I was in third grade when I first heard about Spawn. On the bus ride to elementary school, my friends and I would always take some action figures, comic books, trading cards or something to entertain ourselves. But who were we kidding, we were really trying to show off. I would take my comic books thinking, “My friends will be totally impressed by this!” Back then, all it took to impress us was a flashy cover, and a cool looking hero. My Night Thrasher #1 was pretty impressive by those standards. However, the one that really captured us was my friend’s Spawn #1. He was a dark and mysterious hero, with incredible power, searching for revenge on those who ruined his life… and he used swear words. To a third-grader, it does not get much cooler than that.
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Back in 2000 there was a cool, clear logic to the Marvel Universe. Or at least to the Marvel Universes. There was the regular universe, the universe of “Earth-616”, a longstanding reality in Marvel’s Multiverse. This world housed all the characters that featured so prominently over Marvel’s thitherto 40 years of publications. There was the Mangaverse, its own distinction from the regular universe was clear. The Mangaverse was a place to re-encounter old favorites, this time their origins, histories and motivations interpreted through the cultural lens of manga.
Then there was the Ultimate Universe.
In this week’s Iconographies Shawn O’Rourke continues his series of features on Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s Lone Wolf and Cub. This installment offers a deeper appreciation of the 28 volume story cycle as an example of the epic genre in literature. Drawing on the work of such literary scholars as Timothy B. Shutt and Raymond Queneau, O’Rourke illustrates how the grim depiction of a masterless samurai wandering the land in search of revenge, redeems not only the samurai code of honor, but the medium of comics as well.
The first story in the first issue of Crime SuspenStories presents an interesting case of a tale that reverberates back and forth through the last half of the twentieth century.
First published in October 1950 by the notorious EC Comics, Crime SuspenStories #1 opens with “Murder May Boomerang,” drawn and most likely written by the legendary Johnny Craig. In the 2007 EC Archives edition, author Max Allan Collins notes that “Murder” was probably inspired by the short story “Revenge,” by Samuel Blas, which had appeared in a 1947 issue of Collier’s magazine.
In Blas’s story, a husband seeks to avenge his wife’s rape, while in the EC Comics version, a son is driven to murder after his father is brutally attacked. In both stories, the crime that sets off the quest for vengeance is random, the victim beloved by someone, and the bleak, ambiguous “moral” seems to be that every act of violence haunts the victim and perpetrator forever; one brutal act can never erase a previous one.
Looking back on it now, Hero Illustrated No. 3, cover-dated September 1993 is simply a treasure-trove of ‘90s memorabilia. The issue’s gate-fold cover is graced with artwork by Marc Silvestri and Brandon Peterson from their collaboration on the back then still hot-off-the-presses Codename: Stryke Force for publishing house Image. It was this decision of cover-art that makes a powerful statement about the publication and its role in the industry.
Once the magazine is opened, a Return of Superman ad appears on the facing page, warning readers that Superman really has returned from the dead. The long year of having been beaten brutally to death at the hands of Doomsday and the subsequent “Reign of the Supermen” event (wherein imposters and supporters alike attempted to fill the void of the missing Superman) is now finally at an end. Just inside the gate-fold itself, is an ad for Batman #500. this ad shows nothing but replacement Batman Jean Paul Valley, replete in his Dark Knight armor. The claws look genuinely menacing, but strangely not out of place in the more violent setting of ‘90s superhero kitsch.