Watershed Years in Comics: 1986 vs. 1987

I've been reading TwoMorrows' American Comic Book Chronicles - The 1980s, and seeing a time line all laid out like that put this particular reflection in this 80s comics reader's head...
There can be no doubt that 1986 was a creative game changer for comics, perhaps unlike any year that had come before. The Golden and Silver Ages, while incredibly important and influential, weren't born inside of a single year. But one might say the "Modern Age" kind of was. And that year was 1986.

It's the year Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons produced Watchmen. The year Frank Miller came out with Daredevil: Born Again, Elektra: Assassin AND The Dark Knight Returns. When Art Spiegelman completed the first volume of Maus, becoming the second comic to win a prestigious award usually only given to books. When Marvel beat Oliver Stone to the punch with The 'Nam. And when Harvey Pekar made his first appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. Comics as ART were well on their way.

In the mainstream, it's the first year after Crisis on Infinite Earths has wrapped, and the DCU is rich with new story telling opportunities. John Byrne leaves Marvel for the Distinguished Competition and completely reboots Superman in the Man of Steel mini-series. On the other side of the street, Jim Shooter finally allowed the X-Men to become a brand, with the addition of Classic X-Men, X-Factor, and mutant-driven crossover events like Mutant Massacre. That, and the success of the Punisher mini-series, set the tone for a lot of comics to come.
But even if I respect 1986 for changing the game, I much prefer 1987, which showed what creators DID with their new playground.

At DC, we had Batman Year One (a much better Frank Miller story than DKR, in my opinion), Superman's actual titles starting, George Perez rebooting Wonder Woman, Wally West becoming the Flash, Keith Giffen's comedy Justice League, Denny O'Neil on the Question, and most importantly, John Ostrander on Suicide Squad. That still stands as one of my favorite comic book series OF ALL TIME.

Marvel published a lot of fondly remembered stories as well: Spider-Man's wedding, Kraven's Last Hunt, Armor Wars, Avengers' Under Siege, Captain America becomes the Captain, and Peter David's gray Hulk returns. I'd started reading Marvel books with Uncanny X-Men and took a while to migrate to other books, especially those of solo heroes, but I started sampling more and more that year, at exactly the right time. A time of exciting change, before such things became the formula.

On the independent front, 1987 is when Marshall Law came to Epic, Dark Horse Comics was born (a company that would give me a lot of joy in the early 90s), and Paul Chadwick's Concrete premiered.

So what do you think? '86 or '87? Or perhaps there's a year in comics that's particularly dear to YOU. You're invited to share.

16 comments:

Jim Shelley said...

87 or 86? While like you I recognize the historical significance of 86, I gotta say I enjoyed more of the 87 comics.

Anonymous said...

Complicated. Over at DC, I really hate most of their decisions in the 1980s; they were in the grip of Marvel Envy more than anything, without realizing why DC can't ever really be Marvel. A lot of people may have loved bwah-ha-ha Justice League or Blue Devil; I am not among them. And as groundbreaking as "Watchmen" was, it also went a long way to ruining comics, by setting some sort of standard that dragging heroes through the mud is "adult".

Over at Marvel, ironically, the Justice League was in remarkable form by way of Mark Gruenwald's "Squadron Supreme" miniseries. It did deconstruction right, I feel, by showing the heroes still being committed to their ideals (with one or two brief exceptions) and yet making the world a worse place with their grand efforts. May nobody consider it a spoiler that, in the end, the heroes realized they were inadvertently preparing the world for tyranny, and so they quickly and voluntarily abandoned their plans. Why? If you need to ask why, you don't get heroes.

I gotta go with 86, since nobody but me ever gives "Squadron Supreme" its due. Also, 1987 was probably the year Denny O'Neil was giving Alan Moore his three-word go-ahead to wreck Barbara Gordon, in a move I consider as offensive as Captain Marvel's old sidekick Steamboat.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, it was Len Wein who gave that three-word go-ahead. As far as I know, Denny O'Neil was not given to breaking woman characters for laughs.

Siskoid said...

Alan Moore did a lot of damage to superhero comics, didn't he?

Anonymous said...

I guess it's not his fault that people saw him as an example to follow, but his books do have a rapey streak that I could do without.

Perhaps we can have the equivalent of a Superboy Punch, where Alan Moore's childhood hero, Herbie, goes through every comic ever written and bops people with his lollipop what deserve it.

Siskoid said...

Do I smell a double standard? It's not Alan Moore's fault, but Len Wein gets a lynching?

Siskoid said...

And I've read Moore's statement that Wein used misogynist language in the 3-word call you refer to, but I'm not aware of Wein ever admitting to that exact language.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I see the double-standard. I do not like Alan Moore writing rapey stories. I do not like Len Wein allegedly giving Alan Moore the go-ahead to do a rapey thing. The only person I'm letting off the hook here is Denny O'Neil because I incorrectly named him at first and I should set the record straight.

(Denny O'Neil did strip Wonder Woman of her powers in the early 1970s, but his intention was to show that supernaturally-bestowed powers don't define a heroine, it's her guts and her skill that count. Only problem was, Denny O'Neil was no Joss Whedon; Denny never really got good at writing a Wonder Woman who was indomitable through and through. But his intentions were respectable.)

Siskoid said...

Simply reacting to "I guess it's not his fault..."

But yeah, I like the white pantsuit Wonder Woman in CONCEPT a lot more than in execution too.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I meant that Alan Moore has no control over whether people follow in his footsteps. He is fully to blame for his own rapey storytelling tendencies.

Originally, Wonder Woman's powers were all a matter of Amazon training; that's how things rolled on Earth-Two. But Earth-Two Wonder Woman eventually showed the powers of the gods, so I think some divine intervention got retconned in.

Jeff R. said...

1984. The Baxter Legion and Titans, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Alan Moore starts writing Swamp Thing, Mage: The Hero Discovered, Cerebus Chruch and State just starting, Zot!, and the birth of the direct market in general.

Siskoid said...

That IS a big one. I can't disagree.

LiamKav said...

Peter David's Grey Hulk was what made me a comic fan. Granted, I was reading it in the mid-90s, but still...

I'd also say that however distasteful "The Killing Joke" was regarding Babs (and yeah, she is used purely as a motivator for the men in the comic), we did get Oracle out of it. I still can't decide if rebooting her back to Batgirl is ultimately a good or bad thing...

LiamKav said...

And regarding DKR vs Year One, there's a point made by someone (I think Chris Sims) where people put them the wrong way around. It's not a beginning and an ending. It's an ending and a beginning. Putting them in year order shows how they are meant to be read. DKR is the end of the "old" Batman, and Year One is the beginning of the "new" post-Crisis Batman.

Siskoid said...

I like Babs either way. But since I liked Stephanie in the role, the best of both worlds would be the Oracle/Steph Batgirl paradigm.

Which is back in the Convergence event out today. And Oracle is BAD-ASS.

Anonymous said...

I would not mind if Babs decided to return to Oracling just because that's how she's best used. If she is also to be returned to a wheelchair, then at least let it be through a badass heroic action. The image I have in my head is the Joker smashing her lower back with a hammer, but still she crawls on and saves the day, maybe even stops the Joker with a batarang or a grappling hook. Hell, let her beat the Joker more definitively than even Batman typically does.

The question is whether the wheelchair is an essential part of the Oracle concept. I think it is; I think part of the Oracle vibe is that you can't keep Barbara Gordon down. I don't like coming to that conclusion -- it means I am wishing ill upon a character who, if Grant Morrison is to be trusted, is a real person somewhere -- but I can't deny that Oracle minus a wheelchair feels like just another generic "mission control" character. (Gordie-Two?)

 

Blog Archive

Category

5 Things to Like Activities Advice Alien Nation Aliens Say the Darndest Things Alpha Flight Amalgam Ambush Bug Animal Man anime Aquaman Archetypes Archie Heroes Arrowed Asterix Atom Avengers Awards Babylon 5 Batman Battle Shovel Battlestar Galactica Black Canary BnB 2-in1 Books Booster Gold Buffy Canada Captain America Captain Marvel Cat CCGs Charlton Circles of Hell Comics Comics Code Approved Conan Contest Cooking Crisis Daredevil Dating Kara Zor-El Dating Lois Lane Dating Lucy Lane Dating Princess Diana DCAU Deadman Dial H Dice Dinosaur Island Dinosaurs Director Profiles Doctor Who Doom Patrol Down the Rabbit Hole Dr. Strange Encyclopedia Fantastic Four Fashion Nightmares Fiasco Films Within Films Flash Flushpoint Foldees French Friday Night Fights Fun with Covers Galleries Game design Gaming Geekly roundup Geeks Anonymous Geekwear Gimme That Star Trek Godzilla Golden Age Grant Morrison Great Match-Ups of Science Fiction Green Arrow Green Lantern Hawkman Hero Points Podcast Holidays House of Mystery Hulk Human Target Improv Inspiration Intersect Invasion Invasion Podcast Iron Man Jack Kirby Jimmy Olsen JLA JSA Judge Dredd K9 the Series Kirby Motivationals Krypto Kung Fu Learning to Fly Legion Letters pages Liveblog Lonely Hearts Podcast Lord of the Rings Machine Man Motivationals Man-Thing Marquee Masters of the Universe Memes Memorable Moments Metal Men Metamorpho Micronauts Millennium Mini-Comics Monday Morning Macking Movies Mr. Terrific Music Nelvana of the Northern Lights Nightmare Fuel Number Ones Obituaries oHOTmu OR NOT? Old52 One Panel Outsiders Panels from Sheena Paper Dolls Play Podcast Polls Questionable Fridays Radio Rants Reaganocomics Recollected Red Bee Red Tornado Reign Retro-Comics Reviews Rom RPGs Sandman Sapphire & Steel Sarah Jane Adventures Saturday Morning Cartoons SBG for Girls Seasons of DWAITAS Secret Origins Podcast Secret Wars SF Silver Age Siskoid as Editor Siskoid's Mailbox Space 1999 Spectre Spider-Man Spring Cleaning ST non-fiction ST novels: DS9 ST novels: S.C.E. ST novels: The Shat ST novels: TNG ST novels: TOS Star Trek Suicide Squad Supergirl Superman Supershill Swamp Thing Tales from Earth-Prime Team Horrible Teen Titans That Franchise I Never Talk About The Prisoner The Thing Then and Now Theory Thor Thursdays of Two Worlds Time Capsule Timeslip Tintin Torchwood Tourist Traps of the Forgotten Realms Toys Turnarounds TV V Waking Life Warehouse 13 Websites What If? Who's This? Whoniverse-B Wikileaked Wonder Woman X-Files X-Men Zine