Anybody who knows comics knows the 90s was a sad time for the medium. Sales dropped immensely, as did the quality of the books. Some say the industry will never return to the form it once held. That may be a tad hyperbolic, but before I continue this rant, I am aware that there were stellar 90s comics like “The Sandman,” “Kingdom Come,” “Hellboy,” and “Preacher” to name a few. The decade also gave rise to Image Comics, a publisher that the independent comics sphere would be nothing without. Furthermore there have been some amazing 90s reboot efforts like Brandon Graham’s “Prophet” or the entire relaunch of Valiant. However, the 90s revival I am talking about is not about homage, self-reflexivity, and redemption. It seems to be revival for the sake of revival, and it targets the kids, like me, who grew up reading those dreadful comics.
I started to notice signs of the revival a few months ago, but hoped I was only being neurotic. However, when Marvel announced “Deadpool Vs. X-Force” at the start of May, I knew it was the beginning of something much bigger.
Last week Marvel announced that they would be doing foil variant covers (does it get more 90s than that? Maybe if they started putting out POGS.) for the upcoming “Death of Wolverine” mini-series (Which sounds eerily similar to “Death of Superman”). This obviously isn’t new. We saw DC make their “awesome” 3-D covers last year. In recent years, variant covers have been a way for artists to showcase their work, to entice retailers, and for fans to support their favorite artists. Foil variants were used in the 90s as a way for the companies to get people to buy 10 copies of a book they mass produced with the hopes it would be worth a lot of money in the future. I doubt anyone is sitting at home stoked on their 10 foil cover copies of “Doom 2099” #1. Sure, we’ve seen foil covers crop up since the 90s, but why do they keep returning to it? Are there artists out there who are really passionate about making these covers? It seems like another gimmick. Either way, there are more signs to point to.
This week, DC announced that they will be bringing back Doomsday, who we already have seen fail in the New 52. Now we are being treated to “Superman: Doomed”. Is there any way this series could be good? Well, yes, it’s coming from the talented minds of Greg Pak, Scott Lodell, Charles Soule, and artist Ken Lashley. Doomsday is a bad villain to begin with, and it seems the creative team knows this as they are changing him up. Doomsday is now “a virus, infecting Superman from within, transforming him into an unstoppable monster.” It could be interesting, but it still screams 90s. The “Death of Superman” series and the subsequent “Return of Superman” is what lead to so many people feeling betrayed by the industry that they stopped reading altogether. Just watch Max Landis’ short below. He explains it all better than I ever could.
With foil variants, the “Death of” arcs, and the return of characters like Doomsday, it seems the 90s revival is undeniable. I know there are plenty of people who love these characters and who genuinely want to read these books. However, I can’t help but feel there is something disingenuous about it all.
I grew up reading comics during that era. I have a certain nostalgia for them, but I also saw first hand how bad it was. My fear is not that the industry is doomed to repeat history. It will not collapse. We have too many independent creators, and too many smart people working in the industry who will make sure what happened in the 90s never happens again. My fear comes from the lack of progress. The Big Two are always criticized for running in circles, for never making any of the major changes they promise. For whatever reason, people keep coming back (including myself), with the hope that maybe one day this will change. This revival of the 90s brings to the forefront the fear of the publishers to take risks and the resulting stagnation. Rather than getting stories for a modern time, and offering something new, they return to a disastrous period. The medium, like any other, demands a forward momentum, and if it continues this way, people may start to notice, better yet, care.
I suppose it’s all in the way the revival happens. There is a chance for these books to offer an honest, reflective look back at that dark stain in comics history, but it doesn’t seem foil variants or “killing” Wolverine is the best way to go about it.