I have not written a Long Lost Longbox entry for a few weeks because I wanted to read ahead. That’s cheating, I know. The whole premise of this feature was to simply pull a comic, read it and write my first impressions in a random, impromptu kind of way. But two entries in I realized two things: a) It was boring to write and b) it was boring to read.
So I decided to change tactics a bit. Instead of having a “mystery box” with random comments off the top of my head I will now do some research, gain some knowledge of the subject and possibly have something interesting to say. A novel approach I know and waters I do not wade into very often – but what the hell, let’s give it a shot.
So looking ahead in the Long Lost Longbox we will have, including today, 7 issues of the Jerry Prosser run on Animal Man. Over the course of those 7 weeks I will attempt to impart a little background information as well as the synopsis and overall impression. Today we begin with the era in which this comic was issued, the 90s.
The 90s are the poster child for comic book excess. An oversaturated collector’s market was ripe with publishers ready to exploit it as much as possible. Comics with multiple covers with gimmicks like die-cast and 3D were rampant. Renumbering and reimagining of classic characters as hip or “extreme” were common. And there was the rise of the celebrity artist/writer epitomized by people like Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee sold a hell of a lot of comics but didn’t do much for quality.
At times the mega event comic could be more than just a marketing scheme. The Death of Superman storyline was a huge media event and sold millions of copies while also gaining widespread critical and fan acclaim.
But more often than not both Marvel and DC entered into self-parody. Hyper-sexualized women and over-muscled men wielded massive guns and swords, their disproportioned bodies covered in pouches. My God, so many pouches.
And there was the push to write more mature stories. “Mature” in most cases was simply an excuse to show boobies and violence, but there were writers and artists breaking new ground and challenging what could be done with the medium. Writers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis and Grant Morrison were telling complex and intense stories with graphic and sometimes disturbing visuals and subversive messages. Too intense at times for the mainstream superhero set.
DC solved this by creating Vertigo, an imprint for more “adult” comics. Vertigo would have a distinct, artistic style and soon became the go-to place to find more “grown-up” comics. If you were a pompous ass like say, someone writing this article right now, you would have pointed to Vertigo to justify to others that comic books really were literature before running off to read back issues of Captain America in peace (but that is for a later essay). Vertigo was also a great place for DC to re-launch some lesser known properties with a rather different approach, a 90s style “dark and gritty” reboot if you will.
Several characters were given this treatment with varying results. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was one of the more popular and acclaimed as was Grant Morrison’s Animal Man. Technically Morrison’s run wasn’t Vertigo, but only because Vertigo wasn’t around yet. For all intent and purposes it was a Vertigo title and soon made the jump when the imprint launched.
When Morrison’s run ended Jerry Posser took over and had the unenviable job of bringing a dead character back to life, which brings us to…