little gems like Chase, Major Bummer, Chronos, and the subject of this week’s column…

…Dan Raspler’s and Dev Madan’s Young Heroes in Love.

To be honest, my first reaction to seeing the house ads for this 1997 attempt to mix Gen X hook-up melodrama with light-hearted superheroics was a resounding “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” As a johnny-come-lately remnant of a dying subculture who watched his peers embrace the mass marketed trapping of hipness over the course of a single intersession, I viewed the whole 1990s alterna-splosion phenomenon with a highly jaundiced eye. It was bad enough having to suffer that silliness in my everyday life; I didn’t need it to insinuate itself into my avenues of escapism as well.

Then again, it wasn’t like there was a lot of competition for my comic-buying dollar at the time and Madan’s animation-inspired art sure stood out against the sea of residual “Image-style” cover acts on the stands. In the end, I was glad I was able to suppress my knee-jerk revulsion towards perceived demographic pandering, because YHIL turned out to be a highly enjoyable read.

The book focused on a team of twentysomething superhumans — Bonfire (an incendiary fangirl journalist), Monstergirl (a manipulative shapechanger), Junior (a diminutive science geek), Offramp (a gruff and grungy teleporter), Frostbite (a frost elf with a fondness nipple rings, tribal tats, and low-cut speedos), Thunderhead (a super-strong rocker with oversized hands and, later, electrical powers) and Zip-Kid (a size-changing Jersey princess sporting some of Star Sapphire’s castoff Silver Age duds) — led by Hard Drive, a big-chinned control freak with telekinetic/telepathic powers.

While the promo material and cover blurbs played up the bed (and desk and…um…boxing glove) hopping antics of the various team members, these elements were merely parts of a larger network of personal and professional relationships fueled by character-driven melodrama. Imagine the Giffen/DeMatteis era Justice League by way of Melrose Place and run through a 1990s “indie” film filter and you have a decent idea of where YHIL was coming from.

As entertaining as the concept was, the execution was a bit uneven over the title’s eighteen issue run and particularly noticable when read without the wait between monthly installments. Characterizations and sub-plots had an unfortunate tendency to be over- and under-emphasized over the course of multiple issues, in which tracks were laid then inexplicably pulled up or abandoned. (For example, what was ulterior motive for Monstergirl’s mindgames and multiple seductions? Was she supposed to be a hero, villain, or just the victim of some sloppy writing?) The series also developed some serious pacing problems after the first few issues, with the final twelve issues lurching fitfully through a roster of fill-in artists towards a hasty and somewhat unsatisfying conclusion…followed by a bizzare DC One Million crossover in the final issue because eventbook uber alles.

(That “midpoint muddle” was not unique to YHIL. Many of the title’s inevitably doomed peers also underwent similiar change-ups and odd moments of narrative drift, which I suspect were attempts to tack against the winds of an inhospitable marketplace.)

Young Heroes in Love may not have been a flawless masterpiece or particularly groundbreaking (although it was a lot bolder regarding same-sex relationships than most current mainstream superhero titles are), but it was entertaining, enjoyable, and — most importantly — it didn’t actively insult the intelligence of the reader or pander to him or her with continuity wank parsed as EPIC IMPORTANCE. It was fun, disposable entertainment (mostly) unbeholden to a linewide master plan, as much a rarity then as it is today.

Young Heroes in Love had — and still has — a substantial cult following which kind of puts the like to the Nobody Else’s Favorite tag, but the lack of any trade collections (thanks to its odd status as a creator “semi-owned” property set within the DC Universe) and fandom’s short collective memory more than justifies its inclusion, if only for evangelical purposes.

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8 Responses to “Nobody Else’s Favorites: Love in the time of nausea”

  1. Brad Curran

    Those cancelled DC series you mentioned along with YHIL had a pretty vocal following when I spent a lot of time on message boards in the early 2000s. Chase is the only one I’ve tracked down over the years, though. That one ended with a weird combo of a DC 1Million tie-in and what was basically a tribute to Hal Jordan.

  2. bitterandrew

    And guest-starred AIR WAVE!

  3. LCB

    I picked up the nearly complete run of YHiL from a comic shop bargain bin for only a few dollars and much like the series stood out from a lot of the dross being published at the time, these particular issues stood out in a bin filled with also-rans and overhyped nonsense and deservedly obscure titles from the Terrible 90s.

    Only a few times before or since have I seen such a variety of Terrible 90s comics on display in a few convienent shortboxes – Marvel mini-series rightfully read by no one, HOT FIRST ISSUES with garish hologram/foil/etc. covers, “bad girl” titles, Rob Liefeld ripoff titles, sad attempts at poorly conceived superhero universes, revamps, retreads and shameless attempts at jumping on trends.

  4. VIRU

    I followed this series in its day. Loved this and Major Bummer.

  5. Monzo

    I loved Len Kaminsky’s ’90s Creeper series as it was coming out. Haven’t tried re-reading it in years, but… its last issue was ALSO a DC One Million tie-in. Huh.

  6. Slappy

    God, yes, Kaminsky’s Creeper should’ve been that decade’s Swamp Thing. I loved that book with a passion; it was one of the few that I enjoyed reading EVERY WORD, unlike the overwrought narrations that I normally scanned through.

    Think Creeper’s been (badly) retconned twice since then (and does he even currently exist?). I can understand why people didn’t latch onto “what if the Joker was kinda chaotic-good but also Wolverine covered with prehensile linguini,” but “Jack’s a perfectly normal joe who fakes being a crazy fruitcake” and “whoops I’m really just yet another one of those escaped hell-demons!” just do not cut it.

    I also enjoyed Young Heroes in Love—not as much though, disappointed in it for the same reasons as stated in the article; liked the characters, hated the storytelling problems.

    Though it was no fault of the book itself, I also took a dim view of DC’s attempts to shove the title down my throat during that year’s particular—and I’ve forgotten which one—”crisis;” established heroes baying, “Look! It’s the Young Heroes! They’re really a team to watch!” as the YHiL race by waaaay back in a single panel’s background never to appear again and crap like that. Also, the book’s own crossover with said event HAD NOTHING AT ALL TO DO with said event. Which normally I’d be delighted by, but it stank of desperation. (My favorite version of this phenomenon would be AzBat and Deathstroke wondering what “the future holds” for the Chain Gang in the final issue of their unbelievably rotten book. Answer: not a damn thing.)

    I’m kinda glad the characters of YHiL have disappeared, so I hopefully will never read about how some Prometheus-wannabe has raped and murdered them for the sake of some has-issues writer’s fan-trolling (U MAD BRO?). Yeah, not a fan of the industry of late.

  7. Tony Goins

    Shoot, here’s another series I’ve seen house ads for, but never actually read. I’ve always wondered what it was all about.

    The 90s really were the best of times and the worst of times, weren’t they? I loved comics in the 90s. I was reading Starman, Transmetropolitan and Sandman Mystery Theater, and I didn’t really care what went on in Image or the X-Books.

    I remember liking Chain Gang War, but I don’t think I ever saw the last issue. I guess that’d be one of my “Nobody Else’s Favorites.”

  8. Roel

    Hi Andrew,

    Warning: shameless plug ahead (but relevant to the topic at hand.)

    I released a comic last year called “Lightning Girl Loves Rocket Boy” that was strongly influenced by the tone of “Young Heroes In Love” (which was also one of my favorite titles when it came out, and I’ve always wished that there were more books like it. ) If you enjoyed YHIL, you might be interested in checking out a copy of my comic.

    Johanna Draper Carlson said in her review: “If you like the kind of superhero romance you find in comics like Avengers Academy or Young Allies, you should definitely check out this independent short graphic novel… it’s entertaining to read.”

    And Mike Sterling said in his review: “I liked how the superheroics were pretty much just in the story for the purposes of how it affected the romance… a good first effort, and I’d like to see more from these fellas.”

    Let me know if you want a review copy, and I can either send you a hard copy through the postal system, or an electronic comic.


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