1980’s Comic Showcase: Angel Love

As I was hunting around the internet for obscure comic books from the 1980’s to talk about I stumbled upon this beauty:

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It looked crazy, it was from a small publisher, and it only lasted three issues!

Sadly, it was so obscure that I couldn’t find anything else about it besides who created it and who published it, not very good blog material.  There are copies of the comic available for sale on Amazon, but I am poor at the moment and shipping takes time.

I wouldn’t mind taking a look at this later, but until then…let’s look at a slice of life story starring an aspiring female artist living in New York City called Angel Love.

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Origin and Career

Angel Love was created, written, and illustrated by a cartoonist named Barbara Slate.

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Mrs. Slate rose to prominence in the comic book world with her character Ms. Liz, who appeared on greeting cards,

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comic strips,

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and the Today Show even commissioned a few animated shorts of Ms. Liz in 1982.

Here’s an interview:

So Mrs. Slate was already a success before she decided to write for DC Comics, and in 1986 they published Angel Love #1:

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The plot of the comic was pretty straight forward.  There was a girl named Angel Love who moved from Pennsylvania to New York City in order to become an artist, but her dreams had decided to stay behind for a bit so she wound up working as a roller skating waitress.

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Since Mrs. Slate was from Pennsylvania herself, I can’t help but think there was a bit of a biographical component to this story.

Anyway, the story was a slice of life comic chronicling Angel’s adventures with romance,

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and family drama.

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The story was often told with realism in mind, but wasn’t afraid to throw in some fantasy elements like talking cockroaches,
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and a rather disheveled looking guardian angel.

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Now, looking at this comic you might be tempted to think that this is a child friendly story, that it’s a modern rebirth of the old romance comics from the 1940’s,

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or an updated re imagining of the long running Archie comics.

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The thing is, while the art style may have indicated that the comic was for younger readers, the subject matter of the story…

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was not.

Despite the cutesy art style and low stakes romance, the story dealt with some very adult issues.  In the very first issue, Angel’s romantic interest is found snorting cocaine, which causes her to break up with him.

Also, the family drama part of the story gets pretty deep when Angel finds out that her mother is dying from some sort of terminal disease,

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and has to track down her long lost sister, who changed her name to Maureen McMeal, in order to try to convince her to donate bone marrow for a transplant.

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The situation is resolved when Angel confronts Maureen and she reveals that yes, she is her long lost sister, but decided to leave home after their father raped her when she was young and decided to change her name and run for political office, refusing to acknowledge her old life for fear of causing a scandal.

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So yeah…that’s pretty dark.

So what happened?

Despite the reputation of the comics’ creator and the quality story telling, nobody really knew what to think of this comic, and that was its undoing.

The art style made the comic book look like it was a book for children but the mature subject matter was very clearly for adults.  The comic was even published without the infamous Comics Code sticker on the cover.

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The title lasted eight issues and had one special comic that wrapped up the story line.  This was where Angel’s sister revealed she had been raped when she was young and the title included a “For Mature Readers” warning on the cover.

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Angle Love didn’t have much of a career after that.  She made one cameo appearance in Animal Man #24 where she was seen reading her own comic in the background.

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But that’s about it.

Barbara Slate’s career would continue to grow and she went on to become a very successful writer, artist, and speaker.

Some of her more recent works are You Can Do a Graphic Novel, which was published in 2012,

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and in 2012 she wrote a book called Getting Married and Other Mistakes which was published by Other Press.

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In the world of comics Barbara Slate’s career, especially a comic like Angel Love, is an interesting one.  In an industry that is dominated by superheroes, spandex, and world shattering violence, Angel Love showed us that even small stories can have a huge emotional impact.

Angel Love was a small romance and slice of life story with big ideas and implications, and I think it definitely deserves more attention.

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1980’s Showcase: Power Pack

Happy Monday after Mother’s Day everyone!

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While this previous Sunday was the American version of the holiday, it’s nice to know that the idea of celebrating motherhood is usually given its own special day all across the world as well.

And why not?  Looking after a human from its puke and poo days all the way to something resembling adulthood isn’t easy.

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Now, I have a confession to make: I always hate writing this blog the day after Mother’s Day, because so many superhero stories go out of their way to take the parents out of the equation as quickly as possible.

Seriously, superhero parents are either completely absent,

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replaced by surrogates before the hero has any chance to become aware of his or her actual family,

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or killed off to provide the hero with motivation.

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Thank you Batman.

Granted, this has gotten better over time and there are superhero stories that have talked about parenthood and the relationship between family members rather well,

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but most of the parent figures presented in the movie are abusive jerks with only one of them redeeming himself at the very end.

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So it’s safe to say that comic books don’t have the best track record when it comes to treating moms and dads.  But why?

If you ask me, there are two reasons why superheroes aren’t very good at including parents in their stories.  First, being a superhero is kind of dangerous.

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The level of destruction, property damage, and bodily harm that is inherent in so many of our favorite superhero stories is kind of terrifying if you take a step back and look at them with a critical eye.  I don’t have kids, but I don’t think any mortal parent would be okay with seeing their child getting smashed into buildings on the evening news.

Even if the parents are superheroes themselves, they tend to express reservations about their children doing what they do before realizing that it’s kind of necessary for their kids to grow up.

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The second reason why superhero stories don’t deal with parents very well is because well…most of them are stories for children.

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I almost hate to say this but, most children are selfish greedy little twerps who don’t realize what their parents do for them and believe that life would be much better without them.

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Comic book creators know their audience and present their readers with a fantasy where all the problems of the world can be solved quickly and violently and where its main character can live in a world where nobody is there to tell them to brush their teeth and go to bed.

That’s not to say that stories where superheroes had parents, and in the 1980’s Marvel produced a comic book series where the main characters were children, and their parents were not only alive and kicking, they were integral to the plot.

Let’s kick off this new era for this blog by talking about Power Pack.

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Origin and Career

The 1980’s were an interesting time for Marvel.  They had established themselves as the dominant comic book publisher in the American comic book market and the editorial direction of the companies stories were under the direction of a man named Jim Shooter.

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Shooter is a rather…divisive figure in the comic book world.  On one hand, he published his first comic book work when he was 14 years old, so he’s clearly a fan of the medium.

Also, during his time at Marvel he helped bring us the black Spider Man suit,

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that would eventually give us Venom,

On the other hand, a lot of creators have very negative opinions of Shooter’s leadership style and he had a reputation of squashing creative ideas that weren’t his own.  It was either his way or nothing at all.

Anyway, one of the things that Shooter pushed when he was in charge of Marvel was the idea that editors should write the stories instead of working with writers.

One of these editors was Louise Simonson, the eventual creator of Power Pack.

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Holy crap, we actually have a female creator on this series!

Simonson teamed up with an artist named June Brigman,

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(holy crap…TWO women?  This is nuts!)

and together they created a team of superhero children, who made their first appearance in August of 1984.

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The story follows the Powers, a family of six.  There’s a mother, father, and four children named Alex, Julie, Jack, and Katie.

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Both parents are hard working individuals who try to care for their kids.  The father just so happens to be a brilliant inventor who has invented a way to turn matter into anti matter.  Because even though this is the most normal family I’ve seen in a comic book, someone’s got to have a weird job or quirk.

What the Powers don’t know is that their father is being watched by an alien called  a Kymellian who is named Aelfyre Whitemane.

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Okay, first…how the hell does he stand on those two legs?  And second, I would like to take back everything I’ve ever thought or said about certain internet communities with strange interests or fetishes.  It’s clear that this strangeness has been around long before the internet was a thing.

Anyway, Whitemane is disturbed at the news of Dr. Powers invention because it turns out that his planet had been destroyed by a similar device.  Unfortunately, this news is also picked up by the mortal enemies of the Kymellians, an evil race of lizard aliens known as the Snarks who want to use the device as a weapon.

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The Snarks succeed in capturing Dr. Powers and his wife but Whitemane sacrifices himself to save the children.  The horse alien explains what’s going on and gives the children his powers of gravity and density manipulation, energy blasts, and instant rainbow teleportation along with some spiffy new suits.

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Also, the kids get a ship to go after their parents.  It’s a fully intelligent ship and its name was Friday.

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It is worth mentioning that the main characters of this series are children, the oldest one is 12 while the youngest is only 5 years old.  Amazingly, they’re actually written like children, not pint sized god beings who are wise beyond their years.

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Despite the age problem, they manage to use their powers to rescue their parents and return to Earth.

Even though the family is still together and back home, there are still some problems.  A major running theme throughout the series is whether or not the kids should tell their parents about their powers.  This comes to a head in the fifth issue of the series when their dad’s boss suspects the kids of being mutants and CHASES THEM WITH A GUN!

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While the father doesn’t know about his kid’s powers, he punches his boss and resigns from his job.  This, along with his boss suing the family, bankrupts the Powers family who wind up moving to New York when the father is offered a teaching position.

While in New York the kids establish themselves as a part of the Marvel Universe.  They have a whole bunch of crossovers with characters like Spider Man,

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and the X-Men.

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What makes this series unique and interesting is that the comic wasn’t afraid to talk about some very serious issues.  In 1984, Simonson wrote a crossover story with the Power Pack and Spider Man that talked about sexual abuse.

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The comic was released for free and printed in newspapers across the country.

While the comic dealt with serious issues, the Power Pack still manged to remain kid friendly, a testament to Simonson’s writing.  Despite their abilities, they were still children and they dealt with having powers and using them like children.

So what happened?

The series was a success, but sadly times and tastes changed and the series attempted to change with it.  In 1990, new writers were brought on to try and make the series edgier and darker with issue #56,

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It did not work.  The fans revolted and the series was cancelled less than a year later.

It’s worth mentioning that the move to grimmer and darker storytelling was a rather unfortunate trend for comics in the 1990’s, and would go on to have rather disastrous consequences for the entire industry…but that’s another story for another time.

Thankfully, all was not lost and the Power Pack was fondly remembered enough to get a four issue mini series in 2000.

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The series advanced the ages of the kids by a few years, moved them to Seattle, and had them fighting the Snarks in space while dealing with the themes and problems that kids have to deal with.

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There has been talk about the Power Pack making a comeback into the Marvel Universe, but short of a small appearance in the Fantastic Four comics, that has yet to happen.

The Power Pack is a fun piece of comic book history and deserves way more attention than it gets.  It was a thoughtful, engaging, and fun series that treated its child protagonists with respect and dignity and proved that you don’t need dead parents to make a good superhero story and while Marvel has a newer set of young heroes in the limelight dealing with childhood problems,

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I happen to think that the Power Pack would make an excellent tv show or cartoon.

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It’s a new day for the comic book showcase: Welcome to the 80’s

The Golden Age of Comics was a magnificent, and often insane, time in comic book history.  It was the birth of the industry that we know and love, a time when publishers and creators were establishing traditions that carry on today, and a time that birthed some of our most beloved superheroes.

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But like all things, it grows stale with time.  Seriously, we’ve been doing this blog for over three years, and while there is still plenty of material to cover and poke fun at, it’s been getting pretty stale.

Thankfully, the 1940’s weren’t the only time in comic book history that saw a tremendous output of creativity and insane storytelling, and I think it’s time to move on to a more recent, but no less crazy time period.

Today marks a new era in this blog.  Today we’re going to start looking at obscure comic book characters from a more modern time in comic books: the 1980’s

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Now, I want to make something perfectly clear, I am not doing this to show how much better things were back in the day.  The entire reason I do this blog is to show that failure and obscurity are just as important to the creative process as fame and success.  After all, for every Batman,

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there were at least a dozen other superheroes that didn’t make the cut.

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So what made the 1980’s such a fantastic time for creativity in comics?  Well…

1. Relaxed censorship standards and rules

Most historians place the Golden Age of Comics from 1938 to the early 1950’s.  It’s actually a pretty easy period to date since most people agree that it began with the publishing of Action Comics #1,

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to the pronounced and violent push back against comics in the early 1950’s, leading to a Senate subcommittee hearing on juvenile delinquency where comic books were the focus and target.

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The anti comic book crusade was led by child psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham,

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which led to the creation of the infamous Comic Code Authority by the comic book industry in order to placate the people who were literally burning their product.

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The Comics Code made their will known through a very prominent sticker that you’ve probably seen on older comic books.

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Basically, before a comic could be shipped off to distributors it had to be submitted to a board of inspectors and editors for approval.  If the comic didn’t meet the incredibly strict standards of the code, the comic didn’t get the stamp and couldn’t be distributed to the masses.  It was an unfair, but incredibly effective, tactic that neutered the comic book industry from evolving for decades.

Granted, the new world order wasn’t a total wasteland.  The comic book industry did recover and launched into the Silver Age, a time that gave us a lot of modern reinventions of classic characters,

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a new focus on science fiction to reflect the modern American-Soviet space race,

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and the birth of the comic book juggernaut known as Marvel Comics, headed by superstar artist Jack Kirby and writer Stan Lee, who reinvented the entire concept of superheroes by giving them human problems and human flaws.

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Don’t get me wrong, I think the Silver Age was great, but I think it was still severely limited by the Comics Code.  It didn’t matter how many characters were created, or how human they were, the types of stories that could be told were hampered by the oppressive shadow of censorship.

All of that began to change in 1971 when the U.S government approached Marvel and asked them to publish a story about drug abuse in order to reach out to children about the dangers of drugs.  This would come to a head in May of 1971 with the publishing of Amazing Spider-Man #96

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Of course this was a breach of the rules the Comics Code had in place, but since the comic was written and drawn with the blessings of the United States government, Stan Lee and company could’ve cared less.

The comic triggered a review of the established Comics Code rules and it was eventually decided that the rules should be relaxed in order to accommodate the changing times and allow for a wider range of stories to be told.  While the code would remain in effect for several decades (DC wouldn’t stop publishing stories with the seal until 2011) the writing was on the wall and the Comics Code began its slow and inexorable decline, which led to…

2. The rise of the indie scene into mainstream popularity

Just because the big publishers were limited by the Comics Code didn’t mean that all comic books were hobbled by restrictions and censorship, it just meant that the adult stuff didn’t reach a massive audience.

The 1970’s saw the rise of the underground “comix” scene, a sub set of the comic book industry where there were no limits on things like sex or drugs, no subject was taboo, and creators would often sell their work themselves in small batches.

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It wasn’t the most profitable venture, but then again the comic book industry has rarely been kind to the people making comic books.  The underground comix scene quickly developed its own style and superstars and two of the most famous names of this time period were Robert Crumb,

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and Art Spiegelman.

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Side note: it’s worth mentioning that these were not the only big names in the comix scene and that studying underground comics of the 1970’s could fill a book on its own.  I highly recommend that you check it out and do your own research, there is some fantastic stuff.

Both of these artists would find mainstream success in the 1980’s due to changing audiences and relaxed restrictions.  Crumb would watch one of his first and most famous creations get turned into an insanely vulgar, and insanely successful, animated film Fritz the Cat,

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While Art Spiegelman would go on to bring the underground into the light of day with the publication of his smash hit comic book Maus,

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which was serialized in the underground magazine Raw from 1980-1991.  It is a fantastic book and is considered to be one of the greatest accounts of the Holocaust ever published.

While all this was going on creators like Jim Starlin, the man who helped develop the Marvel super villain Thanos, began publishing and editing an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories called Star Reach.

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This anthology ran from 1974-1979 and helped the independent comic book scene by publishing indie stories by some of the biggest names in comics at the time.

The influx of talent into the independent comic scene, coupled with the rise and recognition of established indie creators brought on by the relaxing of censorship rules, changed the comic book landscape forever.  Now, there were new stories that could be told, new subject matter to be explored, and new issues that could be discussed.

All of this led to…

3. The birth of mature and dark storytelling in mainstream comics

Small timers and indie publishers weren’t the only ones who suffered under the restrictions of the Comics Code, the creators and editors working for the big two of Marvel and DC were chafing as well.

After Stan Lee and Marvel weakened the Comics Code with Amazing Spiderman #96 the floodgates were open for a time period known as the “Bronze Age of Comics”.

The Bronze Age was a time where comics began to shift away from the fantastical science fiction of the Silver Age to more grounded stories that focused on social commentary and modern, relevant issues such as inner city problems and drug use.

Case in point: this was the era that gave us Luke Cage,

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reintroduced the idea that superheroes could kill with the introduction of the Punisher,

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and turned Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy into a junkie.

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But to highlight the true impact the 1980’s had on comic books I’d like to bring up two of the biggest names to break into the comic book scene in the 1980’s: Frank Miller,

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and Alan Moore.

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Frank Miller got his start in Gold Key Comics, but really broke into the comic book scene in 1979 drawing Daredevil #158.

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Miller would eventually become the writer for the series as well and built the character into what he is today.  Have you noticed that Daredevil is a devout Catholic?

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That was Miller.

He created the characters of Stick and Elektra,

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and helped drag the character out from the doldrums of mediocrity and into the spotlight as one of Marvel’s most popular characters.  Miller is the reason why Daredevil is so popular today.

Now, it’s fair to say that Frank Miller has not aged well.  It would be fair to say that the quality of his writing and storytelling has dropped off a bit and some of his more recent work,

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has been justifiably panned as bad.  Seriously, the above book is so bad and offensive I’m loathe to even admit that it even exists.  Don’t bother reading it, it doesn’t deserve the publicity.

But Frank Miller didn’t get to this point by being bad all the time.  In fact, for most of the 1980’s he was considered to be one of the better writers and artists out there and it would all come to a head in 1986 with the publication of what many consider one of the greatest Batman stories ever written: The Dark Knight Returns.

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Before this, most people knew Batman as the campy Adam West character from the tv show.

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After Miller was done with him, he was known as the brooding, borderline psychotic thug that audiences have known and love since the Christopher Nolan movies.

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Alan Moore, the other person we’re going to talk about today, had a similar career path.

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Like Miller he got his start in obscure, small time writing gigs, although most of Moore’s early work was in underground comic magazines and small presses.

Moore’s break came when he started writing for some of the big names in British comics, namely 2000AD, the publisher that owns Judge Dredd.

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His work caught the attention of DC comics, who hired him to revitalize one of their lesser known characters: the Swamp Thing.

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And revitalize it he did, adding some of the strangest, trippiest, and creepy imagery I’ve ever seen in comics.

But that’s not what you’re here for.  Chances are that if you’re reading this blog, you know what Moore’s most famous work is.

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Like Miller’s take on Batman, Watchmen was published in 1986 and was a huge hit.  It’s legacy of fantastic storytelling, complex characters, and flexible approach to morality turned this comic into one of the best comic books ever written and a story that many consider to be one of the best ever written in the 20th century.

Thankfully, Moore’s future work was also just as enjoyable and just as readable, and Moore has gone on to become one of the greatest comic book authors in history and most likely the winner of “most intimidating glare in comics”.

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So there you have it, a horrifyingly short explanation as to why the 1980’s were a fantastic time for comic books and why it’s a decade worth remembering and exploring.  There were hundreds of independent comic book publishers, creators, and artists out there that took advantage of the relaxed rules over censorship and the rise of a new generation of talent that weren’t afraid to tell mature adult stories in order to advance the medium they loved, and we’re going to look at as many of the as we can.

Here’s to another three years.