Hello again, and welcome to another installment of “Looking Back at Comics”! This week, we’re going to take a look at the 1990s. Everyone who was around during the 90s now looks back at the era through a lens of somewhat sheepish embarrassment; although it was easy to get caught up in the hype and excitement of an era that was all about flash and excess. Even the covers of the 90s were big and flashy: Comic books back then artificially raised their value through so-called “variant covers” that the company hyped as being worth more than the regular ones. Fortunately, modern comics have completely ditched the variant cover craze and…um…well, except…I mean, those are legitimately rarer! And they aren’t shiny!
But it wasn’t just the covers that made the 90s so ludicrous. Those fancy variant covers frequently adorned comics that had over-hyped “shock” storylines. Who can forget the so-called “Death of Superman”, a story that actually got play in regular newspapers because foolish reporters actually believed that the character was going to permanently die! Of course, less than two years later, Superman was back, but fans at the time treated the mock “death” as real and vehemently debated the merits of replacing him with a grim and gritty cyborg version of the character. Thankfully, we’d never see a grim and gritty cyborg character replacing an iconic American…um…let’s move on. Let’s just move on.
To the villains! Yes! That’s certainly an era where the 90s got downright silly! They loved nothing more than to make good guys go bad and villains reform, simply for the shock value of seeing them change sides! You’d get absurdities like Iron Man turning against the Avengers and Venom becoming a good guy…crap. The point is, we’ve learned from the 90s. Definitely.
Because we wouldn’t have such an excess of grim, dark, anti-heroes. Back in the 90s, it was almost de rigeur to have “grim and gritty” heroes show up like Darkhawk, Night Thrasher, and Lobo. Back then, they even had a “Dark Speedball” character! Of course, at least they were self-aware enough to make it a joke, instead of actually trying to sell the character as an actual deep and meaningful character moment. I mean, come the fuck on! “Penance”? Who were they thinking this would appeal to? Speedball fans who said to themselves, “Hey, I love Speedball, but he’s not enough of an emo prick!” Or perhaps comics fans who said, “I dunno, I really like emo pricks, but none of them have the name recognition that would make me take a chance on them!” …sorry, breaking character there. The point is, Dark Avengers, Dark Wolverine, Dark X-Men, and Dark Reign are entirely different from Force Works and X-Force. And X-Force is entirely different from X-Force, too. Just like Fantastic Force is different from Fantastic Force. Because it’s not the 90s anymore.
What changed to break comics out of the 90s mindset? The arrival of Joe Quesada, that’s what! Quesada put an end to the numberless spin-off titles that were diluting the brand identity of Marvel’s classic titles (like X-Factor, X-Force, et cetera) and ended the practice of frequent, pointless crossovers that was eroding reader loyalty. Without that, it’s doubtful that Marvel would have survived to hit the motherlode of movie adaptations that have become the company’s financial lifeline. Yes, Joe Quesada’s innovations ushered in an era of true greatness at Marvel.
I wonder if he remembers what they were…