Integrative Arts 10

The Gimmick Age



In 1986, a business transaction happened that would affect comics until this very day. The owner of Heroes World would sell Marvel Comics to a businessman named Ron Perelman. This started what I call the Gimmick Age. Under the new ownership, Marvel comics would start an aggressive marketing campaign to sell more comics. They would do this with huge storylines that would crossover into every title (forcing readers to buy them all if they wanted to read the story). They would use cover gimmicks like holograms, glow in the dark, extend out into a poster, and many other ideas. A lot of promotional items were offered with comics, heroes would die for the short term and then be brought back to life, heroes would turn into villains, and popular villains into heroes. Marvel comics started this trend, but shortly afterwards all the other comic companies started doing the same thing. Even though many fans reject and grow sick of these gimmicks, companies still use them to draw revenue mainly from the new readers.

 

In 1988, another Batman story line made comic history. This story line was called "A Death in the Family." In this issue the second character to be called Robin was killed. This book is important because Robin's fate was decided by the fans. At the end of the third part of this series, Robin was blown up by a bomb set up by the Joker. At this time fans were asked to call in and vote for Robin's life or death. The actual vote was 5343 to 5271; a mere 72 votes killed off the Boy Wonder. Later, a third character (Timothy Drake) was created to fill the Robin role.

 

In 1989, the "Batman" movie came out, and was a smash hit. This movie would help boost comic books to a new-found popularity that hadn't been seen since the Marvel Age. But it wasn't just the movie that made comics popular again, it was older readers. Collecting comics was usually seen as a kids thing, something that teen-agers or adults shouldn't be doing. But the 80's changed that. Comics became more adult-oriented, they dealt more with mature issues while keeping the comic fun without being too corny. This resulted in a shift in the age of comic collectors. Those who read comics as a kid, kept reading them or returned to reading them. Today comics are not just for kids (some are not for kids period), the average comic reader today is between the ages of 15 and 23. About 30% of the consumers are over 20 years old. This, along with the new influx of Batman-inspired fans, made comics popular for a few years.

 

As well, there was something called the "speculator" market. This market was comprised of people who bought several copies of a certain comic issue, with the intent of re-selling them later at a higher price, if the demand for the issue was higher than the stores could satisfy. This market would play a big facter in the markets future success and downfall.

 

 

Also in 1989, Sandman #1 came out. This book was different than any other superhero comic book. It was so unique, I have trouble calling it a superhero book. The main character, Morpheus, also known as The Sandman, was a supernatural being with powers. He wasn't really a hero but instead a deity that was the God of the Dreamworld. This title was meant for mature readers and was the flagship for DC's Vertigo line which is still a very successful line today. The writer Neil Gaiman has won several awards for his work in this book. Sadly the title has stopped, Morpheus died in #69 and the title ended in 1996 at issue #75. It was done at the writers request, and not because of poor sales.

 

 

 

In 1990, an extremely popular artist named Todd McFarlane got his own Spider-Man title to draw and write. The result was Spider-Man #1 became the best-selling comic book to that date. Another reason why it sold so well was that there were several different cover versions for this issue. Lots of fans went out and bought the same comic more than once to collect the different covers. Some of them were shipped to the comic stores already bagged for protection. Altogether there were 9 different versions of Spider-Man #1. Some of them bagged, some of them in a different color, some were second print, and even one was a platinum version.

 

 

 

 

 

In 1991 Marvel would repeat this success, and create another record-breaking comic book when they gave another very popular artist named Rob Liefeld his own book to draw and write. This book was called X-Force #1. Like the Spider-Man book, this book had gimmicks that would cause some fans to buy several issues of the same comic. Different X-Force #1 issues had different cards of the characters inside. Altogether there were 7 different versions of this comic, 5 came with different cards, while others came without a polybag wrapping or a second print of the comic.

 

 

 

 

 

A third Marvel comic would repeat this success in the same year. This was called X-men #1, which was done by writer Chris Claremont and artist Jim Lee. Once again a gimmick was used to cause different versions of the same issue to be bought. This comic came with 5 different covers, 4 of them making up one big cover picture and the fifth would have the whole picture all in one gatefold cover. This comic would sell over 8 million issues and remains the worlds best-selling comic book of all time.

 

In 1992 Superman died. Well, for a while he died. In Superman #75 he was killed by a supervillain called Doomsday. This event created major media attention. It also resulted in many mourners around the world for Superman. Later on, in Superman #82 he was brought back to life.

 

 

 

 

In Alpha Flight #106 The first gay superhero arrived, or a better description would be that he 'came out of the closet.' The character was called Northstar, and he was a member of a Canadian team of superheroes called Alpha Flight. The bit of media attention that this received caused demand for the book to go up, and caused a bit of predictable controversy. Another social issue were covered in the issue of The Incredible Hulk, where a former supporting character became HIV positive. Since then Marvel has stopped doing socially controversial stories.

 

 

 

 


 

The Image Age


Another very important event happened in 1992. This was the formation of Image Comics. This company was started up by a group of disgruntled artists and some artist/writers from Marvel comics. Their complaint was that they were not given enough creative freedom in regards to creating new characters, or enough editorial control over the new characters. So they left Marvel and formed Image Comics. The new company would take the industry by storm with high-quality artwork that had never been seen in a comic book. Another improvement to the comic art was a thing called computerized color separation. This new technology would enhance the art several times over. The Image books themselves were printed on higher quality paper which was better for those wishing to keep their comic from degrading after a long period of time.

 

The group of people that left Marvel and formed Image were: Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino, and Marc Silvestri. Since then many others have joined, and some have left. The first of their books to come out was Youngblood #1 by Rob Liefeld. This comic is about a group of government sponsored heroes who are together to protect the world. Although Image is not popular with some long time readers, Image has captured the attention of newer readers, and like Marvel before them, they have got some of their characters into cartoons and movies only a few short years after they were started.

 

 

 

 

 

Spawn #1 is the best selling independent comic to date. It has a cover date of May 1992 and it sold 1.7 million copies. This comic book was created by Todd McFarlane, and it would become the first book to consistently outsell the popular comic titles of the big comic book companies. Since this book, Todd has gone on to create his own toy company (against all advice) for the purpose of making Spawn action figures. The company now called McFarlane Toys and with it has made changes in the entire toy industry by focusing on the design of the figure. Todd's goal is to make Spawn a household name, like Superman or Spider-man. Currently there is a Spawn cartoon for adults on HBO, and a Spawn movie in the theaters. If this level of success continues, Todd may soon acheive his goal of making Spawn a household name.

 

In 1993 other companies started their own superhero comic lines. The two main companies are Malibu and Dark Horse comics. Malibu had been a publisher for Image comics when it was starting up, and was later bought by Marvel Comics. Dark Horse had connections to Hollywood that would get them the rights to do books on Hollywood characters like Robocop, Alien, Predator, Star Wars, and Terminator. They would also succeed in getting some of their superheroes on the big screen with characters such as The Mask, Time Cop, and Barb Wire.

 

It was around this time that the "speculator" market disappeared. Because many new comics were being over-hyped by the publishers, speculators and fans alike bought several copies of certain comics only to find that the expected future demand for the comic didn't materialize. Comics that were promoted as the next "hot" book were no longer well-received by the majority of comic readers. With the demand for over-hyped comics disappearing, the speculators found they were unable to make any money. As well, some fans who were also buying over-hyped comics and finding them unentertaining or worth their dollars, also left the comic industry.

 

In 1993-1996, Marvel does a story that states Peter Parker is a clone of the original true Spider-Man. Hence, causing Peter Parker to leave the guise of Spider-Man and have a new character take over the superhero's role. This angered fans so much Marvel Comics had a 60% sales drop in their Spider-Man titles. Marvel then did some reversing, and brought back Peter Parker as the true wall crawler in Spider-Man #75. This is probably the most dramatic consumer back-lash to a storyline event for such a popular character in recent years.

 

In 1994, DC tries to solve the mess that they created in Crisis of the Infinite Earths, with another mini-series called Zero Hour. At the end of this series, some previously "wiped out" time lines were re-instated. As well, a straight continuity was established. But there are still problems within the DC Universe in figuring out what did and didn't happen.

 

In 1996, DC and Marvel comics did a major crossover. This crossover involves their characters fighting each other to see who would win, under the conditions laid out in the book. Some of the winners were decided by popular vote, both by post-office mail and E-mail, while others were decided by the two companies. During this limited series Both Marvel and DC put out a string of one-shot stories involving a weird merger of two of their characters. An example would be Spider-Boy (Spider-Man and Superboy combined) and Super Soldier (Superman and Captain America combined).


Contemporary Comics

ANIMANIACS - This comic book adaptation of the smash hit animated series on Kid's
WB network captures all of the frantic energy and intertextual anarchy Yakko and Wakko and their sister Dot bring to the screen. Parodies of X-Files and James Dean movies are par for the course. Never shying from more adult oriented films "Natural Born Jokers," "Pulp Fractions," and "Reservoir Mice." stand out as classics. Favorites Pinky and the Brain toss around Seinfeld references (the Taco Nazi) and a parody of the rock group KISS round out the book. Taking the tip from the level achieved by the best of the Bugs and Daffy cartoons, this book is not just for kids!

ASTRO CITY - By Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross for Homage comics. Only a few issues have come out so far, but it is awesome. Recently won some well deserved Eisner awards. Busiek has created a new world packed full of superheroes, and we see them from a varying array of perspectives: from the hero, to the reporter, to the villain himself. A VERY nicely written, GREAT looking book. Hopefully AC will be around for a long time.

BONE - The story of the Bone brothers 3, the Princess Thorn, the mighty red dragon, and those "Stupid Stupid Rat Creatures!" This book has been described as "Pogo meets Disney", and is really highly regarded by many comic book creators. Using fantasy settings, humor, and great black & white panels, Jeff Smith has made a dynamite story in just a few issues. Now distributed by Image,
this book should not be missed. STORY: The "stuff" has recently hit the fan, as the rat creatures have joined with the locust king and have attacked the town of Barrel-Haven, apparently in an effort to capture Phoney Bone!

CYBERFORCE - Created by Marc Silvestri, produced by TopCow, this
series has had a number of ups and downs already. What started as a real
smooth presentateion of renegade Cybernettic warriors, turned into a bunch
of thrown together "splash" pages that didn't make a whole lot of sense, and I
ALMOST dropped it. I gave them one more issue, and they came back strong. The art has always
remained a strong point, and hopefully the story will continue to improve. STORY - Several Cyber
enhanced soldiers group together to fight the corporation that brainwashed them. This series HAS
potential, now to see if they can live up to it.

CYBERNARY - That's her up at the top of the page... pretty mean looking woman huh? Actually,
Cybernary is a highly destructive Nymph droid with two strong personalities embedded in her scull.
Created by Nick Manabat and originally added as a back up story to the early Deathblow issues,
Cybernary had her own 5 part series and has appeared in several of the Image cross-overs. The
problem is that Nick died shortly before issue #1 came to be. That's really a bummer, for obvious
reasons, but also because Cybernary was far superior when done by him. Hopefully Cybernary will
contine to exist, we shall see...

DEATHBLOW - Deathblow recently died and the series ended at #29,
but if you can track down the first 12 issues, be prepared for a great ride.
One of the best stories of good versus evil in a dismal artistic setting.
Michael Cray, Aka Deathblow, is an aging Navy Seal who has survived
many a scrape due to his deadly skills, and an odd ability to regenerate. The
first 12 issues deal with him vs the Black Angel and his 4 Horsemen, in a
war for the Holy Grail and the child of Light. This is (was!) one of Image's
better, more consistent books that unfortunately ended way too early. But
that just makes Michael Cray all the more real.

GEN13 - Pop in some bubble gum and come on in. Gen13 gets the focus back on super-powered "kids." We follow Fairchild, Grunge, Freefall, Rainmaker, and Burnout as they escape capture and try out the "Superhero" thing with their mentor, John Lynch. Stunning artwork has kept this book on the top of the charts, but the story is always amusing, if not just entertaining. A recent 3 part issue 13 pokes fun at the entire comic industry and features great guests (From Bone, to Archie, to Beanworld). It won't hurt your brain, but it could make you giggle.

GRENDEL - Grendel is so huge, so enormous a concept, that it's near
impossible to sum up in a small paragraph. Try this... Grendel began as
Hunter Rose, a bored genius who became a deadly villain. After being slain
by the wolf Argent, Grendel existed in several different people before
becoming a religious like movement on a post-apocaliptic Earth. Now,
entire Grendel bands that resemble "Road Warrior" gangs, roam the land
enforcing and ignoring the law, terrorizing townsfolk, and occasionally
instilling hope. The story of Grendel is now found in "Grendel Tales". There
are several books and locations that summarize the story of Grendel.
Background is good. Graphic, and it's great that way.

MAXX - The Maxx, As seen on MTV's Oddities, only better! In
STORY- The Maxx is a plumber bum guy who is hurt by, and then
cared for by Julie Winters, a woman living in denial after being raped.
Her turmoil has created an entire parallel world, The Outback, that the
Maxx is able to exist in. Pursued by the evil, curious Mr. Gone, they
have a wild ride. This arc has recently been finished, and we are now
following Gone's daughter, Sara, who has her own problems, her own
Outback, and even her own Maxx... Norbert! This is one of the most
consistently done, exellent pieces of work in existance, with every issue
done tediously by its creator, Sam Keith. If you can follow it, you'll love
it!

PINKY and the BRAIN - They're dinky, they're Pinky and the Brain!
Having a plan to take over the world EVERY single night creates more than
enough stories to fill your own comic book. Straight from the pages of the
Animaniacs come these 2 lab mice bent on world domination. Now if they
could just get it right. They are Brain (he's the, uh, Brains...) and Pinky (the
doofus) and they escape from their lab cage nightly to try a new scheme.
Really funny stuff.

SCUD The Disposable Assassin - I've heard that some critics are hailing this as the next Bone! Had I know that, I would have bought a few more of the early issues... Anyway, the book is only up to the low teens, and it's really funny. Scud is a robot assassin that is programmed to self-destruct upon termination of his target. The fun starts when he figures this out, and puts his target on life support. Lots a laughs, Mafia like guys, and a cool sidekick named "Drywall" who can pull ANYTHING from his many zippers. By Rob Schraub, great read.

SIN CITY - If you haven't heard about the "Sin City" books put out by
Frank Miller, then you haven't read comics yet. Frank has put together a
city based on a number of powerful, dark characters surviving together in
a corrupt and bleak society. It's done in an amazing contrast of Black &
White... and the occasional Red. With cinematic stories with great titles
like "That Yellow Bastard" and "The Dame Wore Red," how can you go
wrong? Frank Miller is credited as being one most controversial
artist/writers in the industry. However you feel about the man is
unimportant, these stories need to be seen. Highest Recommendation!

SPAWN - Spawn, and its creator Todd McFarlane, have churned up a lot of
controversy with both good and bad press. All that aside, Spawn has remained
an exellently done book. Originally written and drawn soley by Todd, the
series has seen a number of artists and writers, with the most consistent artist
being Greg Capullo, but it is always overseen by Todd. This book recently hit
issue #50, and there are no indications that it will be slowing down. STORY -
a lethal CIA killer with a good heart is killed, and makes a deal with Hell to
come back. He comes back 5 years later as a powerful member of Hell's elite,
with the woman that he came back for remarried and happy. What could be
worse? (Like comics? Find issue #10!)

STATIC - "Like any other awkward 15-year old, Virgil Hawkins worries about sex, pocket money, sex, and getting beaten up. But since the Big Bang, he's had even more on his mind: stuff like his electromagnetic powers, his secret identity, and sex. Because when innocents are in danger, and Virgil can slip away from class, the awkward youth becomes STATIC, the dashing, adventurous superhero!" That pretty much says it all. Virgil deals with it all: Being one of the youngest heros in Dakota city, finding out his best friend is gay, and trying to fight crime while losing his girlfriend Daisy. Not visually stunning, but this is always a great STORY! By Milestone.

UNION - Union is another character in the Wildstorm universe that hasn't quite been able to live up to his potential. Union is a lone warrior from another Planet who finds himself on Earth with his powers even greater than they were on his home planet. Union usually shows up in everybody
elses books, rather than his own. I like the character, and hope they decide to concentrate more on HIM, rather than who he is with at the time.

WETWORKS - Wetworks is the long awaited creation of Whilce Portacio, who planned on having Wetworks be one of the premier titles of Image, but family problems delayed the book for over a year. When the book finally did come out, it was well worth the wait. And then a funny thing
happened, after just a few issues, Whilce left. Why? You wait your whole career to create a team all your own (military group granted almost magical powers by a golden symbiote... but at what cost?), and then you leave after getting it off the ground? And to work for Marvel?!? I don't understand.
However, the book has been undergoing some GREAT changes lately. Did I mention there's lots of Vampires and Werewolves? The Night Tribes rule.

WILDC.A.T.S - The WildC.A.T.s started Image off along with Spawn and Youngblood. Kherubim warriors from a war torn planet who have been alive for a hell of a long time team up with
human/kherubim cross-breeds to stop the domination of Earth by the evil Daemonites. But what happens when they find the war has been over for 1,000 years? There's no time to think as all of the
crimeworld suddenly teams up and fights back. This has always been a good read with steller artwork. Some of the best covers that I've ever seen by Travis Charest. This book is going through some changes and it's a good time to hop on!


Follow the Links to Topic Pages

Comic Strips Lead to a New Form

Golden Age Of Comic Books

EC Horror Comics

The Comics Code of Authority

Mad Magazine

Silver Age of the Mainstream

Robert Crumb and the Underground Movement

The Post Modern Graphic Novel

Bronze Age of the Mainstream

Contemporary Comics

What's Next?


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