What Were They Thinking: The “Marvel’ous ’90’s

Now, as we are all aware, the '90's were an unusual time for comics. It was the ultimate style over substance era. Crossovers and events were common place, artists became superstars (some undeservedly) and limited edition covers sold in their millions to fans hoping they would turn out to be a big money investment (Todd McFarlane's monthly Spider-Man series (Spider-Man) sold over 2.5 million copies in 1990, thanks to it's three variant covers). Now, whilst no company was immune to this (Image was probably one of the worst and best at this thanks to it's creator controlled ethos and the fact it was co-founded by Rob Liefeld), but whilst DC seemed content with mostly going for the crossovers (see What Were They Thinking: The Death Of Superman), Marvel went all out. Variant covers, rehashes of old successful storylines (Days of Future Present for example), splash pages, crossovers, massive guns and impossible anatomy were the order of the day, especially in the first 5 years of the decade. Between 1990 and 1995 Marvel gave us Cable and the X-Force, X-Tinction Agenda, Days of Future Present, Deadpool, The Weapon X story, The New Fantastic Four, The Infinity Guantlet, The Marvel Swimsuit Special (no joke), Punisher: War Zone, Operation: Galactic Storm, Carnage, Cable's solo series, Marvel 2099, X-Cutioners Song, Maximum Carnage, Daredevil: Fall From Grace, The Death of Mr. Fantastic, X-Men Fatal Attraction, a War Machine solo series, Force Works, Marvels and Ruins, Spider-Man's Clone Saga and X-Men: Age Of Apocalypse. And then of course in '96 we had Marvel vs. DC, need I say more.

Of all of Marvel's titles, the X-Men seemed to get it the worst. Ok, Spidey got pretty screwy (especially with the Clone Saga, but we'll come to that another time), but X-Men was turned into the biggest cash cow ever. Just look at the list above, every third thing mentioned involves the X-Men. They came to typify everything that was wrong with the X-Treme '90's, especially the New Mutants (nee X-Force), which was drawn by Rob Liefeld. Liefeld was basically given control of the series by '91 and he did his usual. You can see Jeff's old I Hate Rob Liefeld blog posts for a continuation on this, but let me just add, his writing is as bad as his art.

However, I don't blame the artists for the lack of substance at Marvel during the '90's, some of them I'm totally fine with. I think the big problem happened in 1989. In 1989 New World Entertainment sold Marvel to some guy called Ronald Perelman, some of you might have heard of him, he's a billionaire businessman. His reason for buying Marvel was that he wanted to make it as bug and profitable as Disney (irony alarm), not to create great comics, but to chase the big bucks. Hmmmm, call me old fashioned or even anti-big business if you want, but I prefer it when it's enthusiasts trying to make their work as good as they can for other enthusiasts, not to make some corperate big-wig massive money. That's why I don't have as big a problem with Image Comics as I do with Marvel in this era, Image was all about creator ownership. However, this approach worked for a while, Marvels sales had never been higher, and never have since, because by '96 Perelman's business plan had driven Marvel to bankruptcy. His plan to buy up other smaller companies in an attempt to expand the Marvel Entertainment group into a Disney style entertainment conglomeration built up a debt that they could not pay off and it eventually led to Marvel being bought out by one of its own subsidiaries, ToyBiz, in 1998. Fortunately this seemed to get Marvel back on track in some areas, such as the launch of the Marvel Knights line (check out the '98 Inhumans series) and they are now as strong as ever.

Sorry for the rant. Next week we'll be back to Sci-Fi corner. I don't have a subject just yet, but I should have something ready by next Monday.

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