SHOWCASE PRESENTS: Why the 90’s wasn’t a horrible time to be a comic book fan
(Editors Note: All editorials are solely the opinion of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of DC Comics News or its staff.)
I really don’t know who the hell started this rumor, but when I find them, I swear I’m going to punch them in the face. We’ve all heard it, time and again. It’s been drilled into us: The 90’s was possibly the worst decade in comic book history.
Sure, it’s great for other stuff. I mean who doesn’t love Sugar Ray? Is there anyone who can deny the awesomeness of such film classics as Space Jam or Fight Club? AOL sent trial disks to my house every week. I had no idea what a cell phone was. It was a simpler time. And one often looked back on with the ultimate in rose-hued eyewear.
But here’s the thing: the 90’s was actually a pretty great time for comics. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Oh really? Were all the gimmick covers and holograms and pouches great? Was Rob Liefeld being super popular great? WAS ELECTRIC SUPERMAN GREAT?!”
First of all, calm your shit, fictional reader. Secondly, let’s not act like Rob Liefeld getting really sad because he didn’t have enough pockets and then drawing furiously isn’t a hilarious mental image. And, lastly, the 90’s were far from a perfect time for comic books because of gimmicks like hologram covers and “shocking” events and “edgy” costumes. But the worst? Please. It’s almost like you guys forgot about Preacher and Hellblazer and Sandman. AKA some of the greatest comic series ever written.
90’s “event” comics get a lot of crap. A lot. But a lot of really great stuff happened as a result. To start us off, let’s talk about Superman. Why? Because I’m a big Superman fan and we need to get this out of the way.
Superman endured some truly reprehensible stuff in the 90’s. Honestly, a lot of the storytelling was awful. People will gladly remind me about “the mullet years” or the “electric Superman” period or the infamous death. While I can’t forgive the hairstyle (friends never let friends have mullets), the other two things certainly have their place.
Say what you will about Doomsday being one-dimensional and pointless, but The Death of Superman was damn entertaining, and so was the fallout with the Reign and Return. Great storytelling? Hardly. But it was fun. Superman’s death also brought back Hank Henshaw. Once part of a middling rip on the Fantastic Four, Henshaw came back as one of Superman’s most compelling villains (certainly one of my personal favorites).
One thing that people seem to forget is that Superman’s death did indeed have ramifications. Henshaw’s ability to masquerade as Superman brought about one of the biggest moments in Post-Crisis DC history: the destruction of Coast City (more on that later).
Moving forward, we got Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s classic Kingdom Come. I count that as one of the best Superman stories ever told. But it didn’t stop there. The 90’s also delivered one of my personal favorite one-shots of all time as part of the DC 1 Million event: Superman the Man of Tomorrow #1,000,000. In it is the story of the Superman dynasty which is just as weird and awesome as it sounds.
“But what about Electric Superman?” you ask, snidely. Here’s the horrible truth, kids: Electric Superman was actually a fantastic idea that was marred by DC’s attempts to pass it off as “edgy” and “cool.” In all honesty, turning Superman into a being of pure light energy is a logical step forward for the character given where his powers come from as well as what he represents as the pinnacle of humanity (Einstein once proposed that humanity would evolve into beings of pure energy once our consciousness transcended our physical bodies). It wasn’t even that foreign an idea considering that even nerd-god Grant Morrison had proposed the idea with Superman-Prime in DC 1 Million.
“Alright,” you say, “so Superman didn’t fare so bad. What about everyone else?” They did pretty great, too. The Knightfall event introduced us to Bane, one of Batman’s most brilliant and enduring rogues. It brought forth the idea that Batman could be defeated both physically and mentally, given time.
Wonder Woman faced her own struggles in The Contest. It was a story that ought to be better remembered not for its gratuitous cheesecake factor, but rather for asking one of the toughest questions ever asked of Wonder Woman: did you really make the world a better place? To have it decided that she didn’t and to have her actually lose a contest for the title of Wonder Woman was nothing short of great storytelling.
Green Lantern faced both the Emerald Twilight and the Emerald Dawn. I’ve written an entire post about why I thought Hal Jordan’s fall from grace following the destruction of Coast City in Emerald Twilight was possibly the greatest thing to ever happen to the character, but Emerald Dawn introduced a whole new generation to their very own Green Lantern: Kyle Rayner. Still one of the most beloved characters in the DCU.
The Flash got treated to a string of some of the greatest writers to ever grace the medium. Mark Waid’s run is damn near impossible to beat and gave readers the definitive look at Wally West as the Flash. Similarly, Aquaman was at his most bad ass in the capable hands of Peter David, who gave him not only his beard, but also his infamous harpoon hand. Given David’s work with the character, it actually astounds me that it took this long for people to finally recognize just how crazy and awesome Aquaman really is.
In terms of team books, we got to continue the awesomeness of the JLI (blue and gold forever, baby), but we also got Grant Morrison’s excellent run on the JLA, which, frankly, has never been topped. I even got my favorite one-shot ever written in a JLA 80 Page Giant from 1999. The story was called “The Game” and it was written by Chris Priest. It’s about a young Green Arrow trying to prove that Bruce Wayne is Batman. I’ve seen whole omnibuses pale in comparison to those brilliant ten pages.
So, no, the 90’s weren’t terrible for comic book fans. It was the era of Vertigo and Image. It was the decade that made Jim Lee a star and Grant Morrison a legend. And, if you were a DC reader, you could at least say with absolute confidence “at least we made out better than those poor, miserable Marvel fanboys…”