So Sayeth the Odinson: 1996-1998: A Timeline of a Pivotal Period in American Comics History: Epilogue

Greetings from the Odinson,

1996-1998: A Timeline of a Pivotal Period in American Comics History: Epilogue

There is no doubt 1996-1998 was one of the most pivotal moments in modern U.S. comics history.  Over the course of the last five weeks, we have looked at what happened in the worlds of comics.  Be sure to check out Part 1: 1996 (HERE), Part 2.1: 1997 (HERE), Part 2.2: 1997 (HERE), Part 3.1 (HERE), and Part 3.2 (HERE).

60 years of history had brought the industry to that moment. 

From Action Comics #1 in 1938 and the debut of the first superhero to Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 and the launch of the Marvel Age.  From the campy Batman TV Show starring Adam West in the 1960s to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in the 1980s.  From Uncanny X-Men #66 in 1970 where Marvel’s Merry Mutants were on the brink of cancelation to X-Men #1 in 1991 when their title became the highest selling book in the history of the industry. 

In those previous six decades we had seen our heroes in the 1940s go to war as Superman, Captain Marvel, Sub-Mariner, and, of course, Captain America joined the Allied Forces to fight the Axis Powers during World War II.  In the 1950s, author Frederic Wertham and his book Seduction of the Innocent blamed comics for the delinquent behavior of the youth of America and even brought the case before a Congressional hearing which led to the infamous Comics Code Authority making sure we would never have to worry about censorship of art again (*cough-cough*).

In those years we saw a Crisis end the Golden Era of the DC Comics and birth a brand new Post-Crisis DCU that carried the standard proudly for the next 30 years.  We saw the birth of the company crossover event with Contest of Champions which begot Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars which begot the Mutant Massacre which snow balled year after year until it, to this day, even though it started out as something grand and fun, has become a perpetuating, self-feeding monster growing larger and larger, devouring everything in sight and pulling all other ideas in its wake with no signs of ever slowing down.     

We saw the fall from grace of Green Lantern, the breaking of Batman, and the death of Superman.  We saw the death of Gwen Stacy, the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane, and Spidey fans stripped of their history as Peter Parker was declared nothing more than a clone.

We saw the rise of the superstar artists!  Names like Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, and Marc Silvestri achieved rock star status whose own fame transcended the very titles they worked on.  So much so that they left the Big Two and started Image Comics, a creator-driven independent whose sales would rival those of even Marvel and DC. 

All this rich Comics History, all of this and more, brought the industry to a nexus point, a pivotal moment that would not only change the course of Comics History, but pave the way for the next Millennium.  That pivotal moment was 1996-1998.

By 1996, Marvel was struggling to play catch up with the trends of the day and along the way lost their grip on what made their heroes and characters so great in the first place.  Avengers comics read like X-Men comics.  The stories in many of Marvel’s titles had taken a back seat to inconsistent artwork.  Bad boys, femme fatales, and antiheroes were pushed to the forefront.  And DC, beyond exploring the rich Elseworlds tapestry was about as milquetoast as it gets.   

By the end of the year, Marvel was licensing some of their biggest franchises – Fantastic Four and Avengers – to the very Image guys they had split ways from only a few short years earlier.  Behind the scenes, the company was facing Bankruptcy.  And in the market, a speculator boom was threatening to drop the bottom out of the entire industry.  By time the ball dropped and 1997 began, it is safe to say the industry we love so dear was in about as low a place as it had ever been. 

1997 was a turning point as both Marvel and DC began to experiment creatively and produce fresh innovative ideas with talented creators.  This was the year of The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, The ThunderBolts by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley, and JLA by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter.  Fun was being had with things like Batman vs. Alien, Devil’s Reign, and Superman Blue.  By the end of the year, things were starting to look even better as Heroes Reborn: The Return welcomed Marvel’s First Family and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes back to the fold of the 616.

After a rough time, 1998 saw the industry launch some truly memorable fair and the fans everywhere rejoiced.  Much like the Post-Crisis era did for DC over a decade earlier, the Heroes Return era of Marvel Comics featuring brand new #1’s for Fantastic Four, Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Mighty Thor marked the beginning of easily one of the best time periods for these titles ever. 

While we looked at these three pivotal years in comics, it was also necessary to take a gander at the pop culture that was going on around comics at this time.  The entire landscape of American pop culture was in a transition. 

Movies like Dark City and Blade helped prepare the audience for the mind-blowing concepts that would be presented at the turn of the century when The Matrix hit theatres.  Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer would break new ground in long-term storytelling and pave the way for outside-the-box entertainment like Lost and Stranger Things.  Even in sports, longtime records that were thought never could be broken were and forced the powers that be to take a closer look at their product and re-examine the parameters of fair play.  And the Monday Night Wars forced WCW and WWF (the Marvel and DC of wrestling promotions) to adapt to the changing times, or die, and this produced a Golden Age for sports entertainment that had never been achieved before nor since.        

1996-1998 was a pivotal moment in Comics History with astounding lows and one hell of a rise from the ashes.  As the industry entered the New Millennium, with so many great tales to come like Infinite Crisis, The Sinestro Corps War, Planet Hulk, Winter Soldier, Avengers/JLA, and everything else in between, 1999-2011 was a renaissance the industry experienced, the likes of which had not been seen in comics before, nor since. 

But that is a story for another day.

This is Odinson bidding thee farewell

NOTE: For past entries of the So Sayeth the Odinson blog, over a decade’s worth of comic book and pop culture articles and reviews, click HERE.  Also, be sure to check out my novels The Survivors and Autumn Dawn, which were inspired by 1980s horror – HERE and HERE

About Odinson

I am a lifelong comics fan and pop culture enthusiast. Comic books, novels, games, television, movies, I love it all. From fantasy to science fiction, drama to comedy, as long as the writing and execution are interesting, I love it, and I want to talk about it.

There are 2 comments

  1. Munky

    I really enjoyed this series.
    I have a fondness for this era, there was interesting things happening and it was just before the writing for the trade that defined the 00s.
    I recently re-read titles like Heroes for Hire and the Heroes Return era of the returned heroes.
    Thanks for bringing this to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

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