The first panel of my little memoir comic “Bullies” presents an array of comics characters that I was into when I first started reading comics. I still have almost all of these comics (except from the one second from the right, Thunder Mace). So I thought I’d show some of the covers in a little tribute to the comics that got me into the medium.
I’ll move through the lineup from left to right.
I was really into many of the books published by the Canadian publisher Aircel. Warlock 5 was one of their titles. I’m not sure I ever fully understood what was going on in Warlock 5. I don’t know if that was the writing or because I was fourteen when I read it. But basically, five powerful entities from five different dimensions come together and fight each other. The art was black and white, but done in very lush airbrush. It was really the visuals that carried the book, both deep tonal artwork and the character design.
To me, The Last Generation is a symbolic comic of the black-and-white boom, more so than The Teenage Ninja Turtles. While the Turtles received mainstream success, most black-and-white books of the eighties were ambitious efforts that came and went, usually disappearing before the creators ever got a chance to really explain what was going on. There were plenty of books from this time that were underwhelming and obviously written only to try to make money. But there were many that were earnest efforts. The Last Generation was obviously a labor of love.
As I recall, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. Most of the characters are humanoid animals, like the ones on the cover above. But there is also a white-haired armored man who is somehow tied in with Egyptian mythology. Every character has an elaborate back story and much of the comic deals with competing world and religious views. The bear character above is a shaman trying to walk the path of peace, but constantly being tempted to be a warrior. In issue three, they set free a human from the past, someone who protested nuclear proliferation and has to deal with the fact that all his activism failed. But as all the back stories ratcheted up and the complexities deepened, the series ended with issue five. It was meant to be eighteen issues.
I loved, loved, loved Dragon Ring. The book just captured my imagination completely when I was a young teen. I did a whole Mullins Library video about the series if you want to learn more.
Alien Legion is my comics starting point. Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil may be the first comic I bought, but the first series I got into that made me keep going back to the comic book store was Alien Legion. I wrote about it in my post about my comics reading history. Alien Legion was published by Marvel through its Epic Comics line. I read a lot of the comics in Marvel’s Epic Comics line and in retrospect I can credit this imprint with getting me into comics. Of course, like everything else here so far, the Epic Comics line folded.
From Eagle Comics in Britain, the publishers of Judge Dredd, came this very eighties sci-fi comic, Strontium Dog. I found Judge Dredd to be emotionless and boring as a character and Johnny Alpha, the main character in this comic, was no different. But I loved the world of militant mutants fighting for their rights under a Thatcher/Hitler regime that this comic presented. The mutants were not the cool super-powered ones of the X-men. They were deformed and their mutations often didn’t give them any powers. I also really liked Carlos Ezquerra’s art with his dense hatchwork and crazy character designs.
Next up should be Thunder Mace, but I think I got rid of my issues of that comic years ago. The book wasn’t that great. But because of that, it was one of those eighties black-and-white books that convinced me that I could make comics, too.
Unlike the other comics here, this series was actually completed, if a little abruptly. Maybe to compete with Marvel’s Epic Comics line, DC got into sci-fi comics for while (keep in mind that this is years before the Vertigo imprint). Electric Warrior lasted eighteen issues and presented a future world with separate classes, whose class lines were enforced by the Electric Warriors. One of these warriors develops a conscience and goes rogue. He later somehow becomes combined with a human and they become a new entity. I’m forgetting the details, but it was a fun comic. Though I remember it had a dumb twist ending.
As you can see, what drew me to comics were these imaginative sci-fi and fantasy books. Yet none of them lasted. What did remain were the superhero titles, a genre I had no interest in. It is a weird fact of comics, and the business of publishing them, that superheroes were so lionized at the expense of any and every other genre. But maybe superheroes get the last laugh since now they have taken over the film industry. But I find it funny that not only did I grow to love a medium that most people cared nothing for, comics, I was drawn to books that even the little world of comics paid little attention to. I was an outsider for liking comics. And I was an outsider in comics for not being into superheroes. But in the end, that doesn’t matter. All that matters are the books.