Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

1985. For me- the start of the golden age of comics. Not THE Golden Age. But just, in my mind’s eye, I’ll always see all of the Marvel and DC characters as they were during the 80s. I guess everybody is going to look back at the time when they were a kid and think of that era as the “most representative” of superhero comics. So I’m sure lots of people will look at what I just wrote and sneer. Well, actually, given some of the overly-complicated, ridiculous storylines running through comics in the 80s- people may look at what I just wrote and sneer period. But I dunno, there was just something about that time. Maybe it was because comics were just so much more…unrestrained. I mean, there’s always something formulaic about comics. But no one was brokering huge movie franchise deals left and right, video games used 8-bit graphics, and the only card game you bought at the store was Uno. So…comics were just that- comics. They didn’t really try to be much else. So, in a weird way, it was okay to just do whatever you felt like in a comic. Try stuff out. Introduce spin-off series, tell a story that uses magic AND technology, team-up every frickin’ superhero in the entire Marvel Universe and draw them, ALL, standing on the same page running into battle against some threat. It could get really outlandish. But the only people who were really into comics tended to be people who had always been INTO comics. So it was okay to reference ten other ongoing comics with little (*) just for the sake of continuity- no matter how absurd. There wasn’t such an expectation to…well, market, comic book characters any better than they had always been. There was no “entry-level” comic book series. I mean, there were little recaps now and then- but it was kind of “sink or swim.” You just started reading. Think of any character in the Marvel Universe. Now think of any other character. Now think of a comic featuring these characters meeting- either to battle or team up or just have a conversation. Doesn’t matter how bizarre the pairing is. That comic EXISTS, somewhere. Written somewhere between 1979 and 1990. Please note that the range of possibilities for the formula listed above does not rule out Conan the Barbarian, Howard the Duck, Aunt May, Rom the Spaceknight, and Galactus. That just what it was like. They tried everything, JUST to try it. There’s something else too. Comics weren’t so…dark. Yet. I mean, they were dark. In fact, in Marvel comics in particular- there’s all sorts of weird, B-movie horror stuff that started popping up during the 80s. The X-Men fought Terminator-like Sentinels from a future where humanity was enslaved, body-snatching aliens from outer-space, and extradimensional demons all in one decade. But the BAD guys were scary. The heroes were still…good. We look back now and maybe they seem a little too good. Nobody could talk that way, be that wholesome, even when they had problems. They had relationship difficulties, but mostly because they were superheroes- not just because relationships are difficult and ambiguous sometimes. So you TRUSTED the good guys- sort of knew they would come through. Wolverine was always talking about killing people, but he never actually did it. If he DID try to do it, somebody stopped him. And kids- Franklin Richards, the Power Pack, Kitty Pryde and Illyana Rasputin- would, inevitably, bring out the best in everyone around them. Take Punisher for example. See, the Punisher comics I remember from the 80s weren’t gory. The past two movies, both of which have mildly satisfied me but left me wishing for more, were templated very much after Mr. Garth Ennis’ relaunch of the series earlier this decade. And I would say that’s the comics style- really, REALLY nasty. Just twenty pages of Frank killing people in the most God awful, nauseating ways. Not that I’m saying the comics were bad. It’s just a product of the times though. The Punisher series I remember was gritty, not disgusting. Even a comic like that- with real violence screaming in your face- the focus was more on the action, not the violence. This may sound like a weird way of putting it- the comic was about guns not blood. Of course, this old style of storytelling might be naïeve in this regard. After all, violence DOES kill and, in the long-run, maybe it’s better if a comic book like the Punisher doesn’t glorify Frank Castle’s one-man war on organized crime. But comics tended to allude to horrors more than they slammed them down your throat. If you were an adult reader, you caught the nuances- the subtleties about what was implied. Something about the feel of it was just…less grim. So you had the modern day complexity of science-fiction…but the superheroes were still superheroes and you had faith in them. Secret Wars was actually the first comic book I ever read. Well, it was the first comic that I ever decided “I want to buy and read, all of these.” It’s still one of my favorites series. I loved the complexity of seeing all of the Marvel characters interact. Hulk couldn’t stand how brilliant Reed was, the FF and the Avengers wanted to pounce on Magneto but the X-Men stood up for him, and Doom…well, if Doom isn’t your favorite Marvel villain, you probably haven’t read Secret Wars. I loved Secret Wars II though- ahh, the old crossovers. The RIDICULOUS crossovers. Where you had to be reading EVERY Marvel comic published at the time in order to understand what was going on- actually, you probably couldn’t understand what was going on even if you DID manage to somehow get your hands on all of them and read them. But still, they would try- try to write a story that scaled from Luke Cage and Danny Rand in Heroes for Hire all the way to Mephisto, and somehow have it make sense. There’s a reason this second series hasn’t been reprinted- it would need three or four volumes to cover a fairly unwieldy, bizarre Marvel story. Still, I’d love to see it reprinted anyway- as just sort of a “snapshot” of the Marvel Universe of that decade. The Beyonder, Molecule Man, and Volcana were fascinating to me. In fact, I loved the idea that Owen Reece and Marsha Rosenberg sort of become…unknown heroes. And I loved the idea that two completely normal… really, REALLY, normal people- a timid, underassertive man and his doting, overprotective, somewhat codependant girlfriend, held the fate of the entire universe in the their hands. On the street, they would be missable. But you, the reader, knew the truth. Actually, I was immensely intrigued by Bendis’ run on New Avengers: Illuminati for the flashback to the Secret Wars series. I always like it when the writers pay tribute to what has already happened, no matter how weird and crazy it might have seemed. But also- is it just me, or when the Illuminati catch up with the Beyonder…on some sort of floating model of New York City in the solar system’s asteroid field…is that a scene from an issue OF Secret Wars II, that they walk in on? Where the Beyonder turns Luke Cage and Danny Rand’s building into a big, mushy pile of gold in order to “pay” for “services?” So…if that’s THAT scene…than maybe Bendis is saying that everything you read in SWII…happened in a controlled environment, an exact duplicate of New York, created by the Beyonder just to experience things? So you know…SWII sort of…didn’t happen…but then again, it must of happened, because the Beyonder must be able to create vital, lifelike replicas of all the Marvel characters. And surely, the Universe was at risk all the same. Of course, with the Beyonder, who knows? Maybe it’s sort of both, simultaneously. A character that can rewrite all of time and space as he…or, it…chooses kind of makes storytelling difficult. Personally, I’m a big fan of the actual comic series 1985. It’s got the kind of feel I’m talking about, all done in the style of what would have been like…an 80s blockbuster movie. Kind of like if there had been a Marvel superheroes movie, the way there was a Masters of the Universe one. There’s all the obligatory elements- a brave kid with a red backpack and flashlight, who has trouble fitting in but is really into comics, who tries to warn his family about weird stuff going on around town but of course they don’t believe him…you know, it just “feels” 80s. It’s a lot of fun. Highly recommended. And it's always a good time when the blacksuited Spider-Man does jazz hands. Definitely the 80s.