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When it comes to the various eras of comics history, the nineties have an image problem.
Get it? Because Image comics were terrible.
And that’s not fair. Not fair at all. There were some fantastic comics released during the nineties. Jeff Smith’s seminal Bone came out in this decade. You had Neil Gaiman writing Sandman over at DC. And at DC, the Batman titles were doing memorable storylines like No Man’s Land and Long Halloween. Meanwhile, at DC, Mark Waid and Alex Ross were creating one of the most visually beautiful mainstream comics of all time with Kingdom Come…
“Hey, Mouse, what about Marvel?”
“HELLBLAZER WAS ANOTHER VERY WELL RECEIVED DC TITLE DURING THIS PERIOD…”
And yet, despite some very good comics being produced during this era by almost half of the two great American comic publishers, “nineties” is basically short-hand for “crap” amongst comics fans. Here’s the problem. Say I want to sum up the Golden Age of comics with one panel, it’d probably be this one:
Kirby’s cover of Captain America 1. If had to choose a panel to represent the Silver Age? Probably something like this from Sheldon Moldoff (if for no other reason than it doesn’t seem fair to have Jack Kirby define two eras):
And if I want a single panel that sums up the Bronze Age? That’s easy, Rorschach entering the Comedian’s apartment by Dave Gibbons.
But if I want a single panel that represents the Dark Age? Probably something like this.
And that’s your problem right there. All these eras were incredibly diverse in terms of the comics that were actually created during them, but they’re all defined in the popular consciousness by a single aesthetic. And the aesthetic that defines the nineties, whether fairly or unfairly, is that of one man. Rob Liefeld.
And it’s pretty objectively terrible. Now, this review is not going to be me dunking on Rob Liefeld for five thousand words because obviously I’d need more words and I don’t like to half-ass things NO BAD MOUSE.
I’m not going to dunk on Liefeld because that’s just beating the fine horse powder that at some point in the distant past was (if the elders are to be believed) a dead horse. Hell, making fun of Rob Liefeld was pretty much the reason we built the internet in the first place (don’t believe the porn industry’s revisionist propaganda). Liefeld was one of a rising generation of new comic artists in the nineties, and that generation was markedly different from the ones that had come before. See, if you look at the really big names of the Silver Age, your Stan Lees, your Jack Kirbies, your Julie Schwartzes, you’ll notice that these were all dudes who had were already working in comics during the Golden Age. The Silver Age was not the New Guard taking over, it was the Old Guard refining and improving on their first draft. But by the nineties, the Old Guard was ageing out of the industry and rising to replace them was a generation that had actually grown up reading the classic comics of the Silver Age and actually had “comic book writer/artist” as their dream job rather than simply something to fall back on if that career in publishing/fine arts never panned out. These kids, unlike their forbears, had come to the comics as fans rather than just professional artists or writers who needed a steady gig. They had read all these comics when they were twelve year old boys and dreamed of creating their own.
Unfortunately, if you read the comics they were putting out, you would have been forgiven for thinking that they were still twelve year old boys. Liefeld wasn’t the only one of this generation, but he definitely epitomised them. Much as the Impressionists were identified by their use of open composition and an accurate depiction of light, the artists of the “Hot Comics” style were identifiable by blood, guts, gratuitous swearing and a…free-thinking…approach to accurate depictions of female anatomy. They also freaking idolised Jack Kirby which I find BAFFLING. Not because Jack Kirby doesn’t deserve to be idolised (and I got the shrines to prove it) but because Jack Kirby is legendary for:
- Technical excellence.
- Clarity of visual storytelling.
- A fearsomely original imagination.
- A work ethic that allowed him to smash deadlines like they’d been cracking wise about Mrs Kirby.
Basically, everything Liefeld and his ilk were not about. So you had a lot of talentless fanboys creating comics that only had merit to clueless, hormonally addled infants. So, of course, they were hugely, horrendously successful.
This thing sold five million copies and there’s bile in my mouth right now.
Liefeld is in this weird space of being simultaneously one of the most and least influential creators in the history of the medium. As I said, his style defined an entire era of comics history in a way very few other creators can be said to have done. Honestly, I think only Kirby rivals him in that regard. But whereas Kirby’s legacy on both the Marvel and DC universes will stand the test of time, very little of Liefeld’s influence remains in the modern Marvel universe. Certainly not his art-style, and precious few of his intellectual concepts proved to have any real staying power. Mostly because, well, his character concepts were possibly the only thing in the world that could have made you say “Jeez dude, just stick to art.”
“But Mouse” the strawman I have created for this very purpose cries out “didn’t he create Deadpool? Isn’t Deadpool a beloved character and permanent fixture in the Marvel universe?”
Well, the answer to both those question is indeed “Yes” but there’s a lot of history between the first “Yes” and the second. Liefeld did indeed co-create Deadpool with writer Fabien Nicieza but the character they created was impressive only in how much they managed to rip off in one sitting. So Deadpool, aka Wade Wilson is an “homage”…
…to DC’s Deathstroke aka Slade Wilson. See? It’s completely shameless. That makes it okay. They then added Spider-Man’s costume as imagined by a Taiwanese supermarket, threw in Wolverine’s healing factor because nineties, strapped a couple of guns on him and set him loose on the world. I’m not saying there weren’t the germs of a good character there, but they were just that, germs. Capable of only being seen with a microscope.
It was other writers that saw the potential in the character and added the elements that really made him click, most notably that he’s insane and that this insanity manifests in him actually being aware that he’s in a comic book. This is the version of the character that has won legions of fans the world over, including Canada.
One of said fans was actor Ryan Reynolds who is a huge Deadpool fan and was so gosh darned happy to be cast as the character in Wolverine Origin only to learn that this Deadpool would be a mute with his mouth sewn shut and THIS IS WHY WE DON’T MAKE WISHES ON CURSED MONKEY PAWS CHILDREN.
After Origins came out and did for Deadpool’s reputation what Superfriends did for Aquaman’s, Reynolds laboured with various collaborators to get his own vision of Deadpool to the big screen, with blackjack and hookers as God intended.
This movie almost died on the operating table multiple times. Consider:
- It’s about Deadpool, a character no one outside of comics fandom knew about unless they’d seen Origin in which case they hated him. Strike 1.
- Instead of being rebooted, he was still being played by the same actor. Strike 2.
- Said actor also made Green Lantern. Strike 3. Actually, let’s make that two strikes. Strike 4.
- This was going to be a Hard R rated movie full of tits and effin’ and jeffin’, likely to send dowagers across the land toppling in a epidemic of the vapours. Strike 5.
So, on paper at least, this movie was going to suck at baseball and Fox were considering scrapping the movie when somebody, some mischevious scamp, some mysterious rapscallion who shall remain forever nameless…
…leaked some test footage that saw the cry of “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!” echo throughout the internet.