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.
Hero Illustrated, published by Warrior Magazines and distributed by Warner Publishing and Sendai Direct, was meant to stand as an alternative to the (back then and still today) immensely popular industry journal Wizard. Issue 3 at least, shows that Hero Illustrated had both the journalistic chops to get access to industry icons, and kind of enthusiasm that arose from being fans. While Wizard of the day was very much the respected source for news and commentary, Hero Illustrated seemed to burst with exuberance.
The focus of the September ’93 issue is the rise of Image, the breakaway publisher founded by Todd McFarlane and other critically-acclaimed artists. The founding of Image would table creator rights in an industry that was sorely in need of defining these. With a Spotlight feature on Image co-founder Marc Silvestri, a news spread on goings-on inside the publisher and Todd McFarlane himself heading the publications Top 100 of 1993, Image is more than a company worth a few column inches. Readers get the sense that Hero Illustrated staff are openly rooting for the New Kid on the Block.
Read in the early days of 2010, Hero Illustrated No.3 is a stark reminder of the emotional breakthrough that Image represented. Creator rights became easily sublimated into the general maturation of comics fans in the ’90s. The rights of creators to ownership of the intellectual properties their created, as well as a fair asking price for their books makes the ’90s appear as a kind of comics culture halcyon.