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Comics 411: Favorite Comic Books from the ’90s

November 30, 2022 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Kingdom Come - Mark Waid Image Credit: DC Comics

Welcome back! I’m Steve Gustafson and if you enjoy discussing anything comic book related, you’ve come to the right place. Each week we cover something in the industry and I always enjoy your input in the comment section below.

Previously on…

Last time we discussed the Best Heroes Who’ve Been Captain America. Here’s what some of you had to say:

Earpaniac: “I really like US Agent when we was w/the West Coast Avengers, when he had the “energy shield”. I remember back when the 3 almost “immutable rules” where Bucky, Uncle Ben, and Jason Todd must stay dead. Kind of glad it changed, as I like Bucky and Red Hood is probably my favorite Bat-family member.”

Jake Fury – Gigi’s Toy Boy: “Man, I loved Sam as Cap.”

Ryan: “Bucky as Cap always made the most sense, since he was his sidekick before they presumed Barnes to be “dead” erstwhile he was just captured and turned into The Winter Soldier. He definitely deserved a longer, more precise run as Cap, but is my favorite non-Rogers Cap.

Sam would be second, if only because he brings a more cutting edge personality and attitude to the character. He was already established in the cannon as Falcon (whether for good or bad…) and made a seamless transition over to being Cap.

And getting third place from me is Walker. As you mentioned, Steve, Walker was definitely/arguably the most sadistic and hardcore Cap of them all, and instead of having him killed off forever (or put in jail/prison for HIS crimes) they instead transitioned him to being US Agent when Rogers took the mantle back.”

Benjamin Kellog: “He technically never became a Cap proper, but I feel it necessary to mention James Rogers, the wielder of the star-spangled hard-light hologram shield in “Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow,” one of the best and most underrated animated Marvel movies. The son of Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff in that film’s universe, he capably led the wild pack of offspring through Ultron’s apocalyptic wasteland. Not to mention looked pretty darn cool with said shield and a jacket/pants combo that I wish had been adopted in some form by other Caps. I wish the film had gotten a sequel, or the team have more than just a couple of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos in the comics. At any rate, James certainly made the holo-shield look way cooler than his dad did in the late ’90s.”

Madness74: “Have to go with Bucky. Those stories were so good and I am not even a big Cap fan. Never enjoyed Sam as Cap. Just not a fan of Falcon in general for some reason.”

Too many great comments to list! Thank you to everyone who commented last week!

This week we discuss our…

Favorite Comic Books from the 90s

For some of you, the 90s were before your time. To the rest of us, the 90s was an interesting…and dark time to be a fan. Sure, sales were booming, Wizard magazine was riding high, and it was all good fun. Until you factor in the endless parade of variant, hologram, and foil covers that littered the racks. Plus, with so many gimmick events going around, stores were filled with casual fans with the “collector mentality”. Thanks to a lot of hype, comic covers and stories were filled with big superheroes with guns and big pouches. Women were drawn in the most unrealistic portrayal ever and everything popular had to be…EXTREME!

And it all came crashing down.

But that’s a story for another time. It wasn’t all bad in the 90s. We had Alex Ross, for example. Alex’s artwork can be described as painted realism but it’s so much more than that. He opens the curtain and gives us a believable look at what our favorite heroes (and villains) would look like if we were in the room with them. Alex teamed up with Kurt Busiek’s for Marvels, a fun, engrossing, and personal journey through the history of the Marvel universe. I flipped through it the other day and it still draws you in and you can’t help but marvel at its simple complexity. Ross also teamed up with Mark Waid for DC’s Kingdom Come. While Marvels celebrated Marvel’s past, Kingdom Come took a look at DC’s dark apocalyptic future. The story is heavy on religious allegory but it takes pleasure in revealing on what happens to the heroes and villains that we’re familiar with and introduces us to a new cast of characters.

Alan Moore has achieved near iconic status in the industry and while some of his interviews delve into incomprehensible diatribes, we’ll always have The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The League was a crazy “what if” style book that looked at what would happen if some of the greatest figures of fiction teamed up. Some of the easter eggs went over my head (at the time) but you read it and felt like you were reading something important.

Image gets a lot of flack when it comes to the 90s but we have to acknowledge the impact it had on the industry as a whole. The great Marvel exodus included eight of the biggest artists at the time: Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino, Whilce Portacio, and Chris Claremont. While Image took some hits and received some bad press for missed deadlines and gimmick covers, you can’t deny their pushing the fight for rights forward. Characters like Spawn and Savage Dragon still thrive today. And Astro City still continues to shine with some of the most solid storytelling out there.

On the other hand, I was a big fan of Valiant in the 90s. While they had a certain “house style” when it came to art, the stories were solid and different from the usual fare. Harbinger, X-O Manowar, Rai, and Shadowman, the crossover event called Unity, and then Eternal Warrior and Archer & Armstrong. Yes, Valiant pioneered a number of marketing innovations, such as the issue zero “origin” issues, the gold logo program, coupons redeemable for original comic books, and chromium covers, and they became a victim of the comic book bust. That and some questionable ownership deals.

The name Malibu may not mean much to some but in the early 90s it caught some attention with its Ultraverse line of comics. Ultraforce, Night Man, Exiles, Prime, and a number of other titles presented some fun stories and artwork. Malibu was a casualty of the market being overloaded but I always felt it was vastly underrated and a number of books could survive today. Marvel acquired Malibu in 1994 and promptly did next to nothing with it. While rumors of bring the a book or two back have surfaced over the years, it doesn’t look like anything will happen anytime soon. And that makes me sad.

When it came to the independent scene, two books stood out as well. Sin City and Hellboy. While Frank Miller’s best work may be behind him, Sin City was a gritty film noir style book that took the reader on a journey like none other. On the flip side, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy still remains one of my favorite books of all time thanks to it’s use of legend, layered characters, and artwork that stuck with you.

With Milestone Comics’ return, we have to remember it was founded in 1993 by a coalition of African-American artists and writers, consisting of Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle. Its first batch of titles: Hardware, Icon, Blood Syndicate, and Static caught the attention of fans and it’s still talked about fondly today.

DC gave us some of the best Vertigo books ever in the 90s. Preacher, Hellblazer, Animal Man, and, perhaps the best of all, Sandman, and so many more. It was a good bet that if you picked up a Vertigo title during this time, you would get your money’s worth. While not Vertigo, James Robinson’s run on Starman is still one of the best reads you can give yourself.

On the other hand, Marvel gave us one of the best crossover event series ever with Infinity Gauntlet, a book so important that decades later a couple of movies used it as a blueprint and made quite a bit of money for Marvel. The 90s also gave the X-Men family of books perhaps their greatest popularity.

There was plenty to enjoy, if you knew where to look. What do you think of the 90s? What was your favorite title?

That’s all the time I have. See you next week!