Hello. My name is Field, Lyle Field.
The beginning of 1991 saw the Congress of the United States of America (USA) passing a resolution authorizing the use of military force to liberate Kuwait from Iraq. Dubbed Operation: Desert Storm, this mission was (more or less) successful and also became a template of sorts to Marvel Comics Avengers Crossover Event—Operation: Galactic Storm at the beginning of 1992. The year ended with Mikhail Gorbachev resigning as President of the Soviet Union and shortly after the Soviet Union would dissolve.
In Part 1 of my focus of 1991 in the comic book industry I focused on Marvel’s peak thanks to their Mutant Genesis but ultimately made way for the mass X-Odus at the end of the year. In part two, I will focus highlights of other publishers starting with DC Comics.
DC Comics was into its fifth year of its Post-Crisis on the Infinite Earths incarnation of characters and for the most part, their titles had stagnated. Even the powerhouse Batman titles (which were riding the wave from the 1989 Batman movie) had shown a levelling off except for anything to do with Tim Drake aka Robin (which continued to spark interest and sales). Even the 600th appearance of Batman, seen in Detective Comics #627 did not generate further interest in the Dark Knight.
DC’s biggest event in 1991 was Armageddon 2001. Taking a page from similar themes from Marvel (specifically 1988’s Evolutionary War and 1989’s Atlantis Attacks), DC Comics conceived a time spanning tale that took place in 12 DC Annuals and 2 book end specials. Armageddon 2001 bookend specials was conceived by writers Archie Goodwin and Denny O’Neil with art by Dan Jurgens and Art Thibert. It featured the birth of the time traveling hero, Waverider, who originally came from the dystopian future of 2030 where a super-hero turned traitor & became the sinister imperialist overlord Monarch. Waverider would travel back to 1991 and examine various heroes potential futures to find out who will be Monarch, however each potential future for the hero would be altered or eradicated.
Each annual was entertaining and generated significant sales while I was working at a comics store, especially to the lower tier titles at the time. However, DC Comics screwed the pooch as to the identity of Monarch. It was originally intended that Captain Atom was going to be the Monarch, however that changed due to a leak by someone at DC Comics to fans plus the fact that several DC Comics were being cancelled at the same time as Armageddon 2001 #2 arrived in August, including Captain Atom and Hawk/Dove, where it narrowed down who Monarch would become. DC had to change the plot at the last-minute with Hawk (Hank Hall) being Monarch rather than Captain Atom. For me the revelation that Hank Hall was Monarch rather than Captain Atom was a disappointment. Nevertheless it was successful.
Since Armageddon 2001, DC did two lacklustre spinoffs. Armageddon: The Alien Agenda which followed Captain Atom and Monarch attempting to return to the 20th Century while preventing aliens from conquering Earth at the beginning of human civilization. In early 1992, Armageddon: Inferno was the last spin-off and proved to be even less successful, however it did see the return of the Justice Society of America after being in limbo since 1986. DC followed Annual Event formula with Eclipso: The Darkness Within in 1992 and Bloodlines in 1993.
The other DC event was War of the Gods written by George Perez and would be his swan song in the pages of Wonder Woman, where he concluded may of the story arcs and plotlines that had been dangling since 1986. Unlike Armageddon 2001, the sales to War of the Gods was pretty bad and plagued with delays that DC made the 4-issue series returnable. The tie-ins to the event were difficult to order and to follow. The gimmick of providing alternate covers (where one had posters of different DC characters by Chris Sprouse) was probably done to compete with X-Force #1 and X-Men #1 to no avail. Perez’s story was good, but was overshadowed by other events in the comic book industry in 1991. Perez would leave DC doing a variety of projects for Marvel Comics until the end of the decade.
Other highlight events from DC Comics in 1991 include:
- Superman: Man of Steel #1 debuted in May 1991 joining Superman, Adventures of Superman and Action Comics for a weekly dose of Superman. It was also the year that triangle numbers were used that indicated the order of reading that continued for a decade.
- Deathstroke the Terminator #1 debuted in June 1991 by co-creator Marv Wolfman that takes place after the Titans Hunt (which was still continuing in the pages of the New Titans). Personally I have found the 1991 version of Deathstroke stories to be far superior and more Bourne Identity like than the New 52 version of Deathstroke (although I did enjoy what Deathstoke said in #3—“Friends Die, Family Disappoints, But A Legacy Is Forever”). Mike Zeck (famous for his work on Marvel’s Captain America, Secret Wars and the Punisher) drew the covers and I met the cover artist when he did a signing in June 1992.
- Joe Quesada’s artwork makes his debut in the six-issue The Ray mini-series in December 1991. Within a decade, he would be the Editor-In-Chief (and still is) of Marvel Comics.
Star Wars was starting to make a resurgence when Dark Horse Comics successfully won the licensing rights to publishing Star Wars themed comic books starting with Star Wars: Dark Empire (by Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy), which takes place after Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi. Dark Horse continues to publish Star Wars oriented to this day with new fresh takes on the characters from the original Star Wars trilogy. The acquisition of the Star Wars license defined Dark Horse’s success.
Valiant Comics made their debut in 1991 with the relaunch of Gold Key characters: Solar: Man of the Atom and Magnus: Robot Fighter. Former steadfast Marvel Comics creators from the 80s, Jim Shooter (Editior-in-Chief of Marvel in the 80s), Barry Windsor-Smith (fresh from his Weapon X serial in Marvel Comics Presents) and Bob Layton (known for his art and writing on Iron Man and Hercules in the 80s) served as the creative control helm and helped launched original titles into the Valiant Universe: Harbinger, X-O Manowar and Rai. Further, Valiant also started the whole zero issue craze in 1991 that stood for origin issues of Valiant characters.
What was particular interesting towards the end of 1991 was the fact Marvel Comics attempted to block the first issue of X-O Manowar from being published because fans would confuse it with Marvel’s X-Men titles. I said “bullocks” as there is no inference between X-O Manowar and the X-Men franchise. What Marvel did is interest for X-O Manowar shot up and sells for the early issues of the series exceed the popularity of Solar and Magnus. Plus X-O Manowar #1 did not have a gimmick cover to entice sales. Great series!!! My favourite of the entire Valiant line at the time.
Also debuting in 1991 was the Wizard Magazine (I believe around May), which was the most important comic book and other sci-fi magazine in North America… that is until the arrival of the Internet. Wizard (and later Toyfare) would publish until 2010 when a combination of the current economic times plus the Internet provided instant news contributed to its downfall.
I did have a problem with the Wizard Magazine as it showed a biased attitude toward Marvel Comics (and later Image Comics) and failed to recognize other publishers (ala DC Comics, Valiant Comics, Dark Horse Comics, etc) during its initial years. In the fall of 1992, Wizard made no mention of the Death of Superman arc and event at all when other comic book oriented magazines at the time did. However, Wizard eventually did find a balance to spotlight all major publishers.
That was some of the major highlights of 1991 that I can remember during the time I worked at a comic shop. I thought by the end of 1991 that 1992 would probably be a hum drum year, I could not be more wrong. 1992 would be the peak of the comic book boom… but that is a story for another time.
I’ll smell you later.