The comic book industry was flourishing as the two major publishers, Marvel and DC, found themselves challenged by new mainstream publishers. The creator-controlled Image rampaged to the forefront with Spawn, Youngblood, Savage Dragon, Shadowhawk and WildCats. Valiant, led by Jim Shooter, was releasing well-written, well-drawn comics that were rare and skyrocketing in price. Marvel sat securely at the top increasing the number of titles and riding the popularity of Ghost Rider, Hulk, Wolverine and Spiderman. There was a guest appearance in nearly every issue. DC saw its sales dwindling faster than it could regroup – the result: panic, saturation, and then the bottom fell out.
Maybe this sounds extreme to you. Let’s review some facts:
Ghost Rider (and all of the other Sprits of Venegeance titles), Darkhawk, Death’s Head, Moon Knight, New Warriors, spin-offs (especially Adam Warlock), and about a half dozen Spidey and X-titles apiece were all extremely popular. They’re now garage sale fodder.
Marvel increased their revenue by adding the foil, die-cut and hologram covers which raised cover prices. The gaudy foil covered Avengers #360 would set off metal detectors at airports around the world. The evil comic book variant was common place beginning with Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1, Jim Lee’s X-Men #1-and of course, Valiant.
Valiant, praised at the time for not having cheap gimmicks, were in fact, their own worse enemy. There were red and gold variants and the infamous coupon offer. Yep, cut out a coupon from several issues to get a special comic. Sounds great? Guess what, now you’ve created the “with and without” the coupon variant. Loss yet? Valiant is, check the quarter bin at a local comic shop and you might find some old Turok, Bloodshot or Shadow Man issues.
Image was cranking out the comics (remember Wetworks?) but very little has survived. Besides Spawn, only Savage Dragon maintained and that was Erik Larson’s baby. The creators couldn’t stop themselves and the “number ones” were flying off the shelves. People believed that their $2 first issue was going to skyrocket in value.
Then there’s poor DC. While Spawn #1 was hitting newsstands, Shadow of the Bat was ruining a DC icon. The panic stricken DC was losing out to the poly-bagged X-titles and Marvel’s 2099 storyline. So, what happened – they killed Superman. Superman #75 (the black-bagged “Death of Superman”) sent shockwaves through the industry and was even featured on the nightly news. Everybody wanted to “invest” in the issue of Supe’s death. But what do we know – only Bucky stays dead and DC screwed it up.
Subsequently, while awesome comics like Love and Rockets, Eightball, Long Wolf and Cub, Akira, and Taboo were lost in obscurity. Batman’s broken back, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest Image number ones sold vigorously. As the “investors” outnumbered collectors and everybody got ripped off. Valiant fell apart without Jim Shooter and people realized that “The Death of Superman” wasn’t so special once he came back to life. Spider-Man and Wolverine could only make so many guest appearances and Marvel went reeling.
Greed, Marvel’s monopoly, greed, stupid storylines, lame crossovers, greed, Wildstar – and more greed, led to downfall of comics (note that I didn’t even mention Rob Leifield). Sure it wasn’t book burning like the ’50s, but maybe there should have been – I’m certain Avengers #360 is not flammable.
The comic book industry is back on the rise the last couple of years. Marvel has paved the way showcasing their characters with motion pictures. The difference, thus far, is that there hasn’t been the explosion of the ’90s. There are no lists of number ones, no one-shots for every X-character — did we learn from our mistakes? Is everyone still nursing their wounds from the ’90s? Or is it just too early to say? Time will tell.
About the Author
Brandon Jones – Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news for Examiner, starting and writing for several different websites including the diverse blognews site Desk of Brian.
To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON