Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And Now For Marvel: Good Comics of the 90s Round III

(For those of you who haven't been keeping up with my recent on-line activity, this is the third in a series of posts looking back on the comics of the 1990's. Part One focused on the era's independent, alternative and self-published comics, while the second installment turned its eye on DC's 90's output. And now, at last, the time has come to look at Marvel Comics in the Clinton Decade)

The notion that the 90's was the "worst decade EVER" for comics is, sadly, pretty much true in Marvel's case. I really had to strain my brain to come up with the meager offerings listed here.  No other publisher, other than Image, of course, embraced the flashy, exaggerated, over-rendered "Image Style" that was inexplicably "hot" at the time as wholeheartedly as Marvel did.   Though it would be inaccurate to accuse Marvel of jumping on the Image bandwagon, as it is highly likely they would have trod that dark path had Image never existed, since they were headed that way anyways.  You must remember that the founders of Image all made their names and developed their trademark styles while toiling at Marvel, and probably would have stayed there if Marvel had been willing to pay them what they felt they were worth.  After all, despite all the high minded statements bandied about back around 1992, the so-called "Image Revolution" was not about artistic freedom or creator's rights, but about money.  Which is not to say that's a bad thing; comics is, after all, a business. But let's call a spade a spade, shall we?
Anyway, out of a decade of mostly dreck, I've come up with a pitifully short list of Marvel comics of the 90's actually worth reading.

Perhaps the best reviewed, most enduring and fondly remembered Marvel comic of the decade is Marvels, the prestige format four issue mini-series written by Kurt Busiek with stunning photo-realistic painted art by Alex Ross, which retold the seminal events of the Marvel Universe, from the Golden Age creation of the original android Human Torch through to the death of Gwen Stacy from the point of view of an ordinary human being, capturing for the reader just  what it must be like to actually live in a world populated by super-heroes, super-villains, mutants, and planet eating giants.  With Marvels, Marvel celebrated its past while at the same time it  was making a mess of the present and endangering its future. 
Universe shattering line wide crossover events had become pretty much a yearly occurrence by the 90s, and most of them were patently incomprehensible and unreadable.  However, 1991 saw the publication of perhaps the best such event that Marvel has turned out in Jim Starlin's epic The Infinity Gauntlet. (Never mind that I hear that the attendant spin-offs and sequels were fairly horrid, and this coming from Jonathon Riddle, the biggest fan of Jim Starlin I've ever  met or am likely to meet.)
Heroes Reborn, in which Marvel handed over the keys to four of its core non-mutant titles to returning Image defecters Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, quite frankly sucked, but it did end up leading to another bright spot of the decade, the post Heroes Reborn mainstream Marvel Universe relaunch of The Avengers by Kurt Busiek and George Perez. 
Peter David is second only to the Justice League International team of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis in his almost seamless combination of super-heroic action and goofy humor, which he brought to the only "X" book worth reading in the 90's, the re-vamped X-Factor, as well his acclaimed twelve year stint on The Incredible Hulk.
Kevin Smith is a writer you either love or hate, and I happen to love his work, so for me, at least, and I know some people who will vehemently disagree, another one of the 90's highlights was his "Guardian Devil" storyline illustrated by future Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada in the first eight issues of the Daredevil relaunch which kicked off the Marvel Knights imprint.
I suppose you could compare Alan Davis' Clan Destine, the tale of several generations of a family of mutant super-heroes, to sort of a cross between The Fantastic Four and X-Men, but that really would not do justice to this delightful comic. 
Because I was having trouble coming up with titles to fill out this list, I put out a call for suggestions to members of the Sunday Comix cartoonists group. SC founder Max Ink suggested The Inhumans by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee. Because I trust Max's judgment and good taste, and I've read and enjoyed other comics by Jenkins, and have heard a lot of good things about this one, I'm throwing it into the mix.
Another reply to my call for suggestions came from Michael Neno, writer and artists of The Signifiers, a comic I'm sure will get mentioned in ten years if I do a round up of good comics of the current decade, who chimed in with "There is one Marvel comic of the time that had a consistently high level of quality and entertainment: Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones' Groo (the Wanderer).  It was also the rare Marvel comic in the creators were left alone from editorial harassment and unwelcome meddling." On top of that, it was really funny, as any one with half a brain could plainly see. (Here the dimwitted title character, Groo, would think to himself "I could plainly see that." That was one of the running gags that made the series such fun to read.)

Another Epic book I want to mention is a four issue mini-series of Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones, irreverent and politically incorrect spy spoof The Trouble With Girls illustrated by Brett Blevins.  While not as good as the seminal 80's adventures of reluctant super-spy Lester Girls, it was still a fun read.
And....that's it.  Even with help, I couldn't come up with even a dozen good Marvel comics from the 1990's.  Pretty sad.
But that's not the end of this series on 90's comics.  I'm planning one more post featuring stuff I omitted or forgot about until after I'd posted or that almost made the cut.


  1. The 90's was a very bad decade for comics and for music as well, i don't know what happened back there but everything was lame.. comics had no fresh ideas and everything was just fool. and music... my dear Heavy Metal music saw the edge of death as well... we are better off the 90's

  2. Way to slide the 1999 Inhumans series in there! That's the best Inhumans story ever. The 2001 TPB is nice even though it didn't quite make the decade here

  3. There's Black Panther by Christopher Priest and Wonder Man by Gerard Jones. Granted I read the later years after it was released because I was a fan of Jone's work at DC and his books about comics but I liked what I read of it.

  4. I think the Hero Reborn era is also important becouse it started the Thunderbolts.