Friday, 20 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 2009

So, the Secret Invasion's over, and the Skrulls have had their backsides kicked back to Skrullos. Good news for our heroes, right? Wrong. For whatever plot-serving reason, Norman Osborn, formerly the Green Goblin, formerly dead, and formerly a world-renowned supervillain, is now the hero of the world, and has been placed in charge of SHIELD (or HAMMER, as it's now known), and, as you can see from the picture above, he's brought along a few of his pals.

Osborn's "Cabal" is made up of Loki, the Hood, Emma Frost, Sub-Mariner and Doctor Doom. Apparently, Norman is the only person alive who doesn't know how well it goes when supervillains team up: Acts of Vengeance, anyone?

Whilst we wait for the inevitable decline and fall of Osborn and his friends, comic readers in 2009 can choose to look away from the mainstream Marvel universe, and look out to the stars, where the Kree, conquered by the Inhumans, are at war with the Shi'ar. The War of Kings, as it's dubbed, has drawn in any number of Marvel's cosmic characters, from Nova to the Guardians of the Galaxy, and, like most Marvel successes, shows signs of being over-exploited. Still, it's more fun that the grimness of most Marvel books these days, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 2008

The department of the UK government which deals with supernatural and metahuman affairs, had been around since 1996, under one name or another, but in 2008, Paul Cornell used MI13 as the setting for the latest attempt at giving Captain Britain his own book again. Cornell had Cap heading up a team of superhumans, including the Black Knight, vampire-hunter Blade, and golden age heroine, Spitfire. One of the few books not to be directly tied to any of the major franchises, the title lasted just over a year, after which the good Captain and friends slipped back into limbo. We look forward to the next revival attempt, in a year or so.

Captain Britain & MI13 spun out of the events of Marvel's big event of 2008: Secret Invasion. This jolly romp showed the Skrulls, wiped out almost to a man a couple of years back by the Annihilation Event, still more than capable of infiltrating human society , kidnapping and replacing vital figures such as Hank Pym, Spider-Woman and Elektra, before launching a mass attack on New York, and presumably, London. Another classic from Bendis, this just seems to have been intended to tidy up the mess left after Civil War, whilst leaving things in more of a mess than before. But we'll get to that tomorrow.

Other new comics of 2008? Well, there were some. After being around for, depending on your opinion, 43 years 3000 years, Hercules finally got his own ongoing title, inheriting his book from the Hulk, who, turfed out of his book, immediately got a new one, restarting from issue #1. If you think that was confusing, you're right, and it'll take a finer man than me to explain it. Sorry.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 2007

One of the highlights of 2007 was this little gem, MODOK's 11, in which the Big Giant Head recruits a couple of fistfuls of followers, including second-stringers like Mentallo, the Armadillo, and the Chameleon, to commit the ultimate robbery. With the rest of the Marvel Universe getting increasingly grim and gritty, this was a nice lighthearted little romp, and got Fred Van Lente his first start in the Marvel Universe proper.

Other than this, most books in 2007 revolved around either the fallout from Civil War, the consequences of the Annihilation Event, or the Hulk's invasion of New York. The Spider-Books were being culled left, right, and centre, whilst Spidey himself was making a deal with the devil to save his Aunt May. Elsewhere, JMS was being recruited to revamp Thor, Captain America was getting shot, and Iron Man was being appointed Director of SHIELD. The world was getting weirder, that was for sure.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Professor Xavier Is A Jerk!

As mentioned before, many of the current woes in the Marvel Universe are a result of Professor X's misusing of his mutant students. The whole War of Kings thing currently being played out between the Shi'ar and the Inhumans might have been prevented, had Xavier happened to mention to anyone that there was a third Summers brother, one with a bit of a grudge against the Shi'ar. So, what other misdeeds can we accuse the X-Men's mentor of?

1. Whilst still in the womb, killed his own twin.

2. On the US Army's dollar, shagged his way across Europe, leaving at least one pregnant woman in his wake.

3. Used his psychic powers to put the whammy on any woman not taken in by his "charm".

4. Forced one of his students to take a job working at a club where she would regularly be expected to dress in fishnets and bodices.

5. Fancied a bit of peace and quiet from his students, so faked his own death.

6. Sent a group of novice mutants to rescue his original team of X-Men, got them killed, and then never mentioned it to anyone ever again!

7. Went evil.

8. Again.

9. And again.

10. Buggered off into space with his latest girlfriend, leaving his school and students in the hands of their arch-enemy.

11. Wanted his school and students back, so lobotomised the aforementioned arch-enemy.

12. Went evil, again...

13. Outed himself as a mutant, at the same time dropping his students in it.

14. When his ex-girlfriend, Moira McTaggart, was murdered by the mutant terrorist, Mystique, responded by - hiring Mystique to carry out black ops missions for him.

15. Used his experience of faking his own death, to help Magneto fake his own death.

Make no mistake, this man is not a nice guy. If you see him, do not approach. Unless it's to kick his wheelchair over and kick him in his bald head, that is...

(This cheap inventory post previously appeared in my other blog, February 2006.)

Monday, 16 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 2006

By 2006, "event comics were rampant at Marvel. We had, in no particular order:

X-Men: Deadly Genesis - in which Ed Brubaker finally answered the question of who Cyclops and Havok's mystery brother was, about a decade after anyone had last expressed an interest in finding this out. The third brother, Vulcan, believed dead, and erased from the memories of everyone who met him (by that good guy, Professor X), came back from the dead, kidnapped the X-Men, killed Banshee, then went off into space to conquer the Shi'ar Empire.

Civil War - in which Mark Millar spins a yarn in which the New Warriors accidentally blow up a school, and the superhero community is torn in half, with factions arguing for and against superhero registration led by Iron Man and Captain America respectively, Spider-Man reveals his secret identity to the world, and Hank Pym builds a clone of Thor.

Planet Hulk - in which Mr Fantastic, Iron Man, Black Bolt and Dr Strange decide to exile the Hulk into space, accidentally sending him to a planet of enslaving insects, whom he proceeds to conquer. Planet Hulk's writer, Greg Pak, would subsequently return the Hulk to Earth to kick some arse, but this was a far superior tale.

Annihilation - in which Annihilus and his Negative Zone pals try to conquer the "Positive" Universe. Used by Keith Giffen and others as a means to jumpstart Marvel's "cosmic" characters, who had been somewhat underused in recent years.

Additionally, 2006 saw the Black Panther marry the X-Men's Storm, Warren Ellis launch Nextwave, comedy misadventures of some b-list heroes, and Neil Gaiman relaunch the Eternals. In all, a busy year for Marvel's marketing department.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 2005

2005 was the year of the Marvel Zombies. Introduced as part of the Ultimate Universe, they quickly graduated to their own mini-series, written by noted zombie comic writer, Robert Kirkman. A smash hit, Marvel Zombies has spawned numerous sequels, although Kirkman has long since moved on.

2005 also saw the debut of the Young Avengers, Allan Heinberg's book about teenage heroes with various tenuous connections to the Avengers. Somewhat delayed by the dreaded deadline doom, the Young Avengers have made sporadic reappearances over the years, although Heinberg has long since moved on.

Also in 2005, Brian Bendis brought us House of M, an alternate dimension where Magneto rules a world dominated by mutants. Sort of like Age of Apocalypse, but less bleak. He also brought us three little words: No More Mutants. All sorts of dire consequences followed, mostly involving there being yet more X-Books. The House of M has been revisited numerous times since 2005. Brian Bendis, thus far, refuses to move on.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Everything Old Is New Again

Of course, 2004 wasn't just about Brian Bendis. It was also the year of optimistic relaunches:

3rd time out for Alpha Flight, and a return to Marvel for 90s X-writer, Scott Lobdell. A humorous spin on the Canadian superteam, this lasted all of a dozen issues, and most of the team were subsequently exterminated, in order to establish the badass credentials of the latest Avengers foe. As for Cable and Deadpool, this was was a buddy book, written by Lobdell's former partner in X-crime, Fabian Nicieza, and, for the first few issues, even featured covers by Rob Liefeld, who'd brought Cable and Deadpool to comics in the first place.

Keith Giffen, J.M DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire had made comedy names for themselves with a relaunch of the Justice League at DC Comics, in 1987. 17 years on, they decided to have a crack at the Defenders, applying similar comedic principles to the title. Meanwhile, J. Michael Straczynski decided to have a crack at making Dr Strange popular again, mostly by retelling his origin. Neither limited series did much for the ongoing popularity of their cast, but neither did a great deal of harm either.

On the other hand, these two books did no good at all for anyone. Chris Claremont launched a new Excalibur book, not related to the previous team book, but instead starring Professor X and Magneto, mostly so that Claremont could retcon the evil Magneto who had been showing up in Grant Morrison's New X-Men. There followed a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing between Morrison fans and critics, none of which made Excalibur a good book. Still, compared to James Mullaney's brief revival of Iron Fist, a book so bad that, despite being the biggest fan in the world of Danny Rand, I have been unable to reread, Excalibur was a classic.

Dan Slott made his first venture into the Marvel Universe with a new She-Hulk book, in which Shulkie joins a law firm and engages in all sorts of superhero litigation. Imagine Boston Legal with super-types. In one form or another, this book was still going until quite recently. Meanwhile, having killed off the original Thunderbolts concept, and replaced it with a supervillain wrestling book, Marvel persuaded series originator Kurt Busiek to come back one more time. The relaunch lasted until Warren Ellis came along and kicked out the existing team, in the midst of 2006's Civil War, to my somewhat dissatisfaction.

Yeah, on the whole, actual ideas were pretty much on the way out over at the House of Ideas that year.

Friday, 13 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 2004

In 2004, Norman Osborn was finally exposed as the Green Goblin, and sent to prison for a good long time. Who would have thought he'd now be acting as the head of SHIELD? Not anyone rational, that's for sure.

2004 also saw the Avengers Disassembled, courtesy of the Scarlet Witch, who went mad after her best friend, the Wasp, inadvertantly reminded her that she'd once had children who were erased from history. I feel that the Wasp perhaps ought to bear some measure of blame for this fiasco: was it too much to hope that she wouldn't, after one too many gins, rub in Wanda's face her inability to produce children?

Also in 2004, we were presented with Secret War (no relation), in which Nick Fury decides to overthrow the Latverian government, hypnotising half of his friends in order to do so. When this plan goes tits up, Fury runs away and goes into hiding. None of what happens is particularly explicable.

All of the above books were written by Brian Bendis, who was rapidly becoming a master of sacrificing realistic behaviour in his characters, in order to service his stories.

In other news, Russia and Chechnya were having serious fallings-out in this year, while (and I can't believe I never read about this), Marvin Heemeyer, was building himself a homemade tank out of a bulldozer and getting ready to rumble in Colorado.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 2003

Another year, another new brand. 2003 was the year of Tsunami Comics, a line of books aimed at appealing to the Manga market, a source of prime dollars of which Marvel was thus far not getting a slice. The idea of the line was to produce books which would be reprinted in the digest format of Manga books, rather than the full-size trade paperbacks normally used.

We got some good books out of it. Sentinel (above) was the Iron Man / Iron Giant with a mutant-hunting robot instead of a a big friendly robot, whilst Runaways was the story of a group of teenagers who discover their parents are eeeviiiillll! Other than those sparks of originality, though, mostly it was just the same old, same old: a relaunch of New Mutants; an attempt at a solo book for bad / good mutant, Mystique; the teenage adventures of Emma Frost; and new books for Venom, Sub-Mariner, and the Human Torch. The line wasn't a great surprise: most people can presumably tell the difference between real Manga and Marvel's pseudo-Manga, and those that couldn't just weren't gripped by what they saw.

2003 also saw the legendary Neil Gaiman doing his first work for Marvel, with 1602, which had the Marvel Universe transposed to Elizabethan times. A fine tale in its own right, I'm sure the numerous non-Gaiman sequels, prequels and sidequels, haven't detracted from its impact at all.

Finally, 2003 also saw the definitive origin of Spider-Man, in the Mark Millar-penned Trouble. Or maybe it didn't. After all the hype about this book, no-one really seems sure what the point of it all was.

In the real world, 2003 saw the Columbia shuttle disaster, the downfall of Saddam Hussein, and the return of Dirty Den, all of which kept the internet chattering.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

February 2002 Was A Quiet Month

(Today's post delayed due to all sorts of franticness. Back tomorrow...)

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 2002

2002 was the year of MAX Comics. OK, technically, that's not true. The first MAX comics were launched the previous year, but 2002 saw Marvel's 18-certificate comics line get well and truly established, to the consternation of the internet (and, if wikipedia is to believed, to the consternation of Stan Lee as well).

MAX Comics is probably most renowned for having introduced Jessica Jones to the Marvel Universe. Hard-bitten private eye / ex-superheroine, Jessica was the creation of Brian Bendis and Michael Gaydos, swore a lot, and shagged Luke Cage, before being watered down sufficiently to appear in the pages of Bendis' Avengers. MAX's other big creation has been the Hood, created by Brian K. Vaughan, but hijacked by Bendis to act as one of the main protagonists (read: most overused characters) of his recent Dark Reign storyline.

MAX also produced a fair amount of character revivals. Not just Luke Cage, reinvented as a non-costumed swearing machine, but also War Machine (now actually able to kill people), Nick Fury (rewritten by Garth Ennis as a burned-out Cold War veteran looking for one last war), Shang-Chi (reuniting 70s fan faves Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy), Howard the Duck (from original creator Steve Gerber), Blade (launched to cash in on the movie franchise), Black Widow (the blonde one, not the good one), Apache Skies (featuring some of Marvel's Western heroes). And that was just in 2002! The MAX line is still going, if not strong, than at least surviving, with a series featuring the 40s hero, Destroyer, recently out, and Howard Chaykin's revival of his Dominic Fortune character.

2002 also saw the release of the first issue of Kevin Smith's Daredevil / Bullseye miniseries. Optimistic people are still waiting for the release of issue 2.

In the real world, the Euro entered common currency, the US Government was setting up the Department of Homeland Security, and Britain, the US, and various allies were looking forward to invading Iraq.

Monday, 9 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 2001

Fans of parallel universes got a boost in 2001, with the introduction of the Exiles. Dimension-hopping mutants from various different worlds, the Exiles were led, mostly, by Blink, who was a throwaway character from a mid-90s X-Crossover, who, after being killed off, had proved unexpectedly popular with the readers. The Exiles, although a standalone book, had enough ties to the Marvel Universe proper, to keep the fanboys happy, at least until the book was killed off earlier this year.

2001 also saw the Powers-What-Be at Marvel decide to tell the origin of Wolverine, apparently in order to prevent the X-Movies from beating the books to the punch. Although, some might argue, that since Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada and Publisher Bill Jemas each got a writing credit on the book, it might just have been in order to make them some ready cash, helping to tell a story that some fans had been waiting 30 years for.

Finally, it was all change at the X-Books this year, with Grant Morrison taking over the reigns of the Adjectiveless X-Men, henceforth renamed New X-Men, and Peter Milligan relaunching X-Force with an entirely new, entirely bonkers, set-up. Chris Claremont found himself turfed off Uncanny X-Men, again, but got a new book out of it: X-Treme X-Men. Most other titles found themselves facing the axe, as part of a plan to reduce the number of X-Books to a manageable level.

Incidentally, for those of you who care, in January 2001 there were 12 ongoing X-Books (Bishop, Deadpool, Gambit, Generation X, Mutant X, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, X-Force, X-Man, X-Men, X-Men: Hidden Years, and the quarterly X-Men Unlimited), whilst December had 8 (Deadpool, Exiles, Uncanny, Wolverine, X-Force, New X-Men, X-Treme, and Unlimited). The solicitations for January 2010 show the following regular X-Books: Dark Wolverine, Uncanny, X-Force, X-Men Legacy, Cable, New Mutants, Deadpool, Deadpool: Merc With A Mouth, Deadpool Team-Up, Wolverine: Weapon X, Wolverine: Origins, X-Factor, Uncanny X-Men: First Class, X-Men Forever. 14 in total. So much for progress.

In the real world, of course, 2001 was the year the World Trade Centre came down.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 2000

One of DC Comics' biggest names took his first step into Marvel waters this year, with Grant Morrison's Marvel Boy, a Kree soldier who fell to Earth and fell out with pretty much everyone he met. Morrison would make a bit more of a name for himself in the years to come, whilst Noh-Varr would vanish without trace for the next few years, until he was recruited to work for Norman Osborn, adopting the Captain Marvel identity. But, you may ask, what happened to the previous Captain Marvel, the one who was Mar-Vell's son? Well, in 2000, he was just being launched in his own title, bonded with Rick Jones, and being written as a comedy drama by Peter David. His book would last a few years, and on its cancellation, he'd join the Thunderbolts, change his name to Photon, and be killed by Baron Zemo. Oh, the indignity.

The British were coming in 2000. In addition to Morrison's debut, 2000 also saw Warren Ellis take control of several of the X-Books, and Garth Ennis start writing the adventures of the Punisher. Additionally, fellow Brit Paul Jenkins' introduced the Sentry, his amnesiac hero from the dawn of the Silver Age.

It also saw the release of Marvel: The Lost Generation, an interesting, misdirected, and fairly futile attempt to bridge the ever-growing gap between the end of World War II and the start of the modern age of superheroes. Presented by Roger Stern and John Byrne, the characters introduced in the book vanished without trace as soon as the last issue of the series hit the stands.

Somewhat more long-lasting was Ultimate Marvel, another new brand, this one existing solely to relaunch the adventures of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and others in a new universe, unbound by all that annoying continuity. In time, these books would become as convoluted as the mainsteam Marvel Universe, but for a while there, new comic fans could dive into comics without needing an encyclopedia.

In other news, 2000 was the year we lost Charles Schultz and gained George Bush Jr. I'm sure there was some good news, but buggered if I can find any.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 1999

By 1999, Natasha Romanova had been around for 35 years, a beloved institution. Never big enough to support her own title for long, the Black Widow was nevertheless a big part of the Marvel Universe, either adventuring with the Avengers, superspying with Nick Fury, or snogging the face off Daredevil. So why exactly anyone thought we needed a replacement, is anyone's guess. In any case, Yelena Belova, younger and blonder than Natasha, showed up in 1999, featured in the occasional mini-series for the next few years, then got blowed up good and proper in the Avengers. There's only room for one Black Widow, luv.

1999 also saw the debut of yet another Spider-Woman. This one was Mattie Franklin, a previously-unmentioned niece of J. Jonah Jameson, with the ability to sprout extra legs and stuff. Not a big hit, Mattie's own book didn't last long, and you don't even want to know what happened to her later.

In the real world, 1999 was the year that George Lucas, against all that is decent, made a new Star Wars film, while ex-KGB man, Vladimir Putin, took over in Russia. The world was becoming a scary place, especially for Star Wars fans.

Friday, 6 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 1998

By 1998, Peter David had been writing the adventures of the Incredible Hulk for over a decade. In that time, the character had gradually evolved, from a character which no-one was really interested in, to one of the company's most complex books, with a main character whose motivations we could never really be sure of, and whose next move we'd rarely be able to guess. The book being a big success, Marvel editorial naturally wanted to tamper. Unfortunately, by 1998, Peter David was nearly as big a success as the Hulk, so when he was asked to alter his plans for the character, restoring the Dumb Savage Hulk who'd been so preeminent before his takeover, he walked off the book. It wouldn't be the last falling out PAD would have with Marvel Editorial, but it would be the biggest, with the Hulk wandering undirected for the next few years.

1998 also saw Marvel experiment again with outsourcing their work, this time to Event Comics, a little company run by an up-and-coming writer / artist called Joe Quesada. Rather than handing over their prime properties to Quesada and co, Marvel instead gave them free reign with some of their second-tier titles: Black Panther, Daredevil, the Inhumans, and the Punisher. The Marvel Knights books, as they were branded, were aimed at an older readership, 15 up, and, other than redefining the Punisher as a fallen angel, didn't miss a beat. In particular, Daredevil's fortunes took an upswing, transforming a character that no-one had known what to do with in years, into a grim and gritty street vigilante, under the authorship of first Kevin Smith, then Brian Michael Bendis. As with every successful idea in comics, the first idea of editorial is that more of what is successful, will automatically be more successful. Which is why pretty much every book this decade has been aimed at older readers. Comics aren't for kids, folks, not anymore.

Or maybe they are. After all, 1998 was also the year in which Spider-Girl gained her own title. Created as a one-off for an issue of What If?, May "Mayday" Parker is the daughter of Spidey and wife former bidey-in, Mary Jane (a daughter never born in the "real" Marvel Universe), and her adventures, provided by Tom DeFalco, have been ongoing ever since, despite numerous well-documented attempts to kill the title off. Let's hear it for the little book that could.

Elsewhere in 1998, Bill Clinton was denying having had relations with "that woman", whilst George Michael was admitting trying to have relations with "the man".

Thursday, 5 November 2009

In The Interest Of Balance

In case anyone feels I was unfair in claiming that my favourite book of the past 12 years was also the most important debut of 1997, here's a quick rundown of the other continuing books which had their debut in that year...

Steve Seagle was tapped to bring back Alpha Flight, a book that had limped along for a decade before being put to sleep in 1994. Mostly a conspiracy book, with Alpha working for the sinister forces of Department H, the book lasted 20 issues before dying off again.

A bit player in the X-Books since the early 90s, Maverick was given his own book, so that those who wanted to read the adventures of a mutant spy with a terminal disease, could do so. Since it lasted all of a dozen issues, I'm guessing Marvel overestimated the popularity of the character.

If T-Bolts was my favourite book of 1997, Heroes For Hire came a close second at times. Obstensibly a reunion for Power Man and Iron Fist, this book, devised by Roger Stern and delivered by John Ostrander, felt at times more like a reboot of the Defenders. The heroes didn't do a lot of work for hire, and there was that rotating team that Defenders fans were so familiar with. Unfortunately, although it was a good concept, it didn't catch on, and was canned after 19 issues.

Never one to let an old idea die, Marvel have resurrected MTU a few times now, but this was the first attempt, itself spinning out of a quarterly Spider-Man Team-Up book. Written by Tom Peyer, who's mostly worked for DC over the years, this was another one which barely made a dozen issues.

Another book from Peyer, Quicksilver featured the mutant speedster in one of his more heroic moments, working for the High Evolutionary and fighting against such foes as Maximus the Mad and Exodus, and was axed after 13 issues, after a team-up with the equally doomed Heroes For Hire.

Having been turfed off Captain America in the Heroes Reborn event, Mark Waid could have had his pick of characters to write. Bizarrely, he chose Ka-Zar, a second-stringer since 1965, and who, despite Waid's best efforts, would remain a second-stringer well after the 20 issues of this title.

Yeah, ok, you got me. They can't all be losers, and by any definition, Deadpool's been a big success, to the extent that, as of 2009, he stars in two ongoing titles, and he's probably the second most overexposed mutant out there. But in 1997, no-one really expected Joe Kelly's stab at an ongoing book for the Merc-With-A-Mouth to make it big. And, to be honest, I'm still astonished at the longevity of what is basically a one-dimensional character. Go figure.

So there you go. Seven books launched in the same year as Thunderbolts, of which one can be classed as a success. T-Bolts doesn't seem so lame now, does it?

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 1997

C'mon now, did you really think I was going to spotlight any other book?

The 90s were not a golden decade for Marvel, but there was the occasional highlight, and none more than the introduction of the Thunderbolts. With apologies for spoilering 12 year old book, Kurt Busiek's concept of having Baron Zemo and the Masters of Evil pose as superheroes in order to take over the world was pretty damn cool. But the idea that, having pulled off the initial deception, some of these long-standing bad guys (Goliath, Screaming Mimi and the Beetle) might decide that they actually quite like the respect that they're receiving, and might decide not to go through with the whole going bad and inevitably getting their heads handed to them element of the scheme, now that was genius.

In a time when there was a noticable decline in the quality of most of Marvel's product, Thunderbolts stood head and shoulders above the rest. For years, the original team trod the line between heroism, opportunism, and villainy, being at times, outlaws, acknowledged heroes and saviours of the world. Then Warren Ellis took over, and the whole concept of wannabe heroes was ditched, in favour of outright villains and psychopaths working for the government in return for a pardon. All well and good, but nothing we hadn't seen twenty years ago in Suicide Squad over at DC.

July '97 was notable for being Marvel's Flashback Month, in which Stan Lee (or a reasonable facsimile) showed up in pretty much every book, in order to introduce a tale from the past of the protagonists of the book: Daredevil's college days, Baron Zemo's childhood, Cable's first time-journey. A novel idea, but pretty much inconsequential in the long term,

1997 also saw Roger Stern and Ron Frenz return to Spider-Man, to give the definitive answer to the question: who is the Hobgoblin? The question had already been answered, a decade previously, but it had been an unsatisfactory conclusion, and Stern took advantage of the new, post-Clone Saga regime to write "his" ending to the mystery he'd started 15 years ago.

New blood was introduced to the X-Men, in the shape of Maggot, Cecelia Reyes and Marrow, all of whom were introduced during the latest X-Crossover, Operation Zero Tolerance. The first new members of the team introduced in nearly a decade, all three proved less than popular, and all three were gone from the team by the end of the millennium.

Outside of comics, New Labour swept to power on the UK in this year. A decade of national mourning was declared, following the ascension of Saint Diana, the People's Princess. And the world gasped at the majestic wonder that was Jim Cameron's Titanic. If any of this seems familiar, then I can only assume you are suffering from deja vu, and not that, for some reason, I looked up 1997 when writing the entry for 1996. Move along, move along.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 1996

1996 was a crunch year for Marvel. While the X-Titles were doing ok, the Spider-Books were embroiled in the seemingly-everlasting Clone Saga, and the Avengers were just emerging from The Crossing, a crossover event which had seen Tony Stark go evil, the Wasp turned into a real giant-size woman-bug, and many readers jumping ship. Captain America, written at the time by Mark Waid, was well-regarded, but nothing spectacular, sales-wise. And the Fantastic Four had been lumbering along under Tom DeFalco's guidance for years. With sales crashing all over as a result of the end of the speculator boom, Marvel wanted to try something radical.

Their answer was Onslaught, an ultra-powerful mutant (with a dark secret) who tried to destroy the world. A couple of months of group-wide crossovers led to a final battle, in which the Avengers and the FF sacrificed themselves to stop Onslaught. The public, seeing their heroes killed, blamed mutantkind, and the X-Men's lives got that little bit more difficult.

But the Avengers and the Fantastic Four weren't dead. Oh no, not at all. Instead, they faced a worse fate: outsourcing! Marvel hired Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, founders of Image Comics, to "reimagine" the two teams, in the Image style. So it was farewell to the classic Marvel style, and hello to this...

It worked, after a fashion. Sales went through the roof, and everyone was talking about Marvel again. And that the the books weren't very good didn't really matter. After a year, the books would revert to being written and drawn in-house, with yet another set of #1 issues. And because each restart was accompanied by a bump in sales, we could henceforth look forward to pretty much every Marvel title restarting every couple of years.

In other comics news, the Clone Saga did eventually finish, at the end of this year, accompanied by the return of Norman Osborn. It says something for how much people were tired of the whole clone thing, that the resurrection of Spidey's most famously dead arch-nemesis seemed like a pretty neat idea. 13 years on, and with Norman appearing in pretty much every comic pretty much every month, it doesn't seem like such a winning plan.

1996 was also the year of Amalgam Comics, in which Marvel and DC Comics collaborated on a shared universe, with characters made up of blends of both companies' heroes and villains.

A novel idea amongst a sea of detritus, Amalgam Comics managed two runs, in '96 and '97, before vanishing without trace.