…that DC really went wrong in the nineties

DC sure had it rough circa 1991/1992.  They really did.  Thanks to Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen and others Marvel and then Image were both doing a bang up job of attracting readers new and old.  The art was flashy, the hype was huge and DC had a hard time keeping up. 

In a world of mutants and cyborgs with huge guns and mysterious pasts DC looked a little old fashioned.1  In the excellent The Comic Book Heroes2 Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones write:

“Len Strazewski and Mike Parobeck had just revived the golden age heroes of Justice Society of America to good sales, but [Mike] Carlin and company said it gave DC a musty look (the line going around the DC offices was that kids were saying, ‘Image is our comics, Marvel is out parents’ comics and DC is our grandparents’ comics’).”

So the perception at least was that DC was behind the times and they did fight back in their own way.  The Death of Superman was rather popular, as was Knightfall where Batman and Bane did a dramatic recreation of the Rocky/Thunderlips fight from Rocky III.  In those cases, though, the core was solid.  The reason that Superman’s death and Batman’s spine snapping worked is that at their heart those stories were exploring what makes those characters work and why they’re special.  What if Superman died and a world that had grown to love and depend on him suddenly had to live without their savior?  What if Bruce Wayne wasn’t Batman?  Is it the costume or is it the man that makes them heroes?

But apparently that wasn’t enough.  Apparently DC felt that they needed to fight these young turks and their old rival variant cover for variant cover.  Death of Superman and Knightfall both had either bagged editions or foil covers or both.  The last chapter of Reign of the Supermen3 and it’s follow up4 had serious foil cover action in addition to newsstand editions.  Batman#5005 also had a foil laden variant cover.

Again, at least these variant covers made sense.  Both of those stories were big deals and the extra covers were kind of fun and not overly gratuitous.

Then there was Hawkman (Vol. 3) #16.  That was a different animal.

Hawkman is very much the red-headed stepchild of the Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DCU.  His 1986 series only lasted seventeen issues and then when he gets his big Man of Steel/Batman: Year One revamp it completely reboots the character to the point where his first appearance was moved to the then present, which confused the hell out of everyone.  I don’t have the quote in front of me but I think it was Mark Waid that said that all of the problems that were caused by Hawkworld7 could have been solved with the words, “Ten years ago,” placed on the first page of the first issue.  From what I have read8, though, this wasn’t the original intention of the series and the present day first appearance thing was done later, but still.  It was a bad call, Ripley.  A bad call.

I think it is safe to write that fans were left scratching their heads trying to figure out how this “all-new, all different” jibed with the one from the Justice League and Silver Age.  DC continuity was extremely fluid at the time anyway, but this series contradicted events that occured after the Crisis, so yeah.  WTF, right?  They tried to straighten that out with a ret-con  that revealed the JLA Satellite era Hawkman was  the Golden Age version that had come out of retirement to show the new kids how this hero thing is done9, but that wasn’t very satisfying.  Hawkworld ran for thirty-two issues before being cancelled and a new Hawkman #1 hitting the shelves.

And this is where DC crossed a line.  I am not saying it was an evil thing to do and saying, “They crossed a line,” sounds like the company did something immoral, which isn’t true.  Be that as it may there seemed to be no real reason for Hawkman #1 to get a gold foil cover.  What was the point? 

So that it would stand out on the shelf? 


You know, now that I think about it that makes sense.  I mean in a world gone mad where Spawn, X-Men and Youngblood are the books kids are buying you have to do something to compete and frankly as much as I like Hawkman I never really saw him as the type of character that should have his own title.10  So maybe this cover wasn’t an attempt to highlight a special event.  Maybe it was designed to grab a potential reader’s attention and in 1993 that wasn’t the easiest things to do.  The speculators were still buying up multiple copies of comics in the hopes of making hundreds of thousands of dollars later.  Comic fans were still buying multiple copies of comics in the hopes of funding college funds and because of this the comic publishers were flooding the market with new titles and new number ones and flashy, tricked out covers just to try and out do the other guy.

In the end I think DC was just trying to stay vital and relevant and the best way to infuse life into an old character is with a new number one with a gold foil cover featuring a the previously mentioned older character that looks dark, dangerous and is carrying some sort of weapon.

Hawkman#1 pulled the trifecta.

And man it looks silly.  It looked silly then too.  I remember going into this sporting good store in the Lehigh Valley Mall that started selling a select number of titles11 and Hawkman #1 was on the wall every time I went in there.

Every.  Single.  Time.

And things just got sillier from there.  As much as I love DC and will defend the product they put out in the early part of the nineties they did release some goofy variant covers.  My favorite had to be the Colorforms cover that graced  both Superman: The Man of Steel #3012 and the Worlds Collide special that was part of the Worlds Collide crossover that went on between the Superman books and the Milestone line of comics.  Sure there was something cool about being able to design a cover yourself, but still.  When DC did stuff like this it felt like when your Dad grew his hair long and tried to use contemporary slang.  Sure it can happen, but it feels forced and you’re kind of embarassed by the whole thing.

Oh well.  Life went on.  I’d like to say that things have changed, but with the plethora of variant covers coming out these days I can’t really say that they have.

And in all honesty the cover is neat.  The scan above doesn’t really do it justice because my scanner isn’t all that good, but there it is for all the world to see.

More to follow…

  1. I didn’t feel that way, but then again I was a DC guy so I was also a little biased.
  2. This was actually a revision/update/rewrite of The Comic Book Heroes that Crown Pulblishing released in 1985.  Between 1985 and the Prima Publishing volume, which was released in 1997, Jacobs and Jones had become comics professionals and if you ever want to read an off-beat take on Green Lantern track down Green Lantern: Mosaic, written by Gerard Jones.  It is an excellent series and will rock your socks as the kids say these days.
  3. Superman (Vol. 2) #82, October 1993.
  4. Adventures of Superman # 505, October 1993.
  5. Also October 1993.  What was with August of 1993?  Superman comes back while a new man assumes the mantle of the Bat officially.  Weird that it all synched up like that.
  6. September 1993.
  7. Which was an excellent series, by the way.  I am not in any way insulting that book or Hawkworld, which followed it.
  8. Over at the Hawkworld DCU Guide, where Tim Truman, the writer and artist of the mini-series that kicked all of this off, is interviewed.  You can read that article here.
  9. Hawkworld Annual #1, 1990.
  10. Unless Geoff Johns is writing him, in which case that thing should run a hundred issues as long as Johns sticks with the book.
  11. Read; they carried Image books, X-books, the Spider-Man titles, and both the Superman and Batman titles, which was a very common practice.  When the sporting cards market imploded these people had to find something to sell and all they ended up doing was joining the madcap dash to collapse the comic book market.  I am a firm believer that much like the Comics Code in the fifties you can’t point at one cause of the comics market crash of the mid-nineties.  It wasn’t just the speculators, but it was the speculators and the fans and the publishers and the retailers all coming together to mess things up just like it was Dr. Werthem, the mothers of America and the publishers that came together to the formation of the Comics Code.
  12. February 1994.
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  1. Great topic for discussion!

    I’d say DC was already starting to lose it in 1991 with the “Armageddon 2001” annuals. They were really grasping for a crossover and that spun out WAY too many mini-series. And then was the Eclipso annuals the next year with the gem glued to the front. Big gimmick.

    In regard to the Hawkman confusion, don’t forget about Fel Andar. He was retconned during “Hawkworld” to be the Hawkman of the JLA from “Crisis on Infinite Earths” through “Hawkworld”. And there was his brainwashed wife who believed she was Hawkwoman too.

    All this was done simply to explain a few appearances of Hawkman after “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and before his reboot. Crazy

    The Irredeemable Shag

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