This Christmas my brother gave me a booster pack of random, non-sequential issues from a variety of popular comic book titles that syndicated in the late eighties to mid nineties. The nineties was a time of groundbreaking work in the comic community that gave birth to the age of modern comics. Sometimes, not so much. These are snapshots of the industry at its best and worst. This is Brian’s Comic Book Grab Bag.
Ms. Mystic Deathwatch 2000 Volume 1 #3
Writer – Peter Stone
Penciler – Louis Small, Jr.
Inker – Rudy Nebres & Joel Adams
Letterer – Not Listed
The course of this series, now in its twilight, has discussed the victories and defeats of comic booking from the late 80s to the early 90s. Comics were growing up. What we know as “modern” comics developed from this period of industry expansion. Only what survived the industry Ragnarok during the mid-90s continued on, which was a blessing in disguise. The comic milieu of that era had become bloated on self-aggrandizing tales and cross promotions. Some companies needed to die, some less gracefully than others. Neal Adam’s Continuity Comics was one of these ill-fated experiments, a company that was waning in quality and content, already declining before the market crashed. It’s a shame, considering the impact Neal Adams has had on the industry, advocating the rights of artists everywhere and promoting comics with a meatier heart that dealt with controversial themes. He’s the man with a layout, a Todd McFarlane with balls, the sultan of SLAP! (You get the idea.) It’s just a shame that his company, while pushing the boundaries of contemporary standards, was known for poor editing and distribution problems. My copy was unopened, 21 years later, sitting in my booster pack of mostly used comics. It was either a lucky find, or an omen of ill portent.
The content that I encountered in this particular issue was impressive, boasting some bold ideas and concepts that I wasn’t prepared to find. A resurrected witch fights an army of fascist reptilian soldiers, to preempt Armageddon. Sounds like a Grant Morrison script to me. The opening chapters of All-Star Superman (which served as Superman’s celebration and requiem) depict Superman thwarting a similar invasion force of subterranosauri, a hidden, indigenous species stowed away beneath the Earth’s surface. Though Adam’s script predates Morrison’s by almost a decade, I felt the narrative hook was underplayed and lacking substance. After all, the magic of Morrison is in his throwaway details, the breadcrumbs that don’t quite fit, but give texture to the fantasy. Ms. Mystic didn’t jive with the reptilian asthetic as much as she could have fighting the Sheeda of Seven Soldiers fame. I suspect that, without having any other perspective on Deathwatch 2000, this comic is mired by the fog of war; though I gathered that these reptilian creatures were doing their darndest to wreck all kinds of shit. The blur of pastel colors and confusing layouts made it difficult to approximate where the conflict was occurring and the lettering was difficult to follow. Try as I might, I was lost from the start. So while the premise is no doubt fantastic, I found it poorly executed.
The nature of comicbooking in the early 90s sheds light on the chaos that plagued the timelines of superhero comics. Neal Adams cooperated with these fads as well, to his detriment. After all, Deathwatch 2000 was a crossover, a continuity flashpoint that was designed to reboot and rebrand characters in some form or another. This still happens today, we just don’t recognize the cues. 52 was one such series, an ambitious 52 week event that followed up on yet another crossover event known as Infinite Crisis. Despite being a really good entry into the DC continuum, these events are indicative of company troubles and ailing stock portfolios more than anything else. Us proles eat this shit up, and buy into it too, which compels our overlords to do it again and again, like a narrative forget-me-now. The early 90s was full of these events, so much so that the idea of a mainstay hero dying was completely neutralized of all its weighty impact. Ms. Mystic “dies” in this issue as well, though we don’t have to wait until several issues later to discover that she’s been fine the whole time. Crossover events are supposed to drive the tension and establish the stakes of what is happening in the current timeline, so the frenetic pacing and baffling urgency of Ms. Mystic Deathwatch 2000 only serves to heighten the uncertainty of what exactly is happening. Granted, though I have read all of 52, I am certain that revisiting a random chapter will still yield a story that I can understand and comprehend apart from the greater work at hand.
Despite, the cons of the piece, Ms. Mystic, the protagonist, transcends the modes of the “strong female protagonist,” a term associated now with negative connotations due to the misogyny endemic in their conceptions. For one, she never receives aid from a male supporting hero. Second of all, rather than becoming a victim of circumstance, she is proactive in the rising action of the plot, even protecting Highperion, who clearly missed out on “intuition” as a super power. Lord Darrow, the main antagonist of the issue, fails to incapacitate Ms. Mystic, and flees from her when she is revived. In the narrative, Ms. Mystic drives the entropy of the story, which is rare for female characters in today’s comic book industry. In Morrisonian fashion, Ms. Mystic also encounters Gaia (“Mother Earth” in this issue), cementing the foundation of the Earth in the celestial mother overseeing it. The tropes associated with feminism were in vogue at the time, printed in a decade of awakened social conscience. Other writers like Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison were pushing groundbreaking roles of LGBT characters in their series The Sandman and The Invisibles, respectively. That Ms. Mystic is earth conscious also represents facets of the New Age movement, as well as offshoot “subgenres” like Wicca, Shamanism, and Ásatrú, each incorporating elements of feminism and Earth religion. Despite my distaste for the comic’s layouts and confusing narrative pacing, Ms. Mystic is unchallenged in the Grab Bag series as a powerful female character, who escapes the trappings of misogynistic characterizations of women in comics and popular entertainment. It’s a good thing.
I was tempted to match wits against my Tyvek cover but decided to keep it in pristine condition as a relic of the past.(Funny that the video features a Continuity Comics title, also from the Deathwatch 2000 crossover event, being opened for the first time, only to be summarily destroyed.) Comics in the 90s were a bold enterprise, destined for great things. Image rose up against the tyranny of DC and Marvel, comic writers gained power and influence over the market, and upon the failures the industry laid the foundation for the modern voice of comics. The industry is currently starved for innovation, driving successful franchises with stale characters spruced up via Photoshop and Wacom rendered digital painting. Those that survived the purge were developers and creators that tried to rethink the way comics were told, and drawn. Continuity Comics played into the fads that killed the market and contributed to the distribution problems that ran so many comic book shops out of business. Even the content that arrived was hardly reputable, let alone worthy of some of today’s AAA writers. Neal Adams still enjoys producing comics, and even stands by his Continuity label. Deep down, we can know him as the man who gave Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster a pension and as the figure who prepared Silver Age characters for their progressive transition to the Modern Age. He’s one of the best, but everyone makes mistakes. I mean, we aren’t Superman, after all.
5 Crossover Events (of 10)