To say that every generation has an era is almost an overstatement of the obvious. And yet, the truth of that statement, I believe has to looked at in context. I mean, how many people love Rock-n-Roll because they got to live through the era of the Beatles, Elvis, or, like me, the 80s? Or how many of us love sports because of the era of superstar athletes like Magic Johnson, John Elway, Mike Tyson, Mark McGwire- before we knew about the juice, Wayne Gretzky, and of course Michael Jordan? While I’m at it, can I give a shout out to the Dream Team?
And, frankly, the Attitude Era of the WWE and NWO era of WCW were so emotionally captivating that, over a decade later, the WWE brings back those Stars just for the cheap pop- easy applause for those not versed in pro-wrestling lingo- and while the Rock still remains “the most electrifying man in entertainment,” it’s the fact that anyone from that era receives a standing ovation that lets you know just how influential a time that era truly was.
I’m 37 now, and so, I lived through the golden age of a lot of things. The NBA, the NFL, the NHL, heavyweight boxing, pro wrestling, heck, even pro poker, have reached their highest points in eras that I remember fondly, so how about comics? For me, the new revolution started with Superman. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Black Superman, we want indie comics, not DC’s big blue boy scout calling card, but just bear with me, please.In the 1980s, John Byrne rebooted Superman, taking him in a different direction than any other writer ever had before, because he found that some of the Superman stories of the past seemed to miss a part of his mythos.
In every depiction of Superman before the Man of Steel miniseries had depicted Clark Kent as the bumbling disguise Superman hid behind, but Byrne thought Clark Kent should be the real person and Superman be what Clark Kent was physically capable of. That blew my mind. OMG! Clark Kent is the real person?! But it made sense. The Kents would raise a boy name Clark, not Superman, so yeah, he would always think of himself as Clark first, not Superman or Kal-El. My mind was blown wide open to the possibility that there were more ways to tell a superhero story than the ones I had grown up with.The 1990s arrived with a lot of fanfare, honestly. You see, a bunch of mainstream comic book writers had grown disillusioned with the way Marvel and DC dealt with their talents as well as the paltry percentages the big two paid for original characters that augmented the personal mythos of their most popular characters. These creators got together and formed a company that was taking the comic book world by storm, Image Comics.
Image Comics was a new model for a comic book company in that the creator retained ownership of his/her property, and much of the content that was found within their pages was, at the very least, controversial. Many heroes were more than just flawed; some of them were downright deplorable. But they had the freedom to redefine what a hero was. Heck, most of what indie comics is now, I believe, spawned from this era. Take a look at the groundbreaking creations that came from the 90’s. They included WildC.A.T.s, Spawn, Witchblade, Gen13, Wet Works, Shadow Hawk, Young Blood, and Savage Dragon, all of which were immensely popular and regularly outsold their Marvel and DC counterparts. These stories, often, reflected the direction I felt these writers wanted to take the sometimes stagnant characters in the Marvel and DC universes, but as we have discussed before, the big two are often more interested in protecting the characters than telling a good story. And they would blatantly parody- or rip off- characters from those universes.
Eventually, Image would break up into smaller companies after a dispute, but not before inspiring Malibu Comics, the company that brought us the Ultraverse. While Malibu is an indie comics company that many of us- not me- have forgotten, the Ultraverse gave us one of my all-time favorite characters, Prime; not Optimus, just Prime.
Prime is the story of a 13-year-old boy named Kevin Green who, as a result of experiments performed on him, and a number of other children, in utero was given the power to become Prime, the most powerful being on Ultraverse Earth. To a certain degree, Prime was much like Captain Marvel- Shazam- in that he was a child in an adult body that was intrusted with more power than any child should be entrusted to wield responsibly, but unlike the Big Red Cheese, Prime did not have the wisdom of Solomon ringing in his head, like some schizophrenic psychological breakdown, leading him to do the right things. No, he acted exactly like a 13 year old who discovers he’s Superman would; he shows off, breaks things, throws tantrums and tries- while looking like a 20+ year old man- to impress the 13 year old girl he has a crush on. It is a brilliant bit of storytelling that I doubt the heads of Warner/DC would ever allow to happen to Shazam.
So raise your glass and drink the Kool-Aid with me, because, honestly, the 90s were a treasure trove of indie gold, much of which has in some way influenced the way we make and receive indie comics now. So, being that I’m one of the old guys here, I think if you’ll bear with me, I’ll use this blog to dig up some of that 90’s gold. Until next time, I’m out.